In the Eye of the Beholder [Part 1]

A Five-Part Thriller

D A Y 1

Aditya Singh woke up a little past nine o’clock, feeling as if he was going to explode. The room’s colours shone brighter than they ever had before, and he suddenly regretted conceding to yellow wall paint. His head throbbed almost as if his body was warning him of something terrible to come. He looked over to his husband, still calmly asleep next to him, and thought of waking him up. He wasn’t sure how that would help, but Kurt had always soothed him before. Ultimately though, he decided to let him sleep. No point in bothering two people over a feeling. He got up and headed to the bathroom, hoping a splash of cool water would make him feel a little better, then made his way downstairs. He figured he’d get an early start on his day if he couldn’t get some more sleep in.

Once the pot of coffee had been set to brew, Aditya got his phone out and scanned through it. SMS had nothing but the usual ensemble of restaurants, delivery services, and shopping sites advertising some sort of perpetual sale. His email consisted of some promotional stuff, a couple newsletters from writers he follows, and an email from his editor from the night before reminding him about today’s brunch with the publishing house. At that moment, a sharp pain shot through his head and his phone fell to the shelf. He leaned on it for a moment, nursing his temples until the pain subsided.

“What the fuck was that?” he said in a frightened whisper. He’d had headaches before, but this wasn’t like those. It lasted for a fraction of the time but hurt much more. He didn’t know what it was, but he was just glad it was over. He cupped his coffee more strongly and with both hands as if it would stabilise him and keep the headaches at bay.

It seemed to have worked because by the time Aditya was done with his coffee, the memory of the incident was tucked in the back of his mind and the pain was phantom. Kurt had come down, groggy per usual. Aditya gave him a kiss, told him there was coffee waiting for him, and went up to get ready for the brunch.

He went with a simple jeans and shirt combo – nothing too casual but not too formal either. This was a semi-formal occasion, really. Aside from his editor – lovely little lady called Emily Novak – he shared a mostly professional relationship with people from the publishing house. He wanted that to change, but he was only two books in, so he expected it just needed time.

He was holding up a shirt in front of him when his head pulsed again, just as quickly and just as strongly as before. The shirt fell to the floor and Aditya’s hands flew to his temples. He cusped it in his bands trying to push the pain out the sides, repeating what he did earlier. Luckily it was over quickly and Kurt was none the wiser. Aditya didn’t want to worry him over what could very well be nothing, but he decided he’d see a doctor first thing tomorrow if they weren’t gone by then.

Half an hour or so later, they were both ready and in the car, on their way to the small café where brunch was to be held. Aditya knew the owners – an old couple named Norbury who moved here from Scotland to live out their retirement. They kept the place up quite well. Great ambience at practically any time of the day and fantastic service. The food was wonderful and the guy in charge of the drinks, Stephen Wellsworth, had a particular penchant for mixing up the perfect drink you never knew you would love. Even Kurt, who had a tendency to compare every restaurant to his own, thought the place was great.

“Hey Kurt, guess what?” Aditya began, “I’ve heard that Stephen’s got something special in the mix today. Made up especially for this brunch, apparently. I can’t wait to try it.”

“Oh cool, that should be interesting. I don’t know where he gets his ideas from, but I sure as hell am glad he does.”

They had left the inner lanes now and were moving on to the main road. Kurt then noticed Matthew take a wrong turn.

“Umm Matthew, weren’t we meant to take a right?”

“Oh? Oh, no sir. I checked out the path on my way in this morning. It’s been closed off – a small section of the road caved in last night.”

“Oh. Good work, Matthew, thank you.”

“No problem.”

Kurt turned back to Aditya and started discussing an idea he thought he could use for a story. That’s when the car stopped and Matthew turned back to face them.

“Matthew, what are – ”

“For what it’s worth sir, I am sorry about this. If it was up to me, this wouldn’t be happening.”

“Matthew, what are you talking about?”

“Let me finish, sir. I have to say this. See, if it was up to me, this wouldn’t be happening. But it’s not, is it? It’s up to fate. And fate gets what it wants. I’m sorry, sir.” With that, he swung his free hand around, levelling a gun to Aditya’s gut, and pulled the trigger.

Aditya’s eyes flew open in surprise, his body not having processed what had just happened. Slowly, he raised a trembling hand to where he thought he had been hit. It came away stained red, and that is when he fully understood that he had been shot. That is when the pain began, as if the recognition of the fact made it real.

The corners of his vision slowly began to fade, with more and more of his sight gradually blackening. His chest somehow got heavier and lighter at the same time, and every successive breath became more laborious than the last. He was vaguely aware of Kurt screaming and feebly trying to cover the wound but wasn’t conscious enough to acknowledge it.

But then things got worse. So. Much. Worse. Kurt’s screaming changed, changed from grief to pain, and Aditya realised that Matthew had shot him too. It felt as if he had been shot again, and his own wound started to hurt even more. As Kurt’s breaths got raspier, so did his. Every bit of his body was screaming out in pain and so when death finally came, his body accepted it wholeheartedly, and melted into its welcoming embrace.

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