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India Writing Project Season 3, Grand Winner: Arfa Arshad's "The Last Killing"

Memory. It is something everybody prays for. I, too, pray for it, but mine never matches theirs. While they pray for sharper memories, I cry for the everyday affairs that are etched in my mind so deeply that no amount of time can obliterate them.

PR Content Published 07.06.24, 11:09 PM

The India Writing Project, a vanguard for emerging literary talents in India, has once again illuminated the power of storytelling with its Season 3 competition. This season, amidst a diverse tapestry of submissions, it was Arfa Arshad's "The Last Killing" that claimed the first position, a testament to her masterful narrative prowess and deep psychological insight. Arfa's short story is a profound exploration of memory, betrayal, and vengeance.

Read it here:

Memory. It is something everybody prays for. I, too, pray for it, but mine never matches theirs. While they pray for sharper memories, I cry for the everyday affairs that are etched in my mind so deeply that no amount of time can obliterate them.

“Grandma, look at that!” As soon as Lily saw the kitten in my arms, her delight streaked through her like a comet. Her almond–brown, upward–slanting eyes sparkled with excitement.

I looked at the frail figure occupying the bed. Medication had caused her once–vivacious eyes to droop. For all these years, Granny had taken care of me. Despite my father’s insistence that she was not related, her care and love convinced me otherwise.

“Stella, why doesn’t she respond?”

“Love has no language, Lily. She still loves us. She’s just a bit weak.” Granny’s arthritic fingers took hold of my hand. I looked at her and kissed her sunken, creased cheeks.

“We are sorry for your loss, Miss Arnault.” The sympathetic, vigilant eyes of Officer Bond greeted me. “We will give our best to find the culprit.”

“You should, officer. My daddy never had a thorn to his name, did he?”

“No, ma’am, he was a noble veteran.”

“Noble veteran. Right. He indeed was. You should give your best, Officer Bond. Murderers are notorious for learning from the most accomplished murderers. Tell me,” I say this time, looking into his eyes, “are you conscious of all the unsolved murder mysteries surrounding us? Some are unsolved, while many more are; concealed in plain sight. I wish you luck, Officer Bond.”

The pitiful look he once had turned into one of suspicion. Good.

I turned around to find the antique wooden casket lowered down. Two burly guards opened up the lid. With a couple more condolences along my way, I reached the coffin. There, lying inside, clad in bandages to hold his body together, was my ‘father’. His pale face set in agony, with lips twisted in a noiseless scream.

“Lily, are you sure you lost your ring in your closet?” Her giggles hinted that she was kidding around. Before I could turn around, Lily playfully slammed the closet door shut.

At that moment of darkness, I could hear three distinct noises. One was Granny’s laboured breathing, the other was Lily’s clapping, and the third was the heavy thud of footsteps that I identified well. Just in a few seconds, I could no longer listen to Lily. My quivering fingers silently pushed open the door, enough for me to see Lily’s face masked with duct tape.

As he approached Granny, I cast a glance at him. His devilish smile was back. My throat choked as I saw him yanking her oxygen mask with his sinful fingers. Sharp, wheezing filled the room as she toiled for every breath her faulty lungs wailed for. Every memory of her taking care of me, despite; her chronic illness, flashed before me.

“My audacious old Grace, what did you think? That you will reveal it all? Was all this not painful enough?” His face contorted with rage, and each of his pungent breaths lashed upon Grandma’s bluish face.

“Stella will never know that I am not her father and that I killed her parents!” he roared wildly. “Once she turns eighteen, she will hand over all the properties to me, and I will send her, too, to all of you. But now, dear mother, it is your time to go.”

All my panicked sobs halted as the cardiac monitor flared up with the prolonged ominous beep, declaring that she was no longer with us.

His demonic cackle sent tingles down my spine. My heart pulsed in anxiety as he neared Lily.

My mind, my body—everything was paralysed by cold fear. I could no longer move or think; I was a mere spectator.

“My little defective doll, how I loathe you, irrespective of knowing well that you are beneath me.” His lips curled inward with each murderous glare he cast on Lily.

“What a joy it will be to have your blood on my hands.” His dextrous fingers wrapped fiercely around her short neck, compelling her to gasp bitterly. “Your mother once called me a sadist; I should live up to that name, Lily.” Like the professional he was with his engraved stiletto knife, he sliced her neck and stabbed her sternum twice. A metallic tinge suffocated the air. Blood oozed into the white rug, tainting it forever. On his way out, my supposed ‘father’ shot the kitten, her last meow hanging in the air.

After ten minutes, he came back and groomed everything up. Like he always does.

“Miss Arnault, we should proceed with the funeral prayer now.” I nodded to the priest and glanced down at my power–hungry politician father uncle for the last time.

I was informed at 3 a.m. that my ‘father’ had passed away untimely. “Murder,” they said. The post–mortem report I obtained this morning; confirmed his death due to hypoxia and severe injury–related haemorrhage. Superficial cuts around his neck, two serious jabs to his sternum and a horrifying stab to the apex of the heart through the fourth and fifth ribs.

His sobbing secretary approached me as I was taking my seat. “May he rest in peace. We will never know what your father’s last words were, will we? He was such a fan of last words.”

My father uncle was a die-hard lover of the last words. Whomever he killed, he recited their last words to me as a lullaby. And with the cruel memory, I have been blessed with; I can actively recall each of his words with his joyful face as he relished his crime.

“So tragic,” I mumbled as I leaned back on the chair, encountering the clear, sunshiny sky.

I closed my eyes, effortlessly recollecting the last words he spoke to me. His last words. His terror-stricken eyes were fresh in my mind.

“Ste… Stella, how could you? No! do… don’t kil… Ahh!”

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