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Pinaki Ghosh www.pinakighosh.com
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“Can you get me the August 15 edition of Elite?” the man asks.
“Which year?” the stall owner asks instinctively. He owns an old bookshop where one can find old books and magazines, one of the many in this pavement of College Street, lined with stalls selling books of all kinds.
“Current year,” the man says, “the cover carried the title ‘Fifty young entrepreneurs of India.’”
The bookseller looks for the edition asked for. It doesn’t take him long to find. The man pays for the magazine, rolls it in his hand and jumps up a tram cruising by. The tram rolls its way through the crowded Kolkata streets, the man gets down before an ancient lane in the northern part of the city. The tram passes by ringing its bell. The man enters the lane lined with old, blackened buildings, walks a few pace and opening a green colored door climbs the dark stairway to the upper floor.
The room is nearly dark, the man sits before a table on which a table lamp glows. He opens the magazine, finds what he is looking for. Bringing a pair of scissors from the drawer he cuts out a picture of a young man. Then he switches on his laptop.
K-A-R-A-N  S-E-N-G-U-P-T-A…
The name forms itself on the screen as he types. He clicks on the Images tab. A number of faces crowd the screen. His eyes rove, and rest on the third on the second row. He clicks on it and it enlarges. A handsome young man in his mid twenties, short crew cut hair, a little goatee on the chin. 
His gaze gets intent as he looks, his jaws get firm. He clicks on a link mentioned below the image. The profile of the young man appears on screen. He clicks on a video link. A window opens up, he maximizes it.
Young men and women dancing under psychedelic lights, among them Karan Sengupta, the guy with the goatee beard… 

Karan stops dancing. His head aches under the flashes of purple lights and loud music. He is too drunk tonight, he needs to pee. He pulls himself away from the din and calls his driver.
“Get the car ready at the gate. I am coming in five minutes.”
He comes to the washroom and shrivels in disgust. On the floor lies a guy, flat over his own vomit, its foul smell fills the air. 
“F*** !” 
Karan curses aloud. How could one be such a… The smelly pouring is splattered all over the floor. He has to step over it to get himself to one of the booths. Karan thinks of emptying himself on the man’s face but restrains his urge. He doesn’t want to get into any kind of altercation. He remembers his dad favorite quote, “It takes years to build a reputation and seconds to lose it.” Of late he is trying to follow his dad’s advice. He comes out of the washroom without releasing his burden.
The driver has brought the car to the gate. Karan gets in, reclines on the seat.
“Don’t disturb me,” he tells the driver and closes his eyes. 
“Okay sir,” the driver says.
It takes a couple of seconds for Karan to realize that the voice he heard is not that of his driver Makhanlal’s. He springs up.
“Hey, who are you? You are not Makhanlal!”
“I am his friend. He was feeling sick, that’s why he called me,” the driver says without looking back.
Karan is not convinced.
“No, no… that cannot be, why didn’t he call me then?”
“He did call you sir, you failed to hear the ring,” the driver says still not looking back.
Karan brings out his cellphone… the words are out of focus… is it ‘Makhan’… no it’s not…
Before he could say anything something heavy hits his head, everything goes dark…
The car speeds off.

A ray of sunshine falls over him. Karan opens his eyes and startles out of his slumber. Where is he? This is not his bedroom… He looks up. The ceiling is of red tiles. The walls are painted garish green, plasters falling off. He is lying on the floor of a small dilapidated room that he had never been before. He tries to move his limbs but cannot. His feet are tied, so are his hands. His bladder is bursting, he needs to pee and urgently. But he can’t even call anyone, he is gagged, his lips sealed in tape. He could only let out a mild groan. No one comes. Minutes pass, Karan keeps on groaning, hoping for help, how long could he hold himself back?
Finally, maybe after an hour or so, there is a sound at the door. Karan turns his head. A man enters the room. Small and dark complexioned, a nondescript, fifty something, Bengali guy. Dressed in plain shirt and loose trousers. Karan groans, as loud as he could. But the man pays no attention. He sits on a chair and switches on a small TV. Humming an old Bollywood tune, he surfs the channels and stops at a Bengali news channel. 
A news has broken. About him! Forgetting his anguish Karan looks at the screen. His image being shown in loop, again and again.  Industrialist’s son abducted. Huge ransom demanded, the scroll below reads. 
“Who could abduct industrialist Rajeev Sengupta’s son?How? How much ransom has been demanded? We shall find out,” the female anchor smiles, “after a short commercial break.”
A footage of Rajeev Sengupta appears right before the break. He is sitting in his office, uniformed police officers standing behind him. Stony faced, he seems to be in control of his emotions. 
This is the same look he had in his face when a similar news broke months ago, Karan remembers as he looks at his father’s image on screen.

A storm raging inside him but Rajeev remains stoically calm, his cold gaze grazes upon the faces before him. 
“What is the ransom amount they demanded sir?” One of the journalists shoots a query.
He is not going to answer this one, Rajeev decides. In fact he is not going to take anymore questions, he has answered enough. Rajeev gets up from his seat and heads for the door. The journos scramble behind him throwing questions but Rajeev does not pay any heed, he slips into his chamber, his secretary behind him. He closes the door. Calm descends, but not entirely. The two flat screen televisions blurt out the same news in constant cacophony. About Karan, about him…
“Put the sound off!” Rajeev can no longer hide his feelings.
The secretary puts the televisions on mute. 
“They were asking about the ransom amount sir,” he asks.
“Why should I tell them that? Should they know everything?” Rajeev bursts out. He sinks into his chair. The secretary reads the mood of his boss, goes silent. Rajeev closes his eyes and contemplates, calculates. They have demanded hundred million rupees, it can be negotiated down to fifty, or even forty. His son’s life is at stake, he won’t be bargaining too much. The guy had called in the morning. Didn’t say much.  Only said that he would let know when and where to make the payment later. Didn’t give any opportunity to begin the negotiating process. Sounded cool, a pro in the business it seems, not in any kind of hurry.
“Police commissioner is coming sir,” the secretary says interrupting his chain of thoughts.
Rajeev nods.

“Give me forty eight hours time,” says Gouranga Chakraborty, the Police Commissioner, “You will get back your son in no more than two days.”
“They asked for hundred million,” says Rajeev.
“Yeah? Bring it down to twenty or thirty. Then arrange for the money. It is on me to bring back your son safely, alongwith the money of course.”
“I’d like to believe you, “Rajeev smiles wryly, “but remember I had a headache already. Now it has doubled.”
The Police Commissioner frowns, “you mean… is it about that ship of yours… what’s is its name? MV…”
“Chandragupta. Got hijacked by Somali pirates. It would be exactly one year next month.”
“Right. Any development in that front?” the Commissioner asks.
“Nothing. The situation remains as it is. At first they asked for three million dollars. Brought it down to one million after six months. Indian navy is of no help. The government washed its hands off it. Wants me to pay the ransom amount, the whole of it. But I have decided not to pay a single penny.”
“Where is the ship now?”
“In a terrible port called Puntland in Somalia. There’s no rule of law there. Somalia is a failed state, the government exists only by name, they don’t have any control over most of the country.”
“Very bad place,” the secretary quips.
“Putland port is controlled by the pirates themselves,” says Rajeev. 
“And your ship is stuck there for a whole year? And nothing’s being done about it?” the Commissioner cannot hide his amazement.
“No body cares…,” Rajeev says with a shrug, “neither the government, nor the navy. The media too has lost interest.”
“What about you?” 
Rajeev smiles, not avoiding the Commissioner’s gaze. He opens a drawer and bringing out a folded English language newspaper spreads it before Commissioner Chakraborty. 
“This is four months old,” he says pointing to article, “the last news on MV Chandragupta’s hijacking. The media is silent ever since.”
Chakraborty takes up the paper and reads the news. 32 Lives Hang in Balance, Families Appeal For The Release of Kins, a front page headline reads. Two snaps side by side. One of a group of pirates on the deck of MV Chandragupta. They stand automatic rifles, grenade launchers in hand. At their feet lies the hostage sailors, their hands and feet tied, mouths sealed. The picture on the right is of an aged couple. Tears in eyes they hold a poster of a young boy in his early twenties. They are Biswapriya and Chirasree Banerjee. The boy in the poster is their only son Snehangsu, he is captive in the hands of the pirates for nearly a year, the caption below reads. 
“So they are the only one still making noise, the families of the captives. The rest are silent,” Chakraborty says.
Rajeev doesn’t respond.
Once again the Commissioner looks at the boy in the poster. Wearing sailors uniform, cap in head, he looks rather handsome. An innocent face, a thin moustache above the smiling lips. Snehangshu. So young, hardly twenty two, no older than his own boy. Chakraborty sighs.

It must be hours since he had his last meal. But still he doesn’t feel hunger. His stomach must have shrunk, Snehangshu concludes, a year of starving has killed his appetite for food, the body has adjusted to changing circumstances. Good for him! 
But his mind remains as agitated as before, it has not adjusted much, all his efforts to tame it has failed. It still yearns for freedom, for the sunny days of a past that is slipping further and further away.
He got caught in a storm but couldn’t imagine that the storm would last so long. It was a foggy dawn when they came in three small skiffs, not very far from Seychelles coastline. Even before the crew could react, the ship was taken over by the ten pirates from Somalia. 
It was a devastating experience, extremely traumatic, but still they hoped it wouldn’t last for long, maybe a few hours, a few days at the most. Seychelles is not far from India. They had pinned their hopes on the Indian Government and its powerful navy, confident that the navy would rescue them in no time. But days passed, weeks, months… nothing happened. They were moved to a hell-let-loose port in Somalia named Puntland. They had not been in Somalia before, but knew that there is not much rule of law there, the Government is almost non existent.  The leader of the Pirates, a guy named Muslux, the only one who could speak understandable English, told them that a ransom of three million dollars had been asked from Rajeev Sengupta, the owner of the ship. But he had refused to pay, saying he doesn’t want the ship back. He had put the onus on the government of India. The Indian government contacted its Somalian counterpart but they too expressed their inability do anything as they have no authority over the Puntland region of northern Somalia. The ship’s owner said he would claim the value of the ship from the insurance company and buy a new ship altogether. The cement company whose cargo the ship was carrying would also claim for the twelve thousand tones of cement from the insurance company. The owner of the ship is not bothered about the crew and has no interest in bringing them back. Muslux understood the situation and reduced the ransom amount to one million. But even that didn’t melt the ice. The situation remains as it is. 
Snehangshu feels thirsty. The freezer is in the next room. There’s water there, but no food. Snehangshu opens the deep freeze and takes out two bottles of water. Gulps down a little. There’s strict order not to consume much, water is rationed here. Like everyday he takes the two bottles to Muslux’s cabin and keeps it there. Muslux is in the room. He turns his head at him and smiles.
“You will be released soon,” he says.
Snehangshu remains silent. He had heard such assurances before, but they didn’t turn out to be true. Though this is the first time he heard from Muslux. 
Weird guy, this forty something leader of the pirates, Muslux. He always insists that they are not pirates but Somalian coastguards. He told them why he had resorted to hijacking ships. During the nineties there was no government in their country. Taking advantage of the absence of any kind of regulation, ships from other countries would come to their coasts and dispose off all kinds of toxic wastes, including radioactive wastes, in their waters. As a result of such irresponsible dumping, thousands of tones of marine creatures perished. Somalian fishermen used to catch three million dollars worth of tuna, shrimps, lobsters and many other varieties of fish every year. But due to this rampant dumping all the fish died and the fishing industry just vanished. It was then that Muslux decided he should do something about it. He decided to collect tax from the countries that spoiled their coastline and hijacking ships crossing the Indian Ocean was his means of collecting the ‘tax’ that would go towards cleaning the coastline. For him, the countries that spoiled their coastline are the real pirates. He started his operation in 2005 and had collected ‘tax’ from fifty two ships since then. 
Snehangshu notices a framed photo in Muslux’s bunk. A dark African teen of about eighteen. He hadn’t seen the photo before. 
“My boy,” Muslux smiles, “Maxi.”
“Your son?” Snehangshu can’t hide his surprise. He keeps looking at the photo. Maxi, the boy is smiling. A guileless smile, so much like his father’s…   

Lying in the cold floor of a small, dark prison cell in the Somalian capital Mogadhishu young Maxi muses over his past. So many images float by. He is out in the ocean fishing with his father, how old was he then? Ten- eleven… they would spend two or three days in the ocean fishing day and night and would return to their villages with boat load of shrimps. The entire village would gather in the shore to welcome the cavalcade of boats. They would get heroes’ welcome, he would always keep the biggest lobsters for his mother. She would cook it on fire in the open at night, they would gather by the fire, he and his sisters and father too, eagerly waiting for mother to open the pot. How good were those days… and how they ended, Maxi sighed. 
Huge ships hoisting flags of faraway countries began appearing in their shores. The catch of fish gradually declined in quantity as more and more dead fish floated up from the sea. Then one day a group of men carrying guns came to their village. Maxi heard from his father that war had broken out in the country. The men were revolutionaries. From them the villagers learnt that foreign pirate ships from France, China, Egypt and India are pouring poison into their waters, the fishes are dying because of that. The young adults of the villages enrolled themselves with the group that called itself Al-Shabab. His father formed a group of his own to protect the coastline. The days of fishing were over. 
Maxi heard from a friend that the government of their country was nothing but a puppet in the hands of America and the United Nations and their President is a pimp to foreign forces. Al-Shabab doesn’t obey the writ of this government; they had plans to overthrow the government and take control over the entire country and establish the writ of God’s law. Maxi’s young blood boiled as he listened. The same friend took him to the Al-Shabab Chief Odawa.
It was such a thrill to take up a AK-47 rifle in his hands for the first time. Adrenalin rushed in his veins, his fears evaporated, he felt he could conquer the world with his gun. The training was tough, very tough but he was determined to make it, so were other boys of his team. Odawa admired his guts, he took a fancy on him. He gave him chocolates made in USA, made in India, made in China. They tasted so good! Hard in the outside, soft inside. 
Then one day Odawa discussed with them the secret blueprint of Operation 24 August. Muna Hotel was to be attacked. Three best cadets were selected for the operation. Maxi was one of them. The President and fifty members of Parliament were to attend a conference in Muna Hotel in capital Mogadishu. On the night of 24 August, as the conference was underway, two of his comrades guised in army uniform entered the hotel. He was outside, in the car in which they were supposed to escape. Within minutes heavy gunfire was heard from inside the hotel. Later he came to know that his friends shot dead thirty two people, of them eleven were parliamentarians. The President escaped unhurt. Right after the gunfire, two successive explosions rocked the hotel. His two comrades blew themselves up. The blinding white flashes and the earth shattering noise unnerved Maxi. Fear got the better of him, he couldn’t stick to plan and trying to make a lousy escape got caught in the hands of the security forces. Since then his address is cell number 62 in Mogadishu Central jail. The days of eating foreign chocolates were over, the days of romanticism about carrying automatic rifles were gone. What followed is an unending saga of interrogation and torture of the worst kind. How he survived all that trauma is a mystery to him. They made him divulge everything he knew but still the torture continued, until very recently. The trial has not yet begun though he knew he would get the capital punishment, fair trial or no trial. But the tortures - that in the later stages the jailor himself supervised - had suddenly stopped. 
He learnt from a prison guard that his father Muslux had held several parleys with the jailor. A secret pact has been worked out, an amount has been fixed for his freedom. His father is working overtime to arrange for the money. By the end of this week it would be handed over to the jailor. Then by his order he would be shifted to another jail, but before the prison van reaches its destination he would be allowed to escape in a remote wilderness. The guards would be suspended for six months but they would be more than compensated for their dereliction of duty. The jailor had planned everything to the minutest details. 
But Odawa, the man because of whom he is rotting in this jail, the person whom he had begun to regard more than his own father, has done nothing to arrange for the release of his ‘boy’,” Maxi wonders and feel the anger within him once again. He had done nothing at all. Odawa has forgotten him altogether. He lured Maxi with chocolates, brainwashed his young mind by blood warming rhetorics, programmed him to become a ‘martyr’ and then when its all over, abandoned him like a used cartridge. And he still keeps him close to his heart! 
Maxi gets hold of the locket hanging on his chest. They inspected it during interrogation but did not take it away, perhaps because of the name of Allah engraved upon the silver. What they failed to notice is a minute dent on it. A right kind of pressure on that little spot and the locket would pop open. But Maxi feels no urge to open it now like he had done so many times before, especially when he needed strength, courage. It had failed him when he needed it the most.
Maxi pulls the locket from his chest and throws it away. It hits the wall, falls to the floor and pops open. To reveal a small photo of Chief Odawa. Clean shaved, the head shaved too, he sits in military uniform, the face indifferent but the eyes hard and cruel. Behind him, spread on the wall is the flag of his dreaded organization.   

In his office in the headquarters of Al Shabab, Chief Odawa looks at the plan on the screen of his laptop. He had made a similar blueprint a year ago, the operation was carried as per plan with some success but the real purpose could not be achieved. The President escaped and the government remained in power. But anyway, he had been able to overcome the drawbacks and once again rearing to strike. This time it would be lethal. All the snags of the previous operation had been looked into, the weak links done away with. Only the exceptionally strong ones are hand picked to carry out the operations this time round. No chocolate for these guys, they are real tough ones, already battered and bruised by the ravages of war, no amount of torture can make them speak. He had personally ‘tested’ each and everyone of them. They didn’t squeal a word, even after prolonged exposure to third degree torture. Those who did, received a bullet in the head. This time he is sure of success, one hundred percent. Soon after the lethal blow, his army would swarm into the capital from all sides. Mogadishu will fall in no time. He could already visualize the headlines that would appear in the papers in a month’s time. 
Moghadishu falls… The President killed… Rebels take over… The New President is Odawa …
His time has come. 
He needs more arms, he won’t be taking any chances. Odawa contacted one of his trusted arms suppliers online. He is the one who had supplied him arms for the previous operation. The two exchanged greetings looking at each other’s video image on screen, discussed about the quality and quantity of the items to be procured and where and when the cache is to be delivered, the exact co-ordinates along the Somalian coast where the two ships would meet. 
“You know my Swiss bank number,” the arms dealer tells Odawa, “deposit the full amount today only.”
“Why in full?” Odawa asks, surprised, “it was different the last time, wasn’t it? Half before, half after the delivery.”  
“Situation has changed, buddy,” says the dealer, “these days the navy ships are much more in the alert. The risks are far more.”
Odawa laughs.
“Come forth my friend. Tell me the truth.”
“I told you already.”
“No you didn’t. Things haven’t really deteriorated that much over the last year, I am in the game too you know.”
A pause on the other side, then the arms dealer speaks.
“Ok let me tell you the reason. My own son has been taken captive. I have to pay for his freedom. A hefty sum and without delay.”
Owedah looks at his old pal Rajeev Sengupta, the two look at each other in silence. As if trying to read each others thoughts.
“It happens in your country too?” Odawa asks, finally.
“It has happened. And if you’re not willing to believe then check it on the net. My son’s name is Karan, Karan Sengupta.”
“Ok I believe. The entire amount will be deposited in your account in an hour,” Odawa tells his partner while his fingers type the words ‘karan sengupta’ on the keyboard. He clicks on the search tab and a pageful of information relating to the kidnapping of Rajeev’s son appears.
“Load your ship,” Odawa says, any doubt in his voice has disappeared.
“You said and the loading has already started,” Rajeev smiles.
Odawa smiles too, “you are my old pal. How can I be rigid when a friend is in need? And how can I forget the role you played in the success of the August 24 operation?” 
The smile in his pal Rajeev’s face deepens.

Rajeev turns to his secretary switching off his laptop. 
“The kidnapper will call in half an hour. Give it to me. He will get the money today. We have to know how the delivery has to be made. I want my son back today. Unharmed.”
The secretary nods in comprehension. 
Rajeev feels happy; a load has descended from his chest. Hundred million rupees has been negotiated down to forty five million rupees. One million dollars that is.

About a couple of hours after the conversation that took place between Rajeev Sengupta and the Al-Shabab chief, the pirate leader Muslux receives a phone call in his ship anchored in the North Somalian port of Puntland. 
“You’d get your one million in twenty four hours,” says the caller, “but all the crew have to be released unharmed and without delay. Send your men to Nairobi. Your money will be delivered there.”
“Your son will return to you in good health, I promise,” says Muslux.
“I want another promise from you,” the caller says, “you know my name. Don’t let anybody know who I am.”
“It will remain between you and me. I promise,” Muslux says, and he meant what he said.

That evening a little boy brought a chit to the jailor of the Mogadishu Central jail. On it written in tiny Afsoomaali script: 
Ransom amount has been arranged. Will be delivered to you in two days time. Please honor the contract we made about the release of my son.

A couple of days later a yellow cab stops in front of a green door in an old north Calcutta neighborhood. Gouranga Chakraborty, the Police Commissioner, descends from the cab. He climbs up the narrow, dark stairs and knocks on a door. Biswapriya Banerjee, the owner of the house, opens the door.
“Namasker,” the Commissioner utters the cursory greet. 
“Namasker,” Biswapriya returns the greeting with folded hands, “do I know you?”
“I am Gouranga Chakraborty, the Police Comissioner,” says Gouranga and does not fail to notice the sudden drain of color from his host’s face. He smiles and assures, “Don’t worry, this is not an official visit. I have come in a hired cab, it is waiting outside. Did your son come back?”
“My son…,” Biswapriya cannot hide his puzzlement.
“Yes your son. Snehangsu. Wasn’t he outside the country for about a year?” Gouranga says retaining the smile in his face. It helped Biswapriya to retain his composure.
“Oh yes he returned to India,” says Biswapriya smiling wryly, “he is in Chennai now. Will come home tomorrow… maybe…”
“Good! Very good!” Gouranga broadens his smile.
“May I ask why you…” Biswapriya mumbles, still confused.
“I have come to give you a little gift.”
Gouranga unfolds a paper roll he is carrying. A sketch of a middle aged man. His features quite similar to that of Biswapriya.
“Our police artist has drawn this,” the Commissioner explains, “you must have heard about the kidnapping of Karan Sengupta, son of industrialist Rajeev Sengupta. His driver Makhanlal remembered the face of the kidnapper. The guy offered him tea outside a disco where he was waiting for his boss. Naturally it was drugged and he lost his consciousness. Our artist followed Makhanlal’s description and drew this. Nice work, isn’t it? Normally they are far behind the mark but this one came out rather accurate, isn’t it?” The commissioner looks up at Biswapriya and notices blood leave the face all over again. He smiles, “but you know what. The case would remain unsolved it seems. This sketch would be of no use to us. I had seen a photo of yours in a newspaper in Rajeev Sengupta’s office. You and your wife carrying a poster of your son. The image got imprinted in my mind. When I saw this sketch I could not help remembering you. So I thought it’s your sketch, let’s give it to you. You can hang it on your wall.” 
The Commissioner hands the sketch over. Carrying it in his hands, Biswapriya stands dumb folded. The Commissioner keeps smiling. At last Biswapriya finds his voice,
“So the kidnap case…,”
“Didn’t I tell you? It’s closed. Gone cold like hundreds of other cases. Is it possible for us to solve each and every case? Take care, Mr. Banerjee,”
Without waiting for further response the Commissioner climbs down the stairs in hasty steps and gets into the waiting cab. The driver steps on the gas.
A drizzle has started pouring. Two crows drenching sitting over the electric wire. One must be a daddy crow, the other his son. As the pouring gets heavier they spread their wings and fly off.
A thriller / horror treatment / story by Pinaki Ghosh
A comfortable to read, PDF version of this story is available for free download – click here

Marcos returned an unfriendly stare at the housekeeping guy, “You waiting for something?”
The housekeeping guy raised his head, stole a glance at Marcos and replied, “No sir.”
“In that case, thank you my friend and good bye.” With a bang, Marcos closed the door on his face.
“Good day, sir!” Said the Indian housekeepng guy. Hardly twenty seven. By then the door had closed on his face. His words of thanks remained unheard by Marcos.
He was expecting some tips, was he? Bloody loser. Thought Marcos. Why the hell? Does the hotel pay him peanuts, that this bloody loser was waiting to be tipped to bring his luggage upstairs? Marcos was disgusted.
He pulled the curtains apart. It had started snowing outside. The first snow of this winter.
Marcos will have to halt in this Buffalo, New York hotel for a day before heading towards Mexico. His country. His home. It isn’t possible for him to take a flight to Mexico. That’s dangerous and suicidal. He has to travel by road and sea.
Marcos struggled in vain for over five minutes, trying to open his old fashioned steel trunk. He tried several of the tiny keys. But opening it seemed impossible. He was quite sure he had lost the key to the trunk.
Asking for help from the hotel would mean an additional expense of at least a hundred dollars. Why not call that Indian housekeeping guy and request him for a personal favor? That’ll be a lot cheaper.
Marcos called the room service guy.
The boy surely knew some magic. With a twisted hairpin he pried open the lock in two minutes. Magic is probably infectious, because Marcos’ mood also improved like magic.
“Wow, that’s magic, man! You know some mumbo jumbo, huh? Asian?”
“Yes sir. Indian”
“What’s your name, son?”
“Sam.”
His real name was Sambaran Bandyopadhyay though; a traditional Indian name, somewhat uncommon, uncomfortably long and difficult to pronounce, especially in this country; named by his grandfather twenty seven years ago. He had himself shortened his name to Sam after coming to United States for a career.
Marcos fished out two ten dollar bills from his wallet, thought for a couple of seconds, put back one into his wallet, and handed the other to Sam, thanking him.
Sam, the housekeeping guy stared at the large wooden statue of a horse with curiosity as it popped out from the trunk. Curiosity kills the cat, thought Marcos.
“Curios. It’s my business” he smiled at Sam. “I collect rare and ancient objects of art. Buying and selling curios is what I do for a living, son.”
For his business Marcos has to travel a lot. Century old objects of interest, ancient furnishings, paintings, and statues get sold at illogically high prices. The shady part is that among these there are some stolen items too. Some have been missing from some museum for the last few years. They get sold in Mexico through Marcos. This calls for secrecy. He cannot carry these items along normal routes. That is why he had to resort to either road or waterways that are comparatively safer. He could not possibly tell all that to this young Indian housekeeping guy.  The guy left the room still looking astounded.
In the evening it started snowing heavily. The mercury was falling and that could be felt even in this temperature controlled hotel room. Through the window panes he could see the horizon getting foggy and darker. Rows of high-rise building blocks were getting covered under a film of white snowflakes. Down below, on the snaking road which was turning white from grey, rows of cars passed incessantly. The lights in the room were flickering. The voltage was fluctuating. This irritated Marcos. He picked up the phone and abruptly called room service.
At last he found some time to admire his wooden horse. In the afternoon he had fallen asleep without changing his clothes. He had been dead tired of travelling from one coast to another. He took a hot shower; before planning to go down to the restaurant below. But then the lights started flickering again.
This horse would be at least a hundred and fifty years old; the handiwork of some unknown Dutch sculptor. The horse belonged to that period, when Dutch nomads left Holland to settle down in America permanently. The old Dutch gentleman from whom he had bought this piece had said so. Black Stallion. An unusually beautiful work of art and craftsmanship. Every muscle on the horse’s body looked surprisingly real and came alive.   Marcos hoped to make at least a few thousand dollars by selling it.
The door-bell rang. Room service.
“Good evening sir. May I help you?” The Indian guy was at the door.
“Come on in. Look at my lights. Something’s wrong with them. They’re flickering like hell. Now, when I pay for a hotel room, I do not expect…”
“That’ll be okay sir. It has been happening in all the rooms. Our electrical engineers are working on the line.”
“Won’t take long, I suppose, because it is getting on my nerves.”
“No sir, just a little longer. … The statue… is it very old sir?”
“Oh that? Yeah, about a hundred and fifty years.”
“No sir. It is older than that. Two hundred and seven years,” replied Sam.
“You mean… you know the exact age of this wooden horse?” Marcos’s hands paused while lighting his cigarette.
“Yes sir, I know more than that. When I saw it for the first time this afternoon, I recognized it. I had seen its picture on a website. This very same sculpture. I had read about it too.”
“Yeah? Which website? Have you seen its photograph?”
“No sir, just a hand drawn sketch. The site was probably called something like, ‘truehalloween.com’”
“True Halloween? You mean there is something mysterious and spooky about it? Marcos’s hand, the one with the cigarette trembled a little. The light in the room became very dim at that instant.
They stared at each other silently, without batting an eyelid. Then Sam started.
“There is a small village some forty miles from here. Beside the Hudson River. It’s called Sleepy Hollow.”
“Wait, I’ve heard this name”, said Marcos.
“There’s a movie by this name sir. That’s why you know the name. The village is surrounded by a forest. The forest is known as the woods of the Sleepy Hollow. The place is so quiet that you’d think the entire village is sleeping. In this quiet village, in 1799 some strange incidents started happening. Occasionally, headless bodies were found lying on the village road.”
“Headless bodies?”
Marcos, listening intently, startled as the cigarette burned down and scorched his middle finger. He had forgotten to smoke. Marcos took out another cigarette from the box and offered Sam.
“Thank you.”
“Coffee? Let me order some coffee?” Marcos picked up the phone and ordered for two coffees.
“Thank you sir. So, in the evenings people steered clear off the road leading to the woods. Not only so… soon they stopped coming out onto the village road after sunset. Those who had the courage to peep through their windows said that they saw an armored knight holding a sword in his hand, riding on a horseback, galloping along the village road during twilight. The fate of whoever crossed his path was doomed. The rider would chop off the head and take it away with him. They also noticed with awe, that the rider himself had no head! A headless mounted knight.
“Police officer Ichabod Crane came from the city to investigate. His investigations revealed that a Hessian soldier had been killed near Sleepy Hollow twenty years earlier, in 1779. The enemies had beheaded him and took his head as a booty. Since then he often visited the terrain in search of his lost head. His horse was always with him. The name of his horse was Daredevil.”
The doorbell rang with a jarring ugly sound that startled Marcos. Coffee had arrived. Snowflakes were gathering outside the window pane. A strong wind rattled the window.
“Interesting story” said Marcos Gabriel Lenovez, sipping his coffee.
“Officer Ichabod took the help of Katerina, a local tomboyish girl and together they found the huge tree from under which the headless soldier came out each evening. After galloping through the village on his horse with an open sword he would return to the tree and finally jump into its trunk.
“At last one day he found his head. It was with Katerina’s stepmother, known in the village as a witch. The soldier killed Katrna’s stepmother and got back his head. There ends the story of the headless phantom of Sleepy Hollow. Author Washington Irving, who had his roots in that village, later published a novel, ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ which was later made into a movie.”
“Spooky story, but what is the relation of my horse with this story?”
“The story in the novel ended here, but many incidents happened after that are not docemented in the novel and the film, about which most people do not know.” Sam said. The lights in the room went off, and pitch black darkness rushed in through the windows.
“Oh, f***!” Marcos grumbled.
“Our engineers are working on it, sir. It’ll be okay.”
“Awww. Hmmm. So… what happened after that?”
“Right. After that, that ominous-looking tree was cut down by the villagers. The felled tree was profusely bleeding blood. Within a month, Peter Van Garret, the woodcutter who had cut the tree, died mysteriously. You know how he died? Thunderstruck! His entire head smashed and vanished after a lightning struck his head. An atheist artist, Baltas Van Tassel, who lived in the village took the tree trunk home in a carriage and carved this horse out of the wood. He gifted the horse to the police officer Ichabod and his newly-married wife Katerina. On his way home from the police officer’s house, Baltas was attacked by a band of robbers who chopped off his head. It was in the year 1799.
Another horrific and terribly sad incident happened the same year during Christmas. There was a bank-robbery in Tarry Town near Sleepy Hollow. The thirty year old brave police officer Ichabod fought a gun battle with the bank robbers and died in the gun battle. His skull was shattered by a bullet, like a water melon.”
The wind was growing stronger outside, because the windows rattled rather noisily. The sky was dark. The dots of light were blotted through the thick fog outside. The chilling wind was probably entering through some leak in the window, because Marcos shuddered.
“After this incident, Katerina didn’t want to keep the wooden horse with her. The old and wise elderly folk of Sleepy Hollow advised her to get rid of the statue. They told her to throw it into the marshland inside the jungle. Katerina went into the forest with the statue. But since that fateful day, nobody had ever seen either Katerina or the statue.”
Both men sat quietly for some time.
“Strange story,” said Marcos after a long silence.
# # # #
Marcos woke up at midnight with a shudder. The TV was on. He fell off to sleep while watching TV. He checked his wristwatch. It was past midnight. The TV was on mute and the changing images changed the color of the room every second. He had been sleeping on the sofa.
What was that? Why was he seeing the shadow of a horse on the wall? His skin gave goosebumps. Was it because of the chilling weather? He turned around to see the statue of the horse standing on the table and realized his folly. The shadow was of the statue, caused by the light from the TV. He tried not to think about the horse. But strange thoughts haunted him again and again.
Is the statue still haunted? He thought. The snowstorm had stopped. You don’t see a snowstorm in New York every day.
What was that sound?
A nagging sound of water dripping from a faucet came from the washroom. Had he forgotten to close the tap properly? He went to the washroom and hesitated to enter. Is anyone there? He thought.
Stealthily he entered the toilet and switched on the light. Nobody was there. But somehow there was a feeling that someone was present in the hotel room. To shake off the uneasiness, there is nothing like a fag, he thought and took out a cigarette. He put it between his lips and went to light it. The next moment he threw the cigarette lighter away with a jerk. What was that?
“Jesus!” he muttered. The cigarette fell from his lips.
This cigarette lighter was one of his favorite curio collections that he had kept with himself for three years. It was a little mermaid made of metal and glass.
The mermaid’s head was broken.
Marcos’s heart was galloping. He was perspiring even in this chilling New York winter. Did the mermaid fall from the sofa? Or has anyone broken it?
Marcos walked up to the horse. It is made of wood from Sleepy Hollow. From the tree in which the headless horseman took shelter. Marcos, now definitely felt that he was not alone in the room. He didn’t know why, but he felt it for sure.
After this Marcos saw something that made the color of his face fly. His throat dried up, something fluttered inside his stomach and a cold wave rolled down his spine. On the side of the wooden horse there was distinctly a stain of fresh flowing blood.
Marcos lost consciousness. His six-foot figure collapsed on the rug, with a thud.
# # # #
It was 5PM, the next day. Darkness will set in any time now. Marcos was sitting inside his car, parked in a deep jungle. The headlight was on. A thick winter fog was rising from the ground making the forest look even more eerie. He was now forty miles away from Buffalo, deep inside the woods of Sleepy Hollow.
Where was Sam?
In the morning he had discussed the paranormal happenings of last night with Sam and both agreed that it would be wise to throw the statue back into the bog inside the heart of the jungle.
What was that sound? The cry of an owl. An owl flew past. The cry gave Marcos goose-bumps. It was much colder in the woods, than it was in New York, though the two places are no more than forty miles apart. Marcos raised the glass of the window.
Someone was approaching through the fog. Marcos sat up straight on his seat, in alert attention.
Sam.
“Hello, Mr. Marcos”
Marcos opened the door.
“I thought you weren’t coming. Get in”. He started the engine.
It had become darker and the fog denser. The car was moving slowly through the woods, breaking twigs and branches under its wheels. Both men were quiet.
“Wait. Turn left. The bog is on that side.” Sam said.
The car turned. But after driving a few meters, Marcos had to apply brakes. What was that, shining on the ground in front of the car? Unless it was moved the car couldn’t go. Sam got down and walked up to the object. He almost disappeared in the fog.
“What’s it?” Marcos shouted from inside the car. There was no reply. Marcos pressed on the horn again and again impatiently.
“Come out and see.”
Marcos trudged ahead. He could feel his legs weakening.
“A sword!” Sam pointed towards it. A shiny large sword was vertically stuck into the soft ground, as if it fell from the sky.
Marcos’s heart missed a beat. He pulled Sam’s hand sharply and dragged him towards the car.
“Let’s get out of here.” he shouted.
“No. The marshland is right in front. Open the boot of the car.”
They opened the boot and took out the large statue of the horse. Together they carried it to the dark waters ahead. After dumping the haunted figure nto the shallow waters of the marsh, they ran back towards the car. After getting in, Marcos drove it swiftly in reverse gear. The red rear lights of the car made the foggy trees of the woods look ghostly. The hanging branches of trees waving in the wind seemed to beckon them with their hands.
“Faster… move faster…” Sam said, looking behind him.
# # # #
Marcos was returning to Mexico on a Virgin flight. The statue wasn’t there anymore. So, there was no reason not to take a flight. He relaxed with eyes closed and listened to his favorite numbers on his iPhone. There’s nothing like music to soothe the nerves. The stress of the last two days was still throbbing inside him. It may never completely abandon him.
He needed a pillow. Where was the flight stewardess? He got up startled. He walked along the aisle. Strange! Such a massive aircraft, and there was not a single passenger! All the seats were empty. But when it left New York, it was packed. The cockpit door was open. He went in. But what is this? The plot didn’t have a head! He was beheaded! The beheaded plot turned towards him.
He woke up gasping for breath. A flight stewardess was offering him a pillow. He was in his seat, sleeping. What a dream! How gruesome.
At the same time a car stopped inside the cold and foggy woods of Sleepy Hollow. The door opened and Sam got off. Sam… Sambaran Bandyopadhyay. He removed the sticking plaster from his finger. The cut had almost healed.
He walked ahead and picked up the sword. It had to be returned to Harry. Harry lent out these things on hire to movie makers. Sam too, had taken it on rent. He went into the cold soggy mud and found the hundred and fifty year old wooden horse easily.
Though the story of the mysterious tree of Sleepy Hollow and the website ‘truehalloween.com’ were all made up instantly by him, Sam was sure that the antique horse would fetch at least five thousand dollars.
Actually… that Mexican was mean. Had he offered some reasonable tip to Sam, would he have bothered to play this game with him! Sam needed to get even and teach him a lesson.
To make him believe in his yarn, he had done just two things. The moment the light in the room went off, he broke the head of the cigarette lighter mermaid. And then he cut his own finger a little with the nail-cutter and smeared the blood on the back of the horse standing in the dark.
The rest just happened inside the mind of the Mexican, after hearing the instantly cooked up tale of Sleepy Hollow.
Sam whistled as he opened the boot of the car, and placed the horse and the sword carefully inside. His car moved through the snowy and foggy jungles of Sleepy Hollow. His destination, New York.

Marcos returned an unfriendly stare at the housekeeping guy, “You waiting for something?” The housekeeping guy raised his head, stole a glance at Marcos and replied, “No sir.” “In that case, thank you my friend and good bye.” With a bang, Marcos closed the door on his face. “Good day, sir!” Said the Indian housekeepng guy. Hardly twenty seven. By then the door had closed on his face. His words of thanks remained unheard by Marcos.He was expecting some tips, was he? Bloody loser. Thought Marcos. Why the hell? Does the hotel pay him peanuts, that this bloody loser was waiting to be tipped to bring his luggage upstairs? Marcos was disgusted. He pulled the curtains apart. It had started snowing outside. The first snow of this winter. Marcos will have to halt in this Buffalo, New York hotel for a day before heading towards Mexico. His country. His home. It isn’t possible for him to take a flight to Mexico. That’s dangerous and suicidal. He has to travel by road and sea. Marcos struggled in vain for over five minutes, trying to open his old fashioned steel trunk. He tried several of the tiny keys. But opening it seemed impossible. He was quite sure he had lost the key to the trunk. Asking for help from the hotel would mean an additional expense of at least a hundred dollars. Why not call that Indian housekeeping guy and request him for a personal favor? That’ll be a lot cheaper. Marcos called the room service guy. The boy surely knew some magic. With a twisted hairpin he pried open the lock in two minutes. Magic is probably infectious, because Marcos’ mood also improved like magic. “Wow, that’s magic, man! You know some mumbo jumbo, huh? Asian?”“Yes sir. Indian” “What’s your name, son?”“Sam.”His real name was Sambaran Bandyopadhyay though; a traditional Indian name, somewhat uncommon, uncomfortably long and difficult to pronounce, especially in this country; named by his grandfather twenty seven years ago. He had himself shortened his name to Sam after coming to United States for a career. Marcos fished out two ten dollar bills from his wallet, thought for a couple of seconds, put back one into his wallet, and handed the other to Sam, thanking him. Sam, the housekeeping guy stared at the large wooden statue of a horse with curiosity as it popped out from the trunk. Curiosity kills the cat, thought Marcos. “Curios. It’s my business” he smiled at Sam. “I collect rare and ancient objects of art. Buying and selling curios is what I do for a living, son.” For his business Marcos has to travel a lot. Century old objects of interest, ancient furnishings, paintings, and statues get sold at illogically high prices. The shady part is that among these there are some stolen items too. Some have been missing from some museum for the last few years. They get sold in Mexico through Marcos. This calls for secrecy. He cannot carry these items along normal routes. That is why he had to resort to either road or waterways that are comparatively safer. He could not possibly tell all that to this young Indian housekeeping guy.  The guy left the room still looking astounded. In the evening it started snowing heavily. The mercury was falling and that could be felt even in this temperature controlled hotel room. Through the window panes he could see the horizon getting foggy and darker. Rows of high-rise building blocks were getting covered under a film of white snowflakes. Down below, on the snaking road which was turning white from grey, rows of cars passed incessantly. The lights in the room were flickering. The voltage was fluctuating. This irritated Marcos. He picked up the phone and abruptly called room service.  At last he found some time to admire his wooden horse. In the afternoon he had fallen asleep without changing his clothes. He had been dead tired of travelling from one coast to another. He took a hot shower; before planning to go down to the restaurant below. But then the lights started flickering again. This horse would be at least a hundred and fifty years old; the handiwork of some unknown Dutch sculptor. The horse belonged to that period, when Dutch nomads left Holland to settle down in America permanently. The old Dutch gentleman from whom he had bought this piece had said so. Black Stallion. An unusually beautiful work of art and craftsmanship. Every muscle on the horse’s body looked surprisingly real and came alive.   Marcos hoped to make at least a few thousand dollars by selling it. The door-bell rang. Room service. “Good evening sir. May I help you?” The Indian guy was at the door.“Come on in. Look at my lights. Something’s wrong with them. They’re flickering like hell. Now, when I pay for a hotel room, I do not expect…”“That’ll be okay sir. It has been happening in all the rooms. Our electrical engineers are working on the line.”“Won’t take long, I suppose, because it is getting on my nerves.” “No sir, just a little longer. … The statue… is it very old sir?” “Oh that? Yeah, about a hundred and fifty years.”“No sir. It is older than that. Two hundred and seven years,” replied Sam.“You mean… you know the exact age of this wooden horse?” Marcos’s hands paused while lighting his cigarette.“Yes sir, I know more than that. When I saw it for the first time this afternoon, I recognized it. I had seen its picture on a website. This very same sculpture. I had read about it too.” “Yeah? Which website? Have you seen its photograph?”“No sir, just a hand drawn sketch. The site was probably called something like, ‘truehalloween.com’”“True Halloween? You mean there is something mysterious and spooky about it? Marcos’s hand, the one with the cigarette trembled a little. The light in the room became very dim at that instant.  They stared at each other silently, without batting an eyelid. Then Sam started. “There is a small village some forty miles from here. Beside the Hudson River. It’s called Sleepy Hollow.”“Wait, I’ve heard this name”, said Marcos.“There’s a movie by this name sir. That’s why you know the name. The village is surrounded by a forest. The forest is known as the woods of the Sleepy Hollow. The place is so quiet that you’d think the entire village is sleeping. In this quiet village, in 1799 some strange incidents started happening. Occasionally, headless bodies were found lying on the village road.”“Headless bodies?”Marcos, listening intently, startled as the cigarette burned down and scorched his middle finger. He had forgotten to smoke. Marcos took out another cigarette from the box and offered Sam. “Thank you.” “Coffee? Let me order some coffee?” Marcos picked up the phone and ordered for two coffees.  “Thank you sir. So, in the evenings people steered clear off the road leading to the woods. Not only so… soon they stopped coming out onto the village road after sunset. Those who had the courage to peep through their windows said that they saw an armored knight holding a sword in his hand, riding on a horseback, galloping along the village road during twilight. The fate of whoever crossed his path was doomed. The rider would chop off the head and take it away with him. They also noticed with awe, that the rider himself had no head! A headless mounted knight. “Police officer Ichabod Crane came from the city to investigate. His investigations revealed that a Hessian soldier had been killed near Sleepy Hollow twenty years earlier, in 1779. The enemies had beheaded him and took his head as a booty. Since then he often visited the terrain in search of his lost head. His horse was always with him. The name of his horse was Daredevil.”The doorbell rang with a jarring ugly sound that startled Marcos. Coffee had arrived. Snowflakes were gathering outside the window pane. A strong wind rattled the window.“Interesting story” said Marcos Gabriel Lenovez, sipping his coffee. “Officer Ichabod took the help of Katerina, a local tomboyish girl and together they found the huge tree from under which the headless soldier came out each evening. After galloping through the village on his horse with an open sword he would return to the tree and finally jump into its trunk.  “At last one day he found his head. It was with Katerina’s stepmother, known in the village as a witch. The soldier killed Katrna’s stepmother and got back his head. There ends the story of the headless phantom of Sleepy Hollow. Author Washington Irving, who had his roots in that village, later published a novel, ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ which was later made into a movie.”“Spooky story, but what is the relation of my horse with this story?”  “The story in the novel ended here, but many incidents happened after that are not docemented in the novel and the film, about which most people do not know.” Sam said. The lights in the room went off, and pitch black darkness rushed in through the windows.“Oh, f***!” Marcos grumbled.“Our engineers are working on it, sir. It’ll be okay.”“Awww. Hmmm. So… what happened after that?”“Right. After that, that ominous-looking tree was cut down by the villagers. The felled tree was profusely bleeding blood. Within a month, Peter Van Garret, the woodcutter who had cut the tree, died mysteriously. You know how he died? Thunderstruck! His entire head smashed and vanished after a lightning struck his head. An atheist artist, Baltas Van Tassel, who lived in the village took the tree trunk home in a carriage and carved this horse out of the wood. He gifted the horse to the police officer Ichabod and his newly-married wife Katerina. On his way home from the police officer’s house, Baltas was attacked by a band of robbers who chopped off his head. It was in the year 1799. Another horrific and terribly sad incident happened the same year during Christmas. There was a bank-robbery in Tarry Town near Sleepy Hollow. The thirty year old brave police officer Ichabod fought a gun battle with the bank robbers and died in the gun battle. His skull was shattered by a bullet, like a water melon.”The wind was growing stronger outside, because the windows rattled rather noisily. The sky was dark. The dots of light were blotted through the thick fog outside. The chilling wind was probably entering through some leak in the window, because Marcos shuddered. “After this incident, Katerina didn’t want to keep the wooden horse with her. The old and wise elderly folk of Sleepy Hollow advised her to get rid of the statue. They told her to throw it into the marshland inside the jungle. Katerina went into the forest with the statue. But since that fateful day, nobody had ever seen either Katerina or the statue.”Both men sat quietly for some time.“Strange story,” said Marcos after a long silence.  # # # #Marcos woke up at midnight with a shudder. The TV was on. He fell off to sleep while watching TV. He checked his wristwatch. It was past midnight. The TV was on mute and the changing images changed the color of the room every second. He had been sleeping on the sofa. What was that? Why was he seeing the shadow of a horse on the wall? His skin gave goosebumps. Was it because of the chilling weather? He turned around to see the statue of the horse standing on the table and realized his folly. The shadow was of the statue, caused by the light from the TV. He tried not to think about the horse. But strange thoughts haunted him again and again. Is the statue still haunted? He thought. The snowstorm had stopped. You don’t see a snowstorm in New York every day. What was that sound? A nagging sound of water dripping from a faucet came from the washroom. Had he forgotten to close the tap properly? He went to the washroom and hesitated to enter. Is anyone there? He thought. Stealthily he entered the toilet and switched on the light. Nobody was there. But somehow there was a feeling that someone was present in the hotel room. To shake off the uneasiness, there is nothing like a fag, he thought and took out a cigarette. He put it between his lips and went to light it. The next moment he threw the cigarette lighter away with a jerk. What was that? “Jesus!” he muttered. The cigarette fell from his lips. This cigarette lighter was one of his favorite curio collections that he had kept with himself for three years. It was a little mermaid made of metal and glass.The mermaid’s head was broken. Marcos’s heart was galloping. He was perspiring even in this chilling New York winter. Did the mermaid fall from the sofa? Or has anyone broken it? Marcos walked up to the horse. It is made of wood from Sleepy Hollow. From the tree in which the headless horseman took shelter. Marcos, now definitely felt that he was not alone in the room. He didn’t know why, but he felt it for sure. After this Marcos saw something that made the color of his face fly. His throat dried up, something fluttered inside his stomach and a cold wave rolled down his spine. On the side of the wooden horse there was distinctly a stain of fresh flowing blood.Marcos lost consciousness. His six-foot figure collapsed on the rug, with a thud. # # # #It was 5PM, the next day. Darkness will set in any time now. Marcos was sitting inside his car, parked in a deep jungle. The headlight was on. A thick winter fog was rising from the ground making the forest look even more eerie. He was now forty miles away from Buffalo, deep inside the woods of Sleepy Hollow.Where was Sam? In the morning he had discussed the paranormal happenings of last night with Sam and both agreed that it would be wise to throw the statue back into the bog inside the heart of the jungle. What was that sound? The cry of an owl. An owl flew past. The cry gave Marcos goose-bumps. It was much colder in the woods, than it was in New York, though the two places are no more than forty miles apart. Marcos raised the glass of the window.Someone was approaching through the fog. Marcos sat up straight on his seat, in alert attention.Sam.“Hello, Mr. Marcos” Marcos opened the door. “I thought you weren’t coming. Get in”. He started the engine. It had become darker and the fog denser. The car was moving slowly through the woods, breaking twigs and branches under its wheels. Both men were quiet. “Wait. Turn left. The bog is on that side.” Sam said.The car turned. But after driving a few meters, Marcos had to apply brakes. What was that, shining on the ground in front of the car? Unless it was moved the car couldn’t go. Sam got down and walked up to the object. He almost disappeared in the fog. “What’s it?” Marcos shouted from inside the car. There was no reply. Marcos pressed on the horn again and again impatiently. “Come out and see.”Marcos trudged ahead. He could feel his legs weakening.“A sword!” Sam pointed towards it. A shiny large sword was vertically stuck into the soft ground, as if it fell from the sky.Marcos’s heart missed a beat. He pulled Sam’s hand sharply and dragged him towards the car. “Let’s get out of here.” he shouted.“No. The marshland is right in front. Open the boot of the car.” They opened the boot and took out the large statue of the horse. Together they carried it to the dark waters ahead. After dumping the haunted figure nto the shallow waters of the marsh, they ran back towards the car. After getting in, Marcos drove it swiftly in reverse gear. The red rear lights of the car made the foggy trees of the woods look ghostly. The hanging branches of trees waving in the wind seemed to beckon them with their hands. “Faster… move faster…” Sam said, looking behind him.  # # # #Marcos was returning to Mexico on a Virgin flight. The statue wasn’t there anymore. So, there was no reason not to take a flight. He relaxed with eyes closed and listened to his favorite numbers on his iPhone. There’s nothing like music to soothe the nerves. The stress of the last two days was still throbbing inside him. It may never completely abandon him. He needed a pillow. Where was the flight stewardess? He got up startled. He walked along the aisle. Strange! Such a massive aircraft, and there was not a single passenger! All the seats were empty. But when it left New York, it was packed. The cockpit door was open. He went in. But what is this? The plot didn’t have a head! He was beheaded! The beheaded plot turned towards him.He woke up gasping for breath. A flight stewardess was offering him a pillow. He was in his seat, sleeping. What a dream! How gruesome.
At the same time a car stopped inside the cold and foggy woods of Sleepy Hollow. The door opened and Sam got off. Sam… Sambaran Bandyopadhyay. He removed the sticking plaster from his finger. The cut had almost healed. He walked ahead and picked up the sword. It had to be returned to Harry. Harry lent out these things on hire to movie makers. Sam too, had taken it on rent. He went into the cold soggy mud and found the hundred and fifty year old wooden horse easily. Though the story of the mysterious tree of Sleepy Hollow and the website ‘truehalloween.com’ were all made up instantly by him, Sam was sure that the antique horse would fetch at least five thousand dollars. Actually… that Mexican was mean. Had he offered some reasonable tip to Sam, would he have bothered to play this game with him! Sam needed to get even and teach him a lesson. To make him believe in his yarn, he had done just two things. The moment the light in the room went off, he broke the head of the cigarette lighter mermaid. And then he cut his own finger a little with the nail-cutter and smeared the blood on the back of the horse standing in the dark. The rest just happened inside the mind of the Mexican, after hearing the instantly cooked up tale of Sleepy Hollow.  Sam whistled as he opened the boot of the car, and placed the horse and the sword carefully inside. His car moved through the snowy and foggy jungles of Sleepy Hollow. His destination, New York.

 

By Pinaki Ghosh

Illustration by: Amitava Chandra, courtesy, Unish Kuri.

An easy-to-read downloadable PDF version of this story can be downloaded by clicking this link.

Jimmy’s version (11.05 AM)

“The Metro station?” the girl looked questioningly. I looked at her.

“This way,” I answered, pointing my thumb towards the Metro rail station.

I have to repeat this reply at least two hundred times in a day. My little tea-coffee joint Jimmy’s Hotties is a two minutes’ walk from the Metro…the tube-rail station of sector five of Salt Lake, Kolkata. My joint is merely a five by five kiosk with three sides open but does fair share of business. Luckily the New Writers’ Building, the state government administrative house has come up right opposite my kiosk two years back in 2013.

During the great worldwide economic depression of 2009-2010 many large information technology companies closed their shutters and departed. The vast township of Salt Lake looked like a haunted city then.

My father established this stall many years ago and looked after its affairs till a few years back. The old aluminum kettle was still used on the gas stove to make tea those days. Now everyone uses slick machines for making tea and coffee. From 2011 onwards the market improved again. And the new Writers’ Building started coming up at that time. Now this is our state Chief Minister’s address.

“Thanks”…the girl left. Pretty girl…poor thing, there was a huge plaster in her arm.

“Tea,” a man of about twenty five stood in front of my counter. A printed white Che Guevara portrait frowned at me from his black tee shirt.

“How many, Sir?” My routine question.

“Can’t see anyone else around! So, one cup would be enough,” he looked around and replied.

“The Chief Minister hasn’t yet entered office I suppose.” he continued.

“Telling me, Sir?” I said.

“No.” He said. He was on his cell phone. His sunglasses are his cell phone. These days you can’t make out who’s talking to whom.

“Has the Chief Minister entered?”

“Are you talking to me now?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“No. Her convoy comes at eleven. Will arrive any time now.”

Within a minute the Chief Minister’s convoy approached noisily.

“Thanks.” The boy spoke over his sunglass phone. “I’m entering now. The Chief Minister has arrived. Navin Goel has already entered, I can see his car.”

The guy left in a hurry leaving half his tea unfinished.

Ten minutes after this, the massive video billboard across the road suddenly blacked out. In a gust of wind something must have come and hit it… I stared in surprise. A train was passing overhead noisily. I noticed a crack across the huge video billboard screen.

Suddenly there were hooters screaming from everywhere. Or maybe, it was coming from the direction of the government building. Something must have happened inside the Writers’ Building. Security forces were running towards the Writers’ Building. Has anyone attacked the Chief Minister? I crossed the road and walked curiously towards the government building. What could have happened?

I saw the time – 11.30 AM.

 

Rahul’s version (11.05 AM)

Our car halted right behind Naveen Goel’s Mercedes. While getting off, I told Natasha to keep the audio recorder on.

“Sure,” said Natasha, “All the best.”

I asked a police constable posted at the gate of the government house when the Chief Minister was expected to arrive. He wasn’t sure. He looked away.

I had to spend time. I thought of having a cup of tea from Jimmy’s Hotties, a stall across the street. Crossing the road was a pain – traffic has increased immensely in the last 4-5 years. But pollution level has definitely come down.

At the tea-stall I briefly exchanged glances with a pretty girl with a plastered arm. She was probably looking at the picture of Che Guevera on my shirt. A lot of people look at it. She left as I stepped in front of the tea stall. I sipped my cup of lemon tea. Natasha called me, her voice was screaming from my sunglass-phone, “Why did you cross the road? “

“The Chief Minister hasn’t yet entered office I suppose,” I replied her.

Immediately I heard the convoy approaching. I paid the boy and left, leaving my tea half-finished. The security guy at the gate asked for my appointment letter. I missed a few heartbeats. Because even though the letter I was carrying was genuine, the time and date had been altered. The security supervisor frisked me and asked, “Carrying any electronic gadgets?”

“Nothing officer, except the sunglasses,” I smiled. I chose to remain silent about my electronic button. The electronic button on my shirt could record any sound within 500 meters.

“Can I enter, then?”

“No, the Chief Minister is in a meeting, the red light is on. Please wait here for some time.”

So, she’s in a meeting with Naveen Goel. And that’s exactly what I wish to hear. It could be the subject of my next article. I had to move closer, in order for my button microphone to receive the conversation inside.

“I’m sitting here next to the door,” I said.

Once I go near the door, I’d be able to enter somehow. As if like a warning the red light was glaring at me from the top of Chief Minister’s door at the end of the corridor. I knocked the door. The Chief Minister’s bodyguard peeked from Chief Minister’s room with an automatic rifle in his hand, “What do you want? Can’t you see the Chief Minister is busy?” He pointed towards the red light above the door.

“The Chief Minister has called me to attend this meeting.” I blurted out as I pushed the door and entered.

“What’s this? What do you think you are doing? I’ll get you arrested,” shouted the security personnel pushing me back.

I could see the Chief Minister Maya Bannerjee. Naveen Goel sat facing her.

“Ma’am, I’m Rahul Sen from ‘People’s Democracy’, the weekly.  I raised my voice and said, “If you could tell me why you have called Naveen Goel today, ma’am.”

“Do you have an appointment?”

“No ma’am.”

“How strange! How can a reporter enter like this, breaking all protocol?” The Chief Minister was visibly annoyed.

“Get out!” A security officer caught me by my collar.

“Easy, brother,” I tried to smile.

Naveen Goel stood up excitedly and pointed at me, “This is the guy. He’s the one who wrote misleading reports about ‘InGeneers’ to malign us. He’s trying to spoil our reputation and hinder the project.”

I couldn’t stay any longer; not even for a minute. After coming out of the Chief Minister’s room, I was harassed once again by the security officer outside the room.

“What’s the matter? Didn’t I tell you to wait? Why did you enter?” Before I could answer, I heard the radio transmitter tucked in his belt raising alarm, “Calling Security supervisor!”

“Vijayprakash Singh here, go ahead,” he replied.

“Sir, please come inside. The Chief Minister has been shot just now.”

“My goodness!” he rushed towards the Chief Minister’s room.

I shuddered. I knew I should move out from here at once Not only did I enter under false identity; I forced myself into the Chief Minister’s room.

I walked towards the ground floor in quick steps. Suddenly hooters and alarms went off from all directions. I saw many more armed police officers and security guards coming in hordes. It took a minute to reach ground floor. I entered the toilet, opened my black tee shirt, and shoved it into the cistern.

I came out in a red sleeveless vest. Now I’ve got to look for Natasha.

My watch showed 11.30 AM.

 

Vijayprakash Singh’s version (11.05 AM)

My job—security supervisor to the Chief Minister is not at all romantic. It is grueling.

The man, who handed over the letter saying, ‘I have a meeting with the Chief Minister at eleven hundred hours,’ looked impressive. I could make out immediately that he was a VIP. Ten years into this job; I can recognize VIPs at one glance. I saw the name, Naveen Goel, CEO, InGeneers. It sounds like ‘engineers’, but is spelt differently; as if it has some hidden connotation.

“Please take a seat, Sir.” I paged the security of Chief Minister’s convoy over the radio transmitter. He replied that they were just one kilometer from the Government house.

“Sir, the Chief Minister is just one kilometer away,” I informed Naveen Goel, the visitor.

“Thanks.”

Within five minutes the Chief Minister arrived. Meeting started; the light over the door turned red. It suggests, no one should disturb at this time.

One more visitor appeared. A young man in his twenties, wearing a black tee shirt flashing a picture of Che Guevara. I checked his appointment paper and identity proof. He had an appointment. He told me he was working for an NGO – a non government benevolent organization. My junior frisked him and I told him to wait. I had to take a call after this. After talking over the phone for about four minutes I was shocked to see that the boy in black tee shirt was being shoved out from the room. I lost my cool. Son of a bitch!

“What’s the matter? Didn’t I tell you to wait? Why did you enter?” I shouted.

Before he could reply I heard Raghubir, one of the bodyguards of the Chief Minister paging over the radio transmitter, “Sir, please come inside. The Chief Minister has been shot just now.” There was normal excitement in his voice.

“My goodness!” I exclaimed and entered Chief Minister’s room. I entered and made a quick scan. The Chief Minister was lying on her belly on the floor beside her chair. The two bodyguards—Raghubir and Hardeep Singh made body-shields and covered her… a standard practice in such a situation.

“Is she hit?” I asked.

“No sir.”

Thank God, I thought. Is anyone hit then? Who fired the gun? Was there a firing at all? In a moment I got some of the answers. I spotted Naveen Goel lying prostate on the floor—a wound on his chest. Thick blood was flowing on to the ground.

So, there was indeed a firing, and it missed the Chief Minister. It struck Naveen Goel. There was no one else in the room, except the two bodyguards.  Was it fired through the window? There was only one open window. I ran towards it. The room is on the third floor. Nobody was seen running away on the street below. And if fired from below, it would have hit the ceiling. There was no building right on the opposite side. Far away I could see the wetlands of fisheries. A hundred meters away was the tube railway line of the East-West Metro. I saw a train rumbling away.

Where is the second visitor? The man who barged in without permission? I rushed out. Where did he go? He’d be caught for sure. His identity papers were with us, scanned. Of course those might be false.

I used the radio transmitter – “A guy around twenty five is walking out in a black tee-shirt… with a white Che Guevara face on the tee. Catch him.”

I started running towards ground floor. Others triggered the hooter. We’ve got to catch him.

It was 11.30 AM.

 

Naveen Goel’s version (11:05 AM)

I saw the watch. Just reached the Chief Minister’s office; there was no sign of her.

I’m the head of ‘InGeneers’. The name of my organization is unique – it is a portmanteau of 3 words; ‘In’ for India, ‘gene’ and ‘engineer’. Yes, we are an Indian company working with genetic engineering. I’m a molecular biologist myself.

The Chief Minister just entered. She had called me. I made a quick call to my office from my specs-phone. “I’m entering Chief Minister’s cabin. Where is Papa?”

“Papa is in position” replied my office.

“Convey my regards to Papa”. I disconnected. Papa is a code word – Papa is the international code for ‘P’ and P stands for Priyanka. Priyanka has been assigned a special task.

It would have been foolish to call her myself. So there’s someone in between. Today is a crucial day for us. It can turn out to be the end of our project. The research work carried on by ‘InGeneers’ could come to a complete halt. In 2011 our research started under the patronage of the then Chief Minister Tathagata Bhattacharya. It started as just a research project. But now I can vouch for the fact that our company has taken this research to the level of art. We are working towards increasing the speed of man. And it could definitely be used in sports, defense and industry. But for all good work done—there is always a group of people trying to put a stick in your spokes. And unfortunately that has happened to us too. Some people from our own country had started raising objection to our project. And now many others from various countries have joined in the protest. That is why the Chief Minister of this state, Ms. Maya Bannerjee has called me today.

After entering her office and exchanging formal greetings, I was asked to sit facing her. I had a quick glance at the open window behind the Chief Minister.

“Mr. Goel, let me cut it short. I’m proud that a company like ‘InGeneers’ is working in my state. And I hope your organization and your project will draw the world’s attention towards my state, but not for the wrong reasons.”

“Wrong reasons are man-made,” I smiled. “The controversies are created by some media. Our company has never done anything illegal, and will never do so. Our aim is noble. First there was the airplane, and then came the supersonic plane. Similarly first there was man, and now we are trying to design a super-fast man.”

“I know all this, Mr. Goel. But the point is, you are violating human rights in trying to do so. You are experimenting with human beings, like guinea-pigs. You are endangering them,” replied the Chief Minister.

“That is not true. It was published in a weekly, the ‘People’s Democracy’… a perfect example of yellow journalism by an irresponsible, attention greedy reporter, Rahul Sen. After that a few popular social networks had carried the news and it started a worldwide commotion.” I clarified.

“Amnesty International has also got involved, Mr. Goel.”

“You go through this presentation madam; it will give you a clear idea about the way we work, and what we are trying to achieve.”

“Leave it Mr. Goel; there’s no need of a presentation. I got hold of some information about your company. Sorry to say, I had to resort to the intelligence bureau of police for that.”

I was taken aback for a while. This means, not only the media, but also the police detectives are after us.

“You have opened another company, ‘Bio Kynematics’ haven’t you, Mr. Goel? So that if one is closed down for irregularities, you can still carry on your activities in another name, isn’t that the reason you started the other organization, Mr. Goel?”

Our dialogue was going from bad to worse. I was of course prepared for such a situation. In case negotiations failed, my alternative plan was ready.

At this time the Chief Minister had to take a phone call. I took the opportunity to make a call from my specs-phone. “Plan A has failed. Execute plan B. Tell Papa, the mission is on,” I whispered to my office.

The Chief Minister looked at me and said, “You’d do me and yourself a favor if you could maintain a little more transparency in your functioning, Mr. Goel. I heard InGeneers is like a fortress. Nobody can enter it. Is that so?”

“Is that wrong? Every organization has the right to maintain its own privacy, is that wrong ma’am?” I asked.

“That is true. But since a controversy has cropped up, you better maintain transparency. You are not doing anything detrimental to the nation, so what’s your problem? Allow our  inspectors to have a look at your laboratories.”

Suddenly there was a commotion at the door. I saw journalist Rahul Sen. He had forced himself in without permission. He was thrown out, but Chief Minister was a little shocked; she lost her words.

I looked at my watch—11.29 AM.

Then at the window.

A East-West Metro train was passing noisily. I quickly looked at the Chief Minister. Then suddenly, it was as if someone poured hot molten lead into my chest. Before I fell from my chair I saw blood oozing out from the left of my chest and a sharp pain shutting out my senses.

Then it went dark.

 

Priyanka’s version (11:05 AM)

I looked at my watch. 11.05 AM.

I was supposed to reach the metro station at sector five by 11. I’ve never been to this station before. I decided to wait at a tea stall Jimmy’s Hotties.

“The Metro station…?” I asked the guy at the kiosk.

“This way”, answered the guy at the counter. Another young man in a black tee shirt also pointed at the station. He was staring at my plastered arm. I saw a Che Guevara portrait printed on his tee. We exchanged glances once before I left for the station.

I bought a ticket up to Central station and walked up to the platform. Soon the train arrived. But I waited for the instruction and let the train go.

I have a pseudonym—P or Papa. I’m a molecular biologist. Once I was a pupil of Naveen Goel; now an employee of InGeneers. On the advice of my teacher and boss, Naveen Goel, I opted to become the test subject of the Super Fast Human Project. Today I’m the first super fast human in the world. I can do in one hundredth of the time what others can do at normal speed. So, my world is entirely different. I see everything around me move slowly –at one hundredth of my speed. I never feel I’m very fast; only others around me seem to move like a slow motion movie.

Nobody knows about me yet. The time has not arrived. I’m still at an experimental stage. And for this secrecy I rarely go out into the world. Today is an exception. I’ve come out on a mission. I’m told to be very careful and keep pace with the normal world.

I was hoping I’d finally get a call today that the mission is called off. But instead, the message came, that the mission is on. So, I have to complete my assignment.

I got into the steel-colored train. There were very few commuters. It was moving in slow motion, like slow motion movie footage.

I have to check the built-in long distance rifle inside the plaster of my arm. The rifle had a camera with it. In the lens of my sunglasses, I can see the image of the camera if I wish to. The train emerged from the station, traveling at a height of 30 feet from the ground. I could see the massive video billboard from the window. Some advertisement film was on. I aimed the rifle by raising my plastered arm casually towards the window. I could see the image in my glasses. At the press of the trigger in my pocket a bullet shot off cracking the billboard right across. It is not possible for ordinary humans to see the details I could see when it broke from end to end.

Perfect; I smiled to myself.

Now, my next target was the Chief Minister’s window.

The train, now moving at 60 kilometers per hour will pass the Chief Minister’s window soon.  At this speed, no ordinary person can pass a bullet through a one-meter-wide window. The train is covering 1000 meters in a minute. So, to pass the window it will take only 0.06 second. But that is the common man’s calculation. Since I’m 100 times faster I will get full 6 seconds before the train passes the window… enough for me to make a perfect job.

The window was approaching. There, I can see her, Goel is sitting opposite the Chief Minister. I lifted my plastered arm. My mission today is to shoot the Chief Minister. Naveen thinks the Chief Minister’s sudden death will put an end to his crisis for the time being, and he would get some time to finish the project. By the time the new Chief Minister takes over and notices this issue, the controversy will lose its punch.

I pressed the trigger and the bullet flew off.

Who was hit, the Chief Minister? No, it was Naveen Goel.

Was it my mistake? No. I never miss my target.

Naveen’s death was supposed to be in my hand. And why not? I had volunteered for this secret project at his word. But why did he have to suppress the truth? It is violation of human rights… a crime!

Naveen had told me my speed will increase a hundred times. But he never told me that my life-span will also decrease a hundred times. According to normal parameters my death will come 100 times faster, within one year. Actually my body-clock has been reset with a hundred times faster speed. I discovered this fact myself from Naveen’s lab, from his computer. I suspected when I first saw faint signs of wrinkles on my arm, I was only twenty five. Why did he hide this—I asked myself many times. I wanted to live.

That was when I took the decision; Naveen Goel’s end will be in my hands.

My mission is accomplished. Time: 11:30 AM.

Okay guys I am back after a long silence.

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16
April

You gotta tell your story!

Written by admin. 3 comments Posted in: Uncategorized

by Nick Blake

We get lots of interesting mail here at TheScreenplayWriters.com. People all over the world send us story ideas or requests to do stories about their lives. Any story ideas we delete unread (to read them sets us up for liability issues up the ying-yang that are best avoided altogether). We tend to respond to interesting life stories, however — not to write them ourselves, but to encourage people to write their own stories.

Writing is something Pinaki and I both feel passionately about. Though we love taking interesting commission projects, we equally love pushing people with a story to tell their story. Life and art are meant to be shared. If you feel passionately about a project you should pursue it. When acted upon, passion tends to open doors and makes things happen. People respond to passion — that’s what makes good stories GOOD.

Below is an example of a recent exchange. It is by no means unique. We hear stories like this at least once a day. For the sake of urging people to engage creativity in their daily lives, I offer it as an example of the kind of interesting life story that should get written!

I also offer it as an example of the kind of request we can’t do, and what our response will be. If you think you have an interesting story to tell, then tell it! We’d love to take a look at it when you’re done and see if we can’t help craft it into something stronger. At the very least we might be able to point you in the right direction if we can’t do anything with it.

All my best,
nick

—-

Ms. L wrote:
I was once featured on a short lived reality tv show called three wishes on nbc. Since that show aired, my hearing got worse and my story is truly better than fiction. I think it would make a great movie. I have begun work on my book, but I am not writer… does anyone take great stories and write them as screenplays…would anyone be interested?

Pinaki wrote:
Dear Ms. L,
Thank you for writing to us. I am sure you have an interesting story to tell.
FYI, we are a professional screenplay writing company. We write screenplays on demand, when a client (usually filmmakers or producers) finance the project. I believe you have to either get in touch with a film production company and convince them to make a film on your life, or finance the screenplay project yourself and then show it to a producer/production company.
Pl feel free to ask questions if any.
Best regards,
Pinaki Ghosh
Co-founder www.TheScreenplayWriters.com

Ms. L wrote:
Pinaki:
Thank you, I thought that may be the answer I would recieve, but thank you for taking the time to respond. I am sure you are very busy… I appreciate your kindness.
Regards,
Ms. L

Nick wrote:
Hi Ms. L,
This is Nick, Pinaki’s business partner. You’re very welcome, thanks for writing! The movie biz, like many creative endeavors, is fueled by passion. My advice: if you truly believe in your story, write it. Shop it around to several movie editing services (relatively inexpensive – generally $200-$250 … there are several good ones out there, including our own. If you’re interested I’ll point you to a variety of online writers). Don’t be afraid to spend time developing the story – years, even. You’ll end up with something beautiful in the end. Then you’ll be in a position to approach agents who might be able to land you a movie deal (or TV, or something). That part takes perseverence and a little luck – but luck tends to favor the bold. :)
Writing is extremely difficult – most of the time it feels like a worthless endeavor. But if you fight for it, it will be immensely satisfying!
All my best,
Nick

Ms. L wrote:
Nick,
You and your business partner must be kind men. I do write a little… I have a blog I started several years ago… I am in the process of beginning the long journery of writing a book. I have journals and the blog, so I at least I have a starting point… and I have the story, how many deaf music teachers are there?
Warm regards-
Ms. L

We received a survey from a college student looking for more information about what a screenplay writing career looks like (see below). My response is posted below.
I’m interested in what other writers out there have to say. Tell me, what’s been your experience of a screenplay writing career?
Survey starts:
1) Are there any specific training, certification, or licensing requirements for this profession?
2) What does the career ladder look like? Is there a stratification in employment opportunities or is it a very self-motivated profession? What does the salary range look like?
3) What personal skills, attributes, attitudes that individuals in this
occupation find important/useful?
4) What changes to the occupation over the last 10-15 years have occurred? – downsizing, multiple roles, paradigm shifts, etc. What changes are anticipated in the next 5-10 years?
My response:
There are lots of routes to take to be a successful screenplay writer. You could move to LA and cover scripts for a major studio, move to New York City and work on a TV show (fetching coffee for producers is a good way to start) and slowly work your way up the ladder, or go to school to learn the craft. There is no right or wrong way to do it.
No matter how you tackle it, however, you’ve got to be self-motivated and have incredibly thick skin. And, most importantly, you’ve got to write. Constantly. Say goodbye to friends, the sun, your social life … when you’re not working on script treatments for a client you’ll be staring into space waiting for inspiration to strike as you struggle through a script of your own. You can go to school to learn how to do it, or have written dramatic works since you were a kid, or stumble into the field mid-life. Creativity is what this field is all about. If you got it, you’ll thrive. If you don’t, you’ll starve regardless how many diplomas you hang on the wall.
As for career advancement and reward, that all depends on skill, networking and luck. The first two you can manage if you try your hardest. The last is less certain. The monetary reward isn’t always what I’d like, but the satisfaction of digging into characters and psyche is hard to beat.
Based on all my research and experience, this has not changed since the industry was born. But I could be wrong. I also can’t speak for our Indian counterparts.
All my best,
Nick

By Nick Blake

We received a survey from a college student looking for more information about what a screenplay writing career looks like (see below). My response is posted below.

I’m interested in what other writers out there have to say. Tell me, what’s been your experience of a screenplay writing career?

Survey starts:

1) Are there any specific training, certification, or licensing requirements for this profession?

2) What does the career ladder look like? Is there a stratification in employment opportunities or is it a very self-motivated profession? What does the salary range look like?

3) What personal skills, attributes, attitudes that individuals in this

occupation find important/useful?

4) What changes to the occupation over the last 10-15 years have occurred? – downsizing, multiple roles, paradigm shifts, etc. What changes are anticipated in the next 5-10 years?

My response:

There are lots of routes to take to be a successful screenplay writer. You could move to LA and cover scripts for a major studio, move to New York City and work on a TV show (fetching coffee for producers is a good way to start) and slowly work your way up the ladder, or go to school to learn the craft. There is no right or wrong way to do it.

No matter how you tackle it, however, you’ve got to be self-motivated and have incredibly thick skin. And, most importantly, you’ve got to write. Constantly. Say goodbye to friends, the sun, your social life … when you’re not working on script treatments for a client you’ll be staring into space waiting for inspiration to strike as you struggle through a script of your own. You can go to school to learn how to do it, or have written dramatic works since you were a kid, or stumble into the field mid-life. Creativity is what this field is all about. If you got it, you’ll thrive. If you don’t, you’ll starve regardless how many diplomas you hang on the wall.

As for career advancement and reward, that all depends on skill, networking and luck. The first two you can manage if you try your hardest. The last is less certain. The monetary reward isn’t always what I’d like, but the satisfaction of digging into characters and psyche is hard to beat.

Based on all my research and experience, this has not changed since the industry was born. But I could be wrong. I also can’t speak for our Indian counterparts.

All my best,

Nick

Here is Pinaki’s Response:

1) Are there any specific training, certification, or licensing requirements for this profession?

If you are a screenwriter, you are a professional. You need to have the usual trade license required for professionals to practice. It varies from country to country. Besides, in USA there is the WGA (Writers’ Guild of America)… you may or may not be their member. Members get some benefits from the association but must maintain a minimum rate set by the association to prevent unhealthy undercutting of rates. We have a similar association called Film Writers’ Association in India, for Bollywood/Indian screenwriters.

Most film schools offer training of screenwriting, but you can also be a screenwriter without a formal training. There are good books available in the market; you can read those; you can read scripts and you should watch good movies. Ultimately if you are not passionate about screenwriting, a formal training will not help you much. On the other hand if you are very passionate and enthusiastic, a formal training may not be necessary.

2) What does the career ladder look like?  Is there a stratification in employment opportunities or is it a very self-motivated profession?  What does the salary range look like?

A large number of screenwriters try to come to this profession passion driven, but since opportunities are limited, many of them later divert to other mainstream professions, getting no success. For those who stick to it and see success, the earning graph is very unevenly distributed. In the beginning some even write for free to get an opportunity with a big house. Some write for as low as $1,500 a script. The rate shoots up considerably once there is one produced movie in your credit. In India it can be around $15,000 when you have one produced movie. It shoots up many times and becomes a gigantic, enviable figure once you give a hit. It can cross $50.000 for a single movie. American rates are more.

3) What personal skills, attributes, attitudes that individuals in this occupation find important/useful?

Those who are passionate about cinema, watch good movies by the best directors, have participated in creative writing as students, are likely to be good screenwriters.

4) What changes to the occupation over the last 10-15 years have occurred? – downsizing, multiple roles, paradigm shifts, etc. What changes are anticipated in the next 5-10 years?

In the last 15 years the screenplay writers’ playground has become a lot more international. Due to the internet and popularity of mixed cultural movies, the screenwriter does not only serve the local market. We have Indian writers writing American movies (I have done so); American writers writing Indian Bollywood movies (US screenwriter duo Joshua and Briyan wrote the Bollywood movie Blue; US writer David Benullo wrote the Bollywood sci fi movie Ra 1, etc.)

I did not see any downsizing, but I am not writing screenplays for 15 years; so I may not be the right person to answer this.

In the next 15 years, screenplay writers will have to update themselves technically and adapt to rapidly changing new technologies.

screenwriter jokePLEASE ADD TO THIS LIST IN THE COMMENTS SECTION. IF YOU LIKE THIS, WE’LL COME UP WITH A SIMILAR LIST ABOUT BOLLYWOOD MOVIES SOON.

During all police investigations, it will be necessary to visit a strip club at least once.

All beds have special L-shaped sheets which reach up to the armpit level on a woman, but only to waist level on the man lying beside her.

All grocery shopping bags contain at least one loaf of French bread or bunch of celery that sticks out the top of a full bag.

It’s easy for anyone to land a plane, providing there is someone in the control tower to talk you down.

Once applied, lipstick will never rub off, even while scuba diving.

The ventilation system of any building is the perfect hiding place. No one will ever think of looking for you in there, and you can travel to any other part of the building without difficulty.

If you need to reload your gun, you will always have more ammunition, even if you weren’t carrying any before now.

You’re very likely to survive any battle in any war, unless you make the mistake of showing someone a picture of your sweetheart back home.

Should you wish to pass yourself off as a German officer, it will not be necessary to speak the language – a German accent will do.

If your town is threatened by an imminent natural disaster or killer beast, the mayor’s first concern will be the tourist trade or his forthcoming art exhibition.

The Eiffel Tower can be seen from any window in Paris. The Taj Mahal from any window in India. The Howrah Bridge from any window in Calcutta.

A man will show no pain while taking the most ferocious beating, but will wince when a woman tries to clean his wounds.

If a large pane of glass is visible, someone will be thrown through it before long.

Most dogs are immortal.

If being chased through town, you can usually take cover in a passing St. Patrick’s Day parade – at any time of the year.

When paying for a taxi, don’t look at your wallet as you take out a bill – just grab one at random and hand it over. It will always be the exact fare.

Interbreeding is genetically possible with creatures from anywhere in the universe.

Kitchens don’t have light switches. When entering a kitchen at night, you should open the fridge door and use that light instead.

Word processors never display a cursor on screen, but will always say: ENTER PASSWORD NOW.

Mothers routinely cook eggs, bacon and waffles for their families every morning, even though their husbands and children never have time to eat.

Cars which crash will almost always burst into flames.

The Chief of Police will always suspend his star detective – or give him 48 hours to finish the job.

A single match will be sufficient to light up a room the size of the Astrodome.

Medieval peasants had perfect teeth.

Although in the 20th century it is possible to fire weapons at an object out of our visual range, people of the 23rd century will have lost this technology.

Any person waking from a nightmare will sit bolt upright and pant.

It is not necessary to say hello or goodbye when beginning or ending phone conversations.

Even when driving down a perfectly straight road, it is necessary to turn the steering wheel vigorously from left to right every few moments.

All bombs are fitted with electronic timing devices with large red readouts so you know exactly when they’re going to go off.

It is always possible to park directly outside the building you’re visiting.

If you decide to start dancing in the street, everyone you bump into will know all the steps.

Most laptop computers are powerful enough to override the communication systems of any alien civilization.

When a person is knocked unconscious by a blow to the head, they will never suffer a concussion or brain damage, and nobody involved in a car chase, hijacking, explosion, volcanic eruption or alien invasion will ever go into shock.

Any lock can be picked by a credit card or a paper clip in seconds – unless it’s the door to a burning building with a child trapped inside.

Police Departments give their officers personality tests to make sure they are deliberately assigned a partner who is their total opposite.

When they’re alone, all foreigners prefer to speak English among themselves.

You can always find a chain saw when you need one.

An electric fence which is powerful enough to kill a dinosaur will cause no lasting damage to an eight-year-old child.

Television news bulletins usually contain a story that affects you personally at that precise moment, and it’s never necessary to listen to the complete bulletin.

It doesn’t matter if you are heavily outnumbered in a fight involving martial arts – your enemies will wait patiently to attack you one by one. They’ll dance around in a threatening manner until you have knocked out their predecessors.

Cartoon courtesy: John Crowther

Government (Cabinet) Decision

The Union Cabinet today approved the proposal to introduce a Bill to amend the Copyright Act, 1957.  The Ministry of Human Resource Development has proposed the amendments in order to gain clarity, remove operational difficulties and to address the newer issues that have emerged in the context of digital technology and the internet.

Amendments are being made to bring the Act in conformity with the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) Internet Treaties, namely WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT) and WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT) which have set the international standards in these spheres.  The WCT deals with the protection for the authors of literary and artistic works such as writings, computer programmes, original databases, musical works, audiovisual works, works of fine art and photographs.  The WPPT protects certain “related rights” which are the rights of the performers and producers of phonograms.  While India has not yet signed the above two treaties it is necessary to amend domestic legislation to extend the copyright protection in the digital environment.

Amendments related to bring the Act in conformity with WCT and WPPT :

·         Through a new section in the Act, it is proposed to ensure protection to the Right holders against circumvention of effective technological measures applied for purpose of protection of his rights like breaking of passwords etc. while maintaining an appropriate balance between the interests of the right holders on the one hand and of Technology innovators, Researchers and Educational Institutions on the other.
·         The existing Performers’ Rights are proposed to be further enhanced by introducing a new section to provide exclusive rights compatible with WPPT.
·         “The Moral Rights of Performers” are proposed to be introduced in a new section.
·         Amendments have been proposed to protect the interests of researchers, students and educational institutions so as to ensure that Technological Measures do not act as a barrier for further development of the technology.  These amendments also address the issue of access to information in the digital context and the liability of Internet service providers.
·         The period of copyright for photographers is proposed to be enhanced to “Life plus sixty years” instead of only sixty years as at present.

Amendment to protect the Music and Film Industry and address its concerns :

·         Statutory licence for version recordings and authorship to ensure that
while making a sound recording of any literary, dramatic or musical work the interest of the copyright holder is duly protected.
·         Term of copyright for cinematograph films has been extended by making
the Producers and Principal director as joint authors.
·         A copyright term of 70 years to Principal Director which automatically
extends the copyright term for the Producers for another 10 years provided he enters into an agreement with the Director;

Amendments to address the concerns of the physically challenged:

The physically challenged need access to copyright material in specialized formats, e.g. Braille text, talking text, electronic text, large print etc. for the visually challenged and sign language for the aurally challenged.  Currently the cost of production of material in such formats is very high.  With additional requirement of royalty payments the price of such material to the target groups would be even higher.
·         A clause is proposed to be introduced as a fair deal clause to allow the production of copies of copyright material in formats specially designed for the physically challenged.
·         A separate compulsory licensing provision has been proposed to allow for publication of copyright works in formats other than specifically suited for the physically challenged.

Amendments for rights to authors:

·         Amendment is proposed to give independent rights to authors of literary and musical works in cinematograph films, which were hitherto denied and wrongfully exploited, by the producers and music companies.
·         An amendment is proposed to ensure that the authors retain their right to receive royalties and the benefits enjoyed through the copyright societies.
·         Another amendment ensures that the authors of the works, particularly songs included in the cinematograph film or sound recordings, receive royalty for the commercial exploitation of such work.
·         It has been proposed to introduce a system of statutory licensing to ensure that the public has access to musical works over the FM Radio and Television networks and at the same time the owners of copyright works are also not subject to any disadvantages.
·         It is proposed to amend existing provisions to provide compulsory license through Copyright Board to publish or communicate to the public such work or translation where the author is dead or unknown or cannot be traced or the owner of the copyright work in such work cannot be found.

Other amendments

·         Amendments are being made for incidental changes, which are required in the context of digital technology to cover “storing of copyrights material by electronic means’.
·         Amendments in relation to operational facilities, such as registration of Copyright Societies by providing that only authors can register and procedure for tariff schemes of copyright societies and commercial distinction between assignment and licence; and
·         Enforcement of rights such as border measures, disposal of infringing copies and presumption of authorship under civil remedies.

Background :

In order to formulate the proposed amendments and to carry out wide-ranging consultations with all stakeholders, the Ministry of Human Resource Development had constituted a 30-member Core Group in the year 2005 under the Chairmanship of the Education Secretary with representatives of the other Ministries/Departments concerned with the subject and other key stakeholders like copyright-industry organizations, stakeholders, subject experts and Institutions of repute in related fields.  The Core Group had deliberations at length in five sessions to cover all the provisions of the existing statute and made recommendations with regard to the proposed amendments.  The Core Group then created a Drafting Committee to draw up the text of the proposed amendments and to fine-tune the recommendations of the Core Group.

pinaki-ghoshBy Pinaki Ghosh

TheScreenplayWriters.com opens yet another chapter. From today we start yet another new service. We have set up our state-of-the-art storyboard artist studio. You can hire storyboard artists from us at the best rates anywhere in the industry.  $50 per frame for B/W storyboard, and $100 per frame for color.

Using storyboard artists for your screenplay is one of the best ways you can visualize your movie much before the movie is actually made. It can be best described as hand drawn art (nowadays digital art is also seen) that look like comic strips or graphic novels. Frame by frame, they depict the screenplay. At a glance a screenplay storyboard may book like a comicbook.

The filmmaker wants to take a look at the screenplay as it will look from the lens of the camera. As such the role of storyboard artists is enormous. Sometimes, due to budget constraints, only some select scenes are made into storyboards.  Especially the more expensive, outdoor and ‘visual’ scenes.

Not only visualizing; storyboards have helped filmmakers locate potential problems with scenes before they are actually shot, and correct them.

That should not give you the impression that storyboard artists are used only for big budget movies.  In fact at $50 or $100 a frame it is really dirt cheap, considering the benefit.

It is also a fun way of making a film.

Happy Halloween friends!
This is one day of the year that reminds me of the hundreds of horror movies I have watched throughout my life. Most of them did not touch me; but some definitely did. I quite clearly remember the first two horror movies I watched as a child. The first was William Friedkin’s ‘The Exorcist’, the second, Sam Raimi’s ‘Evil Dead’. I still remember spending several nights (after watching these movies) not being able to go to the toilet, and my bladder growing unbearably; imagining something or someone was under my bed in the dark room, waiting to catch my leg if I got down from my bed. I even imagined the hands that would have caught my leg… rough, cold, with razor sharp long nails.
And today, some of the best horror movie screenwriters are available through www.TheScreenplayWriters.com, founded by Nick and me; and we are writing scary scenes to frighten others.
Be original, do not follow cliché
What makes good horror movies different from bad horror movies is in originality. Good horror movies are based on original thoughts while bad horror movies follow cliché ideas and trends. It is easy for the horror movie screenwriter to step into the trap of following former successful horror movies. As a result we have seen several horror movies that follow the trend of Evil Dead or Friday The 13th.  As a horror screenwriter, remember that the viewers have already watched plenty of scary scenes in the past and don’t want to be bored by the same old stuff. So, by all means, avoid preparing old wine in a new bottle.
Feel the deepest fears
A horror screenwriter should experience fear first hand. Unless she/he does so, the output produced will be dispassionate and done just for the sake of doing. Try to face your deepest fears. Feel genuinely frightened. Not that you can do that on purpose, but try to remember the incidents when you felt really really scared, or came close to death. Put that down on paper.
Think of 1 – 3 scenes never seen on screen before
A horror screenplay writer has the remote control of making a movie a success or failure. All successful horror movies had at least 1 scene that was never seen on screen before. Remember the spider walk scene of ‘The Exorcist’, the tree rape scene of ‘Evil Dead’ and the scene where the chairs are inverted, in ‘Poltergiest’? These were scenes that were never seen before, and were implanted in the memory of the viewers for several years. Many of us saw these scenes as a child but still remember the scenes. As a horror screenplay writer you have to come up with 1 – 3 such absolutely original scary scenes, which were never before seen on screen and will leave a lasting impression in the minds of the viewers.
Surprise beginning, slow buildup, high climax, scariest scenes towards the end
That is pretty much the formula of horror movies. As a horror movie screenwriter, you have to start with a surprise beginning, and then build up the first act with almost no extreme occurrences, except one or two elements of suspense and surprise speckled here and there, to keep the interest of the viewers alive. These will get more frequent in the second act, leading to a high climax, which should have the scariest scenes. Of course you can think originally and break the rule, if you want to do an original experiment with horror screenwriting.
Make things appear real
A majority of horror movies appear unreal. The viewers watch it, but they are never really drawn into it, as everything appears unreal. As a horror movie screenwriter, try to write your screenplay in a way that the characters, dialogs and the incidents appear as real and as life-like as possible. If you look at the movies of Manoj Night Shyamalan, his dialogs, characters and incidents appear very real. That is one of the reasons of his cusses as a horror screenwriter.
Do not end up looking funny
One of the toughest challenges of a horror screenwriter is to keep the script natural. Any overdose of anything can make your screenplay appear hilarious on screen. Often we laugh all through bad horror movies. Make sure your script will not appear funny on screen, unless your intention is to make a horror parody movie.
Avoid CG and special effects for low budget horror movies
As a horror movie screenwriter, avoid writing scenes that require the help of computer graphics (CG), special and animation.  These are great for big budget movies, and big movies will never be made without the help of these. But in low budget movies, animation, computer graphics and special effects scenes look extremely poor, due to lack of a standard budget and hence should be avoided. An otherwise good horror movie screenplay can get spoiled by the use of poor CG and special effects. Write only scenes that can be shot without the help of CG, animation and special effects.
Watch plenty of horror movies before you start
Not to copy, but to tune your mind, you, as a horror screenwriter need to watch plenty of horror movies… preferably good ones, before you actually start working on your project.

evil dead

By Pinaki Ghosh

Happy Halloween friends!

This is one day of the year that reminds me of the hundreds of horror movies I have watched throughout my life. Most of them did not touch me; but some definitely did. I quite clearly remember the first two horror movies I watched as a child. The first was William Friedkin’s ‘The Exorcist’, the second, Sam Raimi’s ‘Evil Dead’. I still remember spending several nights (after watching these movies) not being able to go to the toilet, and my bladder growing unbearably; imagining something or someone was under my bed in the dark room, waiting to catch my leg if I got down from the bed. I even imagined the hands that would have caught my leg… rough, cold, with razor sharp long nails.

And today, some of the best horror movie screenwriters are available through TheScreenplayWriters.com, founded by Nick and me; and we are writing scary scenes to frighten others.

Let’s find out what a horror movie screenwriter and filmmaker should keep in mind while writing a horror screenplay.

Be original, do not follow cliché

What makes good horror movies different from bad horror movies is originality. Good horror movies are based on original thoughts while bad horror movies follow cliché ideas and trends. It is easy for the horror movie screenwriter to step into the trap of following former successful horror movies. As a result we have seen several horror movies that follow the trend of Evil Dead or Friday The 13th.  As a horror screenwriter, remember that the viewers have already watched plenty of scary scenes in the past and don’t want to be bored by the same old stuff. So, by all means, avoid preparing old wine in a new bottle.

Feel the deepest fears

A horror screenwriter should experience fear first hand. Unless she or he does so, the output produced will be dispassionate and done just for the sake of doing it. Try to face your deepest fears. Feel genuinely frightened. Not that you can do that on purpose, but try to remember the incidents when you felt really really scared, or came close to death. Take a walk on one of the scariest roads in town after midnight. Or take the last train in a notorious route. How did you feel? Put that down on paper.

spider walk scene

Think of 1 – 3 scenes never seen on screen before

A horror screenplay writer has the remote control of making a movie a success or a failure. All successful horror movies had at least 1 scene that was never seen on screen before. Remember the spider walk scene of ‘The Exorcist’, the tree rape scene of ‘Evil Dead’ and the scene where the chairs are suddenly found inverted, in ‘Poltergiest’? These were scenes that were never seen before, and were implanted in the memory of the viewers for several years. Many of us saw these scenes as a child but still remember the scenes. As a horror screenplay writer you have to come up with 1 – 3 such absolutely original scary scenes, which were never before seen on screen and will leave a lasting impression in the minds of the viewers.

Surprise beginning, slow buildup, high climax, scariest scenes towards the end

That is pretty much the formula of horror movies. As a horror movie screenwriter, you have to start with a surprise beginning, and then build up the first act with almost no extreme occurrences, except one or two elements of suspense and surprise speckled here and there, to keep the interest of the viewers alive. These will get more frequent in the second act, leading to a high climax, which should have the scariest scenes. Of course you can think originally and break the rule, if you want to do an original experiment with horror screenwriting.

Make things appear real

A majority of horror movies appear unreal. The viewers watch it, but they are never really drawn into it, as everything appears unreal. As a horror movie screenwriter, try to write your screenplay in a way that the characters, dialogs and the incidents appear as real and as life-like as possible. If you look at the movies of Manoj Night Shyamalan, his dialogs, characters and incidents appear very real. That is one of the reasons of his success as a horror screenwriter. For that purpose you can also check out ‘The Ring’.

Do not end up appearing funny

One of the toughest challenges of a horror screenwriter is to keep the script natural and dignified. Any overdose of anything can make your screenplay appear hilarious on screen. Often we laugh all through bad horror movies. Make sure your script will not appear funny on screen, unless your intention is to make a horror parody movie.

Avoid CG and special effects for low budget horror movies

As a horror movie screenwriter, avoid writing scenes that require the help of computer graphics (CG), special effects and animation.  These are great for big budget movies, and big movies will never be made without the help of these. But in low budget movies, animation, computer graphics and special effects scenes look extremely poor quality-wise, due to lack of a standard budget and hence should be avoided. An otherwise good horror movie screenplay can get spoiled by the use of poor CG and special effects. Write only scenes that can be shot without the help of CG, animation and special effects.

Watch plenty of horror movies before you start

Not to copy, but to tune your mind, you, as a horror screenwriter need to watch plenty of horror movies… preferably good ones, before you actually start working on your project.