Serena Palmer only wished for a little excitement. One night a man came to her door and...
Be Careful What You Wish For
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Serena Palmer, a lonely soul in the lonely flat on the seventh floor of the last apartment of the 5th Lane of Savour Row, looked out the little kitchen window and wondered how wonderful it would be if someone came knocking at her door and took her away from her monotonous life that she had been living ever since she could remember. Her family, which would be her father, her mother and her two sisters – one elder and one younger – lived in the village of Snowville. She visits them twice every year but that too seemed dull. The petty sisterly fights, the morning market, the fair ground and the shopping all seemed routine. They were all ages old and nothing to wonder at.
She came to this city with the hope to find some excitement but so far she had been utterly disappointed. Her job at the supermarket where she was a salesgirl gave her more headache than help and she had been running short of money ever since. The rent and the other expenses had accelerated more than what she had expected.
She looked out the window once again. Through the gap in between the two sixteen storied buildings she could see a little portion of the sky and a part of the full moon. The road below was void of life. Somewhere someone was watching the repeat telecast of ‘The Headless Horseman’, one of her favourite shows which she used to watch while preparing dinner, like then, when she had her television set. It had broken down a month ago and she hadn’t had the money to repair it. Now she could catch glimpses of the show if the lady of the flat opposite to her living room – whose dining room’s window was in perfect line with Serena’s living room’s window – chose to turn to that channel, on that time, stayed to it, increased the volume so that Serena could catch bits and pieces of the dialogues and, most important of all, no body sat in front of the window. There were too many conditions to satisfy and the chances were rare that they were all satisfied at the same time.
Serena sighed, startled and dropped the spoon at the same time. The doorbell was crying. She glanced at the kitchen clock: 11:20. Who that could be at this hour of night, she thought. She grabbed the meat knife – you never know who came knocking –and silently walked towards the door. There she paused. The doorbell rang for the second time. She held the latch with one hand and peeped through the eyehole.
On the next moment she was blinking her eyes in rapid succession. She couldn’t believe what she saw. She peeped through it again and the bell cried for the third time. She fixed the chain down to its home and cleared her throat.
“Who is it?” she raised her voice loud enough for the person standing on the other side to hear. The answer came in the form of three consecutive strong knocks. Serena turned the latch and opened the door as far as the drawn chain would allow, which was not more than five inches.
“Let me in,” the man said and added, “please.” He looked down the corridor and back at the girl. All he could see was her right eye and the long plait that was hanging in front of her shoulder.
“But…”Serena meant to say that she couldn’t let in a complete stranger into her flat but the stranger didn’t let her put her thoughts into words.
He took two steps backwards, twisted his body and when he uncoiled his right leg was travelling in parallel to the floor and the sole of his shoe crashed heavily against the door near the chain letting the door fly open and shoving Serena down onto the floor with a cry.
He quickly stepped in, closed and locked the door, said sorry and disappeared into the bedroom. Before Serena could gather herself, the doorbell sounded one more time. She grabbed the knife that she had dropped when she had fallen and peeped through the eyehole again. This time there were not one but two men, both in uniform. She opened the door.
“Yes?” she enquired.
“Sorry to disturb you at this hour but we have seen a man come this way,” the elder of the two men said. “By any chance did he come to your flat?”
Serena, as surprised as she already was, took time to reflect on the question. She didn’t know the man who had forcefully entered her flat. She didn’t know the men who were asking for her permission to do the same.
For some reasons unknown to her, she denied having seen any such man. The two men persisted. Serena had to let them in. She tightened the grip on the handle of the knife as the two men walked in in two directions – one taking the kitchen and the bathroom and the other took the living and the bedroom.
Serena had just started to draft an excuse that she was going to put forward when questioned how come they found a full grown man in the closet of her bedroom when both the uniformed men reappeared and after apologizing to Serena, left the flat.
All this happened inside a minute and it took Serena more than that much time to actually come in terms with reality. When she did she found herself alone in the flat, the front door open, the meat knife in her hand and some mud on the doormat.
She closed the door and came into the bedroom. She stood frozen in the doorway because right in front of her was the window and beyond it was the empty road and the central park but framed right in the window was a man- the man.
He had his right leg inside the room, his body half on this side and the left leg was outside the room. He stayed that way and raised his finger.
“Don’t shout,” he said and added “please.”
Serena was going to do just that. Instead she swallowed and asked, “Where were you?”
The man came inside and pulled the shutters down. Then he drew the curtains. “Sorry to pounce upon you but I would be staying here for the night.”
The knife dropped from Serena’s hand. She quickly picked it up and pointed it at the man’s chest.
“Leave my flat or else…” she paused to raid her mind to find a suitable action that might put some fear in the man’s heart.
“Or else?” the man enquired casually.
She was still fumbling with options, but finding none she settled on the simplest one. She said, “or else I’ll… I’ll shout.” She ended dejectedly.
The man smiled, a soft smile, she thought and came past her to the living room.
“My name is Michel Sharon,” the man said. “I am a police officer.”
“Those men were police men too,” Serena said, the knife still poised at the man’s chest.
Sharon glanced at her once before he moved to the window and looked at the surroundings and drew the curtains.
“They are murderers in police men’s uniform,” he said. “They had killed the men to whom those uniforms belonged and…” he stopped as turned to Serena who had gasped and had dropped the knife, again.
Sharon came forward and picked up the knife.
“Sorry about that,” he said returning the knife, hilt first, to Serena. “Do you have something to eat?”
Serena stood at a distance and watched the stranger eat her dinner. She was hungry but the past five minute’s incident and the very man in front of her eyes had killed her appetite.
Michel Sharon was a simple looking man with no striking features about him to remember him by. He was of medium height, regular build, fair complexion and very modest. His voice as soft and tone tender. He had, so far appeared to be of polite nature. He wore a bottle green shirt, a faded blue jeans and a sleeveless jacket with huge pockets. He didn’t seem to carry weapons though he had mud on his jeans and shirt. And there was a cut on his temple that had bled once.
He had shown no weapon or imposed threat of any kind but Serena seemed to comply with his words magically.
“You are a good cook,” Sharon said and putting down the bowl and spoon. He looked up at the girl standing by the kitchen door and felt bad about her. A thin and pale looking girl with wide eyes and a round face was frighteningly looking at him. She was no doubt trying her best to keep her emotions under control but her fidgeting fingers and her occasional glances told him all about her mental state.
“I still don’t know your name, Miss Palmer,” Sharon asked.
“Oh its Serena Pal…” she stopped and smiled unknowingly. It was an old trick and she had fallen for it. He name was written on the name plate. Anyone who knocked would have read it.
The watch said three in the morning when she woke up with a start as a loud sound seemed to penetrate through her dreams. She sat on the bed and looked around. Someone was banging on the bedroom door. She quickly gathered her coat and came to stand by the door.
“Open the door,” Sharon’s voice was low but urgent. “Quick.”
Serena buttoned her coat and unlocked the door, the meat knife back in her hand. She didn’t want the bedroom door to meet with the same fate as the main one. Sharon swiftly slipped into the room and closed it behind him.
“We need to leave,” he said and opened the window.
She looked at the man peeping out of the window and swallowed hard.
“We? Why should I go with you?”
“Because if you don’t,” he said turning back at her, “they will kill you too.”
He could see the girl visibly shudder and then startle as the doorbell rang.
“What will it be?” Sharon said and extended his hand.
Serena, feeling like a mouse in between a cat and a mouse trap, licked her lips and taxed her brain but when the pounding on the door started she grabbed the man’s extended hand and swallowed. May be she could reason with the cat.
Sharon didn’t waste any time. He pulled her towards him and put her first in front of the window.
“Out you go,” he said. “One step at a time.”
“Go where?”Serena could see an eighty feet drop in front of her eyes.
“On the ledge,” Sharon said and pushed. Taking it to be the last step of her life she put her foot out the window.
The pounding on the door continued.
Serena stood there looking at the empty road below and felt butterflies flying in her empty stomach.
Her head started to sway and she began to fall forward.
Suddenly she opened her eyes and found herself half leaning on Sharon’s arm that she had got round her waist. Not for that she would have surely taken the eighty feet drop.
Sharon himself was out of the window. He smiled and nodded Serena to move on.
“I am scared,” she honestly confessed.
“I am right behind you,” Sharon said and nodded again.
She bit her lips, pressed her back against the wall and moved on. Sharon asked her to stop once they were at the corner and peeped round it.
“On to that balcony,” he said. Serena, her heart pounding like a hydraulic hammer, took one step at a time. Once on the balcony she dropped on all fours.
“We could have used the door,” she said pointing at the door that opened in her living room. Sharon, who was looking over the rail turned to her and smiled.
“How would have we closed it from outside?”
A minute later the front door opened. Serena could hear people walking and talking in her living room. Sharon swung his legs over the rail.
“Come on,” he called Serena. She came up and sat on the rail.
“Where are we going?”
“Down,” Sharon smiled, pulled her closer to him and jumped.
Serena screamed at the top of her voice but there was no sound for her mouth was shut tight by Sharon’s palm. Her eyes went wide with fear as the ground came rushing up for her in an incredible speed. She closed her eyes when she was sure that she was going to die but then there was a jolt and she came to a stop. She opened her eyes and found herself safe on the ground. She looked up and saw Sharon rising up. He reached till the third floor, paused and started to come down again. Once he crossed the first floor he stretched himself to his full length and touched the ground with his toes. He knelt down, let go of the rope and stood up. The rope, an elastic band, remained suspended till the third floor.
Serena looked dumbfounded at Sharon who was smiling down at her. He picked her up by her arm and they silently scuttled down the empty thoroughfare.
The time must have been somewhere around five in the morning for the sun was not up but the sky had turned light blue all over. Serena, now dragging her sore feet, walked sleepily behind the stranger she didn’t know why she was following. Sharon looked around for his occasional glances to make sure that they were not followed and saw Serena almost falling asleep on her feet.
“Are you alright?” he touched her lightly on the shoulder.
“I am hungry,” she confessed, “and cold. My feet are in pain. I am in my night pyjamas and slippers.”
Sharon studied her and nodded. Then he guided her to a small house. He looked right and left and undid the latch on the back gate. Then he went to the back door and broke the glass on the door. Through the opening he passed his hand and unlocked the door. He went in there and came out inside a minute.
“They seemed to have just done their laundry. Pick anything you want and change. I am waiting outside,” he said, dropped some money and left pulling the door behind him. Serena spent a couple of minutes in trying to understand what kind of a man Michel Sharon was before she pulled out a t-shirt double her size.
Antonio Gilbert, a tall and dark man of thirty, was scanning the morning crowd with his bare eyes. His hand was on the butt of his service revolver. By his side was a man nearing forty with greying hair and widening waist. He was driving and his name was Patrick Miller.
They both had the image of the dead man and the face Michel Sharon fixed into their minds.
Their eyes were searching for that one man and they would find him out before the night ran out. A lot of things were at risk.
It was ten in the morning when she complained of being hungry. Sharon agreed that they had been walking for too long and they might have their breakfast. Hoping to find something for little amount that he had they went to a small road side restaurant and ordered their breakfast.
Serena, still unsure why she was following this stranger, made an attempt to run away.
Sharon, stunned by this sudden action, took time to reflect. By the time he had left his chair Serena was already out of the restaurant and into the road.
She was running frantically away from the restaurant and didn’t even see the car racing for her. She shot her head around on hearing the screeching of the tires and her feet froze to the ground. The car couldn’t stop in time and skidded right for her but something flew her away from in front of the car just as it came over to the spot where she was standing.
Serena, shoved over by Sharon, landed on the sidewalk on the other side. Sharon was on his feet and was about to grab the girl when he saw Gilbert coming out of the car, the gun lazily hanging from his fingers. Here he became uncertain. He could either wait till she clears her daze, for she was dazed, and risk his own life by exposing himself to the policemen or he could simply run away leaving her at the mercy of the police officers. But then he was more at their mercy than her.
“Will you come with me?” he asked keeping his face away from Gilbert. Serena looked at the policeman, the gun dangling in his hand and stood up. Without a word they sprinted away from the place even before Gilbert could cross the road.
He took an about turn and threw himself into the car.
“After them,” he cried to his partner and Miller turned the car in the other direction.
They had been walking for hours now. Her head was swimming, her eyes were closing in and her feet were moving unsteadily. She was walking like a drunkard. She had not had her dinner the other night, breakfast that morning or lunch that afternoon. Now that the sun was about to set, she was beginning to feel that she might have to skip her dinner again.
Once she had tried to apologize but Sharon had refused to listen, saying that he would have done the same thing and thanked her instead for staying up with him.
In his mind he was being doubtful of his decision on bringing the girl along.
They had crossed the city, walking in the crowd, not stopping once, not looking back. Only once did Sharon send her to buy a bottle of water, which she was carrying in her hands now. She could have run away but she hadn’t. She came back and Sharon had smiled pleasingly at her. A soft smile, she had thought.
Now they were walking by the railway track that led out of the city and into the forest. The east sky had turned ashen blue and the west was on fire. A train hurried along the line whistling once or twice. Serena looked up at the bright windows passing her one after the other and sighed. Where had she got herself into? She was happily cooking in her kitchen, looking at the night sky and worried about the bills she had to pay. Why did Michel Sharon have to come knocking at her door? Couldn’t he pick another flat?
It was almost dead at night when they came to stop.
“We are going to stay here for the night,” Sharon said waking Serena from her dreams. She looked up and then ahead.
There was a log cabin right ahead of them complete with a chimney at the top.
“Whose house is it?” she asked as Sharon took her arm and steered her towards it.
He shrugged. “No idea but it’s closed. So, no one’s home.”
There was a living room on the ground floor and a combined kitchen with dining. A flight of stairs went upstairs. Sharon came down from there.
“There’s a bathroom up there,” he said. “You can go and freshen up. I’ll see if there is food in the kitchen. By the way, there is no electricity. So light a candle if you want.”
Serena nodded and went up. When she came down after half an hour she found Sharon sitting at the dining table with two plates of bread and butter and a jug full of juice. At the centre there was a lamp burning.
“Dinner is served, my lady,” he said as she came to stand by the door.
Serena looked at his face. For a night and a day they had been travelling together but she still didn’t know why she was following him. He didn’t have a weapon. He hadn’t proposed a threat. All he had done was ask politely. But then didn’t he say those men were murderers and they would kill her?
“Who are you?” Serena asked.
Sharon was drawing the chair. He stopped to look up.
“Michel Sharon,” he said.
“Why have you brought me here?”
“Because I need you,” he sat down.
He thought over it for a moment. “Sit.”
Serena walked carefully and sat down opposite to him.
“I am a rope artiest. I work in a circus,” Sharon said scraping the bowl of the pipe he had picked from the kitchen drawer.
“But you said you are a policeman,” Serena’s eyes had gone wide.
“I lied,” Sharon said casually and went on. “I do different kinds of tricks with ropes.”
“Who were those men?”
“They were policemen, greedy and unethical policemen.”
“Yes, they had murdered a man,” Sharon said stuffing in some tobacco leaves in the bowl.
“How do you know?”
“I have seen it,” he struck a match. The flame flickered at the end and lighted up his face. For once she saw anger in his eyes.
“I was returning to the circus after having dinner with a few friends. I stopped for a smoke and they went ahead. It was then I heard someone scream from the nearby building. I ran to it. The man, a police commissioner, was knelt on his knees. And those two men were asking him questions. Then they shot him, one from the front and the other from the back.”
Sharon stopped. His fingers were crushing the pipe.
“I come from a poor but honest family. I had never seen violence. I gasped on seeing the sight. They saw me. I ran away but they were on my trail. I made my way through the park but they were right behind me. It was then that I came to your flat. All other doors had more than one name. Only your apartment had a single name. I guessed you were living alone.”
Serena looked at the man and swallowed. There was no proof that whatever he was saying was true. Maybe he was the one who had killed the commissioner, if he was a commissioner, and the policemen were after him.
“How do I believe you?”
Sharon smiled and shrugged. “I don’t have any proof. Either you believe me or you don’t. But I won’t harm you. I’ll take you back to the city tomorrow.”
Serena sighed heavily.
“Why have you brought me here?”
Sharon picked up a piece of bread. “Two reasons. First I thought that probably they had seen me in there and they might hurt you thinking that you were helping me. And the second point was I was not sure that you won’t call them back.”
They sat in the silence for some time. Then Sharon went into the living room. Serena picked up a piece of bread, applied butter on both sides and was about to bite into it when she startled and dropped it. There was a gunshot. She was already on her feet when Sharon rushed in.
“They have found us,” he said opening the rear door. “Out, quick.”
Serena quickly crossed the table and came to stand by the doorway.
“Why are they shooting?”
Sharon shook his head. “They saw me out on the porch. I think they want to kill me. We have to leave.”
There was a clothes line coiled on the hook on the wall. Sharon hung it on his shoulder and turned to Serena.
“Ready?” he asked. The latter nodded.
He caught her hand and ran into the forest. The kitchen door opened and two men in police uniform came in.
“They were here,” Gilbert said.
Miller looked out the window and nodded. “They went that way.”
“Do we have to kill him?” Gilbert asked.
“Yes,” his partner said. “If he speaks we will lose our necks.
Sharon had dragged the girl to the edge of the cliff and skidded to a stop.
“Dead end,” he said.
“Now what?” Serena’s voice was thin with fear. Sharon was looking right and left, up and down. The gorge was nearly fifty feet deep and ten feet wide. There was no way they could cross it. They could hear footsteps on the dried leaves as the two men searched for them in the forest.
Sharon tied one end of the rope to a branch of the tree and the other end round his waist.
“Are we going to jump?” she asked looking carefully into the gorge.
“No,” Sharon shook his head. “It’s too dangerous.” He thumped the little money he had left with him on her hand. “If you can dodge them then go the station. It’s straight ahead. Just follow the path. And if they catch you tell them that I took you hostage.”
He put a finger on her lips.
“Thank you for everything, Miss Palmer,” he said and looked behind her. The two men were right there with their guns raised. “Good bye.”
He smiled – such a soft smile, Serena thought – wiped a tear that had rolled down from her eyes, turned and jumped.
Serena stood there looking at the gorge while the two men rushed towards the edge and pointed their guns into the depth of the gorge.
“Pull him up,” Gilbert said and both of them grabbed the rope but it came up easily.
“It broke,” Miller said. “The rope had broken.”
“That’s a fifty feet drop. He is dead,” Gilbert said satisfactorily and turned to the girl. “Are you alright, Miss?”
Serena nodded dreamily.
“Did he take you hostage?”
Again she nodded.
“Come,” he said. “We will take you home.”
Serena came back home at noon the next day. She was dropped at home by two sergeants. When she made to close the door she realized that the lock had been broken when the two policemen came to look for Sharon for the second time. She closed the door and placed the sofa against it.
She went to the kitchen and smiled. The spoon that she had dropped when the doorbell rang for the first time was still there. It was Sharon. She was wishing for someone to come and take her to an adventure and how that wish came true. Next time she would be careful of what she was wishing for.
She sat down for dinner, something she had been missing for two nights, and turned to her phone. There was a message. She put in a spoonful of rice in her mouth and opened the message. The next moment she was choking on the rice. In the message was an attachment. It was an image. It showed a small room with three men in it. Three of them were in policemen’s uniform. One of them, a man with grey hair, was kneeling on the floor. Two men were standing, one in front and one behind him. Both of them had their guns out. There were patches of blood on the older man’s shirt.
The phone simply slipped from her hand.
The news of the commissioner’s murder was out and all over the news. The murderers were arrested and tried. Serena, tired of all the excitement, came back to her village a month later. The sight of her family seemed heavenly. The petty fights with her sisters, the morning market, the fair ground, the shopping appeared a relief and she thanked heaven a thousand times for bringing her back. But she couldn’t help feel sorry for one Michel Sharon.
One night her sisters took her to the circus. The mere mention of the word circus made tears swell up in her eyes. She sat on the second row and watched the performances with dreamy eyes. As the men came to perform the rope trick she could feel a knot in her throat. Her eyes were hopelessly searching the stage for that one face but it was not there.
Then out of nowhere a man came rolling down towards the audience. There was clapping and cheering as the man stopped only a feet above Serena, smiled and presented her with a red rose. Serena, her eyes wide with astonishment and full of tears of joy, took the rose with shaking fingers. The man withdrew as the rubber band retracted itself but she could still see the face, that soft smile of the man who came knocking at her door on one cold night.