In a dim lit alley, a lone figure stood, fixed in some thought with a cocked pistol in their hand when an echo of a condescending question was heard.
“Did you deliberately choose this setting?”,
“Not so loud, Hope. You might attract suspicion”, answered a figure draped in a flimsy green plastic raincoat, pacing nervously, twisting and fidgeting with the gun in his hand.
“Suspicion, Jean? You certainly are dressed for the part. And why did it have to be this place of all the wonderful locations in the map? Rain and damp. Take my advice- drop this look and the demeanour”, came the response in a raspy tone with a hint of superiority.
“When have I ever failed us O’Great Shaman?” , Jean smirked in pride as he retorted.
“I wish I could punch you. Not today, Jean”, replied a raspy Hope.
“And why go for a gun when there are more elegant but brutal weapons designed for such a spectre. A sword for example- like the Excalibur or the Horseman’s Blade.”
“A little too much of fiction, Hope. Point and shoot. Serves my purpose well.”
“Suit yourself, Jean. Our last Rodeo together and then it’s straight into the box.”
“Do you remember how it all began? Feels like it was only yesterday when I met you, restless but firm, relentless but graceful,” Jean asked Hope as his thoughts led him to a fond place in his memory.
“Yeah but that was 4 days ago and I still cannot make sense of how I ended up being with you. And why are you being so dramatic? It’s not the end of my world you know.”
“4 days and the most you have learnt is a snarky comeback. Sinful for someone like you, no?”, responded Jean with a cocky expression apparent in his tone.
He looked at Hope and wondered what their future will be like in absence of each other. The duo had managed to knock out every contender in any given situation. A silly adult in his mid 20’s, the world and its mostly depressing constituents had gotten hold of him. Jean always took great pride in his cognizance of the issues that plagued the modern life. This city in an instant had taken away his parents, corrupted his brother and the sickness of it all had managed to latch itself on Jean too. He found recluse in fiction where television shows and movies were just a beginning to break through the common misery and melancholy but he soon realized that people play acting made him feel even terrible. The next step was to break from the reality with the assistance of cartoonish characters. Comic books and Video Games helped him find the bridge to all the problems that had previously itself in a muddly fog of unhappiness and suffering, supported by chains of mortality. His chain of thought was interrupted on one of those sombre days, alleviated by engaging in some digital rigmarole which involved a lot of button mashing, a concentration broken with a short but loud rap on the door.
Finding no person but a tiny and transparent butterfly with textured wings greeted him at the door. The glowing and throbbing butterfly in an instant, spiralled up from his threshold into the air while Jean marvelled at the queer nature of the life form that was now distorting and contorting itself into what looked like a loudspeaker horn which had begun to announce itself to him.
“Hi. I am Hope. A shapeshifting shaman from Pandora’s Box. I want you to help me destroy my moth siblings- disease, poverty, sadness, death. Please accept.”
The legend was well known to Jean. Pandora, the First Woman, opened the box given to her by Zeus, and released all the known evils but one into the world with only ‘hope’ which remained shut inside the box. He had many questions to ask the shapeshifter but thought it wise to do what the shaman butterfly asked him to do. The unusualness of the situation was compelling enough to make himself a protagonist in this quest as the stories he had read would have him believe. The mission began soon after they had made each other’s acquaintance. Four months since that day, Jean and Hope had been chasing her siblings, and with Hope’s unique shapeshifting ability to turn into literally any object from a paddleball to a tank, they had been successful in ridding the humanity of most of their problems.
By lighting on fire the physical embodiment of a muckish goop of Disease in the same dingy alley as the present arena at first, to beheading the pudgy head of the CEO of Patron of Poverty Corp. and recently disintegrating the 8-Bit Madman from the Asylum of Sadness with the pixel gun, the soul of each turned into a moth, and swooshed away into the unknown. There was never a time when Jean had shown any hesitation but he had felt Hope’s resistance during her mutations. On confronting Hope one day for her reluctance, Jean was lectured on the subject of salvation and fair chance which invited disagreement and in his experience had been misleading the population since time immemorial. He thought it was best to never bring it up again.
The day had finally come when they would confront the boss at the final stage- Death itself.
“You do this and you will lose. Maybe we should wait.” Hope’s words brought Jean to his present.
“Where do you think the other three went after you know....?” Jean’s keenness was apparent in his question.
“Into the box I strongly believe. She wouldn’t have it otherwise.”
“I wonder if the box is big enough....”
“Is this the end or is there still time?”
With a quick pull of the trigger and under a curtain of a white flash Jean flew away into the unknown like the other moths. Next day, the news from a page of a daily paper which had managed to breezily make its way into an alley read- ‘Teenager...Found dead in home...Suicide...Violent video games to be blamed.’
- Gautam Aggarwal