Dead or Alive

Graphic by Surya dev Yadav

Christina woke up early that morning despite the cold foggy weather and rushed to open her front door to pick up her mail and the newspaper. She was excited about reading her own article in the newspaper that day, it was a milestone she had been looking forward to for as long as she could remember. As she sifted through the various papers in her hand a postcard caught her attention. It was a beautiful picture of the St. Kate’s Cathedral with an invite to a funeral on the other side. What piqued her interest was that there was no mention of whose funeral she was being invited to. She slowly walked back towards her front door, the gravel crunching beneath her feet, her mind lost in thought as Kaira, her golden retriever, ran around her in circles trying to bite at her heels. She entered the house and made a cup of coffee for herself and settled on the couch with the coffee in one hand and the papers in another. Kaira bounded up to her and settled on her lap.

Tearing her mind off the postcard she finally read her article on the desperate condition of the Earth owing to global warming and its deniers. This was the first article in a series of articles she had submitted to the newspaper on this topic after extensive and excruciating research. Her name on the by line made her proud and she thought she should save the newspaper cutting as a mark of her achievement. For a very short second she forgot about the mysterious postcard and immediately it seemed to slip out of her hand and onto her lap waking up Kaira. She set her now empty coffee cup down on the table and the rest of the papers next to it and focused on the postcard alone. Absent-mindedly, she pet Kaira who was starting to doze off again while staring at the picture of St. Kate’s Cathedral; there was something uncanny about the picture, even though there was no mention of who had died she knew that she had to attend the funeral on Sunday. The logical side of her mind told her that she shouldn’t attend this funeral. But for the first time her rationale was lost to this haunted feeling she had in her stomach that told her that she must attend. And she knew that she must give in to curiosity and go. Having made up her mind she stood up from her couch to pick up her phone that had been ringing constantly for the last ten minutes. She figured it was someone who had read the article; and yet she wondered if it was someone letting her know whose funeral she had decided to attend.

Shashank was the quintessential night owl, he had been awake all night working on his project, he had finally solved the bug that kept popping up in his code and was taking a break from his work by playing a self composed tune on his guitar. After having perfected his playing over an hour or so of his new tune he got up to drink water when a soft knock told him that his mail and newspaper for the day had arrived. With a glass of water in his hand he walked till his door where his mail and newspaper were lying on the floor after being dropped in from the mail slot in the door. He picked up all the papers from the floor and tooka large swig of water from his glass and walked back towards his room, on his way he left his glass of water on the kitchen counter. He entered his room and made his way straight to the bean bag chair and plopped himself down on it. He picked up the newspaper and skimmed through the articles to see if anything in particular caught his eye and he stopped to read the riveting article on how denying global warming was resulting in a greater disaster. Making a note to follow this series of articles he moved on to the mail he had received, he skimmed through some of the bills and useless fliers in his hand and finally landed on a postcard. A postcard that had the hauntingly beautiful picture of St. Kate’s cathedral and an invite to a funeral. He read the note over and over again trying to figure out whose funeral it was supposed to be and after reading it almost ten times he realised that that piece of information was left out. He flicked the card onto the table next to his computer and returned to his guitar with a shrug of his shoulders amused by the random prank.
He played his tune once more before returning to his computer to code, again. He had another bug to handle before he could sleep. As he sat down at the table he noticed the postcard again and chuckled while picking it up, after looking it over a couple more times he decided to give in to the prank and see what lay in wait at the end of it. Marking his calendar for a visit to St. Kate’s cathedral on Sunday he returned to his work.

Ashu woke up with a start that morning, she felt as though she could not breathe and as soon as she opened her eyes she knew exactly why. Her tabby, Dollop, who wasn’t a dollop anymore was sitting on her chest and staring daggers at her; as soon as her eyes flew open the look on Dollop’s face softened and she meowed softly and rubbed her head all over her face. With a smile she scooped her up and snuggled for a while before Dollop ran away. She stepped out of her bed, still a little disoriented, and almost immediately crashed into her cupboard. With an almost unending yawn she staggered towards the kitchen to put a kettle on to boil, as the whistle from the kettle blew she prepared some tea leaves to be soaked in the water. She ground up some ginger and added it to the tea and squeezed a little lemon in the water as well, and after straining the tea into her cup she added just a hint of honey into the tea. She sat at the table with her phone and tea, while her mind got busy planning all the work she had to finish that day. She needed to prepare the final term question paper for all the three grades that she was teaching, and she still had to correct some of the worksheets that her students had submitted and she was left with grading the assignments submitted by another set of her students. She had a long day ahead but for now she turned to her phone so that she would be caught up with the news for the day. She had several notifications for articles she might be interested in and she spent some time reading articles on various topics such as how she could improve her teaching techniques and the effect of denying global warming. After about an hour of reading the news and other articles she got up to get her mail. She was supposed to get a few books that day, she had ordered them a while back for a student who could not afford it.

She searched for the keys to her letter box and then headed down to the basement to see what mail she had received that week. All the way down she told herself that she should check her letter box more often. Upon opening the letter box she was met with an overflow of fliers and useless ads that she tossed into the garbage bin nearby, which was already overflowing with similar fliers. She picked up the package of books and a few letters and cards that seemed to be addressed to her. Excited, she ran up the stairs to check if the books were delivered in proper condition. She burst into her flat making Dollop jump out of her skin. She went through some of the letters and cards and realised they were from her former students informing her about their successes and thanking her for being their favourite teacher and so on. Finally, she turned to the large package and carefully opened it. All the books were in excellent condition which made her smile from ear to ear. She relaxed and rested on her chair when she noticed Dollop pawing at a paper, she noticed the picture of the St. Kate’s cathedral and that piqued her interest. Successfully retrieving the postcard from Dollop she read the note on the other side and her smile disappeared. It was an invitation to a funeral, her heart sank as she wondered if it was a funeral of one of her students. Without thinking twice, even though she did not know whose funeral it was, she decided that on Sunday, she would go to the funeral.

Raksh liked his room being dimly lit at night while he played games on his Xbox. He had spent the night playing multiplayer games but his gamer friends had gone to sleep so he was simply playing Hollow Knight for a while. As the doorbell rang he got up to get his mail, he was due to receive his new controller and headset that day. He ran to the door to retrieve the items and the rest of his mail. Tossing the newspaper onto the table he turned his attention to the parcel. He tore the cover off the package and opened it, he was stunned by how good the new controller seemed and he simply couldn’t wait to try it out that evening. He skimmed through the rest of the mail looking for his credit card bill but came across a postcard instead. He knew St. Kate’s cathedral well but there seemed to be something intriguing about the picture. Turning the postcard over he read the message and realised it was an invitation to a funeral without the information about who had died.
It made him wonder if one of his gaming buddies was setting up some elaborate scheme for them to play a real life game. With a chuckle he noted down the date and time of the funeral and decided to attend it. Then, he turned his attention back to his game and let the thought of the postcard and the unusual funeral invitation exit his mind.

On the morning of their anniversary marking the first year of their marriage, Charles woke up early to prepare breakfast in bed for Gina. He put the kettle to boil to make coffee, fried a couple of eggs, toasted bread, cut some fresh fruits, fried some chicken sausages and grilled some vegetables. A random thought in his semi conscious mind caused him to hum “All of you” constantly while he prepared her breakfast. Once everything was prepared he headed to the front door to pick up the paper and the mail for the day. He placed the breakfast, a couple of cups of coffee, mail, and the paper on a tray and carried it to the bedroom. As he approached the bed he placed the tray on the bedside table and woke Gina up with a kiss on her forehead and a whispered “I love you”, she woke up disoriented but with a smile. He sat down next to her on the bed and got comfortable under the blanket and passed the breakfast tray to her wishing her “Happy Anniversary”, she replied the same and kissed him. Then she turned to her scrumptious breakfast and practically inhaled the food as if she had been starving for a week. He smiled and picked up his cup of coffee and the paper to check on the news. As he picked up the paper she noticed the postcard under it. She interrupted his reading of the newspaper to show him the St. Kate’s cathedral postcard. Both of them stared at it mesmerised for a little while before turning it over to see what it said, they were surprised to receive such an odd invitation to a funeral.

After staring at the invitation for a while they questioned whose funeral it could be and wondered if they should attend it or not. He suddenly turned to her and said the invitation was too weird and that they should not attend but she was drawn in by the invitation and said that they should attend in case it is the funeral of someone they are close to. After a little reconsideration he nodded his head a little unsurely and said that she was correct and that they should attend the funeral.

Sunday morning, a beautiful bright morning with the sun shining bright and a light breeze blowing all over the city. They all woke up that morning with a sense of dread and excitement for whatever lay ahead; none of them could explain why they felt excited, they were supposed to attend a funeral after all. Yet they all got dressed for a funeral, dressed in all black they left their respective houses to make their way to St. Kate’s cathedral. They reached one after the other just a little after noon,
Chrisina entered the church first and noticed the heavy iron doors at the entrance and made a mental note to perhaps write an article on the cathedral and its rich history. As she entered she saw a closed casket near the altar, she seated herself in the fifth row in the empty church. She started to wonder where everyone else was when Raksh entered the church while removing his earphones and looking around the church to see Christina sitting in the fifth row and the closed casket next to the altar, with a slight shrug of his shoulder he seated himself two rows behind Christina.

Charles and Gina were the next to arrive and they were surprised to see only two other people at the funeral. They looked towards the altar to see whose funeral it was supposed to be bubt there was no photograph at the altar, just a closed casket and an unlit candle. They seated themselves in the row behind Christina making her feel uncomfortable as she felt as though she was sitting in the first row in class with a teacher staring down at her disapprovingly. Ashu and Shashank entered almost simultaneously and they looked at each other before turning their attention to the rest of the crowd and the altar. Ashu sat down on the fifth row across the aisle from Christina and Shashank sat behind Ashu. Confused, they all looked around at each other and wondered why the rest were there and what was going on.

Owing to being lost in thought they almost missed the entrance of a man dressed as a priest from a door behind the altar, he walked in and opened the casket and walked back to the door behind the altar before any of the others could react. Out of curiosity they all stood up to see who was in the casket, as they approached the altar an inexplicable feeling of dread overcame each of them but they moved towards the altar nonetheless. When they reached the casket they realised it was empty, Ashu shrieked and said this was too creepy and decided to leave but as soon as she turned towards the gate she saw that the gate was closed. They all ran to the gate and tried to push it open but it didn’t budge. The heavy iron doors had been bolted shut – making the six of them prisoners.

Gina let out a surprised cry and said there was a door behind the altar and they all rushed towards the back of the altar in a group only to find that that door was bolted shut too and even that door was made out of iron and no matter what they did it didn’t budge. They walked back towards the seats and sat down in a huddled group, starting with Christina they all introduced themselves. As they got to know each other they tried to figure out if they knew each other or if their paths had crossed unknowingly but it would seem that none of them had anything common with anyone else.

Out of frustration Raksh stood up and said maybe this is some sort of escape game and started to look around for clues. Others, not being able to come up with a better idea, decided to help him. They looked around but found nothing obvious when Christina noticed the matchbox next to the candle at the altar. She called everyone and asked them if she should light it, they agreed that she should so she went ahead and lit the candle. For about five seconds nothing seemed to happen but then six photo frames with each of their photos were lowered onto the altar. This caused them to look around at everyone wondering what that meant. Not being able to contain their curiosity, each of them walked towards their own photo to examine it. As they moved towards the back of the photo they realised that there was something stuffed behind the photo into the frame. Tearing the brown paper off the frame they realised that a knife was stuffed into the back, they looked around curiously and yet they somehow knew what was coming next. All of a sudden a projector powered on and they saw a message on the wall. The message read,
“One of you is a killer,
One of you is about to die.
If you want to leave here,
The key is the knife.”

Taken aback, they all settled down on seats far from each other, surprisingly the two people sitting furthest from each other were Charles and Gina. Time flew by while they just sat there staring daggers at each other trying to decipher who was going to do what. Various thoughts raced through each of their minds, calculating and wondering. Wondering about their own worth and measuring it against someone else’s life. With bated breath they kept looking around at the others and trying to decide who was most likely to attack and who would be attacked. Nervous energy flooded the room as each one of them caught another’s eye. None held another’s gaze for long, as fear flooded their system and each wondered about their own fight or flight response. Before they realised how much time had passed the sky had turned dark and there was barely any light in the cathedral, the sole source of light was the candle and the light from the projector. As soon as the light from the candle went out the projector shut down and they were plunged into complete darkness.

For some excruciatingly slow moments there seemed to be no movement or sound at all and then out of nowhere there were sounds of a struggle and the scuffing of heels and a blood curdling cry of pain and then complete silence. A few seconds later, they heard the doors open.

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