Contamination Explores Strained relationships And Power Play Between Gender

Contamination by Richa Lakhera
Contamination by Richa Lakhera is a tale of the supernatural and horror with a female combatant set in the current times. Am excerpt:

The grenades were packed with nuts and bolts. Not expected to necessarily bring down structures, but rip open and kill all soft skin targets, which meant animals and humans. Amba held her hand up and motioned the squad to stop.

“God help us!” exclaimed Solon.

“We must leave them. We must go back,” appealed Kunta, his legs ready to dodge any quick-flung missile.

“None of our own will be left for animals to feast on. Even if they are dead.” Amba interrupted with that calm despair, which occurs only in a heart with strings of steel that yields to no danger.

“The dead are dead—won’t feel anything, will they?” said Rodh.

“Their families would,” she replied. “Will you help me pile them up?”

Rodh nodded strangely. It could just as well signify yes as no. In truth, terror sluiced through him at the thought of touching the grenades.

“Pile them up…?” he whispered.

“I will bury them. You pile up.” She repeated in a low tone. Rodh came to his senses and there was a flush of colour on his mahogany face that said, don’t look at me!

“You have a better idea? They will have to be picked up.” Amba spoke, as though it was a matter of little consequence that they could be live grenades.

“Anyone?” She looked around and caught Solon’s eye.

“By hand? That is suicide.” Solon’s eyes bulged. There was a singular absence of courage and heroic poses all around.

“You have a better plan?” asked Amba, if only to shut him up. As usual, Solon contributed little in a sticky situation.

“Alright. You pile them up. I reduce,” said Kunta, but with deep reluctance.

“Good. Trust me,” she said with a grateful nod towards Kunta. They waited for the rest of the squad to get into a safe perimeter.

The air was ripe with the scent of some revelation at hand. But, then, there always had been a necromantic vein buried in the Habishis, the ancient tribe to which they belonged. It was a strange undercurrent of emotion that concerned itself with a deep sense of not just blood or belonging but also with mysticism and the downright inexplicable. Amba seemed almost to be in feral state as she bent down to pick up the crude grenades, shoulder muscles hard as stone, touch light as feather. Another wire. Infinite caution. Scratch of a nail. Another thump. And another. A ritual burn, a ceremony of the strange. Though none of them had seen anything like that before. No one asked why and how she did it, perhaps not to jinx getting out alive. She scratched out little holes in the ground for the grenades and used a hand signal each time she put one there. Legs curled, elbows raised, her fingers deftly cutting the air. She seemed to have slipped from their world entirely and moved into another wild world from which humans had been erased. Her fingertips, her nose, her eyes, all seemed to possess a special intuition, an uncanny instinct which was never wrong. The weight, the texture of each grenade told a story, so did the smell, and her mind soaked in information with astonishing speed. Crystal clear senses, fully alert to the slightest of discrepancies in balance and composition. She frowned and tilted her head and held it with cautious concentration, as if it were a pitcher full of some caustic agent.

Three more. Two more. One more…

“We should get out of here.”

Amba put the last grenade in the hole and stood with two fists held over her head. It seemed a
conjuring trick, an almost alien perspective, something akin to madness.

“This place could be wired… never know, chlorine-mixed or daisy-chained.”

Handling grenades is always the trickiest. Almost anything can explode anytime. One does not get time to break it down to a b c, separate the power source from the trigger, the trigger from the charge. Amba’s skills could not be explained by any book because they were not derived from a manual. Eyes shining as telescopic sights of a sniper rifle, she pointed to a nearly invisible foam piece with the wire. It was daisy-chained to the penetrator variant of the regular grenades, which made entry points in the target it hit before exploding inside. The men froze. They could not believe their good luck it did not blow up in their faces.

Danger gone, a great sunlight of relief seemed to drench them and everything was a second chance.

“The gods are with us.” Solon was touching the wire under the foam.

“Wait, Solon, no—ooo—stop—”

Solon was about ten feet in the air, twisting and coming apart. His rifle and boots spun away as the shrapnel thudded into the shattered corpse, the force of it jerking limbs this way and that. The rest of them were knocked flat on their back. Rodh lay in a corner, his helmet cracked against the pavement. His eyes were sheened with disbelief at what remained of his best friend. The air turned syrupy slow, flecked with dust and fear.

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Solon had forgotten about the secondaries. One should never forget about the secondaries. Gora turned and stumbled out hastily, deathly sick, reeling over the bridge, and went shuddering up the horrible dim path beyond, clutching at the air for support, leaving the rest with exploding eardrums, jittery, some angry and some in tears, but grateful to be alive, to feel the pain. An angry mess of flesh and bones bore an awful remembrance that death occupied more area than the living. Plastic and rubber, burning somewhere in the background, in part killed the stench of burning flesh and blood.
Faces puckered into grimaces from the smell of fresh blood as they finished scraping together Solon’s pieces and scooped it all in bags. Even after the explosion faded away, the disturbed night was no longer dark and the road was covered with gusts of sparks and smoke.

Amba glanced across at Rodh. He averted her gaze. The few times their eyes met, a slow, dull resentment seeped out of him like coal gas, thin and sour. At that moment there was something different externally about Amba and all the men looked awkward besides her. In reality a qualitative change had already set in that was apparent to her.

One of the new recruits trembled when her sleeve brushed his. It was the great chain of fear. The accusation, which they would not dare mouth. The word. The miserable, degrading slur. They whispered with no regard, wrapped in a dreadful smirk and a fearful gaze—Witch.

Excerpted with permission from Contamination by Richa Lakhera published by Om Books.

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