The Cursed Letter (Part 1 of 5)

He was the kind of person who could bewitch anyone with a single smile. The person could have been a complete stranger, of whatever age or rank, but he could just go up to them and charm them right at the ice-breaker. But I hated him. I hated his guts, hated the fact that he could be such a smooth-talker, hated the warm glow people had in their eyes when he walked away from them. And I hated the fact that he was my older brother.

I had been trained all my youthful life to look up to him. His impeccable behavior at home and his outstanding score at school and later at college ensured that all authority figures I met on my way up had been smitten by him, and inevitable comparisons would follow. “Edgar, why aren’t you more like your brother Edmund?” Mrs. Foster, our tenth grade Chemistry teacher once said. That was after I had slogged for three days and brought in what I thought was a great assignment on the allotropes of carbon. But the teacher remembered my brother’s assignment of three years ago and shot mine down. Just like that! That’s how good he was. The pictures of diamond and coal I held in my hands seemed to mock me.

This continued right up through my teenage and does so till today. I am 24 now and he is 27, nearing 28. We have both moved out from our parents’ house, the Grange Residence. I stay alone in another rented house in the vicinity. We are all close to each other, and yet we do not tread on each other. And that’s the way it should be.

Animosities that develop in the childhood do not go away so easily. My hate for him won’t either. It will be like a shadow always looming behind me where I go.

But today, things are different. So different, that I am starting to forget myself.

My brother Edmund stands in front of me with an unspoken fear in his eyes. His hair is disheveled and he has a week-old beard that belies his handsomeness. But what I notice first when I open the door to him is the blood on his hands.

“What is this?” I ask him, horrified, as he barges into my house as soon as the door is opened.

“Edgar,” he says breathlessly, “Edgar…” and then he breaks into a sob.

I had never seen him crying before. Not even when our parents went away, one after the other. He sniffled in a corner and graciously accepted condolences from relatives and friends, but he did not cry. Now I am not a wuss, but even I broke into an ungainly bawl when the coffins were lowered. But he did not. He stayed there, stoic as a statue.

Seeing him cry now makes me realize the gravity of the situation. I usher him into the study, pour him a glass of wine, and instinctively lock the door and shut the blinds.

“What happened?” I ask him when he seems settled. “Tell me everything.”

“I committed a horrible… horrible mistake,” he says.

He is letting it loose now. I give him the silence he needs to go on with his tale.

“We were to go out—Madeline and I. You know Madeline, right?”

I know. Madeline is his girlfriend, three years older than him. I do not interfere much in his life nowadays. It feels good to be out of his shadow, but I know he is going out with this widow who teaches in an elementary school.

“What about Madeline?” I ask.

“I… I must have… killed her.”

The crying begins again, and this time it is punctuated with hollow distant wails, like a wolf-mother calling out to her cubs.

“What do you mean, killed her?”

“We were to go out today.” I have to strain to hear his words between the sobs. “And I reached her house at 7. She opened the door and she looked… oh, she looked so beautiful!”

Again the crying follows and then an attempt for composure.

“Like a delicate flower. She wore the white dress that we had bought together. She looked ethereal, beautiful as the moonlight.”

He reminisces for a while, and I keep my patience.

“And then… and then I don’t know what came over me. I don’t know! I found myself on the floor, next to her, knife in my hand and Madeline dead next to me.”

“How can that be?”

“I just don’t know! I seem to have blanked out, and then she is suddenly dead.”

“Did you call anyone?”

“No! I was so frightened, I only thought of you. You will protect me, won’t you?”

He looks at me like a lost puppy, but I see the blood in his eyes. He is different, almost animal-like. I am frightened of him now. He is not himself. Even as he recounts his tale of horror, I understand my brother is not in control of his body anymore.

Half an hour later, the cops knock at the door. Everything just happens in a tizzy after that. Edmund just surrenders himself and willingly follows them. They take me as well, for I am caught with the suspect.

It’s a week since his arrest now. They have decided to let me go, because my brother has readily admitted to being guilty, and it also helped that I stayed silent and let the law take its course. In any case, I am out, he is not.

However, a week in prison has taken its toll on me. I am sure this horrendous experience of being in custody with hardened criminals, among them rapists and murderers and at least one serial murderer, will scar me for life. But it does not escape my attention that another scar has been removed. I have seen from close quarters how my brother has fallen from that high place he held to the worst muck one could sink into; and it gives me an unholy sense of gratification. I curse myself for feeling secretly happy at my brother’s miseries, and somewhere I feel sorry for him too, but I am happy that the shadow is finally lifting. Somehow, I feel that I am being liberated.

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