The HexBros concert venue was a cricket stadium that doubled as an amphitheater. It pulsed with music as the sky bled a pale red against the setting sun. Life had just blossomed here and would flourish well into the night. A battalion of police lined the premises in the wake of the Chetan Avenue attack with baggage scanners at all turnstiles and metal detectors at the parking lots. Although Chetan Avenue was still a hotbed of protests and traffic jams, people here seemed too blinded by the dreamy promise of a fun evening.
A woman with the VIP list crossed off Ramya's name, ushering her in after Samar and Ekalavya Jadhav—the latter a lanky guy, Aisha's friend, their ride. The corridors leading to the green rooms held posters of HexBros, six men in ripped jeans and dust-daubed jackets with drunken eyes and tatted muscles, and Aisha's band, the Underworld Cyanide, its members more focused on making a fashion statement than showing their angst.
Aftershave mixed with an expensive lavender cologne wafted off Ekalavya. Dressed in Polo and jeans, he smoothed the tuft of hair, his Rolex clinking every-time.
'Can we meet the HexBros?' Samar said, his fanboy voice laced with awe.
'Of course, man!' Ekalavya jerked his chin towards a closed door they'd passed.
'I'm good,' Ramya said. She enjoyed music but wasn't a big fan of concerts. She chose to come only to give Samar company. 'Which room's Aisha at?'
In what she considered to be one of the rare occasions, Ekalavya met her eyes. There was a hint of indecision shuttling between his eyeballs but he hastily masked it, smiling and gazing elsewhere. 'She must be with Rahul.' He looked towards the only an open door to the far right. Ramya nodded and started in the direction.
She stopped shy of a few inches from the threshold, looking back. Samar and Ekalavya were at the other door, acting like peas in a pod as they interacted with a HexBro. Easy as it was as a kid, Ramya couldn't see people the same anymore; the ability to make friends nulled after the Incident when she lost those she considered friends. Including—especially—Mallika.
Before the Incident, Samar and Ramya had been part of the Gang, as if they were driven close by a common goal, not friendship. Sharan, a pallid kid from Punjab with kesh, Ara with dimwitted zingers and preoccupied with vulgar aspects of life. Sheena, daughter of a local pastor who found everything Ara did to bring the apocalypse a little closer. Of course, the Gang wasn't complete without Mallika, girl boss and inspiration-queen. Also, Sunil's girlfriend.
'The nerve you have to show up here,' Mallika Sukumaran had said when Ramya had turned up at her home despite Samar telling her not to. Tears seemed to have carved trenches into Mallika's cheeks, eyes sizzling with abject hate. Ramya had never seen her like that. Sure, they'd had differences when it'd come to Sunil, but how could she think Ramya would kill him to prove her point? 'You won't rest until you kill the rest of us, huh?'
'You seriously think that,' Ramya had said, choking in her own tears. 'You think—'
'Think my ass,' Mallika had snapped, their other friends watching from behind her. Ramya had begged them to say something, anything, but they hadn't looked at her. 'You took the one person who meant the world to me. If you're so jealous of his fame—'
'He was going to kill me!' Ramya had sobbed. 'Would you be okay if I was dead?'
'Why shouldn't he kill a murderer like you? Maybe he knew too much.'
'We knew too much!' Ramya had grabbed Mallika's hands. 'Samar and I! Listen, you're mad because you lost someone you loved and I'm sorry. I can't bring him back—'
'Don't touch me!' Mallika had shrieked, yanking her hands away. 'Get lost before I call the cops. Oh wait, they became your bitch after your dad bribed them.'
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The Devil Within: Looking for Beta ReadersMystery / Thriller
Best friends Ramya Chaudhary and Samar Sengupta vividly recall the Incident from four years ago when they'd killed two peers, decapitating one Sunil Desai-the school golden boy who'd secretly plagued the campus with drugs. Having graduated and reloc...