The Successor
By: Padmini Krishnan

It was 8 pm. The priest made a sign and the family members walked backward to their rooms. Once inside, they locked their doors with pounding hearts. The priest's heart pounded, too, though he had performed this routine many times in his career. He sprinkled the last drops of holy water on the corpse and walked backward. His heart almost stopped as he stumbled on the front steps. He murmured a prayer and slowly walked out of sight. The corpse got up.

De Silva regained all his senses as soon as the priest made a sign. He could see everything around him without opening his eyes. How scared his old wife looked! He had managed to frighten her, at last. If anyone had looked closer, they would have noticed a smile at the corner of his lips. De Silva suddenly felt the urge to burst open the inner doors where his relatives were hiding. He imagined the looks on their faces and laughed. He could feel them shivering and chanting holy verses in low voices. He laughed even louder. Then he stopped with a curse. He had caught his reflection in the mirror. He looked 22. Was that when he was his happiest? He knew that dead people were briefly restored to their happiest year of life. De Silva tried to recall his graduation, friends, and professors, but all that came to his mind were Jessica's dimples, laughter, and her eyes that turned from smiling orbs to intense embers. He had met her again after 15 years when she looked all skin and bones, but her eyes held the same liquid passion.

Well, if he were to meet her again, he had better hurry up and follow the rules. De Silva marched out; his head held high. There was not a human to be seen, as was expected. He had 3 hours to himself. He got into the black Porsche waiting for him. Whistling, he drove on the empty streets, feeling like a king. In the rearview mirror, he saw a black Mercedes cautiously moving ahead. The driver was a serious-looking woman around 70. Was that her happiest age? Shrugging, De Silva drove on. He knew what he had to do. As soon as he reached the cemetery, he had to dig his grave and lower the coffin deep into the earth. Then he had to ease inside and close the lid. He would not know anymore. De Silva had not believed in God all his life. After the burial, he probably was likely to be consumed by worms. However, a tiny part of his heart wanted a place in heaven, if it existed, as he was sure that was where Jessica would be.

On the other side of the street, Chimeron swayed under the weight of his bundle, his mind full of the text inside. He pressed the signal at the pedestrian crossing, but it did not work. Fear gripped him as he pushed the button repeatedly. He knew that the dead often looked for strangers who would see them through their last journey. He should not have been out from 8 to 11. But he was so consumed by work that he had not taken note of the time. The streets looked quiet and non-threatening. Chimeron crossed the street, hurriedly. He did not know where it came from. But a Porsche almost bumped into him. His bag fell and his papers scattered all around. Chimeron bent down, picking up the papers he had tried to transliterate half an hour ago. To any other person, the contents in the paper might have looked like pictures of a monkey's tail, a flag, a rainbow, and symbols that could have been mathematical equations turned upside down. However, De Silva sitting in the Porsche knew the value and significance of those inscriptions.

Chimeron filed his papers with shaking hands and looked up at the young man in the car. He knew what happened to those who interrupted the dead on their last journey. The ‘victims' were never what they were before. Chimeron gazed at the other side. Could he make a run for it? De Silva moved to the passenger seat and beckoned to Chimeron to take over the wheels.

Chimeron drove, his heart pounding and his eyes staring straight ahead. His clothes were unkempt, and his eyes were sunk deep into their sockets. There was an anxious look about him as if he expected the world to end tomorrow.

"It is not Sumerian, is it?" asked De Silva, suddenly.

Shocked, Chimeron turned to De Silva. The dead man's eyes were glowing with life and passion. "Is it Pastillon, isn't it?" De Silva continued, "How far have you managed to transliterate it?"

Chimeron was still staring open-mouthed at De Silva. How did this man know that it was Pastillon? Did ghosts know everything? Indeed Chimeron, along with a group of polyglots were working on Pastillon, which had just been discovered to be the most ancient written language in the world, even preceding Sumerian. These texts belonged to the Clascotan civilization, which existed long before the Mesopotamian civilization.

"Stop the car," cried De Silva sharply in a deserted residential area. He pointed to the papers, "Take me through these."

In a quivering voice, Chimeron said that some polyglots came across these inscriptions in an abandoned archaeological site in Kazakhstan. Then he proceeded with how his team got access to the Pastillon text. As Chimeron pointed to the text and explained the methods he used to transliterate the text, his voice and demeanor changed. His fear was replaced by pride, passion, and excitement.

He described how the texts indicated that the people used mud pots to cook, and women wore armbands. They considered cats to be holy. The men and women wore skirts and no tops. The kings wore lion's skin to cover the upper part of their bodies. Men pierced their eyebrows while women did not pierce any parts of their bodies.

"Look here," Chimeron said, his voice shrill, as he took out a faded piece of what looked like a paper. "They used a certain kind of paper to write. Not parchment or any animal skin. In fact, I am sure this paper was made from a plant. Something like paper velum." Chimeron inhaled the paper deeply as if he still smelled the wood.

"I am not sure how the civilization ended. If only I could…" His eyes wandered desperately around the streets of his city, wanting to escape this greenery and planned beauty to the abandoned place of his dreams where he could learn more.

De Silva was quiet. Chimeron, just like him, apparently found his life's calling in deserted old buildings and moth-eaten text.

Chimeron finally came back to the car and reality, his eyes taking on a timid look.

The dead man held out his hand.

"I was Professor De Silva."

Chimeron's eyes bulged as he stared at the other man. Was he Professor De Silva, the acclaimed head of the polyglot department in the country's most prestigious university? Chimeron had seen his picture in newspapers; he looked nothing like this.

De Silva laughed as if he heard Chimeron's thoughts. "When you are dead, you will take the form of the happiest year of your life."

Chimeron's eyes opened in wonder as he began to consider the happiest year of his life.

"I don't want to stay in the car all night." De Silva broke into his thoughts, abruptly. "Drive me to St. Marc's cemetery."

"My parents are buried there," said Chimeron. De Silva did not have the heart to tell him that his father was not yet buried.

Chimeron parked and they got down in St. Marc's cemetery. De Silva pointed to a site with a gravestone, a shovel, and an open empty coffin. He looked at his gravestone and pursed his lips, "I wish they had put up a younger picture of mine. Even the epitaph is meaningless and shallow, just like them." De Silva shrugged, defeated, and disappointed, "Why did I expect anything else from them? Anyway, start digging."

Chimeron shivered all over, but he had to obey whatever the ghost told him.

"Wait," commanded De Silva as Chimeron picked up the shovel, "Give me your cell phone first."

Chimeron looked at the dead man, puzzled. Then he shrugged and handed over the device. He began to dig clumsily, not at all used to any strenuous activity.

"Drew? This is De Silva." The professor barked into the phone. "I want to make my will now. I have half an hour to go. You may want to come here."

Chimeron could hear the fear and tension in the other man's voice as he muttered something.

"What! You are recording my message? Is that good to go? Don't you need witnesses?" continued the professor.

"Okay. I want to bequeath my entire property and villa to…" He turned to Chimeron, "Hey, what is your name?"

"Me? I don't want…"

"Come on. Your name. I don't have time." said De Silva, impatiently.

"Chimeron Fleur. But I don't…"

"I want to bequeath everything to Mr. Chimeron Fleur, a polyglot student. I will ask him to text you his address."

There was some confused muttering at the other end. "No. Never." shouted the professor, angrily. "Kick them all out of my villa."

After half an hour, De Silva lowered himself into his coffin.

"Look," he said, hesitantly. "You don't have to do this. But I would like it very much if you would scatter soil in my coffin."

"Professor, it is for your sons or relatives to do it," said Chimeron, overwhelmed. He was going about his business a couple of hours ago. Now he was the owner of a vast fortune which should not have been his. Chimeron felt uncomfortable and guilty.

De Silva looked wide-eyed at the world he was leaving behind, feeling a sense of loss for the first time in 3 hours. He sucked in the air as if to take some part of the world with him.

He turned to the student. "See, Chimeron, I have a son and a daughter. But nobody tried to understand or support me in any of my quests. All they did was wait for an old man to die so that they could amass his wealth. This also includes my wife."

"But Professor De Silva…"

De Silva held up his hand. "Wait a minute. In you, I found a like-minded person, a fellow pursuer of my passion. And I know you will deal honestly with my money."

After a minute, Chimeron nodded his head, tears in his eyes.

"I will tell Jessica you have turned out fine." De Silva looked at him before closing the casket on himself. Chimeron stared at the casket for a long time, trying to put together so many pieces of his childhood, attempting to understand this man's place in his life. He closed his eyes, muttering the only prayer he knew. Then he began scattering soil on the sacred grave site.

The End

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