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The Shining

Jack and Shelley. A not-so-young couple who had enough of office politics and corporations that they started their own insurance agency: Mr & Mrs. Smith. From their quaint little office which doubles up as a house, they manage and advise on insurance policies and write content for various websites to meet their ends. Well, they used to.

When all the initial romance fizzled out, rough patches began to appear. They lost business as they tended to advice each other more than the client in front of them. Things took a turn when they realised there was something wrong with them — of course, they were debating that something is wrong with each other, but it’s not the complaining kind of stuff. Something with their organs. It all started with synchronised headaches and then followed by a flawed perception of colour. They went to ophthalmologists, in hopes that they could explain what’s happening with their eyes. All they did was to prescribe glasses (and what was left unsaid was that doctors would get 10% commission on sales.) When they came to terms with it, they realised that whatever is happening to them is beyond the realms of science. You might believe that it may only happen in comic books and blockbuster franchises, but no: they were experiencing it. To put it quite simply, they had a superpower. Not a super-highly-exciting power that could win love and defeat villains per se: but somewhat a superpower.

Slowly but steadily, they figured out how to live with it. A corona appears on people’s heads, often in various intensities with colours ranging from green to red. After months of research, they found something interesting: there is a positive correlation between the intensity of the glow and the time taken for those people to go six feet under. With practice, they figured out the ground rules. There is a colour code for the victims: green for natural deaths, yellow for suicides, orange for sexual assaults, colourless for those who are not going to die any time soon and blood red for homicides. On the other hand, a blinking black halo appears around the murderers. The intensity of these colours varies depending on the time of death: very thin halo for people who have years to live and it grows on until they are about to die.

The couple used to save people from the clutches of death, but found themselves unable to reach multiple places at the same time and was subject to a lot of questions and incredulous looks. Of course, how would you react if someone approaches you and says that you’ll die tomorrow? On being unable to explain their power and how they were being the right person at the right place, they stopped offering their services to the police. They instead directed their efforts to what they knew the best: insurance.

They would casually approach their potential clients with policies, who would be lured into purchasing a policy that has a connection to their imminent death with an assurance that it is an investment and that it would aid their families. For the insurance agent and the company, it is a lucrative business opportunity as they can’t foresee the death of the insured, leaving the couple with a hefty commission. They named this superpower based on a certain King novel, though it was way different from those possessed by Danny Torrance and his ilk: The Shining.

Déjà Vécu

A few years later, Mr & Mrs. Smith turned out to be one of the most successful insurance brokers in the business, with competitors trying to emulate their growth, without much success. They brought in experts and salesmen as a cover to the involvement of their superpower.

Checking faces of those people who disregarded their warning in obituary columns turned into a fetish of theirs. However, all this started to take a toll on their health. No matter how hard they try, broken people who suddenly jump over the bridge or immolate themselves in front of their eyes could not be protected. The helpless glances of people who they couldn’t save appeared whenever they closed their eyes; affecting their day-to-day life. Even therapy offered no help and these memories kept on torturing their souls.

One night, Jack woke up from a dream perspiring. What an awful dream that had been! He was quite startled to find Shelley too sharing the same vision: that of a battered young woman with her baby crawling over her bloody body. “It is the husband. IT IS THE HUSBAND!!!,” screamed Shelley (though she didn’t know why) while Jack was consoling her. After spending a sleepless night, they agreed that they would skip this case for the sake of their well-being.

The next day, when they were going for an important meeting, a lady screamed at them for hitting the car on her (though she was the one who was jaywalking.) While she was mashing the cigarette in their windshield, they realised with horror that the person in front of them with a red glow around her head is the exact lady in the dream. They had never seen such an intense shining before. Deciding to flout the self-imposed restrictions, they agreed to help her out. But what they didn’t know was the cost they’ll have to pay for this.

Uberrimae Fidei

Tabitha had just settled down after returning from the restaurant when the bell rang. A middle-aged couple standing outside introduced themselves as “Jack and Shelley from Mr & Mrs. Smith.”

She went inside saying “I’m not buying anything, but if you want a mute spectator, I’m ready” and assuming it is an invitation, the couple followed her. As soon as they closed the door, a trophy fell down from the shelf in the hallway. Noticing the sharp edge, Jack placed it in a desk nearby. The lady made no effort to say “make yourself at home” at least. Jack had second thoughts about sitting on the derelict sofa, shoving the god-knows-how-long-has-it-been-washed clothes to an adjacent chair. He used a cloth to wipe off the dust from the armrest.

Picking a cigarette from the floor, Tabitha laid down in a supine position and asked, “Well?”

Making herself comfortable in a greasy chair, Shelley took the lead by saying, “As certain as death and taxes, an homosapien requires an insurance policy to protect themselves from worldly disasters. From our long career, we realised that some people fall out of the gambit of welfare. Why should their future generation suffer because of this? The danger is waiting at every turn: you could be run over by a vehicle, some arsonist might have set sight on your house or shock from the coffee machine” and she went on to explain the various benefits of insurance policies, while Tabitha didn’t even care what she was saying. Jack was getting uncomfortable looking at her piles of unwashed plates in the kitchen sink and by the sound of constant dripping of water from a pipe somewhere in the house. Looking at the effort of his wife, he wondered why is she even interested in this haggard unkempt woman? Is it because the lady’s situation matched the way he found Shelley years ago?

Since this talk wasn’t going in the way that they planned, Shelley brought a third party into the picture: “Hey, where’s your baby?”

“Oh. I don’t know. He might be playing with some toys. Life is actually easy with him. You can leave him alone. He’ll come crawling when he’s hungry.”

“See, you’ll have to do this for him,” cried Shelley, while Jack was tempted to arrange the M&Ms that were spilled on the table.

“It takes long to sort out the paperwork and also my income is barely enough for us to live,” said Tabitha irritably, thinking about the low-paying job she took at The Overlook Café thanks to the economic downturn.

“Leave the paperwork to us. Just give us your consent and we’ll sort it out. As for the premium part, there are government policies, you know?”

“What’s the rush? Do you have some targets to achieve, huh? I have a long life in front of me.”

“No, you don’t,” said Jack, looking at the growing halo around her. “I have to do something before the husband gets home,” he thought. “Who’s to help you? Manager, friends: they look down upon you. There’s no one to offer you a hand. That’s where insurance comes into the picture. Even if you choose the harm’s way, your policy will cover your nominee, at least for a while,” he patiently explained.

“I’ll take care of myself,” protested Tabitha.

“Think of the child, Tabitha. At least the child. Don’t forget that there’s the husband of yours waiting to kill you,” said Jack, seeing the conversation is going nowhere.

The woman gave out a yelp that woke up the child. “HOW DO YOU KNOW ABOUT STEPHEN?” shouted Tabitha in a voice higher than the baby’s. True, Stephen had warned that he will burn her to the ground when he comes out of the prison, hurt by her testimony against him in that murder case. “I have no qualms about going there once again,” she still remembers him shouting that.

“Stanley told us. You visit him in his studio every day after work, right?”

“You’ve been watching me,” whispered Tabitha.

“Yes. To know…,” the older of the two women tried to explain.

Cutting her, the other lady asked “Following me?”

“Let us expla…’

“WHAT ALL DO YOU KNOW ABOUT ME?”

“Everything there is to know about you,” repeated Shelley when the other woman didn’t react to her first reply.

“Stalkers.”

“Ouch,” chuckled Jack, “that’s a nice way of putting our line of business.”

“Since when did ‘none of your business ‘ become a line of business? Get out,” retorted Tabitha.

“Sweetie, listen to me. You are in grave danger. We know it. Husband won’t spare you, nor the kid. He’ll be here, any minute. You come with us. Please.” begged Shelley.

Mrs. Stephen got up and crossed her arms. “Which part of ‘Get Out’ didn’t you understand?”

Realising that she just had a few minutes left to live, seeing the increasing red glow, Jack decided to tell her about their superpower and why they were interested in her life as the last straw. Shelley noticed that Tabitha’s face was mixed with confusion and disbelief, as if Nolan was pitching his next movie.

Tabitha was clutching her hair, unable to process whatever was happening to her for the past few minutes. Insurance, Glow, Stephen, her death. “Seriously? Is this all true?” was all she could manage to say and was faced with an emphatic nod.

“Both of you came inside the house to tell me that I’m going to die in a few minutes? You guys are crazy. Lost your marbles? Turning senile doesn’t mean that you have the right to serve all this bullshit. You are perverts, sulking at the youthfulness of women like me.”

Distressed after seeing the glow, the couple looked at each other, unsure what to do next. Tabitha was repeating “Pervs” while trying to throw them out.

“DO NOT TOUCH ME WITH THAT DIRTY HAND OF YOURS,” screamed Jack, who had earlier noted the dirt between her nails. Realising that he was quite distressed, Tabitha continued to poke him and scooped the lint from her belly button to smear it on his body; all the while swearing, as if to showcase her knowledge of human anatomy and animals.

The nauseating smell from the toilet, dripping of water, the jiggle of the baby’s toy and soft whisper of his wife saying “Let’s leave,” repeatedly played in Jack’s head. “Control,” his brain was trying to signal, but he was not able to.

That’s when Shelley got a glimpse of Jack’s reflection in the mirror. Yes, the surface was greasy from years of neglect, but she still saw it unmistakably — and knew what it meant. She tried to warn both of them, but it was too late.

When Tabitha touched him again, Jack lost it. He took the nearest object and slammed it into her body. It was the trophy. You might wonder why a person would hurt someone just because of such silly reasons, but people like Jack, who keep all their trouble to their heart, never get chances to vent out their frustration. It took a second or two for him to realise what he had done. By that time, she was beyond rescue.

Shelley knew husband would kill Tabitha. a voice inside was always screaming it whenever she had looked at the red glow around the other lady’s head. She never knew it would be her husband. Jack and Shelley stood stupefied while the baby was crawling over the mother’s bloody body, watching a heavily black corona flickering around their head.

Telling terrible stories is my superpower. Safety Not Guaranteed.