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From the Duckbill Workshop in Delhi.

Vartika was flipping over the pages of her elder brother’s book, her fingers carefully gliding over each word, words that she could read but not understand. She carefully read out the title “Queen of Ice”. How she wished that she could read those fat books that were filled with tiny words on neverending pages!

“That’s not for babies.” Akash snatched his book from her.

“You think I am a baby but I know more words than you,” retorted Vartika.

“Such as?”

“Such as gobblegumgum!” Vartika smiled triumphantly with her arms crossed.

“The word is goobledegook, my tiny sister.” Akash was shaking with laughter.

Vartika felt a pang of anger. She deftly snatched the book from his trembling hands and ran.

Akash ran after her. “Give my book back,” he huffed.

“Only if you say my brain is tinier than my sister’s.” Vartika was more nimble than her stout brother and Akash had already stopped chasing.

“Give it back, you monster!”

“What did you say? Take it then!” Vartika flung the book and it neatly landed on the AC unit.

Akash looked in horror.

Vartika giggled. “That’s the best place for that book. Queen of Ice!”

Akash lunged for Vartika but landed on the sofa. Vartika jumped in time but crashed into the bookshelf and all the books came tumbling down.

The thud of falling books was not loud enough to drown their mother’s screech. Tana na na! tana na na! gidd gudum! gidd gudum! dhish dhish dhish! That’s how she sounded to Vartika.

What she had actually said was, “Always yelling! Always fighting! There is not a single moment of peace in this house. No cartoons and no games for a day, Vartika!”

When Vartika was done imitating her mother in her head she realised what had happened. No cartoons and no games for a day! “Ma, I did not do anything. Bhaiya was …”

“ Enough!” Ma cut her short. “Books are not things to be snatched or thrown about in the house. Now go and clean the mess or else there will be no food too!”

Vartika grimaced at her brother. She was being punished for no fault of hers. One by one she started stacking the books back while Akash watched, grinning from ear to ear. She had to do something. She was not the baby! She was way much more smarter than him.

Vartika spent the evening sulking and scheming. She saw her brother stuffing few polythene bags in his rucksack. What was he up to, thought Vartika. Soon it was clear.

“Ma, I am going to Vinny’s for homework,” declared Akash.

“Bhaiya, I know where you are going. You are going to the pond, aren’t it?” mocked Vartika.

“So Miss Tattletale, why don’t you go and tell Ma?” retorted Akash.

“I won’t if you let me come with you. I know you are going there to catch fish in those plastic bags. I also want to catch fish.”

To Vartika’s great surprise, Akash quickly nodded his head. She did not expect him to agree so easily. But that’s the thing with blackmail. It gets you thing pretty fast without a fight!

Vartika squealed with delight. She put on her shoes and took some plastic bags when suddenly Akash caught hold of her and narrowed his eyes, his voice barely audible, “Do you know why the water there is green?”

Vartika shook her head.

“Because of the green-headed monster. It is believed that it lives there.”

“Oh Bhaiya then I will surely come. You need somebody to protect you,” said an unfazed Vartika.

“But it only eats children below eight. There is no danger to me but to you. You are seven, the monster’s favourite age.”

Vartika had read far too many books to know that her brother was making up this story to scare her. She was almost about to say that the expression is green-eyed monster and that it means to be jealous but then a plan began to hatch in her mind.

“That’s terrible. Why does he do that?” asked Vartika, pretending to be half scared and half concerned.

“Because the monster was born as a grown up. He does not know what it means to be a child. He longs to experience childhood and the only way for him to do that is to eat little children.”

“Ughh! I will come next time. I have lot of homework to do.”

Akash slung his bag over his shoulder and off he went, heaving a sigh of relief that his pesky little sister was not following him.

Akash and Vinny were gingerly wading in the slush hoping to catch whatever they could in plastic bags.

Out of nowhere they heard a gruff voice. “Tell me why is the water green?”

Akash and Vinny stared at each other dumbfounded. The voice spoke again, this time its tone sounded threatening. “Tell me or I will slice your throats!”

Vinny opened his mouth but it seemed that only his lips were moving but no sound was coming. Akash, on the other hand, was trying to find out where the voice was coming from. He looked around but he could not see anybody. The area was always deserted the pond was so dirty with a garbage dump nearby.

“Don’t look here and there. I am in. If you don’t tell me the answer you will also be in.” The voice roared with evil laughter.

“Who are you?” asked Akash nervously.

“Replying with another question! I am the reason why the water is green.”

“The water is green because of algae and not because of some green …” Akash stopped mid-sentence. Could it be the green-headed monster? But that was only some gibberish he had told his sister to scare her off.

The voice roared again, “I am the green-headed monster. And today you will know for sure how real monsters are because …”

The voice stopped. There was a tense silence.

“Because?” croaked Vinny.

“Because like all normal creatures I was born a child. But I want to grow up fast. And the only way for me to do that is to eat those in between childhood and adulthood.”

“Lets get out!” shouted Akash and Vinny but their trembling legs only led them to slip in the slush and they landed right in the mucky green water, their faces dripping green.

Vartika scrambled out from behind the bush where she had been hiding. “Oh so that’s the green-headed monster!” She guffawed as Akash and Vinny squirmed in the water turning redder and redder–or rather, greener and greener.

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