When retired architect Arthur Howard receives an unexpected invitation from the elegant businesswoman he has just met, her promise of two weeks of incredible sex is enough to persuade him to forget his stale marriage and follow her to India. Leaving thoughts of his younger wife Ester far behind, Rani leads Arthur into paradise; her home lies in a beautiful valley filled with quiet villages, tranquil lakes, tea plantations and crocus fields, a place where his every need is catered for and his attention sought wherever he goes.
But danger lies hidden here. Arthur discovers that Rani and the other villagers he meets in this rural Indian idyll are the descendents of an ancient civilization, thought to be merely mythical. From his contact with them, he succumbs to a mysterious illness that keeps him bedridden for a long period in a darkened room. Confused and stricken, Arthur’s days and nights are haunted by wild dreams; when he is unable to sleep, he reminisces about early love affairs and fears for his failing relationship with Ester until he is unable to distinguish dreams from reality.
‘A what? An in-depth spotlight?’ I asked, ‘What is that? I’m a bit new to this and not up-to-date with modern jargon. I didn’t even know what a BLOG was. I knew I didn’t want to have anything to do with ‘bogs,’ I’m not a plumber, and the word sounded remarkably similar.
‘Well,’ she struggled hesitantly, ‘You know, an article about Molly Fish.’
‘About Molly Fish,’ I tried not to shout, she’d been so helpful through all this process. ‘Why don’t they just read the book?’
‘Don’t be arrogant,’ she advised helpfully. (I’m afraid that despite myself I’ve been accused of that very fault once or maybe twice, before.) ‘They just want you to talk about, you know, how the book came about, what your inspiration was, who you based your characters on. That sort of thing.’
‘Oh, I see.’ I think there might have been a softening of my tone. What artist doesn’t want to talk’ (spelled ‘bore to death’) about their creation? ‘I’m sure I can find time to talk to them, uhm, if they’re really interested, that is.’
‘They’d actually like you to write a short piece,’ she went on, ‘try to make it interesting, though.’
‘Well, writing is what I do, isn’t it?’ I asked, ‘how long? Eight or ten pages?’
‘Oh, I think about seven fifty words would be enough.’
‘Only seven fifty?’ I asked, trying to keep the disappointment out of my voice, ‘I’m not sure I can limit it to that, but I’ll try.’
‘Maybe if I just run you through the questions. And you give me short answers. And I’ll edit it; get rid of the flowery phrases and such like, just to make it more concise. So, why did you write the book?’
‘It seemed like the next logical step. I’d written several plays and lots of short stories and I suddenly had time on my hands and…’
‘Why about India?’ she interrupted, ‘and why such unusual people?’
‘I’d seen this wonderful television series on wildlife in India and the nature reserves seemed so unlike anything I was aware of and I had a few Indian friends and BBC 2 had shown several ‘Bollywood’ films and I suppose I wanted an excuse to go there and didn’t just want to see the touristy things and…’
‘So you entered this rally?’
‘Yes, the Karma Enduro. It was a couple of thousand kilometers through Southern India, through very remote country, you know, tiger reserves and so forth..’
‘But the people? How did you come up with these unusual people? And why did you think they would be living in India? If they ever existed at all.’
‘Well, I read a lot of historical writers. I don’t mean about ten-sixty six and all that. I mean writers like Herodotus and Virgil and Pliny the Elder and they all made reference to them and I’ve long been interested in ancient civilizations and …’
‘But not in India, surely?’
‘If my supposition was true, they would have been hounded anywhere they went. They would have had to have been nomadic until they found somewhere safe to live. And India seemed like a likely possibility. There are places there, especially amongst what they call the hill people, places where the indigenous people have little education and little contact with the modern world… ‘
‘But your characters aren’t like that? They’re educated, many are quite wealthy and lots have travelled …’
‘So where better to hide?’ It was my turn to interrupt.
‘So, you did a bit of research?’
‘Yes, I suppose. Not the in-depth kind you’d be expected to for a PhD or anything. Just the books I mentioned and a little Wiki and of course the rally and talking to my friends…’
‘But this uhm, sexual thing?’ she asked, obviously a little uncomfortable, ‘how did you come up with that?’
I knew it would come around to that eventually. No one that had read the book could avoid asking about it. It was like the, uhm ‘Molly Fish’ thing in the room.
‘I’d read this article in a magazine. It was probably the same article that Rani tried to get Arthur to read, you know, to hint at what he could expect. You know, about gynogenisis, how things can reproduce with only a catalyst to spark them off. It explained a lot of how they might have existed.’
‘Yes,’ I heard her swallow, ‘but the uhh, shall we say intensity?’
‘That was my own invention,’ I tried to explain, ‘I reasoned that if people only made love once or twice in their lifetime, then karma should at least make it a thousand time better.’
‘Well, thanks for that,’ she said, a little dismissively, ‘perhaps it would be best if I write this up for you and send it off. And Jack?’
‘I think maybe we’d better forget about those live interviews we’d planned.’
Rani, an obviously successful business woman, after what appears to have been a chance encounter has, with the half-joking promise of two weeks of incredible sex, invited Arthur, a man of retirement age, to accompany her to her home in India. She lives in a very remote valley and the journey there is arduous. Arthur is exhausted on his first night but when she awakens him the next morning he is feeling amorous…
‘I’ll let you get dressed,’ she said, running her fingers through his hair, as a mother straightening a schoolboy son’s.
Arthur sat up and putting one arm around her waist, pulled her towards him, but she pushed at him with her other hand, laughing.
‘You must have had a good night’s sleep. But not yet my little tiger, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until tonight.’
She looked him directly in the eyes, her nose two inches from his and lowering her voice until barely audible, ‘be patient. I promise it will be worthwhile.’ She brushed his hair with one hand again, then leaned forward and kissed him on the forehead.
Turning her hand so the knuckles were against his skin, she slowly drew it down his temple and, lingeringly, across his cheek.
‘You’re so beautiful,’ she whispered softly, her eyes dilating.
The change from turquoise to sudden darkness was startling. Arthur couldn’t remember having ever seen such a rapid transformation on anyone. It reminded him of a cat he had seen once, concentrating on a toy bird waved in front of it.
Rani raised one forefinger to her mouth, kissed it and then brushed it lightly against his lips. The sensation of a blinding explosion within his head was the same as when, a few nights earlier, he had tried to kiss her. He found himself momentarily unable to breathe. The room swirled around him drunkenly and he seemed to see the room from several different viewpoints at the same time. When he could see clearly again, she had disappeared.
About the author
After growing up on a farm in northeast Missouri, McMasters joined the United States Air Force after attending the University of Missouri where he was sent to High Wycombe, England. He currently resides in Norfolk with his wife. While researching Molly Fish, McMasters travelled to India where he competed in the Karma Enduro, a 2,000 kilometer trek through the Western Ghats. He has previously published two short story collections, Iron(ing) Man and The Cucumber Murders and been featured by Škoda Magazine and the Eastern Daily Press.