Book Extract : Richa Lakhera’s Contamination

The bestselling author of books like Hungry Gods, Garbage Beat, and Item Girl, Richa Lakhera is back with an intense and gripping tale of the supernatural and horror with a female combatant set in the current times. Lakhera’s Contamination has glowing early praise from actor Manoj Bajpayee and screenwriter and novelist Farrukh Dhondy.

Moving with the economy of a mercenary, the man dipped his massive arm in a bucket of ice, his skin bristling all along his neck and back.
“Devil’s spawn! Look at it go!” someone shouted. Moist, pink eyes pinned on its adversary, the snake’s jagged-edged fangs struck again and again.

Little Death, as the snake was called, raised its fangs to deliver jabs of venom. But the man’s face—evoking the mystery of an Olmec head—remained empty of expression. Cut from living rock; and from his back, his dark coat hung like wings jointed as a vulture’s back. The puncture wounds looked inflamed, there was enough mycotoxin to kill an ordinary man. But Rosie Madbull was no ordinary man.

Named after his mother who died giving birth to him, Rosie Madbull was a man of brute strength. He once hoped to be a professional boxer. His skin rippled and his eyes were thin and slitted, his mouth a bloodless slash. When the snake stopped moving, he eased his grip and threw it in a cage, slamming it shut.

It was time for the next show. The stage was set. Forty small houses had been combined to make the sitting area and fifty destroyed to make the central ground. The set-up presented a certain gladiatorial appeal, apt for the task at hand. Twenty-four young hopefuls awaited their fate. The instructor removed the white cloth covering a figure, revealing a naked corpse lying face down on the ground. “Dismember the body,” Madbull tasked the new boy.

The young aspirant’s eyes widened, as if he was not sure what he was being asked to do. “W-what…?” “Is there a problem, boy?” Madbull asked, flicking his side-parted hair to the side with his massive hands. “I am not feeling very good.” “Bad day to feel all balls, no cock.”
“Uh huh—is this necessary? It is already dead.”

“Boy, you know what they call me behind my back? Death. You believe that?” Madbull’s cold, emotionless voice cut the air like a scythe.
“N-No… Sir.” “You should. You better. Now do it.”

Madbull ordered, touching the short-barrelled Slocum revolver in his waistband, a 5-shot .32 calibre. He always carried it, apart from the official firearms, for effect. He thrust a machete into the boy’s hand. “Are you going to pretend it is not easy to kill people?” Standing over the body, the boy was trying to suppress an urge to vomit. “Or are you going to say you did not expect to actually kill anyone!” “Scaredy little wimps… don’t have what it takes to be a Red-Hound,” the instructor snickered. “How many of you have killed someone before?” Madbull asked.

A few nervous hands were raised, even as the instructor employing the word ladies, considering the company around, evoked howls of laughter. Colonel Madbull perceived himself as the arbiter of fate and operated outside of conventional understandings of justice and morality. He sometimes preached his philosophy before killing his victims.

“Little boys become officers. Get fancy haircuts. Your uniforms got creases. You got expensive guns on your hips. Suddenly, you want to go hard-core, but you actually are a fancy-schmancy power-point soldier. You pretend to be a meat-eater, but you piss pink mist at the sight of blood. What are you doing here? There is nothing unholy about maiming and blowing off men. War is not an eloquent blow to the neck or a jab to the heart. It is dirty, sticky, stinky, shitty, with blasted bodies, rotting parts, splattered brains, missing eyes, blown-off limbs, bloated intestines. Can you deal with it?”
“I don’t know—”

Madbull fired a bullet into the boy’s leg, who erupted in howls of pain, as if crucified. The boy tried to cup the blood back inside his leg.
“Take him away. Did us all a favour,” Madbull ordered. “Being a Red-Hound is an honour. Not everyone is suited to this line of work, so do not be stupid as to exaggerate your capabilities. It is about targets, boys. Man-shaped targets. It is about the death rattle and the targets foaming from the mouth, and the shaking and the shitting as they die. A 7.52 in the chest and pelvic girdle is too easy; he will be gone in a second. What is the fun in that?”

Next on, was a lanky boy. He held the blade like a trophy. He stabbed the corpse, determined to prove he was merciless. “Open your eyes,” Madbull ordered. The recruit slowly opened his eyes and stared at Madbull’s expressionless, icy grey holes and a chill ran down his spine.

“No. Not at me. Look at it. Look. Strike.” The runic angles of his clean-shaven face shone with sweat. The boy did not hesitate this time.
“Excellent. There is a good career for you, boy!”

Basking in the glow of admiration, and with renewed cruelty, the boy began swinging the scythe in all directions. He was one of the chosen few culled out today, for their cruel and ignoble disposition in the main, who would have to impress, by cunning and cruelty, and, if the occasion so demanded, by desperateness of defence when in a corner. The boy would now be the newest and the youngest member of the Madbull’s private army—the Red-Hounds. Off the grid, because, for the state, they did not even exist. The main purpose for their induction into Madbull’s private army was not revealed to them, for it was of such a nature, which would never get state sanction.

“Bravo! You are on the path to becoming a contributing member of the Red-Hounds my boy!”

Madbull was satisfied with his collection of mean, low, brutal fellows, which went well with his belief that one should be dispassionate and methodical in all killings. He was a firm believer in never giving up the chance to take a life.

(Carried with due permission from the author and the publisher Om Books International )

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