April 05, 2018

Of Djinn and Drones: Sami Shah's Reap is the perfect blend of supernatural and horror

(This is Review Part 2 of the Anthology titled The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories)

Reap might rate as one of my top five favourite stories in this anthology, which makes me super excited to read Sami Shah’s Djinn-Son Duology, one of Pakistan’s rare urban fantasy products. While I was already excited about the fact that Shah had tackled a genre previously untouched in Pakistan’s English literature, after reading this short story by him I’m going to go into Fire Boy (the first part of the duology) expecting brilliant writing as well. 

Reap is story number eleven in a twenty-one part compilation, and being placed right in the middle was excellent for this anthology since the stories right before Reap were either too boring, pointlessly long, or completely incomprehensible. Reap brings the anthology back on track, with the entries following afterwards being equally as fascinating both in terms of plot as well as writing.

Grant, our protagonist in the story, is part of a small team using a MQ-9 Reaper Drone for surveillance of a village in a north-western region of Pakistan. His job: to analyze the footage visible to the team through the six cameras of Reap. And while the duty itself involves keeping track of the inhabitants of a cluster of houses, Grant and his team mates find themselves getting involved in the lives of the residents. 

They knew that eleven children lived in House 4, each a year apart. They’d given them all names as well, and could tell them apart just by how they moved.

Our story takes a turn into the supernatural when, amongst 11 siblings, one young girl named Mariam doesn’t return home from school one day. The local loner living in house number three reaches his place a bit later looking suspicious and scared. Grant watches as the young girl’s father and brothers set out to look for her, coming back at night desperate but defeated.

As the Reap team waits, debating whether it’s worth using Reap for further canvassing, a light emerges in the distance – from the same place where the school is, where the local man came back in a hurry, where Mariam’s relatives went looking for her. Soon the light transpires into Mariam’s body, hurtling across the ground at unnatural speeds, headed towards her village.

It was definitely Miriam; they could all recognize her despite the distorted mouth. Her lips were pulled back in a grin so wide it should have split her cheeks. The long teeth glowed with the same interior light. Her eyes, however, were dark holes in her face.

Appalled and transfixed, our protagonist watches as Mariam’s body reaches the local man’s place, but before she goes in and promptly disembowels him, dragging his body up to hang from the village tree, she looks up straight at the Reap cameras, as if aware of the presence watching her. And then all the cameras shut down. 

From there, the story plummets into a chaos of blood-thirsty revenge coupled with rising bouts of hysteria in our protagonist as the village reacts to the dead body. By the end of the story, both the ones involved in the village action as well as those watching from a distance find their stories coming together in a final, horrifying conclusion. At ten pages, this is one of the longer stories in the anthology, but it’s one of the definitely recommended ones.