The jersey, as they called it, was strange. Nobody knew where it came from or whose it was but they were smart enough to get rid of it as soon as they found out what it did to those who wore it. This particular group suffered losses so horrifying that they were sure the jersey would haunt them forever in their dreams. It is a tall tale but there is no harm in telling you.
It was Bill who had found it. Bill was a thirteen-year-old boy in the town of New Ignor. The town, however small, was famous among the nearby towns for its modernity. It wasn't as if it had ultra-modern tech or expensive cars or huge bungalows but the nearby settlements were just too poor not to call New Ignor modern and rich. They could almost be called villages if not for proper houses.
Bill was smart, prudent and lean. Girls in his school were dying to talk to him but Bill always found it easy to dodge them. Bill had four friends – Max (the fat and stupid), Nat (the beautiful and meek), Rick (the athlete and supportive) and Sabina (the plump and confused). These five were the best of friends. They lived in the same neighborhood and went to the same school. They played together, studied together and pranked together as well. They were envied by most of their schoolmates for their fidelity towards each other. Many had tried in the past to plant a dispute between them but nobody succeeded. They were inseparable making it impossible to influence one of them against another.
Bill was the undeclared captain of the group. Whenever a decision was taken Bill was always the last one to vote and it was a no when Bill said it, even if a majority had voted yes. But that didn't happen frequently. Whatever the group did, it was with mutual understanding. Bill never, generally, disagreed with the group on a vote because they were always, generally, right. Whatever was decided by means of voting, every one of them had to do it. This was an unwritten law. Even if a person had voted in a no, he had to do it if the majority had said yes.
Max, sometimes, had issues understanding the motive of the voting and sided with Rick, just because he knew he would always be right. If Rick said they were to go towards the mountain, Max would say that too. If Rick said it was too hot to be outside, Max would say he wanted to stay at home and play video-games. Max always, generally, concurred with Rick's opinion, unless he had something in his mind. And mind you, that was rare; it was rare for Max to have something in his mind except for food.
Nat, though she was seeing Rick, always had the same opinion as Bill's. Whenever they were voting, Nat always knew what Bill had in mind. She would look at Bill and somehow, miraculously, know exactly Bill was thinking. She would always vote while looking at him to see if she had guessed his mind correctly or not and would always smile as if she knew, Bill approved every time she voted.
Sabina was the most agreeing one. She had only came to New Ignor a year back and she was accepted by the group immediately as nobody else had tried to be friends with her. She would always ask everyone what they thought before voting. She would first ask Nat then Bill then Rick and then Max. She would always consider everyone else's opinion and think what she should do. She would take her time to decide but finally go along with the majority.
As for Bill, he knew what was to be done and what was not. Every decision they took was, hence, mutual.
Bill could never forget how he had come across the jersey that had cursed their lives. It was a mid-summer's afternoon and all four of his friends had stayed back for physical training at school while he was headed towards the foreign language class. Only Bill had opted for more than one of those gibberish languages, others found it extremely difficult to cope with just the one that was compulsory. He was late for class and he knew Mr. Slater, the language teacher, would reprimand him when he heard a peculiar noise coming from across the playground. It was like the whistling of a train engine. He went to investigate out of curiosity thinking all the while that someone might have left a toy. But it wasn't a toy. He saw the jersey lying at the centre of two concentric circles made out of dirt. At first it seemed to be a piece of cloth. It was folded neatly in a spherical shape in between those eerily perfect circles. Although they were made out of dirt, they were perfect in every sense. Bill found it odd; who in their right mind would make circles from filth and fold a t-shirt in a perfectly round ball!
He picked it up reluctantly and unfolded it. It was a jersey of the famous football club FC Barcelona but it had no number or any name. The jersey seemed to be brand-new. Even though it was lying on the ground, there was not a single speck of dirt on it. He bagged it and went on to the class he was already late for. Miraculously, Mr. Slater had still not arrived. He took his seat without saying anything before any harm could be done.
Bill couldn't concentrate on the class that day. He had to show the jersey to his friends. Although, he was happy to find a brand-new piece of clothing, he had a bad feeling about it. His dilemma only increased when Mr. Slater mentioned in passing that there were clothes in the history that were said to be cursed. At the end of the class Bill approached Mr. Slater to ask more about those cursed clothes but his answer did not satisfy him.
"I am your language teacher Bill. Besides, I don’t have details. There are instances of magical clothes in the past that draw greedy people towards them only to ruin them."
Bill returned to the others at the end of the school.
"I found a jersey." He said without waiting.
"Why are you panting? What's the hurry?" Nat said. She was surprised as she had never seen Bill like this before.
"I found a new jersey today." He said and pulled it out of the bag and held it with both his hands for others to have a look.
Four pair of eyes darted from the jersey to Bill. Each of them looked at Bill as if he was mental.
"Why are you looking at me like that? See I found this near the language class. Who will leave a brand-new jersey on the ground?"
"Are you mad or blind?" Rick asked.
"Why?" Bill said. He was confused.
"It isn't a jersey mate." Rick said again.
Bill turned the jersey he was holding towards himself to have a look. It was a jersey. Was Rick mad?
"It is a jersey. What do you think it is?"
"It is a kimono." It was Nat who had said this.
"What?" Rick said, "You have gone mad as well. It is a leather-jacket, the kind that bikers wear."
"This is insane. Both of you are insane. It is a jersey, FC Barcelona's jersey."
"No Bill. It is a kimono."
"It is not. It's a jacket."
"Wait. Max, what is it?" Bill said holding out the t-shirt for Max to see.
"Well. I don't know for sure but it looks like the sweatshirt I always wanted." Max said with greedy eyes.
"And Sabina, what do you see?" Bill asked Sabina.
"Bill. It is not a jersey."
"Tell me what you see?"
"It is a green jumper dress."
"And can it be the only piece of clothing you like most?"
"I always wanted a green jumper dress."
"This is it then, isn’t it? This is magic. We see what we most want. I see a jersey because I always wanted to wear a Barcelona jersey. Rick sees a leather-jacket because he likes it most and Sabina and Max both see it their way and Nat, I am sorry I don't know what a kimono is but I guess it is your favourite piece of clothing, isn't it?"
"It is Bill. But how is that even possible. There is no such thing as magic." Nat said
"You don't believe until you see, isn't it? We all see it differently that means no one of us is telling a lie." Bill replied.
"I know nobody will lie but I cannot believe it." Nat said again. She was uncertain.
"If it is indeed magical, it will do something to the wearer. What if you can actually do things when you wear it?" Rick said. There was a certain shine in his eyes.
"What do you mean?" Nat asked.
"I see a leather jacket, biker's jacket to be precise. What if I wear it and suddenly become much older to ride a motor-cycle or something like that. You know I am not allowed to touch my dad's. He says I am too young even though my legs reach the ground while I am on it."
"Well, we are too young right now." Nat said rolling her eyes.
"That is not the point. What if it gives you those powers?" Rick said, he saw he was convincing nobody. He turned to Bill and continued, "Bill. You always wanted to be selected on the team. Imagine that you wear it and become as skilled as Ronaldinho. You will claim the top spot on the team. You might even be the captain."
As he said it, Bill's eyes narrowed. He wanted it, yes. But he had heard what Mr. Slater had said.
"Rick. I have a bad feeling about this." Bill said but he knew Rick was firm.
"Tell me how you found it." Nat asked and Bill explained everything.
"That's odd." Nat said, "Clearly, someone kept it there for someone to find it. The question is who."
"I want to know what happens if I wear it." Rick said with a certain finality in his voice.
"I don't think we should do anything with it." Bill said.
"Let's vote on it." Rick said and looked at Max and Sabina, both of them were quiet until now.
"Alright. Max. What's your say? Wear it or throw it?" Rick asked Max.
"Wear it." Max said without a second thought. Bill was unsure if he had given the matter even a first.
"Nat?" "Throw it." Nat said looking at Bill.
"I say wear it. What do you say Sabina?"
"Well, I always wanted to wear a pinafore but I think Bill and Nat are correct." Sabina said with the usual confused note in her voice.
"Wear it or throw it?" Rick asked again. He had raised it voice this time and it seemed to do the trick.
"Alright. Wear it." Sabina said, alarmed by the sudden change in Rick's behaviour.
"There's no point in me voting now, is it?" Bill said.
"No mate. We are wearing it."
Rick snatched the jersey out of his hands. A moment later he had slipped himself inside it and a moment later the garment had vanished on him. Rick still seemed to be wearing his usual clothes.
"It fits perfectly." He said looking at himself.
"I cannot see it on you and I am sure nobody else can." Bill said.
"Yes, you are still wearing your same old t-shirt."
"Better that way. Do I look older?" Rick asked.
"Not even a second."
"I am going to have to try myself, haven't I? Let's go, my place. Dad won't be home and mom will be out at her friend's. I'll have a clear go at the motor-cycle."
"He owns a Harley. You cannot even take the weight." Bill said.
"Do you want a poll for that or you want to know what this jacket does?"
"Alright, let us go." Bill finally agreed.
They reached Max's house in less than five minutes. There school was not far from their neighbourhood. Rick opened the garage and took the keys of the bike. He wasted no time in mounting it.
"Imagine what will happen when your dad finds out." Bill tried to warn but Rick had already turned on the engine. With a defining noise, the beast roared to life. The smile playing on Rick''s lips were a mixture of delight and rebellion. In a few minutes he was on the road, riding the heavy bike with sheer expertise. He came back within the next few minutes and parked the bike where it stood earlier. He replaced the keys back to its original place and came to the others.
"I told you. This is amazing. I can ride any bike without the fear of falling." Rick said triumphant.
"Alright, you are not wrong. It gives you powers. I'll probably be the best one there is on the team but them, what will it do to them?" Bill said pointing towards the other three, "There is nothing special after you wear a jumper or a sweatshirt and I think same will be the case with a kimono. Is there anything special you do after you wear a kimono?" He asked Nat.
"Nothing except looking beautiful. Japanese wear those traditional ones at ceremonies and festivals."
"Rick, you heard her. What powers will they get?"
"They'll have to wear it to find it out, wont' they?" Rick said and started to remove the invisible jacket. The garment appeared to others as soon as had removed it from his body.
"Here, you try." He said handing it to Nat. She took it reluctantly with the tips of her thumb and forefinger as if it was an old smelly sock.
"Go on." Rick pestered. Nat looked at Bill and saw the uncertainty in his eyes. In the end though, she decided to wear it.
Once again it vanished as soon as she had worn it.
"I feel no difference." Nat said looking at herself. For a few minutes nothing happened and then Nat started to hover a few inches above the ground. She clapped her hands on her mouth.
"Oh my god! I can fly." She said and started rising above the ground. She left the garage and the others could see her flying high in the clear blue sky. She too returned within a few minutes. It was as if they were afraid of their new powers.
Max tried it next and to his pleasant surprise the pockets of his sweatshirt carried an endless supply of his favourite tart. Sabina thought herself to be luckier than Max when her pinafore gave her the powers of fitting her chubby self into it without looking fat. She looked slimmer and prettier than Nat when she wore it and yet somehow she looked the same as she was. Only Bill remained powerless now and after seeing what the garment had done to his friends, he could not stop himself but yearn for his turn to come.
Finally when he wore it, he felt stronger and faster. He asked Rick to bring a soccer ball. Rick threw the ball from a distance and Bill saw it in slow motion. He dropped the ball with grace and dribbled it outside with expertise. His maneuvering skills had improved dramatically. It was as if he had known how to do it since a life-time. He couldn’t stop himself from shooting the ball between the two dustbins that were lying at the opposite row of houses, he was right on spot.
"You have to go to the trials tomorrow mate. You played like Ronaldo." Rick said with an expression of appreciation on his face.
"Ronaldinho mate." Bill corrected.
The group discussed a lot about the mysterious garment. There were many theories and many conclusions. Finally, it was agreed upon that this piece of clothing pretended to be their favourite garment and gave them the one thing they most wanted. Within a month they all had everything to be the happiest person in the world. Nat was happy flying for hours together on weekends while donning her kimono. Max extracted as many tarts he could from the sweatshirt and packed them in every box he could empty in his bedroom. Rick was able to show his father how he could ride the bike better than him and Sabina was finally successful in getting Rick's attention.
Bill, he was the happiest of them all. He had secured his position in the school team within a week and within a fortnight, he was even selected in the under-19 team. His coach had also threatened Charles, the current captain of the team that he would remove him from captaincy if he didn't level with Bill's standards. Now, if Charles was to be like Bill, who would be the captain if he couldn't!
They never came to know exactly where that clothing came from. They, however, found out within the next month what it had in mind. When all of them had worn it for long enough, the garment revealed its true nature. It was lust beyond imagination, lust for blood. It happened to Rick first. He felt a sudden desire to hit the truck in front of him on the road while he was driving. He didn't tell about it to anybody but as time passed the desire grew stronger. It was as if someone else was planting the idea in his head. He was sure that this was the effect of the jacket. Soon, he had no choice but to tell others.
When he told the others, they came up with similar stories. Nat had had the desire of breaking the flight while high up in the sky so as to fall on the ground. Max hardly stopped himself from throwing himself in-front of the bakery truck while he was wearing it. Sabina repeatedly shouted at Rick asking him to kill her if he liked Nat so much and Bill had the desire to keep hitting his head on the poles of the goalpost, which he did once and the coach had to throw him out of the field. They discussed it thoroughly and locked the clothing away in Bill's locker.
For a week nobody touched it even though they were constantly drawn towards it. But Sabina couldn't stop herself now that Rick was no more attracted towards her. She broke Bill's locker one day while the others were away, wore it and with a firm decision in mind headed straight towards the group. They were huddled together in the school backyard, discussing what to do with the jersey when a pretty Sabina walked towards them. They saw her and in an instant understood that something was wrong.
"Rick. I want to talk." She said. Her imperious voice was not to be ignored.
"Sabina. What have you done? Why did you wear it?" Rick said rising up from the bench. All others got up as well.
"I want to talk to you, alone." Sabina said again. There was a deadly gleam in her eyes.
"You need to sit down and take that out."
"I said I want to talk." Sabina shouted. There was nothing Rick could say. "Come let us walk." She said taking hold of his hand.
It was Bill who acted. He placed a hand on Sabina's shoulder and said in a calm and assuring voice, "Sabina, sit down. We all can talk together. I am sure we can help you in convincing Rick. Nat can go away if you like."
"No, she can stay." Sabina said with a sudden inspiration and sat down in front of Rick.
"Say." Rick said, assuming the same tone as Bill's.
"I know you cannot like me." She said quietly.
"Sabina, that's not true. We were together…" Rick started but Sabina stopped him mid-sentence.
"That was this dress doing things to me when you found me prettier than her. We were together because of that. I have something in mind that won't leave you with choices." She said drawing out a silver knife from her pocket. All of them got up at once.
"Sabina, put that away. Remove that thing right now. Think what you are doing."
"Oh! I am not killing myself if you think so. I am not going to do that. Sit down and relax." Sabina said as if she was amused by their behaviour. Everyone sat down; relaxed by the way Sabina was talking. For a split second everyone's eyes darted away from Sabina and at the exact same moment Sabina thrust the blade into Nat's gut. Blood spilled out and Nat gave a loud shriek. Max caught hold of Sabina from the shoulder and pushed her away. She stood there laughing maniacally while Bill and Rick pressed Nat's wound with their hands.
Several people rushed in hearing Nat's scream. Whatever happened next was intuitive. Someone from the teachers' snatched the knife away from Sabina's hand. Someone had called in the ambulance which arrived soon enough and Nat was put in accompanied by Bill and Mr. Slater, the male-nurses gave her first aid while Bill ignored Mr. Slater's various questions.
Back at the school, Rick and Max were still hammered with questions for which they had no answers and Sabina was locked away in an empty classroom till his father arrived. Once people were out of earshot, Rick told Max, "We need to make her remove that clothing. No one will ever believe us, that damned garment is invisible."
"We can convince her." Max said in a confident voice and seemed surprised himself. Confidence was unlikely for him.
"How do we get rid of them?" Rick asked motioning towards the various people around him.
"I'll take care of that. When I say, leave here and head straight to Sabina." Max said.
Soon enough he had done something to draw everyone's attention. He had collapsed clutching his chest as if he was having a heart attack. Everyone present there surrounded him to take a better look and he raised his thumb motioning Rick to act as planned. Rick went straight to where Sabina was kept and to his relief Sabina was already holding the cloth in her hands, looking at it with disgust.
On seeing Rick, she started crying. Rick rushed towards and comforted her.
"Oh! Rick, what did I do?" She said between sobs.
"It isn’t your fault. Give that to me." Rick said, patting her back. She handed the cloth to Rick. He immediately folded it and kept it inside his jacket's pocket. He said to Sabina, "I just wanted to make sure you are alright. I'll have to leave. You stay here. I won't let anything happen to you. Don't talk to anyone. We will do something."
Sabina nodded her head, still sobbing.
Rick left her and returned to where Max was. Max saw him coming out of the corner of his eyes and got up at once.
"I am okay, just a fit." He announced in a booming voice. He saw Rick holding out his thumb, motioning 'all okay' and was relieved. Once everyone had resumed their gossips Max asked for details and Rick told him everything that happened.
At the hospital, Nat was being attended by a team of doctors. One of them had said earlier that everything would be fine and Bill was relieved. Bill was sitting with Mr. Slater, who had stopped asking questions for good. But Bill had something in mind.
"Mr. Slater, can I trust you?" Bill asked suddenly.
"I knew that would come. Is it something about a cloth that pretends to be your favourite something?" He asked.
"How did you know?" Bill asked, his eyes wide.
"It has a history in our school. I knew it had reappeared when you were selected in the team and Rick started bringing the motorbike to school. So what happened? Who found it?"
"I found it, but we discovered it drove us mad so we locked it up."
"And Sabina couldn't resist herself?"
"No. She came to us and we knew she had worn it. We tried to calm her down but…"
"But she stabbed Nat before you could do anything."
"Alright. The police will be here any minute. Here is what you'll say. You tell them Sabina had bought an antique knife and she was showing it to you and while passing it around Nat was stabbed by accident. All of you have to confirm this story. If Sabina has taken out that wretched cloth, nobody will be harmed and if not… well, may God bless you people."
Soon enough, the policemen arrived and Bill parroted what he was told. Mr. Slater confirmed the story. He took full responsibility and the police were satisfied. They wrote everything down and asked Bill to accompany them to school. Mr. Slater nodded towards him and he left with the police for school. Luckily, the police decided to meet the principal first and Bill was able to tell Rick and Max the story that Mr. Slater had told him. They confirmed the story with the police and they left to see Sabina.
"Has she taken it out?" Bill asked once the police were gone.
"Yes, it is with me and I've told her not to say anything to anyone. I told her we will sort everything out." Rick said and Bill was relieved.
The police returned. They informed the principal and the kids that Sabina was in a state of shock and was saying nothing.
"Quite understandable, the poor girl thinks we'll jail her. She is bound to remain quiet." The policeman said and left. Sabina was let out of the room and Bill explained everything to her. She was still crying.
Within a week, Nat had been discharged from the hospital. She was not allowed at school yet but Bill, Rick, Max and Sabina had gone to visit her once. Sabina first broke into tears but Nat reassured her that everything between them was settled. The group was now discussing various ways to get rid of the clothing. Once Nat was permitted to go out, they tried burning the jersey but it didn't work. They tried to tear it to pieces but that didn't work either. Every attempt in destroying the jersey was in vain.
Finally, they consulted Mr. Slater and he too was confused as to what had to be done in order to destroy it.
"Give it to me for the time-being. I'll try everything I can and when I find something solid, I'll call you to see the end of it." Mr. Slater had said.
The group tried to settle into a normal routine by the time Mr. Slater came up with something. Nat had been doing well, Rick was again denied to touch the bike, Max was happy with the few sweets his mother bought for him, Sabina apologised to everyone again and again and was nearly back to normal, Bill had been removed from the final squad but he was happy. They were all fine but they spent less time with each other. The best of friends had lost the essence of their true friendship. It was apparent that they were not together for long.
Meanwhile, Mr. Slater was in his office, replacing the jersey (which he saw as a cape) back to the shelf in his office.
"Till the time comes to get you out again." He said with a smile.