For a police sketch artist, night jitters are an occupational hazard. Nobody knows the topography of a suspect’s face the way I do; I sketch and rub off and re-sketch a face out of the memory of an eyewitness until that aha! moment when I’ve got it right. It’s like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, except without the grandiose wand-waving or a trusty assistant ready to pop the animal out through a secret trapdoor upon your cue. Given the option, you should choose the wand-waving job over being a sketch artist. By the time you finish reading this you’ll know why.

I was top of my class at art school but an ugly war of words with the professor made me discontinue college in my final semester. It was a glorious blunder that I’ve come to regret as a now calmer and more focused person. With that art degree certificate, I could’ve found a job at some gallery and lived a crime scene-free life. But that’s life.

I thought I had seen it all – death in all its macabre forms. My assignments have spanned from the skin-crawling gruesome to the shocking weird. I have done everything imaginable – or unimaginable, depending on your disposition – sketching faces out of skeletal remains of unidentified victims, suspect portraits from a blurry video footage, to weird personal requests to sketch an imaginary soul mate or a scene out of someone’s dream. My god-fearing mother would shake her head and mumble, ‘Kalikaalam,’ every time she heard a new case update. ‘Bad times, yeah,’ I would concur, nodding my head in agreement.

Then Case 59 came along.
Until then I had never come face to face with true evil, not even close. It was a brutal triple murder case. Three partially decomposed bodies inside a rusty, abandoned car nearly consumed by vegetation, less than a mile off a seldom travelled forest road. The only eyewitness, a fourth woman in her late forties who had suffered a head injury and had lost her memory. She was shaking like a leaf in her hospital bed, her nervous hands unable to stay still for very long before a shock of adrenaline went through her.

When she had had a flash of memory, they called me in to piece together the image in her befuddled head. We went through different templates, a rounder face- then no, something sharper. A big, ugly, bulbous, and deformed nose – then no, no, more delicate. But the eyes were the same each time. The eyes… As my pencil passed before the eyes, a sick sensation of fear filled me.

She kept fiddling with a tube attached to the back of her hand, vainly trying to recall the events surrounding the mysterious death of her friends. It took me over an hour to finish the sketch. It was a horrible face; full of fear and malice. Anger and hate. I turned to her for her validation. She took it in her hands and said, ‘yes, yes that’s right.’ My skin broke into a million goosebumps as realisation dawned upon me. She was the woman I had drawn!
My god-fearing mother would freeze and run out of words.

Mydhili R. Varma is a freelance writer whose short stories have appeared in anthologies titled Urban Shots: Bright Lights and Fox Hollow Stories. Follow Mydhili on social media at or