My father woke me up last night to tell me there is an earthquake. He was killed in an earthquake two years ago.
There indeed was one.
It was a damp, drizzly July morning when my mother and I, the sole occupants of the building, were compelled to leave the house in a dilapidated condition. We wolfed down the remnants of snacks brought to us by the rescue team.
An officer marched past us, saying to mother, “We need people like you who use their wit and presence of mind to get out of danger. To save not only their life, but also of others.”
Mother’s eyes glowed as she took the comment. But it was momentary. Her face was expressionless, hiding the fact that her heart was beating wildly against her chest. Her body language displayed no signs of nervousness. But her eyes were cold.
We got on a car. The car belched and after narrowly missing a pole rattled down the cemented road, bounced over a ditch and the debris, the rescue team and the road, all disappeared in a cloud of dust.
Since our ‘was’ a government flat, we got as our compensation another house, though smaller. But sufficient.
Mother and the officer talked in near whispers. The officer wore a serene expression while the other was presumably frightened.
Curiosity got the better of me. I approached them. The conversation, however ended.
“Thank you, sir,” mother was saying, closing the door behind the officer.
“What is it?” I calmly asked, reading her face. I couldn’t make out what the officer must have said. Not even a clue I had.
But looking at the lines on her forehead, I was made to believe it was something serious.
“Just thinking of the loss.”
I knew there was more and waited for it to escape her mouth.
She closed her eyes. A tear escaped her left eye. She suddenly became conscious.
“The officer said not to go to the park behind our house at night. Ghosts, they say, reign in the premises. For taking precautions, the area is under police surveillance. Yet two small ones have died the most excruciating deaths.”
She broke into sobs as if I had decided to go there. In vain, did I try to console her.
Anguish and pain lengthen the night.
We were restless despite our best efforts to sleep.
I watched the dawn blossom into light. At first, everything was dark, then gradually objects began to take concrete shape. The darkness was lifted like the rising of a veil and over the top of a peepal tree, the sky was streaked with crimson.
It was like this for some time, while everything became vivid and more distinguishable.
There was a thud.
The window sacrificed itself for the sake of our protection and broke into innumerable pieces. An unwelcomed ball entered through the broken glass and touched my feet.
Instead of being angry, I was overwhelmed with bliss. The ball helped me make a new friend.
“Sorry about your window,” the boy said.
“It’s ok, friend,” I replied, not knowing what else to speak. I smiled benevolently at him and he returned that smile.
He looked a normal guy until you came up too close and saw the mischievousness in his eyes. A large part of his brain was especially devoted to mischief. I was introduced by him to all the pranks in the world that I could think of, some beyond my imagination.
It was a cold morning, unusually so for July. As we sat on the benches, a silence ensued between us. His eyes were wandering. I knew they were on the lookout for trouble. Mine looked hesitating, I guess. I wanted to ask something but didn’t know howsoever.
Finally breaking the silence, I said, pointing at the restricted are, “Have you ever gone to that park at night?”
I anticipated the answer to be in the affirmative. It had to be. He was the mastermind of naughtiness.
“Well, no. Actually, I tried once but since I had no one in my gang, I failed. The security is too tight.”
A dumb despair spread over my face. My last and only hope was shattered.
I turned to go back, expecting him to call me. He did not. So I retired to my new house.
Mother was looking as beautiful as ever. Her golden- brown hair were all tied up and neatly plaited. Her rosy coloured cheeks shined on her bisque skin. Her emerald eyes were a sight to behold.
I regretted, at once, to betray her. To intentionally go in the mouth of danger. I resisted the temptation.
I gave up on this idea. Ideas are funny little things. They don’t work unless you do.
In my room, wherever I casted my gaze outside the window, I could sense a frightening silence. No soul wandered out in the dark. All lights were switched off. Lights of my room twinkled defiance at the starry night.
I could not see any ghost. But I could feel a devilish presence.
Footsteps ascended my room. There was a knock on the window. The ceiling fan echoed. The door was slowly pushed ajar. I saw a hand outside my window. Sweat began to gather on my forehead. Someone entered the room.
I was my mother!
“Good night, love,” she said, scaring the life out of me.
Smiles were exchanged and she quietly left the room.
Opening the window, I found my friend hanging there.
“Let’s go,” he whispered, although it was not really a whisper.
“Where?” I said, feigning innocence.
“You know where.”
My mind raced; several different thoughts clashed.
“C’mon” I finally said.
I followed my friend for the time being. He kept walking and I kept following. Not just was he walking, but also tiptoeing, running and hiding at the presence of any shadow.
It was either a coincidence or sheer luck that the cops were having a break.
The park was not unlike others, with scattered benches and old trees swaying their arms.
Which stupid person says that the park is haunted. I cannot see ghosts. Maybe I’m blind. Ha!
Aha! I could at last spot something unusual. A mansion.
“What do you say?” my friend asked, as if reading my mind.
I nodded in approval; half scared, half excited.
Pushing the heavy gates, we stepped inside the premises. I could feel the unevenness of the old, cobbled path beneath me. The grass was of a dull grey colour as if it had lost the will to live and stopped growing altogether.
The moon shone bright white, in the cloudless sky. It was the only source of light that could be seen for miles. The air was cold and numb and with every breath I drew a misty, chilly exhale.
As the house drew nearer everything around us became quieter and more distant. The trees murmuring couldn’t be heard and there were no leaves on the ground, just some aged, concrete steps and a doorway that stood in front of us.
From the outside, the mansion was tall, made from large, dark grey stones that had a rough texture. Climber plants grew up in the house winding around it. The windows rattled vigorously form the howling wind, as though they were about to fall from their frames.
Fortunately, the door was ajar and perhaps, someone was already in there.
The hallway was dull and smelt of dust mixed with old age. In less than a second we were in a deep, unfathomable darkness. I heard footsteps coming nearer. We clutched each other fast. We were debating whether to stand there or run, and tarried in indecision a moment too long: I turned to flee but suddenly someone seized us.
“Don’t get scared. I am like your mother,” a lady said.
I looked around, and there was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. But there was something weird about her. She looked very ghostlike, and was floating in the air. In fact, it seemed that she was the air.
“I feel very lonely here. Could you spend one night with me? I am not a ghost. Oh those stupid rumours.”
I was too shocked to answer her question at first. I tried to open my mouth, but no words dared to exit. My friend abruptly spoke up, “Yeah, just one night. I am really tired, friend.”
I was left with no choice.
Night was pressing darkly. I was inclined to go home. But my friend was asleep. Leaving him would be nothing less than betrayal. Taking him along would look rude to the lady.
Thousand ideas struggled for space in my mind. This state of mind was soon provoked. I heard a demoniac laughter followed by the sound of water, or maybe blood, pouring. A shrill cry echoed outside.
Bats suddenly filled the room. Their screeching sound was too much to bear. Their eyes were red and their intentions black.
They flew wildly inside the closed confines of the room and covered my friend. So many of them!
My friend was unseen for some time. Rather, a bunch of black bats could be seen sucking his blood.
I made some futile attempts to shoo them away. When they left his body, the sight baffled me. It was the last thing I wanted to see.
His skin was as pale as ever. His face was – ew! Words can’t describe how he looked. Blood oozed from his mouth and trickled down the inside of his left sleeve. His right shoe was untied and he nearly tripped on it.
Before we could exchange words, icy fingers gripped my arm in the darkness.
The lady cropped up.
Her nails started growing bigger and longer, her body got enlarged, her skin became more hairy, and she transformed into a wolf. There could have been no one as intimidating as she. Absolutely no one.
She charged at us with full energy. She howled. We ran. She called her mates. Wolves!
They appeared from nowhere. Hundreds of them. They covered us from all sides. Did not leave even an inch to escape.
Imagine yourself in a situation like that. Hundreds of murderous eyes staring at you. Hundreds of paws ready to strike. Hundreds of wolves ready to eat you. And you are helpless. Totally without help. There is no cloud with a silver lining.
I crept close to my wounded friend. “What to do,” his eyes said. I kept quiet for answers, I had none.
“Aooooooo,” the animals howled in perfect unison.
My heart beat raced, minute drops of perspiration started on the edges of my hair and my body quivered with fear.
They made a sudden leap. I closed my eyes and remembered nothing after that.
Opening my eyes after a long interval, I found myself lying on a bed wearing clean clothes.
Was I at home? What happened to my friend? What exactly transpired? Does mother know about this?
“Take some rest,” a man said to me. With a white vest and a stethoscope hanging around his neck, he looked a doctor to me.
“We couldn’t save your partner ....... I haven’t told your mum yet,” he said calmly, suppressing the anger that was building in him.
Guilt gnawed upon me. My mate’s death proved me wrong in every way. For misleading someone. What was I going to tell mother?
“I’ll tell her,” I said.
“What had happened, may I ask?”
I didn’t answer his question. The silence said that I was too scared to share the experience.
After much persuading, he let me go.
It was four in the morning when I got out of the ward.
I tiptoed inside my house. Fortunately, mother was asleep. Whether or not she knew, I didn’t think it was prudent to talk to her at that time. So I went directly to my bedroom and acted as if I was sleeping.
It was nearly ten in the morning when my mother rushed in, along with a newspaper in hand.
“Your friend passed away,” she said, showing me the latest news.
“I know,” I muttered under my breath.