Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Dark Night

That cold winter night. My heart still whirls with fright when I remember that sight.

I never ever believed in ghosts. Every other day I used to see reports in the newspapers about someone facing some ghastly encounters with a spirit. All that I used to do was to laugh out as loudly as possible, since I found those stories immensely hilarious. But now, when I relate one of those stories, I get shaken with fright. Because that story recounts my encounter with one.

Last Winter
It was a very chilly night, capable of making your feet stiff if you happen to go out in slippers. I had just reached Jainagar, a small village in Bihar, the place where my grandparents lived. The train which was scheduled to reach Jainagar at about 9 pm at night reached the destination station four hours late. 

I jumped off the boggy as soon as the train stopped. My appetite did no good to my condition and I wanted to run to my grandfather's place as soon as possible. The house was 50 minutes on foot or 15 minutes ride on a rickshaw. My thrift could not compete with my sagging body and I decided to look for a rickshaw.

Moving out of the railway station, my eyes wandered. Pitch darkness enveloped by a gory silence prevailed. Besides the distant dogs' howls, all I could hear was my own footsteps. There was no-one to be seen. The passengers who descended the train with me had disappeared and I was left all alone. My eyes drifted along the moonlit asphalt ahead and then, in dearth of a companion, they started following my shadow. Tall, well-built and confident happened to be the few hidden reflections that I could see.

I trudged ahead, bleary-eyed, which sought rest intermittently, while my lazy feet searched for an excuse to not take the next step. The cold wind had already numbed my cheeks and the increasing darkness had rendered it impossible for my bespectacled eyes to deduce what was ahead. The clouds also had no mercy for me because they hid the only companion, the moon, I had while walking. The darkness had ripped myself off my shadow.

Suddenly, a shimmer struck my drowsy eyes from far away. Having walked for just around ten minutes, my lazy feet suddenly found a reason to quicken. The reason well-enough to reassure me that I was not alone on the road in that dark night. The shimmer swayed with the wind and it reached me sooner than I expected. It was the tremulous light of a lantern. The lantern with its owner sitting near it - someone with bent back and a tattered blanket wrapped around himself. Beside him, there was a rickshaw and it gave my tired mind a relief of a lifetime.

"Will you go to Rajiv Nagar?" I asked, presuming him to be the rickshaw-wala.
"Yes," A hoarse voice of a grave baritone came from within that blanket. He got up with the back still bent, as though it was a hunchback, while the blanket eclipsed every aspect of his from me. He diminished the lantern's flame and handed it over to me.

I got seated, while he tightened his blanket around his entire body, not even sparing his face - which I could not even get a chance to see all the while. He set the rickshaw in motion, without uttering a word. The ghastly lull was broken by the rhythmic sound of the moving chains of the rickshaw. The clouds became benevolent and revealed the moonlight to me. I became lost adoring the beauty of the moon when suddenly the cold wind started slapping my cheeks. The rickshaw had been accelerating at an astoundingly great pace. Meanwhile, the hide and seek between me and the moon started again, making it impossible for me to even decipher what was coming ahead.

I shouted at the rickshaw-wala, "Will you please go slow!"

He didn't listen nor did he care.

"Will you go slow?" I screamed at the top of my voice. He was undeterred. The speed increased and abruptly, he took a sharp right turn, almost making me topple, when I squeaked, "Stop! Stop it!"

My yell did the job. He stopped. I was just ten minutes away from home, so I thought that it was better to rely on lazy feet than a psycho rickshaw-puller. I jumped off the rickshaw, placed the lantern on the seat with its flame fully lighted, and took out my wallet - the wallet which contained a little more than two-thousand rupees. I took out a ten rupees note in front of him, when he abruptly removed his blanket.

What beheld my sight made a series of shiver go through my body. I was experiencing an earthquake - strong enough to make me frightened every single time I happen to recall it in the future. The ten rupees note as well as my wallet fell off my shaking hand and even in that cold winter night, I became drenched in sweat.

There he  was, standing straight - at least six-feet three inches tall, with a fully withered face - as if somebody had rubbed his face with cactus, and two of his canines protruding out of his face, being as sharp as a dagger.

My appetite had become a history. My feet felt paralyzed with fear, no matter how desperately I wanted to run away from him, I could not exercise any control over my body. I looked up at his eyes. They were deep red. The sweat as well as the shiver increased over thousand times with just that sight. I just could not stare at him. I felt like running away. I moved my eyes to the ground to avoid the gruesome sight, just out of fear. What I saw hit me hard - he was wearing a shredded shoe which I found very familiar.

I looked up again. In a moment, all my fear was vanquished. Without wasting a moment, I kicked the most vulnerable part of his body.

He fell on the ground, crying aloud and I continued kicking him hard.

"Who are you? Tell me or I'll call the police!" I punched his face. His mask fell off.

"Saheb, it's me, Suresh - Sita-amma's son. Remember, she was the maid at your grandma's place? I didn't know it was you Saheb until I removed my blanket. If I knew it was you, I would have never frightened you," The human inside that ghost spoke up. I was perplexed.

"Suresh! What has happened to you? Why are you doing these things? Are you in your senses?" I whined.

"Saheb, it's not me but my circumstances!" Suresh said.

"Stop giving excuses. You cannot blame the circumstances for your crime."

"Saheb, I won't say a thing. You just come to my home with me," he pleaded with his hand folded.

I didn't resist, out of pity perhaps. I collected all my stuff which had fallen down and despite being hungry, I decided to give him a shot and boarded his rickshaw. He drove me across the village, through a forest, to another village. This time he drove at a much faster pace, while my heart as well as cheek remained  indifferent to the surroundings, being lost in what I'd just encountered. My thoughts came to a standstill just when another lantern came in my purview. The speeding rickshaw halted at a hut outside the dimly lit hut.

"Saheb, let us extinguish this lamp, it will save some me oil for tomorrow. We've another one inside my house," Suresh extinguished it and asked me to wait outside for two minutes till he prepared everyone at home to receive a guest at such an ungodly hour.

"Have you got some money? Tomorrow, we've to go to the doctor for Amma's cataract operation," I overheard a feminine voice speaking with concern.

"Sorry, I could not bring any money. I had this strange..."

"How will we manage then? You're so couldn't even frighten anyone on the way...what's the use of these masks which I keep making for you everyday. Look at these children, they have not eaten anything tonight...if it goes on like this, they will die of hunger..." She didn't allow him to speak.

"We can discuss about it later. Will you listen to me?" Suresh rebuked.

Their conversation continued.

I peeped in through the window. What beheld my sight made a series of shiver go through my body. I was experiencing an earthquake - strong enough to make me frightened every single time I'll recall it in the future. There she was, standing straight, with her right skinny hand resting on her protruding belly. The dimly lit house was smaller than my washroom. It encompassed six malnourished children who rested on a thin mat, all covered in one long bedsheet, one undernourished pregnant lady with hands as thin as pencils, and a blind old lady who people lovingly called Sita-amma with the erstwhile ghost standing helpless in front of his god.

"Just look at him. His bones are .... oh my god! Babu, babu....!" Suresh's wife cried and started slapping the cheeks of their smallest child, who seemed more like a black skeleton in the shimmering light.

"What? What happened?" Sita-amma and Suresh screamed simultaneously.

"Babu is not breathing! Babu...babu...." She kept slapping her child until her hand felt that it was too late. The child was on her lap now, while she tried to wail with her choked throat, but alas, she could not. A minute later, groans, screams and cries seethed through that cold dark night while the moon stood as a mute spectator to what was going on. The lull, however, was broken by the ghastly outcry of pain.

I shuddered deep within. My appetite had become a history. Suddenly, my wallet fell off my shaking body near their door and my feet started moving away from that hut. I could not withstand that sight. It was dreadful.

Even in that dark winter night, I became drenched, this time not in sweat but in tears. I was terrified, as never before. Even the moon had no answer to what I'd just seen. After all, I had seen a ghost! The ghost of poverty...


Apoorv Jain said...

Harsh, do u "sweat" in a second or two? (u mentioned this thing wen the protagonist saw the rickshaw waala..however i dont know whether other authors write that too or not..)
anyway, at the first moment i was
turned down as my expectations for a "horror" story was quite different but the last 2 paras justified the plot. :)
Good Job!

Buzz said...

I used to sweat in just a moment earlier. The reason could range from a pretty girl in front of my eyes to a deadly ghost, both of them belong to the same super-set.

buzzzzzzzzz... said...

..i felt tat lotsa words were repetitive.
dat thng bout "ghost of poverty",kinda wins it for me ,
so m nt gonna be more captious.

Buzz said...

Yeah, it was repetitive. Thanks for pointing out. I edited it. Thanks for your comment.

Sudhanshu said...

Extremely Good. Fantastic. I lost my senses when I found myself amidst these poverty stricken people. The words are so powerful that It took some time to come back from the scene.

Keep it up. Send this story to some magazine or keep it for your book of short stories.


Dreamer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.