My first posting was in some remote corner of Assam, not far from Guwahati. Till a few years back, the area was hotbed of numerous insurgent groups due to it’s proximity with Bangladesh border. But by the time I was posted there, the terrorist movement had lost most of it’s steam. There were still a few irritants mainly funded by China and Islamists but our good intelligence network and improved relations with Bangladesh ensued that the area was enjoying a period of peace. But we never let our guard down.

Life in an army cantonment where I knew no one except my colleagues wasn’t easy for me at first. I had thought that the time of those soul crushing drills, long marches etc was over with the completion of training. But I was wrong. Drills, albeit of a different variety were still a part and parcel of our daily routine. What was known as long march during our training period was replaced by even longer patrols. We had to wake up early at the crack of dawn and get ready to leave for patrol. Almost every other day the route changed . Maybe it was an attempt by our higher ups to prevent monotony, but I never knew. We were told to keep an eye open for suspicious characters, anything out of ordinary and all that. Nothing ever came up. It was always just a long walk carrying our rifles and a small bag of supplies.

Locals were not exactly hostile but they were not very friendly either. The insurgency which had lasted for decades had left them wary of both the militants as well as security forces. But I thought that confidence building measures initiated by army like the free medical camps and schools had a good effect. At least the kids loved us. Older generation was a little hostile to change but they were gradually coming over their mistrust of the uniform. In any case, army provided them with free medical care, education, relief operations and sometimes even transport without asking for anything in return. It was a better deal for them than militants who had scant regard for the same people for whom they claimed to be fighting for.

Due to peace and lack of any violence we had a fair amount of free time, but the remote place had little to offer in terms of entertainment. We had to endure a 90 minute long bumpy ride in an army truck if we wanted to watch a movie in the nearest town. Even the food was strange and mostly tasteless to my taste buds. Enduring such long ride for these meager rewards wasn’t exactly an appealing idea. I could drink my free time away on the cheap army liquor but I never liked alcohol that much. Only saving grace was the comparatively well stocked library. It wasn’t much but certainly was better than nothing. During my 6 months long stay there I read more books than I had read during my entire student life . I don’t know if it was my performance on field or in library which helped getting my name in list of a few men from my unit shortlisted for special counter insurgency training in Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School (CIJW) in Vairengte, Mizoram.

The six week long training that I got there was unlike anything that I had ever experienced. It was much harder, very unconventional and there were many occasions when I thought that I’d flunk it. We were taught to survive on just what jungle had to offer. We ate things and animals which we never even thought could be eaten. Instructors taught us to think, act and attack like guerrilla.

After successfully completing the grueling course, I came back to my unit. A few weeks later, I was posted to J&K as my first posting in an actual active combat zone . The place is a sensitive area due to it’s proximity with Line of Control and Pakistani attempts to push in terrorists. I volunteered and was accepted in to Ghatak Platoon which is tasked with some of the most difficult missions. I had my first taste of combat there and on 3rd week of my posting there. My platoon was credited with killing 4 Paki terrorists in two different operations. It”s usually during summers when the Pakis are most active due to favourable weather and lack of snow blocking their routes. During summer months when snow melts, usually in May till September, the LoC is a virtual war zone due to Pakistani firing in order to provide cover to their terrorists. Most of their attempts are thwarted due to the fence and our vigilance. A small fraction which manage to sneak in are usually hunted down like mad dogs within a few days. But this never stopped Pakis from….well, being Pakis. Over the last few years, number of infiltration attempts had came down as terrorists lost their support even amongst the most rabidly Islamist people in J&K, but apparently Pakis refused to learn. They still manage to get a steady supply of delusional, horny fools who think killing non-muslims or dying in process will get them 72 whores for eternity after death. At first it was surprising to see such people and hear of their ideology but then I realised that it’s the only expected behaviour from a country founded on principles of hatred and exclusivity.

Over the last few years, Pakis have grown more brazen and they think nothing of firing on our posts even when they aren’t providing cover fire to anyone. Their terrorists too have become more desperate as they try sneaking in through more difficult paths as we keep on closing the gaps. It’s an ongoing cat and mouse game with no end in sight till that scourge of violent Islamism is rooted out. Fat chance of that happening though.

Two weeks back, we got reports that Pakis were trying to push in a large group of terrorists numbering up to 10 from infiltration points near our area of operations. We had some intelligence about where they were staying before their infiltration attempt and support by Paki army being extended to them. They even had a SSG major deputed to command and get them safely across LOC. This Major Butt was involved in training as well as helping terrorists sneak in to Indian territory for a number of years. But the terrorist we were most interested in was Zahid Hussain, a highly wanted commander of Pakistani terrorist group, Lashkar-E-Taiba. Earlier he operated as self proclaimed ‘Area Commander’ recruiting young men as terrorists in terrorism affected areas of J&K. He did this by brain washing and often kidnapping vulnerable youth to force them in to joining LeT. He was infamous for his brutality, even for his own cadre who ever crossed his path. He was forced to flee after Indian Army tightened the noose and support for terrorism amongst local population waned. He resumed his ‘work’ in Pak Occupied J&K and Pakistani Punjab and had quickly risen in hierarchy of LeT . He was believed to be one of the strong contenders for the title of chief of the terrorist group once the current one died or removed. He had also made a lot of contacts in Paki polity, Islamic clergy as well as ISI over the last few years. Quite a few of the terrorists in the group were recruited by him during the last 2-3 years. In Pakistan, he operated openly under the patronage of Paki authorities, safely out of our reach.

If we managed to catch or kill Zahid, it’d have been a big victory for us and a major setback to LeT and Pakistan. But it was easier said than done. According to our intelligence, he was part of group only for the ‘moral support’. He himself was supposed to come up only till the LoC to ensure that as many as possible of his trainees could cross the border while he’d go back to indoctrinate some more fools back in his camps. We had no idea about their likely route of infiltration. With most of snow melting away during the last 2-3 weeks, they had a lot of places to sneak in as our fence had been damaged in heavy snowfall and landslides. Repair work was under progress but it was clear that Pakis will try pushing them in to our territory before we could plug all gaps. They had already stepped up their artillery as well as small arms fire to hamper the repair work as well as to create even more gaps in the fence. Our response was limited due to political pressure.
Even if their attempt to cross over didn’t succeed, it was quite likely that the terrorists might retreat and try to sneak in some other day. We had the chance to eliminate the bugger after such a long time and we were not going to let it slip away so easily.

Everything we had on our disposal was dedicated to this task. Frequency and duration of patrols were extended, work on repair of fence was stepped up and all of our intelligence sources put on overdrive. We had access to imagery by a few Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) but the numbers we had were not enough for kind of surveillance we wanted. Tracking a small group of men in heavily forested mountains is no easy task. But we had a stroke of luck in morning when one of our UAVs noticed a group of 5 men walking on a narrow trail leading from a small settlement towards LoC. Just a few hours later another group of 7 Paki terrorists was observed on an adjacent route 3 kms away from first one. According to reports sent in by our HUMINT (Human Intelligence) sources, Zahid was with the second group. Going by our guess, considering the terrain and their speed, they were less than a days walk away from the border.

The likely area for infiltration attempt by both groups happened to be under the grid of our battalion, so it was up to us to prevent it and to eliminate or capture Zahid if possible. One easy option was to wait for them to reach the LoC and then capture or kill them in as they tried to cross over. The problem with this approach was that they could have chosen any of the numerous breaches to cross over and we didn’t have enough manpower to set up ambushes on every breach. But the most important flaw was that we had no way to eliminate or ca[ture Zahid. The closest he’d come was some Paki post out of our sight, perhaps give a small pep talk and then slink away after sending his recruits in to jaws of death. Even if all of them died, it was no skin off his back. There are always more where they come from, each one thirsting to get in to that imaginary whorehouse they call jannat by killing non-muslims.

Second option was suggested by The Major who I suspected had a death wish. His plan was to take some men across the LoC on foot and setup an ambush on a location the terrorist group led by Zahid was sure to cross on their way. That meant we had to watch out for Paki army manning the border as well as their rear echelons which could come to aid of the terrorists. His solution was to keep them pinned down by fire from our side if necessary, as we ambushed the terrorist group. Our CO had to make a choice between the comparatively safer (for us) 1st option and riskier but more rewarding 2nd. He chose 2nd and this is how we found ourselves on a god forsaken mountain in middle of a very rainy night a few km inside enemy territory.

That long night, I found myself sitting under a rocky ledge on middle of a mountain trying to protect myself from the rainstorm in progress. Above me were dark clouds which had completely covered the night sky and 2 meters in front of me was a long, almost clean fall to a small mountain stream, 400 meters or so below. That stream flowed down to Indian territory about 3 kilometers from my position as the crow flies. Every few minutes, I tried to move my neck and squint in the general direction of border hoping to catch a glimpse of lights on border fencing. All I could see were flashes of thunder in distance which shadowed massive mountain peaks all around us. It was supposed to be a full moon night 3 days later, but the clouds covered every inch of the night sky. The mountain on which we were went on for another 600 meters or so above from our location but we were not here as mountaineers to climb it. The temperature was just marginally above freezing point but felt like the blood in my body had frozen over already. I could neither see or feel my fingers but I was sure that they must be an odd shade of blue by now, even under the high quality thermal gloves.

The rain was falling as if someone was pouring the water down by buckets and the ledge barely provided any shelter against the downpour. I was a bit careless with my waterproof parka. Apparently it’s good in keeping it’s wearer dry only if the buttons and zips are all tightly fastened which I had neglected to. At one time earlier, I was sweating due to the effort of walking on the mountain, and a few minutes later I was shivering due to cold. Some quantity of ice cold water managed to seep through folds of my clothing down to my spine and I assure you, it isn’t a nice feeling. My feet were still dry and comparatively warm due to those special shoes and socks but a large part of my combat trousers were soaking wet. Every few minutes a strong cold gust of winds blew in my direction bringing a bucketful water of ice cold rain along with it. Couldn’t even get up to piss without getting wet as a fish or worse tumbling down the mountain into the swollen stream below. Couldn’t even sleep even if I wanted to. Certainly not a nice feeling at all.

To make it worse, I couldn’t talk to anyone else. I didn’t knew what rest of men in my team are doing. We were sitting too widely spread apart to hold a proper conversation. Talking loudly or even in a normal way was out of question due to two reasons. First, the rainstorm was too loud. Second, we were on a covert operation. So talking loudly, lighting a match or lighter, checking mobile phone or any other activity that may reveal our presence was not allowed. Talking on radio was also prohibited unless absolutely necessary as we had to observe complete radio silence. Only the Major leading our party could speak, that too only when absolutely required. It’s not that he needed to shepherd us around anyway as we were all pretty well trained or at least I like to think so. We had left our base at 18:45 and were supposed to be on our objective by now. But this rainstorm came out of nowhere and forced us to take shelter right on the face of this mountain. Some of us wanted to press on, but the Major who is a veteran of numerous such missions ordered us to stop and I agreed with his decision. There was no path or even a proper trail on these mountains and one slip could result in a deadly fall down the rocks for hundreds of meters. Pressing on in such lousy weather without any source of light is virtual suicide. Hell, even the wind seemed strong enough to push a grown man off the mountain. Although we had some night vision devices between us, they were not enough for the whole squad to travel safely. We also needed to conserve the batteries for actual combat, if and when it happens. Better to wait out the rain rather than risking life and limb.

My attention was diverted by someone coughing and trying hard to stifle the sound. If I remember and identified the voice correctly it was probably our squad’s machine gunner Bheem. He was stocky, built like a tank but hated cold weather. It was a running joke in our unit that his cough and sneezes were louder than the firing sound of INSAS LMG that he carried. Just to make it clear, I’m using fake names and descriptions of certain people in my story have been changed for obvious reasons. Not mentioning ranks or parent unit of anyone in the squad apart from Major’s, but that may or may not come later.

Somebody close to Bheem, probably Harry threw a rock in his general direction which rolled down the slope and stopped a few inches away from my feet. During flashes of thunder, I could briefly see rest of my squad as we tried to wait out the worst of rainstorm. Subhash and Jaggi, our snipers were furthest from rest of us, but straight in my line of sight. Shanky, our only heavy fire support guy with his Carl Gustav was on my left, probably sleeping as he could manage to do in the most uncomfortable and least likeliest of places. Rest of our 11 man team including me, Major, Vikram, Pandit, Viru and Rana all carried AK-47s as our primary firearms and 9 mm pistols as secondary. We had to travel light, but had to wear heavy combat boots, upper body armour with two plates for back and front, a kevlar helmet, popularly called patka. All of it weighed around 12 kgs plus the additional gear like grenades, knife, water, basic climbing gear, radio, NVGs, utility belts and so on. There were 3 axes, wire and bolt cutters each between us and I was carrying one of the axes. We had very limited time to check all our equipment and had done most of this work while we were in the truck being transported to our staging area. I’d have brought something better to eat than the tasteless biscuit packs that I hurriedly grabbed if I had the time to think about it. But there was nothing better at the moment.

I was so sleepy that I’d have fallen asleep immediately if it weren’t for rain. Since I couldn’t sleep my brain was playing games by running images of my thoughts like a dream in my head.

As I fought the urge to doze off, my thoughts were diverted to my life before army. My parents were from a small mountain village in Garhwal region but I lived almost all my life in Pune where my father worked in a small factory. I was the younger of two children, my sister was 5 years older and a second mother to me. Living so far away from our native place, we didn’t have many people who shared most of our festivals, language or food habits, but we adjusted somehow. I was born there, so it wasn’t any difficult for me unlike my parents. My father often spoke of settling back in his village after retirement and living off his share of farm back there. Considering that he had two brothers, I doubted that our whole family could survive on that. Although I liked the mountains, school wok and distance prohibited me from visiting often. So inspite of having pahadi ( पहाड़ी ) genes inside me, I hardly had any exposure to mountains. During my annual visits, I was a source of amusement to my cousins and temporary playmates in the village who could run up hilly paths without any trouble while I huffed and puffed my way much behind them. I wasn’t fat or unfit, but it was just too difficult for a plains dweller like me

With time, these visits got shorter and more rare as school and other stuff took it’s toll. Things changed a bit when my sister got married to a armyman from our village when I was 16. I visited the village after a long time for the wedding ceremony and observed the simple but hard life of people there. It was not like we lived a life of luxury ourselves, but you had to be strong as well as hard working to live in a mountain village. At first, I wondered if my sister could adjust to the new life as she was as clueless about living in mountains as I was. But later I realised that she’ll be living with her husband wherever he was posted which happened to be in Rajsthan during the first year of their marriage. Things changed for me too as I finished school and enrolled in to a college for my graduation.

It was during the 3rd year of their marriage when tragedy struck. My brother-in-law stepped on a land mine while on a routine border patrol and got severely injured. I took leave from college and visited him in the military hospital in Delhi along with my parents. By the time we reached there, doctors had already amputated his left leg just above the knee. He had sustained injuries elsewhere too and most of his body was wrapped in bandages and plaster. His left arm was broken in three places, four ribs were fractured and had shrapnel wounds all over the body. Although my sister’s in-laws were there, my mother stayed with my sister to help her through while I and father came back after a few days. My college and his work couldn’t wait. Even after returning, I couldn’t stop thinking about my brother-in-law. His discharge from army was certain, he had lost more than half of his left leg and even with therapy and an artificial limb he’d never be able to walk as well he used to. I wondered how he would manage to move around in his village with an artificial leg. Army did gave him some monetary compensation, but was it enough considering that he wasn’t even 30 at that time ? He wasn’t that well educated or sophisticated to land a job in either private or government sector easily. Working in his family farms wouldn’t be an easy job either. They had a baby girl just about an year before that. What was her future in such a situation ?

It took 4 months for him in hospital to recover from his injuries after which he was discharged and fitted with an artificial leg. Training to use it and therapy took almost as long. He was finally able to go back home 9 months after the incident. Slowly he recovered and started to move around on his own with help of a walking stick. He also bought some land from the money that he had received from the army and started to work in the fields trying to rebuild his life. Although he couldn’t wok the way he used to earlier, it was still something. His strength and power of will never ceased to amaze me.

Life went on as usual for me in the meanwhile. I had appeared for my final year exams and was waiting for the results when I faced the worst day of my life. An out of control truck rammed the cab my parents were traveling in, killing them both on the spot. I was completely numb from the shock and hardly knew what was going on around me. My sister and brother-in-law rushed in as soon as they heard the news and after rituals were over and done with, took me with them to their home. It was a good change for me and I slowly started to recover from the grief. My uncles from my father’s side lived in the same village but I had only limited contact with them. They tried to help in their own ways and slowly things started to get back on track again. We didn’t have any property of our own in Pune except for some basic household possessions. My father’s meager salary hardly allowed for any luxuries or even a house of our own. Only property we had was the partial ownership of ancestral farmland in the village which was tilled by my uncles jointly. They generously offered to take me in, but it was obvious even to me that eking out a living just by land wouldn’t be enough. Besides they had children of their own. I needed a job fast.

I was getting more depressed when my b-i-l noticed it and asked me about it. He started taking me along to the farm to divert my mind. It was only then that I observed him closely for the first time. He had been really different in our previous meetings. First was during the wedding, a person hardly looks like a human being in an Indian wedding. Second time was when he was wrapped in bandages in hospital. Hardly normal on both occasions. So it was only after I had been living in his home for a few days, I realised what kind of a person he really was. Like most pahadi people, he woke up at th crack of dawn and performed pooja after bathing. After breakfast, he left for his fields nearby and sometimes came back for lunch or at other times it was carried to him. He did a lot of work himself but had hired some labourers to do the manual work which was no longer possible for him. He’d have needed labourers anyway even if he was totally fit. He came back home in the evening sometimes accompanied by a few friends and they had long chats, a lot of time over drinks which extended till sundown. He rarely if ever watched TV and went to bed early. In between, he found time to play with his daughter and help her with whatever little schoolwork the primary school entailed. Overall, a pretty normal life. Once over dinner, he told me that this was the life he actually wanted after retirement. Then laughed over the fact that the retirement had come too soon. I wondered if there was some regret in that laugh.

He was not only cheerful and happy with his life, but also was much fitter than me. Even with his artificial leg, he could walk faster than me even on inclined rocky paths on mountains as I struggled to keep up with him. Although he carried his walking stick all the time, it’s use was down to a bare minimum. It wasn’t like he was completely fit. He had suffered some hearing loss in one ear and his left arm and ribs were still not 100% healed. According to doctors, he needed therapy for full recovery. But that meant leaving his home and fields for 2-3 weeks every 3-4 months and live in a hospital 100s of KMs away. He once said to his wife who kept pestering him to go for the therapy, “I’ve had enough of those fancy doctors making me walk in water, do silly exercises and what not. All I need is weekly massage from the village barber and I’ll be fine.” He never complained about the pain and discomfort to anyone though. He patiently taught me the basics of farming, tending to animals and lots of related stuff. With him, I started to get over my depression but the question of what to do with my life was still there. One day while working on the farm, he was telling me an anecdote about his life in the army when I hesitantly asked if I could join the army.

His expression grew a bit serious at the question and he thought for a while before replying. ” I’ve thought about suggesting you to join the army, but you know what happened to me. Sure, there are lots of good things about the army, but theres always the chance of things happening.” He grew silent for a few seconds then said, “Do you want that risk ” ?

“Tell me one thing that’s really safe . My parents died just like that while traveling in a taxi. You can’t really control such things.” I replied.

“You’ve started talking like an old philosopher” he sighed. “Have you talked with your sister yet ?”

I shook my head to which he replied, “Your sister loves you more as a son than a brother. Although we were virtual strangers before, I too have grown to love you like a younger brother. You don’t have to do anything under the assumption that you are a burden to us. If you want to study more, sit in a competitive exam, anything you want, I’ll be happy to support you. You can go to Delhi, Pune whatever place you like for your studies. I’ll be even more happy if you stay here with us and help me with farming. I already have more land than I could manage anyway. ”

I didn’t know what to say so I kept quiet. Observing my silence, he asked me to think about it and we went back to our work. He must’ve told my sister about our conversation. She came to me next day and repeated whatever he had said, but in a more womanish way. But she didn’t seem too enthusiastic about me joining the army.

After a few days, I came to know about an army recruitment camp about to be held near our village. I made up my mind and announced my decision to join the army as we were all having dinner in kitchen. On hearing this, my sister dropped everything she was doing and walked away from the kitchen with teary eyes. He nodded once at me and then left to look for her. I went to bed soon after but couldn’t sleep. Next morning everything went on as if nothing had happened. Once in the fields, he called me over for a talk and told me about his conversation with my sister. At first she had opposed but reluctantly acquiesced. Then he said that I needed to improve my stamina in order to increase the chances of getting recruited and from that day, I was supposed to train for the physical test instead of working on the farm. So, my initial training began right there and then. He made me run laps around the field, do chin ups and push ups till I dropped and much more. When I reached home that evening, covered with even more dust and dirtier than usual, my niece laughed at me. Sister didn’t say anything. Slowly I started gaining strength and stamina needed to pass physical exam but I was always worried if I’ll be able to pass competing against rest of the locals.

Soon, the army setup their recruitment camp in a village not very far from ours. I took the overcrowded bus and attended the camp along with thousands of other young men who had gathered from perhaps hundreds of villages. Luckily, I cleared all the physical and written exams and was shortlisted . My brother-in-law who didn’t care to leave his farm even for his physio-therapy, came to see me off till Delhi as I left for my training in Mhow. Although he had prepared me for it, the training was still hard, mentally as well as physically. But somehow I managed to keep my wits around me. After completion of training, I was assigned as a Rifleman in Garwhal Rifles, same regiment as my brother-in-law. Even my sister who seemed unusually pensive ever since I declared my decision of joining army seemed happy when I broke the news to her.

A few months after I finished writing Flames and Arrows (blog, BRforum, Smashwords), I started writing another military fiction. I wrote for some time but didn’t really like it that much. The story was weak, dragged on in a number of places and I could’t really enjoy it. Then there was work to do, personal commitments, other projects and I hardly had enough time to write. So this story lay as a rough draft for a long long time. A few weeks back, while I came across it and decided to spend a few hours every week and try to finish it. I rewrote major portion of it, added a few new aspects and made the scope a bit wider than I originally intended. As of now, I think I have finished writing about 60% of it and it’s coming along not too badly. This post is meant as index and may be general comments about the different chapters that I’ll be posting here.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Hello World,

I have restarted this blog after a long gap of 3 years. First my lame hosting provider went out of business without even bothering to send a notice. Then a few days after I changed hosting, all of my wordpress sites were hacked in a bulk attack which exploited some critical vulnerability. Both of the incidents caused loss of quite a bit of data and posts. Afterwards I was busy with new work and personal life. A very busy, funny, scary and enjoyable time period during which I felt too lazy to recover all the data and start the website again. All this while, only the homepage which is written in html was online. So the website as a whole wasn’t offline which provides some cold comfort.

During the last three years, I have been to a few places, a lot of stuff has happened and a lot has changed too. Not everything needs to be documented, but a few things about the website are going to change. I used to write a bit about technical stuff, computers and network security in a seprate tech blog. Now my line of work is entirely different and I don’t have much time to try tinkering with stuff. It’s an enjoyable thing to do if you have spare time or while working in the same line and I still miss it. But I don’t think I’d have enough time to write on it anymore. So no more technical posts from now on unless something unusual happens and I will be moving whatever data I can salvage to this blog.

In my spare time, I was writing some crappy horror stories. Apologies and sincere condolences to whoever read them. I don’t know If I’d ever have the courage or stupidity to do that again. There was a military story though which I was writing and stopped in between due to writer’s block. Maybe it’s time to check and see if it’s salvageable. Not high hopes though.

Data from my general and defense blog is merged on this blog too. Both things still interest me a lot and I will be posting here regularly as much as I can. There have been some stuff that I wanted to write down, but without a blog didn’t.  I have been to a few interesting places  and the travelogues are not yet written. Will start it as soon as possible. I just came back from a long pending vacation to Goa and I think it will be a nice starting point while the memories are still fresh.

The blog also needs a better look which will take some more time. I hope it doesn’t turn out to be tacky and complicated like last time though.

Well, that’s all for now.

I was reading my 3rd short story of the night when I started feeling drowsy. The thin new book I had bought impulsively from the book stand was just a collection of random horror stories which failed to interest me. Considering how the day had gone so far, I had every reason to fall asleep. The story was boring, but the book had only 3 pages left, so I soldiered on, trying to finish it before turning off the light. It was only one minute past midnight, still too early for sleep by my standards.

But I underestimated my fatigue and was nodding off with my nose touching the book on study table without even knowing it. I was suddenly awoken by a very cold gust of air on my neck and back. The old trusty air conditioner was running on full cooling levels chilling the room to near freezing levels. I gave up the quest to finish the story and stood up from the study table.. The room was already a bit too cold for my comfort, so I turned off the AC and went to bed. I grabbed the comforter, put it over my head and within seconds I was fast asleep.

I was awakened by the thin comforter flying off me by strong gusts of wind. Ceiling fan running too fast, was the first thought in my sleepy mind. I groped with my eyes closed for the bed side switch to turn the fan off. It was already too cold. I had developed good muscle memory for this habit and found the switch without any difficulty. There was one problem though. The switch was already in off position. My clumsy groping in the dark turned it to on position and the fan turned on with a soft whirring sound. I opened my eyes with a snap, confused and startled. Without getting up, I moved my neck a little to see around the dark room. There was no light except for a faint silver of light coming in from street lights outside my house through the cosed windows covered by heavy drapes. If I wasn’t so tired already, that would have bothered me a bit. But in my sleepy and tired condition, I just blamed the flying sheets on wind blowing in through half closed door and windows. Or may be a strange dream

I fell in to a fitful slumber again. For how long, I didn’t know.

My sleep was interrupted by again a ticklish sensation of something touching my shoulder. Then it was a hand gently caressing sides of my arm. The feeling was familiar. Misha often did it when she could not sleep. She used to say that it helped calm her down. Sometimes it woke me up and I just grabbed her hand and we both fell asleep together holding hands. Instinctively, I moved my hand to touch hers only to snap awake again. There was no hand caressing my arm. I was alone in my bed. I stifled a sob. I had not felt that hand touching my arm for so long that it might well be an eternity. A tear escaped from my eyes and streaked across my cheek .

I lay there, feeling numb with hundreds of things running through my mind and not even one making any sense. The white noise numbed my senses and I dozed off again. I had some terrible dreams, neither one of which made any sense.In one dream, I was trying to pull off an rotting apple tree from the ground without much success. A small bird sitting on one of the branches looked on with a puzzled expression and cheeped once in a while. In frustration, I I got angry and started shaking the branches scaring the little bird. It took to wings and started flying around my head chirping loudly. I was even more annoyed by this and started jumping wildly to catch the bird . In my blind anger, I managed to swat it down and it fell to the ground stunned and in an awkward position as if it’s wings were broken. Triumphantly I grabbed it’s limp body in my hands and brought it up to my eyes. It moved it’s head a little and uttered a painful moan. I was so startled that i tripped back and landed on my ass. I saw the body of that little bird falling down in slow motion as my grip sipped, then it disappeared all of a sudden.

I awoke again panting hard and my body drenched in sweat. I looked around the room again, my eyes open wide by a mixture of fear, confusion and surprise. Slowly, my heart beat got normal and i started breathing easier. I grabbed the comforter and pulled it above my head when i heard it again. Another painful moan, coming from the other bedroom where Misha had been confined to after that accident. But it was impossible. Misha could never do that now. I grabbed a pillow and put it around my ears to block out the moans. I soon fell in to an uneasy slumber.

I had another strange dream. in this one, I was standing near my bed watching someone sleep in it. there was just enough light to make out the outlines of a person breathing with comforter covering the whole body from head to toe. Overcome by curiosity, I slowly moved towards the bed and put my hand on edge of comforter to take it off whoever was sleeping on my bed. But as soon as I grabbed the comforter, the breathing stopped and the body beneath it just vanished. I uttered a scream and found myself awake again standing just where I was in dream, clutching the comforter in both hands. My legs gave away and I collapsed on the floor shaking and hyper-ventilating.

After a while, my breathing stabilised but i couldn’t stop myself from shaking uncontrollably . I looked in to my bedside drawer and found the bottle of sedatives empty save for two pills. I took them out with some difficulty and swallowed them. Then I lay on floor with reclining with bed post for support, waiting for the sedatives to take effect. But there was no relief. My overuse or abuse of the pills as the doctor liked to say, meant that 2 pills were just not enough for panic attacks like this one. I groaned loudly and banged my head on the mattress of bed. It infuriated me even more, but I didn’t have the courage to hit the wall with my head and hopefully get it over with.

 

I lay there writhing for what seemed like an eternity when I heard the soft moaning again. This time, there was no mistaking it. It was the painful moans of Misha whenever her painkillers wore off. Hearing it, my breath started racing again and I crushed my ears with my hands to block them out. But there was no escape this time. I could hear them inside my head. Soon she’d be almost screaming and then sobbing with pain, only noises that her broken body could make. The habits formed during the past year were hard to break even then. I automatically stood up and walked to the door which connected her room with mine. She had been sleeping in a special bed next room, ever since the doctors had sent her home from hospital. I simply couldn’t afford any more hospital bills except for the nurse who came 3-4 times a week.

I grabbed the door handle and slowly pushed it open. Just then the painful moans stopped. I flicked on the light switch and was blinded by the bright light for a few seconds. As my sight cleared, I saw her special bed, meant to provide support to her fractured spine absolutely empty, just the way I had seen it in morning. There was no sign of Misha or anyone else. Why there should be anyone in that room anyway . Misha was gone. I myself had made her go away, just the way she would have wanted to. I had followed the nurse’s instructions to a tee and made sure that nobody had any suspicions about her fading away. Even her family, whatever was left of it seemed relieved to finally find her free of her pain and suffering.

Even I was free now. I could finally get out and get on back with my life. May be start a new life with the nurse who had come to become the only source of support for me after everyone else had washed their hands off.
The sedatives were finally beginning to take effect. I felt calmer, at peace and at the same time unbearably sad. i walked towards her bed .and sat down gingerly on it, just where I used to when I read her the newspaper early in the morning. A faint smile crossed my lips as i picked up the unread morning paper. I read the important parts of front page aloud just like the old days, but with tears streaming down my face. I couldn’t read anything after a while and crushed the newspaper on my face sobbing loudly and felt the faint sting of chlorine in my eyes and nose.

I rolled down on the bed clawing on the sheets and screaming. It felt like an eternity. but somehow I calmed down and started feeling sleepy. Maybe the sedatives still had some effect after all this time. The only thought I had in my mind was of me watching Misha’s breathing becoming fainter after I had administered the last dose. Slowly the blessed sleep took over and everything went blank.

When I woke up, I found myself back on my study table with my head resting on still open book I had been reading and cold air from air-conditioner chilling my back. i rubbed my eyes and found them wet. The pages stuck to my face and came off the binding. I pulled them off and they were the last three pages that I still had not read, all pulpy and unreadable. I glanced at the wall clock and it was not midnight yet.

May be that’s what hell is for people like me

This happened a long time ago, when I was 12 years old. I don’t remember all the details, but will post everything that I still remember. Some of it may sound scary to some, others may just scoff and dismiss as a stupid tale. It’s your choice what to believe or not

As it happened, my school was closed for 2 weeks and I was getting bored as most of kids in my neighbourhood studied in schools which had a different vacation schedule. One day, a family friend (lets call him Mr. K) of ours visited for lunch and noticed me lazing around with nothing to do. He had a son named Nil about my age and a daughter, Fany 3 years older. Although I had met Nil only twice before, I liked him. I had been to his house once before on his birthday a few months back. His was a jam packed party with many friendly kids. After lunch, he asked me if I wanted to go with him to meet Nil and Fany and spend a few days with them. As I had nothing better to do, I agreed to go for 3-4 days long stay. I must tell you first that their house was in a village just outside city. It wasn’t urbanised and still had lots of open spaces, dense tree cover and mysterious places that kids like me loved to explore.I had seen some of it during my previous visit and was curious about it.

My mother packed a small bag for me and I was ready to leave.
We reached their house a few minutes before sunset. Both kids were somewhere else playing. Their mother was preparing dinner in kitchen and immediately sent someone to call them back. Within a few minutes, Nil, Fany and 3 other kids, barged in to the house shouting noisily and demanding something to eat.

I recognised one of the kids as Chan, 10 years old neighbour but didn’t know the rest. As an unexpected visitor, they seemed surprised to see me. Nil and Fany recognised me and greeted me as awkwardly as kids do or did during that time before starting clamouring for a snack. In between their voices, Mrs K introduced me to the rest of kids. One little girl, about 7-8 was Roo and a tall boy Vik, who looked 3-4 years older than me. Roo, who seemed to be very shy announced that her mother too must be waiting and ran away. Vik was son of Mr. K’s younger brother who lived in a house nearby. Both his parents were not in home for 4-5 days and had left Vik in Mr.K’s care.

Mr. K chided them for interrupting his news program and asked them to wash up first. The kids disappeared in bathroom and came back after cleaning up a little. As dinner was still some minutes away, we tried to watch TV. But Mr. K was busy watching some elections related news and it was very boring for us. I took my gameboy out of my bag and asked the kids if they wanted to play on this instead. As our noise levels increased, Mr. K pushed us out of the room and we ran to Nil’s room. We played in turns, but as I had already played all of the games, my scores were always higher than the rest. After a while, Mrs. K had to drag us to the kitchen for dinner.

Everyone in the family slept soon after dinner before 9:30, which was a bit early for me. I was awakened next morning by Nil just after 6. Everyone else in the house was already awake and going about their business. As I fumbled in my bag searching for my toothbrush, Nil told me to drop it and handed me a twig (of keekar / Prosopis juliflora) to clean teeth with. It’s kind of fun, less messy and more exercise for gums. We were going out to get some more twigs from bunch of trees nearby.

I put on slippers and left the house with Vik, Nil and Roo. There was a dry stream behind the house which usually got flooded during heavy rains. It’s bed was covered with small rocks and dirt. A wooded area lay beyond that with some clearings being used as shelter for animals. The woods increased in density as one progressed further. Vik was carrying a small ae to chop down the branches. It was hardly needed but the tree is usually thorny and we didn’t want getting pricked.

We crossed the dry stream and walked towards north towards a row of trees lined along a field. Harvest season had just gotten over and large bales of hay lay scattered here and there. Vik took down a few small branches and peeled off thorns with his axe, while we broke the twigs in to suitable sizes and made 3-4 small bundles. Enough to last one family for 2-3 weeks. We picked up the twig bundles and started walking back.

On our way back, we saw 2 big monitor lizards ambling lazily just in middle of our path. Being the adventurer of discrete type, we changed directions and took a different route. After a walk of 3-4 minutes, I noticed a bunch of keekar trees which looked strangely intact compared to the ones we had just pruned. They were overshadowed by a big Banyan tree nearby which had a number of aerial roots hanging in air as well as positioned on ground. I asked why didn’t we harvested twigs from those trees.

Roo replied in a very matter of fact way, “Because there is a ghost there. Two actually. Second one is just a little baby.”

I chuckled at the little girl, “Yeah and they don’t want the people to have clean teeth ?” and looked towards Vik who was walking behind me. He looked at me and just shook his head. Roo protested loudly, “Oh..why are you doing that ? You were the first person to cry ghost.” Turning towards me, she said, ” One woman and her baby died there 4 years back. Now they haunt the place and nobody goes there anymore.” At that time, I liked to think that the ghosts were not real. So I just laughed.

By that time, we were back at Nil’s house and the discussion ended at that. We had a hearty breakfast and soon scampered out of the house to play outside. We played with marbles and wheels with in the courtyard till it got too hot. We walked back inside the house to cool off and rest. We passed time watching TV and taking turns playing on my gameboy.

As soon as it got cooler, we ran out of the house to play cricket in the fields we were collecting twigs in morning. Nil was still playing on gameboy and carried it out to the fields. He finally tore himself away from it when his turn to bat came up. He placed the gameboy inside a small thatched hut meant for storing tools at corner of the field. Some kids from neighbourhood joined in and we played till sunset. After some matches, rest of the kids left and only me, Chan, Nil, Fany and Roo were left. Fany had learnt a few card games and was bugging us to check them out. I didn’t knew any card game but joined in when they insisted that they could teach me in a few minutes.

Mr. K had some friends over and he asked us to go play in Vik’s house. We walked to Vik’s house, switched on the lights and started playing cards. Just then, I remembered that I had forgotten my gameboy back in that hut in the fields. Although, that gameboy was not very new, I still valued that gadget very much. It was the only source of entertainment for me for quite some time. I asked someone to come with me but they were enjoying the game too much. Roo warned me, ‘Don’t go that way this time after sunset. Didn’t I tell you that there are ghosts ?”

I made a face at her, ” Yes, and they will not let me clean my teeth.”

This time, Nil chipped in, ” We’ll bring it in the morning. Nobody’s is going to take it way from there. Lets just play the cards for now.”

But I was not convinced and wanted my gameboy immediately. It was not completely dark yet and the hut was barely 10 minutes walk away. I grabbed a torch and stepped out of Vik’s house. The village municipality didn’t have enough funds for street lights and the street was illuminated by lights from near by houses only. There was no source of light on path to fields anyway. It was not completely dark yet but I had switched on the torch to avoid stepping on a loose rock or something dangerous like a snake.

I walked to the hut and picked up my gameboy. As I turned around and started to walk back, I heard a rustle in bushes. It was not far from where we had noticed two monitor lizards in morning. I changed directions and took the other route we had taken in morning. it was completely dark by that time, stars were visible but the moon was still not up. Crickets and numerous other insects had started up a racket and some fireflies were also visible. How I miss seeing those beautiful insects now.

Soon I came across the bunch of Keekar trees, I had inquired about in the morning. No sign of any activity there. I shone my torch to get a better view but couldn’t find anything remarkable. A few insects buzzed near me and 3-4 fireflies glowed and flew in gentle circles around me. The big Banyan tree cast a dark shadow even in the darkness of night. If anything, I was a little spooked by the ambiance. As I started to walk away, I heard a faint sound like a kitten’s mewl coming from just a few meters away. Although I like dogs better, cats are pretty interesting too. I stopped and shone my torch in direction from where I had heard the sound. I had no intention of adopting a kitten even if I found one, but still felt compelled to take a look.

I gingerly stepped forward pointing the torch here and there. After walking 6-7 steps. a strange feeling of nervousness crept over me. I was never really afraid of dark, but this was something different. I felt chills running down my spine and my hand shook. The shadows danced wildly and spooked me out. That’s when I decided to abandon my search for the kitten and run back. I turned and had taken only 2-3 steps when I saw something glint on my peripheral vision. I turned and shone torch on it. I saw a woman sitting on ground with her eyes closed and back propped against the main trunk of Banyan tree. Her cloths and hair were all wet and messed up, even though it had not rained for days. She had something in her arms clutched close to her chest. I saw a small leg dangling limply. It was a baby and by the way she was holding it and the limb looked like, it all felt very wrong. Till then, she had given no acknowledgement to my presence there even with the torch shining on her face.

At first, sight of that woman drove away some of my jitters .But as I took in the details, I got worried. Everything seemed so wrong. A grown woman with a baby, both wet and strangely still lying under a spooky looking tree after dark in the middle of nowhere. I tried to speak to her, but my voice wouldn’t come out. I tried to step forward to get closer hoping that she’ll wake up to the noise, but my feet wouldn’t move. After taking some deep breaths, I managed to speak a few words loudly. I don’t remember what I said but I surely do remember what happened after that.

She opened her eyes slowly and looked at the baby in her arms for a long time. She kept staring at it for a long time. I couldn’t see her face as she was looking below. But I could see he shoulders moving a little as if she was sobbing. As I stood there uncomfortably wondering what to do, she slowly lifted her head to face towards me. I had changed the direction of my torch’s beam a little to the side to avoid dazzling her eyes. But a little light still fell on her face. Although she was looking in my direction, it didn’t seem like she registered my presence. She just sat there looking right through me with a very pained expression on her face. If I was not scared earlier, I was then. I could see my hand shaking by the way of torch’s beam moving erratically. I lifted one foot to take a step backwards and the looked backwards to check ot to step on anything. As I looked forward again, the woman was gone. I stood there stunned, moving the beam here and there to find a glimpse. She couldn’t have just vanished in less than half a second.

That was the proverbial straw which broke camel’s back. I turned back and started running towards Vik’s house as it was the nearest. At that time, I didn’t care about which house I ended up. I just wanted to be away from that creepy place. Although it was only a short distance, the sprint left me exhausted and out of breath. May be it was due to fear. As I reached the courtyard, I could hear voices of kids arguing loudly over something. The light and voices of people halped calm me down, but still I ran straight in to the door. It was bolted from inside and didn’t open. I stood there for a while, collecting myself and controlling my breaths. I was perspiring like a pig in 20 degrees temperature. After 2-3 minutes, I knocked on he door and Vik opened it still arguing with other kids in other room. I hurriedly walked to the kitchen to get a drink of water, but most of it spilled over my lips.

Fany came in to kitchen to get something and told me to get ready for dinner at their house. We had the permission to spend the night at Vik’s house after dinner. Mrs. K had prepared some great food but I could eat very little. When they asked me if I was alright, I just nodded and said that I was very tired.

We went back to Vik’s house as Mr and Mrs K got busy attending to their visitors. I played card games for a while with the rest but my heart was not in it. I excused myself a few minutes later and started watching TV in adjoining room. From there, I had clear view of the kids playing, so I didn’t feel very afraid. There was nothing good on TV and I fell asleep on the bed I was lying in soon after. Someone came in after a while to switch off the lights and TV, but I didn’t know.

I usually slept very soundly and my dreams if any were very rare and unremarkable. It was just losing consciousness after closing eyes and waking up in morning with no interruptions in between. But that night, I woke at around 1 am. At first, I felt disoriented finding myself in strange new room, but then I remembered. The room was illuminated by a silver of light coming in from a bulb in th porch. I assumed that rest of the kids must be sleeping in other rooms. I kept thinking about what I had seen earlier in the evening and a chill ran down my spine. I tried to go back to shake off the thoughts and go back to sleep again, but it took a long time. My sleep was marked by a terrible nightmare.

In dream, I found myself standing in a field in night with a storm brewing. Dark clouds had completely covered the sky above and flashes of lightning were the only sources of light. There was a big flash and in it’s light, I noticed someone walking unsteadily towards me from a distance. A house with a weak flickering light coming in from a window was visible behind her. After that bolt of lightning, it was pitch black again except for that small light coming from the window. I saw myself groping in dark but nothing else was visible except for dark outlines of trees at some distance. I stood paralysed with indecision and fear, wondering what to do. Suddenly, a bolt of lightning illuminated the area again and I saw the woman with her back towards me just a few meters away from me. She was walking as if she was in lots of pain. Before I could do or say anything, the light disappeared and it was pitch black again. I braced myself for the inevitable thunder and it came a few moments later crushing my eardrums.

I stood there for a while, trying to make up my mind, then decided to follow that woman. Inspite of every fiber in my body screaming against it, I turned towards the direction I had seen her last and started walking. My eyes still had not not adjusted to the darkness and I was stumbling here and there rather than walking properly. A lightning bolt flashed again and I saw her at some distance. But this time, she was almost bent over herself. I picked up speed but she vanished again in darkness and it started raining. At first, it was only a few drops but then it was raining cats and dogs. I kept on chasing blindly after her regardless. Next time it flashed, I saw her almost crawling very near to a grove of trees. I gave a little cry and ran after her but my foot caught on something and I went sprawling face first in the mud. I gathered myself and resumed my chase. I could see outlines of the trees as they stood in front of me. Dark water poured over them and the wind rustled their branches. The wind flowing through the grove sounded like someone screaming. I stood on the edge and shivered, due to cold as well as fear.

I looked behind me, but everything was covered in pitch darkness. Even the small light in that distant house was not visible anymore. Then I heard someone moaning as if in deep agony. I was startled and took a step backwards. Gathering up my courage, I slowly scanned the darkness in the sound’s general direction, but could only see dark shapes of trees and bushes. I crawled further a little hoping to get some light from another bolt of lightning, but none came.

In the meanwhile, rain was pouring really hard and I was drenched to the bones. Wiping off rainwater from my forehead and eyes, I slowly walked further, one slow step at a time trying to locate the woman or source of that moan. But I could hear little except for sound of the rain and wind. I was standing and trying to make sense of everything when a sudden flash of lightning illuminated everything around me. In that one second, I saw that woman lying on her back below that tree with a baby in her arms and blood all around them, just 2-3 meters away from me.

Startled, I took a sudden step backwards, lost my balance and started to fall. It was then when I finally woke up and found myself in bed in Vik’s house. But I was confused for a few minutes before I remembered everything. I was breathing fast and was drenched in sweat. A strong breeze was blowing outside and one open window was rattling. The light bulb outside hung by a short wire and swung with the breeze, making everything even more eerier. I got up from bed and walked towards kitchen hoping to find some water without waking anyone. Water in fridge was ice cold and put some sense back in to my head.

As I walked back to my bed, I saw a figure standing in shadow near the windows. Thankfully, it was just Vik. He turned as I walked forward and asked, ‘Can’t sleep ?’

I just shook my head and gave some non-committal answer. But somehow Vik guessed that there was something wrong and the next thing he asked was, ‘Did you by any chance, go to that grove in evening ?’

I stood silent for a while before answering yes. He sighed and leaned on the window sill, ‘ Then you must have guessed by now that Roo was not exactly wrong.’

I smiled wryly, ‘Who knows for real ! ‘

He replied, ‘For one thing, the woman you saw was real, or should I say, ‘was real’.

‘ Real ? ‘

‘Yes, at least she used to be a few years back. When she was our neighbour’. He started pacing slowly in the room and told me the following story. He never told me her name and I’m telling it all in his words.

‘She used to live in the house, across the fields where we played in the morning. You may have not seen it till now as it is a out of way. Nobody lives in it anymore and nobody goes that way these days either. Anyhow, she lived there with her husband and her widowed mother-in-law. The husband used to be a farmer, but as you may have noticed, this land is not very fertile and it’s hard work just to live by farming on such small parcels. So he used to work in a shop for some much needed extra income. Their life was a bit hard, but not too much. They usually kept to themselves and didn’t mingle much with everyone else. The husband was a nice guy overall but had a really short temper and was somewhat eccentric. He didn’t have many friends and only the wife made any attempts to interact with neighbours which he frowned upon. Things changed a bit, when she got pregnant after 4 years of marriage. It was a great news for the couple as people with loose tongues and nothing better to do were always wondering why couldn’t she get pregnant.

Things were good for a while and they waited happily for their first child. But in 3rd month of the pregnancy, they received their first jolt when the husband lost his job at the shop. Although they were in no danger of starving, but they really needed the money This is a small village and there are not many jobs except for farming, He tired his best to find another but there weren’t any. He still had his crops to look for anyway and with a pregnant wife and a sick mother at home, he was a worried man. Then, just a few days before harvest, it hailed and most of our crops in the village were destroyed. Not only he lost his crops but also went in to a debt. The bank showed no compassion and started harassing him for repayment within a week of the incident. Devoid of all options, he came to us and a few other people in village for help. We helped him in whatever way he could, but it was enough as a lot of people were not in a good financial condition themselves.

With bank threatening foreclosure and seizing of the land, he went in to depression and took to alcohol. within 2-3 months, he went from a productive worker/farmer to a raging alcoholic. Things got so bad that he started pawning his household possessions for his drink. He got into quite some fights with other villagers too. We are a conservative community here and drinking isn’t very common. This combined with his usually gruff nature led to a virtual social boycott of the family.

Then one day, he just disappeared. Nobody cared or even knew until the heavily pregnant wife came to our house scared out of her wits. He had not come home in 3 days with no news or trace. We went with her to the police station and to lodge a report. Policemen on duty just dismissed us away at first saying that he must be lying around drunk somewhere and will come back when sober. It took quite a bit of persuasion from our side to even register a report.

We comforted her in whatever way we could and escorted her back to her home. My family took the responsibility of seeing her that she was well fed. Sometimes I was sent to her house with food, fruits and medicines. We had no phones back then and it was the only contact with the outside world that the two women had for a while. But as the due date got closer, the wife got weaker and depressed. It had been a month since he had disappeared and there was still no news. Her mother-in-law too was devastated due to her son’s disappearance and had become completely bed-ridden.”

At this point, Vik stopped and sighed, staring at the storm raging outside the window. Impatiently I asked him, ‘Then what happened ?’

He looked at me in the darkness, ‘ You remember your dream,don’t you ? That’s what happened. One night she started having labour pains, 1 month before her due date. It was a dark rainy night, not unlike this one and there was nobody to help the poor woman. Her mother-in-law was almost completely senile and useless and only help was us, about a km away.’

I stammered weakly, ‘She died that rainy night ?’

Vik rambled on as if he had not heard me, ‘ Next morning, my mother sent me to their house with a tiffin box. The old lady was lying in the bed as she had been for last 3-4 months and the woman was nowhere in sight. I put the tiffin box in their kitchen and ran off to my school. In evening, my mother visited their house and found the tiffin box untouched and the woman nowhere in sight. She hurried back home and asked me but I had no idea. It was getting dark and my father along with some neighbours started searching for her. It was quite late when they found her lying in that grove with her per-mature baby. Although, nobody told me what had happened, I had the same dream as you and every detail matched with what they had found. She and her baby had died of blood-loss and exposure in the freezing rain. ‘

I shivered a little and sat quietly not knowing what to say. He ambled slowly near my bed and said, ‘ I heard you murmuring and thrashing in your sleep, same way I did when I first had the dream. I still see the same dream every once in a while without any variation. At first, I was afraid of these dreams and my parents performed some occult rituals kind of things to placate the spirit.But in time, I realised that she was just very sad, not angry. ”

‘How do you know whether she is sad or angry ?’

He turned to face me and said in a low voice, ‘Because I see her in real life too.’

I raised my eyebrows, ‘Uh uh, when was the last time you saw her ?’

His reply chilled me, ‘Tonight, just a few minutes back, I saw her standing by your bed side when you were asleep.

As I stood there with my mouth gaping like a retard, he patted me on my shoulder and said, ‘Don’t worry about it. She will not harm you. May be she is just looking for her husband and child.’

I wrapped myself in blanket after he was gone and tried to sleep and forget everything. Needless to say, I spent rest of the night wide awake and shivering with fear. Nothing else happened that night and rest of the days I was there, but I made a point of not going near that grove. It’s been years now and I have not had that dream or seen that woman in same way that Vik did. I think that’s good.