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.

Other posts in this series of posts are on this link.

On day three I got out of hotel room and walked in market for a while before entering a cafe for breakfast.  Took the road to Dharmkot again and met the same man I had asked for directions in lower Dharmkot village previous day. He had come this far just to get some work done in a bank.    He gave some more tips regarding shortcuts and paths.

Easier part of the trek

Easier part of the trek

 

I found another trail and took it which led to a canine breeding compound full of menacing looking dogs. A pair which looked like Pitbull was in a steel wire enclosure. They didn’t seem very happy to see me and and I hurried on my way. Continue reading

 Your’s truly is one of select people on the planet who have had the chance to act in the movies, It isn’t like I’m a good actor, I never took part even in school plays. Neither do I have a great personality or good looks, In fact on that day I was looking even more hideous than usual. No shave for 2-3 weeks, overgrown hair looking like matted coils due to sweat and dust and worse. Anyhow, here is the  story:
               It just happened that we and a few friends from office were on a visit to Khajuraho in late August. We were 5 people, me, Jughead, Betty, Veronica and Archie.Obviously the names have been changed to protect the identities. :p   Rainy season is usually  an off season for tourists  due to rains  and the fact the nearby Panna National Park is closed. So we were able to find  a good lodge nearly empty. How it filled up to it’s full capacity just in 2 days is another story,Continue reading

Everything in this story including characters, events etc is entirely fictional. 

9:00 AM on the clock.
I groaned and tried to get up. Then dropped down on my back again. It was tempting. What’s the use ? I was late anyway. Better make the most of this crappy start of yet another day of my life and go to sleep again. The temptation was too strong, but then people always say that I’m a sucker for pain. Somehow, managed to drag myself up to my feet and shuffled unsteadily towards bathroom. Yet another half  hour spent  in that too wet, too bright room trying to rub off the remnants of previous day. I couldn’t even remember how that went. Somehow, the fact that I should’ve been on the road by now was conveniently forgotten.  I looked absently for the mirror, only to be see my dull  grey outline on  shiny white tiles where a mirror used to be till last month. Some habits just don’t go away that easily.I was hungry but fridge was empty except for a limp half eaten watermelon. Took a bite then spit it out. I was surprised that the fungus wasn’t visible yet. Bye bye breakfast.

Thankfully keys were exactly where I had expected them to be and I was out of the apartment, locking the door half a minute later.  Sun was up already and it was hot as hell outside. Hello sweat
.
For a 10 minute long walk, I was nearly sprinting towards door of the store where I worked. Oh god, anything to escape this damned heat. It’s not like that I really love the place, but at least it’s air conditioned and much cooler. Same can’t be said for my boss, that middle aged control-freak of indeterminate sex.

To be honest, she is a woman, at least that’s what everybody says. Then who am I to dispute that. My medical history too often comes in between of what I see and what I want to say. Right now, “she” was standing with her back to me in a shapeless dress that could very well  be her night-gown or a sheet clinging to her body hair for all that I know.God ! Why couldn’t Anny see those rough black hair that covered  every inch of her body ? For that matter, why couldn’t anybody else but me ?

Of course, how could I be so stupid, so forgetful ! Anny had no eyes.At least not any that I could see. But nobody ever said or behaved like  she was blind. Customers quite often asked for  her help with making final choices.  She even recommended them alternate colours or designs when she felt like it.  Even then, she was sorting out a pile of t-shirts by their colour. Surely a blind person wouldn’t know how to do anything like that. I stood at the door looking at her as she put her hand in pile of t-shirt and put them on racks one by one.

         “What the hell are you doing staring at her ?” the sentence spoken in that gravely voice shook me out of my reverie as I found myself looking into a writhing dark pit that somehow functioned as my boss’s mouth. I looked blankly at her trying to make sense of what she said when I heard something coming out of her mouth again, ” Go upstairs at once and start unpacking the stuff like Anny has been doing for the last half an hour. And…where the hell have you been ? Why are you so late ? “

“I woke up late”, I managed to squeak out.

“Woke up late my ass. I’d kick you right here for that except for the fact that I’m too busy right now. Now run upstairs and unpack those boxes.”

I nodded my head and nearly bolted for stairs when she called out

again, “Hey wait dumb ass. Aren’t these your pills ?” I turned to see
her waving a dark brown bottle with my name written on it’s lid. “Yes”
I nodded to which she asked another question, ” Why did you leave them
here last night then ?” Without waiting for an answer she asked another, “Why do you need them again ?”

“Uh,my vision doesn’t work well without these.” I stammered out.

“Ah, yes. The vision pills. Don’t forget them here and there if you don’t want to turn blind or something.” She chuckled at her statement and placed the bottle on counter, motioning me to pick it up while she busied herself with her notepad .

I climbed down the stairs and grabbed the bottle before bolting upstairs to my comparatively peaceful upstairs section again. Peaceful was not an accurate way to describe the place . It’s not like she wouldn’t come upstairs to see for herself what was I up to whenever her legs permitted, but  any place away from her direct gaze is better. Much better than poor blind Anny’s who has to work
continuously under her disapproving eyes. I almost chuckled at the irony of that. Eyeless Anny under the watchful eyes.I’d have really laughed out loud when I realised why Anny was without eyes and my boss was a hairy freak of indeterminate gender.

I was not completely correct when I answered boss’s question about what the pills were for. Or may be she hadn’t really understood what I said. My eye sight was completely alright. I’d have passed any eye test without any difficulty. It was only what my brain made out of what my eyes saw which caused me some problems. That problems had forced me to spend 6 years of my life,  to be more specific  almost all of my teenage years  under constant medication. A major part of those years were spent in numerous psychiatric wards of various hospitals undergoing one test after another. Most of the times, being a guinea pig for various experiments that the doctors tried to pass off for treatment. How I wish I had something to blame anyone, my family, doctors, anything for my condition but nobody could put a finger on what was wrong with me.

All they knew that I saw something that was not there. The rat like teeth that I saw growing out of my mother’s mouth or the red scales that started to cover my father’s face as he tried to convince me to climb down from the mango tree that grew in our backyard.  I spent 8 hours clinging to the topmost branch of that tree and would have stayed there much longer if it had not snapped all of a sudden , dropping me unceremoniously to the ground 14-15 feet below. It was at that time
when my parents realized that there was something seriously wrong with me.  Next 6-7 years were spent in a painful daze of hospital stays, injections, pills and hundreds of tests. Of all this, I feared my extended stays in psychiatrist wards  the most. Living there for months, surrounded by crazy people some even more crazy than me scared the hell out of me. Many times I tried to lie my way out. I told my
doctors that everything was fine. That I could see people for what they truly were not what my brain wanted to see. But every time, I found myself back in those wards within a few months. Once I found myself standing alone in some kind of party in a relatives home and tried to jump from their balcony on 5th floor. That was the last time my family ever took me out.

Only silver lining of this dark cloud was that I was absolutely harmless to others. Nobody could ever blame me for hurting someone. All I did was to curl up in a corner, close my eyes and cry in sheer terror. Then slowly I willed myself to control it. I still saw bleeding eyes, smoky nostrils, forked tongues, boiling skin and things much worse around me, but I learned to control my fear. Slowly, I
taught myself to be desensitized from such horrors that only my eyes could see. It was difficult, I failed many number of times, contemplated suicide but something kept me from completely going under.

Spent a long time like that, then things changed a little when I was put on a new experimental drug. I still don’t know what do they call my mental disorder or what’s the exact name of that magic pill or how it works. Only thing I care about is that it helped me like nothing ever did. It changed my life.  Finally, I could go out in a crowded market and see normal faces instead of  mutilated abominations.  Somehow I passed school and enrolled in a college, but apparently it was too much for a crazy unbalanced mind like mine. I dropped out within a year and enrolled in a distant learning course. Then boredom of life hit me and I grew increasingly restless. I fought with my parents and one day left my home town to be here in bigger city where nobody knew me. Even after spending 2 years here, people who know me by name can be counted on 2-3 fingers.

Please don’t get a wrong impression. It’s not like my life has been a theater of tragedy. I’ve had my share of happiness. But there is a funny thing about being sad. Sometimes when you to cheer yourself up by remembering a good memory, you can’t recall one single detail. Even if you can recall it, it makes no effect. It’s like that stuff never happened and even if it did, it made absolutely no difference. People say that one ray of light is sufficient to dispel the deepest dark. Well, sometimes nothing is enough. Sometimes even the brightest sun is snuffed out by the darkness trapped inside you.For a long time, all of this crap going on in my life had made me a depressed freak. Thanks to science, there were pills for that too.  But pills only work your hormones or brain. Whatever they do, they can’t mend your life for you. The dirty work is for you to finish.

This job as a sales attendant at this small showroom doesn’t pay enough or leaves much time to go out and socialize. Not that I could even if I had the means. Sometimes I dream of leaving this city and going somewhere far from all these people. Build  a small cottage or a hut and spend my life watching trees, animals, fluffy clouds in a blue sky and bright sparkling stars in a black one. But I’m so damned afraid of that.

“Do you have these shorts in blue ?”

I was startled and my face must have shown it, for she smiled in a way that felt reassuring and waited while I tried to gather my wits. For how long I had been blanked out in deep thought, I had no idea. I didn’t knew when that girl in white tshirt and black jeans had came upstairs, took out those shorts from display rack and walked up to me ask for a different colour.

“Mmm, I’m not sure. Let me check.” That was all that I could manage to mumble out as I scrambled to find what she had asked for. After some struggle I found the blue one and triumphantly handed it over to her. She flashed another smile and disappeared in to trial room. I watched dumbly as she closed the door and stayed there for 2-3 minutes. Then she opened the door just a little and peeked out, “It’s only two of us here, right ?”
I noticed her sparkling eyes and perfect little mouth for first time.
“Ermm, yes.”

She smiled again “Great, I want your opinion.” Saying this, she stepped out dressed in her t-shirt and those blue shorts that I searched out for her.She looked beautiful and I stared without blinking. Then I heard her saying, “Don’t you think that these are a bit small for me ? Do you have a larger size ?”

I stared while she moved to offer me a better view. My god, she was the most beautiful thing that I had ever seen. She had long beautiful legs which were bent at knees in a model like pose. Those blue shorts looked just tailor made for her as they clung to her tightly till her thin waist and shapely butt. Her blue t-shirt was  a perfect fit on her body and highlighted every curve perfectly. She swung lightly in a circle and I noticed her pretty little feet as she shifter her weight from one to another.

” Although I love them, but I think they feel too tight.   What do you think ?  ”

I kept looking at her as if I was trying to make up my mind while in reality I wanted to keep looking at her for as long as possible. She raised her eyebrows in a quizzical expression, ” You look beautiful” that was allthat I could stammer out.

She giggled and pushed back her hair from her face. “Thanks. you are too kind. But I’d really like to try a larger size.”

I looked around. There were boxes of unopened stuff lying in the cupboard. I was supposed to have them unpacked and arranged on shelves half an hour ago. .

“I think we do have a bigger size in new arrivals, but I haven’t unpacked them yet.”

She looked at the shelves and back at me again, “Really ? Let me try out that then.”

“The thing is, it’ll take me sometime to unpack and look for exactly what you need. Can you please wait for a while ? 15 minutes maximum” I waited desperately for her to say yes. That she would stay while I open the boxes and search out those blue shorts for her. No matter how long it took.

She looked slightly disappointed, ” I can’t wait that long here. I have to go somewhere. .”

My heart sank, then she spoke again, ”  But I really want those shorts.  Umm listen, give me your phone number. I’ll be busy for 3-4 hours and will call when I’m finished to check if you found them.”

I nodded vigorously and almost sprinted to the counter to get a card for her. I scribbled down my own phone number  and handed it out for her to take. She took it from my hand and her fingers brushed against mine for fraction of a second. It was first real human touch that I had ever wanted and liked, at least that was what I could remember.

She read the card and pointed at what I had written, “Is that your number ? The store’s phone number is slightly hidden behind what your wrote.”

I smiled sheepishly, “Yes, it’s my number. Sorry about that, but you can call me any time you like. I can give you another card if you’d prefer it that way.”

I was relieved when she shook her head and put the card in her purse, “No, it’s alright. I’ll give you a call when I’m free. Please find them for me. ”

“I’ll do anything and everything.” I realized how foolish it sounded even before I had finished saying that and made a silly face. She laughed lightly and waved a bye as she climbed down the stairs away from my view.

Anny came up the stairs a few minutes later as I was busy searching boxes for those shorts. Instead of arranging them in neat little piles on shelves I was just dumping them on floor looking desperately for anything blue. Anny saw the mess I was making and spoke  “Wow ! What are you doing there ? Arrange these clothes on shelves first.”

I jumped a little on hearing her voice and gave her a sheepish smile. “Yea..well…you are right. I kind of messed it up. Could you please help me a bit ?”

Anny shook her head in exasperation and pointed a finger at me, ” I don’t think that I have the authority to reprimand you, so it’s just a friendly advice. Please be careful when the boss is around. She is not in good mood these days and I don’t want her to vent her anger on any of us. Alright ?”

I stood up silently nodding my head. She looked at me standing like a guilty school kid and smiled, ” Hey, don’t get so sad. It’s just between you and me as friends. Now lets get this stuff lined up before she comes up.”

I nodded brightly and got to work at once Sometimes I glanced at her through corner of my eyes as she arranged clothes on shelves hoping to find those blue shorts I so desperately needed. She seemed different but I couldn’t place my finger on it. It was only much later that I realized that she was not blind after all. But that was a really long time after. At that time, I was totally obsessed with finding those blue shorts in that right size for the pretty girl. Thankfully I didn’t had to wait long before finding the box that contained them. I gave a little whoop of joy and picked up a few pairs in my hand looking for the size she had requested. Fortunately, there were three.

I must have seemed really happy because Anny asked about it but I changed the subject. It was almost lunchtime and I was really hungry. I wolfed down 2 sandwiches and a mug of coffee and was back on my place much before lunch break was over. If Anny or boss found it  strange, neither of them said anything. Grabbing hold of my chair, I placed my phone on the table and stared at it waiting for it to ring. I also kept an ear open in case the shop’s land-line phone rang downstairs. It rang 3 times and I sneaked down every time wondering if it was her. The time was middle of the week and business was slow. Only one customer came up to my section  and she too left without buying anything . I kept waiting for the call getting impatient with each passing moment. I mentally kicked myself for not asking for her number. I could have asked for it without sounding creepy. After all so many people leave their numbers with us for exactly the samepurpose that she had. Now I despaired if she’d ever call. Seconds ticked by and soon it was 07:00 pm, only an hour to go before the shop closed for the day.
I paced the floor slowly repeatedly glancing at the blue shorts that I had sorted out and placed separately. Just when I was convinced that she was not coming I heard someone climbing the stairs and before I could turn around to see she was there standing there with a quizzical smile on her face. She seemed tired. Before she could say anything, I exclaimed, “I thought that you were not coming at all. ”

I thought she was slightly surprised, ” Sorry, I got stuck somewhere and couldn’t come earlier. ”

I probably grinned like an idiot and said grandly, “Oh, please don’t worry about that now. I’ve got your shorts in just the right size for you” and placed them with I thought was a dignified flourish in front of her.

Her face brightened a little as she picked up the 2 newly unpacked pairs and read the labels. Without saying anything she turned and locked herself  in the trial room as I mentally followed her every movement.

“What wouldn’t I give to be there with her I thought to myself and strangely was not surprised. I spent next few minutes day dreaming about the thought till she came out and placed one pair on the table. “I’ll take this one.”

I was slightly disappointed that she didn’t ask for my opinion like before. But I nodded brightly and congratulated her on her excellent choice, then again watched her as she took her time looking at the new arrivals that me and Anny had arranged just a few hours back. Apparently nothing else caught her fancy and she turned to me, ‘Umm, I think that’s all I’d like to buy today. Can you please make a bill for it ?”

No bargaining , It was a bit surprising.

I nodded brightly and took the shorts myself to the counter to get it billed. There were less than 10 minutes to our closing time and I noticed that Anny had already left. Only the boss was there behind the billing counter, stretching lazily like a cat. Thank god her face was not visible from where I was coming. I made more noises than usual while coming towards her, hoping that she’ll stop doing that.
Thankfully she composed herself and started generating the bill without asking any questions. She just raised her head to glance at her customer when she came down and stood by the counter. The girl paid full amount, nodded a thanks at me and walked slowly towards exit as she looked at the clothes at display. My  attention was broken by boss getting out of  her chair and rattling out orders at me. “Closing time. Gather your stuff and don’t forget your pills this time.”

I looked somewhat longingly at the girl as she ambled towards exit and sprinted up the stairs to gather my stuff. I was back in a jiffy. Boss seemed a bit astonished to see her orders being obeyed so enthusiastically. “That was fast.” She mumbled while locking the counter and gathering her own keys.

“Only following your orders ma’m” I shrugged to myself.

She gestured towards the girl as she stood near the door admiring a blouse and asked in a lowered voice, “She isn’t going to buy anything more, is she? I have to get home at time today for a change and its raining outside. I hate getting stuck in traffic jams due to rains.”

I had no idea about the rain but I didn’t care. I never resented a little walk in the rain. The girl was now pushing the door open and I could see a steady drizzle soaking up the sidewalk and road beyond it. She glanced back at us once and realised that it was our closing time. She stepped out of the shop and took shelter beneath the sun shade looking a bit impatient .  Boss nodded at me, “Hurry, hurry. Let’s go too.”

She shuffled hurriedly to the door and locked it as I stepped out staring again at the girl. If my boss noticed, she gave no indication. She just locked the door and asked if I need a lift. It was just a formality. My place was barely 10 minutes walk from the shop and she  had to drive to the opposite side. I had never been inside her car the  whole time I had worked there. I shook my head and she immediately
turned to sprint towards her car parked just in front. I watched the  fat woman run awkwardly in order to spare herself getting splashed by a few drops of water
on a walk of 3 meters. I wondered what’d happen to her fat body if she slipped and fell. I was sure that I’ll never be able to even help her up stand on her feet, let alone carry her to her car or somewhere.

The girl must have guessed what I was thinking, I don’t know how. Maybe by the worried smirk like expression on my face. She just remarked in a casual manner, “I’d be careful if I were in her place.” I looked towards her and grinned, Don’t worry about her. She is pretty experienced.”

She smiled back and said, “I sure hope so.” Then stretching her hands out of the shelter of sun roof she remarked, ” Looks like this rain is not going to stop anytime soon.”

I shrugged, “Who knows ! Do you have to go somewhere far ?”

” It isn’t that far. Just 12-15 minutes from here if you walk. But it’s raining  a bit too hard for the walk and I can’t seem to find a taxi. These idiots just disappear when you need them the most.”

I nodded sympathetically, “Happens. By  the way, if you don’t mind, would you like to join me for a cup of coffee  ? The shop is very near and they probably have the best coffee and donuts in the city.”

She chuckled and shrugged, ” Sure , why not ! Beats standing here and getting splashed by second hand rain water.”

I nodded enthusiastically and pointed out the coffee shop as best as I could. “There is that shop. I guess we’ll have to make a dash for it just like my boss if we don’t want to get wet.”

She laughed, “My god. Of all the people..not like her ! ”

We both rushed out of shelter of the sun-roof together and scrambled in to the coffee shop without getting too wet. The place wasn’t crowded at the time and we found my favourite table near the  glass window. We spent next 20-30 minutes talking over over coffee and doughnuts. I don’t really remember how they tasted. I was simply too occupied by our conversation to remember any other detail. I told her a little bit about where I lived and my home town along with a few other details. Turned out, she lived just 3 streets away from me in a rented house. There was a lot more that we told about ourselves to each other then and later, but I don’t remember too much of it. Another portion of my good memories seemingly lost.

The part I remember is both of us looking out of the window and waiting for the rain to stop which it never did. A steady drizzle kept on falling down all the time we were there. It didn’t looked like it’d stop any time soon. Somehow, I was happy for it
 We finished our coffees and donuts and were nibbling on last of our muffins, when she asked me, ” Do you like walking in rain ?”
I looked at her with a grin slowly forming on my face, “Of course I do. But we’ll not find any cab or auto now..”
She shook her head impatiently, “You are such a dumbass. Didn’t I say walking ? Or are you really afraid of a a little water ?”
I don’t think I was so sure but I didn’t want to give her a reason to complain, ” If you have no problem, I’m all for it. Lets take a walk.”
She giggled and picked up her bag, “Lets go then. I don’t want the rain to stop before we get out.”.
We stood on the door of coffee shop and looked at each other once, then I pushed the door open and we both stepped out. A whiff of wet cool air immediately hit us followed by hundreds of drops of rain. We both shivered a little and laughed. I think I was a little bit nervous but can’t be so sure now. Anyhow, we both stepped out in to the rain and nature greeted us with a big flash of lightning followed by deafening thunder. I’ve never been much afraid of thunder, but that one was big enough to give me a pause. She on the other hand seemed to enjoy it. She squealed with laughter and held my arm as zigzag lines of light tore in to the sky and the sound hit as a few moments later. The rain had drenched me cold to my bones by then but I could still feel the warmth of her hands on my arm. I saw her laughing and felt he voice in spite of thunder and I have never felt so content with my life ever since.
     Our plan was to walk a bit forward from my place towards her where we’d both part ways. But the rain increased it’s tempo and we found ourselves on the door of my flat soaked to our skin. I shivered  and struggled like a drunk to fit key in to lock. It was a mess inside but she made no comment.
 Walking with shoulders hunched, we searched for a clean towel to dry ourselves with. She rubbed her arms and moaned, ” All my clothes are soaked ! Wish I had worn shorts instead of these stupid jeans. “
I kept rummaging through the pile of clothes in cupboard and said, “Well, you had one pair right in your hands all this while.”
She probably rolled her eyes as she said this but I didn’t see, ” Where’d I changed smart ass ? In that cafe or on the road ?”
I finally found a spare clean towel and tshirt and tossed them on bed. Pointing them out to her I answered, “What about here, now ? Or you can have my shorts or anything else you find clean enough. “
She picked up the towel to dry her hair, “Not a bad idea. Where is your bathroom ?”
I pointed it out to her and she closed the door behind her. I was a little bit disappointed, again. I was still staring at the door when I heard her from inside, “Hey, don’t you have any mirror ? “
I answered, “Uh no. It broke a few days back.”
I still had the scars on my hand to show for it.
I shrugged off my stupor and changed in to some dry clothes of my own before she finished.  She came out a minute later dressed in one of my white tshirts and her blue shorts. Although the tshirt was a little big for her, she looked beautiful dressed like that. Her damp hair half covered her face and neck. I think I fell in love right then.
She saw me staring at her and raised her eyebrows, “What are you looking at ? Don’t I look horrible right now ? My hair is a mess and you don’t even have a mirror ! How can you live without one ? “
I raised my hands in protest, “No no. You look very beautiful like this. Really, I swear.”
She looked doubtfully at me, “Yeah right. Even a cow will get the same lines from you folks.”
I feigned a look of hurt innocence, “I’m hurt by your comment. I really think that you look beautiful and you think I’m saying this because I work at a sales counter ? “
It was her turn to look surprised, ” No… I didn’t mean that. I just thought that you were saying this just to preserve my feelings.”
“I know, I know. I was just kidding. But you really look great. Why’d I lie anyway ? Would you like something to eat or drink ? “
She looked out of the window at the pouring rain and thunder, “I’m not sure. I should be at my room by now.”
Just then a loud bolt of thunder struck and our windows rattled. Even I jumped a little. “Wow! I don’t think you’ll be able to go anywhere for quite some time now in this weather. It’d be better if you stay till it clears up “
She shrugged, “Yeah, it’s not like I can go outside in this weather anyway.”
I tried to remember if I had anything edible left, it wasn’t much. Still I asked, “Would you like anything to eat or drink ?”
She looked doubtful a and thought for a while before answering, “I’m not hungry at all. Those donuts and coffee filled me up. But still, something hot to drink would be nice.”
  There wasn’t much that I could offer her except the usual coffee and tea. She shook her head and said, “Naa, let’s just leave it. I’ve had enough caffeine for one day.”
I then said, “I have one bottle of vodka lying around. We can have that if you’d like.”
She looked pleased, “Really ? I haven’t had any booze since ages. “
I fished out the bottle from my cupboard and poured drinks for both of us. She first took a small sip, then emptied the glass in one go. She made a face then squealed, “Bottoms up!”
I looked doubtfully at my own glass weighing my choices. What choice did I have anyway ? I too held my breath and emptied it like her.  I hadn’t drunk anything in a really long time and the vodka virtually burned through my insides. I choked a little and she laughed out loud.
“No more alcohol for me tonight” I managed to croak out, causing her to make a face at me again. “You are much much older than you look. But I’m going to have one more.”
I nodded, “Yes. Be my guest.”
I held the empty glass in my hands and watched her pour another drink for herself. She held the glass in front of her nose and sniffed it like a wine connoisseur. Then she took a small sip and made a show of tasting the vodka by swilling it inside her mouth. Maybe I got drunk too soon, probably that’s why I held my stomach and laughed like crazy. She laughed hard too and squirted some of her drink out of her mouth. I think we were too drunk at that time to care or may be we were just too happy. It didn’t matter that time.
 She was still giggling when she exclaimed, ” Damn ! I spilled some on your tshirt ! I’m so sorry !”
I waved it away non-nonchalantly, ” Don’t worry about it. I have plenty to last me a lifetime. Just grab another from my closet.”
She nodded her head sagely, “Yes, yes, I know that you have your own shop. No shortage of clothes ever. Right ?”
I nodded back with a straight face, “True. Now why don’t you pick one for yourself. I feel too lazy to get  up and pick one for you.”
“As usual.” She pouted a little and walked up to the closet and picked 2-3.” Which one is OK ?”
I shrugged, “Not sure. Take any.”
She looked over one tshirt after the other and finally decided on a gray one. She put it against her neck to check it’s size to which I said, ” They are all the same size. If that one fit, this will too.”
She threw the rest on my face and picked the gray one. ” I’m going to change in to this one. Don’t try to look, pervert.”
She turned towards the wall with her back in front of me and took off the wet white tshirt.  I think I’m a pervert because I looked. Right now, when I’m thinking about it, I should have not done that. I can’t really say if things would have been better if I had not sneaked a look. But they could’ve been different. Whether for better or worse, again I don’t know.
Now these people tell me that I again had a relapse, because I had skipped my medications and was drunk. I know that no one will believe anything I say for my defense and it really doesn’t matter much anyhow. I just hope that … well, I don’t know what I hope for now. It all seems like a really strange dream. The kind of dream you suddenly wake up from and only remember fragments. You wake up and wonder for a while if it was real or not. Shudder or smile a little over what you remember and it”s memory goes away on it’s own moments later
Anyhow, coming back to my story, she was taking off her tshirt facing away from me and I could see her dressed only in her new shorts. My gaze went up slowly as she pulled the tshirt over her head, first over her ass, then her slim waist and then what seemed like a pair of white tree-branches attached to her shoulder blades. Flakes of some white thing that looked somewhat like clumps of disfigured feathers  were hanging haphazardly over them. It looked as if a beast with sharp claws had tried to rip off the wings of a dove but had been too lazy to perform a clean job The dove had escaped badly wounded and disgustingly crippled.
  It looked hideous and I gagged.  I put my face to the pillow and tried to fight off that sickening feeling. A few moments later I heard her voice but she seemed so distant that I couldn’t understand. Then I felt her hands on my back and head and heard her voice again. But I still couldn’t hear what she was trying to say. I felt scared and tried to roll away from her but she held me by my arms and tried to get me to answer. I put my face away from her and clenched my eyes shut as tightly as I could. I could tell by her grip on my arms that she was getting really worried and probably a bit scared too. But I don’t think that she was half as scared as i was.
 She tried to shout in to my ears and slapped my face in desperation. I think it was that moment when I completely lost it. Suddenly I threw her off me and jumped off the bed. I grabbed the bottle of vodka by the neck and smashed it’s bottom against the wall. She looked petrified as I walked towards her with that jagged piece of glass in my hand. Shards of broken glass pierced my soles but I walked over them. I could see her eyes wide open with fear, her mouth half-opened in a scream that was trapped in her throat. But none of that registered, All I could really see were those ugly, broken wings stretched across her shoulders over her head.
I tried to reason with her with my voice broken by scared, angry sobs, “Please, let me do this. These things don’t belong to you, you need to get rid of them.”
She slowly backed up against the wall and shook her head as panic slowly built up inside her, “Whaaat ?” She stuttered, “What things ?”
“The wings !”  I screamed, “Those damned ugly broken wings !! Get rid of them. Let me get rid of them for you.”
She looked even more startled, “Have you gone mad ? What wings ?”
I walked a couple of more steps towards her shaking my head. Some more shards of glass pressed deeper in to my feet. “Please let me help you. This might hurt a little but you’ll be more beautiful than ever after this.” Then I jumped towards her and tried to grab her. But she was quick and scampered out of my reach. But the broken bottle in my flailing hands managed to land a nasty cut on her left arm. She screamed with pain and jumped over my bed to the other side. “You’ve gone completely crazy ! Let me go ! Let me go and everything will be all right.”
I paid no heed to her pleas and climbed on bed. I stood up on my knees and shuffled slowly towards her. ” Don’t you see ? I’m the one trying to make everything all right. Please …”
I couldn’t finish what I was about to say as I was suddenly blinded by extreme burning sensation on my eyes and face. Somehow she had managed to grab hold of her pepper-spray can and had sprayed it all over me without me knowing she even had one. Glass fragments on soles were one thing, but a pepper spray on eyes blinded me immediately and I fell on my back howling with pain. Last thing I remember is something heavy hitting my head 2-3 times. Then I passed out.
Now I’m sitting in this white tiled room with my hands and feet firmly strapped to this uncomfortable chair.  A man in white doctor’s coat is sitting in front of me with a thick file in his hand. Somehow he looks familiar. I squint my eyes and try to remember.  I try really hard, then I feel too tired and let my neck go limp to my side.  I focus my eyes on tip of my nose and smile. I can see another vague shape in white standing just behind the doctor. I try to bring that shape in to focus. It turns out to be a nurse. Thick, fat one at that. I smile again at her. I see her mouth moving as if she is saying something and gesturing with her hands. I look towards the direction she is pointing to and I see the doctor holding a newspaper clipping right in front of my nose.  He too is saying something but his voice is tinny and coming from a long distant tunnel.
I smile and shake my head but both seem earnest that I look towards ths clipping. I roll my eyes in a good natured way and try to read that paper that they seem to be so concerned about. headline of that news article reads, ” Crazy salesgirl assaults her own customer”
I shake my head slowly in mock sympathy.  I want to say something but don’t feel like it. But they still are not satisfied.  The doctor pushes the paper closer to my face and I focus on it again. It reads,
  ” A young woman was attacked last night by the sales girl of a local clothing store in latter’s house. According to the sources, the salesgirl had met and befriended the victim yesterday in the clothing store. They left together after closing time and stopped in salesgirl’s home at night due to heavy rains. There, they both had some alcohol following which she suddenly broke the bottle of which they were drinking and attacked her new friend. The victim managed to overpower her attacker with the help of a pepper-spray but suffered a few nasty cuts in process. Apparently, that salesgirl  had a long running history of mental illness and had been on medications which she apparently skipped. As of now, she has been placed in an undisclosed institution.”
I smile and shrug. Both the doctor and nurse look at each other and exchange some words. He gets up from the chair and walks slowly to my side. He pulls out a photo from his file and puts it in front of me. It’s her. I smile and nod. Now, I hear him say, ” Do you remember her ?”
“Yes.” I nod my head.
” Was she nice to you ?”
“Yes.” I nod again.
” Did you ever had any argument or fight of some kind ?”
This time I shake my head, “No.”
“You read and understood that news clipping I showed you, right ?”
“Yes.”
He takes a deep breath and asks in even more gentler voice, ” She, your friend that is, says that you attacked her with a broken vodka bottle for no reason. Is it true ?”
I turn my neck to look at him in the eyes,”I didn’t attack her. I just wanted to remove her ugly broken wings. I just wanted to make her beautiful.”
Doctor and nurse both exchange glances again. Then he says again, “You’ve been saying that ever since you got here. But that girl never had any wings to begin with. Everyone who ever knew him says the same. Humans don’t have any wings.”
I shake my head and reply, ” But I’m telling you doctor. I saw her hideous wings with my own eyes. She is so pretty and they were just rotting off and looked hideous on her. I thought maybe  I could get rid of them from her. I don’t know how she thought that I wanted to harm her. I’ll never hurt anybody you know.”
He crouches down to bring his face to my eye level and looks closely at me, ” Do you remember who am I ?”
I remember it right then and answer, ” Yes ! You are the doctor from that ugly hospital who gave me those pills. They really helped !”
He smiles at me with a painful expression and turns his face towards the floor. As he runs his hands through his hair I hear him exhale deeply, “Apparently not enough.”
 I think I didn’t hear it all and first look at nurse then again at the doctor who is still rubbing his head, “Huh ? “
He stands up and smiles with the same pained expression. “Nothing really. I need to go right now. I’ll be back to see you later.”
As he pushes all of his papers inside the folder I look at him and say, “It’s nice to see you again.”
This time he doesn’t looks at me when he says, “It’s been nice to see you too kiddo.” and turns to leave.  A piece of paper slips from the file and lands near my feet. It’s the same news clipping that he had made me read a few minutes ago. I think there is a thing common between the two. Both don’t seem really truthful. I shrug to myself, “Hmmm… It’s not like I can do anything about it.”
The End