If you are expecting a young, handsome man like me, or for a debonair siren who turns out to be the evil blood-sucker towards the end, then you are in for a major disappointment. The protagonist of today’s bedtime story is ‘you’.
Yes, you are walking down the street on a dark moonless night. No, it is not my figment of imagination and neither is it some hand-knitted fancy tale! In no unreal terms and in a moment of complete sanity, you are actually straddling down that street on a dark moonless night.
You are not sure why you are out of your secure walls at this ghostly hour of the night. You are not sure where precisely you are heading to. But you know that you are not dreaming, and neither are you sleep-walking. Everything is real…as real as the ghost you are likely to encounter tonight. After all, without the moon at the helm of the sky, the dark clouds get all the more fearless. They seize possession of the entire sky and not a single star is permitted to shine down.
You are striding past the bucolic old shop. You used to buy books from this place when you were a child, some 20 years back. But now, it stays locked and chained with metals which have dismally rusted. The pesky old man who ran the shop had hanged himself in a stroke of delirium. But you are unnerved; you walk on.
The eerie-looking peepal tree comes to sight. Even in the complete darkness, you can discern its green foliage silhouetted against the black lake. You have grown up hearing haunted tales about this peepal tree. Your mind is blurting out a warning. You must not go near it. You have already stepped inside their premises. It is a tabooed territory. Who knows what awaits you there? Back out, says the mind. But your frenzied soul has taken possession of you. You continue to trudge along. Your pace is brisk, even brisker than the heart which is thumping with indecent loudness. The tree is coming near…nearer…..nearer
You come to a halt by the tree. The lake is looking serene. You can feel a pleasant breeze washing over your face. The silence seems too silent to be true. And suddenly, you smell something…something really bad. The stench is nauseating and it is getting more and more powerful with every passing second. You glance around and try to trace the source of the stench amidst the sea of darkness. But that thing is invisible. The smell is becoming overwhelming. It is coming near….nearer…nearer
You know that you have got to run. But is it too late? Have you been spotted, and marked out for tonight?
You muster all your strength and make a sprint. You dash past the tree, and towards the unknown arms of sepulchral darkness. You run with all your might without ceasing till you have outrun the stench. Your legs are growing weary, but you can still hear your heart pounding feverishly. Your face and arms are all sweaty. But the wind has turned a biting cold. You wonder why the sudden chill. Is the nature conspiring against you, or is it some impish sport of the cloud? Or have you reached the graveyard which you know should have arrived by now.
Your legs have begun to wobble. They are tiring out. But you cannot afford to stop running. Your heart won’t listen to you. There is a cold breath of ice which is hitting the nape of your neck. This can be nothing more than the wind which has chosen to turn hostile today. Or it can be something more sinister, something more harmful, something more vengeful.
Yes, that graveyard must be around. You can make out the smoky figure of the ruined church which overlooks the gloom. You can feel the presence of the rotting weeds. You are terrified, lest those weeds would jut out from the ground and run themselves all over you. You can feel the existence of death. It is there. You are being watched. The silence is so profound that it is deafening to the ears; the darkness so absolute that your eyes have been blinded.
You have lost sense of time. You do not seem to realize that dawn is approaching fast. It is your only hope. But it is still some distance away. The cloud is still murky and the sky mysterious. Can you survive this night?
Your legs have resigned and so has your heart. You slump down over the grassy weeds. You can feel the stony tomb below you. Why the ground rumbles? Is something breathing beneath?
There is a rustle of the leaves. You look across your shoulder. The darkness is impenetrable. In the pregnant silence, your brain calculates fast. Was it the wind again? Or some insect or a rat? You train your ears and wait. You expect another rustle. You hold your breath willing the leaves to rustle again. Perhaps, a presence would be comforting. Aloneness is frightening. But no, the rustling never comes. The silence returns with an intimidating force. You let out your breath. It breaks the stillness for a moment, but silence claws back winningly.
You wait, you wait, you wait. You wait for something to happen. But your effort is going in vain. Your expectations aren’t coming true, and it is the unknown you fear.
The hours trickle by. The clouds seem to fade. Dawn is getting near…nearer…nearer
And then you hear a morbid sound. A rusted chain is being dragged. You feel that stench again. The icy wind seems to howl once more. Your legs have already surrendered. You cannot get back on foot.
Dawn is just some minutes away. But the stench is turning stronger. The chain is getting dragged…near…nearer…nearer