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Participate in the 3rd Season of STORYMIRROR SCHOOLS WRITING COMPETITION - the BIGGEST Writing Competition in India for School Students & Teachers and win a 2N/3D holiday trip from Club Mahindra

Rahul Hariharan

Drama Horror Thriller


4.7  

Rahul Hariharan

Drama Horror Thriller


A Twisted Tale In Winter

A Twisted Tale In Winter

20 mins 25.1K 20 mins 25.1K

The sound of the night was familiar to me. The constant whistling of the wind as it blew through trees, branches, and bushes; occasional howling and hooting of nocturnal animals and birds; squawks and buzzes of insects; it was all music to my ears. The snow under my boot crackled with a satisfying crunch as I walked. It was as if nature was orchestrating a beautiful symphony for me...

...until I heard something else.


Chapter One 

"I don't know where to begin", I finally said after a few minutes of awkward silence.

"That's ok. Don't stress out. Just sit back and relax. You can take all the time you need. We're just talking here like friends.", said my doctor with an assuring smile.

But it wasn't enough for me. I was restless. It's been seven days since I had a proper sleep. I needed to hear something more convincing.

Maybe the doctor recognized my dilemma too, he smiled. "How about if I tell you what I already know, maybe you can fill in the rest."

Huh?

I was genuinely confused. I just met him like 5 mins ago. I barely even said a word till now. How did he even know anything about me? But I was curious.

"So you're Arvind Sharma, age 27, a freelance photographer working here in Shimla..."

Oh, so he just meant to read out my profile. I couldn't believe he gave such a dramatic build-up for that. I was a little annoyed, but he wasn't finished.

" ...whose happy normal life took a weird turn due to something that happened a week ago, an accident perhaps. It's been giving you nightmares and sleepless nights ever since.", said Dr. Mishra with a smile.

WTF!?

I was literally out of words. I stared at him in utter disbelief. How in hell!?

"Ha, don't look at me like I did some witchcraft. I just observed", he said, "You see the very first thing I did when you walked into this room today was to go through your social media pages. And I saw a confident and carefree individual who took too much pride in his appearance. 

But the man who walked into my office today wore wrinkled clothes with messy hair and an ungroomed face. The dark circles around your eyes say you've been staying up at night.

Being a photographer you regularly update your social media pages with your photographs, but your last post was seven days ago. Something must've happened a week ago that turned your whole life upside down. 

Lastly, with that band-aid on your forehead and the still mildly visible bruising on your wrist, an accident wasn't a hard guess at all."

Damn! They had told me that he was good. But this was extraordinary. I was impressed.

"I'm good at what I do Arvind. You can trust me with whatever you're going through.", assured Dr. Mishra. "So an accident, was it ?"

"Yes.", I replied.

"Now don't stop at that. You're doing really well.", he encouraged me. "Go ahead."

"I...I don't...", I was still struggling to put it all out before him. My mind was a mess.

"He...He's following me. He has been following me ever since.", I didn't realize it then, but I was sweating profusely. My whole body was shivering."I don't know what he wants. It wasn't even my fault. He knows it too. But ...but... He won't just leave me alone"

"Hey Arvind...Relax my man! It's all right.", Dr. Mishra offered me a glass of cold water which I refused. Even though things i said hardly made sense, Dr. Mishra tried his best to understand. "Arvind, if someone's blackmailing you about the accident, there are many things we can do. You don't need to worry so much. I've some good connections in the police department. I'm sure I can get you ..."

"What the hell are you talking about? You don't understand anything. None of you ever will." I was literally screaming. "It wasn't my fault. The roads were slippery and... and...that deer! it came onto me out of nowhere. I had to slam my breaks. What other option did I have? And how was I supposed to know?...I... I'll...I don't .."

It felt like something snapped inside my head. I forced my eyes to open, but everything went blurry. I tried to stand up, but I felt lightheaded. I tried to grab onto whatever that was near me to stop myself from collapsing on the ground.

A sense of fear and panic enveloped me, as everything around me went cold. I didn't fall on the floor. I felt ice-cold-snow beneath me. I was lying on the side of that road, just like seven days ago. But this time around, he came near me. Even with the blear in my eyes, I could see him staring at me.

"What do you need from me? I didn't kill you that day. I didn't. It was an accident. I'm sorry...I couldn't do anything..."

That's the last thing I remember, before I blacked out.


Chapter Two

The winter was particularly harsh in the valley this year. It has been several days since the continuous snowfall, yet it was still going strong. The whole of Shimla was now enveloped in a sheet of thick white snow. This time of the year attracted tourists and travelers like no other. When the morning rays fell on the majestic expanse of white, it glittered like pearls. It was indeed a sight to savor in the day. But the same cannot be said about nights.

Nights arrived early during winter. It would be fun to snuggle away the night in the warmth of a fireplace. But for someone who had to drive at night, it was no less than a ride through hell.

I was driving back to my home after a photography session for a newlywed. The day was exhausting. It was around 6 pm when I finally bid them adieu and collected my day's pay. I thought of checking into a hotel for the night, but that would have taken a big chunk of my entire day's pay. The valley wasn't new for me. I knew every road, every turn here, like the back of my hand. Of course, it was going to be a rough ride, but the thought of spending such money for a night's stay made me determined.

The time was 7.33 pm and I was halfway through. I was going at an unusually slow pace to avoid any unnecessary mishaps. My house was essentially on the top of a hill and I had to ride through several of these dangerous curves called hairpins, it was my biggest concern. The field of vision was very limited and the roads were damn slippery.

The fog-lights in front of my car tried their best to illuminate the road for me. But there was only so much that they could do against the thick cloud of fog and continuous snowfall. The windscreen wipers were working tirelessly to scrape off the flakes of snow.

I let a huge sigh of relief as I slowly turned through last of the hairpins, now it was just a straight road ahead. Another kilometer and I was home. I accelerated slightly, I was shivering even under my jacket, getting home fast and sipping something hot was now a priority.

But the universe had other plans for me.

Something crashed onto the side of my car with a loud thud, shattering window glass all over me. In that panic, I slammed my breaks, with force of course. The vehicle skid uncontrollably along the narrow stretch of the slippery road and stopped itself after smashing into a concrete barrier.

At that exact moment, another car, a big-red one, coming along the road from opposite side, too was startled by the scene. It was a deer running down the valley that had hit the side of my car. My vehicle gliding uncontrollably on the slippery road, made them apply breaks suddenly as well. But unfortunately, their vehicle wheels imparted more traction resulting in sudden overturn.

As my car crashed into that concrete barrier, the other car was lying upside down on the edge of that road, completely totalled. I struggled to get out of my car. Unable to move, I wriggled through onto the ground.

I wanted to help whoever was in that other car. Vaguely I saw a young woman and man, unconscious, in the front seats of that overturned car. Another newlywed probably. I was crawling on the road to reach to them as fast as I could when out of nowhere a fire sparkled to life. The ruptured tank pumped fuel into that fire resulting in a sudden blaze that engulfed the car within seconds.

I screamed for help, but with no one to hear, it was silenced by the howling winds of winter. I was slamming my head on the ground cursing myself when I heard another sound, something big. At first, I thought it was the car exploding, but then I realized it was something else entirely.

An avalanche, a massive bulk of snow and soil, was sliding down swiftly along the mountainside. I didn't even realize the magnitude of that then, but within a matter of seconds, that overwhelming rush of ice, earth, and vegetation, washed down everything that was on its way including the burning car. I watched everything in disbelief as all these unfolded before my eyes, like from a Hollywood movie.

I was awake for a few more minutes, realizing that the avalanche had somehow missed me completely. But I couldn't stop thinking about that couple. They must have come to the valley to celebrate life, but instead, they met with a most gruesome death, being burnt alive in an upside-down car, then being wiped out of existence by an avalanche. How could life be so cruel?

Was it life or was it me?


Chapter Three

"He's fine... he's fine. It's just a minor seizure. Give him some room to breathe.", I heard Dr. Mishra talking. "Prepare a shot of Keppra 500mg.", he instructed.

Even though I was half-conscious, it was only when the needle pierced into my skin, that I opened my eyes in full consciousness. The medicine rushed into my veins and I immediately felt it.

"Relax Arvind, you just had a minor seizure. Sit up straight and try to breathe slowly.", said the doctor with a comforting smile.

"Doctor I need to talk to you. Only you can help me.", I said with whatever strength I had.

"Absolutely. But first, we need to do a physical check-up on you. I've already made all the arrangements. You'll now be shifted to a hospital. You just stay calm and trust me. We'll talk after that. And I promise you I'll help you."

I wanted to give him a heartfelt thank-you, but I was unconscious before I could.


Chapter Four 

It was an unfortunate night for the whole of Shimla. Continuous snowfall and bad weather had caused three such incidents of landslides and avalanche across the valley.

A casualty of at least 17 was estimated, including the couple from the car. Their bodies were yet to be recovered. Since the weather was unfavorable, I was told that it would take at least a couple of days to coordinate an operation to retrieve the bodies of the deceased. Around 134 people were in the hospitals with major and minor injuries. There was a huge loss to property and infrastructure as well.

Apart from a few scratches and a small cut on my wrist, I was fine. A CT scan of my head was taken to rule out any possibility of internal injuries and there were none. I was warned to expect mild seizures as it was a mental and emotional trauma to go through something like that. Medications were provided and I was discharged the same day itself.

The ambulance dropped me off a few blocks away from my house. They were on the way to pick-up another patient and they were kind enough to drop me near my house. It was a small walk from there.

But that's when everything began...


Chapter Five 

"Hmm, so what happened on that walk back home?", asked Dr. Mishra. 


After a thorough physical check-up, despite me saying multiple times that I was completely fine, we were back at the clinic. As expected, there wasn't anything unusual in the reports.


I looked at him in the eyes. He was a good listener. His face and presence somehow gave you a sense of security and comfort.


"Before I tell you the rest, you're the third doctor to whom I am about to tell this. The other two were quick enough to dismiss everything as my hallucination.", I said with an expression of contempt. "I know am fine. It wasn't just my mind playing tricks. So if you're also planning to mumble the same nonsense, I'm not at all interested."


"I'm all ears Arvind", he said with his usual smile.


Chapter Six

I pulled the hoodie over my head, as a cold wind amassed around me. Despite the events of yesterday night, winter was still ravaging like a ferocious beast.

The accident had caused a sprain in my left leg ankle, nothing serious, but I was slightly limping as I walked towards my home.

The road was empty as usual. The only street light in the far end of the road was flickering like it always did with a grim grainy-buzz. Moon was shining bright in the night sky, but a shadow of darkness loomed all over the valley because of the enormous cloud of fog.

The sound of the night was familiar to me. The constant whistling of the wind as it blew through trees, branches, and bushes; occasional howling and hooting of nocturnal animals and birds; squawks and buzzes of insects; it was all music to my ears. The snow under my boot crackled with a satisfying crunch as I walked. It was as if nature was orchestrating a beautiful symphony for me...

...until I heard something else.

I heard another set of footsteps walking, right behind me. It was quite unusual as my house was the only one at the end of the road. I stopped and turned back to see who it was. But there was nobody. The road was empty.

Weird, I thought as I started walking. And then I heard it again, quite clearly this time. Someone was walking behind me, slowly, the sound of the snow crunching under footsteps, I could hear it quite clearly. I turned around in a panic to find nobody. I listened for footsteps but the only sound I could hear was the grainy buzz of the light bulb as it flickered.

By then fear had started to get it's hold on me. I turned around and paced with my sprained leg, and so did the footsteps behind me. I ran as fast as I could without looking back, and it too was behind me, running. I heard the sound of a hard-paced breathing following me and I was terrified beyond words. It sounded like that of an animal's, but the footsteps, that was human. I didn't know what in the hell was running behind me. But i was too scared to look back.

I pulled the key out of my pockets and turned it inside the keyhole as fast as I could. I leaped into the house like a prey trying to escape its predator. I shut the door, bolted it and pushed it as hard as I could with my hands. I was expecting someone/something to crash onto the door but nothing happened. A minute passed and I heard nothing. I raised the window curtain and looked outside. Nothing was out of ordinary.

I was shivering. I turned on the room heater and changed into something comfortable. I was afraid to turn off the lights. I sat on the couch, turned on the TV and pulled a blanket over me.

The night was still young.

 

Chapter Seven

"Aren't you going to say anything?", I asked Dr. Mishra.

"Are you finished?"

"No...but"

"Then please continue.", said Dr. Mishra


Chapter Eight 

The news on television was continuously broadcasting about the destruction that happened across the valley. The search was still on for recovering the bodies of the deceased. I was trying my best to not think about anything that happened on the road. Tiredness and exhaustion were taking their toll on me. My eyelids closed shut and I slowly drifted into a deep sleep.

I'm not sure when but sometime later there was a power outage. As the room heater scuffled and died without any power, coldness started to creep into my house. It was my feet, which was outside the blanket, that first felt the cold breeze. But that didn't wake me.

What woke me was the sound of slow labored breathing; Someone else was with me; Someone else was inside my house. I was petrified. It was similar to the same rasp that chased me down the road. I jumped from the couch, throwing my blanket away. I got hold of the torch that was beside the television and shined it frantically everywhere. The house was empty.

With a sudden buzz, the power came back on breathing life into the room heater and television. I was almost on the verge of tears. I didn't know what was happening to me. I sat down on the cold wooden floor of my living room and wept like a child. The news was still raving on about the weather.


Chapter Nine

I looked at Dr. Mishra.

"And?", he asked.

"What you mean 'and'? Didn't you understand my problem? He's following me. What have I done for him to torture me like this?"

"No. I'm not asking about that. You just told me about one night. What about the other six nights?", clarified Dr. Mishra.

"huh. HELL. That's how my other six days have been. I'm scared to be alone. So I spend my day around people somehow, in public places and what not; Nights, I spend in a hotel reception lobby watching television. The owner there knows me. I haven't had a proper sleep ever since it happened...and you're the third shrink to whom I am telling about all this. Now can you help me or not?". I was yelling at Dr. Mishra, who still sat there with his trademark smile.

"Shrink?", he laughed. "I haven't heard that in a while."

"Doctor please...", I was miserable.

"Arvind... Can you just relax for a second and answer some questions for me?"

"What?"

"Why did you assume it was the man from the accident that was following you ?", asked the doctor.

"Uh...Everything began after that accident. So it ought to be him...right? He's haunting me. Unless his body is recovered and it's given a proper burial, he won't let me go. That's what the priest said."

"Ah. So you went to a priest too?", laughed Dr. Mishra. "Of course you had to, right? This was beyond science...". His mockery was starting to annoy me.

"Anyway... that's not what I asked Arvind. Why did you think it was that man and not the woman following you?"

"uh... that... that breathing in my room. It was of a man. I'm sure of it."

"Exactly Arvind... Exactly.", Dr. Mishra rose from his chair and came near me. I stared at him, bewildered. "Arvind, I want you to take out your phone and search for 'Diplacusis'. Do you want me to spell that out?"

"No. I think I got it.", I said even though I wasn't sure.

"Di-pla-cu-sis... double hearing?", I asked in confusion.

"Yes. Why don't you read that out loud, Arvind?"

"Diplacusis, also known as double hearing occurs when a person hears the same sound differently in each ear. Usually, our brain distinguishes a single auditory stimulus as one sound, but with diplacusis, there is a dissonance in the pitch or timing of a sound, so one ear often hears the correct tone, while the other detects the pitch as either flat (lower) or sharp (higher). Hearing one sound as two often can be disconcerting and frustrating for a person experiencing this.", I looked at Dr. Mishra.

"Everything happened after the accident Arvind. That was the key. All that the Doctors were looking for, was a head injury. But had they looked a little closer, they would've found that there was slight damage to your auditory canal.", said the doctor. "Don't worry. I've already talked to a specialist. It's nothing permanent. All you have to do is stay put and you'll be fine in a week or so. That kind of fixes itself.

When that accident happened, that jolt caused a slight misalignment in your auditory canal. I won't get too technical but what essentially happened was, because of that, both your ears started recognizing auditory signals at a different pace.

Or simply you started to hear things twice.

And before you ask, this isn't like you'll hear everything twice. If that was the case you would have found the problem yourself long before. This would have only happened when you were to focus on a single sound with no other distractions.

You heard your breathing twice, only when the television went off due to power outage. Till then television was acting as an external auditory signal to mask it. Same when you were walking back home. You didn't hear any animal breathing behind you, it was just your own breathing recognised a little late by your ear with a different pitch. I hope everything's starting to make sense for you now."

I sat there without words as Dr. Mishta explained it all to me. All this while I was worried about something that didn't even exist. I was embarrassed.

"Also here's something for your conscience too. That accident of the burning car, I don't think it happened that night", said Dr. Misra.

"What?", I was puzzled.

"Yes. The rescue team reported that they searched the valley area several times and there was no sign of a car, as you described.

While your medical check-up was going on, I tried to dig into your past a little.", Dr.Sharma sat back on his chair. "You lost both your parents at an early age, right?"

"Yes"

"...in an accident, right?"

"Ye...Yes. My mother's sister...My aunt took care of me after that. I was around 3-4 years old I think."

"It was twenty-four years ago Arvind. You were three then. But here's something you don't know.

You too were in that car with your parents that night. You, your father and your mother were on a journey to your Aunt's home when that accident happened. You were the only one that survived. Apparently, the impact threw you out of the vehicle before the vehicle burnt down. You had a memory loss right after that, and when you recovered, you had completely forgotten about the accident.", Dr. Mishra pulled his chair near me and kept his hands on my shoulder.

"A big-red car, that's what you told me about the car that burned down in front of your eyes. It had struck me as odd then itself. Why would a grown man describe a car as 'big', it was a child's words. 

Your family drove a red Tata-Sierra, an SUV. 

A big red car...

I honestly don't know what made your mind piece together an accident that happened to you now, to something so deeply hidden away in your memory...But then again human brain isn't something we know a lot about. Most of it is still a mystery.", concluded Dr. Mishra as he consolidated me.

I sobbed into his shoulder unceasingly, hands clutching his shirt. He held me in silence. He wanted me to cry it out too. That was probably the best way to deal with it.

 

Epilogue

"But he's speeding up now. He's gonna be right under that avalanche now. What is this boy doing!?", Anannya screamed in despair.

"Hold on. I know what to do.", shouted Sharma as he rushed down the hill-top to stop his son from being crushed under a sliding mass of snow and soil.

Sharma banged himself against the moving car with whatever force he could muster. The window glass shattered and Arvind slammed his breaks in panic. The vehicle spun out of control along the icy road.

"Anannya come down here. I cannot do this alone.", shouted Sharma to his wife.

It took the couple a pretty solid effort to curb the vehicle from going overboard and to reduce its momentum before crashing into that concrete barrier.

"Is he ok?", asked Anannya with look concern.

"Yeah yeah...he's fine. His head didn't hit anywhere. I made sure of that. Just some minor injuries.", Sharma assured his wife.

"He's just like you. Reckless.", she nudged her husband, but he was distracted by something else.

"Hey isn't this the exact same place where it all happened ?", asked Sharma. He wasn't sure.

"Oh. Damn right, it is. What a coincidence!", Anannya was astonished. It was at that exact same road, exact same spot that their car overturned twenty-four years ago. Ananya still remembered throwing her 3-year-old son out of the window as she thought the car was gonna fall of the edge of the road. When the fire burnt them alive, their biggest regret was that little Arvind had to watch it all, lying on the side of that road.

She looked at her son as he struggled to get out of the car. "Poor baby... I'm glad he forgot whatever he saw that day. Or else it would have wounded him for life. I hope this won't trigger any old memories back."

"Come on, let's go. He's coming out.", said Sharma as Arvind crawled out the car. "The avalanche is coming and our son is safe."

They had to leave. Interacting with the living, it was strictly against their rules.


-The End-




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