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After Midnight

After Midnight

6 mins 216 6 mins 216

Shah, you there?'

'Hmmm', he muttered in his sleep.

'Ok, I too should sleep now, bye'


Naaz pressed the end button of her cell phone with trembling fingers. However shaken and numb she was, her heartbeats raced like a galloping horse. She closed her eyes as tight as she could but the sweat that crawled from behind the nape of her neck and the rising creeps on her body didn't let her sleep at all.


'Papa, someone touched me while I was sleeping last night.'

'What?' Naaz's father peeped from the side of the 'Hindustan Times' and looked at her from above his pair of frameless glasses.


'Hmm, someone touched me here and then pinched me.' She pointed out to her thigh area with slight embarrassment. 

'And then, when I wanted to turn and see, I wasn't able to move at all.'


Her father looked at her for some time, stoned and perplexed and then it seemed he could rationalise it. 


'Ah! It's a weakness. you have just recovered from chickenpox. I too have had such experiences when I was your age. Our house isn't haunted, don't worry. You are thinking a bit more than required.'


Naaz didn't dare to sleep in the same room for some days. Her dad's logic did not resonate well with her fear.


On one of the humid afternoons, Naaz had lied down on a divan in the lobby, reading a book. She heard her mom and dad mumbling in the other room to which she decided not to pay much heed. Tired, she slid into her siesta with her hand hung down the diwan. Her book lay like a falling tent on top of her tummy that moved up and down with the rhythm of her breathing and then an irregular rhythm of breathing.


Now free-fall, her head rested to one of the sides when from under the sheets she saw shadows of footsteps moving swiftly. 

'Probably papa, she thought. 


In the background, the murmur continued. It turned louder and weird; as if two miniatures talking, piercing right into her ears. There was something wrong and muddling.


She felt the mattresses getting buried and her quilt getting pulled with someone climbing on the bed. 'Papa did that sometimes to wake me up, if, I had ever overslept'. Naaz assured herself. 'But he did that when I was a toddler.' Why is he doing it now?


She deposited herself still but confused. And then it crawled over and had now started to bury her head against the pillow. It soon made her suffocate.


'What is he doing? Why is papa trying to kill me?'

Naaz tried to demystify what was happening; paranoid, she tried to get up in desperation for she had now turned breathless.

Struggling, she finally managed to get off the weight that smothered her, only to see the ceiling fan swirling with a creaking sound. It was dark.


The clock at the wall struck 1 am. Her parents were fast asleep already. As far as she remembered, it was yesterday when she last read her book. She tried to confirm by checking if the book was anywhere close to her but it wasn't. Was she dreaming or was it for real? There was a gap which she wasn't able to fill it with that right piece of the puzzle.


Months passed by and she kept everything to herself, thinking no one would believe her or tag her crazy.


One night she stayed with Anita, her friend from the office. They both had a rough day at work so treating themselves with beer, hot scrumptious food and endless gossip seemed like a plan. After two bottles of beer and devouring all that was eatable, both paraded to different rooms and threw themselves onto the bed.


Naaz lay down and placed her head on the soft cool pillow for a peaceful sleep when her mind started to race with bizarre thoughts again.

'Did Anita close the door?

What if someone comes inside and kills her?'


The door opened and two dwarf-like shadows glided in. They moved swiftly and made a sound like that of a stuck cassette. Her eyeballs tried to move with the speeding dwarfs but to her horror, before she could get up, it entered her friend's room.

.

Naaz's soul felt incarcerated inside her numb body and after several struggles, she unhitched herself up with a frantic air. There was no one around. Anita's faint snores assured she was alive and fast asleep. She looked around with bewilderment. It was 11 am already on the wall clock. Naaz got up and left for her home.


Everything seemed ok, but she had now started to believe something was wrong with her.

Her sleep was unperturbed but not for long when she was at one of the rooms in her dead grandmother's house, the horror repeated itself and this time it was macabre.


Her boyfriend rested next to her while he stared at Naaz continuously. 

She couldn't figure out how was Binny sleeping next to her, right in her grandma's house.


"How come dad did not see you?" She asked Binny.

She heard her dad and simultaneously saw Binny staring at her; his eyeballs had grown larger and he whispered hoarsely," I don't know what's going on Naaz".


Naaz's heart sank again. Something pricked her at the back of her neck and the entire room turned dark. There was no one; Binny was missing and the room turned desolated and dark. Her father was missing too.


She could see the empty sofas, the still curtains, and a small teakwood table, on which lay her dead grandmother's photo. Her funeral had taken place a week before. 


She even saw the artifacts in a glass compartment attached to the wall: a small statue of Tutankhamen and model of a phoenix, her aunt had got from Egypt, a stuffed toy rabbit with red protruding eyes, an abandoned nest with real eggs, some old pictures, and a cuckoo clock.


Hysteria began to consume her and she shouted to her mom out loud, then to her dad. "Oh My God, I think my soul is lost. Why can't I see people? Why aren't they able to listen to me?" She couldn't control her emotions and began to scream at the top of her voice and cried in despair. It just went waste.


"My soul is lost, I think If I lie down, I have a chance to wake up back in my body, just like in the movie, Insidious. She remembered one of her not so favorite horror movies and was desperate to find a solution, however lame.


She quickly threw herself on the bed and woke up in her bedroom all alone. It took her a few seconds to realise she wasn't in her grandmother's house, but hers. Her husband Binny was sleeping in the other room as they had a small tiff which she had completely forgotten about. Scared, she slid off her bed and lay down next to Binny, touching one side of her body to his so that she does not lose herself again. She felt secure and dozed off to sleep.


This was taking a toll on her life so she tried sharing it with her husband. He blamed it on the horror movies she saw frequently. 

So ideally, the two of her main men in the family had failed to help her get out of it. But there was one man he did not try, her younger brother. She expressed an urgent need to spend time with him; talked about all errands but the main worry. 


'What if he too laughs it off or thinks his sister is crazy or blames it on my habit of overthinking'. She fiddled with her own thoughts.

She sat in his study room alone and looked through his books that were kept neatly and in sequence from oldest to newest. Naaz had read all of hers and wanted to read something new.


'The horrors of sleep paralysis' was the newest of his books. Inquisitively, she took the book and started to read.

Well, her third man had never failed her after all.


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