The Last Holiday
The Last Holiday
In my idyllic days of youth, I loved to travel a lot. We used to take a break from our hectic work schedule and plan a holiday to refresh ourselves whenever we got a chance to do so. Here, "we" stands for our jovial gang of four madcap friends - Ravi, Kartik, Akhil and me. Now, those adventurous trips have faded into mere scribblings on my travel diary. It's been 20 long years since we went on a trip together. It's not because of the work pressure, the frantic race to meet the deadlines or to spend quality time with our families. The reason is something else. Something bizarre had happened during our last holiday. It was so horrendous that we never dared to plan another holiday together.
Even though two long decades had passed by but it still gives me chills whenever I think of our last holiday trip. We had planned a trekking trip in the jungles on the outskirts of a suburban town Kailashpur. The town was Ravi's native place and the idea was his suggestion. We all readily agreed to it and set exuberantly for yet another holiday. But little did we know, it was going to be our last one together.
A long, tiresome train journey took us to Kailashpur. It was already twilight when we landed at the small hotel with minimal facilities where we were booked for the trip. After having a sumptuous meal, we crashed on our beds as we had to set on our journey to the forest early the next morning. But as always, the alarm clock betrayed us. We weren't sure whether it had gone off-duty during the night or we had switched it off unknowingly in our deep slumber when it tried to interrupt with our pleasurable sleep. But neither of us had heard the alarm clock raise an alarm at the scheduled time. We were woken up by the waiter at the hotel who had brought us our breakfast.
We went through our ablutions with the speed of lightning and set out for the forest. The day-long trekking expedition turned out to be a trying and tiring but still a pleasant experience. As the sun was about to set, we decided to turn back and continue our journey the next day. As we were on our way back, Akhil found out an old cave.
"Hey, guys," Akhil said fervently, "let's explore the cave."
"Are you mad, Akhil?" I frowned, "the cave is an old one. It might crash down and we will become trapped inside."
"Don't be a coward, Shravan," Akhil glared at me, "the risk factor is the element of fun in it. Come on, guys."
Akhil looked expectantly at us but Ravi and Karthik backed out too.
"Fine!" Akhil threw his hands up in the air, "I'm going alone."
We all waited outside for what seemed like an eternity. Our heartbeats hiked as moments passed by while waiting for Akhil outside the cave. We all were silently praying for his safety and blaming ourselves for letting him go. Finally, we heaved a sigh of relief as we saw him rushing back to us, smiling gaily.
"See, what I've found out," Akhil said as he held out a small, pale-blue colored gem to us.
Some kind of eerie blue rays emerged out of it as the last rays of the setting sun fell on it. A chill ran down my spine as my eyes perceived that mysterious light.
"Put it back, Akhil." I implored, "I don't have a good feeling about it."
"You're just being stupid, Shravan." Akhil lovingly placed it inside his bag and locked it securely, "It seems very precious. Who knows, it might fetch us millions? Let's go back guys and celebrate our catch."
As it was already dark, we didn't argue much and hurried towards our hotel.
"Hey," Akhil halted and raised his head when we had reached almost the end of the forest. "Do you hear the sound?"
"What sound?" I asked as I turned to look back at Akhil.
"The sound of anklets." Akhil looked around curiously.
"It's not a good time for your silly jokes," I was furious at him. "It's already too late and we have to hurry."
"No," Akhil protested, "I'm not joking. I have been hearing it for a long time. It seems like somebody is following us."
"We have to go, Akhil." I dragged him by his hand and hurried my steps, "we have to get back to the hotel at the earliest."
After relieving our exhaustion with a relaxing hot-water bath and a delicious meal, we took to the bed.
"Somebody's knocking at our door, Shravan." Akhil shook me and woke me up.
I half-opened my eyes to look at the clock. It was well past midnight. I listened carefully but it was only the noise of the crickets that echoed in the dead silence of the night.
"There's nobody outside, Akhil." I closed my eyes and immediately drifted to sleep.
"Shravan, do you hear that sound?" Akhil woke me up again.
"What sound?" I wailed in my half slumber.
"The sound of the anklets."
"Please don't start again, Akhil." I begged him, "I'm very tired. I'm badly in need of sleep."
"Let me check."
I heard Akhil say as sleep overpowered me again.
A gush of chilling cold wind made me shiver and I opened my eyes to find the door of our room left ajar. I sprang up abruptly and looked around. Akhil was nowhere to be seen. My gaze turned to the clock. The time was 3 a.m. I rushed out of the door and stood out in the open. I saw Akhil going into the forest in the chilling cold wearing only a feather-light nightgown as if he were in some hypnotic trance. I wondered whether he had lost his mind. But the thing that I saw next made my blood freeze in my veins. A little ahead of him, I saw a hazy image of a woman. I rubbed my eyes as I felt that I was hallucinating. I opened my eyes again and looked closely. I could see Akhil clearly but the image of the woman appeared as if she were made of smoke or fog. The cold air blew and made me shiver.
I ran back to my room to wrap myself up in some warm clothes before going to fetch Akhil. I hurriedly dressed myself up and rushed back. But by that time, both Akhil and the woman were gone. I crossed my hands over my chest as I shivered out of both cold and panic. The next moment, I knocked at the door of Ravi and Karthik who were sleeping in a room adjacent to ours. We informed the watchman of the hotel about our missing friend. He gathered some people from the neighborhood and we all set out in search of Akhil. As we couldn't find him even after searching for the whole night, we filed a missing report at the local police station. After searching for months, police closed the case as they also couldn't trace him out.
We were so badly traumatized by the incident that we never dared to go on a holiday again. The agony of losing our friend was unbearable but the mystery behind his disappearance haunted us even more severely. I still woke up terrified at nights after having nightmares about the horrible sight I had seen that night in the jungle. I still couldn't get that hazy image of the mysterious woman out of my mind even after 20 years. Moreover, there was no meaning in going on a holiday without our dear friend Akhil who was the most energetic, lively and courageous one among us.