The Old Man
The Old Man
CHAPTER 1: FRIENDS FOREVER
Generally, the new moon nights are too dark and gloomy. And on this ominous new moon night, the deserted highway and the howling wind magnified the aspect of its ghostliness, as Pritam and Prem are driving to Borgaon in Maharashtra, India. They are heading for that village in order to participate in a birthday celebration and an all-boys night party afterwards.
Prem and Pritam are natives of Aksa village, which is about 30 minutes’ drive from Borgaon. They have known each other from their childhood. However, their familiarity developed into a full-blown friendship, during their high school days. In high school, they formed a gang of five thick friends, along with Pradeep, Jagadeep, and Parag. After high school and college, now they are busy coping with their respective professions. Presently, Prem works as an accountant at a national bank in the nearby town. Jagadeep and Parag are software engineers in Delhi; and Pradeep works with a reputed pharmaceutical firm in Pune. But Pritam stayed back in Aksa village looking after his ancestral flour mill and grocery store. All are in their mid-twenties and happily unmarried!
It is to take part in Pradeep’s birthday celebration that they are driving to Borgaon.
Prem (with urgency): Halt the bike, my bladder is going to burst…
Pritam (in a fiery tone): Please wait for five more minutes. There is a cemetery ahead. Let us go beyond that…
Prem (irritated): Cemetery is on the other side. I will pee this side. You just park the bloody bike, or else I will have to piss on you …
They are about to approach a patch of road conquered by pits and potholes.
Pritam (requesting): Just hold on for two more minutes. Let us get past this patch of rough road and, with it, the cemetery, too.
Prem (irritated and furious): Your superstitions are gonna make my bladder burst out in this road which is full of pits and potholes… and it will force me to do some Kegel exercise.
Pritam (chuckles): Hahaha that will benefit you when you woo a girl to bed.
Grunting, and closing his eyes in displeasure, Prem makes noises to control his emotions and asks Pritam to fuck off!
Prem is relieving himself behind the bushes as Pritam waits for him on the roadside. Owing to the new moon, it is pitch dark and Pritam, being fainthearted, is overpowered by a spooky sensation. And shouts out: “Where are you? I am all alone here and frightened to the core.”
Other than the echo striking back, there is no word from Prem. This further ruffles Pritam’s suppressed emotions of fear. Mounting the motorbike on its side-stand, he gets down and cautiously starts walking towards the bushes.
Unknown to them, some stray wild dogs are lurking in and surrounding them.
Pritam (walking very cautiously and slowly): Prem, you there?
(Expecting an answer, he pauses for a few seconds) At least speak up, buddy… These spooky sounds and this darkness… They are terrifying me.
Still there is no response, and the wild dogs are fast approaching.
Pritam walks towards the bushes with great anticipation, when all of a sudden Prem comes out of the bushes, scaring the shit out of Pritam.
Pritam shrieks out: Yaaaay…
Prem (shouting back): At least let me pee in peace.
Pritam (with a sigh): You scared the hell out of me. (Gesturing urgency) Let’s get out of here.
The growling wild dogs are closing in and ready to pounce on them. Fortunately, in the last minute, Pritam jumps on the pedal and they drive off in fraction of a second.
Dejected at their failed attempt, the wild dogs start snarling and staring at one another. The cue of someone approaching, tames them unusually. And they fall in line. A very old man, walking sluggishly with the support of a long wooden stick (lathi), approaches. The wild dogs disburse and disappear behind the bushes as the old man continues to walk ahead on the deserted highway.
Going against the tough image of a wild dog trainer, his bearing is that of a weak and fragile being. With the support of his lathi, he walked firmly but with calculated steps. His attire comprised of a loose dhoti, a jabba worn under the woolen sweater, a muffler and a colloquial set of shoes called moji. A heavy silver anklet clung onto his right leg. His beard and moustache hid some of the unwanted wrinkles on his face, but the hair follicles on his head couldn’t match up with his age and withered away. Brooding brown eyes, thick eyebrows, protruded nose and stuck-out ears gave him a striking personality; but the tobacco stained teeth made his smile very disgusting.
CHAPTER 2: AT BORGAON
As Prem and Pritam enter the birthday boy Pradeep’s bungalow gates, they are pleasantly surprised to see Jagadeep and Parag with inviting smiles. Prem jumps of the slowing bike and hugs them.
Prem (happily): Bloody Buggers… When the hell did you guys land from Delhi?
Jagadeep (smiling): We are here for quite some time (After parking the motorbike nearby, Pritam hugs Parag.) But where the hell, were you bastards.
Pritam (hugging Jagadeep): It feels really great to see you guys here…
Amol enters into the brotherly bonhomie. Amol is Pradeep’s cousin and lives nearby.
Amol: But we did not felt so great to wait for you, ogres!
Prem pats Amol on the shoulders.
Prem: You wretched devil, you were and are always clever with words.
Pritam (greeting Amol): And, where’s the birthday boy…?
Parag: As usual, he might be eating some delicacy secretly…
And he walks towards the atrium shouting, “Pradeep, come out! Look, Pritam and Prem both are here.”
Pradeep’s father, Mr. Alankar comes out to the atrium.
Mr. Alankar: Is it necessary to wait outside and exchange your greetings? Why don’t you come in, so that we can cut the cake first?
They all go inside; Prem and Pritam hug Pradeep and wish him for his birthday. They greet Pradeep’s parents with a casual, “Namaste uncle, Namaste aunty”. They exchange pleasantry smiles with other not-so-familiar guests present. Mrs. Alankar’s name is Sumitra.
Sumitra (addressing Pritam): Pritam…
Pritam: Yes Aunty…
Sumitra: Prem does visit us on and off to ask about our health and well-being. But why is that, we have never seen you for a long time, dear?
Pritam (embarrassed): Aunty that is because I have a started to look after the shop. On most of the days, it’s late in the night when we wind up. (With a smirk)That’s the reason.
Prem (jokingly): Aunty… the actual reason for his not visiting you is that he is really afraid to drive alone at night!
A small wave of chuckle flows through the gathering, while Pritam haplessly looks on.
Mr. Alankar (beaming): Pradeep! The cake is waiting very impatiently for you, wouldn’t you oblige and cut it.
In unison, they sing the birthday song. Pradeep blows off the candles and cuts the cake. He customarily gives the first bite to his mom, then to his dad and others. The celebration goes on as usual; they apply some cake on Pradeep’s face, give him birthday bumps, then it is time for selfies and photo sessions.
And after all the brouhaha,
Mr. Alankar announces: We oldies are done with… but you guys must have more ways to celebrate… Am I right? (With a mischievous look)
Sumitra (sternly): What celebration? No more celebrations… I have made Lamb Biryani… Everybody get ready… I am off to serve… I don’t want to hear anything else…
Pradeep and friends helplessly look at each other. Pradeep with a childlike face glares at his father.
Mr. Alankar (taking charge): Sumitra, kids are meeting after a very long time and also it’s our son’s birthday … Let them enjoy a couple of pegs.
Sumitra (stubborn): Liquor is strictly prohibited in my house… No one will drink here!
Mr. Alankar: Eh, who is going drink at your house!!
Sumitra (surprised and a bit annoyed): Oh, you have already planned to enjoy somewhere else? (Alankar grins sheepishly) May I ask you where?
Mr. Alankar (casually): At Vitthal’s House.
Sumitra (worried): It’s been closed for a very long time… not even properly cleaned… How are you guys going to sit there?
Amol (blurts out): we have already cleaned it Aunty!
Sumitra (pulling Amol’s ears): you all are a team?
The boys smirk sheepishly,
Sumitra continues: Now if you all have already detailed the plan, then what are you guys waiting for… Go ahead… and enjoy… but beware… don’t over drink and waste yourself.
Finally, relieved to hear those words they happily shout in chorus: Thank you aunty, we won’t get over drunk.
Wasting no more time, they quickly pack some mutton fry to go with the drinks and mutton biryani for dinner.
Before they leave Mr. Alankar warns: It’s dark, don’t go near the river or the dam near to it.
Amol: Yup Uncle.
CHAPTER 3: AT VITHAL’S HOUSE
It’s a very old house, conceived in a typical Konkani architectural style. Constructed with huge unearthed and cut-out stone bricks, it has got slanting roof tops, covered with red ceramic roof tiles. At the entrance, there is a big portico with short wooden railings, generally used as an external lounge. The portico is so spacious that around 10-15 people can comfortably sleep there. They all unanimously decide the portico to be their drinking spot.
Parag and Amol meticulously prepare large pegs for everyone.
Parag: We should feel the magic in the second peg itself.
Amol (mischievously smiles): Watch out! Someone might even get dizzed off!
Pradeep and Prem are assembling the dishes with snacks. Pradeep is about to open the casserole which contains the mutton fry, when...
Prem: Keep the mutton fry for later …
Prem: We will have these wafers and all first… (Prem opens other snack packets and pouring them onto the plates) the tasty and spicy mutton will be a treat after a couple of pegs.
Pradeep (smiles): OK.
To make the ambience more enjoyable, Jagadeep and Pritam are setting up a campfire. Amol calls out to them.
Amol: Jagadeep, Pritam, come on, the first peg is ready, choose your companion: ice, soda or water or some coke or whatever.
Prem: Enough of lighting the campfire. I have arranged the snacks too.
Pradeep: Pouring some spirit will make it easier to light the campfire.
Pritam: Naah, don’t even think of wasting a drop of it, I will bring some petrol.
After lighting the campfire, Jagadeep and Pritam join others at the verandah. They sit in a circle with snacks and liquor in the middle and prepare their drinks as per their preferences. Pradeep and Amol go with normal water and no ice, Parag and Prem prefer theirs with a cola drink, Pritam with ice and soda and Jagadeep will have it on the rocks.
In chorus: cheers for the health, wealth and happiness of the Birthday Boy… Happiest Birthday Pradeep!
With the sip in his mouth, Pritam looks at Amol and Parag,
Pritam (gulps the sip and frowns): It’s pretty hard!
Amol (scoffs): Stop crying like a kid, and enjoy the peg.
Prem: Don’t pay heeds to the cry-baby. Tell us why Alankar uncle told us not to go near the river or the dam?
Jagadeep: Yeah, what’s the matter? I was thinking of strolling near the banks to enjoy a cigarette after about 3 or 4 rounds.
Amol (chuckles): do you guys even know why he stopped us?
Parag: Unless and until you share what the matter is, how the heck are we going to know?
Lost in thoughts, Amol stares at Parag.
The old man is steadily proceeding on the lonely highway in search of his lost preys.
Prem: Why are you staring at him? Tell us what’s wrong!
Amol (coming out of his reverie, ahem): For the last few days, there are some creepy things going on, around the village.
Pradeep (cautioning): Every day in the morning we find someone unconscious on the bank of the river.
Pritam (curious): How come?
Prem (teasing): Pritam, why are you even listening to these stories, it might be something about paranormal activities and you may end up wetting your pants.
Pritam gets a bit annoyed and gestures to Prem, to keep his mouth shut. And he turns towards Amol.
Pritam: You go on Amol, tell us what had happened with them.
Amol: I think I have invoked the lion in you with my peg-making proficiency.
Pritam stares at Amol with a grudge.
Amol (ahem): Ok… Ok, now listen carefully.
Amol very intensely starts to describe the occurrences by the river side:
Since the last 4 months this incident has been happening repeatedly, whenever someone took a stroll by the riverside at night:
A villager is walking by the river side, smoking a beedi (a colloquial cigarette) and singing a vernacular song. As he enjoys his walk in his own jovial mood, he glimpses a lady slowly limping towards him from the far distance.
She is followed by a mysterious trail of ghoulish aura.
Villager (to himself): Who the heck is she? I don’t think she is from our village!
As he gets closer, he observes that the lady in question is skinny and very elderly. She is donning a pair of pretentious ear-rings, along with an equally distasteful nose-ring and a large black bindi (a colored mark, popularly of a circular shape, that is worn between the eyebrows, especially by Indian women to show that they are married). Then, in addition to all these, there are myriad indigenous tattoos scribbled all over her limbs. And wrapped around in a worn-out sari, she depicts the epitome of an outlandish vernacular fashion sense. Stiffened up due to old age, she wields an underarm crutch to hold her balance while walking. She is very much lost in her own thoughts as she struggles and staggers to proceed ahead.
Villager (to himself): With such difficulty, at this dead night hour, where might she be heading to?
As the villager is contemplating with his thoughts, in a flash the elderly lady slips and falls down.
Elderly lady (in anguish): Aaahhhh… please help me, somebody please help me.
The villager sprints towards the elderly lady and helps her to stand up.
Villager: Are you alright? I hope you haven’t wounded yourself
Elderly lady (wiping her tears, giving a kind and sweet smile): No son, I am good. Thank you for your kindness.
The elderly lady grips her under arm crutch harder and tries to balance herself.
Villager: You are welcome ma’am, but, by the way where are you going this late? Should I…
Before he finishes, the elderly lady looks at the villager with intense rage. And with a great force, she lifts her crutch. The villager cowers back not knowing what to do. But even before he could grasp the situation, the elderly lady strikes a hard blow to her own legs.
Villager (confused and surprised): What are you doing Lady? Why are you torturing your own legs?
Elderly lady (woefully): If these damned legs hadn’t been inverted, I wouldn’t be slipping and falling like this.
The villager, with a gasp, swiftly glances over her legs and is startled to see that her legs are completely inverted! Convulsing and with horror-soaked eyes, he looks back at her ghoulish face and falls unconscious. She looks at him with a vicious smile
CHAPTER 4: TIME FOR SOME MADE UP STORIES
Pritam is stunned to hear this story; he keeps his empty glass down.
Pritam (stunned and paranoid): What the heck… is this true?
Parag (chuckles): Yeah, but don’t panic, we won’t be going there.
Amol (making a drink): I think the lion in you has dozed off, take this (handing over the drink to Pritam) and invoke him again.
Prem: Tell me one thing; did anything go missing from the people who were knocked out like this?
Pradeep: Yeah, sometimes money or jewelry and sometimes both, but, why are you asking?
Prem (chuckles): That’s it! It’s a new way to loot people, easily and with a novelty. Hence, there is no paranormality here. Someone has used his brain to loot.
Pritam: Then why was her leg twisted?
Prem (sneers): Psychics or magicians who indulge in these kinds of activities can create such illusions; the twisted legs might be one of them.
Amol: The people who have experienced these horrors, do you think they are lying? I don’t think so.
Prem: I don’t want to get into an argument of whether it’s a ghost episode or a prank played by a thief. Had I been involved, I would have made a complaint in the nearest police station.
Amol: Aah! The police are equally petrified!
Prem, being the only rationalist in the group, shakes his head in empathy.
Prem (sneering): How ignorant, foolish and superstitious are the police officers over here?
Pritam (taunting): Oh! You rationalist! You will understand only when you too become a part of such stories.
Prem (retaliating): Really! By the way, you are the most experienced fellow here. Being a part of many such stories, wetting your undergarments and pants is child play for you.
A round of silent giggles circulates the gathering as a shamefaced Pritam looks on helplessly without another peep.
Jagadeep (standing up): Give me a break. Prem! Let’s go and enjoy a cigarette.
Pritam: I will join too.
Prem (standing up): No bro, you sit here and try to invoke the lion inside you. More spooky stories are on their way for your entertainment.
They walk towards a big banyan tree in the courtyard.
Prem (lighting the cigarette): Let’s trick Pritam with our own made-up horror stories. It will be fun!!
Jagadeep (smiles): Yeah, man. I, too, was thinking on the same lines. Let’s think of a griping horror story
Prem: We should scare the shit out of him.
Back at the verandah
Amol: Should we wait for them for the next round?
Pritam: I am already down with the next round, to invoke the lion in me as suggested by Prem.
Parag: You are drinking, so that you don’t feel frightened and wet your pants… Hahaha
Pradeep: Guys, stop pulling his leg very often.
Pritam: Pradeep, its ok… these useless people and their shitty words. Who the hell cares?
Jagadeep and Prem are approaching the portico. They over hear what Pritam said.
Prem (gently tapping Pritam’s head): Are we shitty?
Pritam (smiles and pushing Prem’s hand away): Of course, any doubt about that?
Jagadeep: Oh yeah! Listen to my story, and then let’s see who is shitty and shirker too.
A tinge of eagerness gets infused into their unified awareness, as Jagadeep starts narrating his story
This happened with my cousin, Mohan, who stays in Ahmedabad. He is a flirt, and a person who would easily woo any girl and take her for a ride. Once, it was dark, and he was returning from his friend Alpesh’s drinking party.
Mohan: Alpesh? Can I borrow your helmet?
Alpesh: What a surprise, when did you become a law abiding citizen?
Mohan: Bro, it’s chilly and cold out there. Helmet will provide me with some warmth.
It’s a chilly winter night, and bearing the chills Mohan is somehow managing to ride his motorbike. Stray dogs are barking and howling from all directions. There is no other soul to be seen. With such surroundings, Mohan’s thoughts helplessly flow towards the domain of eeriness. He feels a strange presence following him, which makes him race his motorbike as fast as he can. In the anticipation of reaching home quickly, he forgets that the way he has taken to reach home is undergoing some repair work and is blocked. He stops his motorbike at the blockade and ponders over the next best option to reach home.
Mohan (stopping the bike, to himself): Shit man… This road is closed… Now I’ll have to use the deserted road along the college… (He panics a bit, as he remembers some creepy stories that he has heard about the supernatural occurrences on the deserted college road, especially at night.) Would have been better if I had stayed at Alpesh’s home… Should I return? (Weighing his chances of safety from supernatural forces) Isn’t there a saying, “Ghosts won’t chase drunkards…”? I guess, I will sing my way through…
And humming a song he continues his drive home: “tu cheez badi hai mast mast” (a popular Hindi Song).
As Mohan enters the deserted college road, he notices a vehicle parked faraway, by the roadside, along with the silhouette of a lady, presumably looking for help.
Mohan (to himself, after experiencing after a short wave of fear): I shouldn’t apply the breaks, even for a second (and singing a bit loudly) tu cheez badi hai mast mast tu cheez badi hai mast, he tries to drive off quickly.
But as Mohan nears the lady, his womanizing instinct persuades him to take a peek at her. She is wearing a white salwar kameez (Indian apparel) and owing to the winter, has draped a black shawl around her upper body and ears. Mohan is mesmerized seeing her exceptionally fair and beautiful face against the backdrop of the black shawl.
Mohan: tu cheez badi (gulps), (mesmerized, he whispers) Man… she is really pretty!
Caught in the sudden flow of hormones, Mohan forgets about the supernatural occurrences and expectedly his motorbike comes to a halt. He parks the bike and removing his helmet demounts as a stud. The lady looks at Mohan with suspicion.
Mohan: Can I be of some help to you?
Lady (in an indifferent tone): My car is busted, can you repair it?
Mohan: No, I can’t repair a car; but…
Lady (cuts in): Then you can’t be of any help to me… (And she looks back at the empty road).
Mohan (again, trying to strike a conversation): I can drop you at your home. (No response from the lady) Wouldn’t that be a great help, as well?
The lady, still, keeps on staring at the empty road.
Mohan (persuading): You can bring a mechanic tomorrow and repair the car!
Mohan waits for a response. After a few moments, the lady looks at Mohan and gives a smile.
Lady: Ok! Let me get my bag... This time she sounds friendlier.
Mohan (to himself): In this chilling cold, if I swing my motorbike with full throttle, she would be forced to cling to me.
Thinking on those grounds, he gets carried away and unknowingly gives a big smile.
Noticing this the lady asks: Why are you so happy?
Mohan (composing himself): Nothing special… Just remembered about a funny encounter I had earlier today.
She mounts the bike, and Mohan drives off.
Mohan: Where should I drop you?
Lady: Drop me at the next cross road. I will take a cab from there…
Mohan: Why? I am ready to drop you home!
Lady: No, it’s ok... I don’t want to bother you …
Mohan: I enjoy driving in the cold… So, driving is not going to bother me. I will drop you at your house.
Lady (bit angry): I told you ‘NO’! Just drop me at the next junction.
Mohan (frustrated): OKAY, I was just being a Good Samaritan
Lady: I, too, am trying to be a Good Samaritan.
Mohan: No problem. [And he thinks: “She spoiled my mood… Hope there is no cab available at the next junction”.]
The lady looks at her own reflection in the rear view mirror; and happy with what she sees, she gives a broad smile. The mirror image is that of someone with pale white eyes and blood stained teeth. Careless Mohan is unaware of the misfortune hungrily waiting for him.
They arrive at the cross roads.
Mohan (trying to flirt): At last, the knight has brought you to your destination.
Lady (getting of the bike): Thank you.
She smiles and walks over to the other side of the road and starts staring at the empty road. Following her Mohan takes the motor bike to the road side, switches off the engine and mounts it on the double stand.
Seeing this the lady asks: You don’t wanna go home?
Mohan: Soon as you get a cab, I live nearby.
Lady (with a small smile): Aah… So you wanna flirt?
Mohan (embarrassed at the sudden and straight question): No, but what’s wrong in chatting a little, till the cab comes; we can enjoy a little chatter.
Lady: Mmhh.., that’s an impressive start.
Mohan (running fingers through his hair): By the way, what do you do?
She unusually turns cold and looks intensely at Mohan. Mohan’s eyebrows twirl in apprehension.
Lady: Me? I roam around at night, and take people like you to death.
Mohan (getting petrified and crouching back): WHATTT…..?
Lady (confused): What…? WHATT…?
Mohan (perspiring): What the hell did you just say…?
Lady (confused): I am a software analyst in an IT firm nearby, what did you hear?
Mohan (thinking “I must be very drunk” and he jerks his head off his hangover): Nothing…
Expecting an auto rickshaw, the lady again visually measures the length and breadth of the empty road.
Mohan: Do you stay alone… in this city?
For a moment, she looks at Mohan with a sad face, blows air, and shakes her head; and then turns back to stare at the empty road.
Mohan lights a cigarette and walks up to her. She is still staring at the road and Mohan is right behind her.
Mohan: Why didn’t anyone turn up to pick you at this hour?
A devilish smile appears on her face.
She turns back with her beautiful and cute face (sarcastically): No one came to pick me up, then with a suggesting face: But then you are here, my personal pick up.
Mohan (gasps): Yeah, indeed.
Lady: I think your prayers are answered, I don’t think I would get a cab.
Mohan (with a shy smile): what do you mean?
Lady: You like riding on your motorbike during cold wintery nights, right?
(Affirming, Mohan sheepishly smiles)
Then drop me home…
Mohan (asserting): I would rather enjoy it if someone beautiful like you rode with me.
The lady smiles and stretching her hands outwards sheds her shawl away, revealing her perfectly sculpted physique to an over excited Mohan.
Lady: Do you just enjoy, riding with beautiful girls? Or.., (Pauses for a moment)(Looking towards his scrotum) riding beautiful girls too?
Mohan (all excited): Really! Is it my lucky day today?
She comes closer and with a naughty smile: Can you ride me all the way?
Mohan (filled with lust): Yes, yes; just get on the bike… (And he starts the bike.)
The lady starts laughing,
Mohan (with a made up smile looks here and there): Why are you laughing eccentrically...?
Defying gravity, her hair flares up and her eyes turn pale white, and laughing like a maniac she asks: then let’s ride all the way (And she starts revolving her head) Hahahahahahahaha…
Terror gushes through Mohan’s blood vessels, forcing him to spontaneously race the bike. But regrettably, he loses control of his motorbike; and due to the melee, he is rendered incapable of seeing an oncoming truck and collides with it. The lady disappears into thin air, but her dreadful laughter, reverberates the entire atmosphere.
CHAPTER 5: THE DREADED DOLL, PART 1
Pritam is lost in shock. Jagadeep shakes him back to his senses. Pritam heaves and asks in a shivering voice: What happened to Mohan after that?
Jagadeep: His both legs had to be amputated.
Pritam goes to a corner saying: I don’t want to listen to you anymore.
Jagadeep (teasing): There was one shitty person, or perhaps a shirker person in our group. Hey guys, have you seen him?
Pritam doesn’t give a damn, and is lost in his own thoughts.
Amol (sarcastically): Prem, do you think that the lady was a thief too?
Prem (sneering): Mohan was unlucky and brave enough that he was not knocked unconscious or else he would have just lost his wallet or valuables, but not his legs…
Pradeep (shutting up Prem and trying to lift Pritam’s spirit): Cut the crap buddy! Amol, can you please make a large peg for Pritam?
Pritam (spontaneously and loudly): EXTRA LARGE.
Pritam’s spontaneous response gives rise to some giggles, which lightens up the environment.
Pritam (daftly smiles): Common man, give me my peg.
He gulps the whole drink in one go: Aaah, one more, EXTRA LARGE
Parag: Bro…stay in your limits, you have to drive back.
Prem: There is no need to worry, let him have his fill…
Pradeep: Why? Are you gonna drive?
Prem (animatedly): No dear, I will tell a spine chilling story which will melt away his drunkenness.
Parag (cuts in): So, you mean to say that the ghost in your story is real and the rest are fakes and thieves?
Another round of chuckles fills the ambience.
An unknown entity with predacious eyes, is watching them from a distance.
Amol: Pritam? Are you ready to hear the next?
Pritam ponders for a moment, smirks: Yeah… spit it out…
Prem starts to narrate his story
This happened in my village
I was going to my village, my brother was well settled... had huge farms and real cash crops. He had just moved into his newly constructed luxurious bungalow after demolishing our old one. I had kept my visit a surprise but little did I know that a bigger surprise was waiting for me...
It’s dusk, when Prem reaches his destination. He removes his helmet and hangs it on the handle, parking the bike on side stand he gets off.
The land on which the bungalow is built is an elevated bulged land, giving it the advantage to evade water logging during monsoons. It’s a natural grass land boasting with loads of hibiscus, jasmine and ixora flowers, giving it a sublime elated dimension. In front of the main entrance, circumambulated by the driveway, is a serene statue of Lord Krishna, looking over a mischievous little Tulsi plant, who is hatching an escape plan from the big encircling vase in which it is stuck in. The driveway is made up of broken tiles and ends in a large parking porch. The bungalow is a double storied luxury and right above the main entrance area, on the first floor, there is a grand balcony equipped with a terrace garden. There are creepers lunging out from the entrance area on to the balcony’s terrace garden, shading and cooling the outdoor sitting area. The house is surrounded with green lawn up to the boundary walls and the boundary walls are beautifully concealed under vines. It’s a lush exotically green experience.
Prem (to himself): Phew, at last, here I am. (Stretching himself and scanning the bungalow) super sexy from the outside… hope it is so from the inside too.
He rings the calling bell and his six year old niece Urmi opens the door. She is very much happy, surprised and excited to see her paternal uncle.
She pounces towards Prem for an embrace saying: Uncle? You!!
Prem (catching and hugging her): Ohh! Urmi... hahahaha (and kisses her). Where are the others?
Prem looks around the house as Urmi pranks him by pulling his cheeks and playing with his face.
The East faced bungalow welcomes you with a big living room adorned with perfectly manicured couches and an equally magnificent slender coffee table to serve the guests. A beautifully designed shoe rack, additionally serving the purpose of a book shelf runs along the main east facing barrier wall. A decent chandelier completes the living room. To the left, just beside the entrance door you have a TV room. There are two consecutive bedrooms next to the TV room, the adjacent one with an east entrance door and the other with a south entrance door. An oval entrance to the right, from the North West end of the living room gives way to the dining area adorned with a round teak wood dining table and six chairs to go with it; the dining area is further extended with a sleek modular kitchen. The kitchen and the dining area are partitioned by an ergonomically designed convenient kitchen hole made with mahogany wood.
A back door from the kitchen takes you to a robustly constructed well, the washing area and an exclusive nursery with green chilies, curry leaves and parsley. To the left of the dining area there is a Puja room. The living area ends with a store room and a washroom. A stairway with svelte steel railings, prior to the store room door, leads you to the upper floor which begins with the play room. Besides the playroom, the upper floor consists of three more bedrooms, one to the right of the playroom and the remaining two to the left. The graceful railings from the stairway, continues its run forming safety barricades along the potential pits and falls, and designing spacious corridors leading to the comfort of luxurious bedrooms. All the bedrooms are equipped with king size beds, dressing tables with tall mirrors, shelves for general use and attached washrooms. A ladder connects the play room to the main terrace area. From the railings on the first floor, the living room can be seen in all its majesty.
Prem (cheerful): It’s indeed superb, from inside too!!
Prem’s sister-in-law (Nutan) comes out of the kitchen to check out who is at the door and is pleasantly surprised to see Prem.
Nutan: Prem? You didn’t even tell us you were coming, wanted to surprise us?
Prem (frowning): Yeah, but I think I have been had. (Nutan lets out a chuckle), Where are the others?
Nutan (with a smirk): Mom and dad have gone to attend a marriage...
Prem (keeping Urmi down): Whose marriage?
Nutan: You know aunt Krishna right?
Prem (placing his travel bag nearby): Yup,
Nutan: Her niece’s marriage… they will be back, only by tomorrow evening…
Prem (sitting on the sofa and removing his shoes): And where’s Big Bro! (Urmi comes hopping and sits beside Prem.)
Nutan: He has gone to the town… will be back anytime.
Urmi (interrupting): Uncle? Let’s play a game. (And she starts to pull him.)
Prem (grabbing Urmi on to his lap): No dear... not now… I am tired to the core… have been driving all the day…
Urmi (pleading): Please uncle... just for a couple of minutes? (Pointing to a room on the first floor) that’s my play room … just above the store room.
Prem looks at the room on the first floor, which is just after the stairs and looks at Nutan, gesturing her to help him out.
Nutan: Urmi? I think it’s time for your favorite cartoon show, right?
Urmi (childlike): Yeah... Oh my god… I had forgot about it completely, (getting off from Prem’s lap), Uncle, we will play afterwards, first let me watch “Barbareek and his unique powers”
Prem (teasingly): Yeah sure, or else, your Barbareek might fly off with his unique powers…
Urmi (childishly punching Prem): Don’t tease me, and runs off to watch her show.
With a loving smile Prem gazes at Urmi running away, when suddenly he senses something looking at him from the play room. He flicks his head in that direction, but finds nothing. Noticing the sudden jerk in Prem’s movement, Nutan too, looks towards that direction.
Nutan: What are you looking at?
Prem (rubbishing his doubts): Nothing (he stands up), I will be back after a bath.
Prem grabs his bag and asks: Where’s the bathroom?
Nutan (with a proud smile): All the bedrooms have attached bathrooms … You can choose the one you like...
Prem chooses the nearest bedroom, the one adjacent to the TV room.
While bathing, he again senses a strange presence around himself. He rubbishes these hallucinations to be the side effects of the long trip he just had.
Prem (thinks): Might be the repercussions of the day long drive.
CHAPTER 6: THE DREADED DOLL, PART 2
After the refreshing bath as Prem puts on his clothes, he hears the doorbell. He hurriedly dresses up and goes towards the door, to see Nutan receiving Abhijeet. Unexpectedly seeing Prem, Abhijeet is happy and surprised.
Abhijeet (with a big smile): Prem! When did you arrive?
Abhijeet has bought many things from the market; he keeps them on the floor as Prem comes in for a hug. They hug each other in a tight brotherly embrace.
Abhijeet (holding Prem by the shoulders): How are things with you?
Prem (smiling): Everything’s absolutely fine.
Abhijeet removes his sneakers, keeps them on the rack and makes himself comfortable on the couch.
Abhijeet: Nutan…everything that you ordered is kept over there! (Pointing in the direction where he has placed those goods) Come Prem … Sit here with me…
Nutan: Not now Prem! (Then to Abhijeet) You go and freshen up… I will give dinner to Urmi in the meantime...
Abhijeet (requests): At least let me have a short chat with my brother…
Nutan (a bit sternly): He is not going anywhere… we can all chat while having dinner…
Helpless to control his emotions, Prem lets out a spontaneous giggle.
Abhijeet (sulking and frowning): What’s so funny? Get married first and you too will know!
Prem (still laughing): I will catch something on TV till you freshen up…
Abhijeet (gesturing helplessness): I have to obey the boss here... (He gets up and starts walking towards their bedroom on the first floor.)
Nutan (smiles): Will make a strong tea for you... (Abhijeet smiles and rises his hand in a thumbs up.)
Then she calls out: Urmi, come here and have your dinner.
When Prem enters the TV room, Urmi is still stuck on some cartoon show.
Prem: Urmi…go Kiddo…go fast and have your dinner…
Urmi (reminding): You are going to play with me after dinner, aren’t you?
Prem (oozing out of the situation): Yeah… Sure…
Urmi happily hops and runs away to have her dinner. Prem smiles, grabs the remote and rests on the couch. He shuffles between many programs before settling on a news channel. He is completely engrossed in the news, when a shadow whizzes past, stunning him. He looks around and finds nothing.
Prem (again rubbishing it off): Don’t know what’s happening...
After few moments he perceives someone whispering his name in a long spooky way: Preeemmm…
Jittering, Prem gets up and starts looking here and there. By then Abhijeet comes in and smells Prem’s uneasiness.
Abhijeet (in a grave tone): What happened, Prem?
Prem (jolts out): aaa… Nothing…
Abhijeet: Why are you looking around, what happened?
Prem (still looking here and there): A weird feeling… Felt like someone is watching me or calling me …
Abhijeet (smiles): Might be coz of your fatigue… Have a good long sleep after dinner… It should be alright by morning.
Prem (rubbing his forehead and eyes): Yeah I, too, think so … Let’s have the dinner.
On entering the dining area, Abhijeet is surprised to see Urmi asleep.
Abhijeet (surprised and amused): She is already asleep?
Prem (delighted): I have been saved!
Nutan: I have kept your tea at the table… I will be back after putting Urmi onto the bed.
With a smile Abhijeet proceeds to have his tea.
An unknown apparition peeps from the backdoor in the kitchen. Through a convenient kitchen hole, she observes Prem setting the dining table. And she giggles to herself.
By the time Nutan comes back, Prem has finished setting up the dining table.
Prem (sitting on a dining chair): The table is all set… let’s start...
Nutan smiles, looks at the table and goes into the kitchen to fetch a mug of water.
Nutan: This was missing. She places it on the dining table and settles beside Abhijeet.
Abhijeet: So how’s your job and all...
Prem: It’s going good… awaiting a promotion soon...
Nutan: Promotion means pay rise too, right?
Prem: Hope so… This time I have heard a rumor that they are going to raise it more than my expectations.
Nutan (looking at Abhijeet with a notorious smile): Will have to tell mom and dad to look for a suitable girl for him as soon as they arrive tomorrow…
Prem (acting shy): Ahem, I am not yet ready...
Abhijeet: Why, what’s the problem…
Prem: Let me enjoy the free air, a bit more … after that will think about it…
Nutan: Why, is marriage going to choke you up?
Prem: Nah, but there would be restrictions and instructions … (He playfully looks at Abhijeet.)
Abhijeet (ridiculously): What restrictions and why are you sneering at me?
Prem: The same restrictions you had to handle a few minutes back?
Nutan (scornfully): That is our love… you will come to know, once you get married.
Prem abruptly replies: Gosh… if that’s love … I would prefer to stay single. (This culminates into a session of laughter.)
The dinner proceeds on with more blabbering, jokes and laughter.
But again some unknown presence has set its sight on Prem…
After the dinner
Prem: Am going to sleep bro!!
Abhijeet: Where are you gonna sleep...?
Prem (pointing towards the bedroom he earlier used): There…
Abhijeet (smiling and walking towards the staircase): Oh, I see, you have already conquered your territory!
Prem (smiles; and then yawning): Yup…good night, Bro!
Nutan and Abhijeet (on the staircase): Good night.
They all retire to their respective bedrooms.
Prem latches the bedroom door, turns on the AC as well as fan, and collapses on to the inviting bed with a sigh: Aaaahhh.
He turns on to his back and looks towards the ceiling. The cool breeze soothes his nerves and with a smile he closes his eyes. As sleep lingers on the horizon of his consciousness, he senses a disfigured face staring at him. He, at once, opens his eyes and to his horror a Barbie doll falls on him with a loud shriek. Shocked, he jumps out of his bed with an equally loud cry. He looks everywhere with frightened gazes, but there is no sign of the Barbie doll. Prem is so frightened that even with the AC and the fan on, he is heavily perspiring. Suspiciously and very carefully he bends to look under the cot, but is jolted out of his breath by a loud knock on the door.
Prem (shaken): AAAYYY!
Abhijeet (again knocking the door, shouts): Prem, what happened?
Prem (frightened): WH…WHh…Who’s that?
Abhijeet (concerned): It’s me, Prem… Open the door… (And Abhijeet again knocks at the door.)
Prem opens the door in a very suspicious manner.
Abhijeet (concerned and confused, examining Prem’s body language): Why are you so frightened?? What happened to you??
Prem (taking a deep breath and composing himself, rubbishes off the incident): Nothing… the same weird hallucinations … (and then he looks around) but what’s the matter with you… why are you up so late?
Abhijeet: My father-in-law has had an asthma attack, so I will have to leave…
Prem (cuts in): I will accompany you…
Abhijeet (a bit irritated): No need… Nothing serious… Just for the satisfaction of Nutan’s mother, he has been admitted.
Prem (with a small smile): Oh….
Abhijeet: We will be back in a few hours…
(By then Nutan comes down carrying a sleeping Urmi and hands her over to Prem.)
Nutan: Let her sleep beside you…
Prem (taking Urmi): Ok… (And he goes inside the bedroom.)
From the play room, the Barbie doll stealthily looks at Prem and giggles to herself.
After laying Urmi down, Prem comes to see off Abhijeet and Nutan.
Prem: By what time will you both be back?
Abhijeet: In an hour or two
Prem: Ok, bro ... Bye
CHAPTER 7: THE DREADED DOLL, PART 3
They drive away as Prem closes the main door. After latching the bolt, he goes to his room but is surprised to see Urmi missing from the bed.
The Barbie doll slowly starts to descend the stairs.
Loudly calling out Urmi’s name he goes towards the bathroom.
Prem: Urmi, Urmi, Are you there in the bathroom?
There is no answer from the bathroom. He opens the door, but there is no trace of Urmi.
Now Prem gets a bit worried and frantically searches everywhere inside the bedroom.
Barbie doll waits in anticipation at the bedroom door.
Prem (worried): Where might she be? (Sensing that Urmi might be teasing him by hiding beneath the cot, he looks under the cot and with a smile) Might be hiding down here.
He bends to look below the cot, but is taken aback to see the Barbie doll lying there motionless. Confused, he peeps at the doll, when, with a sudden rotation it looks straight at him. He stumbles backwards and trips. With bated breath he stares at the doll. The doll sits up and giving him a cross tilted look, smiles at him in empathy. Horror-struck Prem crawls backwards, when all of sudden, Urmi scares him from behind.
Urmi (loudly): BHAUuu..!
Prem (shrieks out): AAAaaaaaa! (Shocked out of his wits, he tries to turn around swiftly. But loses his composure and falls on his back in a clumsy way.)
Urmi (mischievously laughs): Hahahahahahahaha… Uncle is freaked out… Hahahahahaha…
(Startled, horrified and angry he manages sit up.)
Prem (shouts): That wasn’t funny, Urmi?
Urmi (cringes and very innocently asks): Why are you so angry?
(Owing to his earlier doubts of hallucinations, and looking at Urmi’s innocent face, he cools down a bit, but still stares at her.)
I was just playing hide and seek with you…
Prem (stern): This isn’t the time for hide and seek … Come let’s sleep.
Urmi (pleading with childlike fervor): You had promised to play… (Going near him, she holds his chin.) At least for a couple of minutes... please play with me….
(Prem completely cools down and tries to explain.)
Prem: Urmi… It’s very late in the night, please understand. And come; let me put you to bed.
Urmi (starts crying): I won’t get sleep till mom comes… and also you will be breaking your promise if you don’t play with me…
A completely helpless Prem now gives in to the child’s demand.
Prem (with a smile, consoles): Ok… Kido… but not hide and seek…Let’s play something else…
Urmi (wipes off her tears quickly and smiles cutely): Can we play with my dolls?
Prem (smiles and strokes her head): Okay then... bring in your dolls…
Urmi: Dolls are kept in the play room, upstairs… Let’s go there...
Prem (making out for being rude and childishly): Ok then, you go ahead and I will follow you…
Urmi (holding Prem’s hand): Yes (very happily laughs and with baby steps she runs and skips)
Prem walks behind Urmi maintaining his pace.
They reach the play room. But unknown to Prem, the Barbie doll is following him.
Urmi: Uncle, put on the light (pointing towards the switch board).
As Prem switches on the light, he is pleasantly surprised to see many colorful dolls and toys. He surveys the whole room with a delightful smile.
Prem (with a smile): Wow Urmi… your collection of toys is impressive.
Urmi responds with a cute smile.
Prem: Ok tell me…what game do you want to play with the dolls?
Urmi (confused): Mmmmm, tchu, what will we play?
Prem: Hhmm, first introduce me to your dolls, what are their names?
Urmi (with popped eyes as she is surprised to realize that she hasn’t named her dolls yet): I haven’t named them yet… Uncle!
Prem: Then, we will start from there...
Urmi: Ok… That would be fun… (And chuckles)
After settling down on one of the cushions, Prem looks around and picks up a teddy bear.
Prem: What should we name this Bear?
Urmi (spontaneously): TEDDY BEAR…
Prem (frowns): Naah… That’s a common name… Think of something different.
Urmi (a bit disappointed but with a made up smile): I don’t have a clue!
Prem (cheering her up): Don’t worry, will make this game a little more interesting...
Urmi (with a cute smile): More interesting…! How?
Prem (chuckles at her innocence): Tell me, according to you, who does this bear resemble with?
Urmi (mischievously giggles): It looks like Grandpa.
Prem (laughs): Hahahahahahaha… Grandpa? Hahahahahaha.
Urmi also joins the laughter with a mischievous face.
The dreaded doll stares at Prem from the door.
Prem (composing himself): Then, we will name him bruin Grandpa….
Urmi (a bit confused): That’s cool… But what’s “bruin”?
Prem (caressing Urmi’s cheeks): “Bruin” is an English folk word for Bear.
Urmi (with a twinkle in her eye): Hmmm… (Nods in affirmation and picks up a canine doll.)
Urmi (looking at the doglike doll): He doesn’t look like anyone. Again I am out of clue.
Prem (instilling confidence): Will find a way out... Think something creative!!
Urmi (with a eureka feeling): Doggy always likes to wag his tail… …
Prem looks on with anticipation.
Urmi (feeling hopeful): Let’s name him Wager Boy!
Prem (astonished): Well Done, Urmi! That’s indeed creative..!!
Likewise, one by one, they name all the dolls, unaware about someone watching them stealthily.
Prem (feeling a bit drowsy): Ok, then. All the dolls have been named; now as promised, let’s go to sleep…
Urmi (confused): No! Not yet; this Barbie doll is remaining to be named...
Fear pinches Prem, alarming his cognizance and he lets out a gasp.
Prem (looking everywhere with fear): WHAA? WH…whh… which Barbie doll?
Urmi (pointing towards Prem): The one right behind you… She always scares me… Let’s keep her name, “Scary Sissy”.
Prem flips around to see the dreaded doll, with blood-oozing eyes and scruffy hair. She menacingly laughs at him. Terrified, he turns back to look out for Urmi; but she has vanished!
Prem (terrified shouts): Urmi….!! Urmi….!!! URMIIIIIIII!
All of a sudden mist and fog start wadding the room…The lights starts to flicker spontaneously. Prem looks back at the terrorizing Barbie doll; she tilts her head from one side to the other; and giving him a sinister look, again starts to laugh like a maniac. Terror engulfs Prem when the doll shrieks as it lunges onto him. Horror-struck and doused with perspiration, he paces towards the staircase and briskly tries to climb down. But after reaching halfway, he is startled to see the dreaded doll prowling towards him from the other end, with a spooky shrill. Desperate and frustrated, he tries to turn back and run the other way; but he stumbles and falls down. Paralyzed with terror, he is unable to get up. So he tries to slither away as fast as he can, from the inevitable danger. However, with another eerie shrill the doll catches up with him in no time. She intently watches the slither of his quivering body with a contented smile before grasping one of his legs and dragging him downstairs with enormous force. Laboriously moving his legs, Prem desperately tries to escape from the clutches of death.
With a drop of hope, he starts to beg for his life.
Prem: Let me GO… PLEASE LET ME GOOO!
The doll stops for a moment and Prem heaves a sigh of relief. After remaining motionless for a matter of seconds, the cursed doll spookily revolves her head. Prem is horrified to see Urmi’s face instead, but with the same dreaded ghostly attributes.
Prem (horrified): WHAT? URMI…! Is it you….? And why are you doing this?
Urmi (spookily): You wanted to put me to sleep, right? Now let me put you to your final sleep….
Urmi screeches her lungs out. Prem struggles to shout out loud, but only a feeble, hoarse sound is able to flee from his mouth. At last, resigning to fate and expecting the worst, Prem’s vital force begins to gush out as he stares at Urmi’s dreadful face. Urmi’s unbearable screams urge Prem’s diminishing focus to narrow in on her nearly invisible and rapidly fluttering vulva before everything blacks out.
Back to the verandah…
Pritam is perspiring with horror.
Pritam: What happened after that?
Prem (with a wicked smile): You really want to know what happened after that?
Pritam shakes his head in affirmation.
Prem (with a wicked smile): After that… The alarm went off and I woke up…!! Hahahahahahahahahahaha…
The surroundings echo the splutter of a hearty gang laugh. Pritam feels insulted to the core of his ego, and enraged he abruptly gets up to leave.
CHAPTER 8: PRITAM IS INFURIATED
Pritam (very enraged): Enough of your pranks (looking at Prem). You better find some other way to come back home. I am done with you.
Seeing Pritam flaring up in rage, everyone, especially Prem, is a tad intimidated.
Prem (pleads): Hey bro… Wait, please wait. I won’t poke you again, I promise.
Pritam is in no mood to stay. He starts walking towards his bike.
Prem (begging, calls out): Two more pegs… and then we’ll leave together. I swear on God, I will not poke you again… bro… please…
Parag (asserts): Come on Pritam… Just two more rounds!
Pritam doesn’t respond and keeps on walking.
Amol (sneering): You may go, if you want; but I must warn you: The old fellow with the stick would be waiting there for you…
Pritam (stops and looking towards Amol): What old fellow? What are you saying and, why the hell, would he be waiting there for me?
Amol: He generally stops a lone rider, for hitchhiking to the next village.
The old man is patiently waiting on the lonely highway for a free ride.
Pritam: So? What’s wrong in helping someone, if you can?
Pradeep: Nothing wrong; but there is a gossip that the oldie vanishes mid-way.
Pritam (snaps out): Again, trying to pull my leg? You guys are pathetic.
(Pritam darts towards his bike; and igniting the bike hastily, he vrooms off.)
Jagadeep (addressing all): He will be back in no time… I assure… that chicken hearted bastard...
Chorus: Giggles and they get back to partying.
Pritam drives through the murky village lanes and reaches the state highway. He stops for a moment to look for any oncoming vehicles before proceeding ahead. Finding the highway without much traffic, he cautiously accelerates his motorbike onto the highway. But somehow the engine shuts down, stopping the motorbike with many jerks. As the headlight goes off, Pritam finds himself enclosed in deafening silence and a pitch dark ambience. Pritam skips a heartbeat. He takes out his cell phone and uses the flash light to comprehend the dark surrounding. He unsuccessfully tries to auto start the bike umpteen numbers of times. Pritam’s panic is amplified on hearing wild dogs growling nearby. He frantically checks the petrol level and applies some saliva on the spark plug, using the flashlight.
To make matters worse, Pritam is further frozen with fear as he hears someone’s advancing footsteps accompanied by a loud wooden sound, as if the person is carrying a huge lathi (a long bamboo stick) with him. Amol’s words about “the old man with lathi” whizzes past his fright-drenched awareness. Panic stricken, he looks around with jerky movements; but is unable to judge the direction of the advancing sound. He desperately tries to revive his bike by frantically kick-starting it. The footsteps become more and more prominent with each passing moment. Pritam looks towards the direction of the footsteps and to his utter disbelief and horror, a sturdy man, with a long and heavy lathi is fast approaching him. He desperately tries to revive his reluctant bike.
Pritam (desperately kicking): Come on… BUDDY…
Pritam’s vigorous movement catches the man’s attention and he calls out: Who is there?
Terror, accompanied with goose skin, triggers Pritam’s reflexes to turn the motorbike; and running with it he tries to push-start it.
Pritam (running with the bike): Oh God…! Please start the damn bike...
And as luck would have it, the motorbike budges, and without wasting another moment Pritam jumps onto it, driving back to Vithal’s verandah at breakneck speed.
On seeing Pritam coming back at such high speed, everybody starts laughing.
Jagadeep: Here comes Napoleon Bonaparte, the great… the King of the Kings... the fearless… and the lion-hearted…
(And as Pritam approaches the verandah)
Welcome, His Highness Pritam, we are sorry that you lost your kingdom of courage…
Parag is making his drink.
Amol (welcoming Pritam): No Worries… at last you came back for Prem!
Pradeep: But he is not back by himself, the fear of darkness and ghosts has guided him back here …
Again a spurt of laughter explodes.
Parag (gulps a sip): Yeah… He should thank his luck that his chicken-heart didn’t blast off.
The big dam nearby echoes the hearty laughter everybody is having at Pritam’s expense. But faraway, the old man is still, very patiently, waiting for his free ride.
Pritam hides his embarrassment by acting angry.
Pritam (shouts in anger): Enough of it… assholes… Do you even know what I saw?
Everybody collects themselves and apprehensively looks at Pritam.
Pritam: The same guy, that Amol was talking about, with the bamboo stick! It was, indeed, sheer luck that I escaped him.
Except Pritam, everybody knows that the story about the old man with the lathi, is a cooked up, fabricated one. Subsequently, brimmed with mirth, they exchange playful glances, and snicker.
Pritam (retaining his angry face): Why the hell are you giggling?
Amol: Now tell me, precisely, where did you see this guy?
Pritam: On the Highway… He was very tall and well built.
Parag: The guy that Amol was talking about is an old weakling, and not at all a well-built man.
Pritam (realizing his folly and embarrassed): Ahh, out of fear, I forgot about that.
Amol (with an amusing face): That might be Datta uncle… He might be going to switch off the water pump, so that the fields are not over wetted.
Prem (blurts out): But your Datta uncle’s visit has made Pritam wet his pants.
Everybody enjoys another bout of elated laughter.
Pritam (agitated and looking at Prem): Are you finished drinking? If so, then let’s go.
Prem: You know what… You came back in less than 5 minutes. (Sternly) Now, wait for another 30 to 45 minutes. OK?
Out of the blue, Pritam’s instincts get a whiff of some bizarre presence monitoring them closely. He gets peculiar and looks around with a gasp. He quickly glances at faraway distances and on to the tree tops.
Prem: What happened? (Prem also looks hither and thither) What are you looking for?
Pritam (suspiciously looking here and there, and not intending to become the center of another joke): Nothing (he points towards a platform, not too far way). I will be waiting there … When you are done with your drinking, find me there and then we will go.
Pradeep: Why don’t you just sit here, with us?
Pritam is drained for the day and is no more interested in drinking. Moreover, he is afraid that some other horror stories might crop up, and he may end up conjuring out another spooky experience. So he just walks away.
Pradeep (confused): What’s wrong with him?
Amol: At least let him enjoy some solitude... We have made enough fun of him… He has the right to be angry.
(And they continue the party with another session of drinks.)
The old man loses his patience and with a dejected face starts walking ahead, when some snarling wild dogs emerge from the roadside ravines and begin to trail him.
Except Pritam, everybody is having a great time. Little away, from the platform, Pritam is able to hear their unclear chattering and laughing. The combined shot of late-night hours and exhaustion takes over Pritam, compelling him to doze off. Because of lethargy, Pritam experiences sleep paralysis. In his nightmare, he finds himself cornered by a giant grotesque wild dog. Stuck in a corner of a huge dark container, he is restrained to move by the ghastliness of the grotesque dog, which is slowly advancing towards him with froth filled, saliva dripping and snarling mouth.
At the verandah, Prem is done with his drinking. He gets up and walks towards Pritam.
Prem (shouting): Pritam! Come… Let’s go.
But Pritam is still battling his nightmare and as the dreaded dog is about to pounce on him, Prem wakes him up. Floating in the blurred realm, encased by his nightmare and wakefulness, Pritam witnesses the dog’s gruesome face mutating and taking the form of Prem. Pritam screams and, pushing away Prem with all his might, stands up in a jiffy. Prem falls down and is taken aback by Pritam’s peculiar reaction. He slowly stands up patting away his soiled clothes.
Prem (shaken): What’s the matter with you?
Pritam (in a broken voice): Nnnnnothing… A nightmare ... A really horrifying one…
Hearing the scream others rush in.
Chorus: Who yelled? What happened?
Prem: Nothing. Pritam just went through a nightmare.
Pradeep (concerned): Look at the way he is sweating!
Parag: You both should stay here tonight. Don’t leave until sunrise.
Pritam: No, no, I am ok… I have to open my shop in the morning… Can’t stay here.
Amol: You are really shaken up. At least you shouldn’t drive…
Pritam (exhausted and handing over the keys to Prem): I am neither in a mood to drive.
Prem: I will go and bring the motorbike, Amol! Can you please fetch the rum for me…?
Amol (smiles): But of course.
Prem gets the motorbike and Pritam sits on the pillion seat.
Prem (shouts): Amol, where are you…?
Amol comes running with the bottle. Prem grabs the bottle and guzzles down a good quantity before handing it over to Pritam.
Prem: It would be much chillier out there on the highway… a gulp or two will keep you warm.
Pritam (passing the bottle back to Amol): No, I don’t want to…
But Amol, with the help of others, forces the spirit down his neck.
Pradeep: Now you will feel better; and don’t forget to hold Prem tightly…
Prem: Ok then… Good Night, everybody...
Others one by one: Good Night. Take care… And call us as soon as you reach…
CHAPTER 9: THE LONELY HIGHWAY
They steer on to the highway and the comforting breeze beckons Pritam to close his eyes. He obeys the gentle caressing of the breeze. From the rear view mirror, Prem observes Pritam closing his eyes.
Prem: Don’t fall asleep...and hold on to me properly...
Pritam: I am trying to cool my head off, with the help of the soothing breeze… not sleeping…
Prem: Ok then…but don’t doze off.
Far away, the old man senses their arrival and stops walking… His face lights up with happiness. He stares at the wild dogs and they fade away into the bushes by the roadside. The old man with a devilish smile awaits his free ride.
With eyes closed in bliss, Pritam is enjoying the breeze and the ride. But disturbing his joy ride, Prem stops the bike. With a frown on his face, Pritam opens his eyes to enquire about the matter. In an instance, his frowned face morphs into a startled one. To his horror, an old man with a huge lathi, is approaching them for hitch hiking.
Pritam (scared): Holy shit... He is the same man they were talking about…
Prem: Cool it off… They were just kidding...
Pritam (scared and looking at the old man advancing): No…no…no… You are a foolish rationalist trying to save his foolish ego. Just step on the paddle and let’s go.
The old man is coughing very often.
Prem (irritated): There’s nothing like that and do you think that I am foolish enough to stop here if Amol was serious about his story?
Pritam is not fully convinced and still very scared. (The old man is nearing, so whispers): You just leave … I don’t want to take any risk….
Prem (sneering): If anything happens… just act like you are fainted… You will be saved…
Pritam (desperately whispers): I beg you my bro… you son of a bitch... please drive off…
But by then the old man is already there.
Prem (adjusting to accommodate the old man): Pritam, adjust yourself, let him sit behind you… (Pritam, in a disgruntled mood, positions himself to the center.) You should sit between us. (Pritam is irritated as the old man grasps him on his shoulders and coughs in his ears, as he tries to accommodate himself). You will be safe; if at all you fall asleep, enjoying the cool breeze…
Pritam is very angry, but as he is very scared too, he doesn’t converse with the old man. But he, somehow, vigorously wriggles his shoulders out of the old man’s grasps.
Pritam (finally settling in his position, angry and scared): Like hell I would sleep, let alone enjoy the breeze…
Old man (making himself comfortable): I am comfortably seated son, let’s go (coughs)… There is a small tea shop at the village outskirts... Drop me off there… (Coughs)
Pritam (whispers): Speedup, let’s drop him there ASAP…
Prem (smirking): Your chicken heart won’t budge (Then addressing the old man) Sir… please hold yourself firmly, the road ahead has a lot of pot holes.
Heeding Prem’s advice, the old man once again grips Pritam’s shoulder, which irritates him to no end.
Pritam (finally mustering up some courage and sternly): Take your hands off me and grip on to the backrest.
Old man (coughs): Ok (grabs the back rest).
As the journey proceeds, Pritam, as expected, waits in anticipation for something spooky to happen. There is a shallow silence in the ambience, when, out of nowhere, a group of stray dogs attack them. In the fracas, they zoom past the undone, pot-hole-ridden patch of the road with great speed.
Pritam (panicking): I had told you, there is something fishy about him…From where the hell did these stray dogs appear… I have never seen them… At least, speed up, now…
Prem (doubting): That’s true…
Because of the sudden appearance of so many stray dogs, a drop of suspicion splashes into Prem’s inebriated consciousness creating ripples of fear.
Prem (little bit frightened and growing suspicious): Perhaps you were right, in a matter of minutes, we will be at the tea stall.
Pritam tightly holds onto Prem, and, true to his words, Prem drives like a racing maniac and stops the motorbike right at the tea stall.
Pritam: Sir? We are at the teal stall. Please alight.
Getting no response, Pritam turns back to check on the old man and he heaves… THE OLD MAN HAS DISAPPEARED!
Pritam (getting down from the bike): I had warned you, but you were adamant to give a free ride.
Prem (mounting the bike on its side stand and getting off): Now, what happened?
Pritam (pointing towards the pillion seat): He has vanished…
The ripples of fear now soar very high, forming enormous waves of panic and terror. Prem starts to tremble with horror, and even before Pritam could apprehend, Prem faints.
Pritam (with tension): What’s happening to you? (Then shouts) Help… Somebody… Please help…
The tea stall owner, his helper and two-three customers come running for help. They take Prem to the nearby Trauma Centre. On their way, Pritam informs others about the ghastly incident.
Pritam (restlessly to Pradeep on phone): Please come to the Trauma Centre near our village, quickly.
Pradeep (anxious): But what happened?
Pritam (restless): The story about the old man that Amol had told us… It has actually materialized… And Prem is unconscious.
Pradeep (shocked): What the hell? We will be there in no time…
CHAPTER 10: THE ILL FATED TRAUMA CENTER
As the doctor examines Prem, Pritam briefs him about what actually transpired. Looking at Pritam’s jittering and animated explanation, the doctor lets out a chuckle.
Pritam (befuddled): He is lying there unconscious… and is that funny for you?
Doctor (smiling): His sugar level has dropped because of the unanticipated fear… Don’t worry; one bottle of glucose will bring him back to consciousness…
Pritam (with animated and comical gestures): I am also scared to the core… and see… I am shivering as a result. Please administer a bottle of glucose on me too…
Doctor (chuckles): No, you won’t need that... I will give you some anti-depressants. That will cool you off… (Looking towards the nurse and pointing at Prem) Please arrange to administer glucose on him.
The nurse does as instructed and leaves. The doctor returns and checks Prem’s pulse.
Doctor (handing over a tablet to Pritam): Take this and rest for some time… I will be back in a few minutes... (As he reaches the door, he points towards a corner table) A jug of water and glass is over there.
After the doctor leaves, Pritam takes the pill and lies down on the adjacent bed.
Not far from them, the old man is very dejected at the loss of his prey. He screams very loudly in desperation. The scream drones the amplitude of the highway.
Jagadeep wakes up Pritam, who had drowned into a shallow slumber. Pritam wakes up in a jiffy to find Jagadeep curiously staring at him.
Jagadeep (in an animated manner): What happened dear? Aren’t you healthy and sane?
Pritam (shaking his head): You are still finding it funny, you … … f##ing A##%%le, (He sits up) Where are the others?
Jagadeep: Pradeep is having a word with the Doctor... And the rest are drunk and asleep at home…
Jagadeep (starts giggling and pointing towards Prem): Unconscious fellow, when are you gonna wake up? (Then he goes towards Prem.)
Jagadeep (shaking Prem): Yo! Prem… Wake up buddy… (Prem mumbles something) Hey, he is mumbling something. (Shaking him with more force) Wake up, bro... Look, who’s here to meet you…,
Prem opens his eyes very slowly, feebly and asks: WHO?
Jagadeep (very seriously): CONSCIOUSNESS…!!!
And then, unable to control his own amusement, Jagadeep laughs his heart out. Pritam also starts laughing.
Prem (smirks a bit and in a feeble voice): Stop joking…That oldie vanished for real…
At this, Pradeep enters the scenario laughing out loud.
Prem (confused): WHY ARE YOU GUYS LAUGHING LIKE THIS??
Pradeep (laughing): Hahahaha… I am really growing curious… Because, Pritam didn’t faint… But YOU, A RATIONAL BEING, fainted…Hahahaha… How is that possible? I can’t believe it… Hahahaha…
Prem (with a daft smile): Pritam always lives in fear and apprehension... So it was just another day for him… He wasn’t startled at all.
Pradeep (interrupting): And you were electrocuted with fear, right? (Prem nods in affirmation.) Hahahaha…
Jagadeep (controlling his laughter): Anyway, you both take rest… I will go and ask the doctor when you guys will be discharged, so that we can take you home.
Jagadeep again starts laughing and goes out. Pradeep strokes Pritam’s and Prem’s hair and looks at them amusingly before laughing his way out.
Prem (amused): Why are they both laughing like this?
Pritam (sarcastically): Coz they now know who the real chicken heart is… Hahahaha…
Prem: Actually, everybody is a coward…You know that only when your time comes…
Pritam (smiles): So now that it has happened to you… you know how it is: to be scared out of your shit… (He jokingly adds) You, a shirking arse.
Prem (turning sideways): Let me rest for some more time... Then poke me as much as you want...
Pritam: Alright … Let me too…
After a few moments…,
Pritam: Why are they not back yet?
Prem: Yeah… I was thinking the same. (And he slowly sits up and looks through the translucent glass partition.)
Prem (clueless): There is no sign of any activity…Can you please go and check…
Pritam (getting up): Hmmm.
He goes out of the room and walks up the corridor, shouting and searching: Jagadeep… Pradeep… doctor… nurse… Where the hell are you all?
He searches the length and breadth of the Trauma Center, and then walks towards the main entrance door. He is dumbstruck and speechless at what he beholds at the door: the very same old man, with a bandaged left ankle, is staring at him with intense hatred. Terror struck, he gasps and remains motionless for a very few moments before gawkily and clumsily attempting to get away. Vanquished by fear, he runs back to the room, slipping and balancing here and there on the smooth polished floor, like a giraffe performing ballet and dementedly screaming: fucking demon…! Get off me, please, get off me… In the name God, GO AWAY...
Just before reaching the room, Pritam slips… and unable to maintain his balance, comes thrashing to the ground. Instead of standing up, fright coerces him to quickly crawl back to the safety of their room without wasting another moment.
Seeing Pritam in such a dire condition, Prem manages to stand up and asks: What happened…? Where are the others?
Pritam (looking at Prem and pointing towards the door, mumbles): There… He is there… There… The demon... The very same oldie…
Under the influence of the newly induced fear, Prem removes the glucose needle and impromptu walks towards Pritam and helps him to stand up.
Prem (looking here and there): Where is that damned thing?
Pritam (still gasping for breath): He is just around the corner… (Moving aside) Quickly close the door…
Prem (in a frightened jittery motion): Yeah… yeah…
As Prem is about to close the door, Jagadeep and Pradeep enter the corridor, laughing madly. Prem comes out of the room, followed by Pritam. The doctor and the nurse also join them in laughing, like maniacs. Pritam and Prem are flabbergasted and shocked. Confused at the turn of events, they look at each other.
Prem (suspiciously looks at every one and stutters): Whh... Wh...Why are you all laughing?
To which they laugh even more vigorously. Prem gets even more suspicious and frightened; he steps back.
Suddenly the old man enters.
Pritam (swiftly stepping back): The damned demon is right behind you. Why the hell are you laughing?
Jagadeep (still laughing): Demon? Where?
The old man firmly advances towards Pritam with an angry look. Scared, Pritam staggers back and grabbing Prem tries to shield himself. But Prem, in turn, maneuvers himself out of Pritam’s clutches and projecting Pritam ahead, exasperatedly bursts out: There, he is… right behind you…!
Old man (angry): RASCALS… I am no Demon!
Prem and Pritam are still frightened and out of their wits. Still keeping Pritam as his shield, Prem stutters: Th…TH…Then wh…who are you…aa…aa…and... h.h…How did you vanish?
Old man (very angry): Frightened by the stray dogs, you drove like a maniac on the pothole-ridden road… And you bloody mother fuckers were so stoned by fear that you didn’t even notice that I fell off the motorbike… And now how dare you accuse me of vanishing into thin air???
Prem let go of Pritam. And realizing their folly, they look at each other with embarrassment.
Everybody is still laughing…
Old man (angry): You filthy dogs, answer me… Why did you leave me there at destiny’s mercy?
(Pointing at Pradeep and Jagadeep) If it wasn’t for them, I would be still helplessly lying there.
(Coming to terms with reality, Prem and Pritam give a daft smile.)
Old man (shouts very loudly): What is so funny about this?
Everybody is stunned by the old man’s abnormally loud sound. Strong winds gush through the Trauma Centre, coaxing an impenetrable silence. In oblivion, all stare at the old man, but the old man is staring at Prem and Pritam with unsinkable anger. Prem and Pritam are shocked into a limbo. The surroundings palpitate; and in a split second, the old man starts laughing his head off…
Old man: Hahahahaha… How foolish of you… Me, a demon… Hahahaha…
The old man guffaws out, and the rest blend in with him. Prem and Pritam shed their embarrassment and join the euphoria. They all heehaw till they dry up their energies. After some moments of delight, everybody composes. But the old man’s laughter refuses to die down.
Jagadeep (beaming): Sir, it seems your laughter is refusing to die down anytime soon.
Pritam (beaming, pointing at Prem and Pritam): He appears to be enjoying their daft faces.
Old man (still laughing madly): Now, I will enjoy the fruits of my night long labor…
Prem (confused): What do you mean?
Old man (stops laughing and with a questioning smile): Do you know, who I am?
Pradeep (beaming): No! Tell us, we are all ears…
Old man (with a pity smile): What will you gain by knowing my reality?
Then, he again starts laughing.
Pradeep (a bit apprehensive): We didn’t get you…
The old man’s laughter spurts out even louder and he gestures to have patience.
Old man (controlling his laughter): Behold! The real ME!
Then he becomes grim and looks down. He stands there without making another sound. The rest, look at him with bated breath and anticipation.
After a few moments, with a dreaded smile, he starts lifting his face. And as he slowly lifts his face, it starts morphing into something ferociously devilish. His eyes becomes bloody red and large… ears turns to that of a goblin… his protruded nose flattens out giving way to his mouth to extrude out…
Everybody is scared out of their day lights. His head becomes huge and then he opens his monstrous mouth with numerous filthy teeth, placed absurdly. Life energy oozes out of the Trauma Center and its inmates.
Revealing his cannibalistic streak he pounces on them and without a drop of mercy, barbarically devours them all.
Everything blacks out and there is a loud belching sound.
A bunch of wild dogs are gratefully ripping on human bones, very lovingly and caringly fed by the old man. Then, the distant sound of an oncoming two wheeler tickles the Old Man’s attention. Turning his head he looks towards the empty road with a cruel sneer.
On the lonely highway, the old man is again on his prowl.