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Rahul Banerjee

Drama


4  

Rahul Banerjee

Drama


The Witch of the Sacred Grove

The Witch of the Sacred Grove

19 mins 242 19 mins 242


Meghalaya is a state which is situated in the North-East of India and comprises one of the ‘Seven Sisters’ of India. It is often called a ‘Land of Magic and Mysticism’, because of lush green forests, undulating mountain ranges, picturesque scenery and the legends attached to it. Meghalaya is also called ‘heavenly Abode’; as it has been described as nestled in-between the clouds, the place of gods, hence, ‘Meghalaya. It is also a treasure trove for wildlife seekers, nature enthusiasts, and general tourists as most of the land area are covered with varied forms of wildlife and exotic flora and fauna. It has also been known as a place that is famous for its folklore and legends. One such legend is that of the ‘Sacred Groves’. It is believed that a long time ago this grove was constructed by early tribes of this land as a place of worship to the gods.


There is another legend associated with the sacred groves; as some local elders believe that this sacred grove was built by a witch queen for her son, who was supposed to become the king of that tribe. She had built it for the sole purpose so that her son could take some time from the affairs of the state and take counsel from the gods in the forest. She also had a sacrificial altar constructed in the place and had it decorated it with rare, precious and beautiful stones. However, some envious tribal leaders had not liked the idea of the son becoming the king and had conspired to kill both the witch queen and her son; in which they had succeeded also. As the witch queen was dying, she had cursed the forest as whosoever enters the forest and tries to take anything from the altar or the grove will be doomed forever and will face a very painful end. Since then, this forest is said to be haunted by the restless spirit of the witch. It is also said that anyone who has tried to ignore this warning has suffered a horrible death. That is why the tourism department of the state government has constructed a signboard with a warning that says “No one should take anything from the forest; and if anyone does take anything out of the forest, will be doing so at his own risk.” But the allure of the unique and sparkling stones which throws off brilliant radiance all through the day makes people still attempt to steal the rare stones from the sacred groves. This is the basis of my following story.


Anish, Jacob, Rakesh, Kajal, Preeti and Vishal were friends who loved adventure and excitement, and they were partners in a business venture that dealt in adventure tourism and extreme sports activities. The best part of these six friends was that they delivered on their promise of giving their clients the best experience in sports and tourism. This was one of the reasons that their business venture was a huge success in the country and all of them were young, handsome and pretty much talented.  Another unique quality was that they just did not promote their brand; rather, they experienced it first-hand themselves and then used to sell the idea to their clients. When they heard about this the legends surrounding this sacred grove of Meghalaya, they decided to give it a try as it would be something new and unique. So they made all the preparations and went to experience the haunting in the forest in Meghalaya. All of them were given a warm reception and put up in one of the finest hotels in the state.


The first day went in introductions and resting as all of them were tired from the jet lag. The following day they were introduced to a local guide Gurung, who would guide them to the edge of the forest. During the journey, all of them were pretty much excited for their oncoming adventure, though Gurung had already warned them about the rules of the forest and the sacred grove. He once again reminded them as they neared the forest that “please don’t take anything from the forest and especially from the area of the sacred grove” Most of them burst out laughing hearing this but Kajal and Jacob kept their counsel and were quite serious about the whole thing. The reason for them being serious was that they had done their private research on the sacred grove and read about the stories circulating on the web. However, they chose to keep quiet about the whole thing and see how things worked out.

***


From the moment the seven of them stepped foot in the forest the temperature seemed to dip a little and all of them could feel a bit of chill which was unusual for all of them. Another thing which was startling to Kajal was that as they were progressing in the forest, she could see an old woman who was watching their every step. The more they went deep in the forest it seemed she kept on getting closer and when Kajal decided to talk to the group about this woman, she could not see her any more. This was startling for Kajal and she even spoke to the other members of the group. However, they were too busy in clicking photographs and enjoying the trek, hence did not pay much heed to her. The whole day was spent exploring the forest and it was during the evening when Gurung decided to camp at a spot which was close to the sacred grove. In the evening they decide to go to the sacred grove as the light from the shining stones gave out a dazzling radiance far and wide. As they approached the altar of the sacred grove all of them were mesmerised by the sheer sparkle of the stones. All this time although Kajal could feel the presence of the old woman at every step of the way and now especially at the sacred grove. It seemed that only Kajal could see her as no one else could see her.


Once again, the local guide Gurung warned them not to take anything from the grove or the altar. But it is said that greed is the most powerful of emotions and it overpowers all other emotions of reason and sanity. This is exactly what happened with the group except for Kajal and Jacob. All of them had a sparkle in their eyes and each of them thought about the success and fame that they would get when they regaled stories about their experience. So Vishal, Rakesh, Preeti and Anish all grabbed the stones notwithstanding the protest of the guide. All of them picked up a handful of the shining stones and put it in their backpacks, except Kajal and Jacob. Gurung was too terrified and warned them that now, whatever happens, will be their responsibility and he has nothing to do with it. The group again just burst out laughing and ignored him and had a party at the very same spot. All this time, Kajal was feeling very nervous about the whole episode and also about her seeing the old woman and all the eeriness that seemed to creep in. It was only Jacob who noticed this sudden change and asked: “what’s the matter?” When Kajal told him about her feeling and the old woman he just shrugged it off as her over-imagination. Kajal just looked at him incredulously and shook her head in rejection.


Anyways, it was middle of the night when Vishal felt a desperate urge for smoke and went outside. As he was leaning against a tree and thinking about all the possibilities he could suddenly see a young native girl making her way through the forest with a lantern bobbing along her side. At first, he could not believe his eyes but then looked more closely and see the clear outline of a young and pretty native girl walking in the middle of the night in the forest. So he decided to follow her and see if she needed any help or assistance. That was the first and last mistake Vishal had made of his life. As he followed her, at first she seemed to be too elusive for him to catch up with; however, when he finally caught up with her in a dense area of the forest, he was stunned by her beauty. The light of the lantern was also seemed to enhance her beauty and Vishal was about to say something when the girl gave a very sweet smile that could melt hearts and transformed into an old, hideous and malicious intent looking woman who kept on walking towards Vishal. All of this happened right before Vishal’s eyes and it happened so quickly that he had no time to react. By the time he had gained his senses, he was too terrified and tried to run from the place, but the old woman was right in front of him in a flash and with malicious smile jabbed her hand towards his chest. Even before Vishal could scream for help it seemed the old woman had inserted her hand right inside Vishal’s chest and torn out his heart away from his body. All Vishal could see before he died with surprise and fear in his eyes was that the old woman with a wicked smile disappears into thin air right before him. The next day everyone was supposed to make their way back toward the hotel.


So when they found that Vishal was not in the tent they started calling out his name. Even when they could not get a response after a long time they searched the nearby areas, but still could not find any sign of Vishal. This seemed a bit alarming and annoying to the group, however, Gurung had his doubts. As all of them had assumed that Vishal might have reached the hotel first, so they asked at the reception also. Here again, they found out that Vishal had not become back from the jungle at any time of the night. Now, this was a cause of concern for the rest of the group and they meet at Jacob’s room and discuss as to what should be their next move because Vishal’s mobile was also switched off. All of them were thinking hard when Anish and Rakesh at the same time say “that we should inform the police” The others are a bit hesitant about this but Kajal readily agrees with them. So they call the police and tell them about Vishal’s disappearance since last night. The police officer in charge, Inspector Gyan Thapa, was a bit sceptic about their experience and especially when Gurung says that Vishal had stolen the stones from the altar.


Inspector Gyan glares at the group and says “that we invite you and shower you with all our hospitality and your friend returns the favour by stealing” He further says that he is going to check Vishal’s room and bag and see if the stones are there, as they are property of the state government and also he warns them that if anyone else had stolen the stones, it was the right time to return them. However, no one else is ready to acknowledge the truth and Inspector Gyan once again frowns at them and orders a check of Vishal’s belongings and his room. After 15 minutes the search turns up futile as nothing is found in either Vishal’s room or his bag. This is surprising for the group as all of them had seen him picking the stones and keeping in his bag. After the police had left the whole group is surprised and wonder as to where the stones or Vishal might have gone. It is when Gurung speaks and says “that the witch has taken the stones back and punished Vishal for his greed” He furthermore says “that all of you if don’t return the stones, will also face a very painful end” The group just looks at Gurung and turns away ignoring him. It is then that mutual suspicion and distrust starts building amongst the friends.

***


From that moment onwards, things take a strange turn that leaves the whole group bewildered, scared and nervous at all moments herein. The police have meanwhile asked the group not to leave the hotel premises and the state until the investigation is over. The police had also mounted a search operation for Vishal in the forest for three days but could not find any sign of him. The group of friends, Kajal, Anish, Rakesh, Preeti and Jacob are all sequestered in their rooms and are worried as to Vishal’s disappearance and their movement.

***


When one day Preeti is having a bath in her room when she suddenly feels that there is someone in the rest-room with her. The reason for her feeling is that she sees the shadow of a woman behind the bath curtain. As she is startled and peers behind the curtain; she cannot see anyone, but has the distinct and uneasy feeling that someone is in the room with her. As she gets out of the restroom and walks towards the couch she can feel that someone is watching her. She turns around instinctively but again finds no one there. Anyways, she turns on the music of her phone and lies down on the couch when all of a sudden a scream erupts from the phone that jolts Preeti out of her reverie. She looks around and sees the very same old, hideous woman standing in front of her. At first, she is bewildered as to how did this old woman get in her room. Then she looks back but the old woman is gone. This terrifies her and she rushes towards the door to her room. Before she could make halfway across the room, the apparition of the old woman appears right in front of her eyes from thin air and starts stabbing her. It takes a couple of seconds before Preeti realises that she is bleeding and going to die very soon. Somehow, she manages to escape from the clutches of the apparition and make her way towards her phone and make a call to Kajal.

***


Kajal is pissed off at the incessant ringing of the phone and picks it up. However, she is surprised to hear the distressed voice of her friend and Preeti just manages to say the last dying words “she is here to kill all of us”. Before Kajal could react the phone switches off. She tries to call Preeti but to no avail. So she rushes towards her room thinking that her friend might be in danger. As she reaches Preeti’s room, she sees the door is slightly ajar and as she enters the room she finds Preeti lying dead in her pool of blood; with her eyes desperately screaming for help. Seeing this Kajal gives out a scream which brings the rest of the friends and half the hotel rushing towards her. When everyone reaches the spot and are curious as to why Kajal was screaming, they are stunned and too shocked to react. At first, a couple of housekeeping staff girls also gasp at the grisly sight; however, the manager of the hotel and Jacob inform the police immediately to the spot.

***


When Inspector is summoned and when he sees for himself the carnage in the room; his first suspicion falls on the group of friends. So, he starts questioning them one by one as to their movements and whereabouts. One thing which seems to puzzle the police is that though there are security cameras installed in the corridor; there was no one seen entering or exiting Preeti’s room at the time of her murder. They even check the footage of the last few days and they only see the routine coming and going of visitors and hotel staff. Still, Inspector Gyan has his doubts on Anish, Jacob, Rakesh and Kajal. He says that “now this is a case of murder and disappearance, so one will leave the hotel until further notice” The friends are already in a state of shock and are too numb to respond. In the evening when all of them have gathered at Jacob’s room it is then Gurung once again says “I am still saying that it is the work of the witch and she wants her stones back. Now is the best time to return it whosoever has it”. Once again no one takes him seriously; however, Rakesh looks a bit nervous.

***


Rakesh now too starts having doubts on his friends but chooses to keep quiet about it. He makes an excuse and goes to Preeti’s room and takes a peek in her bag where the stones were kept. What he sees there completely takes him by surprise as the stones were not there and the bag was reeking of blood. This scares Rakesh and he quickly drops the bag and goes to his room and checks his bag, as to whether the stones are there or not. When he finds that the stones are there, he breathes a sigh of relief. The very same night Rakesh was experiencing a nightmare when he jolts awake sweating all over. When suddenly he sees the very same old woman standing next to his bed with a hideous grin on her face. Rakesh is too terrified to react. That was the last time he was seen by anybody. The next day when Anish goes to Rakesh’s room and calls out his name he finds that there was no response. He continues to call out his name “Rakesh, wake up, why are you not opening the door?” Still, there is no response. Anish even tries banging the door but to no avail. He then calls Jacob and Kajal and they even try calling on his mobile but it keeps on ringing. Finally, they get the hotel manager to open the door and as they enter his room they are again for the biggest surprise of their lives.

***


They find that Rakesh’s bed is unkempt but he is nowhere to be found. Although the windows are all closed and the door was shut from inside. Inspector Gyan is again summoned to the spot. This time he is furious and blasts at the three remaining friends that “do you take me for a fool? First, Vishal goes missing, then Preeti is murdered, and now Rakesh is missing from a closed room?” Moreover, he was feeling the heat from the top brass as to the disappearance and unsolved murder. So he was on the verge of arresting the remaining friends on the suspicion of murdering their friends, but there was no evidence to support this claim. So he was also getting frustrated. Now, all this while, when this was happening Kajal had started experiencing bad dreams. Every day she used to dream that she was in the same forest at the altar with the very same old woman demanding the return of the stones to her.

***


Kajal had once or twice even tried to talk to her friends, especially Jacob but he had always brushed her off. Gurung, on the other hand, was now very scared and said “for the last time I am pleading with all of you to return the stones and appease the witch; as she is furious and this would not stop until each one of us is not dead” Now the friends start taking notice of Gurung’s pleas and start having doubts as to whether he was right from the beginning. A few days later, Rakesh’s battered and broken body is found at the same place from where they had taken the stone. The most surprising thing to all of the people was that it seemed that Rakesh had seen something terrifying before his death.

***


Meanwhile, someone else was also taking a keen interest in what was happening in Meghalaya, as it was all over the electronic and print media. Everywhere people were asking questions and demanding answers to this ongoing piece of riddle. Ishita Roy, a corporate lawyer, a psychic and a Wiccan, was keenly following the news after Vishal’s disappearance. Even she had started visions of the group’s ordeal and the encounters with the witch. She decided to give a visit to these people and try to help them out. As she believed that it was a path divinely selected for her. Moreover, her mother and grandmother were also famous psychics and Wiccans. So as a moral duty to help someone in distress Ishita went to Meghalaya. At first, she had to face a lot of flak from Inspector Gyan and he remarked sarcastically “that how come a ghost-doctor is showing so much interest in this case?” To which, Ishita replied that it was her duty to help and she would not be bothering in his work.

***


It seemed that Kajal, Anish and Jacob felt a sigh of relief when they first saw Ishita. All of them then recounted the whole incident to Ishita from the very first moment when they stepped into that forest. Even Gurung said that he had been warning and pleading with them to return the stones. Ishita kept quiet for some time after hearing their story. Then she asked “I want to see the stones if you have them” Ishita could feel the negative energy coming off the stones as they were brought to her. As soon as she touched she could feel a jolt and visualise the witch queen and her son, the betrayal of her people and the subsequent curse. She immediately kept the stones back and she saw that the three friends were looking at her with surprise as well as fear in their eyes. She then said that “ tomorrow we have to the forest and return the stones; as it is only then that the witch will be satisfied, and you will be free of this ordeal” The three friends readily agreed but there was one hitch to it. They had to convince Inspector Gyan and he was at first adamant and sceptical about the whole proposition. Somehow, Ishita manages to convince him by saying that “you can also come along with us” The next all of them retrace their steps to the same place from all their misfortunes had started. This time, however, even Anish and Jacob could see the witch watching their every move in the forest. As they approach the altar, Ishita says “gently approach the altar and keep the stones down” As they were doing this all of a sudden the apparition of the witch materialises in front of their eyes out of nowhere. Inspector Gyan is taken aback and about to take action when Ishita stops him from doing so.


All of them then look towards the altar and see that that the witch is adoringly caressing the stones and keeping them back; and with a last glare at them, she vanishes into thin air. Inspector Gyan is too confused by the whole episode and confides in Ishita that “this is the strangest case in my life” Ishita smiles and replies “there are common laws and principles in the ethereal world also which we humans have yet to understand” With that, the curse is lifted from the friends’ lives and no one is ever troubled again. Kajal, Anish and Jacob thank profusely the help given to them by Ishita, but she brushes it off. However, there is always someone ready to spoil the happy ending. It so happened that one of the housekeeping staff had stolen one of the stones from Kajal’s room when she was not there. As he was deciding as what to do with it, he hears a soft foot-fall behind him. When he turns back he sees the witch glaring at him.

* *


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