The journey begins
Anil was anxiously waiting for his friends to pick him. His friends were late by an hour. He was about to pick his mobile and call when he saw a jeep in the street corner. He confirmed it was the jeep he was waiting for after seeing Ravi in the driving seat. He picked the bags. The jeep stopped for Anil to get in. He saw Radha in the front seat, he did not like the prospect of sitting in the back seat. When Ravi was about to hop in, Maruti stopped him. He asked Anil to go back home and pick a second charger as Maruti forgot his. Anil was already restless from all the waiting. But he has no other option, he dropped the bags in the jeep and headed back to his apartment. Radha said, "It is not good to head back once you start the journey". Everyone in the group laughed out loud. Radha was superstitious and sentimental about her beliefs. They all ignored her. Anil brought the charger and they started their journey.
Anil, Radha, Ravi, and Pummy stopped at the roadside tea shop after a long journey. Radha did not like stopping that late. She wanted to reach before it is dark. The guys had a long drive and the location too was good for some pictures. They ordered teas and biscuits and were taking a lot of pictures. The shop keeper noted that they were new to the area. He enquired where they are heading. Anil said they were going to Rahasyapuram. One of the customers sitting in the tea shop was shocked hearing this. He quickly had a glance at the tea shop owner. The owner was about to say something to Anil, the customer looked intensely at the shopkeeper and he stopped. Anil did not notice any of it.
A few minutes later the customer left the place and only the tea shop owner and the friends were left. The owner came in a hurry to the group and picked the teacups and asked them to quickly leave. They did not understand what was going on. The owner told not to ask any questions and reach Rahaysapuram early. He told them to cross the neem tree at the border of Rahasyapuram before 6 PM. If they cannot make it before 6 PM he advised them not to enter the village. The man almost threw them out of there. They got into their jeep and started the journey. They were all stunned silent for a few minutes. They drove the car in silence for a few minutes. The silence was broken when Anil asked Radha, "What do you make of it?". Radha replied, "That guy seems to know something, let us reach before 6 PM". Anil, Ravi, Pammy looked intensely at Radha for a second and started laughing. They knew exactly that will be Radha's take on the situation.
Ravi was driving fast, not because of the warning. He liked driving fast. As per google map, they should reach before 6 PM. Radha was happy knowing that. The drive was going smoothly. Suddenly there was a bike that crossed them. The bike did not look like any advanced model bikes. This made Ravi angry and he started driving faster. A few minutes’ drive and he got close to the bike. They got a glimpse of the driver, the driver looked very young. The way he was cruising on that village side road got Anil excited. He was missing his bike. A few more kilometers of driving they found the bike broke down on the road. Anil stopped the car to help fix the bike. Ravi, a biker himself, fixed the bike and the bike started. The biker thanked Anil and was ready to leave. Anil then asked if he can ride with the biker for a few miles. Luck has it the biker was also heading Rahasyapuram. Radha was strictly against Anil going on the bike. Her grandmother told her not to travel in a group of 3. If Anil gets into the bike 3 of them have to travel in Jeep.
The bike zoomed away, and Ravi too was driving fast to catch up. Fixing the bike took time. Now they will be reaching a half-hour later to 6. Ravi was pushing the jeep very fast. They reached the border of the village, they noticed the neem tree and Anil. Anil was waiting for them near the neem tree. Anil waved seeing them with excitement. Ravi and Pammy waved to Ravi back. Radha was nervously watching the clock. It was 6:10 PM, she turned towards Ravi and was about to say to him not to cross the neem tree. Anil was watching car coming towards him. He was excited to get back with his friends. Anil blinked his eye and the jeep was no longer on the road. Anil could not believe his eyes, he noticed the neem tree then. The biker quickly dragged Anil and got him on the bike and drove away. Anil was checking again and again for the jeep, it was not there behind him.
The quest for truth
The biker was driving so fast as if his life is dependent on it. Anil did not know what was going on. The biker only slowed down and came to halt after finding the first lights of the village, the lights of the village Amman temple. Anil did not get down from the bike, he was still reeling in shock. Anil got out of the bike, but he could bearly stand. He sat down on the road half lost in his thoughts. The biker gave some water to Anil to drink. Only after drinking some water, he started to get his senses back. He asked the biker to take him back, he wanted to go to his friends. The biker knows there was no use going back. The biker does not want to die. Anil tried to tell the biker they were his best friends and he needs to save them. The biker knows there was no saving Anil's friends anymore. But he cannot tell that to Anil. Adamant Anil started to walk on foot to find his friends. The poojari of the Amman temple was walking towards the village after locking down the temple and saw Anil. He looked into Anil's eyes and in a firm voice said, "You cannot go now, come with me". Anil followed the priest in a complete trance.
The next morning the poojari woke Anil up, who was sleeping on the terrace of his house. He moved his finger and Anil followed the finger to see their jeep being dragged out of a lake. Anil ran towards the lake to see if any of his friends were saved. On reaching he finds all the three bodies of his friends in a burnt state. The jeep, however, was intact without any hint of burning or fire. He wanted to know what happened to them. The villages were too scared to go to the police. They want the bodies to be taken away immediately. Anil sent the bodies to their families for the last rites. He wanted to go, but he had a bigger mystery to solve.
The next morning Anil headed to the Police to complain about the incident. Seeing him entering the station constable Ramana came running to stop him. Ramana asked Anil to not enter the police station. Anil was flabbergasted by the request. He asked the constable. "Why?". The constable had nothing new to add except asking Anil to leave. Anil thought the constable did not know the seriousness of the issue. He started to tell the constable, "Sir, my friends...". The constable stopped him mid-sentence, we know everything please leave and go back to your home. Anil found it strange, but he decided to leave the police station. He went back to the village to find out what is going on.
He went to the village, but he did not know where to start. He stopped first at the Amman temple. The poojari was there conducting some rituals. The poojari saw Anil and told, "I know you will come back. Sit down. Have some food."
Anil said, "I don't want any food. I want to know what was going on."
The poojari said, "You will get all your answers, please sit down and have something to eat." Anil sat down and was having something to eat.
Poojari started telling the story of the village. "The story that many believe true was of a girl. There was a girl who used to travel to the next town for her education. The village had no light at that time. So, everyone will reach the village before it was 6 PM. One day the village had visitors who came after 6 PM. No one knew who they were. The village gave them a place to sleep that night. Everyone came to know they were thieves only later. That night the thieves robbed many houses. When the girl tried to stop, they killed the girl and her whole family. The villagers believe that night the girl turned a ghost. She guards the village sitting on top of that neem tree. Anyone who comes after 6 PM she stops them. She will let go if she knows the travelers from the village."
Anil starts to laugh hysterically. He was not being disrespectful to the girl's pain, but a ghost? That too helping to guard a village. What Anil did not notice was, there were many more people sitting around him in the temple. They did not like Anil laughing. One of the guys started to tell his own story about his encounter with the ghost.
That night the guy has reached the village border late. He was thinking not to enter the village, but that time his wife was pregnant. He forced himself to enter the village anyway. He started his tractor and headed towards the neem tree. As he crossed the neem tree there was a big sound, as if something fell in the trailer of the tractor. The driver got very scared. He knew the village rules. "Whatever happens, don't look back till you come home." He started to hear more weird sounds started behind him. He kept looking forward to forcefully. Then he heard steps of someone walking closer to him. His mind started playing games. It wants him to look back. He knows looking back will be the end. He was forcing all his senses. The steps started to get very, very close. Then he started to smell some weird scent in the air. His body starts sweating even though the weather was extremely cold. Then he starts to hear a crying girl. The girl started to beg. "Please sir, don't kill me. I want to go to school tomorrow. Please, sir, my father is a good man. Take all the money. We will not complain to anyone." The man continued to look forward. Once again there was a big sound. This time the girl said, " The trailer is losing I am falling. Please help me and pull me up. Please, please I don't want to die. Help me get back into the trailer". He continued to keep his eyes glued to the village and never looked back. He was able to see a little light emitting out of the Amman temple. That is when he heard a very big bang. His first instinct was the tire had a puncture. Then he heard in a very scary tone, "Don't you dare enter my village now your enemy. I will kill you if you enter the village. I will not let you kill anyone in the village. See my nails how long they are they can pluck out your heart with one pull". Next, he heard a very cackling loud laugh. He one last time thought about his wife and accelerated the tractor. He reached the temple. After crossing the temple, he stopped to make sure there was nothing in the trailer. He also checked on the tires and all were intact.
"How do you know it was the same girl?", asked Anil.
"The story matches the girls."
"Why then she was trying to kill you? You belong to the village, right?"
"She does not know I am from the village or not. The village rule was to come before 6 PM as I came later, she assumed I was not from the village."
"Why then she did not kill right away?"
"That is something which was a mystery. But what my father told me was, if you don't look back she knows you are from the village."
Anil was not happy with the reasons he got from the poojari or others. He wanted to find the reason himself. He requested the poojari to give him accommodation for a few days to stay in the village, without actually telling him why. The next morning, he went to the place where they found the jeep. He wanted to know how the jeep got in the lake. The neem tree was nowhere near the lake. He started to walk on the bank to find where it is starting. After walking for a few minutes, the lake disappeared under a big bridge. He walked past the bridge, but he could not find the lake anymore. So, he walked back and jumped in the lake and started to swim under the bridge. It was pitch black under the bridge. He started to hear weird sounds in the lake. A few more meters swim he heard someone's voice. He looked back there was no one. A few more meters he heard a big sound. His instinct was telling him to look back. The story from the other day made him hesitate. He started to swim faster. A few more minutes and he heard a bigger sound. This time his instinct took over and he turned to see what it was. He could not see anything. After swimming for a while, he came out from under the bridge and there was light at last. He finally sighed in relief. But there was no sign of neem tree. He started walking and a few hundred meters away he saw the neem tree. When he was checking around some daylight fell in his eyes dragging his attention. It came from the ground reflecting on something. He looked in the direction of where the light is coming from. It reflected light from a mobile. He picked the mobile up it was Pummy's mobile. Pummy was a vlogger. She recorded everything in her life. Anil picked it up and tried to switch it on but the battery was dead. He kept it in his pocket and started to walk back to the village.
It was already 8 PM by the time he reached poojari home. After reaching there he kept the Pummy's mobile for charging and went to take a bath. His body was smelling very bad from the swim in the lake. It was winter and there was no hot water provision. He wanted to skip the bath, but the stench was too much. He went to the backyard and drawn some water from the well. The water, as expected, was very cold. He picked a mug of water and closed his eyes and poured anticipating the coldness of the water. But to his surprise, the water was hot. He opened his eyes and placed his hand in the water, the water was very cold. He picked one more mug and poured on himself the water was hot again. He got confused and scared by the happening and was ready to go back into the home. When he turned around and was about to take a step a hand stopped him. He turned around to see whose hand it was. There was no one. He was about to run when it felt like someone held him with both hands. The next second he could see the bucket moving up and pouring the rest of the water on him. He then heard some voice telling him.
"Why were you trying to run before finishing the bath. Your bath is completed now, the stench is gone. Go back into the home."
Anil started to get scared. He does not what to make out of all things going on there. He wanted a distraction some normalcy. That was when he noticed the phone that was getting charged. He switched it on and started to go through the videos. He starts to hear Pummy's voice.
"Anil always was an adrenaline junky. He jumped out of the jeep to get on the bike. I wanted to spend all the time on the trip with him. That was why I forced Radha to sit ahead. She hated sitting next to the driver. When will men understand women's love? Why can't he just propose to me, I will marry him tonight and give him everything."
Anil started to tear up. He was in love with Pummy for a while now. He was worried about losing her friendship and never proposed. Knowing her last message to him was her love broke him into pieces. He started to understand for the first time what he lost. The tears were not in his control anymore.
The video continued with Pummy's voice. "There he is Anil. Finally, I see him. My longing comes to an end." There was complete silence for a few seconds. Anil thought that was the end of the clip. He stopped and pulled the video to play from start again. This time he noticed something, there was a minute more in the video after Pummy's last words. He tried to hear all of it, but it was all just some disturbance. He thought it must be after the jeep had the accident.
The next morning, he was woken up by the poojari. The poojari asked Anil when he was leaving. He explained to poojari what all happened the day before, with the lake, the hot water, etc. Anil then said, "He cannot leave with so many unanswered questions".
Poojari said, " Don't worry about all this. As we all told there is something none of us can comprehend. Like a ghost. Leave it there and go and live your life. You have a big reason to live for yourself and your friends. "
Anil got angry and said, "You uneducated people want to believe ghosts, black magic, and all superstitions. I cannot tell this as the reason for their deaths. I need to know."
"How can you say I am uneducated"
"Reading Vedas, Upanishads and believing in ghosts is not education".
"Do you think is it easy to read Vedas. You need a lot of scientific temperament to understand few words of Vedas. Hanuman Chalisa gave the distance to the sun. Chalisa belonged to the 15th century 2 whole centuries before science could measure the distance. There are many more unknown treasures of Indian achievements and scientific findings in our Vedas. Even keeping all this aside I completed my master’s in clinical psychology from Harvard University. I came back here assuming all this hokum. If explained in common man's words this is all hokum. But let us read it this way. Some force might be emerging exactly at 6 PM at that spot. That force might be distracting or creating some mind tricks on people and making them lose all senses. That might have caused the death of your friends and you not seeing the jeep."
Anil asked "How did it end up in the lake? What about me feeling the hot water or someone pulling me yesterday?"
"They should have lost control and drove and fell into the lake. The jeep traveling all under that narrow bridge looks impossible. But it is still a plausible explanation. Coming to the hot water, I believe you had a hallucination. The swimming in the lake would have exposed you to some chemical gases which might have made you hallucinate."
Anil started to feel a little better with this explanation. He asked the poojari, "Why he did not tell this to him yesterday in the temple?"
"There were too many local people around. This would have caused a big controversy and I would have been thrown out.
"Why are you trying to stay here, by the way?" asked Anil.
"They need me here. I can give the coming generations some change and slowly this belief can be changed is my hope."
Anil finally was ready to leave from the place. He still did not know the truth. But he was ready to accept there are a lot of "Unknown" in the world.
P.S.: He was driving in the jeep. He crossed the neem tree. He wanted to start some music to distract himself. He searched for his phone and found Pummy's phone. He played the last video. It was the same voice and the same message, and the sound stopped. The eyes started to well again. He thought that was the end. Out of nowhere, he heard some voice
"Please sir, don't kill me. I must go to school tomorrow. Please see my sorry face, please let me go."