Theme : Plot Twist.
A surprise end to a story can be as satisfying a reading experience as any other kind of story.The author usually attempts to give the reader a fair chance to figure out what’s going to happen.
Even though a twist ending is supposed to give the reader a jolt, it should seem perfectly reasonable in hindsight. Not all the twists are sudden, but they would be surprising or shocking in some way or the other.
The Perfect Lover
The laugh reverberates across the long hallway. It wasn’t a real laugh, more a kind of giggle. The kind of giggle that I’d heard from shy schoolgirls who enjoyed the ogling attention of their amorous boyfriends.
I’d have found the giggle rather cute, under any other circumstances. Except that I am supposed to be alone here. Damn, I am alone. Aren’t I?
But the Chaaiwala’s words resound in my head again.
‘Saab, that house is haunted…the man of the house, Christopher sahib, died there 2 years ago. He never left…’
So, was this Christopher giggling? I feel cold needles prickle up my spine.
‘Oh, don’t be silly, there aren’t any ghosts here.’ My mind admonishes me.
‘Who was it then?’
‘You’re hallucinating, that’s what it is,’ the dark devil in my mind replies. ‘Remember, you aren’t quite normal…’
‘Right, that makes sense.’ I reply wordlessly, to the devil and heave a sigh of relief. My devil is rarely wrong. I get up from the ancient sofa and head towards the stairs, to get to the bedroom.
‘HEHEHE,’ It is just behind me this time.
I stop short! There it is again, louder now…
I turn slowly, the hair on my neck standing up like the spikes of the porcupine I’d seen at the zoo a few years ago.
No one. Not a single soul.
I hear the wind howl an eerie tune outside, through the single open window. I peer into the dimly lit hallway again. One large, faded and sunken sofa, that I’d just vacated stands solemnly against the far wall. A worn out wooden table is at the right corner with a lampshade that emanates a glow from a dusty zero-watt bulb. An ancient grandfather clock stands grimly next to the table, I notice that it is quarter past eleven.
I am alone, I reconfirm. So, who giggled?
I decide to make a run for it. I turn and begin to dart at a gallantly fast pace up the stairs. I dash past the long corridor, with rows of dead people staring down at me from the paintings on its walls. I rush into the single bedroom on the right, with the black door, high ventilators and no windows.
Panting, I shut the door and lean against it, trying to catch my breath.
‘Yeah, congratulations, moron! You just outran a ghost…’ Devil clapped a slow applause in my head.
I take a deep breath and look around the empty room carefully.
‘You aren’t really afraid, are you?’ Devil is disdainful.
I don’t reply. I do not have an answer to his question.
Sometimes, all I want is to do is revel in the thrill of being afraid. Simply because, I enjoy the fear. I have placed myself in dangerous situations, many times in the past, only to enthrall myself in the sheer thrill of imminent terror. I wait. I try to make no sound, even as my ribcage heaves in a weary protest.
‘You’re a 44 year old man. An old man. You can’t run about, not with those arthritic knees of yours…’ Devil is curt and ruthless, as usual. ‘What if you died or something?’
‘Shut up, Devil! Don’t be daft…’ I scold him. ‘I must listen…’
I stay motionless for a full two minutes. Silence. Complete silence. Good. Maybe Devil is right. I was hallucinating out there in the hallway…
I take in a deep inhalation and move to the single cot on the right. My half unpacked suitcase is still lying on it, the contents spilling haphazardly over the uncovered mattress.
Damn, this room stinks…there’s this flowery stench here…! That estate agent must have sprayed air freshener before I moved in…yikes. Why couldn’t he have just left the delicious aroma of the dilapidated dwelling for me to enjoy?
I lift the suitcase and plunk it on the dusty floor, with the clothes still hanging out of it.
I lie down on the bed and reach for the switch to turn off the dim yellow light.
I freeze, my hand halfway to the switch.
A cold sweat breaks out on my back. He was here…Christopher, that guy who died in this house was here, in my bedroom!
‘What the hell are you gonna do now?’ Devil mocks me.
‘Maybe I should talk to him. Should I tell him to leave me alone…?’ I ask Devil.
‘Try,’ Devil sounds bored.
I clear my throat and begin ‘Er…’
My voice comes out in a croak. I clear my throat again and say ‘Hi…er…Christopher? Is that you?’
‘Hehe,’ comes the reply.
I rub my eyes and look around the room. I couldn’t see him, but I knew he was somewhere to my left. That’s where the voice came from.
I gaze at the empty place where I thought he stood (or sat or knelt, for all I cared) and wondered what I was supposed to do next. Devil, was quiet too, for a change.
‘Hehe’ the voice was closer this time.
‘He seems to have a very limited vocabulary’, Devil observes. ‘Maybe, he lost his words when he kicked the bucket…’
I pull my knees closer towards my chest and feel the cold wall press against my back, as I involuntarily move away from the voice.
I rack my brains to recall what the rumor was. How had Christopher died?
‘Heartbreak.’ Devil supplies.
‘Yeah, Christopher died waiting for his lover to come to him...’ I remember the Chaaiwala at the village telling me this, earlier in the evening.
‘Is he angry or something?’ I ask Devil, mutely.
‘Ask him, how’d I know?’ Devil is a merciless scoundrel.
“Err. Christopher…how are you?’ I enquire the empty room.
‘I am the same,’ is the faceless reply. The voice is rather pleasant, for an unseen ghost that is.
‘Ask him why he died…’ Devil urges me.
‘Christopher, how did you die?’ I venture.
‘Maybe, he was murdered,’ Devil’s voice emanates undisguised hope and excitement. ‘Maybe, it was gruesome too…!’
‘I died, while I waited,’ the voice is devoid of emotion. A fresh tingle moves up my spine.
‘Waited for whom?’
‘My lover, he never turned up’
‘So, the rumors were true! He was gay,’ Devil has a mirthful tone now.
‘How did you die?’ I hazarded.
‘I sat on that sofa in the hallway, waiting and waiting…’
I hear the muffled bang of the window downstairs. I must have forgotten to latch it up properly…
Christopher is very quiet now.
‘He is miserable, oh, he is so heartbroken…this is amazing!’ Devil’s crimson dress flares around his waist in rhythm, as he begins a slow solo-tango across the damaged floor of my mind.
‘Er, how long did you wait?’ I ask, to fill the awkward silence.
‘Two days. 48 hours…’ Christopher sounds wistful. ‘I died after that, an awful ache in my chest…it killed me. I died at exactly five minutes to twelve, in complete darkness…slowly, silently...alone.’ The voice seemed far away, somehow.
‘So, he did die of heartbreak, after all. How boring! I hoped someone slashed his throat at least…’ Devil sighs, shaking his head in disappointment. I see his red-horned crown slip a little, even as he continues to tango around the bumps in my cranium.
‘Did he come?” I ask, trying to sound sympathetic. ‘Did your lover come?’
‘No, he didn’t. He never arrived…,’ Christopher replies. ‘I was terrified that he had returned to Wiltshire without me…I’d even worn that new grey suit he liked so much…’
‘So what happened after you died?’ I ask, trying to imagine the expression on the nonexistent face.
‘This guy is a mental case…,’ Devil announces. ‘More mental that even you, wow! That’s something, isn’t it?’
‘Was, was a mental case…’ I correct Devil, silently.
‘You’re having a ridiculous conversation with an invisible ghost, in a haunted old mansion and you still have the gumption to correct my grammar?’ Devil is incredulous. ‘Are you crazy or what?’
‘What happened to your lover, Christopher?’ I ignore Devil.
‘Guess what I did to him…?’ The voice is playful.
‘What did you do to your lover, Christopher?’ I ask, adopting the tone my mom used to, when she suspected I stole her carefully hidden chocolate cookies from under the lingerie in her drawer.
‘I went looking for him the next night. To his manor, down at the foot of the hill, by the lake.’
Foot of the hill by the lake? That sounded a lot like the house I lived in a couple of years ago…
‘What a coincidence that is,’ Devil sounds a little scared too. I notice that he has stopped dancing now.
‘What happened then?’ I ask, trying to hide the shake in my voice.
‘I saw him at the half-moon shaped balcony of his bedroom, chatting…with someone,’ Christopher sounds a little agitated.
‘Then, I saw who it was! The heartless cheat…he had promised me that he would never talk to Her again…’
‘Who? Who was he talking to?’
‘His wife, who else? He should never have married her in the first place...that was his biggest betrayal to me…’
‘Ohhhhhh…his gay lover had a wife…, haha, this is excellent!’ Devil revels in Christopher’s sorrow. ‘Such an apt misfortune to befall him…’
‘And my sis? She knew I was in love with him and still…she could’ve refused his proposal…he would’ve stayed with me then…’ Christopher’s voice has a strange edge to it.
‘Ohhhh hell…he married his gay lover’s own sister…what a bloody jerk!’ Devil is ruthless in his character analysis.
‘What happened then?’ I ask Christopher.
‘I waited till it was quarter to midnight and crept up the stairs to his room. I remained hidden behind the drapes till she left...I watched them laughing and making out in the moonlight…imagine the pain I was in…’ Christopher’s tenor is an odd mixture of fury and sorrow.
‘Lovely, just lovely!’ Devil’s twirls on his toe, in a blissful pirouette.
‘What did you do next?’ I’m breathless in anticipation of what happened next. ‘Did you confront him? Did you ask him why he hadn’t come to see you..?’
‘No, I just killed him.’
I freeze. Devil, freezes too, for a change. He stands motionless on one toe in a half-whirl; both arms raised high above his head, his mouth wide open in a gape.
Christopher didn’t need any more urging this time.
‘I pulled out the butcher knife he’d gifted to me on my 35th birthday from under my trousers…and stabbed him. At exactly five minutes to twelve…’
‘Lovelier and lovelier! This is the best of all hell broken loose…!’ Devil is moving his claws to and fro in the air, a frenzied dance of a wild animal in heat.
‘Shut up, Devil’ I say aloud. ‘Sorry Christopher, that wasn’t for you…’
‘Three times. I knifed him three times. One for the first day of waiting. One for the second day of heartbreak. And the last for the treachery of marrying someone else...’ Christopher’s tone holds unmasked delight.
‘I love this guy! Muwaaaaah!’ Devil brings his long red-tipped fingers to his lips and blows a loud kiss across the room. ‘I simply love him!’
‘Behave yourself, Devil!’ I am shocked at his impudence.
Christopher doesn’t seem to mind.
‘Heehee…my perfect lover…he died when I pulled the knife out, after the third time I drove it into his chest. And now, here you are…’
The old grandfather clock chants a cheerful chime to welcome the witching hour.
Christopher’s form materializes in front of me, little by little, as if by magic. His skin is pale, paler than it used to be in life. He is attired in the grey suit he wore when he died, the one that Devil loves so much. He wears the dimpled smile, too…the smile that Devil finds irresistible.
I follow the drip of beautiful little tear-shaped drops onto the floor from the butcher knife hanging loosely from his right hand, in utter fascination, as they circle into a perfect pool of scarlet on the pale yellow mosaic.
‘Ah, blood. My blood…’ Devil begins to hum an exultant tune under his breath. He holds out his arms, as if in anticipation of a long-awaited embrace.
‘Yes, Chris my love, here I am. I have finally come. Come to you at last…’ I grin, as I look down at the three gaping wounds on my chest.
Picture credits: Google images.