Theme : Horror
Most horror fiction is riddled with clichés. Although it may seem that there is nothing new in writing horror stories, it is by no means as pessimistic as it sounds, because the theme in itself is fundamentally timeless.
I generally despise watching horror movies, but the attitude does not extend to reading horror fiction. I have come to discover that I absolutely revel in the process of writing horror stories. This is my second attempt (after my Short Story 9: The Perfect Lover), at trying to send chills up the readers’ spines.
The Ghost of Airawata.
I wish I wasn’t alone. I wish Rudy was here. Better still, I wish Rudy was here with Tiger.
I love my own company. I generally love being alone, doing random stuff all by myself. But today is different. This is unknown territory, dangerous to boot. And I've no idea where I am going.
The sun disappeared behind the canopy of trees exactly twelve minutes ago. I know this because I checked my phone. My battery is down to 18%. My phone has already beeped the warning to connect it to the charger. I wish I could charge my phone. I do have my charger in my duffel bag but where does one charge a phone in the middle of a forest? Not that a fully charged phone would do any good here where there is absolutely no connectivity.
And this noise. Whoever thought being away from all the traffic of the city would be peaceful, didn’t get lost in a jungle after dark. Creatures of the night come alive when the city goes to sleep. There is so much noise here. The loudest is perhaps the shrill chirping of crickets and the hum of mosquitoes, almost the size of bees, buzzing constantly above my head.
I am so thirsty. All these mosquitoes must mean that there is water nearby. I don’t know what to do. I have no idea which way to go, where to sleep…I’m not even sure I can set up a tent in someplace all by myself. Bear Grylls would know exactly what to do here. He would probably capture some juicy crickets and churn up a tasty meal out of them, maybe he would garnish the insects with these mosquitoes too…
I pull out the bottle from within my bag and chug in the last of my water. I know I shouldn’t empty the last ounce of water, but panic makes one desperate in ways that a normal brain under normal circumstances cannot fathom. I know there are three Good-day cookies left with me, but no more water…
Rudy wouldn’t have emptied the water. She would have saved it until morning. Rudy…why did she refuse to accompany me on this…this tour? Perhaps she had the premonition that things would go horribly wrong, especially with the jinx that I seem to perpetually carry around with me all the time.
I move my flashlight slowly around me. All I see is thick foliage, bushes, tree trunks, around me. There is an occasional rustling in some bush or the other, I hope they are only rats or maybe baby snakes looking for food. The rock I’m sitting on is damp, it has rained earlier in the evening. The ache in my calves and ankles is steadily increasing now. If only I knew which way the road was…I miss Tiger more than ever. Tiger, my tiny little mongrel would have known the exact way back to the winding road. But Tiger was safe at home, back in Kerala, with my sister Rudy.
I should have refused the unbelievable offer that the wily travel agent enticed me with. After all, why would they offer a five day tour of the Airawat hills and accommodation at such a gigantic discount unless something or the other was wrong with them?
I had no idea I’d end up alone in the forest when I cheerfully boarded the ramshackle bus five hours ago. The gangly guide promised that we would reach the jungle trail resort by evening. If only the bus hadn’t broken down…How stupid I was to have gotten down from the bus to join the rest of them who decided to walk the rest of the way...It was supposed to have been a cool nature walk of a mere two kilometers from where the bus conked.
I pull myself up from the rock and begin to walk again. The road is to the northwest. I know that much, from the map we had pored over before we naively decided to cut through the jungle shortcut that rascal Sohail in our group claimed to know very well…Does the group even realize that I was left behind near the banyan tree? I hope they do, I fervently pray that they are looking for me…if not…I dare not think any further.
Why, oh why the hell had I stopped to click that stupid selfie? I should have had the common sense to stay within sight of the group and save the battery of my phone…I must attempt to find that damn road.
It isn’t the darkness that I fear. I find darkness comfortable and even soothing. It’s not even the animals I dread, especially the elephants that are supposed to inhabit this area. There is something more terrifying here that I do not want to encounter.
I know the side of the forest that the sun set, so I gauge the Northwestern direction and begin to push my way across the prickly undergrowth. I feel the sting of the many scratches on my face and some minor bruises on my legs and arms. These jeans of mine weren’t meant for these harsh conditions, but how would I have known that?
‘Squiiissh!’ I hear the loud noise even as I feel the slimy rush of something gooey under the soles of my loafers. Yikes, I have stepped on some wet creature, maybe a large snail…hope it isn’t a snake! I begin to walk faster now, not even waiting to see what unfortunate creature got under my feet.
The travel guide’s words echo in my head. What seemed like a joke during the sunny afternoon seems sinister in this semidarkness of the jungle.
‘The ghost of Airawat forest’, he had said solemnly. That got our attention alright. ‘The ghost of Airawata’, he repeated for effect, ‘haunts the jungle, preying on lone travellers especially when it rains.’ I’d joined the others who had laughed it off, trying to hide my nervousness.
‘He was a mahout who was killed by his own elephant. It was during a routine elephant ride in the jungle safari that some travellers had poked the animal with a sharp stick for fun. The elephant had become so agitated that he had chased the whole group for a few meters. The tourists ran helter-skelter, but Shambu, the mahout had stood his ground. He had trained the animal since he was a baby and thought of it as his own child. But that fateful day, the animal refused to follow his orders. Pushing the man on to the ground, he had trampled over him until his body was a mass of crushed bones and bloody matter…’
No one had laughed then.
‘It has been seven years since the incident, but many of us have sighted Shambu’s ghost. His face and body appear crushed, with only his ribs and thigh bones gaping out from within gooey tissues,’ the tour guide finished with a flourish.
I have watched a lot of horror movies, but even my vivid imagination could not conjure a crushed ghost with partially jutting out bones.
I had chuckled nervously then. But now, I’m able to see the apparition clearly in my mind’s eye.
‘What does the ghost do?’ a tall girl had asked the guide.
‘He kills whoever ventures into the forest after dark… No one who has entered the forest after sunset has ever been seen again…’ His voice had trembled slightly when he said that. ‘Revenge, he extracts revenge from all the travellers who dare to enter his territory…
Keep away from the forest after sunset…’ he had warned before the bus began to move.
My pace quickens, my breath is already coming in gasps with all the exertion and perhaps the fear that engulfs my mind. I push through the foliage the best way I can with the thick bamboo stick I’d found near the rock earlier.
Stay calm…stay calm...ghosts do not exist…; I repeat the mantra in my head. And the apparition appears only when it rains…and it isn’t raining now.
As if on cue, multiple streaks of lightning brightens the sky. I look up, awestruck at the vision of terrifying beauty.
Pearly lines scatter across the inky sky to form grotesque white roots, that shoot out of the smoky clouds and reach down to the silhouettes of pine trees below.
My eyes follow the line of the streaks down to the earth and in the last flash, I see something that makes me go from joy to terror in the span of three seconds.
Joy, because in that flash of light I see the road snaking up ahead, only a few meters away. Terror because I see something else standing…or floating…something that wore black and white at the same time, in the middle of the very road that I have been looking for.
Darkness. Utter darkness envelops me, as a huge grind of thunder shatters the sky. Is my mind playing tricks? Is that the ghost I'd just sighted in the middle of the road? And why is it dark..? I realize that I have dropped the flashlight in my shock.
I go down on my knees and feel around the wet slush for the flashlight. My mind is racing while I try to draw on the last vestiges of my sanity. Is it my imagination or is there some sinister presence waiting for me to approach it?
I feel the cold metal brush against my fingers and grab at it blindly. I try to find the switch that puts it on and hear an audible click as my thumb finds it. Nothing happens.
I bang the torch against my palm trying to get the light back on, but to no avail. The cold breeze makes the goose-pimples on my skin feel like marbles but then, my shirt has stuck to my moist back. I hear an odd whistling noise and realize that it is emanating from my own nostrils. I’m breathing so hard, my panting breaths have begun to come out in high-pitched whistles. It seems to match the chills going up and down my spine. Two large drops of wetness falls on my wrist and head. It has begun to rain.
I’m still grappling with the flashlight when I feel, more than see the presence in front of me. I look up involuntarily, just as a fresh bolt of lightning reveals an apparition two feet away from me.
And this time, I see enough before the darkness descends on me again. I see the black of dried blood and rotten tissue. I see the white of a rib-cage and long femur bones jutting out from amidst the murky mass. I see a perfect grey square, where the head and face should have been. What is left of it, reminds me of flat screen television screen with a gory display of a flattened nose above gaping teeth and broad ears, all smeared together against a solid invisible wall of air.
I hear a frantic barking somewhere behind me…Tiger! Was Tiger here somehow, dashing across the jungle to save me from the deadly ghost? The rain beats down around me, a puddle has formed around my legs. My vision has blurred into a haze.
‘Romaaaa,’ That’s Rudy’s voice calling out to me. I would be safe at last!
‘Romaaaa,’ That’s Rudy’s voice calling out to me. I would be safe at last!
They would never believe that I had actually seen the Ghost of Airawat hills. Maybe I should have clicked a selfie with it before it disappeared.
I shut my eyes when the feel of icy skeletal fingers wind around my throat, just as another clap of thunder shatters the sky.
Picture credits : Google