“It was a long, tiresome day, honey. The last session stretched an hour more than its scheduled time.” Yashwant was talking with his fiancée while walking to CCD outlet of Mumbai airport. He had a great craving for his much-needed shot of caffeine.
“When is your flight scheduled?” Sachi asked, walking into her room and closing the door behind. Gopi, her younger sister always took the mickey out of her whenever she was on a call with Yashwant. Sibling shuck can be derision that cannot always be entertained.
“Two hours… Till then, I’ll be slogging my ass here.” Saying so, he covered the speaker of the cell and spoke to the boy at the counter of CCD.
“One Espresso, double shot please…” He kept the money on the counter and continued on the call.
“Awww… My poor baby… Wish I could come there to kill your boredom and have some quality time together.” Sachi was on her bed with her elbows resting on her pillow and looking out of the window. Night sky was beautifully glittering with twinkling stars.
“I too wish… But as of now, I have my espresso and a favourite book.” Yashwant sipping his coffee walked out and began his hunt for an empty chair to relax his tired ass.
“And I know you won’t talk any more as you are yearning for your solitude.” Sachi knew better than anyone else that whenever he was tired, all he needed was some me time. She never minded it. The bond between them was not merely of love but of deep understanding.
Yashwant saw a corner seat empty; the next seat had been occupied by a guy in his mid-thirties. He walked with his luggage and asked politely.
“Excuse me, has this seat been taken?”
“Nope, you can have it if you don’t mind.” The guy picked his camera bag pack from the chair and smiled.
Slumping in the chair and keeping his luggage aside, Yashwant slowly slurped his coffee and began to devour his book voraciously. He was reading a book on wildlife photography. Yashwant noticed the eyes of his host playing peek-a-boo sometimes with him and sometimes with the book. Couple of times, their eyes met and he smiled at Yashwant. This made him a bit uncomfortable. Yashwant always got stark raving mad when a stranger fixed him with a gaze for no rhyme or reason.
“Excuse me… Do I know you?” asked Yashwant being irky to the edge.
“Yes and No…” The stranger replied with a mirthful smile.
“And what does that mean?” Yashwant asked with a raised eyebrow.
“You aren’t quite aware, but you are reading my book.” The grin on his face widened. Yashwant immediately turned to the last page and saw the photograph of the author. It was the self-same guy sitting right next to him.
“OMG… Vishal Dodhiwala… What a pleasant surprise… I am so sorry I didn’t recognise you, Sir.” Embarrassed Yashwant kept the book aside and shook hands with Vishal.
“Cause I am not that famous.” Vishal replied lightly.
“I have read all your articles on wildlife. They’re fantastic and superb reads, Sir.” Yashwant added gladly.
“I’ll take it as a compliment Mr…” Vishal asked keeping the magazine aside.
“Yashwant… Yashwant Keshwala.”
“Nice to meet you Yashwant…” They shook hands again.
“Nice to meet you too, Sir…”
“So Mr. Yashwant, what you do?” Vishal asked turning to him.
“Nothing interesting in consideration to what you do for living. And I really envy you for that.” They both laughed as Yashwant gulped down his espresso and continued.
“I am a stock market analyst and broker. I own my small teensy-weensy broking house with limited clients.”
“So… You are a money man… I like it.” Vishal raised his one hand and placed it near his heart.
“But it’s not a fancily fascinating form of work, it rather stands in juxtaposition to yours. I have always dreamed of going in the lap of Mother Nature and clicking the best pics of her creation.” It seemed that Yashwant was away with the fairies as these words dispersed through his lips.
“Well, my dear I would only like to say everything comes at a price. Wildlife is not always supportive and so is Mother Nature. Sometimes the weather is ghastly gruesome and you get stuck where you are. Living days without a shower, food so on and so forth… Isn’t a cup of tea for everyone” Vishal added.
“But still, freedom to travel and freedom to work is a totally different ball game after all.” Yashwant was making a point to which Vishal agreed.
“Coffee…?” Vishal asked looking at the empty cup in Yashwant’s hand.
“Anytime…” They both walked to the CCD counter and ordered their coffees.
“So what’s the next title you will be cherishing your fervent fans and eager readers with?” Yashwant asked as they settled back in their seats with coffee.
“I am planning something new apart from photography.” Vishal didn’t reveal explicitly.
“Okay…” Yashwant replied with twitched lips. He withheld his curiosity and avoided pushing the matted further as Vishal might feel offended.
“Actually…” Vishal, sipping some more of his coffee, spoke.
“I am writing a book on haunted mansions.” He smiled as he could read Yashwant’s thoughts.
“Really…? I mean, from wildlife to ghost stories…?” Yashwant was at loss of words. Vishal nodded and continued.
“And for that, I am travelling to different haunted places.”
“So where are you exactly headed now?” Yashwant asked taking a bigger sip of coffee.
“As of now, I too don’t know. I just go by nuggets of information from people. I have heard that villages in Gujarat have many haunted places.” Vishal finished his coffee and crushed his disposable cup before dumping it into the waste bin nearby.
“Ya, that’s true, in fact, I can help you with that.” This time Yashwant’s face lit up with a large smile.
“Really…? Do you know such places in Gujarat?” Excitement flushing through Vishal’s eyes brightly. He was all ears finally getting some cache for his book.
Yashwant told him that there is a house in his town which has been haunted since decades. Since the last 40 years, the house has been in the same condition.
“What exactly happened in that house?” Vishal asked checking the time. Their flight was already announced.
“Let’s board the flight first.” Yashwant too, checking the time, spoke.
Vishal’s curiosity and eagerness added a sparkling tinge of delight on Yashwant’s countenance. Luckily they managed to get the seats next to each other. Once the flight took off, Yashwant continued the story.
“The house belonged to one of the rich jewellers of his times. Nobody remembers his name now and neither do I. The story that has been passed down from one generation to other is that bandits attacked the house to rob it. When they couldn’t find much, they torched the house and the whole family was locked inside. They kept screaming but nobody came to their rescue.” He paused to adjust in the seat and continued. Vishal was listening intently with undivided attention. The history of that haunted house was of great eminence to him.
“Next day, the neighbours went to fetch the dead bodies. They searched high and low but couldn’t find any bodies.” Yashwant finally stopped and waited for Vishal’s reaction.
“So what happened to the bodies then?”
“Some say that their souls stole their body as they died such a painful, unnatural death. Till date, the missing dead bodies are an unsolved mystery of its kind. Nobody has ever spotted the family after that night and it was for sure that they were dead.” Yashwant sipped some water and continued.
“Those who went to get the bodies could hear the screams of the family. Those bone-chilling screams can be heard till today.” Yashwant finally rested the story.
“Did anyone go to the house after the incident?” Vishal asked exhaling his breath loudly which he had been holding back for quite a while.
“Many people, years in and out, have tried to go in search and have failed but…” Yashwant kept his words hanging in air.
“But…?” Vishal’s unnerving curiosity was pacing faster than his pulse.
“Those who went in the night never returned back. Anyone who took up the challenge of spending a night there has never returned back.” Yashwant’s lips puckered.
“Sounds interesting, at least, I got an adventurous venture to wander to.” Vishal rubbed his hands to warm them up.
“Jokes apart buddy, I won’t suggest you to go there. If you wanna see the place, you can go during the day time and that too is not advisable as people who went during the day time also said that they could hear the screams of people inside.” Yashwant was serious now.
“I have visited 9 places which were considered the scariest. Everyone used to say that nobody has come back from those houses but I am right here in front of you.” Vishal winked and smiled.
Sensing Yashwant’s discomfort, Vishal narrated his incidents about the haunted places he had visited previously. Vishal kept trying hard to convince the unconvinced Yashwant.
“Nothing will happen to me, buddy. And if anything goes wrong, I’ll give you the call and you can bring help.” Vishal spoke with raised eyebrows and smile.
“As you say, but I’ll still suggest that it is inadmissible to invite trouble.” Yashwant replied with a heavy sigh.
“Now fill me up with some more details till our flight lands.” Vishal glanced outside to have a look of the stunning beauty of nature.
Yashwant told him about various other random incidents he had heard about the house. Some of which he too didn’t believe but still poured the details in Vishal’s eager expectant ears. Their flight landed and both were ready to leave. Yashwant’s car was parked in the airport’s parking lot.
“We’ll drive to my place, you can rest and freshen up. I will drop at your destination after dinner.” Yashwant said as they walked to the parking lot.
“I’ll book the hotel buddy. I don’t wanna bother you more. You have already done enough for me.” Vishal was hesitant in accepting the offer.
“I leave in a village nearby and not in the town. Hotels are not good there. And you are a burden I would bare with happiness in my heart and an everlasting smile on my face buddy.” Yashwant smiled as they drove out of the airport.
“Thank you so much for all the help buddy. Never thought my book can earn me such good people who are ready to help me.” Vishal leaned back in his seat.
“You never know for whom you are a source of inspiration.” Yashwant hit the highway to his village. Rest of the drive was spent chatting. The more they talked the better they knew and understood each other. The day went well as sun-kissed the earth goodbye promising to return again.
“I will still suggest not to go there?” The concern in Yashwant’s voice was evident.
“And I’ll still insist to drop me there. Don’t worry buddy, I’ll be fine. Trust me.” Vishal kept his hand on Yashwant’s shoulder, assuring him.
Both the guys drove to the destination. It was 9 p.m. by then and was pitch dark. Nobody was in the neighbourhood. The house stood alone in the dreary deserted dead boscage. The greenery had evidently left garden making it treacherous to trespass, it just had the gravel that crunched under the feet of walker. Nobody in the village dares to take the road that passes by this house after 7 p.m.
“Hmmm… KAAL CHAKRA…” Vishal read the name of the house loudly. He stood in front of the gate with his hands resting on his hips and a bag of his requirements on his shoulders.
“The steps ahead, you have to take alone. I am not coming.” Yashwant didn’t even climb out of the car.
“That’s fine, buddy. See you in the morning.” Vishal displayed thumbs-up sign with a smile and started walking to the gate of KAAL CHAKRA. The old rusty gate which had been standstill for decades swung opened with a creaky sound like a mouth of the demon as it gets ready to devour any human soul.
“I’ll come at 7 in the morning to pick you.” Yashwant said loudly for Vishal to hear who was standing inside the compound.
“Don’t forget to bring the breakfast.” Vishal waved him goodbye and walked inside. His flashlight was on now and he was carrying few more to illuminate the house.
Next day morning, Yashwant reached KAAL CHAKRA at 7 a.m. He was about to dial Vishal’s number when Vishal opened the door of the house and stepped out in the porch.
“Hello, my friend…” The voice was light and playful. Yashwant was surprised on seeing Vishal walking out. Till today nobody had come out of that house alive.
“I don’t believe…” Before Yashwant could say anything Vishal cut him short.
“Yes… I am alive and in front of you, fit and fine as ever.” Vishal smiled and hugged him.
“How was your experience?” Yashwant’s eyelids stayed apart as if they were stuck to its point of origin.
“Let’s have breakfast. I have cleaned the table for us. I am hungry and hope you have brought coffee too.” Vishal joyfully patted Yashwant’s back and started walking ahead. Yashwant, holding the bag of breakfast, followed him.
They sat at the dining table in the right corner of the hall before the kitchen. Yashwant had stepped in for the first time. The house betrayed no hints of a flake of dust inside. No cobwebs either in any corner of the ceiling. This was too much for Yashwant to comprehend. How a house like this, burnt and locked for decades, is so clean. Vishal arranged the plates on the table and poured coffee for them as Yashwant was busy admiring the interior of the house.
“I told you, buddy, there is nothing like haunted place in this world. People cook up stories for one or other purpose.” Vishal took a bite of his toast and sipped some coffee.
“It’s very strange, I don’t know what to say.” Yashwant had mixed feelings of fear and shock. With still trembling hands, he began to apply the butter on his toast.
“It is always some people with evil intentions for the property…” Before Vishal could complete his statement, the knife slipped from Yashwant’s hand and went under the table. He bent to pick the knife and was aghast on what he saw. Vishal’s legs were not seen… His legs were missing.
A sting of fear pricked Yashwant’s heart, beads of sweat lined up his forehead. He turned to look at Vishal who was smiling and then… Something heavy crashed down on the table with a large thudding sound. It was Vishal… The body was badly burned…
The smiling half image of Vishal, sitting across Yashwant, started to fade in a cloud of smoke.The walls and ceiling of the house started turning black as an effect of fire, turning it to a real haunted house. Watching all these, Yashwant went hysterical and ran out of the house, screaming madly…
Today, Yashwant is in an asylum. It’s been five years now. He has not uttered a single word…
Written by: Hemang
Sketch: Paranj Sankdecha