Closed In …

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On moonless nights, when darkness crawls stealthily, pausing awhile in certain places, noises fade away in fear. People curl up in their rooms and let the walls close in on them, till the morning light trickles in to alleviate the morosity that the night brings in. 

On nights like this, things happen – uncanny things, quite beyond the understanding of the human mind. Most people flee to happier places; a few stay put to prove that their minds were playing tricks on them and nothing beyond the natural could have happened – and a few curious souls seek to find out what all the mystery was about. 

                                                          ………..

I was having a rough time. My quiet existence was now threatened by some ominous intrusions. It had all started on a Monday morning. I had spent the whole of the previous night painting a picture of the woman I had seen a few days back in the valley. She was the very epitome of beauty and though I did try to follow her down the valley, she had disappeared quite as suddenly as she had appeared. Her face continued to haunt me thereafter and I decided to immortalize it on a canvas (well not exactly a canvas – it was the bedroom wall). With a heart steeped in love, I had started painting a little before midnight and continued till the candlelight died a sullen death in the wee hours of the morning. 

A frenzied cry is what woke me up the next morning. There were people downstairs.

 “Oh hell!” I groaned inwardly. I hated people.

 They were talking in low voices and fumbling with some wires. One fellow – burly and dressed in overalls, stood poised on a ladder, hammer in hand.

What the hell were they doing in my house?

I thundered down the stairs, roaring. They squealed and scampered off.  There was a weird contraption on the wall but I was too outraged to pay much heed to it. Little did I know that I could be seen.

                                                            …………

I had been living in my little cottage (if I could call it mine) for almost two years. The years before that had been the worst years of my life. 

At one point in time, I had been a happy go lucky chap, leading a wonderful life in London. Driven by the dreams of a gullible mother who had grown up on a diet of romanticized war fiction, I landed a job in the army. I was shunted off to India where I was handed a posting in Kasauli. Things weren’t too bad initially. Kasauli was a beautiful place with pleasant weather. The cantonment had been established just a decade or so ago. The quaint little town had grown into prominence over the years and I was glad to have landed here. However things began to take an ugly turn when the soldiers of the Nasiri Battalion broke into revolt. The year that followed was nightmarish to say the least. The revolt had not been confined to Kasauli. There were uprisings everywhere and our very existence on Indian soil was at stake. Delhi, Kanpur, Jhansi and Awadh had taken the lead. 1857 was a year that would remain etched in my memory. This, compounded by the fact that my colleagues and I were breathing in some very hostile air in our cantonment made us extremely unhappy. Though the local rulers supported us, our subordinates often refused to take orders and our seniors expected us to take cognizance of any disobedience and deal out harsh punishments. 

The end came sooner than expected. One morning during a horse ride, I was caught in the line of a gunshot that went right into my gut and sent me flying across the six kilometre expanse of the grounds where my quarters were stationed. I merged into history (at least I hope so).

Homeless, I wandered into a tiny village, perched some 4000 metres above the rest of the world. An empty cottage became my new home and life became a little more stable. I did have a bit of a rough time fending off inquisitive intruders who seemed intrigued by my, ahem, lifestyle. Life, otherwise was pretty tranquil – till ………..

                                  *********

A sudden noise aroused me from my sleep. A quick look at my wristwatch told me that it was ten minutes past eleven. It was a cold night. I peeped out of my window. There was some movement in the garden below. I peered hard. There were people moving around surreptitiously, torches in hand. I paused. I needed to investigate the matter. 

I moved down the stairs quietly and headed towards the window of the living room. It overlooked the garden outside. Some two feet away, just behind the unkempt bushes, stood three figures. They looked strange. They were cloaked in black from head to toe and one of them was constantly flailing his arms as if possessed.  They were talking in whispers. Suddenly a torch was flashed in my direction and I quickly slid away. I could not tolerate light or sound. 

“I hear something,” a deep voice muttered.

English men.  What the hell were they doing here?

A beep followed. 

“I see something,” a voice crackled. 

“What do you see?” the deep voice replied.

“A translucent figure – exuding some kind of light – a very faint light. It has swirled out of sight. Wait – I can see it. It’s right behind the pillar in the middle of the room.”

“Is it alone?’

“Seems like it.”

How the damn hell were they able to see me?

I raced to the spandrel beneath the stairs.

Why was I feeling like a hounded target? I was reminded of my war days – those dark days in hideouts dodging bullets from the enemy.

“It’s beneath the stairs. I can see a tinge of blue,” the crackling voice could be heard.

Gosh! What on earth were they talking about? How were they able to see me? 

Suddenly something caught my eye. The weird contraption on the wall was gleaming in the dark. I froze. Could that be conveying something to them?

The voices were moving closer.

“What’s the temperature?”

“It’s dropped by a couple of degrees.”

“Good. We are on the right track.” 

“Damn, it’s gone.” I could hear the crackling voice say. “You chaps had better go in.”

The next minute, I heard the door creak. I had to think and act fast. 

A light flashed through the darkness, swerved to the left and then swept across to the right. My favourite armchair stood there. I raced towards it and plonked myself into it.

I could hear a gasp.

“I am leaving,” one of the voices squeaked.

“Shut up,” the deep voice admonished. “We’ve told the chaps in the office that we would prove that this place is haunted. We can’t back down now. Besides we have spent quite a bit of money on this venture – a closed circuit camera and all the other things.”

 

Ah ! So that was it. Well, this was going to be fun. 

I cleared my throat and rocked my armchair. There was a quick shuffling of feet. They were huddling near the door. I could see the red gleam streaming down from the front wall. It was the fiendish device. I had to do something about it.

I cleared my throat once again. 

“May I help you?” I asked in my most formidable voice which somehow ended up sounding like a frail crack, reverberating through the house.

Oops ! What was that? Why was I sounding like an asphyxiated frog?

I cleared my throat again and I heard a slight squeal from across the room. I hadn’t spoken in over two years and my baritone voice had probably lost its former glory. Sad.  But never mind. I could see to that later. I first needed to deal with these rascals.

“I live here. How may I help you?” 

“We just, uh, dropped in to find out who lived here,” the bold one with the deep voice said. 

There was something in his hand. I could smell a rat. I had a fair idea what the gang was up to.

They were trying to capture images of me and record what I was saying. They would catapult to fame – at my expense. 

Oh no no no! They weren’t going to get away with that.

I chuckled loudly.

I then rose, pirouetted across the room and stood before them, five feet above the ground. The bold fellow dashed to the other end of the room while the other two stood transfixed, fear writ large on their faces. I suddenly heard a few clicks. The moron was taking images. In all probability, he was recording my words too. 

I grunted to myself. Before tackling these fellows, I needed to pull down the contraption on the wall. 

I glided across towards it, knowing fully well that I was being photographed. However, as soon as I touched it, a sudden spurt of energy passed through me and rattled me. I collapsed on the floor in a heap. The room felt very hot and I could hear them whispering to each other frantically. One thing was clear – I couldn’t touch that thing on the wall. I needed to think of an alternative plan. 

I lay still for a while, partly because I was too shaken up and partly because I needed to think. The smart alecks were now moving around the room quite boldly. The crackling voice that had spoken earlier was now telling them something.

“My screen had gone blank for a few seconds. Did something go wrong at your end?”

“Yes, it tried to touch the CC camera,” the bold one replied.

What the hell? They were referring to me as me IT? How dared they? 

I sat up and growled. Never before had I felt as humiliated as now – not even when I had been been at the receiving end of a public dressing down for having flirted with  Major Wilkins’ wife, thinking she was his daughter. 

They didn’t seem to hear my growl. 

“Ah well,” the crackling voice from the other side chuckled. “It can’t touch the camera – the camera emits shock waves.”

No wonder! Well, there are other ways to get that dratted camera down!

I needed something heavy. There was nothing in sight. The former occupants of the house had left it stark bare, except for the armchair and I had no intention of parting with it. I retreated into a corner to plan out my strategy.

They were now moving around the house trying to look for something. Perhaps they were trying to find out if there were others of my kind, residing in the house. 

“Tell me something,” one of them paused to ask. “Do you think it is an Indian or an English man’s ghost?”

The other two stopped to ponder over the all important question. 

“Hard to say. It does speak English – but the voice sounds a little muffled. It could well be an educated Indian.”

“I wonder how it got here,” the bold one said. 

A contemplative silence followed.

“I have a plan,” the bold one suddenly exclaimed. His voice was beginning to grate on my ears. 

He started moving around, brimming with the new found excitement of a man who had just discovered that he could fly. 

The others were all ears.

“Let’s get this thing out from here. You know that chap in the village – the one who drives away spirits. We’ll call him in. Once this place has been exorcised, we could renovate this place and sell it off. We could share the proceeds. What do you think? This place after all, has no claimants.”

His eyes were sparkling in the dim torchlight. 

The others were listening spellbound. 

“What do you think?” he asked again, excitedly.

“Fantastic,” the other two said in unison.

“We’ll be rich men – richer than those snooty seniors at office who have been lording it over us ever since we joined.”

I was ready to explode. The man had some cheek! Boot me out of this place indeed. 

I rose and thundered towards the unsuspecting man, lifted him and flung him against the wall. He yelped loudly, hit the wall, bounced off it and landed on the floor with a thud. The other two screamed hysterically and raced out leaving behind all the paraphernalia they had brought with them.

I was shaking with fury. I wiped my face and then bent down to pick up the torch they had dropped while running away. That is when I noticed something else. The dreadful thing on the wall was now lying on the floor, smashed to smithereens.

I began to chuckle. What a wonderful turn of events! Inadvertently I had managed to hit the target. I was no longer the object of surveillance at the hands of those good for nothing idiots. The Closed Circuit camera or whatever they call it was destroyed.

 

********


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