I arrived hesitantly in the unfamiliar town. It spoke of pristine, deep valleys, crystal clear lakes and lush forests. Quite idyllic. I was en route by a cab to the chalet which was booked for residency.
Writers’ Retreat for a week in the scenic hamlet of Arkala. Limited to 10 pax only, the pinned post in the Facebook writing group had said.
Everyone was excited as we were all good friends online, but we were meeting each other for the first time.
The chat in the forum was abuzz! This was the maiden event initiated after a poll.
Ten writers had signed up in a jiffy and to everyone’s utmost damper… so had Julian!
Julian, the jerk as everyone called him as an inside joke.
He made no bones about how much he hated everyone’s story or find trivial nitpicks in them.
I was always his favourite punching bag with his snide comments on my stories. I was a newcomer and after a couple of episodes of a clash of words with him, I decided he was a lost cause and started clamming up. Nonetheless, it didn’t stop me from seething inwardly.
Writers’ Retreat was surely going to be shrouded by bad weather if he was coming along. But everyone thought he might be a better person in the offline world and chose to give him the benefit of doubt.
The crescent moon that rose over the town of Arkala today was starkly different. It was smudged at the horns and resembled a scimitar. Formidable and sinister.
Was this an omen?
The cab spluttered to a halt just a distance away from the chalet and couldn’t inch further.
“Would you mind walking those few extra steps, miss? I’m terribly sorry, the fare’s on me”, the driver was quite apologetic.
I paid him in full and as I travel light, hauled my backpack and holding onto Ranko, decided to take that trek up the slope.
The path through the deep dark woods was cast in a shadow and the low branches reached out menacingly. Not a rustle of a leaf nor a flap of a wing could be heard.
Then, out of nowhere, a violent wind whipped up. Livid black clouds billowed. Forked lightning shredded the skies as if hundreds of tridents were thrown by a furious God.
A sudden downpour drenched me!
Dang it all! Bad weather, they did say when Julian signed up!
I hobbled quickly into the warmth of the chalet.
“Ah! Look what the cat dragged in! Come on in, Bella! Hardly the belle of the ball, you dowdy Dumbella!” A guffaw rang out raucously.
Julian! Goodness to heavens! Not him…the first face I see …
“You’re no different from what I see of you online, Julian.”
I could barely control my anger and didn’t know if I was shaking with rage or from being soaked to the skin.
“You’ve brought your pooch along, I see! Doesn’t look much of a dog either. Does he write too?” He threw his head back and laughed uncontrollably.
“No, Julian! But he sure barks better than you!”
Anger and bile was rising up in me.
Something in my tone stunned him for a moment and he mocked animatedly, “Oh, Bella hasn’t lost her vicious tongue. Where’s everyone? I wish the folks could see you now!”
Yes! Where was everyone? I was getting extremely uncomfortable and wished that everyone would arrive soon. This definitely didn’t look good.
I looked around furtively.
“Something on your mind? Let me tell you, no one’s coming until tomorrow morning, Dumbella! They’re all stranded and are staying the night at a motel.”
He smirked despicably.
A chill ran down my spine and my blood was already running cold.
I’m in a soup with this devil-incarnate…
It was a bad, bad idea to come after all. If worse came to worst, I had no choice but to…
“Dang you, rangy mongrel! Scram!” His malicious spew and Ranko’s whimpering broke my thoughts.
“Did you just kick my baby, you jerk?”, I spat out vehemently and just as I was about to knock some sense into him, he caught hold of my wrist and with his other hand, clutched at my throat.
“Bella..” he hissed menacingly, “Watch out! It wouldn’t take much to gouge out your pretty blue eyes, snap your dainty neck and throw you off a cliff here…and then, even your mangled remains wouldn’t be found.”
The night belonged to the hunter.
The inception of the storm had only just begun.
The wrath of heavens had started to put on a show.
A quivering moon floated among the clouds like a pale ghost, not daring to witness the scene that was about to unfold…
Some people just asked for it!
His lascivious gaze and ignoble intentions made my fury rise to the fore.
I removed my blue contact lenses and revealed my onyx black eyes with golden streaks. I could see my reflection in the full-length mirror opposite, as my skin turned scaly and a formidable cobra hood appeared on the sides of my face to reveal to him my true form.
He gasped for breath and staggered back.
“You…who…what are you…”
He was going batty and rightly so.
“Too late for Q & A, you jerk! But you were right in guessing that Ranko is not much of a dog. In fact, he’s not a dog at all. He’s a Rankerus! Go figure it out in hell!”
My cold piercing gaze petrified him into a block of ice.
“Ranko, you have to be quick! Now!” Ranko spewed fire at the block of ice that was Julian and lapped up the melted block of ice water in one swift gulp.
I petted his head victoriously.
Outside, the deluge of rain had stopped. The night was dark and silent.
I settled myself in a plush armchair in front of the fireplace and propping my feet up on the ottoman, waited for the rest of them to arrive.