Keerthana stumbled as she stepped down the school bus and the leering conductor clutched her arms to steady her. She threw a nasty look at him and waved at the children cheerily.
"See you tomorrow, Keerthi ma'am." Shouted the curly-haired girl.
"No dear, see you after the weekend."
Keerthana unlocked the house and beamed at spotting her husband at home. He was busy stuffing a bag. "I have a flight to catch an urgent business trip." Keerthana teetered between tears and anger, "It is our wedding anniversary, and I have taken leave from work. "
"Uh, oh! I totally forgot. On my return, I promise to take you on vacation." Shekar pecked her cheeks and hastily departed.
A miffed Keerthana curbed the urge to smash the things on the dresser. On a whim, she packed a few clothes loaded her car with maggi, fruits, and a few other things. Away from the city, where no one would reach me on the mobile. Keerthana gifted herself a vacation. She had bragged to her friends about a romantic getaway for her anniversary and now to be stuck alone at home would invite derisive remarks. She drove for straight three hours and reached the cabin. Fond memories of time spent with her parents cropped up on her clouded mind as she gazed at the quaint woodhouse.
Luckily, the caretaker had cleaned up the place a few weeks ago. She dropped the bags on the kitchen counter and ambled to the backyard. The vast expanse of the placid lake reflecting the diamond fragments mesmerized the lonely soul. An eerie stillness engulfed Keerthana. The reeds susurrated, and a foreboding prickly sensation flustered her. She sprinted back and bolted the door.
The drive had sapped her. Munching a cereal bar, she called it a night and had a fitful sleep disturbed by nightmares of the lecherous bus conductor.
The next morning, she lazed around the lake, building sandcastles, and flitting behind butterflies. After a lunch of fruits and milk, she picked up a book.
A deafening thunder shattered the silence. A startled Keerthana squinted and realized she had snoozed until the stars had erupted on the sky. While she sashayed to drink water, the lightbulbs flickered and died. Shortly a lightning flash illuminated the cabin, and she lunged for the mobile phone she had carelessly flung on the couch. With a lit candle, Keerthana checked the windows and breathed a sigh of relief. She wished her husband were here. When her stomach wambled, she decided to cook maggi, perfect for the rainy chillness that clawed her body.
Keerthana played her favourite playlist on her mobile and opened a bottle of Bordeaux. She was predisposed to it now and then. Sipping it slowly she chuckled, Ah! If my students saw their teacher like this! Before the water had boiled, Keerthana had gulped a quarter of the bottle. The crooning abruptly stopped, and the mobile let out a ding. "Oops! I forgot to charge it. Well, no electricity, no mobile and no one around. Lalala la la tududoo tadidam" She swayed towards the stove.
She shrieked as a looming shadow spread on the wall. The wine glass toppled on the countertop, and a dampness seeped on the floor. The shadow vanished. Keerthana pulled out a knife and screeched, "Who are you? Come out, you coward!" A quick movement behind her and she swished her knife. Was it the bus guy? Did he follow me?
"Hey!! I will call the police. I will open the door, get out immediately." She opened the door, and a strong wind eclipsed the room. She counted to three and shut the door.
If it's dark, he cannot see me from outside. Haha, I scared the lecher. She sat on the couch and reached for the Bordeaux on the table. She guzzled down the wine and peered in the darkness. A gnawing sound alarmed her.
"Don't wait outside. The police will be here soon."
She tiptoed in the darkness and peeled the curtain from the window. The gnarled branches of a tree rubbed on the windowpane.
"Aha! It was this sound. There is no one here. You are alone, Keerthana." She pealed into a schoolgirl giggle and took a swig from the bottle. Her hand froze in mid-air as she sensed a slither on her feet. She jumped on the couch and squatted. Cowering in dread, her eyes darted in all directions. Her ears perked up, trying to distinguish the sounds emitted inside the cabin from the sounds of the rain and wind.
She rubbernecked to see what happened to the maggi. The soporific effect of the wine rendered a cognitive impairment. She failed to relight the candle and stayed frozen as the quintessential image of terror. Her resolve to stay awake, wary of the predators fizzled, and the empty bottle slipped beside while soft snores flared her mouth.
The predators who waited to recapture their territory gave a collective hoot of victory. The leader pulled everyone into a group hug and heard the suggestions of his teammates and issued orders. They climbed the kitchen counter gnawed and nudged the packets of food which would suffice them through the rainy season. In joyful solidarity, the room buzzed with activity, and in 30 minutes they left the cabin and the occupant alone.
Incessant knocks on the door awakened Keerthana from her stupor. She yelped, "Police!"
Keerthana collapsed into Shekar's embrace.
"I came back early and knew you would be here. Happy Anniversary!"
The couple kissed with feverish urgency. Keerthana erased the memory of the misadventure. She provocatively stripped naked and dived into the lake closely followed by the dutiful husband.