Nidhi strutted through the herbage, the petrichor earth soothing her tender 8-year-old heart racing like wildfire. She cautiously glanced back to see the family home, now a blurring apparition engulfed by the fog.
She missed Anu akka, her best friend and confidante. Anu was their gardener’s niece. Nidhi longed for the boundless joy they had in the woods every holiday, especially last year. The lush frondescence continuing into the endless Nilgiris beckoned her. However, they were forbidden from venturing beyond their estate limits.
“Akka, these marks?” Nidhi had seen red scratches on Anu’s arms last year. Anu tightened her grip on the broken Om hanging from the black thread around her neck, a perennial feature.
“Nidhi, some secrets are destined never to be revealed…”
“But…?” Nidhi had been confused.
That night, Anu had vanished into the enigmatic shadows. Nidhi remembered the cacophony of police officers storming their estate.
Where are you Akka?
“Didi…?” little Arnav startled her from her reverie. “…Will we find Pichoo?” He teared up.
Their little labrador had run off into the wilderness at dawn and the siblings were anxious to get him back.
This clandestine mission was a secret. After all, amma was fast asleep like she always did for the past so many months. They were not to disturb her… lest she have a meltdown yet again. Nidhi shuddered at the thought. Amma was never the same after their visit last year to the sprawling home.
Daddy hadn’t accompanied them this year. Good in a way… Amma and Daddy only fought or lived like strangers under a roof these days.
“Let’s look further, Aru.” She consoled the boy.
They glided ahead even as wet shrubbery slapped their limbs angrily. The rains here were as capricious as Amma’s mood swings. Nidhi turned around and the house was now obscured… by an ethereal veil of fog.
Suddenly, pregnant dark clouds enveloped the whispering leaves of the thicket. The immense forest blurred amidst the chaotic percussion of relentless downpours accompanied by a spectral symphony of thunder and lightning.
Soaked to the skin, Nidhi looked around.
Pichoo are you OK?
“Didi, I am sc…scarred” Arnav’s voice quivered as the breeze hooted through the grove.
“WAIT…, do you hear that…yelp…?” Nidhi squealed amidst nature’s cacophony. “…Pichoo is close. Let’s look…”
The Nilgiris have their secrets…. Daddy always said during bedtime stories.
Holding hands, they trod carefully in the groovy slush. The rains began to recede.
“Didi, look… Pichoo. He’s digging…” Arnav was excited.
“Wait, Aru… let’s see.”
Nidhi picked the flurry ball of wriggling animal in her arms and… her eyes widened.
“ARU…STAY AWAY.” Fear laced her voice
“Didi… it’s a…”
Arnav gasped lifting something lying near it.
The Nilgiris have their secrets….
“A muddy thread… with the broken Om… Annu akka always wore it….” Nidhi, grappled with Pichoo, her shivers unrelenting.
“Didi look…” Arnav’s face paled.
Nidhi toed the mushy earth further.
“Didi… Daddy…” Arnav cried.
“Yes Aru… Daddy’s watch. He lost it… the day Akka disappeared…”