Mitesh was standing at the window. A gloomy winter morning was about to dawn, tearing the veil of dark fog, quite usual for this time of year, heavy fog in winter and heavy rain in monsoon was normal down here, in this tiny village hidden in lap of nature, far away from pollution and insanity of big cities.
“Sir!” a voice brought him out of his reverie.
He turned to face the speaker, his servant. “Yes Mohan?”
“Ramprasad uncle is waiting in the drawing room.” Mohan said and retreated. Mitesh checked the watch it was five thirty in the morning.
Maheshpura was a small village but even then it was way too early to pay someone a visit, unless of course there is some emergency. Most probably the village temple is on fire he muttered to himself with a wicked grin on his face before heading for the stairs.
Ramprasad Sharma, locally known as Ramuchacha was the village head of his ancestral village where he loved spending long months writing his novels. His mingling with modern world was absolutely economic activity, sale and publicity of his novels and other petty affairs made him drive to Delhi or fly to other places. His muse came to being after stepping in here.
Mother Goddess Laxmi, the bestower of wealth and prosperity has blessed him through Mother Goddess Saraswati the giver of knowledge and arts. He was a well-established author of fiction and non-fiction who has chosen this simple life on free will, nothing was forcing him here but his own desire to live in Mother Nature’s lap, far away from cacophony of horns and human voices, dirt and grime of big cities.
He came down the stairs and entered the drawing room, just like all old fashioned Indian houses sleeping quarters were upstairs and kitchen, drawing room, servant quarters, guest-rooms were downstairs. Though there was no woman in the household still the orthodox style was maintained, for in old times women of all Indian families, especially the aristocrats maintained purdah, only related men were allowed upstairs or servants, the upper floors were for women and men directly related to the family.
Ramprasad was sitting in the drawing room with a gloomy expression on his heavily bearded face. He was so upset that the unruly forest of his beard and moustache was not able to hide it.
Mitesh folded his hands, “Namaste Ramuchacha.”
“God bless you son.” The old man mumbled. He noticed that the tray with tea and snacks was left untouched by him, the cute old man loved “City snacks”, there were times when the servant for one reason or other missed them and showed up with biscuits only to be reminded by the old man that he will love to have some… so, that untouched tray further ensured Mitesh of his miserable state of mind.
“Something wrong?” he sat down.
He pressed the bell when he noticed that the tea was cold, at least appeared so. A man appeared instantly, “Rajkumar bring another cup of tea and some snacks, and remove these.”
“No ….no… son!” the old man vehemently protested, “Remove this but don’t bring anything else. Please.”
Now Mitesh was worried. “Is everything alright at home uncle, auntie, Suresh, Jivesh?”
The old man nodded in agreement.
“Is something wrong in the village?”
The man fidgeted uneasily in his seat cleared his throat and started talking, “The problem with you city bred kids is you don’t believe in traditions or old beliefs.”
“Why uncle?” Mitesh feebly protested, knowing Ramprasad was speaking the truth. Instantly remembering that he promised but did not showed up for some village puja the previous noon, not deliberately but he absolutely forgot about the invitation writing the new essay about the village and his life here.
But that was not the case! The old man fidgeted a bit in his chair and coughed a little, before resuming “Do you remember the story of black witch Krishnamayee?”
“The witch that brings black mist and death with her…?” Mitesh asked.
“Yes. She is back after centuries!” the old man was visibly agitated now, like a child after admitting that he has seen a ghost. He shifted uneasily and defiantly in his chair. Eyes fixed sternly on Mitesh’s face.
“Oh!” Mitesh took a long breath of relief and stopped it halfway when he noticed the furious expression on the old man’s face. He quickly added to appease the really angry old man, “How did you know?”
“The shepherds told me, the ones that graze their cattle near the marsh temple.” Ramprasad said.
Mitesh grew up hearing the story of black witch, there was a temple in a marsh, a little distance away from the village, five or so kilometers away from his home. That temple was built by the king of this village that is, the king who ruled over this village too. He owned quite a substantial amount of property in nearby areas back then. The prosperous lands were turned to graveyard by the witch as per the folklores. Mitesh was related to the king, he was his direct descendant.
That infamous temple was certainly not surrounded by marsh then. Five hundred or so years ago it was standing in the middle of a village. A prosperous village! The beautiful temple was surrounded by a garden and sat by a lake.
Now it was sitting in the middle of a marsh with strange black liquid that won’t dry in the fiercest heat of summer. In monsoon when it was drenched or filled up with water it stank like hell. That marsh ended four kilometers or so away from his home. One narrow path led to the temple which none but Mitesh walked upon, that is, he has never seen any signs of anyone else visiting the temple.
The temple was still beautiful. Mitesh often sat there when he took his walks in that direction. But villagers did not flitter anywhere too close to it. They had really bad feelings about it. So even though it was supposed to be crumbling down it was not nor was it vandalized like so many temples across this country.
The marble floor and the elegant pillars were blackened by neglect, time and surrounding swamp but there was no other sign of decay or plundering. The statue of the Goddess made of Ashtadhatu (eight metals) and at-least thousand years old was sitting on the almost black marble seat, spreading an air of sad neglect.
It was king’s dedication to mother goddess Kali, thanking her for a son.
When he first visited the temple he felt an urge to restore it but the villagers bluntly refused to go anywhere near it. That is when he heard the story of Krishnamayee the black witch. The bringer of doom and death.
A few decades after the temple was built a witch occupied it. The king has already relocated his family to Delhi and was living there with his family and entire royal court. The villagers had to face the witch and her evil.
She practiced black magic. Small children of the village started to disappear, but such was her power that no one could enter the temple. Every time someone dared to step on its thresh-hold something bad happened to his family.
The villagers were so convinced about her dark powers that dozens of stories started to circulate in and around the village. Some vowed they have seen her flying, her black cascade of hair and sari flying around her like darkness, others said they have seen demons serving her.
But that fear was not scary enough for grieving parents. When the next child disappeared they surrounded the temple. Within a few minutes it was set on fire. They could hear monstrous roars coming from inside.
The strange thing was no one or nothing tried to escape. They stood there, surrounding it, waiting for it to reduce to ashes, it did not. Something else happened!
The black fume turned into a black mist. Next it started to condense like darkness itself. The terrified villagers heard roaring and hissing inside that mist as it lurched towards them in a slow but menacing manner. They ran with their families, leaving everything behind.
Things people left behind were never seen again. When some daredevil villagers returned next morning with a hope of salvaging things left behind they saw that a black liquid has oozed out of ground and there was no sign, none at all of their huts, houses , men, animals or anything else that was left there! Only miles of foul smelling marsh surrounded the absolutely intact temple. They dared not to venture near but could see that there was no sign of the fire that engulfed it previous night.
They could hear the sound of bells and chanting of Krishnamayee coming from the temple. The black fog now was curling like water all around the temple, like a beast ready to strike!
They ran as fast they could to never return.
This village came up centuries later, when the fear of the myth has ebbed away. But the mist returns, once in a while, cowering under its darkness villagers can hear the clanging of the bells of the temple, as if it too was alive and moving inside the mist. They could hear the loud chanting of Krishanmayee, the witch. The hissing and growling of her companions, it never returned empty handed. It devoured one village after the other that fell in the path to this village. Last time it surfaced hundred years ago, and devoured the last village that lay between the temple and Maheshpura.
That marsh is where those villages were. It is much bigger on other sides, this side is its short arm.
“Villagers are deserting the village.” Ramprasad mumbled. “I will leave by noon. I will suggest you the same. Don’t try to stay back!”
“How far is the mist from here?” Mitesh was bubbling with curiosity. He was thinking about calling up his friend in Delhi to come down with his shooting equipment to capture the village frenzy.
“It has just started to rise from the marsh that means, it will be here by tomorrow noon. It travels in darkness, in night.” Ramprasad muttered. Then he looked at Mitesh’s face, “Don’t go there son. Don’t play with things beyond your control.”
“I won’t uncle.” Mitesh tried to soothe the man but Ramprasad was too old to be fooled.
“Don’t do it son. I will have to take my leave. We are leaving by eleven a.m. I will have to gather my belongings before that.” The old man took his leave after requesting Mitesh repeatedly to not meddle with the witch.
“There is enough time, call a truck and load everything you can and leave because there will be nothing left afterwards. Listen to me!” were his parting words.
Mitesh pressed the button for a cup of tea. No one showed up. He went out to the kitchen. It was deserted. All his household helps have vanished in thin air.
They must have overheard Ramprasad, or one must have heard him and ignited the rumor haystack. The entire house was deserted but him.
He picked up his camera and left for the marsh. He stopped his car a few meters away from the marsh and stared at the black mist. It was halfway through the marsh already, barely a kilometer away from the border of the marshland.
After that there was a patch of trees and rough, wavy grounds before his mansion, the first thing in the village will show up in its path, if it really moves!
One look at it and shudder ran down his spine, his curiosity was replaced by a strong feeling of unease. It really looked like darkness itself. It was rolling, churning and pulsating like a living thing.
He was more curious than afraid. His Delhi schooling and UK college days prevented him from believing the witch myth, he thought someone must have heard the stories and have created this thing to scare the superstitious villagers off the village to rob. The villagers were quite prosperous. They will be able to plunder more than a Lakh rupee worth furniture from his home alone.
A sharp shriek emanated from the darkness and pierced the morning sky. He shouted, “Anyone there?”
A monstrous roar of laughter replied him.
Neither the shriek nor the laughter sounded emitting from human throat. A tinge of fear started to seep in.
He quickly took a few shots and returned to the village. The village was on move. It looked like a gypsy caravan. Everyone was packing or was already on their way to their destinations.
He called up his friend Rajan in Delhi, a freelance journalist.
“Come down here, I have something for you, a lifetime catch!” Mitesh said and did not share anything else, he wanted to see Rajan’s face. “Bring the whole bandwagon!”
“I will be there by evening with my team and equipments.” Rajan said.
“Make it by twelve at the maximum!” Mitesh checked his watch it was quarter to seven in the morning. “Don’t take it lightly! You will be thanking me when we are done! Bring food too, all my servants are gone.” He told him before disconnecting the phone. He returned home in quick steps.
The servants were gone for good! Most probably on their way to their destinations already! But before deserting him were gracious enough to leave him his lunch, which will serve as his dinner too if refrigerated properly. In case Rajan misses the appointment. He quickly did the necessary and returned to his room with a teapot filled with tea.
He sat on the balcony that gave him a full view to the direction of the temple. From his end it was blocked by some mounds of various heights after a long stretch of trees, groves and bushes scattered on a wavy piece of land.
It was eleven in the morning. He was sitting there reading news on internet when someone coughed, he turned, it was Ramprasad, dressed up to boots, “You are not leaving?” his face was dark.
“I will leave tomorrow morning. I promise!” he answered.
“By that time you will be dead son! Did you not hear when I told you that the mist will be here by morning?” the old man asked rudely, visibly irritated.
“OK, in that case a group of my friends are coming, they will shoot the mist and we will all leave before evening, before four in the evening.” He answered, moved by the old man’s affection.
“You never keep your promises son.” The old man was morose now. He liked Mitesh a lot, and he seemed confident that Mitesh was inviting a ghastly death by staying back. “Come with us! You can come back after a week to see if I was true or not!”
“I will pack up the things I can’t leave behind and leave in afternoon uncle.” He repeated gently. “I will need their cars to move my things. I did not call the truck! Sorry!”
The old man left when he realized that Mitesh is hell-bent to stay.
“God save you my son.” His eyes were moist. Mitesh felt a little sorry but he knew they will be sitting together again, very soon. Listening to his folklores over cups of teas and plates of snacks!
A car pulled in a little later in his courtyard. “Hey!” it was Rajan. “Get down here, lazy guy, lend us a hand!”
They quickly emptied the car and brought the equipments and food upstairs.
“Can we go out for a look-see at the ominous black mist?” Rajan asked.
“Who will stop us?” Mitesh laughed.
They left for the marsh with the equipments. The second team left for the village to talk with the villagers that were yet to leave.
The car stopped at a reasonable distance from the border of the marsh, they had to walk the rest of the way to meet it. It was a pulsating mist made of darkness. The sounds coming from inside were louder and clearer now. Strange, bizarre unearthly sounds, grunting and shrieking from that swirling mass of darkest fume, it seemed more like fume than mist.
They both shuddered involuntarily. It really was menacing. Unknown to the other they both were wondering about the creatures making those sounds.
They stood staring at it, on the narrow path devoid of grass and weeds, the black liquid must have turned the soil barren otherwise it was supposed to be covered with grass and maybe a tree or two after centuries of freedom from man and his destructive activities- it was almost noon now. The sun was planning to tilt to the western sky after completing his jobs in eastern half.
“It’s buzzing with electricity!” Rajan stared at his equipment. “I think if someone touches it he will get electrocuted.” Then on impulse he stooped and picked up a small stone and threw it at the mist.
It was sucked by the mist after a loud crackle. They could see the ripple it formed. As if a black spark of electricity formed in the place it struck the mist.
Then it came back in a terrible speed and struck Rajan straight on his arm.
He screamed in pain and slumped down grabbing his arm. Blood started trickling down from his arms. Mitesh rushed to him, it was a deep wound.
“Thank God I picked up a pebble not a rock!” he grimaced, trying to smile through pain.
A loud mixture of howling and laughter came out of the mist, as if the entire thing was a conscious gesture of a living thing. They both shuddered and stared at the darkness.
“If I am not wrong it will need stitches!” Mitesh muttered. He tightly bandaged it with his muffler and they both rushed back to the house to get it stitched by their team doctor.
Four of Rajan’s men were sent there to shoot the mist.
“Don’t venture too close and be careful.” Rajan instructed them. “We will be back there ASAP.”
Mitesh was right. It required four stitches to sew the gash up. They were about to get up and head back to the mist when they heard a loud commotion in the courtyard below.
Two of the men from the team they have left behind were standing in the middle of it, terrified and shaking like leaves.
They rushed below. The men were so terrified that they were just sitting there on the dirty courtyard and babbling senseless things. After a few gulps of whisky they regained their senses.
The sense they could make out of their babbles was they prepared for the shooting. The cameraman Chandan was standing on the camera, Vijay the sound technician and narrator Mohan were nearer to the mist. Director Prabhat was instructing them. Mohan stood too close to the mist and started talking. They wanted the best shot of the mist. All of a sudden a hairy hand shot out of the mist and pulled him in.
“He was screaming and screaming….” Prabhat shuddered as he recounted the incident. His face was white with horror.
Vijay ran after him without thinking. They both vanished. Chandan and Prabhat started screaming their names. Then one by one their heads were tossed at them still dripping with fresh blood.
They ran as hard they could. Leaving all their equipments behind! The loud laughter of a woman followed them for a very long distance.
“We will have to recover the equipments ASAP before the mist gobbles them up.” Rajan got up. “They are worth millions of rupees.” He was still grimacing from pain.
“Are you sure?” Mitesh asked. “I will go and pick them up!”
“No. I won’t let you go there alone!” Rajan firmly said.
They left for the mist on foot because it was not possible for Rajan to go there by car on the bumpy road.
They left and to their horror noted that the mist was moving in daylight now. In blood curdling contradiction to the words of the old man! It was barely a couple of miles away from his home now. The speed at which it was moving it will reach there before dusk.
“Let’s get out of here.” Rajan has turned back the moment he has seen the mist blackening the horizon. Mitesh has followed him without a single word. The equipments were gone. It has crossed at-least one mile in one hour after devouring the men.
They quickly climbed the cars and picked up the men from the village. The villagers were long gone.
“Can’t we have a single glimpse of the mist? Or take a few shots from distance?” the village team grumbled a little but fell silent after noting the grim expression on Rajan’s face.
The car started. The village team huddled together in the backseat talking in a hushed tone. Both Rajan and Mitesh could guess their disappointment but chose to ignore. All they wanted was to hit highway before that monstrous thing caught up with them, or hovered anywhere near.
The team that went to shoot the mist was dozing in the second car after drinking one too many pegs laced with sedatives. It was done to keep the village team from not panicking. They were all friends and nothing is hidden from friends, better not take the risk!
They had to drive on a dirt road for half an hour to reach the highway.
The cars were running as fast as it was possible on that bumpy road. The road was lined by bamboo groves and orchards on both sides. They stretched till the highway.
Both cars froze when they reached the end of the woods, missing each other by the split of a hair.
Their road was blocked by the wall of darkness Rajan and Mitesh were so familiar with…..
In a split of second, instinctively, both cars turned and tore through the woods. They knew that they will have to drive through a patch of rough land for a few hundred meters and they will be on the highway.
Then they saw her.
She was standing right in the middle of the woods blocking their path, a very pretty girl in her mid twenties. She was extremely seductive. She was wearing a lehenga choli (Indian skirt blouse) and silver jewelries, her hair was open and fell down to her knees, softly stirring in the air.
She waved them to stop.
They saw her too late, before they could apply the brakes the cars shot through her like bullets, both cars one after the other, the passengers turned back and saw her standing right where she was looking at the car.
A putrid smell filled up the cars. It was so nauseating and pungent that they gagged on it and had to open the windows to breathe.
They turned back again. The woman has vanished without traces, the mist has taken her place and was inching towards them.
The cars reached the highway within few minutes. The spot where they scrambled on the highway was just a few meters away from the mist.
They drove at a break neck speed to reach the nearest town.
They kept checking in the back view mirror but the nightmare was left behind it seemed. It most probably stopped at the highway.
It was a small town. They stopped at the first garage to have the cars checked.
They entered the toilet to wash away the dirt and grime. Rajan was the first one who noticed it, “What’s that mark on your forehead?” he asked Mitesh.
It was a black skull imprinted on Mitesh’s forehead. Once the soot and dirt was gone they noticed he was not the only one- every one of them was branded with it.
The owner of the garage stared at them in a bizarre way. As if they were something way too astray from normal. He appeared pretty relieved when they drove off, must have thought that they are into something mischievous.
“Hope that thing won’t catch up on us!” Mitesh shuddered.
They rented two rooms in the nearest lodge and ordered lunch, packed. They had no intention of waiting for lunch hour. They wanted to get out of that place as soon as they could but the stench that filled up the cars after meeting the witch was still in their nostrils, and from the expressions of others they could guess their bodies too.
They had to bath and air the cars.
The marks became really visible after bath. All processes of normal scrubbing were tried. Nothing worked… it became even more visible because the skin around it got extra cleaned by vigorous scrubbing.
The young girl in the counter could not stop herself from staring at their faces rudely. They walked out of the lodge, into the cars, leaving the lunch untouched. Now they were terrified.
A couple of hours later they were on a plane heading for New Delhi. They left the cars and equipments in the farmhouse of a mutual friend. They were really stinking like hell!
“It’s good that these days we keep all our money in banks and I have a house in Delhi.” Mitesh muttered as they came out of the airport.
“I am so sorry Rajan! I never thought that the thing will turn out to be like this!” Mitesh said looking at his friend.
“It’s not your fault Mitesh!” Rajan whispered inadvertently rubbing his forehead, the mark. “It’s burning!” he whispered, “I will have to see a doctor on my way home. I will come down to your home in the evening for a drink or two.” He patted Mitesh on shoulder before entering his taxi.
That was the last time he saw him. He has barely entered his flat when the phone rang. It was one of Rajan’s team-mates, the conversation was brief. The taxi skidded on dry road, turned turtle. The driver escaped without a scratch. Rajan is dead.
The driver swears that he saw a woman standing right in the middle of the road. She appeared out of nowhere and when he applied the emergency brake the taxi turned turtle.
He was sober. He never drinks.
Police shrugged it off as hallucination.
“Call the others and tell them to be careful for a few days.” That was all Mitesh could say.
He slumped on the nearest chair, aching to wake up in his ancestral home after a weird, lucid nightmare.
The doorbell rang.
He heard his servant talking with someone then the approaching footsteps.
“Sir an old man is waiting for you in the drawing room. He said his name is Ramprasad something….”
The face of the old man turned ghastly white when he looked at Mitesh’s face.
“I came running after I heard that you have reached your house here!” Ramprasad said. “Hoping you made it out before it was too late! I can see you were too late to leave the village.”
That meant he knew about that skull imprinted on his forehead! The old man was sitting on the sofa, sad and heartbroken.
“Yes.” Mitesh softly mumbled. “Three of my friends are already dead. Two died back in village. One died here in Delhi. It seems she followed us here.”
“She does not leave anyone who has laid eyes on her alive! There is no escape from her vengeance if you have seen her!” Ramprasad said.
“Is there nothing we can do?” Mitesh asked. His skepticism has vanished long ago. All he was thinking about was the members of Rajan’s team and himself.
“There is only one man who has survived after seeing her!” Ramprasad said after a little pause. “When she could not kill him she killed everyone that mattered to him. He is almost senile these days. Barely fifty year old but looks ninety.”
“Can I see him, where does he live?” Mitesh asked.
“I brought Lakhanprasad, my cousin when I was coming to meet you.” Ramprasad said, “He is in the balcony.”
They went out. An old man was sitting on a sofa. His eyes were stuck on the road below with a vacant expression on his face. His hair was all white. Not a single one was gray or tainted- every one of them was silver white.
“So you have seen that fiend too?” that was the first sentence the man uttered. “You have sealed your own fate! You should have listened to elders when they asked you to walk away from the place.”
Mitesh did not answer, there was nothing to say! For once the stranger was absolutely right. Had he walked away when Ramprasad has asked him again and again Rajan would have been alive!
“There is only one way to fight that witch- and that is in her realm!” he said. “She does not kill you on the spot. She snatches away the soul from the body and sacrifices it in the altar of her temple. If you can save yourself from the first blow she can’t hit you ever again. She will have to return your soul but she will settle her score on you by other means.”
“If you tell your story to someone else, seeking protection, and that person is around when she comes for you, knowing who she is she will kill him or her too.” he said, wiping away the hope of consulting someone.
“She ensures that you fight against her and her demons on your own.” Lakshmanprasad said morosely. “She plays this game to ascertain her victory!”
“I was thirty when I saw the black mist. My friends challenged and dared me to pass a night in the temple. When I entered the temple moonlight was flooding it. The mist rose at midnight. It does every night but stays only in the temple. It has to rise every night because the witch and her demons worship devil. The goddess is long gone. They have built an altar for devil and worship him.”
“It’s the Mother Goddess that graces the altar of that cursed temple during daylight, when the mist is not there. But when the mist envelopes it a black light envelopes the temple and the marsh around it. The Mother Goddess vanishes and devil takes her place. That’s when Krishnamayee and her demons show up. But I guess only her sacrifices know that side of the temple, and I am the only one known to be alive!” Lakhanprasad said.
“Don’t accept anything from her. She will offer you something, it can be anything – food, drink, a dress… don’t co-operate with her. Let her do it by force if she must. If you co-operate or accept you will become her puppet.”
“She will try to scare you with dire consequences or coax you into believing that if you accept her offer you will be spared but don’t be fooled.” Lakhanprasad said.
“She ordered me to drink a glass of some liquid I did not oblige. At first she tried to coax me to believe that if I drink that liquid I will forget about everything that has happened and will wake up in my own house.
But there was something in her eyes, or her manners maybe and I refused. She and her demons tried to terrorize me next. Threatening me with all sorts of terrible consequences! Her over-eagerness made me suspicious. This time I clearly refused. She tried for really long time then I was laid down to be sacrificed. I kicked her real hard. She fell and I ran. I never even imagined that they won’t follow. I ran and ran till I realized that I was far away from the marsh and no one was behind me. I lost my senses. My friends rescued me next day. All my hair has turned white.”
“After that I took care that no villagers ever goes near the temple, even during day time.” Lakhanprasad said. “She settled her score on my family, my parents, wife, children, siblings….. I lost them all within one year.”
“Now I am living in hell, and death is nowhere near!” Lakhanprasad said grimly. “She will really make you regret that you did not let her sacrifice you!”
“Remember what saved me! Don’t forget it. She sends away all her demons before sacrifice. She does not share the power she gets as a reward of sacrifice with her minions, friends, buddies I don’t know what they are to her! Those demons! If you hit the road that leads from the temple to the field outside the marsh she won’t dare to follow you. The souls she has devoured are still roaming on both sides of that road and without her demons they will attack her. By the time she will summon her demons back if you run real hard you will cross the marsh- that is her territory mostly. Her with her full powers I mean. I could barely make hundred meters away from the marsh before I collapsed. So…. Don’t stop till you do too! God be with you my son!” Lakhanprasad said.
He called up the remaining survivors and told them the story and the remedy. But fate was not on their side. One by one they perished within a week.
It was exactly fifteen days later. He was sitting in his drawing room. Staring vacantly at the television, it was showing some funny movie. Last fifteen days have been living nightmare for him. He has been seeing that woman everywhere!
His eyes fell on the window and he realized with sinking heart that the street lights and lights of windows of other buildings have disappeared. There was pitch darkness outside his window. So black that he felt he could touch it if he opened the window.
They blew open by themselves and the darkness entered the room, a wall of darkness started rolling towards him. He tried to scream but his mouth did not move. His eyes fell on the mirror opposite to his sofa, a creature without a mouth – with only a pair of eyes was staring back at him wearing the dress he was wearing.
He was sucked in.
He discovered himself on the narrow path facing a temple enveloped in a black light. Just like the light of sun during full eclipse, only darker. He could hear the bells chiming and the loud incantation of mantras chanted by a woman coming from the temple.
He tried turning back and running away from the temple. But something shoved him hard, towards the temple.
He looked back and a pair of burning red eyes met his. He could not see anything else but a harsh, powerful shove pushed him forward again.
The road was closed upon by dark boiling pool of mud or something else on both sides, hairy hands with talons shot out of it to grab his ankle but stopped short of the path, it seemed the path was the only thing keeping them away from him.
He kept moving forward because the creature behind him took care of that he does that. He reached the stairs of the temple and saw her.
Krishnamayi was so seductive! Her body was full, plump in Indian way, it seemed one of the statues of Khajuraho has taken the form of a woman. She smiled sweetly at him.
“Leave him alone son!” Krishnamayi smiled at the creature behind him, “He is now mine and my Lord’s.’”
“Sit down!” Krishnamayi gestured at an asan (mat) spread on the temple floor.
“Give him something to eat.” Krishnamayi ordered someone and sat down on a mat facing him.
A beautiful woman came forward with a plate of fruits, sweets and a glass of a liquid.
“I am not hungry.” Mitesh said.
“Then drink the milk.” Krishnamayi gestured at the glass. “You must be thirsty.”
“I am not thirsty. Let me go.” Mitesh said, trying to keep his senses together. He was lucky that he fell among those people who get calmer when problems crash upon them. Ever since he was a little boy he has noticed that the graver the situations he was in the calmer he used to become.
Mitesh knew one thing- there was no good in angering her unless she chooses to get angry herself.
“I know what that idiot has told you. It’s lie! Had he consumed that glass of milk he truly would have forgotten everything! I have spared so many in past.” she cooed with a strange glint in her huge eyes. “His audacity and misbehavior made me furious. I am not a demoness!” she smiled coyly.
If he had seen her in real life he would never have believed that she was a demon. She was so beautiful! Huge sparkling eyes, a cascade of dark hair tumbling down her body like a waterfall. Full lips, perfect nose, arms and fingers she looked like a lover’s dream come true not a witch or demon!
She smiled sweetly, as if was able to read his mind!
“Here!” she picked up the glass and stretched her arm towards him. The glass touched his lips.
“No!” he turned his face away. “I can’t! I just am not thirsty. Please just let me go!”
“Don’t disobey me!” she said, her voice hardened a bit. “I really don’t like people who disrespect a courteous host!”
“I really am not thirsty!” he said without turning his face.
The next sound he heard could not have come out of a human throat, “Don’t you dare disobey me!” he turned with a shock and shudder.
A hideous creature was sitting on the mat opposite.
Its body was twisted, so was its face, its eyes were burning like yellow flames of fire. It was holding the glass in a gnarled, twisted arm with crooked talons that seemed quite capable of ripping his heart apart.
“Drink it!” it roared.
He fell backwards on the floor instinctively.
In an instance he was surrounded by an army of hideous beasts with human torso.
“This is your last chance!” the witch hissed.
Mitesh just stared at the battalion surrounding him, without uttering a word or opening his mouth, in case she forces something down his throat.
“Take him to the altar!” the witch screeched.
Pairs of hands grabbed him, a few buckets of cold water was thrown on him to purify his body. They smeared his forehead with vermillion and lifted him like a plastic doll and carried him to the altar.
The old man was right.
This was no idol of mother goddess on that altar. It was male and one look at its face unleashed a surge of stark horror. He felt he was sinking in a land of pitch darkness and horror- insane horror. He closed his eyes and prayed.
The sweet voice of Krishnamayi rang in his ears. “Drink it son, forget everything and return to your world!”
He opened his eyes. She was back in her seductress form. Sitting there smiling as if nothing has happened. Her demons have vanished.
He realized it was his only chance.
The road that brought him to the temple was barely a foot away from the place he was standing.
He took a leap and landed on the road and started to run. The border of the marsh was only few meters away from the altar. The temple truly moved around that marsh land. It was almost at the border now not middle.
He heard monstrous howls echoing all around him. He just ran blindly, insanely!
“Don’t you think you can escape me!” Mitesh heard the monstrous howl of the furious witch coming from the temple. He was out of the marshland in a few seconds. The minute he touched the barren field surrounding the marsh lost his senses.
He regained his consciousness in a place he recognized after a little time.
It was a few miles away from his ancestral village. He got up and looked around him. A foot or two away from him was the black marsh- reminding him that Krishnamayi was not a dream. But there was no sign of the hideous creatures or the mist, it was broad daylight, all he could see was the temple at a long, long distance in its actual position, in the middle of the marsh.
This time she has devoured his ancestral village and part of the land up to the highway. The parts she had to cross when she was trying to catch them. He was sitting by that tongue, close to his ancestral village. As far as he could see outside that narrow patch was a stretch of land with oozing black liquid, the houses and everything else was gone.
He shrank away from it as if it was something live, could drag him back to the hell from where he has escaped.
“Baba!!” he heard the voice of a young man and turned to face a man his age looking at him with concerned eyes. “Are you alright baba?”
A sense of despair sank in. He realized he too must have aged a few decades overnight, that’s why a man of his age was calling him baba (a respectful term for a father figure).
“Can you take me to the nearest village?” Mitesh asked in sinking voice.
“Sure!” the man held his shoulder and helped him up.
They walked slowly for a few minutes and reached a nearby village. A village he was quite familiar with and fortunately had a few friends.
He shared his story with them. At first they did not believe him but then he requested them to contact Ramprasad, he was a respected figure in all villages nearby, when he showed up things fell in place, his friends heard his story with great attention and believed it.
“What will you do now?” Ramprasad asked him.
“I will go back to home. I don’t have anyone that witch can kill, so I will take my chances from my own home.” Mitesh said. “I just want to rest in my own home! My brain is not working!”
“My home is gone, so is everything, I am staying with my son in Pritampura, a little distance away from here, I will meet you once things are sorted a bit. Do you have money for fare? I don’t think so!” The old man fished out some money from his pocket and gave it to Mitesh.
“I will money order it to you when I get back to Delhi.” He thanked Ramprasad for everything and left for Delhi immediately.
He reached his home exhausted beyond words. The gate of the housing looked like gate of heaven to him.
“Where are you going?” the gatekeeper rudely stopped him.
“To my home..!” Mitesh answered rudely. “Can’t you recognize me? Get your eyes tested.”
“Listen old man it’s not possible for me to let unknown people in the building unless they are invited by one of the owners.” The gatekeeper did not budge an inch away from the gate, stood there blocking his path.
“I am one of the owners, the owner of flat 2C. Something happened …. My hair turned white but my face is same, is not it?” Mitesh asked, exasperated.
“Something wrong Deendayal?” it was his next door neighbor Mr. Jain.
“Mr. Jain!” he sighed with relief, “Please ask him to let me in. I will explain to you later.”
“Do I know you baba?” Mr. Jain asked in return.
“I am Mitesh, your next door neighbour!” he answered. He was now close to tears.
“Really…? Then who was the man I just talked with when I was coming downstairs? Standing outside his flat with his newlywed wife?” Jain mocked. “Deendayal close and lock the gate! Bawla lagta hai (looks like a crazy guy!)”
“Start walking or else I will call the cops.” Deendayal was not that courteous.
Mitesh walked a few meters away from the gate and sat down on a bench under a tree. He could see his flat from here.
Someone came out to the balcony and turned on the light, as if to taunt him.
It was him. There was no doubt about it- the body he left here last night was standing on the balcony.
A woman came out and slipped her arms around his waist…. It was Krishnamayi. Then she started laughing, her trademark laughter a strange mixture of yapping of a fox and donkey’s braying. They both looked at him directly and tauntingly.
A hand fell on his shoulder. It was Ramprasad!