|Creative Writing Competition 2012 India|
|SETTING||Old Palace OR Bungalow|
|OBJECT||Any Jewellery – Necklace, Ring…|
|THEME||A Strange Day/Night|
Editor’s Choice: Thriller Short Story – Aitama
“You know what, there is this knack I have…this intuition”, I remarked “It runs in our family”.
The evening had just given way to the stars and the sparrows were flying back home in the backdrop of an orange sky. I was sitting along with Abhijit at my village residence where I had come to spend the weekend. The room was lit by the three lanterns which were placed on the table. It was a smart little house but the frequent power cuts meant that lanterns were utmost necessary at night. Besides, lanterns made the house look more beautiful, hiding more in the shadows than showing off in its glow.
“So what were you telling… about your business?” I chuckled, as I looked towards my friend, “Maybe my intuition can help.”
I knew that I shouldn’t have asked about it, still I did it. Apparently, Abhijit had made wrong investments in the wrong areas and his smile was as fake as his promises to his mistress. He was neck deep in debts, not to say anything about his affairs with the not-to-be-messed people gone horribly out of line. The news was out in whispers but he had not yet asked me for anything. I knew it wouldn’t be long before he did.
“The business is slow, my friend” Abhijit said “The rising prices are killing everyone. There are not enough rich people left in our town who would want to buy jewelry.”
He was making some patterns in the dust on the floor with his toes and somehow, it irritated me. I poked harder at the slowly glowing embers of the coal laid out in the wide saucepan – a make shift fireplace.
“Life is hell, Abhijit” I remarked. I knew that even if I emphatized or symphatized with him, there was no way of consoling him without reminding him of his misfortunes in business and he was bound to feel that tickle of envy for I had not done badly at business myself.
My sister, Aditi sat silently besides me. For that matter, she was silent most of the time after our parent’s death in the same house some few years back. Little Aditi could never get over the shock and every year, insisted on coming back here for a day or two, where she would laugh and cry reminiscing colorful days of our childhood. I felt pity for her, but just like I did not know what to say to my friend, I had no words to say to my little sister.
“Aitama” Aditi remarked, her round eyes staring at me, breaking the unpleasant silence in the room. “She had jewellery hidden in the cupboard in the living room”.
“What?” I said, bewildered. “How do you know? …what jewellery… and why this all of a sudden?”
“I saw it when I had gone there once when we were children” Aditi answered, her eyes still lost in the burning coal
“She didn’t know I had seen her hiding it.”
Her voice dragged off into nothingness. I knew she won’t be speaking anymore. Deep down, I felt sorry for her. I had wished to send her for dancing classes in Mumbai, but her mental condition led my dreams come to nothing but wisps of shapeless smoke. She used to blabber certain things like this off and on and sometimes, not always, it turned to have some truth in it. Her intuition was as strong as mine. I wondered what she was thinking about when she spent so much time with herself.
“She was alright when we were children,” I thought “Sometimes, I can’t fathom what the future has in store for her”.
“Who is Aitama?” Abhijit asked, unable to restrain his voice from exhibiting a sudden interest.
“”Aitama” I said, my mind coming back to present, pointing in a direction into the darkness
“She was a sweet old lady who lived in the house behind those trees”
Days of our childhood flashed back in front of my eyes.
“I remember her, she was always watching us from the window of her house while we kids frolicked amongst the trees whole afternoon. She would smile that lovely grandma smile of hers and each one of us would go near the fence where she threw us chocolates from the window on the first floor.”
“It was like raining chocolates, you know” I remarked.
Happy memories from childhood always brought a sense of loss in me. Those were the days when freedom had a different meaning, when life had a different charm, perhaps to never come back again.
I knew it wasn’t easy to recreate the feelings which I had felt while the chocolates fell from her window and it was showing on Abhijit’s face, which suddenly seemed long and distant too.
“Where are they now….I mean Aitama’s family?” he enquired “I don’t think anyone else lives in this part of the village anymore. The streets were empty when we came in the morning.”
“Oh! her family had left off under mysterious circumstances one fine day” I said, “One day there were no chocolates after the game. So when I came back home, I asked my parents, they said that Aitama had disappeared along with her family members. Owing to their high class status, they didn’t keep much in touch with other villagers and people had found out they had left, only after seeing the lock in the front door of her house. No one has lived in that house for a long time now.”
Aditi had fallen asleep on the floor besides the dying embers. A cold had enveloped the darkness now and Abhijit frantically was trying to manipulate the coal pieces so that they burnt longer. His eyes had this ominous look which surprised me – I had never seen him like this. I dismissed my thoughts – I knew I had a peg or two more than I should have drunk.
In the village, once the sun goes down, an eerie silence gripped the whole place. It was as if some unseen unknown insects come alive and sing a soothing symphony which would lullaby everyone to sleep.
It was at this precise moment, when a shrill wail of a baby broke the tranquility of the place. It was coming from somewhere outside.
“What was that?” Abhijit looked at me.
“It’s a cat maybe” I said, unsure of myself.
“Someone must have left a baby outside” Abhijit said, getting up and picking up the lantern. “We must go and check”.
I had heard about cases where unwanted babies were abandoned in the forest.
“Crap,” I thought and got up too. I cursed myself for having too much of rum.
“Ok, let’s go and see” I said, picking up my torch.
Outside, the trees were swaying hard. It seemed like they were old men, and their hands were moving in some mythical voodoo rhythm while the sharp chilling wind made unsettling incantations in the dark.
“There, the wail is coming from somewhere amongst the trees in that direction” Abhijit said, his voice sounding worried.
The feeble light of the torch was not enough. An enchanting smell of night flowers encapsulated us as we made our way through the little forest.
“This way” I said pulling Abhijit’s shirt “The wail is coming from this side.”
The wail was getting louder by the moment. We had almost reached the edge of the forest. I could see Aitama’s bungalow silhouetted against the dim moonlight.
And then the wailing stopped. I could sense an eerie chill find its way through my spine. It was dark and the sudden silence made the hair in my arms rise. We had reached the end of the forest. I wondered what had happened to the baby.
“Rohit” Abhjit exclaimed “This is Aitama’s bungalow?”
“Yes…. and that is the window I was talking about” I said, pointing upwards. “But where’s the baby, yaar?”
Abhijit had grown cold and seemed a different man in the moonlight. The look on his face which I had noticed in the house was up again.
“I think it must have been a cat giving birth” he said, to my utter astonishment. He was the one who had earlier said it must have been a baby. “And I think we should go and take a look in Aitama’s living room… you remember, Aditi said aomething about some jewellery?” he continued.
“NO!” I exclaimed.
“YES! We have come this far! I won’t go back without checking it out!” Abhijit cried out.
It was just not right to go into someone’s home to steal. But never in my life had I experienced such an emotional release. The magic of the night was on. I did not wish the excitement to stop.
“But maybe we should not…” my voice was feeble.
Abhijit smiled at me. “Game on, brother! Remember you were telling that intuitions run in your family? By God, Aditi does have some of it” he chuckled, spraying out some saliva from his mouth as he sprinted on, me tagging along.
“Disgusting” I smiled.
The rusty old lock gave away with one good blow. I had often imagined myself exploring through old castles but this was way more exciting. I had expected the huge door to creak open, instead it opened in a whisper. The winds were howling outside and when we took the first step inside, a overwhelming silence surrounded us.
A tiny voice inside my head said “No. Don’t go in any further. Not a step more.”
For years I had trusted my instincts and that little voice in my voice had always acting as a guiding light. And when I was about to undertake the most exciting adventure of my life, it had refused to let me go. But I knew better than to ignore it.
“Abhijit”, I said, my voice echoing through the hall “I won’t go any further..You … You go ahead.”
“You are a real pussy cat” he laughed “Stay put. I will not waste time persuading you. Don’t expect a share if I get the jewellery”
Abhijit walked through the main hall. The hall was huge – Spiders had woven tales of its solitude everywhere. I would not have been surprised to see a piano somewhere – I had watched it in so many movies that I somehow wished certain things to be there. Instead, all I could see was cobwebs and the dust. I could hardly see Abhijit and could only make out the lamp which he was moving around the walls, checking in the cupboards.
“There is nothing here, pussy cat” he shouted, the echo causing ripples in my heart. “I will go and check upstairs”.
The wooden stairs creaked as he walked up to the first floor and disappeared in what appeared to be Aitama’s room. His footsteps had just stopped echoing when Abhijit’s voice pierced through the quiet melancholy.
“Abhijit!!” I shouted back. I was dead scared and frantic as I rushed up the stairs. “Abhijit, You ok??!!” I shouted again. There was no answer.
“It is not funny, ABHIJIT!” I was now out of breath as I reached the top of the stairs. There was still no sign of him.
“Abhijit?” I walked cautiously, the feeble light of the torch searching for him, but in vain.
“A sad joke” I said, my mind panicking slightly.
“GET OUT OF THERE” the little voice inside me whispered as if someone else would hear it as well. But this time I would not listen to it. I was not a pussy cat. I hated being called so. If Abhijit wanted to play this hide and seek, so be it.
I walked into what seemed to be Aitama’s room. The room had long cupboards against the walls. There was a huge bed along the window. A mosquito net was still tied to one of the bed posts. Layers and layers of dust covered the small bedside table. I slowly crawled through the room, inspecting the heavy bookshelfs and the other cupboards filled with glass dolls which reflected the light from my torch. I was keeping an ear out for any sounds that would give away Abhijit.
A hushed laughter sounded out just behind me, not unlike a suppressed giggle. I swung around quickly. But the voice has disappeared as stealthily as it had appeared. The wooden flooring creaked at certain spots beneath my feet. I could hardly contain the rumble of my heartbeat. My breathing was heavy.
“Abhijit, This is NOT FUNNY anymore” I bellowed out again. There was shuffle of feet in the corridor outside the room. I rushed outside. There was no one. Something was wrong, something was very wrong.
“I must get Abhijit out of here,” I thought.
I had always thought that rational minds could be lost when they encounter such experiences so it was not surprising that Abhijit was behaving like this. My mind spared a thought for my own sister as well.
I again walked back inside the room. I knew he was here, somewhere.
“The bathroom” I decided, “He must be hiding there”.
I walked slowly towards the bathroom door. The light from my torch fell on an open cupboard. The empty patch on the dust showed that Abhijit had already removed a box from there.
“He has got it” I thought, a feeling of conquest and elation suddenly gripping me out of nowhere, “We got the jewelry!”
I had almost reached the bathroom door. All this time, I could hear my own breath, but now I suddenly felt that someone was behind me. I flashed the torchlight around again – there was no one.
I opened the bathroom door.
He was there, sitting inside the bathtub with folded legs, facing away from me. I flashed my light and saw that he had placed the box in front of him.
“Abhijit!” I exclaimed as I rushed towards him.
When I touched his body, a shiver ran down my spine, not for the first time in the night. He was cold, dead cold. I flashed the light on his face – his eyes were round and open in shock and his cheeks were white. His fingers held pieces of shining jewellery. I was too shocked to think of anything more. I quickly grabbed the jewellery.
The voice inside me screamed in an unbearable way “Get Out of there, NOW!” I rushed out of the bathroom.
Someone stood in the middle of the room. It seemed that somehow the dim of the moonlight had found its way – I realized someone had opened the window. “GET OUT! NOW!” the voice inside me screamed.
My legs had given away. I could barely move. I shone the flashlight at the figure.
“Aitama?” my voice was barely audible.
She stood there on one leg, while her hand held the other by the toes. Her body was surprisingly small – like a small girl. Her face had a thousand wrinkles and she had a smile, which was somehow loving and sinister at the same time. She had drawn squares on the dust on the floor. There was a stone on one of the squares. I wished the moon would look away, that the clouds would cover it up. I did not wish to see this. I really did not want to see this. I wanted to run but couldn’t.
“Watch me play” Aitama said, in a voice of a 6 year old. And she jumped from one square to another, kicking the stone. Her laughter percolated every inch of the whole house. I was shivering now, unable to take my eyes away, unable to comprehend what to do.
Suddenly, the moonlight was gone and there was darkness again. My torch had emptied out.
Like a madman, I screamed and started running. There was frantic movement behind me, but I did not look back. I rushed down the stairs, three at a time. There were voices in the main hall, but I did not care. My footsteps echoed through the otherwise silent house as I rushed out of the main door.
Outside, a whiff of mad fresh air suddenly blanketed me. I ran, ran for my dear life through the forest. I could feel the movements follow me but the voice inside me reminded me not to look behind. The noises of the crickets and the hundreds of insects seemed to egg me on while following the footfalls behind me in a raucous and malicious way. It was almost too much to bear.
The undergrowth of the forest lay trampled in the way as the welcome sight of my home soon became visible in the moonlight. The lights were on – I thanked God for it. The sound of the footsteps behind me slowly ceased as I reached the front door. I was out of breath, sweat trickled down my palms, but I had finally managed to get away.
I opened the front door. Aditi was sitting besides the glowing coal embers, seemed like she had woken up and lit it up. Little Sister knew what I needed most at that hour – Warmth.
I moved closer to her. She looked up at me. The look on her face unnerved me – it was cold, cold like the forest undergrowth and empty like the howling wind.
Then I noticed that her eyes somehow gleamed in hunger as they fell on the shining jewelry in my hands.
The last thing I saw just before the power failed was her mouth turning into an ‘O’ and her screaming.
What came out of her was not a scream though – a baby’s shrill wail broke the tranquility of my dark house.
|Creative Writing Competition 2012 India|
|Relevancy of chosen setting||20||19|
|Relevancy of chosen object||20||19|
|Significance of chosen theme||20||18|
|Selection and development of characters||10||7|
|Selection of time frame, description of place and environment||10||9|
|Plot of short story||10||8|
|Conflicts in short story||10||8|