This story is selected as Editor’s Choice
“I’m sorry, sir. We tried our best, but couldn’t save your son. We are sorry for your loss.”
A year later…
“This isn’t working, man. No spirit is descending into the planchette.”
“Yeah, let’s call it off, dudes.”
“What a waste! The weekend adventure is screwed, yaar.”
“Come on, bums. Don’t give up. Let’s try again.”
“What’s the use, man? None is answering. We’ve called so many…”
“OK. This time let’s make it general. We’ll call any spirit that’s around to descend.”
“Yeah, dude, that may work.”
“You think so?”
“Got nothing else to do. Can as well try.”
“Yeah, let’s try, man.”
The collective incantation, “Is there any spirit? Do you hear us? Is there any spirit here? Please descend into the planchette…”
“Hmmm…” Millimetric movement in the planchette.
“Who are you?”
The planchette flew off the board and hit a wall and broke into hundreds of slivers!
News item in local papers. ‘…Man found killed…throat slit…’
News item in local papers. ‘…Man brutally murdered …’
Rishi was walking along a badly lit corridor, seemingly endlessly. The tall man ahead of him kept walking without looking behind. Suddenly, the tall man reached a door and knocked on it. A short stout man opened it. The tall man whipped out a long kitchen knife from his denim waist jacket and stabbed the stout man, again and again, till the stout man dropped lifelessly in the doorframe. The killer laughed maniacally and turned his head slowly, ever so slowly and stared at Rishi.
“How are the headaches?” Dr. Bhatnagar asked.
“As they were, doctor,” Rishi replied tiredly.
Rishi lay comfortably supine on a couch in the consulting room of Dr. Sunil Bhatnagar, an eminent Psychiatrist. Dr. Bhatnagar was seated on a high-back, well-cushioned arm chair just behind the head of Rishi, out of the patient’s view.
“Still getting the nightmares?”
“’Visions’ may be more appropriate, doctor.”
The psychiatrist looked at him quizzically.
“Have you read the newspapers today, doctor?”
Rishi produced a newspaper from his pocket and pointed to a report that was circled in red.
“Yes, Rishi, I read it. It’s about a murder that took place late last night.”
There was silence for several moments.
“I saw this murder last night in my dream, doctor.”
Rishi described his previous night’s dream in detail.
“The dead man in this photo is the dead man in my dream.”
“Are you sure?”
“Puts all my dreams over the past months in an entirely new perspective, doesn’t it?”
“What should I do, doctor?”
“Wait for a day; continue the medication. Meanwhile, I’ll speak to a friend of mine in the Police Department and ask for his advice. He’s a DCP. I’ll call you afterwards.”
A couple of months earlier Rishi started seeing visions, in his dreams. He would see murders. He would see people whom he had never met in real life. The dream would end abruptly in a murder. Rishi would wake up startled, sweating and screaming. The dream would be followed by severe headache. Initially, he ignored them as routine nightmares that everyone gets. But they began occurring regularly and severely; the headaches that followed became debilitating, which was affecting his work. He consulted his physician who, in turn, referred him to Dr. Bhatnagar, a psychiatrist. Rishi was taking the medication prescribed by Dr. Bhatnagar.
“That’s interesting, Sunil,” DCP Shanmugam sounded enthusiastic.
“And you say the two deaths from his earlier dreams were real-life happenings, too!” Dr. Bhatnagar said.
“Yes. They really occurred over last couple of months. Rishi didn’t follow their press reports, it seems. The killer or killers haven’t been caught.” He paused. “The human mind, wherefrom does it get such inputs, I wonder!”
Dr. Bhatnagar sighed.
“Can I meet the young man, Sunil?”
“Sure. I’ll send him to you.”
“Tomorrow ten o’clock, at my office?”
“Done. Thanks, Shanmugam.”
“That was a very detailed account of your dreams, Rishi. You say that you saw the same killer in all the three dreams. Right? Now, can you describe the killer?”
“It’ll be difficult. I’ll try.”
DCP Shanmugam signalled the sketch artist who was ready with his drawing material.
A couple of hours and umpteen trials and erasures later a sketch was ready.
The DCP studied the sketch. “Hmmm…A balding man; middle-aged; tall and well-built. That could fit a million guys. Don’t you remember anything else?”
Rishi shook his head. “Nnnnoooo…but…wait…” He closed his eyes and was lost in thought for several minutes, while the DCP and the sketch artist looked at him expectantly.
“Sir…I cannot be absolutely sure…but I think he had a moustache, like Raj Kapoor’s and…”
“One upper tooth – a canine – was missing.”
“Those are significant features. The upper canine tooth…eh…? Left or right?”
“Left…no, no, no, no…Right…”
The DCP glowered at Rishi.
“Wait. Let me think…” He closed his eyes and thought loudly. “When he turned his face towards me it was to my left. So, it was his right upper canine that’s missing.”
“As far as I can recollect, sir.”
“He had bushy eyebrows; deep sunken eyes. That’s all I can recollect, sir.”
The sketch artist incorporated the additional facial features.
“The face has changed considerably! Now the killer has a face that could be called a face! Wait…He reminds me of someone…” The DCP closed his eyes and tapped his forehead with an index finger.
“Tessio, from ‘The Godfather’. Only, this man has a moustache a la Raj Kapoor.”
The DCP nodded in appreciation.
“Make copies and distribute to all our teams and patrol squads, pronto,” he instructed the Inspector investigating into the murder.
The Inspector and the artist scurried out of the chamber.
“Thanks, Rishi. You’ve been of great help.”
“It’s alright, sir.”
“Just be careful. OK? If this leaks to the press, you could be in danger.”
Rishi looked worried.
“Don’t look worried. I’ll take care of things. Now, let’s enjoy the coffee.”
It was past midnight. The alley was dark. The tall man in denim waist jacket was walking without looking behind. A constable was tiptoeing behind him with feline stealth. Suddenly, a twig snapped under the boots of the constable. He stopped and silently cursed himself. The man in front did not seem to have heard the sound. He kept walking. The constable followed him more carefully. The tall man turned into another dark alley. Moments later, the constable also turned into the alley only to find it empty. He was surprised. He stopped for a few seconds and then resumed walking slowly, looking for the tall man in every shadow, every nook and corner. He passed by a large garbage bin. He was startled by a sudden movement from behind it. A moment later, a long kitchen knife sliced through his carotid artery and larynx. Blood spurted out and the constable collapsed on the ground desperately holding his throat to stem the blood flow. He died within minutes. The eerie silence of the alley was broken by the maniacal laughter of the killer.
Rishi screamed and fell off his cot…
The atmosphere in DCP Shanmugam’s chamber was sombre and funereal.
“Your dreams have a nasty habit of coming true, young man,” the DCP said.
Rishi hung his head guiltily, while Dr. Bhatnagar watched helplessly.
“Shanmugam, you aren’t blaming him for the murders, are you?”
“I don’t know, Sunil. Our inquiries only revealed sketchy eye-witness accounts. Constable Durai was on night beat duty near a sleazy bar. He might have seen and recognised the suspect coming out of the bar and followed him. The killer might have surprised him and slit his throat.”
“This is the Constable I saw in my dream last night.” Rishi returned the newspaper to the DCP.
“I have strong suspicion about you and your dreams, young man.”
“What?” Both Rishi and Dr. Bhatnagar were shocked.
“You say you see a murder in your dream. Presto, a few hours later it actually happens. For all I know, you could be the killer and could be creating an alibi for you. Poor Durai can’t confirm the identity of the killer. Your…Tessio…may be a red herring to sidetrack us!”
“That’s ridiculous, sir! Why would I kill all those people whom I don’t know at all? And I was home sleeping when the murders occurred.”
“Says who? You? Do you have anyone to vouch for that? Do you have an alibi?”
“Oh, come on, Shanmugam. You can’t be serious!”
Shanmugam gave a wry smile. “I only mentioned a possibility.”
There was silence for a few moments.
“What do I do now, sir?” Rishi inquired.
“Nothing, go home and take care. We have issued a public alert for the killer with the sketch; newspapers, radio and TV. We’ll give you protection. I’ll post a Constable at your place during the night. He’ll be in touch with us. I’ll increase the rounds of the patrol van as well as beat Constables in your area. But, be alert.”
“Do you expect the killer to…to…to attack me, sir?” Rishi was evidently terrified.
“The killer is smart. He has eluded us all these days. He may find out about you. I am not taking any chances, son.”
Dr. Bhatnagar and Rishi thanked the DCP and left.
Rishi had dinner at a restaurant on the way home. His two-bedroom apartment was on the first floor in a quiet locality. He had a hot bath and settled in front of the TV with a glass of Officer’s Choice and cold water. Around eleven o’clock the doorbell rang. It was the night-duty Constable.
“Sir, I’m Rajaram. I’ll keep watch outside your apartment in the corridor. Just give me a chair and a bottle of water.”
Rishi gladly complied with the request.
“Call me if you sense any trouble. Good night, sir.”
Rishi bolted the door and went to bed.
The day ended without incident…
…Or, so Rishi thought.
He was unaware that the killer had reconnoitred the area and premises during daytime.
Rishi was talking on ’phone with DCP Shanmugam.
“Everything was OK, sir. Constable Rajaram was on duty.”
“We’ve got some responses to our alerts. We are looking into them. Be careful. Don’t let your guard down till we apprehend the killer. Bye.”
After a hectic day at the office, Rishi spent the evening with his friend over a glass of beer and dinner. He returned to his apartment late in the night. He found Constable Rajaram sitting on the steel folding chair.
“Good evening, Rajaram. Had your dinner?”
Rishi smiled. “Ready for the night duty?”
Rajaram returned the smile. “Yes, sir.”
“Wait, I’ll get you water.” He matched his words with action.
“Thanks and good night, sir.”
Rishi went in and bolted the door.
The tall man in denim waist jacket cursed himself and ducked in the shadows just in the nick of time. The police patrol van, with its engine idling, was stationed in front of the main gates of the apartment complex. The driver was speaking to a constable who stood on the pavement. A few minutes later, the patrol van slowly moved away. The constable turned back and walked into the complex and disappeared from the sight.
The parabolic path described by the small stone ended against the balcony door with clutter. There was no visible movement inside the bedroom. Another small stone hit the balcony door, bringing the desired results. The nocturnal prowler smiled.
‘I wasn’t dreaming. The sound was real.’
Rishi got up groggily from his sleep and switched on the light. He was about to open the balcony door when he remembered the DCP’s warning. He quickly went to the front entrance and opened it.
“Is anything wrong, sir?” The reassuring voice and face of Constable Rajaram greeted.
“I heard some noise in the balcony.”
“Let me check, sir.” Rajaram walked towards Rishi’s bedroom.
Rishi shut the front door and followed Rajaram to the bedroom.
In their hurry to investigate they committed a mistake.
They did not lock the front entrance….
“There’s nobody here, sir.”
“Strange. I am sure I heard some noise. First I thought I was dreaming. I heard it again. Then I got up and came to you…”
“It’s alright sir. Now go back to sleep. Don’t worry.”
Rishi walked Rajaram to the front door and let him out.
“Sir …” Rajaram gave him some instructions.
Rishi nodded and shut the door and went into his bedroom.
The tall man waited under a cot in the second bedroom for the better part of an hour.
The tall man wriggled out from under a cot. He glided – there was no other description for it – to the door with millimetric stealth and peeped out. Slowly, ever so slowly, he stepped out and shuffled towards his prey. The door to the bedroom, where his prey was asleep, was open. The ceiling fan was hissing at full speed. The curtains on the windows were fluttering indolently. The shuffling feet of the predator stopped adjacent to the cot. A long kitchen knife, which flashed dully in the dim lighting, came out of the recesses of the denim jacket. A wicked smile broke out on the predator’s lips. The knife-holding hand rose high above the head as a precursor to its ruthless downward plunge to meet its destination.
‘Am I dreaming? Or, is this real?”
All hell broke loose in the following moments of absolute pandemonium…
The front door burst open. Constable Rajaram stormed into Rishi’s bedroom. The smart man that he was, he did not need more than a fraction of a second to understand what was going on. He blindly dived headlong at the assailant in a tackle that would turn a professional Rugby player green with envy.
And the knife plunged…
“Aaahhh…” screamed Rishi.
“Well, young man, your dream came true, at last,” DCP Shanmugam quipped in a tongue-in-cheek manner.
“I am in misery and here you are, mocking at me, sir,” Rishi retorted in mock anger.
Dr. Bhatnagar joined them in a chorus of raucous laughter. They fell silent sheepishly when the Chief Nurse almost incinerated them with her disapproving looks.
“Rishi, are your parents here?”
“Yes, doctor. They’ve gone out on some work. They’ll return to Delhi after I’m discharged.”
Rishi paused for several moments.
“What happened, sir? I’m dazed; don’t remember anything clearly. Is…is…Rajaram OK?”
“He is alright; just a couple of lacerations on the hands and face. It is because of his swift move you are alive today, Rishi.”
“Do you know, sir, he instructed me not to bolt the front door from inside? That saved me, eventually; and my dream; this time, of my own murder; like a forewarning.”
“Yeah, you told us about your…vision…”
“Only, I am not sure. Was it only a dream? Or, did I actually see it in half-sleep condition?”
“Well, we’ll never know!” Shanmugam concluded.
There was silence for a couple of minutes.
“Who is the killer, Shanmugam? And why, what is the motive?”
“Revenge. His name is Shaktivel. About a year ago his teenage son was killed in a gory road accident. Three men were in the car that crushed him. They were in an inebriated condition. They were arrested but released on bail; had connections, it seems. The case is still before the court. Shaktivel seems to have taken the loss to heart and become extremely disturbed and mentally unstable. He seems to have completely lost faith in the justice system. In a demented state of mind he started killing the three, one by one.” The DCP paused. “The earlier murders occurred in completely different parts of the city. We never thought they were connected. We didn’t connect the dots.”
“I don’t understand! Why me? Where did I come in? And why the dreams?”
“Yes, Shanmugam. Tell me, Rishi. Did you experience anything out of the ordinary or unnatural recently? I’m not talking about your visions. Anything else?”
“No, I don’t recollect anything out of the ordinary…” Rishi’s voice petered away as he was lost in deep thought for several minutes. “Wait…there is something…I don’t know if it is linked…”
He narrated the experience he and his friends had a few months ago with the planchette.
“…We asked ‘who are you’; the spirit said…‘Ravi’…” he concluded.
“God! Shaktivel’s son’s name is Ravi!” Shanmugam exclaimed.
“That’s it, Rishi! Ravi’s spirit entered your household through the planchette.”
“Why me? My friends were there, too.”
“Who knows? Maybe he probed others; maybe he found you softer than them; easier to communicate.”
“But why, doctor?”
“We can only surmise. Maybe to protect you. Maybe to warn you; or the police; through your…visions. Purpose served, you don’t get those dreams any longer.” He paused. “If only you had seen press reports of the earlier murders!”
“In the end, it did work. Didn’t it? We caught the killer,” the DCP said, “You got away with only a scratch, son!”
“Scratch! You must be joking! It’s a stab. It broke my… my…”
“Clavicle.” Dr. Bhatnagar came to Rishi’s rescue.
“Yeah, the clavicle. It had to be screwed down.”
“Thank your stars, young man. It could have been your heart instead of the collarbone. Considering that you are alive, I say you are extremely lucky. Shaktivel has been arrested and sent to a Government Mental Asylum for treatment. It’s going to be a long-drawn case.”
“Amen for that,” the three of them concurred.
Several weeks later…
“You are here again! Is everything alright?” Dr. Bhatnagar was surprised.
“No, doctor, the problem continues,” Rishi replied.
“Seeing dreams again?”
“Yes, doctor, very disturbing dreams.”
“Come, lie down and tell me about it,” Dr. Bhatnagar said, pointing to the couch.
“I’m seeing the same dream repeatedly.”
“The killer this time is a girl, a beautiful girl.”
“That’s a change! What does she do?”
“She looks at people – men – and they are instantly incinerated. Then she smiles!”
“How many times have you seen this dream?”
“Four or five times already, doctor. The victim is different each time.”
“Last night, it was I who got incinerated.”
“Could you see her face?”
“Did you recognise her?”
“Yes, doctor, very well.”
“Well, who is the killer, Rishi?”
“Katrina, the hurricane?”
“No, doctor,” Rishi sighed languorously, “Katrina ‘Killer’ Kaif…!”
By Shyam Sundar Bulusu