|Creative Writing Competition 2012 India|
|SETTING||Old Palace OR Bungalow|
|THEME||A Strange Day/Night|
I flinch at every hollowly creak on the old wooden stairs, trembling at every sound that pierces the gloomy darkness I am surrounded by, from all sides. Isolation accompanies me as I descend the stairs, the dark air heavy laden with fear and despair, suffocating me. Without the vaguest idea of what this place is or how I got here, I stand paralyzed, trying to collect my scattered thoughts and spirits, to make the least sense of the mess I found myself in, minutes ago.
I shudder, trembling with bone-chilling fear, surprised, as a tide of dim light flows through the room, illuminating it, although slightly, and giving me a chance to study my surroundings carefully. A mixture of adrenaline and blood and fear races through my veins as I turn my head to see a broken chandelier -one you see in those horror movies- emanating dim light. Darkness again fills the room, frightening me, leaving me blind. Light returns, moments later, hurting my eyes, as I stand transfixed at my spot. My gaze falls on some broken furniture in the hall downstairs, I think, judging by its structure, and it’s dark again.
The merciless rhythm of the flickering lights continues and about half an hour later, still paralyzed at my spot, observing at stolen intervals, I reach this conclusion: I am in an old bungalow, lavished with cobwebs, broken furniture, peeling wallpaper, flickering lights, a gloomy slick staircase, and sinister old portraits smiling down at me, deviously, from underneath thick layers of dust.
I can make out a door, endowed with grotesque carvings all over it, but seeming completely uninviting and unremarkable, just a few feet away from where the stairs end. I quickly scan the hall again, but there’s no sign of any other door or escape route. The dark corners of the vast hall add to the tension in the air and I shudder.
Without any options left, I advance towards the door. I push it open and freeze at my spot, overwhelmed, as a strong stench of long-burnt cigarettes ravishes my nose and the dust in the air pools tears into my eyes.
The room goes dark again as the lights flicker. A warm moist air brushes the back of my neck near my shoulder- an exhaled breath. I break a cold sweat, as a shiver forms amid the hair on the back of my neck and continues downwards to the other end of my spine. The lights return and my gaze falls on two large rocking-chairs in the center of the room, devoid of any other furniture. One is already rocking, its rhythmic creaking working with the whoo-ing of the wind in the background in tandem. The other one leans over in my direction in a leering invitation.
The portraits still grin deviously, as if knowingly, and the air, still whoo-ing, adds to the fear I feel flowing through my blood, and against my bones, shaking the very core of my being.
I close my eyes and surrender as darkness invades me…
I feel someone shaking me, calling me to wake up. I try to open my eyes, but they’re heavy. I feel the familiar feel of water drops being splashed upon my face, as I try to open my eyes. They’re dry and sore. I slowly open them a little when the bright white light hurts my eyes, blinding me, and I quickly squeeze them shut.
A few seconds later, once having my eyes adjusted to the bright (or relatively bright!) setting, I open my eyes and find my wife Priya, staring at me, face to face, worry etched over her face in dark overlapping lines.
“I’m glad you’re okay.” She says, a weak smile playing over her lips, but not quite reaching her eyes. “I thought…” she trails off and begins to sob.
I thought so too.
“What happened?” I ask, conscious, but bewildered by the change in scenario around me, as I try to compose myself, and steady my trembling limbs.
“You fainted,” She says and darts one hand to the bedside table and hands me a glass of water. “While reading that.” she continues, her finger pointing towards an old fat book on the floor, now in flames, with small orange sparkles swirling in the smoke.
Oh! The book had been buried under the basement, I recall, and I had started reading it. After that my memory blurs.
“When I saw you so…” she continues, dewy eyed, “So lifeless, and that stupid book by your side, I was so sacred. I knew something was wrong. Your eyes were so wide, as if it were a nightmare, and the book was clear as day, nothing written on it, just sinister white pages… I was so scared… you mumbling… I burn the book…” She’s mumbling in pain.
I hug her, comforting her, finding some peace for myself, deciding not to tell her anything, as I look down upon the old book, still burning, the glow of the flames being reflected in the polished surfaces in the room.
“What was it? She asks.
“Nothing. Just a nightmare.” I lie.
“What was the title, again?” I ask her, trying to change the subject.
“The Unwelcome Guest.” She replies.
A curious Prashant (my son) enters the room and looks up from the burnt book on the floor to me, his eyes inquiring.
“You burnt it?” He asks his voice full of disbelief. “You never burn books.”
“Yeah… It was a stupid book… Not my type…” I mutter.
He still stands by the door, his eyebrows arched, not believing my lie.
“A gripping read, though.” I say finally and try to smile.