“My dear, you have a very high temperature,” Tina’s mother exclaimed as she read the thermometer reading.
Tina snuggled deeper underneath her blankets, her cheeks red with the fever.
“But it’s submission day, Mom,” she whined.
“I cannot afford to miss school today.”
“You young lady can afford to miss school once or twice…it isn’t necessary for anyone to have a hundred percent attendance. You stay put in the house…I will call up your homeroom teacher and inform her about your absence.”
Tina pouted at her mother, wishing her fever to fall.
Fifteen year old Taruni Rathore lived with her mother in a modest two-bedroomed apartment. Her parents had divorced a long time back and her father rarely visited them, just assuring the fact that he was alive by sending a card every New Year’s eve. Her mother worked as an investment banker with a renowned firm so they never had any financial problems.
Tina was tall for her age, gangly and lanky with shoulder length brown-black hair and tawny eyes. Her sharp nose presently wheezed loudly as she sniffled, groaning with general discomfort.
“I am so sorry, dear…but I have to go to office today. Some files await my sign and there are some meetings…but I will come home latest by lunch.”
Her mother patted Tina’s head affectionately.
“Why don’t I fix up a hot chocolate flask and some of those choco-chip cookies while you watch TV?”
Tina nodded her head vigorously.
“But promise me you will stay in your room, in your bed…okay?”
After placing the flask and plate of cookies on the bedside table, she bid Tina goodbye.
“Stay safe, my child. Call me if you have any problem, okay?”
“Rest assured, Mom. I will be fine.”
Tina flicked through the channels as she nibbled a cookie.
Ripley’s Believe it or not…
Jackie Chan movie…
Some Hindi soap opera…
She settled down for Animal Planet but soon got bored…the show was on spiders and she abhorred those arachnids.
As she flicked the channel, she came across a new one. She could swear she hadn’t come across this channel before.
Maybe a new one, she mused as she settled down to watch.
The show was an animated one, and the characters looked hand-drawn. It showed a girl sitting underneath an apple tree, reading a book. As the camera zoomed on the girl, she lifted her face to look through the camera.
And look at Tina.
Tina realized with a jolt that the cartoon girl looked a lot like her—tall, gangly with brown hair and tawny eyes. And the eyes looked strangely life-like.
Cool animation, she thought.
The girl stood up and began walking to her right. A minute or so later, she came to a river. She dipped her hand straight into the water and withdrew a small box from the blue swaths.
The camera zoomed to the top of the box.
“I.N.R.A. #1” was scribbled on it.
The cartoon girl winked at Tina before the scene dissolved.
The next scene saw her hidden behind some bushes.
“Kimmie…Kimmie…” a voice crooned, the source unseen.
Unlike the previous scene where she appeared happy and carefree, now she looked positively frightened.
Tina was drawn to the show now. Though there were no dialogues and no special music apart from a typical childish background score, the story was gripping.
The girl—Kimmie—slowly slipped from the bushes and crept to a nearby shed and locked herself in.
The shed looked old and pretty rundown—green splotches dotted the dull brown walls. Kimmie looked around herself, clutching the packet tightly to her chest.
Get out Kimmie, Tina willed, unconsciously clutching her blanket tightly.
A decrepit sofa caught Kimmie’s attention and she pushed it against the door to block it. She stood at the farthest end of the shed, her face pale with fear. Tina couldn’t see the reason but Kimmie’s fear seemed infectious—she too could feel her heart beat faster.
A loud BAM! shook the entire shed, almost throwing the door off its hinges. The sofa wobbled dangerously, threatening to get reduced to rubble.
“Open the door, Kimmie…I need what you have…” the voice continued silkily, like the red silk cloth that covers the ceremonial dagger in auspicious events.
Kimmie stared at the box and then back to the camera—to Tina—and kept a finger on her lips.
No, Kimmie mouthed.
Don’t let the door open.
Another WHAM! created a tiny crack in the door, revealing the assailant. He was tall, inexplicably thin with a greenish face, round black eyes like saucers. His knobbly hands poked out of the horrible-looking blue business suit, pushing the door with surprising force.
“The package, Kimmie…give it to me…” he purred.
Kimmie shook her head violently, clutching the package tightly.
“Stop being so problematic,” he continued as the door slowly began to give way.
Tina could swear she heard something in the hallway. Something move…
Keeping her eyes glued to the screen, she slowly inched out of the bed, holding the bolster in her arms. She peeked out of the room but the rest of the apartment looked innocent enough. She tiptoed into the kitchen when she felt a shadow fall behind her.
She turned around—to find nothing.
She walked through the apartment noiselessly, though she had no idea what she was looking for. After finding nothing, she dismissed the noise as a figment of her imagination.
She trooped back to her room only to find her cookie plate missing.
I don’t think I carried the plate into the kitchen…
She looked around the room…but the cookie plate had apparently disappeared into thin air.
She sat down on her bed, suddenly exhausted. As she turned to the TV, she couldn’t help but gasp out loud.
“The cookies are yummy, Tina,” the man winked at her.
Tina scrambled over her table for the remote to switch of the TV…but the OFF button had no effect. She tried to change channels but no avail. Then she proceeded to pull the power-cord off the plug but met with failure. The green man laughed maniacally.
“Give me the package, Tina…I know you have it,” he crooned, his face filling the TV screen. Tina ran back to her bed and hid underneath her blankets.
“I HAVE NO PACKAGE!!!” she screamed.
She peeked out only to find the TV shaking on the stand.
With no other idea, she threw the remote at the screen, breaking it.
But even in the broken shards, she could see the green man grinning at her.
“Pac…ka..kage…” the voice came in a broken manner.
Tina sat bolt upright, sweat covering her body. Her cotton nightsuit was soaked with perspiration. The TV looked unscathed and whole. The cookies were covered with a plate and the hot chocolate was untouched. A Post-it note was stuck to the flask.
I will be home by lunch. Take care. You were sleeping so I didn’t wake you up—Mom.
“A freaky dream,” she breathed with relief as she bit into a cookie. She threw the covers off herself in an attempt to cool down her body.
The doorbell rang.
She jumped off her bed to see who it is.
“Courier!” a voice called.
She opened the door to find the courier boy holding a package.
“Courier for Taruni Rathore,” he said, handing her a paper-slip to sign.
Courier for me? Must be from father, she thought as she signed the slip and handed it over.
The package was quite light. She took it into the kitchen and cut through the cellotape sealing to unearth the delivery.
It was a brown box.
And on top was written— I.N.R.A. #2.
I know you have the package, Tina…
Don’t let the door open…