Tonight is the night of the blood moon. A Shaman had once told me these nights are marked for marvel.
I peered among the branches, watching the bats flutter by the night sky. They waved at me as they rushed to the nearby cave; promising to meet later. It seems there was a congregation for the new members of the Chiropterans Club tonight.
An argent moonlight bathed the forest. The cicadas were humming their tune. I floated over my tree; trying to find a dryad*(tree nymph) to talk to. For once, it seemed I was alone in this patch of forest. I drifted to the well next to the tree and peeped in trying to catch a glimpse of the fat flounder or the old turtle.
I have been lonely for two hundred years.
I died but did not move on. An old regret has kept me tethered to this spot all this time.
Don’t they say, “Death is a great leveller?”
Take it from a spirit; it is a big fat lie.
I sighed. I was outdoing myself in self-pity tonight.
Cheer up, Princess …. It is unhealthy to brood over your past …What was it about not crying over milk being split? Or was it spilt milk?
I moodily picked at the mole on my chin. What was the fun in hanging out alone? But again, my aura had never really gelled with the average ghost folk.
The other spectres were off to the nearby graveyard tonight. They had planned a late-night rendezvous with the resident ghouls. I had excused myself saying the crowd there was obstreperous, but they knew. I was a loner even among the ghosts!!
I was not really into BDSM (Body possession-Demons-Scaring unto death-Mayhem) which seemed to be a rage these days. The other ghosts thought I was being a prude.
I did go on a few dates with the Vampire from the neighbouring woods, but he kept asking me to convert to his kind, and we fell apart.
Now do not get me wrong. I am not a depressed ghost. I am pretty chilled out (Vocabulary: Courtesy the campers I possessed last week).
It is just my ‘time of the month’ you see! I enjoy stalking an occasional stranger, waylaying him deep in the forest, scaring the daylights of him. However, such meetings are akin to what they call “A One Night Stand.” (A word I learnt from the campers too). It offers instant gratification at the cost of long-term anhedonia.
Apart from the few stray campers, humans rarely ventured here. The Vampire had created quite a furore last month and given this area a bad reputation.
A gentle rustle of leaves got me curious. Who would come this way at this time of the night?
Oh, what do I see, a boy of sixteen with glasses as thick as pestle bottom. He had a spurt of teenage acne over his nose and cheekbones. I clapped my hands in savage glee…Tonight was the time for some instant gratification after all…
I floated over his head for some time. He was mumbling words like…’ Will show them…..Am I lost …How long until they find me …’
I lightly brushed my long cold fingers against his left cheek. He rudely swatted my hand away, busy with his mumbling…Irked I continued to hover over him.
How do I terrify him? I pondered, miffed at his blatant neglect of my presence.
Unsure of what to do further, I settled for trailing behind him…….
Do I stalk him till he faints in fear? Do I settle on his nape and whisper until he goes crazy? Do I stun him by appearing before him as an old hag??
He abruptly stopped, turned, and looked straight into my eyes.
The creep startled me!!
“Hi, thank God I met someone!! Can you direct me to the nearest accommodation? It seems I lost my way.”
He smiled revealing slightly crooked canines. Awww, I have a soft spot for men with the crooked teeth. (Do not judge me for it). I humoured him for a few more moments.
“Don’t you know this part of the forest is dangerous at night? People who have visited here have often not returned to their intended destinations.”
“It’s all tosh lady. I can spot a spirit from miles apart. You are safe in my company.”
I summoned a thick mist and assumed a terrifying form.
A deep green sari; a forehead full of vermillion……My hair touched my waist, the thick shafts clotted in dried blood. My nails were big and curved. I smiled to show off my canines, as they twinkled in the moonlight.
He looked at me like I was a mighty interesting insect he had caught in his backyard.
“Awwsssome …How did you do it?? He looked behind me as if expecting the reason for my sudden costume change to pop up in the background.
“Because I am a ghost you dolt!”
He giggled…”My ectoplasm measuring apparatus (He showed me a metal box from his bag) would have gone crazy at the sight of a real ghost. It hasn’t detected any signals lady. Who sent you here to scare me?”
The kid made me feel old and unenlightened and I was not happy about it.
“How dare you speak to me like that?” I frowned.”I will haunt your sleep and dreams from this moment!!”
He snorted and lapsed in a laughing fit. “Who speaks like that anymore?”
I stomped my feet in indignation; unintentionally dampening the ferocity of my looks.
He dramatically crossed fingers over his heart and continued to snigger.
Anger started bubbling in my innards!!
The boy was going to give me a heart-burn.
“How dare you speak to me like this? I will wring your neck like a twig. I will possess you till you rot and wilt and die …” I deepened my voice so it came out like an echo.
He still looked sceptical of my ability to arouse terror.
That was it!!
I rose to my full power. I levitated him to my Banyan tree and hung him upside down until he turned red in his face.
He finally accepted my claim when he got sick, being suspended upside down and begged me to return him to the ground.
Then he started fiddling with his metal box, pointing it towards me almost poking my nose. The machine still did not make a peep. I slapped my forehead in frustration.
“What type are you? Succubus? Lemur? Revenant? White Lady? Siren?” He fired his questions in a staccato voice.
For the first time in the last two hundred years, I developed a pounding headache…!!
“Please stop talking!! I massaged my temples.
“So….how did you end up haunting this place?” He asked with pursed lips. His glasses slid down his nose and I saw hazel coloured eyes with thick lashes.
“You are supposed to be petrified and run in the other direction and not interview me, Boy!!” I tried sounding stern.
He simply shrugged and said, “I love everything supernatural.”
I recited my sordid saga……
“My story starts in 1819. There used to be a Kingdom of Indrapuri right where this forest and the neighbouring town are based. My father His Highness, Daksha Singh ruled the kingdom with a just and stern hand. Our lands extended up to the west coast. I was the only child born to the royal couple and declared next in line for the throne. However, a few members of the royal court were not happy with this proclamation . My own uncle conspired against His Highness. One day, he poisoned The King’s drink and came after me. The King’s faithful aide, Mansingh tried to carry me away to safety, but the bastards hunted us down on this very spot. He lost his life protecting me. I fought with all my fortitude but they finally overpowered me and hung me from this tree.
I stole a glance at him expecting him to be deeply moved by my story. He was looking at me in morbid fascination.
I bristled in annoyance but continued.
“Since then, I have been anchored to his place. I was not able to proceed into the afterlife. My uncle, the murderer eventually died. His body was mourned for and given apt rituals. He and his kin moved on….” My voice finally broke.
He looked at me for a long time chewing the inner side of his lower lip.
“It hurts more when your family hurts you, doesn’t it?” He said in a small voice.
He patted a spot next to him and bade me to sit. Then he started narrating his story.
“I am Govind. I stay in Bijaygarh, a small town fifteen kilometres to the west of this forest. My father is a teacher and my mother was a homemaker. We were a happy trio. Then two years back my mum succumbed to cancer.” He paused. “Then one year ago, my dad remarried.” His tone got sulky.
“Does your stepmother treat you badly?”
“No, she is okay. Not your typical step mum! She is a working lady. She looks after Appa and the house. She is warm to me.”
I frowned at him in incomprehension. “Then what is the problem?”
“She is a stepmother.” He spat the word as if it scalded his tongue. “I want her to leave. I keep dirtying the house. I hide dad’s clothes while she puts them out to dry. I increase her chores just to upset her.”
“You being an insensitive clod!!”
“She is not my mom. She cannot take her place …I hate it when she sleeps on my mom’s bed. She tries to make my favourite food and I push my plate away. I hate her. I hate my dad for replacing mom from his life so easily.” He ranted.
His rant sounded more of an effort at self-persuasion rather than a complaint.
His eyes brimmed with long-stalled tears and my heart went out to him. I wondered how long he had held on to this petulant grudge.
I put a clawed hand over his shoulder.
“So you ran away from home to teach your parents a lesson.”
“How did you know?” He asked sniffing and failing to hold back the snot.
“Two hundred years and some things never change Govind…” I sighed.
“She is a religious lady. I keep reading stuff about ghosts and reciting it about the house to incite her. I put devil’s pictures in my room. I ran away last evening after an altercation with my dad. Boarded a bus but got down near the forest to answer nature’s call. The bus left without me.”
“You study ghosts? No wonder you know so much about my kind!!” I was impressed.
He nodded with enthusiasm. “I thought I would find a spectre here, record its activity and later play it in my house to terrify her.”
I narrowed my eyes in censure. He reminded me of another child long ago. So I decided to share my secret ache with him.
“There is more to my royal tale which might interest you.”
He frowned but nodded for me to go on.
“His Highness had always wanted a son. A male heir would secure his bloodline. I was born to the Queen after twelve years of marriage. Though I wiped the stigma of barrenness off my mother, a girl was not a strong contender for the Crown. I spent all my childhood trying hard to gain father’s approval. I trained rigorously under Mansingh; but his highness always shook his head even at my best performance. I excelled at horse riding, sword fighting and even in political matters, but the King held back his affection.
I grew up despising myself for being a girl. I held a grudge against my mother for bringing me in this unfair world. My uncle and his wife took this opportunity to poison my mind against the king and the queen. They convinced me I was unwanted.
I started avoiding Her Highness. I spent days being a recluse; hunting alone in deep jungles. When she fell sick; she begged me to stay near her but I paid no heed.
One day I was away sulking in self-imposed isolation when I got the news. My mother had passed away. I could not make it in time to have the last word with her. She died alone; pining for her only child, desperately wanting to see me once before her eyes closed forever.
Father, by then had realised his folly. He tried to make amends. But I was seventeen and hurting. The guilt over my behaviour with my mother was gnawing away at my insides. I took it out on my father. I became distant. I refused to meet him. I was away on a hunt one day when I received another message from my father. He wanted to see me. I deliberately stalled meeting him. That day my uncle poisoned his meal. Mansingh came searching for me on my Father’s orders. He sacrificed his life trying to save me.”
I stopped as some of the pressure over my chest eased. It had been a long time since I confided in another being. It felt cathartic.
Do you realise the guilt I live with every single day Govind? The only thing my mother wanted from me was one last meeting, but I held a childish grudge against her for no fault of hers. My father tried his best to reconcile with me after the Queen passed away but I held on to my resentment. Who knows, things could have turned out different if I had been there with father. How I wish I had a day more with them….I would hug them and say I am sorry.”
Govind was silent all the while. He had understood. Our stories had resonated even across two timelines.
“As a grievously injured Mansingh still fought to protect me, as I came to know my dying father had sent help so I could escape to safety, I realised I was loved and cherished all along. I cried for my mother who died in agony when her only child would not visit her death bed. It filled me with an unceasing contrition. I should have reconciled with my family when I had the time.
In the last two hundred years, my only remorse is that I did not hold their hands in their last moments. I did not make enough happy memories with them. I fought for solitude when I was alive. Fate has now cursed me with an eternity of loneliness…..”
“Do not repeat my mistakes. Go back. Nobody deserves to be lonely. Your father chose another companion. It is okay. Your stepmother sounds like a decent lady. Give her a chance. Life’s too short for holding grudges. Make the best of what you are given. You have a family who cares for you. Do you realise how lucky you are?”
“I have outdone myself in tantrums this time. They will hate me by now.”
“Trust me, they won’t. They will be worried about you. Apologise and all will be well. If things still do not go your way, you can always return here to vent. I am not going anywhere.”
He smiled with all the innocence of a sixteen-year-old.
“And remember you were scared out of your wits in my presence. I am only letting you go so you to tell people and other ghosts you meet the tales of my ferocity.” I added for sake of my reputation.
“It’s a deal.” He slapped me hard on my back.
“Can I come to meet you every other week?” He asked tentatively as we made way towards the edge of the forest.
“Sure you can. Practice hanging upside down from the branches in the meanwhile.”
I glided alongside him up to the road. Another bus was approaching. He cheerfully bade me goodbye and pushed his ectoplasm apparatus in my hands as a farewell gift. I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was a useless piece of metal.
I floated back to the well. I was alone but no longer felt lonely. He would make amends with his stepmother; I was sure. I had sent the boy away with my perspective on family and I hope he took it in a good spirit (pun intended).
Somewhere, two parents would smile because of me. For the first time in two centuries, I was awash in a warm glow of contentment.
The red moon tonight had brought together two lost souls. I hoped one of them had found their way back. I rose up my branch to my favourite spot to retire for the night.
Photo By: Ricardio Gomez
This is an entry from team Heads and Tales for ArttrA-3, A Game of Writers co-sponsored by Diners Club International.
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