Well…another try. .I think there’s too much happening in the story. Am trying to learn to make them short and sharp. Have a long way to go….
He held his jaw, gritted his teeth and took a breath. Concentrating on waking up, he pushed against the force. His head throbbed violently, vision blurred…and he started suffocating. His breath was cut short, and he went down again. Exhausted from the mental effort, he lost control, and the jaw started twitching violently again. Breathing in spasms, the strange images came back…he saw a tall wall, white tiled, with two posters-one with the GE logo and the other with a coffee mug. Nothing made sense. He labored against the force again, with some vigor, but was pushed down. Again images formed before his eyes-a room, bathed in yellow light, with high glass windows draped with thick brown curtains. A snake clung to the curtain from the outside. Reeling in confusion, his mind knew he was in trouble. If he didn’t wake up soon, he would die. Mustering up some air, he pushed again. The force was overwhelming. His breath started to betray almost immediately. The weight felt massive. He continued to push against it, jaws twitching, choking, gasping…and finally broke out of it. He sat up immediately, afraid to sleep again. The pillow was wet with sweat. Gulping in fresh air, he tried to steady himself and his mind. There was a slight throb in his temples, he tried to shake it off.
Out of the trance now, his thoughts cleared. The music system was silent. He hated to have his noon nap ruined. Although he had been having this ‘dream’ as long as he could remember, it was never so frequent. This was the second time in the last three days he had been through this. Wondering why he always saw the image of the room with glass windows, he walked to the refrigerator. He took a draught from a Pepsi PET bottle filled with water..It tasted bad-there was a layer of cig residue on his tongue.
Back in his room, he checked the cell…there were 3 missed calls and a message from one of his friends-Vishal. Nakul had slept for 3 hours…and he was supposed to be at Vishal’s place two hours back, with two more of his friends.
Splashing cool water on his face, he hurried out. It was sultry hot outside, and the traffic didn’t make it any better. Riding along at a leisurely speed, he got to Vishal’s in 10 minutes. The three guys were sprawled on the floor, smoking and watching LOTR on DVD. As Nakul entered, “Aahh!” was all Vishal said. The other two were too lazy to acknowledge his entry. Wincing at the smoke, Nakul made a place for himself between the wall and a couple of empty packets of Lays.
Besides Vishal, there were Muddy and Mandar, who called himself ManD, in the room. Nakul could see that Vishal and Muddy were really watching the movie, but ManD seemed lost, almost on the verge of weeping. Nakul knew too well what this meant. When ManD was down, he would generally keep to himself. But when he was down AND with friends, it meant he wanted everyone to know he was down, and go down with him. Looking at him now, Nakul understood that nobody had bothered to ask him what was wrong. “Whats wrong with your face”?, he had to ask. He was expecting ManD’s reply to be something like “Aw nothin” or something of that sort. But he had really lost his patience waiting for the the other two to ask him, and so he literally exploded. “I ain’t goin to live in this new flat man!”. Being patient for so long, alongwith whatever was troubling him, had taken its toll…he sounded like an old crow with a throat infection..
Mandar had just decided to move out of his hostel room to a rented flat. Everyone had liked the place. It was in a very old building. A bit rundown yet cozy.He had been living there for almost a week now. Everything seemed fine.
But what he had heard from the neighbors was a bit disturbing. During the few days just after moving in, he could not understand why they gave him strange looks, or why everyone would stop in the middle of their conversation if he happened to pass by. The women and kids of the society looked at him and whispered. The men gave him a look which much to his annoyance seemed like pity. All this made him feel like a sick man in a hospice, who could drop dead any second. Having had enough of it, he had asked them what was going on. All they told him was that the flat had been unoccupied for 25 years. At first they did not tell why, but on persisting had said that the place was haunted.
Listening to Mandar narrate this, all four of them had burst into laughter, and soon forgotten bout it.
But today, it did not take Nakul long to make the connection. “You know that stuff is shit” he said, an unbelieving look on his face. Muddy and Vishal stared, the corners of their lips twitching, ready to guffaw any instant.
Mandar was shaking his head vigorously. “No, no! Its not shit man!”
Nakul looked at him intently. Mandar was a prankster, but surely not a good actor. He couldn’t possibly be faking the look on his face. He was in agony.
“Um..so you tellin us that you saw a ghost in your room at night?” Muddy asked. Vishal chuckled and turned red.
Mandar’s face was sagging. “No. I saw it in the noon.”
This was too much for Vishal, and he spiralled into a frenzy of laughter. Muddy too joined in.
“I ain’t kiddin guys! I swear!” It was more of a plea. And it silenced everyone.
“Are you sure Old Monk wasn’t involved?” Vishal asked, stifling another chuckle.
Mandar answered with a sigh and a shake of the head.
“Well, if you are not faking this, there’s only one thing we should do. All of us will go to the flat tomorrow and check it out.” There was a note of seriousness in Nakul’s voice. They agreed.
The next day, after college, all four of them headed for the flat. On reaching it, Mandar handed over the key to Vishal and slipped behind him. Vishal opened the door slowly. Mandar was cowering, half expecting a severed head to jump at them through the door. The old door creaked and protested at the hinges. The room was dark. It took time for Vishal’s eyes to adjust to the low brightness. He stared inside, blinked and stiffened. His eyes widened. Before anyone could know what he saw, Vishal started shaking violently and gasping. Then he began to moan. Scared like a baby, Mandar ran down the stairs, two at a time. On reaching the ground floor, he frantically gestured at the watchman, when he heard loud laughter from upstairs…
The flat was dusty and unkempt. Books, CDs, empty Milds packets, matchsticks, clothes, magazines, shoes covered the floor. The wall directly opposite them had a huge poster with a Ferrari F40. Another poster was hanging on three corners, the cello tape hadn’t held on the fourth. A few other posters lay rolled up in a corner. Vishal peeked inside the rolls, whistled on finding the one, and unrolled it. It was a wide poster, with Bipasha in a bikini slinked on a bed, her dark skin glistening. Mandar was looking nervously at the inner room. Following his gaze, Nakul went in.
“Is this the place where you were enlightened, dude?”
Mandar nodded. The others went in, pushing him ahead of them.
It was a fairly large room. There were large windows on two walls, with a bed against one of them. The windows and a door leading to balcony were covered with blue curtains. A length of pipe dangled down from above a cupboard. The room was bathed in bright sunlight. It seemed pleasant and sunny.
“Hm. It is highly unlikely a spirit would like being here. That too during the day!”. Nakul said.
“Maybe the ghost was a she and couldn’t resist checkin ManD out!” Vishal observed.
“Yeah…musbe really disappointed to see him bolt like a bat outa hell!” Muddy couldn’t help choking on his words with a laugh.
“Fuck off man! I told ya I ain’t kiddin! There was a th..thing here and he was sitting on the bed!” Mandar was fuming.
“Heh! So you’re wrong Muddy…the ghost was a He, although I wouldn’t be surprised if He was mistaken and checked ManD out anyway!” Vishal was in hysterics now.
“And he was sittin ready in the bed too!” Muddy clutched his sides.
Nakul rolled his eyes. “You guys have a sucky sense of humour…”.
The whole day passed without any sights or sounds. Mandar was not keen to stay in the flat for the night, so they all left. Then on they went to the flat everyday after college, staying till nightfall.. But there were no ghosts, no spirits, no nothing.
A week went by without event. On a Sunday, they were at the flat early..The college was off for a week for the annual youth fest. Even Mandar had almost got over whatever he had seen, dismissing it as a trick of light. Carrying vodka and cigs in their bags, they were looking forward to a day of boozing. Then there was the party at night in the college auditorium. Nakul was expecting to see her and…confess
In the flat, the back room had been converted into a hangout. Muddy had rigged a computer to a 6.1 set, a speaker in every corner and two at the ends. Kid Rock’s American Badass was on. The room was already filled with smoke and the blabber of a lightweight Mandar.
Muddy and Vishal had brought along a CD and were ogling over Lindsay Lohan. The day was warm, the sky cloudless. Muddy had kept the windows open to let the smoke out. A few hours passed.
Having had enough of the cigs, Nakul reached for a vodka. He couldn’t get her out of his head. Thoughts of her lingered in his head like a fog. He poured half of a 180ml bottle in a glass, then topped it off with Sprite. He tried to think how would he break it to her, but the music was too loud. By now the sun was overhead and the room was too bright for comfort. Placing his glass on the bedrest, Nakul closed both the windows and pulled over the curtains. The room was pleasantly dark now. He went over to the computer and turned off the music. Getting his glass again, he settled on the bed, enjoying the peace. Then Mandar turned on the night lamp.
The vision hit him like a truck. His eyes widened with horror. His face blanched. The glass dropped from his hand and he buckled. He gazed at it, but couldn’t believe his eyes. The night lamp had bathed the room in yellow light. Under the light, the blue curtains appeared dark brown. Strangely, a serpent seemed to have appeared on the curtains. It was the shadow of the pipe on the cupboard, cast by the lamp. The resemblance to a snake was uncanny.Nakul started to shiver and collapsed on the floor. His jaw was twitching and his breath was in spasms. Vishal ran up to him and yelled. “Whats up buddy? Whats wrong?” Nakul was running out of breath. Fear choked him. He barely managed a whisper “…spirit…me…?”.
“But we don’t see anything man!” Mandar was sick with dread.
“Not before I sleep…not before I sleep…” he said…and then it was over.
The post-mortem listed severe trauma as the cause of death.