120 Seconds

Day 1, Evening
As his eyes regained focus, he saw the crow flapping away. For a moment, he thought the
crow had winked at him. He wondered how the deal would work out.
He let an assortment of cars and bikes and buses pass. Each passing vehicle sent a shudder
through the slabs that made up the bridge. He counted about 20 shudders absently, then
stopped. The bright yellow stripes of paint in the middle of the road glistene d in the waning
sun. A wall that rose chest-high on either bank of the bridge hid the dark underside from
people passing over the bridge. A few kite-eagles dived into and rose out of the murkiness,
keeping its secrets to themselves.
Naman sighed. He cast a long gaze over the trees on the far bank of the river that flowed
along the bridge, his eyes unfocused.
“Well, that’s that” he thought, and kicked his bike alive. He had to find a petrol pump.

Day 2
The alarm on the stool beside Naman’s bed buzzed and jangled like it had every day, month
after month. But today, he put it to snooze, and ten minutes later when it jangled again, he
simply pulled out the cord and went back to sleep.
By the time his mother woke him up, it was 10 AM. He should have been in office an hour
ago.
He gave her a vicious look, and without a word, set to get ready for office.
“Are you feeling alright?” she asked.
He replied with a curt grunt.
“Didn’t you have office today?” she had concern in her voice.
“Yes mom, am I not getting ready?” he spoke in an irritated voice.
She left it at that and replaced the air-starved chappatis in his Tupperware lunch box with
fresh ones.
Like everyday he smoked a cigarette at the pan shop below his office building. Even though
he was late for work, he did not seem to care.

As he was butting out the cigarette, a small girl trundled up to him, one arm stretched out
carelessly, the other scratching her matted hair. She jerked the shiny steel bowl she was
clutching. The few coins in it clattered loudly.
Without a thought, Naman tossed whatever change the panwala had given him in the bowl.
It was a sum the beggar girl had never received in one go. With a twinkle in her eye that
seemed as out of place as the bright smile that livened up her emaciated features, she ran
back to her mother and siblings sitting across the road on the footpath. Their mother took
the money and hugged the little girl happily.
An even younger boy, jealous of the attention his sister was getting, grabbed a bowl and ran
towards Naman. He held out his bowl, but failed to catch Naman’s attention. He went
around and tugged at Naman’s trousers.
Instead of a firm reprimand, Naman simply slapped the little boy right across his face. The
under-nourished kid fell in a heap at Naman’s feet. Without as much as a second look, he
strode back into the office building, leaving in his wake shocked faces and the wails of the
child.

That evening, a cat had a horrible time trying to catch a crow that landed on the ground
after flying a few feet, hopped a bit, and then took off again as the cat came closer.

Day 3
The cord for the alarm clock had not been plugged in again. Naman was still in bed when the
RJ on his mother’s radio announced it was 10 AM in her best I-know-men-love-me voice.
His mother looked at him warily.
“I hope you have a good reason to be so indifferent towards your job. We don’t want any
problems just as you are getting engaged.”
Naman only stared at her, his face showing no sign of any emotion or comprehension.
“The hotel wanted an advance payment for the party right? I think you should clear the
advance today. Tell them the menu would be as we had finalized, too.”
The thought of more expenditure pinched him in the gut. He had lost his father years ago,
and so was paying out of his own pocket for his engagement. Even though Chinmayi’s father
had insisted on splitting the expenses 50/50, together with the engagement ring the
expenditure was turning out to be substantial. With the engagement just three days away,
Naman cringed at every last-minute expense that came up.

“Yes mom I will do it” he mumbled robotically and left for office.
Despite being two hours late already, he did not skip the habitual cigarette outside office.
He noticed the pan wala looking at him curiously. The beggar family looked at him from
across the road, the mother was incessantly mumbling, gesturing at him. The little boy was
prostrate in her lap, his eyes looking into zero.
As he walked into office and sat down at his desk, his boss walked over and, leaning in close,
asked if everything was fine at home. Naman nodded, with a smile.
“Guess there’s lots to do with the engagement and all coming up eh?” the boss laughed and
slapped Naman happily on the back, then walked back to his cubicle. Naman shrank into his
chair, his mind in a tumult.
At lunch that afternoon, he logged in to his banking website and transferred a meaty sum
into the hotel’s account. He quickly logged out, not wanting to see how much remained in
his account. It was depressing.
He leaned back on his chair, and out of the corner of his eye noticed the thick wallet of his
colleague lying on the table.
As he pulled out and pocketed five crisp five-hundred rupee notes from the wallet, he failed
to notice a certain somebody standing behind him had seen e verything.

As the sun began its westward descent that day, passersby on a road a few buildings away
from Naman’s office witnessed a scene that drew loud laughter from a bunch of kids playing
nearby:
A crow, as if in a daze, staggered and swayed in mid-flight as it tried to control itself. It hit a
billboard, toppled to the ground, limped up to its feet, then took off again.

Day 4
Chinmayi was in an upbeat mood in the morning. Her dad had enthusiastically applied
himself to making all the arrangements for the engagement. Her boss had happily granted
her a week’s leave, and had promised a month’s leave after her wedding, winking good
naturedly.
She sat her terminal, typing away briskly, as she ran a mad race with herself to finish all her
assignments. The report she was working on was not due for another week.
Her phone rang in her drawer, the muffled tune unmistakable. It was the tone she had set
for Naman.
She answered quickly.
“Hi! You at this hour? What’s happening?” she chirruped.
“Got leave from today.” His voice was flat on the other side.
“Wow! Really? Wasn’t boss fussing about it just a few days back? What did you do?” she
had a habit of asking a lot of questions when she was happy.
“Just. This and that. Meet up for lunch? Then a movie?”
She readily said yes. Later, as she said her goodbyes and again invited everyone to her
engagement, everybody said the glow on her face was worth a million bucks.
That afternoon, she noticed he was pre-occupied. There was still some time to go for the
movie, so they idly strolled around on the lawns in front of the mall.
Then, Naman saw a crow, sitting on the back of a park bench. Letting go of her hand, he
started walking towards it, taking long and purposeful strides.
Chinmayi freaked out the next moment when she saw Naman break into a run as the crow
flew off, shouting “Give it back! Give it back!” at the top of his voice.
As a curious and shocked group of people turned towards them, Chinmayi made a show that
he was doing it only to make her laugh, and holding his hand, firmly pulled him inside the
mall.
Once she was sure they had blended in with the crowd, she turned to him.
“What’s gotten into you?” she demanded.
Naman mumbled something she could not hear, and simply turned his back to her.

That afternoon, a bus hit a divider in from of Naman’s office. The driver said he was startled
by a crow which suddenly appeared out of nowhere and hit the windscreen right in front of
him.
Some passengers claimed they saw the bird flying away erratically, losing its balance again
and again, as if it was flying under a heavy load.

Day 5
The crow could hardly get off the ground that day. The bus hit had severely damaged his leg,
but thankfully the wings were intact.
Early in the morning, with a great effort, he had flown towards a tree opposite the office
and sat down on a branch. It leaned against the stem every once in a while to take the
weight off the broken leg.
As he sat there waiting, he thought of his flock. They must have disowned him by now.
He had done something no crow had done before.
There was a time when he would get goosebumps thinking this line. Now, all he felt was the
heavy realization of his naiveté. He had set out thinking himself to be a rebel, only to end up
with a broken leg, with a cat following him everyday like a shadow. She was being a good
vulture, he thought.
He felt the weight increasing with each passing day, and all he wanted to do was find
Naman and give him back what was rightfully his.
Though he waited out the whole day, it proved fruitless.

That night, like all nights, Naman slept peacefully.
His mother stayed up late into the night, worrying about the engagement the next day.
Chinmayi couldn’t sleep. She was much too excited and worried at the same time. Naman’s
behaviour had been very odd.
Her thoughts were broken into by the shrill tone of the landline phone in their living room. A
few moments later, she heard the gruff ‘Hello’ of her father, and then she slowly drifted off
to sleep, listening to him say “Hm, hm” every few seconds.

Day 6
Naman’s mother wept profusely. So did Chinmayi. Naman stood before Chinmayi’s father,
his eyes steady, his mind confused. The colleague whose money Naman had stolen stood a
little behind them. He had called Chinmayi’s father the previous night. He had asked him to
come and meet near the office so they could talk. Chinmayi’s father had asked everyone
else to come there too.
He was speaking loudly, almost shouting.
“…he said he had got leave! Is it not, Chinmayi? Turns out he was forced to take leave for a
few days. Late to office every day, and then stealing? Where is your shame boy? What has
gotten into you that you had to do this? You think I would let Chinmayi…”

Naman heard in silence, though the voices around him had retreated to the background of
his awareness. He thought of the choice he had been given, and how he had chosen what he
thought was the best option. “Just ask, and I will give it back” the crow h ad said. He cursed
himself for not asking how he will find him. If only he could find the crow now…
A faint cawing brought him to his senses with a jolt. He whipped around and saw a tired
looking crow hobble, stagger and fly towards him, even as a big bl ack cat stalked it.
Naman ran towards it and Chinmayi felt her world collapse around her. Why was he being
like this? She ran behind him.
“Wait Naman, please! What’s wrong with you?” she shouted behind him.
As Naman got to where the crow was, it ceased its futile attempts at trying to fly and looked
up at him.
“Give it back, please, give it back to me.” Naman managed in between laboured breaths.
For a moment, Chinmayi thought Naman had lost it, but she was aghast when she heard the
crow speak back in a very strange voice.
“It’s too heavy for me now.”
The next instant was a cacophony of sounds as the crow cawed in exultation as it soared,
free of its weight, the cat screeched in frustration as it lunged at the crow in vain, and
Naman collapsed to his knees with a long, pained wail.

Day 1, Evening
The light turned green and the avalanche of metal and smoke and noise moved like a giant,
hopeless monster, a few pieces broke off from it and blazed ahead. Naman purposely stayed
behind, starting slow and letting everyone pass. Soon, every car and bike behind him had
moved on ahead. He rode at a leisurely place, knowing that the next avalanche was at least
120 seconds away.
“120 seconds of peace” he thought to himself as he drifted along on the bridge.
He enjoyed this routine every day. The signal timer was set to 120 seconds. Enough time for
all the vehicles with him to move on. And as it was a one way bridge, there was never any
oncoming traffic. The river flowing along the bridge and its far banks provided pretty vistas
for Naman’s mind. He always felt peaceful when he commuted on the bridge.
But today, his thoughts were taken up by Chinmayi. He loved her so dearly. And they were
to be engaged in a week’s time.
It had taken him a long time to finally propose marriage to her; with his father dead a long
time, he was not sure he could afford all the expenses by himself. But his company had been
happy with him, and he was now doing ‘well for himself’ as people were wont to say.
He mentally ticked off the ‘to do’ he had made up; buy clothes, ring, train reservations for
some close relatives. Only the advance for the hotel was left. That was going to be a big
amount, he thought, but what the heck. I won’t get engaged again. He smiled at the
lameness of his joke.
Suddenly, faint puttering started up somewhere behind him. Before he could turn around
and try to find the source, a strange black man and biker appeared beside him.
The biker was very strange looking, dressed all in black and wearing a helmet that had a
beak like projection. The bike, or whatever it was, was all black too, with a curiously oily
looking paint job and a texture that somehow looked like crow’s feathers. The bike made a
funny puttering sound as it moved, its speed matching perfectly with Naman’s. The rider
wore a grey scarf around his neck and a large pair of shockingly red sunglasses.
“You seem to be enjoying yourself, and your leisure ride!” the rider said to Naman, while
the strange bike seemed to move on its own.
“What?” Naman looked at the stranger curiously, “And who are you?”
“I am crow” the rider said simply.
“Um, sure” Naman twisted his accelerator and tried to get away from the biker. But the
biker kept up with him effortlessly.
“I won’t push too much petrol into the engine if I was you” the biker went on, his bike was
so close, to someone looking from a distance it would have looked like the shadow of
Naman’s bike.
Naman began to panic. The biker talked on, his words were rough and somewhat drawn
out.
“You should have really tanked up on petrol after office like you were thinking then.”
Naman twisted the accelerator fully and raced ahead. The biker stuck to him, there was not
a moment he would be left behind.
“Um, if you don’t stop and pull up right now you are going to run out of fuel and a big
orange dump truck is going to run over you and kill you.” The biker made himself heard over
the sound of the wind.
Sure enough, Naman felt the engine going sluggish below him as it starved on the last drops
of fuel in the tank. He looked into the rearview, there really was an orange dumptruck a few
metres behind them.
He pulled over.
The biker smoothly came to a stop at the exact same spot.
“Alright man, who are you? I am straight so if you have any ideas I am sorry ok?” Naman
demanded.
The biker cackled.
“Oh sorry, sorry. I shouldn’t be laughing. So morbid of me, laughing like this the day you are
supposed to die.”
“What?” Naman felt a fear rise inside him. Was this guy a murderer of some sort?
“Well, as I said, I am a crow. Not just any crow, but the crow who had been saddled with the
responsibility of carrying of your soul and keeping it with me for thirteen days, after you die
under the wheels of that truck.” The man pointed at the orange truck as it passed them
harmlessly.
“Well, why am I not dead then?” Naman asked, thinking the man to be deranged. He started
contemplating stopping some passing car to help him.
“Um, don’t think about stopping anybody. It won’t help.”
Naman stared. The crow continued.
“Look, I am not kidding. You were supposed to die today, and being the chosen carrier of
your soul, I can hear your thoughts today. That’s how I found you.”
Naman thought it was all too surreal, and his mind refused to cope. But the crow had
spoken out his thought precisely. His head began to reel.
“Ok, so I am not dead. Why? And is it done then?”
“You are not dead because I did not let you. I have failed in my duties, and my flock will
definitely expel me for this. But I have always fancied myself a rebel. I never invaded a
cuckoo’s nest.” The crow said smugly, and Naman could not help but laugh at the crow’s
remark. It was very weird, but yet not alien.
“But it’s not done. I will have to take something from you though. I am bound by the laws of
nature, and though I have broken one hell of a rule, I still have to carry something of yours
with me for thirteen days as fulfilment of my duty to a greater God.”
“What part of me?” Naman was in a strange way enjoying this.
“Uhm, you have four choices. Since not your whole soul, I will need to take one of its parts:
your awareness, your conscience, your will or your intellect.”
“And what if I refuse?” Naman asked.
“Well, then you would have to die. I will make sure you will, I have connections in the right
places for that.” The crow said simply.
Naman laughed at the humor of the crow, and then at his own morbidity.
He thought long and hard. He couldn’t live like a vegetable, so awareness was out. Without
his will, he wouldn’t have what a man needs to feel alive; without his intellect, he would be
a sorry laughing stock.
Could he live without conscience? It was only a matter of right or wrong, and he won’t have
to feel guilty, for a long time!
He made up his mind.
“If you want it back, ever, just come to me and ask.” The crow said.
As the crow took his conscience from him, Naman felt his vision blurring.
He vaguely saw the black biker shape-shift into a crow.

As his eyes regained focus, he saw the crow flapping away. For a moment, he thought the
crow had winked at him.

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Glitter Redux or F*** Love!

The large diamond on her ring sparkled subtly in the waning light. Its numerous faces looked sinful…distant lights sparkling on its sharp edges.
Andrea looked at it and felt a tingle of excitement shoot through her body.
She shivered in the thin nightgown. She had put it on today only for him. People on the way had given her strange looks. She had ignored them…anything for Julian, she thought. She was going to be with him again.
The wind was playing mischief at that late hour-as gentle as a stream one moment, as wild as a gale the next. The gown flapped against her legs noisily. From a distance, her silhouette looked like a perfectly sculpted female form.
She grew impatient with each passing minute.
The week had seemed to her like an eternity. But now she couldn’t wait. She wanted to feel his arms wrapped around her. The smell of his cologne was still etched in her mind…a scent that roused her even now.
She looked up at the stars and the moonlit sky. It was a beautiful night. The disc of the full moon was mesmerizing. In a surge of excitement, she slid the gown off her. Closing her eyes, she imagined him coming up and lifting her in a warm embrace.
"Be patient" she told herself and looked at the ring. Staring at the diamond, her lips unconsciously curled into a smile. She vividly remembered the day he had proposed to her. After the initial euphoric shock, she had squealed with joy looking at the beautiful diamond he had slid onto her finger.

Now he lay at her feet…a tombstone marking the spot.

"I cant wait any longer" she said to herself.
She took off the ring and stared at the diamond. All she had to do was swallow it…and she would be with him again. Closing her eyes, she bit the stone off the ring.

Just then, a faint rustle passed through the woods behind the tree. She opened her eyes…staring into her face were two flaming blue orbs. Startled, she backed off.

“Ahh….you don’t require to worry beautiful…I am not here to hurt you..ssss!”

A man stepped out of the shadows…his face glowing bright silver under the moon. His eyes shone a brilliant blue. A thick tuft of fur shrouded his neck.

Shocked, she somehow mumbled…”You are a werewolf!”

“Yesss…a loup-garou…am not from this world…nor from the domain where he tarries…either” he pointed at the tombstone. “You are a beautiful creature…pity wasting that beauty for someone who is all mud and worms! Come with me…I forebode a beauteous abode for your soul….”

His eyes seemed to glow brighter with each word. She stood in a trance…her loneliness pushing her to cling to every word.

He howled as the moon shone the brightest. “Not much time I have…come with me…let me bleed you before the moon wanes…and you shall be mine..” he was on all fours now, bristling fur sprouting all over him.

Mesmerized, she held out her arm. His eyes shone brighter…and he swiped her glowing skin. A smart of blood escaped in a thin line…she wailed like a banshee…blood rushing in gusts inside her…her mind muddled with images of a misty forest…wolf-men running in packs…howling to the full moon…clawing at trees…running like the wind…in a world lined with silver.

Before long, her transformation was complete. He ran into the forest. She followed…but stopped…letting her wolvine self surrender to one final roguery of the human mind.

Lifting a furry leg, she let out a stream of warm weewee on the tombstone.

 

————————–

This is a redo of a short I had written a while back…..Glitter. If you wish to read the original, here’s the link

————————–

the tea party

The bus jerked to a halt at the bus stand. It was not daybreak, but the night was slowly gathering up its liquid darkness. Raman stepped down in a daze…waking up from a shaky sleep with blurred dreams of wheels, silhouetted trees and sudden flashes of white light.

He still had a few hours before him…the client was to see him at 10. He started towards the lights of the town…hoping to find someplace to put up for the day. A cheap lodge maybe.

The streets around the bus stand were deserted. A bunch of mongrels slept on the sidewalk…eyes closed in an uneasy sleep….waiting for daybreak..to another day of sniffing, running, barking and fucking. He smiled at the thought. Peaceful creatures.

The bus stand was in the ‘old town’, a rundown and neglected part…a home for derelicts.

"I doubt I would find anything close to a lodge here…"

He stared at the lights in the distance…chaotic looking, but a comforting sight to anyone new in a town. He looked around, hoping to find an auto or even a cycle rickshaw…but there was nobody at that ungodly hour.

Buttoning up his jacket, he started walking down the road that seemed to lead in the general direction of the lights.

Soon, he was through the old town and was surrounded by fields, the fog over them glowing eerily in a light coming from nowhere. The road narrowed suddenly…a bridge. He stared down into the dark abyss. Tiny shape-shifting discs of light floated over the water…reflections from the lights on the other side. He tightened his jacket around him, shivering involuntarily…there was a sudden chill in the air around him.

"Its just all the water around…"

The bridge was short, but the chill seemed to get stronger. He found it difficult to breath…each breath a ghoulish mist. He broke into a trot, hoping that the exercise would warm him up. But the chill grew stronger…mocking him…laughing at his futile attempts. His head started to drift…the lights seemed too far away.

Closer, to his left,  a small fire burned.

Covering his ears with his palms, he broke into a run. The chill seemed to follow him. A sharp pain jabbed at his knees…he feared they would crack at any step. The fire was just ahead now. He stopped. A jolly-looking old man sat on a low stool, humming a merry jingle. A kettle warmed on the fire. The steam billowing from its neck promised of gratifying hot tea.

Raman stepped closer. The old man looked up and smiled. He reminded Raman of santa claus. Round belly, bright eyes, pink spots under the eyes. Only his clothes betrayed the image.

"Rather a cold morning today eh?"

"Its freezing! And is it just me or has the temperature really dropped by a few degrees in two minutes?"

"Oh, it happens here all the time. The river loves to play tricks!"

Raman was thankful, the old man was quite friendly. He stared longingly at the kettle.

"Nothing as good as steaming tea on a cold morning!" the old man smiled again, and poured  two cupfuls  of the boiling black nectar.

Raman grabbed the cup, holding it between his palms, melting in the warmth. Sipping slowly, he relaxed. An incredible warmth seemed to fill him from the inside.

The old man rose heavily.

"I will be right back. Make yourself comfortable."

Raman downed another two cups. A mattress with a blanket lay by the fire. Unable to resist the warm temptation, he slipped beneath the blanket. He slept the most peaceful sleep of his life.

Bright sunlight woke him up. He looked around, gathering his things in a hurry. Wanting to thank him, he looked for the old man. He seemed to have disappeared. So had the shack he had gone into. There was no blanket, nor was there any mattress. There were no signs of the fire.

Puzzled, Raman checked his watch. 8:30. Not wanting to waste any more time, he quickly moved into town. Finding a lodge close by, he managed to ready himself for the meeting, unable to forget the events of the night.

He locked the room door and was getting out of the lodge, when he overheard the manager talking to someone in a red cap.

"Are you sure it was that?" the manager looked incredulous.

"Yes! It was the old man’s fire, by the bridge. I am sure of it!" the red cap said.

"Poor man, whoever it was in the old man’s tea party. If the legend is true, he just has a week to live. No one would ever know the cause of his death."

déjà vu

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….
——————

Nakul was struggling. Gasping for air. His head felt heavier than a boulder and his lower jaw was twitching frantically, involuntarily…teeth rubbing against each other. Much as he tried, he couldn’t stop it. Through half closed eyes, he could see the light fixture on his bedroom wall. It was a diffused image, with just about enough detail registering to him. But the image was strange…it was superimposed with a series of images he couldn’t connect together. He could distinctly hear Tool’s Lost Keys playing on his system. Everything seemed bleak…and he wanted to shut it off. He wanted to wake up, get out of the state. But an invisible force seemed to push him down, pinning him to his bed.

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…?”.
“What?”
“the spirit…”
“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.