It was a chilly, inky night. The cool breeze which was till some time romancing with leaves and flowers had dropped. The birds had nestled early on the swaying branches of the trees.
The silence was broken occasionally by a bat fluttering aimlessly in the sky......
The entire remote town had snuggled in the warm blankets and was fast asleep, but for us.
Old Harry was sitting comfortably on his old rocking chair, twirling his empty pipe. He was septuagenarian; about five foot ten inches tall, lean, white hair, big bulging eyes. He was narrating to us in his deep voice.
"Till date, He has killed four people. Do not cross his path or else....... His voice trailed into silence. Its impact could be felt as it left everybody stunned.
Harry was a peerless storyteller. Due to his age his voice sounded peculiar. He gazed around with his rather brown, protruding eyes. The lantern's flickering light added to the scene which spread across the length and breadth of his living room.
I looked at Harry's pale, wrinkled face and a chill ran down my spine, as he looked straight out of a horror movie.
Harry took a deep breath and started again...a habit he had acquired over the years, to perfection.
"He" is seldom seen. But if someone unfortunately crosses "His" path, the path of the evil one, then death is a certainty." Harry's words shook me.
"But who is "He"? Tim asked skeptically.
"Don't ridicule-don't-"He" may be present here also." Harry said, frowning. Obviously he was not pleased with Tim's questioning.
"You mean to say that he is omnipotent, like Jesus?" Tim was ready with another jibe. It made me uneasy.
"Harry, please don't pay attention. He is a Jerk." I interrupted as I wanted Harry to finish this mind boggling story.
Right from the childhood, I was fascinated by the stories relating to ghosts, spirits, ghouls, zombies...black magic and the ethereal world. Wherever I could find, I searched and gathered as much information as I could about these weird and mysterious things.
It doesn't mean that I am a brave person, in-fact I can candidly admit that I am a timid person.
To read, to hear and to watch something occult on screen is one thing and to experience it in real life is, all together a different story. Today also I wanted to feast on the enigmatic tale which was being narrated by Harry. But due to Tim's nonsensical attitude, I had an uneasy feeling that Harry would get perturbed and leave when we all were craving for more.
But much to my relief, Harry didn't pay any attention and went on with his mesmerizing tale.
"It's not your fault. As you live in metros, you rarely come across such spooky incidents. But in remote villages and countryside, many such mysterious, occult things happen. Returning back to your question as to how "He" looks... I will have to clarify that even I haven't the faintest idea... nor the villagers have...
But one thing is certain....Whenever "He" wants, He pounces on that person and leaves the mangled bodies behind. An evil spirit, ready to strike on the Full Moon Day.
"Three years back, Rory Stone, a resident of our village-was returning back from the city. It was midnight and he was alone. But being a gutsy guy, trod alone through the dark woods. Dangerous temerity, I may very well add. To enter our remote village, one has to cross the dense thicket... Rory was preoccupied with his thoughts..."Harry stopped suddenly. All the villagers looked at him intently. Their was an excitement among the villagers. Harry noticed our anxiety and smiled satisfactorily. His story had cast a hypnotic spell on all of us and curled our hair.
He put tobacco meticulously in his pipe and started puffing it biding his time and glancing around his living room.
"That ominous day, Rory did not return home. On the very next day, some wood-logger's who had gone into the thicket found his mutilated body. "He" has claimed four victims since that day. Villagers rarely venture into the thick foliage as they fear for their dear lives.
"But someone must have killed them." Tim couldn't control himself and put forth a direct question.
Harry looked visibly angry.
"These villagers were simpletons and had no enemies that I know of." Harry snorted. It was evidently clear that he hated Tim's mocking attitude.
"But may be, some maniac may have done this dastardly act. I have read about such crazy persons who kill people for the sake of killing. Maybe they enjoy death as they are tired of their monotonous lives and need something desperately to spice up." Tim tried to explain, which according to him was logical. Harry looked at him pityingly. For him it was a ridiculous explanation.
"It depends as to weather you want to have faith in it or not. As I wanted to forewarn you of the impending danger, I have narrated these incidents.
I have gone through many such incidents in my life. Our minds do not accept such bizarre things. But once you come across such incidents, you start wondering about it and your skepticism starts fagging. You suddenly become aware that there is some kind of mystery all around you, not noticed until now, just like air, elusive, ethereal, but ever present."
"We all are myopic; there are limitations to our thinking. But nature is vast, infinite and has dark secrets lying dormant in its womb ready to spring out and astonish you with its sheer intensity. We can assure ourselves that all these things are mere figments of imaginations, but is it really so, is the million dollar question before all of us." Harry paused and then again resumed after two minutes.
"Two years ago, I had an encounter with "Him", but by the grace of God, am still alive."
"But how?" I asked inquisitively.
"Just missed by a whisker. I had a talisman gold chain around my neck." Harry winked and said in a relaxed voice.
I pursued my lips and fingered my own charm. This tale was surely a creepy one and had got hold of me. I felt a numbing sensation. Every person present was perplexed and was pondering on the Harry's words.
What's real and what's imaginary? Our minds were in dilemma, Ghosts, spirits did not exist in real life, all these things were the idle talk of the villagers but then again Harry's story pointed otherwise.
It was a mystery, an insoluble riddle, perhaps.
"Harry, how does "He" look like?" I asked out of sheer curiosity. I did not have the slightest intention to ridicule Harry. But I think, it was mistake on my part as he did not take it that way.
"I am not going to answer your question. I told you all this as you are alien here and should know the dangers that are lurking around. Good night." Harry's voice was harsh.
Puffing deeply, he got to his feet and started walking towards his den. We looked at him in utter amazement. My intention was crystal clear, I thought.
We all got up to leave. Tim looked at me, shrugged and said, "Why didn't he answer your question? You know what; It's a cock and bull story. Harry has never met the mysterious guy in his life. He is a faker." Tim said in a cynical voice.
"You mean to say its' crap?" I asked him.
"Of course, man. There's dearth of entertainment over here. So he is spinning a yarn to pass his time and give us sleepless nights. Didn't you see him enjoying our attention?
"I don't think so. There must be some element of truth. I said earnestly.
"Then it's high time we investigate." Tim said suddenly, grinning from ear to ear.
I looked at him, hesitated for some moments and then nodded sullenly. It was not my cup of tea but then I couldn't flatly refuse him. He was my best friend and had no intention to hurt his feelings.
We left the Harry's old, dilapidated house and walked for a while, turned left and entered Tim's one storied house. We chewed the rag for a while. The moonbeam came through the window and gave us company till midnight. Then as night progressed, I couldn't control my sleep, I waved him Good Night. He smiled suppressing a yawn and entered his room adjacent to my bedroom.
I undressed. Got into night wear and flopped on the bed. Tomorrow I had to get up early as I wanted to finish my manuscript.
For the last three years, my drama "The Haunted Mansion", was reigning in the metro theatres. I had written it and it was directed by Tim.
In the old collage days, I used to pen some short suspense stories when I hit upon an idea to write a drama and present it to the audience and get a "live" response.
I knew one thing for sure that people were always interested in something supernatural and mysterious. So I started writing down a horror drama with a twist in the tale so as it leave the audience spellbound.
Tim had just directed his solo drama which had become the talk of the town.
I eagerly met Tim and gave him my manuscript. After two weeks or so he gave me the green signal and was ready to direct it. I was overjoyed.
We worked on the script, re-read the scenes, edited some lines which dragged the momentum and after polishing it, were satisfied that it would be a definite hit with the audience.
And by the grace of God, it turned out to be true. We got rave reviews from the major newspapers and tabloids. The reaction was overwhelming.
Our group consisting of hero, heroine, artists... partied all night.
Then there was lull period. I wanted to write another drama but could not focus on it as I got too engrossed in writing a Mystery Novel.
Tim was furious. He wanted another script from me but I was buried neck deep in the Novel.
"So, you have become famous, Uh?" Tim had said scornfully. His words pricked me.
"I will definitely write a drama, I promise you. And as far as fame is concerned, I know one thing for sure that I am still a novice." I said candidly. My feet were still grounded.
He looked at me, nodded and then smiled cheerfully as his temper fizzled out.
At that time he patted me on my shoulder and said,
"We will go to "Ashurst" my native place for a month or so, so that you will get enough time to write down a drama and nothing in the world to distract you."
And so here I was in the remote town "Ashurst" on the outskirts of England.
I instantly fell in love with the village as it had all the ingredients of the village that I had in my mind... small red brick houses with slanting roofs, small manicured gardens and the blooming cheerful flowers, the chalk fields, a small rivulet with sparkling water...and not far distant a thicket, one had to cross so as to get a bus to the city.
Harry was the village headman and had invited us to dinner and after that had narrated the creepy story of "Him" which according to Tim, needed investigation.
Next night, Tim and I had taken the route to the thicket about which we had heard before. I wanted to avoid that dreary path but Tim had insisted and as usual I had yielded to it. We strolled on the disheveled grass, munching on the plot of our coming drama. After some time we crossed the canopy of the tall, dark trees and came on a plain. My energy had dissipated. WE sat there for a while.
I gazed upwards at the moon shining like a silver coin in the cerulean sky.
Suddenly Tim pointed his finger towards the thin figure walking towards us in awkward manner.
"He is John, a villager, always takes bus to go to the bar in the City." Tim squeezed his eyes and informed me as he knew John very well like back of his hand.
"Uhh... Isn't he afraid of going through the thicket?" And how is it that John is still alive while four persons have been killed?" I asked Tim scratching my head. I couldn't figure it out.
"May be "He" does not like lush persons." Tim said in a lighter vein and we both laughed heartedly.
John could see us laughing and it did not affect him in the slightest way. He was drunk, all right and was weaving his way through the woods like a canoe caught in the rapids.
"Mike, I have hit upon an idea." Tim turned towards me, his eyes bright with excitement and added: "Let us do something that will teach John not to touch liquor till his last day on earth."
I could see the twinkle in his eyes and the naughtiness that was going to follow.
"But how is it possible. You know... he will never give up drinking. It's the last thing on the earth he will part with." The whole idea was according to me, incredulous.
"We will wake him from his slumber. I have a practical joke in store for him. It will make his hair stand on his head and this eerie experience will leave its haunting impression on his mind forever. It's as easy as duck soup. What do you say?" Tim asked me smiling slyly.
I still had my doubts. I had an uneasy feeling that it was not going to jell. It was going to blow up on our faces and leave us red face.
But Tim was fascinated by this glimmering idea. He looked at me and said in a hushed tone.
"I have got a Halloween mask and some old cloak in my house, Which will help us in our endeavor. It will be a perfect costume. What do you say?"
"But I don't think it will be of any help. John, as you have stated, is a lush. Even if "He" comes across him, it will have no effect on John, whatsoever." I tried to make him realize the loopholes in his plan.
"No... No... Listen Buddy, the plan has to work. If John comes across a wraith, he will just jump out of his skin, I am dead sure.' Tim said confidently. I nodded in agreement, though I was unsure and it made me somewhat nervous.
Then suddenly I said to him," Tim, you are a skeptic to the hilt, as I know you very well. Then how come, you have started believing in the ghosts?"
"Come on, don't be silly, It's John I am talking about." Then he added mischievously, "We will come tomorrow night at the same time with our costume."
"Tomorrow?" I asked with a knot in my throat.
"Why? What happened? Oh... Is it because tomorrow is a full moon night and the evil spirit walks in the woods?" Tim jeered at me.
"Uuh... No. No. let us come tomorrow." I said as we got to our feet. I had definitely tried to conceal the gnawing thoughts which were making me jittery inside. The very thought of entering the dark, gloomy thicket quickened my heartbeats. But it was quite useless to show my feelings and talk about them openly, as I would be seen as a spineless fellow throughout my life.
"I am not feeling sleepy today. I better go and play cards." Tim said to me as we returned to the village.
I waved him good night. He went towards our drama artists who were comfortably sitting on the old wooden chairs especially arranged by Tim, near his house for playing cards. Tim was crazy about cards.
I started walking slowly towards my bedroom when all of a sudden a thought flashed through my mind... What would happen tomorrow if instead of John we came face to face with "Him"? I shuddered at the thought and shivered. I frantically entered the bedroom, switched on the dim yellow, gloomy light and got into the bed snuggling inside the cozy quilt.
For Jim all these were silly superstitions, feeble minded people's nonempirical thoughts but for me-no, it could really happen, really materialize.
That night I tossed and turned in my bed and could not catch a wink as the thoughts of "Him" invaded my mind and made me restless.
At dawn break, I think, I fell asleep.
At 12.p.m. the next night we were bustling the narrow muddy path towards the thicket. John would arrive soon and we had to be ready to shock him.
"Did you win today?" I asked Tim about his blackjack game which he always enjoyed playing.
"Oh no. I overplayed my hand and lost. It happens to all of us. You can't be on the winning spree." He grinned and then added: "I wanted to play another round but suddenly I realized that we had rendezvous with John and so here I am."
"Well done. He may come anytime now. Have you brought the costume?" I asked him feigning interest, while I secretly despised meeting John.
We weaved through the overgrown shrubs and the stunted trees.
"Yes. Here it is." He handed me the Halloween mask and the dark, dreary costume.
I took it with unsteady hands and started moving briskly. Tim followed eagerly. We talked for a while and then buttoned our lips as our pace increased. Every second meant for us.
The gravely wide path got narrower which winded upwards as we entered the thicket. The dark shrubs were still like tomb stones while the trees around us swayed violently due to the strong, gushing wind. I thrust my hands in my pocket and quickened my pace. It was dense all right and the moonlight overhead illuminated the oak trees and its swaying branches full of leaves.
Our footsteps crunched the dead leaves increasing my heartbeats. I perspired heavily.
After half an hour we reached the open spot from where we could see the curving narrow path that led to the city. I sat on the flat stone to catch my breath. I felt drained. This awful night trekking was too much for me. The wind howled through the dwarf bushes as if ghostly apparitions were lurking behind them. I hated this. I felt that I was insane even to think of accompanying Tim in this misadventure.
But nothing could be done now. No use on crying over spilled milk, I thought glumly.
We waited with bated breath, peering through the woods which moaned as if something ominous was afoot.
Time was crawling. I wiped sweat on my forehead though it was wintry outside.
Suddenly I saw the silhouetted figure of John in the white, luminous light of the moon which fell on his frail frame. He was as usual drunk as a skunk and was faltering every step that he took.
"Get ready. Quick". Tim whispered in my ear.
I licked my dry lips. The dreaded moment had come. I had to do it, whether I was comfortable doing it or not. Without wasting the precious time, I wore the dark costume and put on the ominous mask, ready for action.
I sneaked behind a dreary, monstrous tree on which creepers dangled in mid air. Darkness oozed from all around and the full moon overhead made the thicket more inky as its scattered light could not penetrate the dense woods.
I squinted my eyes. I could see John's hazy figure hobbling down the winding path in a distance. John took his time, I was getting edgy. My heart was racing. Sweat beaded my lips. I was mentally rehearsing as to what I was going to do.
Tim signaled me with his bobbing pen torch. I waited for a second or two, for John to come closer and then suddenly jumped in front of him, howling.
"Haa...Haa...Haaa... I have come to take you, John.. to your coffin..."
My voice echoed through the whispering woods.
I hoped that John would be terrified on seeing me and would run helter skelter. But nothing happened. He looked at me without even batting an eye. He was stone-faced.
I couldn't fathom. Any sane person, how lush he may be, would flee the spot. That's what Tim had told me, hadn't he?
But John remained rooted there, on the spot staring at me with his red eyes, like a zombie.
Suddenly, a chilling thought fleeted through my mind.
"What the hell? Why is John not panicking? Is this really John or someone else? Maybe "He" has appeared instead of John?"
No sooner this thought rose in my mind, I gasped. I could feel the goose bumps on my body. For few seconds, I did not know what to do. I started trembling like a leaf. Then on an impulse, I whirled and darted towards the village. I didn't give a damn as to what happened to John and whether Tim was following me or not. I just wanted to get out of the eerie thicket as fast as I could.
I know, it was a dreadful of me not to bother about Tim's safety but at that time I was so flabbergasted that I couldn't think of anything but myself.
I blundered through the thicket like a bat out of hell.
and headed towards the village. I knew for sure that I had outsmarted death by a hair's breadth. Suddenly I tripped and fell head over heels on the uneven pavement barely few feet from the Harry's ancestral house.
I blacked out.
The sun was beaming in the sky When I awoke up the next morning. I touched my head which was aching awfully. I clenched my teeth and looked around. For a second or two, I could not focus as to where I was. Then it dawned upon me that I was lying on my cozy bed and Old Harry, Tim and my drama artists had huddled beside me and were looking at me intensely.
"How are you feeling now?" Harry asked me, feeling my wrist pulse. His voice was gentle.
"Better." I replied in a weak voice.
"Yesterday, we had to summon the Doctor as you had temperature. I took you inside." Harry told me.
"Thank you." I nodded and tried to smile. I was glad to be home.
"What happened yesterday?" Harry asked me in his deep voice. He wanted the lowdown.
"Last night, I had accompanied Tim to the thicket to play a prank on John to break his habit of hitting a bottle. To shock John, I wore the Halloween mask and the dark cloak Tim had handed me. But my appearance didn't faze John a bit. He looked at me transfixed, with a poker face. Then suddenly I felt that instead of John "He" had appeared on the scene to tear us apart. My heart gave a jolt. Discouraged, on the spur of the moment, I dashed towards the village, tripped and fell down, unconscious. You know the rest." I concluded with much relief.
"My son, it was because of the charm that you are wearing, you escaped certain death." Harry patted on my arm and said in a soothing voice.
"Yes, you were lucky to escape "His" clutches. Or "He" would have killed you." Tim spoke for the first time since last night's misadventure.
"You mean to say "John" right?" I glanced at him and asked smiling.
There was a moment of silence, then Tim licked his lips, cleared his throat and said,
"No. I mean "Tim". "He" had taken my form and was with you all the while in the thicket. And till midnight, I was playing blackjack with our artists as I had completely forgotten about John and the practical joke that we were going to play on him."
I heard in disbelief.
A chill ran down my spine. My eyes popped out with horror.
I blacked out again.
Author Notes: A ghost story with a twist in the tale which will send chill down your spine.