It’s funny to think that it’s been almost 20 years since this happened, while it may be almost trivial to a reader, it made me question my belief in religion and the spiritual world. I was in my early 20s, fresh out of college and fancied myself a writer, I wanted to live in seclusion and chose my grandparent’s house as my abode for the time being. They had been gone for almost 8 years by then and the place had fallen into disrepair, I took upon myself the onerous of making it habitable and write while falling upon an inheritance for the time being. It should be noted that I wasn’t alone per se, I did have neighbours living about a mile away, the house was just set further from them and was isolated.
The writing wasn’t quite as romantic as I had imagined it to be, the house was in rural northern India, power cuts were the norm in the 90s and were pretty much crippling during the night. I spent my days writing or thinking about it while tending to the house. The house was a huge mansion, which must have required a staff for its upkeep in its heyday, it creaked and groaned now its masters long gone, the wintry draughts often shook the loose shingles and rats squeaked in the walls. I was already jumpy living alone and my imagination ran wild. This coupled with periods of low morale and a lack of ideas led me to take to long walks so I could coax my mind into thinking of something worth publishing.
One of my favourite routes ran through the edge of some woods, merging with a country road later, although I loved the woods, I wasn’t too keen about them at night, the forest was darker in those days and you never knew if it was a bird you were hearing or something more sinister. The country road was an unpaved dirt road between not one, but two cemeteries. They apparently were separate burial grounds for the Hindus and the Muslims. This road led to the little town where I would go to for my meals and drinks. The entire place had a strange aura at night, and in a word was avoidable.
It was one of those nights where my mind just wouldn’t shut down, I tried warm milk, reading but it was an exercise in futility and I decided to go out for a walk. I donned a sweater and went out on the mildly chilly night. According to the phosphorous hands on my watch, it was 2 in the morning. A light rain had fallen and the place looked surreal, the leaves were laden heavy with the water, it smelled of fresh earth and was invigorating to the senses. I walked by the forest thinking about how the writing wasn’t coming along and how I should be out looking for a real job. Tendrils of light mist swirled around at my feet, and I was lulled into a lazy sense of security.
No birds called from the forest and the insects too seemed to be silent that night. In retrospect, these should have been warning signs and I should have headed straight back but my brain had jumped into overdrive and pushed my feet forward. I crossed the road lined by the cemeteries and was almost into town when I realised I should be getting back as I had almost a quarter hour’s worth of walk left.
I saw a lantern bobbing up and down, headed my way from the town. I thought I could use the company and let him fall in step with me. He was dressed in the local garb, had a walking stick with him and spoke in a lilting accent. He asked me where I lived, how come I was here and I, in turn, told him about my grandparents whom he seemed to have known. He had switched off his lantern as I had my flashlight with me, although the batteries seemed to be on their last leg and its dim yellow glow didn’t do much to dispel the darkness. In the fifteen minutes I walked with the man, I wasn’t sure if I could see him, although I heard him properly. I felt that first shiver of fear and began to question what exactly was he doing out at this hour and who he really was.
I stopped to light a cigarette to calm my nerves and when I resumed walking, I couldn’t hear the sound of his flipflops beating the dirt and asked him if he was okay. He replied ‘you have narrowly escaped’, and his voice seemed to have taken on a gravelly quality, gone was the lilt. My feet registered it before my brain did. I sprinted back to the house, by the time I reached, the shakes had started and I had a stitch in my side. I never did fall asleep that night anyway.
I informed a few of the locals I was friendly with and they said it is a new moon night, it must have been some malevolent spirit, they asked me if I was whistling or humming a tune as it is probably what attracted it to me. The only thing that kept me safe was me lighting that cigarette, the warmth and the fire didn’t let it get me. Turns out smoking did save me that night.
I never did finish my book, I left the place, got a job teaching high school students in a posh-ish private school and left the incident behind me, only to ponder upon it at times. I do have some more stories to tell and would love to post those if you are interested.