Games Ghosts Play

This story is a translation (not word by word) of an original in Tamil authored by Venkatesh Radhakrishnan, a prolific writer of, among many things, interesting short stories like this piece. His stories have a certain indescribable quality that pushes one to read more. It is difficult to capture in full the ingenuous charm of his words and the local color of the original. This is as close as I could get.

Here we go:

**

Well, there’s no place like Tambaram, if you ask folks here – I’m one of and with them. The fog in the morning, the cool breeze, entirely unknown to the citizens of Chennai living not too far from here.

Returning last night after a month of as much sweat as of toil out in Madurai and Trichy, abs oppressive if anything, it felt nice to be back and, out on a walk this morning with, on my wife’s insistence, a muffler wrapped chic around my neck.

In the caress of the gentle breeze, I craved for the warmth of a cigarette. Walked up to the tea-stall near the Kamarajapuram bus stand.

Awash with a hedonistic first lungs-full, I dreamily gazed around looking but not looking until…

it was such a shock to see him, Victor! The cigarette slipped from my hand. My face turned pale, mouth agape – a ripe uncut Alphonso would have had an easy passage, and goose bumps in full bloom (horripilation is the word for it? Sounds bloo#y pedantic, wouldn’t want to be caught live saying it).

Victor was my class-mate in college. We joined the air-force together and, at the expiry of our Short Service Commission, we opted for discharge at about the same time. Back into civvies, I took up marketing in the corporate sector and Victor set up a computer sales and service shop and later extended himself to mobile phones and devices. A fairly big outlet doing brisk business near Tambaram Camp Road.  Over the last seven to eight years, we had not kept in touch except for an occasional unplanned contact.

‘All fine, but what made you go pale?’ I hear you asking.

Well, last evening, over dinner, the lady of the house brought me to speed on happenings in and around during my month’s absence, trying as best as she could not dropping the thread, and me distracted by a succession of phone calls urging me to buy stuff we didn’t need – like a gadget that would read off from a news paper held in one’s hands, in 5 different languages and, what more, 12 different voices/accents! Had to sadly stop the poor kid mid-way in his script to say I had stopped reading news papers long ago, the world, since, looking a much better place to live.  Am digressing – getting back to where I was, the update from my wife included the sad news she had just heard: Victor was no more, he had passed away some months ago in an accident. Or was it some ailment, she said? Couldn’t be sure what it was, those dam#ed phone calls. Felt sad for him – a pity we had not seen much of each other over the years.  The lady further decreed I visit his house without delay and convey my condolences along with the reason for my tardiness – she had already done it for her part. Human mind being what it was, he was soon crowded out by other mundane matters demanding my attention until…

Now you know why my legs turned into jelly.

Knew a bit about ghosts and their ways of life from the stories I had read in my younger days; also, real life accounts from people who have exchanged ‘Hi’ and more with the denizens of the ‘spiritual’ world and lived to tell. Informed as I was, I did not put it past a ghost wanting to catch up with an old friend. They are often known to make amends for lapses in their living lives.  

‘Hey dude, when did you return?’ Victor (italics for the reason you know and quite a bother actually to keep it up) inquired, moving closer; strange, this again was completely at variance with my knowledge of them – they always kind of ‘floated’, walking firm-footedly was for us, the lesser mortals. Reasonable guy I was, I let it pass, putting it down to their evolution with time – they can’t be denied in the days of equal rights.

Pausing in his stride, he turned back to the shop-keeper to ask for a cigarette.

Again, an inconsistency. These folks are known – authority has it nailed down – to shun flame and fire. And here this guy was lighting up and smoking a cigarette with utter disregard and supreme nonchalance! What to say, this was Kaliyug when norms and rules did not hold – all foretold in our infallible sacred books; did this apply to Victor too, a non-Hindu? WTH (What The Heck), I wasn’t going to let the thought bother me, as I already had enough on my hands, you’ll agree. The situation demanded a clear head and that’s what it was going to be.

‘So, when did you come back?’ he repeated ‘himself’. ‘Didn’t know you had. And, sister (my wife) didn’t tell me either.’

Struggling to maintain equanimity – the circumstances were very trying, as you can see, I said: ‘Came yesterday evening, Victor. Was planning to visit your place today.’ Stopped short, with an effort, of adding ‘to convey my condolences over your unfortunate death.’

Victor: ‘It’s all fate. Who would’ve knownit was all because of that dam# car coming the wrong way

It was quite creepy – here I was listening to him describing the incident leading to ‘his’ transitionweird.

He continued: ‘Why do you look so ashen? Did you see a ghost or something? So how is sister (my wife) doing? Please do convey my regards to her. Why don’t you come home, say, sometime after eleven? One more thing, pal: Don’t have change on me. Pay for my cigarette too, won’t you? See you then.’

Before I could untie my tongue, he was gone – disappearing into the morning fog.

With a demeanor of a chicken under a spell trotting in a daze, I went up to the counter and paid the shop-keeper for the two cigarettes.

OMG, it seemed ghosts were common place in these parts. And to be transacting with them, selling cigarettesno one appears to sense anything untowardit didn’t matter time-tested laws of physics were being seriously challenged. How could they be facilely hobnobbing with roving ghosts? Though, to be fair to all, in some of those stories and anecdotes, ghosts do come across as well-behaved social creatures.

Suddenly my hands, palms and fingers went cold. I shoved them into my trouser pockets for warmth andfound my cell-phone.

I called up Victor’s residence.

After a few rings, ‘Hello!’ It was his Dad.

‘Uncle, it’s Venkat here, Victor’s friend, you remember?’

‘Yes, Venkat, I remember you. You sound flustered. Are you alright?’

‘I’m fine, Uncle, a little short of breath – it’s just the walk and the chill out here. Called for Victor. No particular reason. Is he around?’

Victor’s Dad: ‘Don’t know how you air force guys are so alike. He said he’s going out for a walk and would be back within the next half-hour. I’ll tell him to call you when he returns.’

I felt sorry for the old man. Must have been in his seventies. Still living under the delusion his son was very much alive and going about his routine as always. Sad.

I signed off politely and turned homewards curtailing my walk, not feeling up to it.

The aroma wafted in pulling me to the kitchen. Thanks to my wife. Hot coffee was just the thing for this weather. Took a couple of gulps (we don’t sip in the south of this land – coffee tastes so much better, we believe, when poured off the lips of a metal tumbler, hot and bitter, straight onto the back of the mouth),  

To my wife, ‘I met Victor on my walk. Had a few words with him.’ (not in italics!)

She was far from startled: ‘I suppose it was all perfectly inane remarks that he could perfectly do without. You never pay attention to what I say. And I suppose you didn’t express your condolences over his father’s demise in that unfortunate accident. What would he think of you

The still-half-full tumbler fell from my hands wasting good coffee on the floor.

**

End

 

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Until Death Parted Us?? A Horror Story (600+ Words)

She was reported missing by her husband a week ago.

The police machinery set in motion had no concrete information yet.

The husband was also questioned on rumors of marital discord.

That’s where it stalled.

He was sure there was some foul play in his sister’s disappearance. Asking around, he got nothing to go by. Yes, there were the usual domestic squabbles from time to time heard by the neighbors. But that was about all.

His friend took him to consult a baba known to have powers of vision.

The baba heard them out and said: ‘Unfortunately, I’ve expended all my tantric/yogis power. Not until the next full-moon day that is about three weeks away from now…’

Pressed by the friend to do something here and now, the baba went into a trance, promising to do his best.

Coming out of trance some ten minutes later, the baba was panting for breath and profusely sweating. The two visitors felt guilty of putting the baba to trouble and stood aside nervously heads down. The baba called them near and said: ‘I’m sorry, I couldn’t muster enough power to have a clear vision…I had warned you…All I could hazily see was a patch in front of a rose bush in what appeared to be a backyard of a house.’

He understood – the spot in front of the rose bush in the backyard of her house was his sister’s favorite place. Often she would sit there, read books, play with her dog or simply lie down looking at the sky.

He went to the police and raised a ruckus over their inaction so far. With great apprehension and reluctance, more to appease him and buy more time, they agreed to act on the baba’s input, quite at the risk of exposing themselves to ridicule for taking a mere baba’s word seriously.

It wasn’t easy either to get their way with the husband. Despite his protestations, finally they managed to dig up the patch on the yard where the soil did look disturbed.  

At two feet of depth they struck pay-dirt.

All hands went up to their noses as the overpowering stench of decaying flesh bubbled up.

In there was a dog’s body, its upper torso revealed clear off the soil. It was his sister’s, marked by the distinctive strap around the neck.

She had loved the dog like her own child – they had none of their own.

The husband was ready for it – he explained: after his wife went missing, the dog was inconsolable try hard as he might. Went without food or water. He even took it to a vet – they could check it out, his medication to no avail. It would go and lie down on the patch and not move in even in the cold nights. Two days ago it was found dead in the morning. The poor thing was buried at its favorite spot. That’s how it came to be where it was found.

He looked dazed, sat down on the ground disheartened hands on his head. It was back to square one. No doubt the baba had ‘seen’ – but it was not good enough. Now what next…

The police officer in-charge shook his head in dismay and, cursing himself under his breath, ordered the men to refill the hole on the ground, his mind racing to find a way to mollify the irate husband.

Thump…thump…It stopped as soon as it began. Commotion ensued at the hole, men inured to seeing the ghastly and gore clambering out of the hole like they were fleeing death.  Brought the officer rushing back to the scene.

Trying vainly to block the stench, the officer peered down the hole to see the dog’s body head to toe now fully cleared off the soil, his attention drawn to the lower torso where it was held in a close hug by a badly decomposed hand coming up from under.

End  

Source: Inspired by an Indian movie episode narrated to me long ago. Can’t recall which, who… Image from Masterfile

Update: M tells me the movie is Kamal Haasan’s Papanasam. Apparently the story takes a different route with no paranormal elements – only the dog remains the common piece.

The Haunt (A Spooky Story For Children)

‘Send him in,’ manthreekan tells his assistant.

A man enters, wrapping himself up head to toe in a shawl, looking like a man on the streets of Delhi on a December night. He is led to stand before a cloth screen. Manthreekan doesn’t see anyone face-to-face during these sessions to conserve his shakti.

‘Tell me.’

Mantra

In a soft voice, ‘Sami, until a week ago, it was very peaceful where I live. In fact, I haven’t seen anyone else in the tenement house ever since I moved in. Suddenly one night I hear this woman from a room across the corridor…she whines and wails all night like someone in her family has died.’

‘Well, you can’t expect your landlord to keep the rooms vacant. He has found a tenant. So, go and tell the woman to shut up. If she doesn’t listen, tell the landlord.’

‘I did, Sami. On the second night, when she was in full cry. Could bear no more. I decided to confront her…’

‘And?’

‘Well, I went in…it was not locked from inside…strangely the light was switched on…the room was bare of any furniture and fixtures. Only a cloying fragrance of jasmine in the air. And no woman!’

‘Ah, this gets interesting…’

‘Sami, I immediately recognized it is a woman’s spirit that has made it its home.’

‘And then?’

‘I also knew what would drive her out. With great difficulty and by some means, I got laid out in her room cloves of garlic and neem leaves in a generous spread, though I’m severely allergic to them myself. A near-death task for me, but sure to fix her.’

‘You did right. I too would’ve done as much. So why have you come here? You seem to know…’

’But this woman proved to be a tough nut. There was no wailing for an hour and then it resumed like before. Next day morning I saw the garlic cloves and neem leaves crushed and left in a dump nearby.

‘I said to myself, ‘Lady, if that’s what you want, a war of attrition, I’m ready.’ So, I somehow managed to have the antidote arranged again and again for four successive nights. No dice – she is made of stronger stuff. Now I’m here to seek your help.’

‘Well, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve handled more stubborn spirits.’

‘I’ve heard about it, Sami. My methods are not working. That’s why…’

‘This is not for amateurs…It’ll cost you money.’

‘Look at me, Sami. Have mercy. Please…’

‘God, why must I draw such impecunious folks…Okay, I’ll take it up for free just this once. Don’t ever show your face again without moola. You think I can live on fresh air…my shakti doesn’t go that far yet.’

‘I’m indebted, Sami…’

‘Okay, okay…quiet now.’

Sounds and smell of herbs and grains being ground with a pestle emerge from behind the curtain followed by chants of some esoteric invocations.

A little later, the assistant is summoned. The visitor receives an amber colored bottle from him.

‘Sprinkle this all over in her room. Remember this, it must be done before sunset.’

‘Sami, it would work, no?’

Manthreekan is offended: ‘How dare you doubt my shakti! Not just the woman, her entire family if resident would be thrown out…not merely from the tenement house, but from whole of this town.’

‘Excellent, just what I wanted…just one more thing, would it hurt me too, Sami, if I touch or spill?’

‘Why should it, eh? It’s specially targeted at her. It won’t harm anyone else. Now go.’

The visitor is mighty pleased. He would now have a free run of the house as before.

As he steps out on the street, a gust of wind blows lifting the shawl up.

The assistant isn’t sure of what he is seeing.

Mantreekan is right asking him sternly to abstain forthwith before it is too late. These days he sees things that aren’t and sees not things that are. It would only make the matter worse if he tells them he saw a man walk on no legs!

End

PS: Manthreekan is one proficient in manthra’s to engage with gods and spirits.

Source: Inspired by a one-pager in Kumudam, image from energymuse.com.

A Forgettable One-Night Stand (Drabble)

 

A cool breeze blowing in from the sea was such a relief after the sweltering heat of the day.

He was on the terrace all by himself until he heard footsteps behind him.

What? Who is it?

“Not to worry, mate. I heard noises up here and wanted to make certain everything was in order.”

It was a girl. Must have been in mid-forties.

She stood by his side. An amiable face, looking amused. The perfume…was it jasmine?

“I found they rent apartments here for such ridiculous money. It is crazy. Hope they didn’t rip you off.”

“Have I seen you before, lady? I moved into 21A yesterday and I hardly know anyone around here.”

“Just down the hall from you. 29B. You know, had I children, they would all be older than you now.”

Her hand was resting on his thigh. They sat in silence. The moon had risen. “Sometimes I wish I could step off the edge over there and just float like a leaf to the bottom.”

“A poetic image, lady.”

She looked down into his eyes and smiled sadly. “It is much too late for poetry.”

She stood up and walked away. At the parapet, where a low ceramic tile-topped wall bounded the edge of the roof, she stopped. “It has been a long time since I knew a man,” she said.

“Let’s go down to my room. They don’t bother you here”

It was past midnight when he returned to his apartment, sneaking in like a cat that overstayed on the outside. No one saw him coming out of 29B. He was mindful not doing anything to sully the reputation of the lady. Even the clicking of the doors closing and opening was carefully soft and muted.

No one was answering. Gray morning light was filtering through the dirty hall windows.

“What’re you pounding on that door for?” It was the building manager.

Showing a mild irritation, “Why, my friend in there.”

“Can’t keep it rented, even with the housing shortage in this damn town. Tenants always move out after the first week or two. Nobody’s lived in that apartment for months, lady. ”

End

 

 

 

 

 

Source: Inspired by and adapted from Mendel Cooper’s (quora.com/What-are-some-good-ghost-stories-to-tell-friends) ‘New York Has Some Characters’.

 

A Horror Story – In Two Sentences!

Terrifying two sentence horror stories

End

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Source:uberhumor.com

And they were 38

It was a rule the counter closed thirty minutes before the departure. The man was all sweat as he rushed, his wife, a portly lady straining for breath and her sari in disarray behind him. The hassled girl fixed him in a stare and after a moment’s indecision decided to take them in as the last passengers on the flight. Now this was it and no more. It was their lucky day, he thought to himself.

The airhostess standing at the head of the isle behind the pilot’s cabin launched herself into the routine of demo’ing safety procedures. Exhausted some had already slipped into a sound nap while she gamely went about her chore and there were others sharing their jokes when she was on the part about emergency landing on water.

In a couple of minutes the aircraft climbed to its cruising altitude and the seat-belt signs were switched off. It was a cue for a few to stand up and stretch their limbs. Shortly after the hostess was all business sporting a plastic smile and handing out tea, coffee and light refreshment. That done the passengers, 35 of them, caged in the aluminum shell for the next fifty minutes, quietly settled down to reading books and magazines, listening to the in-flight audio channels or to resume their interrupted nap. A few busied themselves on their laptops and tablets. The mothers pulled out toys and gaming kits to engage the restless children.

All was well until thirty third minute when the plane smashed through a large bank of thick clouds. The turbulence brought prayers to the lips of the believing. The seasoned travelers were nonchalant.

About twenty seconds later

The channels were quick to push aside economic crises, epidemic breakout and ethnic violence to announce with profound grief the loss of thirty eight lives – that included a promising TV actor, a group of business men returning from an offsite event, a few other professionals, senior citizens and families with children and a honey-mooning couple. The flight from the island resort had crashed into the sea. There were the usual stories of how some narrowly escaped the grim fate quite fortuitously and others despite hurdles kept to their appointment. The search was mounted for rescuing survivors, the prospects appearing dim. There were clips of wailing relatives, some quietly in tears. One of them pitifully cried to the camera: ‘If there was a God, and a benevolent one, how could He mercilessly and indiscriminately cut out so many lives in a single swathe?’

On the same day late evening one of the channels trailing in ratings put out a hastily pieced-together program on places of interest on the island. A partial transcript of what was said:

“…Weeds, reptiles and rodents had taken over the old mansion and its lands. No one dared to go anywhere near. Whoever went in to lay hands on the rumored treasures from the mansion’s cavernous rooms was said to turn up dead foaming at the mouth. Screams could be heard in the nightsThere were no records of any descendants; no one so far had come up to claim ownership of the propertyWhatever could be gleaned about the last occupants of the mansion was by talking to a puttering oldie – she had heard it from her grandma: The Pannaiyar (the big landlord) owned much of the lands in and around the village. He and his hands had mercilessly lynched a young lad accused of outraging the modesty of a woman from the mansion. That the boy was mentally a little unstable did not count. His parents, restrained, watched helplessly as life seeped out of the dying lad. They cursed the entire assembly of perpetrators to doom then and forever. That was the beginning of the end for the Pannaiyar, his family and others and the mansion…”

An innocuous factoid strangely preserved in the oldie’s account was regarded as an insignificant detail and edited out by the channel: they were thirty eight in the assembly.

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End
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Credits to openclipart.com (laobc) for the image.

Scenery

They were lucky to get the cottage, he thought, at surprisingly affordable rates, with a live-in house-keeper. It was at once beautiful and scary, perched on craggy rocks, with large glass windows opening onto a view of the small beach below.  Brilliant white sand shimmering under a cloudless sky, caressed ceaselessly by the gentle waves of turquoise-blue waters, swaying fronds of towering coconut trees and the summer sun kept in check by a light breeze,

But it was the painting in the bed-room that troubled her. She was sure the peasant girl was sitting by the stream, when she had looked at it last night.   

End

Five over hundred words on ‘Scenery’ in response to Aheila’s challenge at: http://thewriteaholicblog.wordpress.com/.