Short Story – The Cottage


Note – This short story was first published in the fantastic Weirdo Magnet anthology ‘Silence is White’ dedicated to the works of well known French poet and author Seb Doubinsky. It was an honor for me to share space with some of the best internationally acclaimed authors, poet and artists. 

Do buy Silence is White for it contains some of the best writings of recent times.

“Unlike many from the city I am no stranger to the whims of nature, but that day’s sudden change of weather caught me unprepared. What started as a hike on a fair-weather day had suddenly been reduced to an ordeal. Winter totally changes perceptions of the land and no amount of off-season hiking could prepare me for the unexpected.

“Three unforeseen things happened that day. First, the weather suddenly turned nasty. Visibility rapidly decreased and the drop in temperature was rather sudden. Darkness shrouded the hills much earlier than usual and the crisp November air turned damp and cold. Second, I was forced to abandon my plan to return to the hotel because I twisted my ankle when my foot got caught in a thick root hidden by overgrown grass. Third, to my surprise, the cottage that I had discovered during one of my previous hikes, and where I was headed for shelter, was occupied.

“From previous visits I knew that the mist would have snaked through the network of paths crisscrossing the landscape, through the valleys and across the creeks until it curled around the cliff tops and canyons that were the mountains.”

My class had been listening with rapt attention until one of the younger students gathered around the campfire broke the silence.

“I imagine it’s great to explore somewhere that’s not over familiar, so your twisted ankle and the worsening weather must have been very frustrating.” He said.

“It was, the pain was excruciating and made it difficult for me to keep up my usual pace. I was on a steep path and I was breathless. I considered trying to find a vantage point from which to get my bearings, but realized that with the weather worsening, and with my throbbing foot, this wasn’t going to be possible. Mist and darkness together can be terrifying especially when you’re not prepared for it, but cold, wet, and with no other choice I had to go on.

“Even though I had visited the area before, my painful foot and the dense mist were disorientating, I’d strayed onto a nondescript trail that or might not take me towards the cottage. Dazed, confused and uncontrollably shivering I continued slowly through the mist, hoping that the path would eventually lead me to the cottage.

“Roosting birds in the woods had fallen silent and the sound-damping mist made the turbulent sound of the river down in the valley almost impossible to hear. It was obvious to me that, if ever I found my way to it, I would have to spend the night in the cottage no matter what, as my ankle continued to grow more painful with every step along the sloping and rock strewn trail. The forest was not very dense in this part of the hill, instead small and dense shrubs packed the landscape. The forest was not very dense on this part of the hill; instead small shrubs covered the ground.

“As I tripped over what I took to be a fallen branch, I yelled with pain but managed to get back onto my feet. Then I realized that this might be a blessing in disguise. I could use branch as a defence against snakes or other small animals I encountered. There were no big carnivores in this region, but even some small animals could inflict bad injuries. I hoped the cottage would not be too far away, as I was convinced I was heading in the right general direction, and despite the pain I tried to quicken my pace, as I was eager to reach my destination as quickly as possible.

“After walking for another ten or fifteen minutes, I finally saw the faint outline of the cottage not far ahead of me in the mist, and was glad that my choice of direction had been the right one. I remembered the area in front of the cottage with its overgrown bushes, which were now invisible. A rotten signboard dangled from a Pine tree close to the property. I recalled it used to have ‘Hunter’s Cottage’ painted on it, two more tall pine trees stood on either side of the cottage porch. Outwardly the building appeared to be in good condition, and I thought it should provide good shelter for the night. I was surprised to see the dim glow of a lantern, indicating that someone was already in the cottage, but as I listened, I heard only silence. Whoever it was, unless they owned the cottage, must have forced the lock to open the door. As I approached, I saw a hazy silhouette on the porch.”

 “I waved and called out to her, for now I was sure that the silhouette was a woman. She remained silent, and stood so still that she might have been part of the structure.

“I drew close to the porch steps, and in the light from the lantern, I could finally see a face. I was surprised to learn that the figure was a woman.

Several students who had been staring silently into the flames looked up at the mention of the woman. “I had seldom seen an unaccompanied woman on those remote forest trails, and wondered if she had a companion in the cottage. I’d heard reports that many solo women hikers had gone missing in the mountains in the last few years. Though not superstitious I usually followed the advice of a former trek companion. ‘Stay away from women while hiking. They’re bad news,’ he’d once said when we finally managed to part from a rather clingy and gabby girl during one of our hikes.”

“That’s not really true. Men have a habit of pointing fingers at women all the time. Not all women are clingy or gabby or bad news. Even men can be like that.” Shyama, one of my female students, interrupted me with her strong voice. “Of course. My friend was generalizing—just as you are now, Shyama.” The other students laughed and Shyama went quiet. Once the group had settled down again, I continued.

“I thought she was beautiful in an unconventional way. I hadn’t realized that I was staring until she snapped her fingers in front of my face. I had even forgotten about my twisted ankle for a moment or two.

“I paused to light a cigarette, and watched for a moment as the smoke from my lungs rose and mingled with the smoke from the campfire. Some of my students stood to stretch their legs, and then reseated themselves in the circle of expectant faces.

“Mountains and forests can be both challenging and intimidating; we all need to be aware of the dangers involved in confronting nature head on.

“It was bone chillingly cold and the wind was picking up, but at least the rain had stopped. By then I was desperate for the comfort of a floor and four walls. I leant the branch I’d used as a support against the wooden railings of the porch, and then, as the woman stood back and opened the cottage door, I slowly made my way up the four steps and inside. As I passed her, I noticed the glow of her skin in the lantern-light and caught a faint scent of musk rose. Passing through the doorway, I saw that the lock had been broken. Inside, I shrugged my daypack onto the floor, and feeling more tired than I could remember ever having felt before, I limped to one of the plain wooden chairs and sat down for the first time since I’d stopped for lunch.

“Though she looked physically strong, I would never have expected her, or anyone else, to deliberately stand out in that piercing cold, it was almost as if she was expecting me—or expecting someone at least. When I looked back at her, instead of following me inside, she was still standing there, peering into the night.

“She was wearing warm pants and a hooded jacket. Her feet were covered in thick socks and her gloveless hands were wrapped around a tin mug. Inside the cottage her hiking boots lay near her backpack, along with a camera, some maps and binoculars. A lightweight sleeping bag lay open on the floor.

“I looked round when I heard movement on the porch, and then I watched her as she removed the lantern from its hook, turned, walked in and closed the door behind her. What a strange woman, I thought. She was observing me closely, but her silence was making me uncomfortable.

 “I’m James Goddard,” I said. As I extended my hand, I saw a smile flicker at the corners of her mouth, but it quickly vanished.

“She nodded and placed her mug and the lantern on a small wooden counter, then pointed to a pan,

‘“There’s some soup there if you want. You can sleep in there, take the lantern,’” she said as she pointed to a door at the back of the room. I smiled at her, watched her drag a chair to the open front to keep it closed, and regretted that I wouldn’t be in her company for a while longer.  I carried my daypack and lantern into the room, and then returned for the pan of soup. Only when I was in the room, with the door closed, did I realise that she hadn’t told me her name. As I drank the cooled soup straight from the pan, it was filling but tasted of kerosene. I hadn’t seen a stove in the cottage, so I guess she must have made it at a camp site and had somehow carried it with her. “I heard her settling down for the night. So, as quietly as I could, I spread a small wrap on the cot, then sat on the edge, removed my socks and boots and used an anti inflammatory spray on my swollen ankle. A little later, my socks back on, I was stretched out on the rusted cot, trying to make myself comfortable for the night.”

“’Maybe someone advised her to stay clear of men. Bad news, you know.’” Shyama muttered loud enough for me to hear. I ignored her continued.

“During my hiking trips I’d heard a lot of weird tales around campfire, some true maybe, others folklore, but I’d never taken them seriously. Now, in the situation in which I found myself, thinking about the strange woman in the next room, those tales started to bother and amuse me at the same time.

 “Lying on the cot I surveyed the tiny room. The walls were empty except for two large hooks on one side. My bed directly faced a window, and through it I saw the skeletal forms of winter trees limned with light that contrasted starkly with the cold, darkness of the night. Their branches were spread like the hands of the dead, bare, gnarled and chilling. As I watched, the branches curled into giant talons and scratched demandingly at the window.

“What I had seen was irrational, frightening, but turning on my side to avoid looking directly at the window, I tried to convince myself that it was nothing more than a product of my tired mind. In the dark, with my eyes closed, I thought about the mysterious woman. I heard her stirring, perhaps tossing and turning as she too tried to sleep. I must have dozed for a while, not real sleep, but that state between being awake and being deeply asleep, then I was brought back to full wakefulness by a sound that’s difficult to describe, whether it was coming from the main room, or was in my room, I couldn’t tell. It wasn’t like the sound of a person moving about, that would have caused the floorboards to creak, there was none of that, just the noise of something brushing across the floor. In the cold night, I shivered even more.

“As my sleeplessness dragged on, I distracted myself from the unexpected events and strange sounds of the night. In a sense, I felt trapped by the things that had occurred, it was almost as if my reality had been manipulated to take me to that place at that time. I forced myself to think about something else, and thoughts of my new life in a new apartment, in another city, another country, came to me. I had wanted to leave my meaningless life in cold and dreary England, it was sucking the spirit out of me. My increasing dissatisfaction had led me to accept an invitation to join an educational institute here in India, your college in fact, as a visiting faculty member. I thought about the people and places that I’d come to know when I had travelled in India, and the endless possibilities that awaited me in your busy, vibrant and colourful country. The hike was a last gift to me before I started my new job.

“At some point I must have drifted into real sleep, because a loud banging noise brought me fully and unwillingly awake. I got up from the cot as quickly as my swollen ankle would allow, and did my best to hurry through to the main room. The chair I had seen the woman move to act as a door stop, was back where it had been when I sat on it, the front door itself was swaying to and fro, and occasionally, as the morning breeze gusted, it slammed noisily into its frame. Through the window, through the swaying door, the room was flooded with light as the sun climbed above the trees. There was no sign of the woman hiker, whose presence had puzzled and perturbed me through the night. I hadn’t heard her get up, pack and leave. I looked around, and apart from the mug still on the counter top and the scent of musk rose, there was no sign that she had been there at all. Where she had spread her sleeping bag on the floor, was a layer of fine dust that lifted and swirled a little in the draught from the door. The only footprints in the dust, I knew, were from my own hiking boots, and there was nothing to show that anything had softly trodden that floor, as I am still convinced I’d heard in the night.

“With a chill running up and down my spine, a feeling of dread, of not understanding, I went back to my room, dressed for a day on the trail, and packed my things. As I did this, the window flew suddenly open, filling the room with the cool, sweet, pine scented morning breeze. I looked up and saw the pine trees gently swaying. Feeling an urgent need to leave that place I lifted my daypack onto my shoulders, hurried from the cottage with a palpable sense of dread, collected the branch I had used as a support, and taking the same path by which I’d arrived, headed away as quickly as my sprained ankle would allow. Every rustling leaf, every animal sound, quickened my pulse as, with a palpable sense of dread, I moved away from the cottage. I wanted to be out of that forest as quickly as possible, and I hoped I would never have to return there.”

I stopped and glanced at the faces around me. The group had been listening to me in a breathless silence.

I stopped and glanced at the faces of my students, now lit only by the dying glow of our campfire. They had been listening to me in rapt silence.

“Oh my God, the woman was a ghost. The local tales weren’t crap after all.” One of the boys said quietly, as he huddled closer to his companions.

In the tiger reserve around us, I could hear animals moving, but there were no alarm calls announcing that a big cat was on the prowl.

“Is that what you think?” I asked rhetorically as I raked the dying embers with a stick. “Does anyone else have a theory?”

The group muttered quietly among themselves, as I smiled and wondered if even one of them would understand.

“No, not the woman. The trees.” A girl called out suddenly. Immediately the others demurred, so I let them argue for a while, until it was time to turn in for the night.

“Are you going to tell us?” Someone asked.

“Think about the story I told you, consider the evidence, then you’ll realise that only the trees could have been what was haunting that place.”

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Short Fiction – The El Pino Ruins


“Do you believe in ghosts?” she asked.

They were sitting on the steps of an old church overlooking the cemetery.

“No, I don’t.” He replied. “Why? Do you?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact I do, but not like those described in books. They don’t exist. It’s just fiction.”

“Are there any other kind of ghosts than those we read about in books, Pia?”

“Of course there are. Real ghosts, they’re everywhere. Just because you don’t see them it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Some people can’t see certain colours but that doesn’t mean those colours don’t exist.” She smiled. “Ghosts don’t haunt graveyards or deserted old buildings. They aren’t transparent and don’t evaporate into the mist. That’s all bullshit.”

Federico looked into her big, hazel eyes and forgot the conversation they were having. He wondered how anyone could be so beautiful that they were able to stop time at will. He remembered the day she’d breezed into his book café wearing a bright floral dress, her hair cascading in lazy spirals down her slim shoulders. She’d stopped near the vine of wild roses at the door and gazed at them for a moment before entering the shop and Federico was certain she carried the fragrance of the flowers with her. For twenty minutes she stayed in the shop, and Federico forgot what straight thinking was like. She seemed friendly and had bought a little basket of cookies and empanadas from the counter. He gave two complimentary slices of fruit cake, something he’d never done before. She thanked him for the gesture. The memory of her voice kept ringing in his ears for days afterwards. He knew she didn’t live there but he’d seen her around town sometimes, walking along the river bank where he went fishing. He’d even spotted her on Sundays among the church goers.

It was the last Sunday of the month in which she’d first visited his café and he was standing outside the church trying to spot her as the congregation emerged. He was watching the sea of people so intently that a tap on his shoulder made him jump.

“Dios mio! You scared the wits out of me.”

“Were you looking for someone?” Her gaze lingered on his face which had turned the colour of beetroot. She giggled like a little girl.

“Oh… no not really. I was just…”

“I’m Pia.” She extended her hand. For a moment Federico stood transfixed by her presence but then, somehow, he managed to speak.

“Federico, but friends call me Rico.” He shook her hand and wished he could hold it forever. Pia also seemed to enjoy the moment.

“Let’s go sit on those steps,” she said, pointing at the secluded stone steps at the side of the church.

Rico allowed himself to be led. He heard his heart beating loudly, and was sure Pia would hear it.

 

Captivated by the natural power of the sierras and the dark brooding woods they’d sat quietly on the stairs watching the sun melt on the hauntingly beautiful mountain peaks.

The loud ringing of the church bells and the musical sound of her voice then brought him out of his reverie. He realized that Pia was talking to him.

“Lo siento. I didn’t hear what you said?”

“I was saying we’re all haunted. Haunted by the things we see, feel and by those that we can’t. Do you know what ghosts are? They are our unmet desires, our fears and longings, unfinished businesses.”

“Unsaid words, deeds not done, our struggles in the intolerant world, they are the pangs of unrequited love, betrayals, unfulfilled dreams,” he added.

“Yes, and also the echoes of the ‘could haves’ and ‘should haves’ among other things. We arrive too late everywhere and we live with heartache. Then we die,” she said.

Rico watched one side of her face glow in the sun’s rays. “You seem to know a lot about these things, and if you are right, then we are all living dead carrying our ghosts on our backs,” he laughed.

“Yes, I do. We all do but seldom find courage to speak about them. Fear and guilt, two things that keep us from doing so,” she smiled even though he could sense a tinge of sadness and annoyance.

“I saw you at the cemetery the other day,” she turned to face him.

“Yes, I go there sometimes to visit my grandfather’s grave.”

“I don’t like these goddamn cemeteries. Fake people laying fake flowers every Sunday on coffins placed in straight lines six feet under. People make sure the dead don’t escape by placing heavy stones on the graves as if they would stop anything from escaping if it wished to.”

He saw the corner of her mouth twitch into a little smile that faded at once.

“But the dead need to be buried somewhere, Pia.” Rico said amused by the girl’s statement. He wasn’t a religious person but the discussion was stimulating and also he didn’t want to let her go… not just yet.

“Yes, in the graveyards. Those open places among the ruins.” She stood up and looked beyond the building. Her gaze stretching on the weathered cliff faces rising dramatically, red poppies, yellow mimosa and wild orchids tempered by the soothing green of ancient olive groves, an occasional splash of pale pink almond blossoms and remnants of  some old buildings that lay scattered on a distant hill. Rico also got up and put his arm around her. She didn’t object.

“Beautiful, isn’t it? I become calm in roaming among those ruins. I didn’t know you loved them too. I often visit the stream that runs beyond it. What a spectacular vintage point,” he said.

“It is surreal to be surrounded by death. I love the footpaths crisscrossing the mountains,” Pia said. Her eyes glinted with joy.

Rico lived for these moments.

“Have you been to the ruins and the old graveyard?” He asked.

“Yes, I have. It’s closer to my pueblo than yours.”

“Yes, I hear your pueblo is very picturesque. I haven’t been there.”

“No? You must come visit us sometime.” She said gathering her packages. “I live with my little brother.”

“And your parents?” Federico asked.

“Let’s not talk about them please.” She shifted uncomfortably and almost stumbled as she climbed down the old broken steps. Rico caught hold of her arm.

“I’m fine.” She said, her voice almost a whisper.

Federico walked her up to the town square from where she boarded the bus to her pueblo. It wasn’t far and usually people walked through the fields during the day. She too did but the darkness had wrapped the mountainside in her shroud early today. He insisted that she take the bus.

The streets were nearly empty. Federico went to the cafe which still had a few customers. He decided to stay there for a while. There wasn’t anyone waiting for him at home and he loved the warm cheerfulness of the place. He made himself a strong brew of coffee and relaxed on his usual chair behind the counter.

Later at home, Rico’s thoughts wandered to Pia. Why hadn’t she wished to talk about her parents? There was a certain sadness, Rico had always felt, behind her gleeful self. He hardly knew anything about her. The few hours he got with her were usually spent talking about books, travels and other things. She was a well informed, intelligent and beautiful woman, someone Rico would have thought of marrying. He wondered how it would be to live with her under the same roof every day, make love to her, do things together. The thought excited him. He decided to go visit her the next day and meet the brother too.

Early in the morning, he left his apprentice in charge of the cafe, packed a basket of cookies, cakes and rolls and set off. It was a bright day so he decided to walk. On the way he plucked some wild flowers knowing how much Pia loved them.

 

It took him more than an hour to reach Pueblo Blanco which appeared to tumble haphazardly from the hillside. Swathes of orange and lemon trees, bougainvillea and jasmine spread cheer all around the farmsteads dotted over the hillsides. The pueblo consisted of a mosaic of old houses, a square, a market with a bar named Alfredo’s, numerous fuentes and a school building which stood out like an eyesore amidst a cubist’s dream. Rico walked down the mossy trail waving at children who waved back at him. Any outsider to them was a tourist visiting the ruins. They smiled and posed for photographs but Rico had no camera so he did not get much attention.

 

After a little search in the pueblo with its whitewashed flat roofed houses, characteristic chimney pots and narrow cobbled streets he spotted the stone cottage with slanted red roof and a cobbled path leading to the front door.  It was at the end of the street and stood out among the terraced clusters of other houses.

 

The tinao was strewn with colourful potted plants overflowing from the edges making a stark contrast. He scanned the place for some activity but the house was quiet. He knocked at the door then knocked again. This time he heard heavy footsteps inside and the door swung open. The young man who stood there could have been written off as Pia’s twin. Slightly confused Rico fumbled for the right words while he peered into the dimly lit interior of house.

 

“What do you want? I don’t have the time to stand here.”

 

“I am looking for Pia. I am a friend from El Pino.”

 

The man had the similar hazel eyes to Pia and they were fixed on him. Rico saw the man’s pupils dilate.

 

Suddenly he pushed Rico back and shouted angrily, “Pia is dead, you hear me?” He was about to shut the door when a female voice interrupted him.

 

“Don’t be rude, Eduardo. He is a friend. Let him in.” Rico heaved a sigh of relief on seeing Pia pull the man aside to make way for him to enter.

 

“What a pleasant surprise, Rico. Welcome to Casa Luna. I am sorry about Eduardo. He is always upset with the world.” Her eyes sparkled as she laughed. Federico felt relieved on seeing her and entered the house.

 

“I have brought this cookie basket and flowers for you.”

 

“They’re lovely. Thank you. Please make yourself comfortable. I’ll be right back.”

 

Rico nodded and settled on a sofa feeling slightly uncomfortable at the fixed gaze of Eduardo who was leaning against the fireplace and staring at him. He looked around the room; it was sparsely furnished and unkempt but certainly looked well lived in. There was a book case along one wall and a side table with a chair near the big window. The heavy curtains blocked the view and he could smell a musty smell coming from them, like wet leaves. A large portrait of two children in their pre-teens hung on one of the walls. He recognised Pia immediately and guessed that the boy must be the brother. “Yeah, that’s us,” Eduardo said in a bored voice. Rico looked at him. He certainly did not look like Pia’s “little brother”. She looked much younger than him.

 

He was about to ask Eduardo about this when Pia entered with a trolley of tea and cookies from the basket he had brought.

 

“We just had almuerzo, Rico. Wish we’d known you were coming. It gets a little boring to eat alone every day. No, Eduardo? “She smiled at him as she made the tea and handed him the cup.

 

“I don’t like strangers especially those who come unannounced.” He said in an angry voice as he walked towards the staircase. For a brief moment he stopped, turned and stared at them then began to climb the stairs which creaked from his weight.

 

“Please don’t mind him. He is unwell, I’m sorry about his behaviour.” Her face seemed to have suddenly aged, Rico thought as he looked into her vacant eyes. He hated to see her sad.

“No problema Pia. I understand. Is he your brother? I thought you said you had a little brother?” Rico asked as he sipped his tea. He noticed that Pia’s cup lay untouched.

“Yes, he’s my brother. He’s a grown up child. His mind is still that of a little boy. That’s the reason he is so flustered and unfriendly most of the time.” Her voice was a whisper as if she was afraid someone would hear. She seemed totally opposite to her useful cheerful self. He felt sorry for her. He shouldn’t have come unannounced and put her in a fix. He took Pia’s hand, pressed it in his. It was cold as ice.

 

“I understand.” He said in a reassuring tone. “Don’t feel bad. I will catch up with you some other time. Need to get back to the cafe. I just visited on a whim.”

 

She lowered her head and nodded.

 

Federico got up and they walked out to the street where they stood facing each other for what seemed like ages. There was a moment of stillness between them. He wanted to take her in his arms and kiss her but the thought of her brother watching from somewhere in the house kept him away. He gave her a quick kiss and left.  When he looked back she was still standing under the cool shadowed Tinao. Rico blew her a kiss, waved and walked out. The door slowly closed behind him as if gently nudged by the wind. He stood looking at the old stone house. The tiles above the windows were chipped and the iron grills looked rusted. The mid day sun threw strange shadows on the walls. Rico stared at them wondering if he saw them move with the passing wind. It all seemed so out of place.

 

He hadn’t gone far on the narrow unpaved path surrounded by hundreds of flowering pots and pillars when a man lazily drinking the local Costa wine with a vendor selling hand woven baskets and Jarapas stopped him.

 

“Hola Señor! Interested in buying the casa. I can get you a good price.” He said chewing on a blade of grass that fluttered at the side of his mouth. The basket-seller didn’t seem to be interested and busied himself rummaging inside his shop.

 

“I am not here to buy the house. The lady who stays there is a friend. She never mentioned that they are selling the place.” Rico was surprised that Pia never told her they were looking for a buyer for the house.

 

The man looked at him for a moment and laughed, “Are you coming straight from Alfredo’s? You don’t look drunk.” He said scanning Rico from head to toe.

 

“The lady of the house is your friend? Hahaha…you got to be kidding. No one lives in that house. It has been vacant for many years maybe from even before we were born. People say the owner, a doctor, was a brute. His wife ran away and left their retarded son and his elder sister in his care. He took to drinking and constantly beat the children. The girl took most of the beating in order to protect the brother and one day the idiota smashed her head on the wall and killed her. The cops took him away and he never returned. The son, a loco, was left to his own devices and some years later they found him dead in the garden…You seem unwell… Are you alright, Señor? You don’t look good. Can I get you something?”

Rico could hear the man’s voice but was struggling to understand. It was a hot day and the sun was bright. A day when tourists and those from nearby cities came to picnic in those parts. The weekly market was abuzz with activity on the other side of pueblo. Without replying Rico rushed back towards the house. He knocked. Once. Twice. And then he started banging the door. And finally his eyes fell on the lock hanging on the door. Rico almost fell back but soon recovered. He got down with a sense of disbelief not really knowing where he was headed, resisting the urge to look back. Lost in the surreal world he dragged his way to the scattered fort ruins and stood there staring at the graves, stone columns and large piles of stones. The remains of a paved floor of a circular hut seemed like a site for prayer rituals for the dead. He felt an unmistakable and unbearable presence of Pia. He sank to the wet mossy ground that smelled of spring flowers and death.

 

*

I ordered another cup of coffee as I listened to Dr. Alejandro. We were sitting inside a small cafe across the city square where the old doctor had asked me to meet him. He’d seen my advertisement in the newspaper for renting a traditional home.

 

“Federico came to me a week after the incident. He was disturbed and needed help. After a few sessions of treatment and a visit to the Casa Luna he slowly began to recover and even started going to the cafe which was run by his apprentice at that time. We met a few times but then both of us became busy with life. A few days ago Rico called me to inform that he was moving to the city and needed my help to find a tenant for the old casa where he had lived after selling off the cafe to his apprentice. Memories of Pia had drawn him to Pueblo Blanco but he’d become very ill soon after moving in and needed to be admitted to a hospital for treatment. He wants someone trustworthy to look after the house in his absence. His house would be ideal for you.”

 

He handed me a slip of paper with a name and address and a frayed business card with his phone number. He added that I could call him at anytime.

 

“Thank you Doctor. I’ll talk to you soon.”

 

“Go safe.”

 

“I will.” With that I picked up my things and left him with his thoughts.

 

It was late in the noon when I reached El Pino. I parked the car near the church and went looking for Rico’s book cafe. No one could give me directions so I decided to walk to Pueblo Blanco to meet him.

 

It was an early winter day but the sun was still warm. There weren’t many people around, just the locals going about their daily business. The mountains, the air, and the wilderness filled me with such contentment I could live here, surely for the rest of my life.

I was in no hurry and reached the pueblo as the afternoon shadows began to lengthen with the onset of evening.

 

Pueblo Blanco was a tapestry of traditional houses and a dilapidated building which looked more modern than the rest of them. A white village as the doctor had said. I looked around for Eduardo’s house but couldn’t spot it. None of the buildings had a red roof. I checked the slip to see if I had lost my way but the dusty signboard near the solitary shop confirmed that I was in the right place.

 

I walked to the shop and looked around. An old man sat slumped on a chair smoking a cigarillo.

 

“We are out of stock.” He said before I could speak.

 

“I don’t need to buy anything. I am looking for Mr. Federico who stays at Casa Luna. It is an old stone building which was owned previously by Señor Eduardo if I am right.”

 

“You are wrong. There isn’t any house by that name nor do I know of any Federico or Eduardo living in this pueblo. You have got the wrong address. The only stone buildings the pueblo has are the ruins over there.” He said, pointing towards the distant hilltop.

 

“That’s strange. My doctor friend gave me this address. He is a friend of the owner and spoke to him a few days back about renting the property.” I handed the slip of paper to the man.

 

“You’ve come to the right place, Señor but I’ve never heard of anyone called Federico or Eduardo and I’ve lived here all my life. Did you say he moved here from El Pino? Maybe you should check with the priest there. He would certainly know. That’s the last bus over there. Don’t miss it.” With that he touched his cap, nodded and went behind the colourful curtain that separated the house from the shop, but he emerged again before I could turn and leave.

 

“I remember my abuelo telling me about an old decaying cottage at the other end of the pueblo. Children called it casa embrujada but that was years ago when I was a child. It is just a pile of stones now.”

 

I muttered a few words of thanks and ran towards the bus. Maybe the man was right about asking the priest. He would certainly know. When I reached the bus I stopped and glanced around the lazy streets of the pueblo. There was no one in sight.

 

When I reached El Pino, the church bore a deserted look and the door to the priest’s home was locked. I decided not to wait and to drive back home. It was getting late and I had to return to the city that very night. While I drove down the winding road my thoughts kept going back to the old doctor, the picture perfect pueblo, the house that did not exist and Federico whom no one seemed to know even in his own town. I hadn’t even able to find the cafe.

It was late when I reached home, but I decided to call Dr. Alejandro- all I got was a busy tone.

 

I was tired so went straight to bed. The strange events of the day were spinning in my head and I wanted it to stop.

 

Next morning I got dressed and decided to call Alejandro again before leaving for work. The phone finally rang after a few tries.

 

“Hola! Alejandro Hospital, how can I help?”

 

“Hello! I am Jim Adams and I need to speak with Doctor Alejandro urgently. I got this number from him.”

 

“You need to speak to whom?”

 

“Doctor Alejandro. I met him yesterday and he told me to contact on this number.”

 

“Estás loco o qué? Doctor Alejandro died years and years ago.”

 

The line went dead.

-*-

Note – The El Pino Ruins first got published in the final edition of Le Zaporogue XVIII by various authors. The short fiction was well received by the readers so I thought of sharing it here too. Thank you for reading. Please leave your views in the comments.

 

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Spring In Delhi, A Poem, A Story And Some Thoughts


The more a voice gets stifled, the louder it gets. So much has happened in past few days. There is too much anger and anguish inside me and I am just not getting into the rhythm of regular writing. Pages are still lying blank. Pen poised over them like a finger on the jugular.How can one remain composed when  voices of dissent are silenced. When Rohith Vermula is pushed to commit suicide. When peaceful dissenters (students) are painted as “anti nationals” charged for  sedition without any proof, for just having a different political ideology and guess which one got targeted as a terrorist and why? When news channels incite the public with doctored videos/audios. When evidence is manufactured. When goons are given protection and encouraged in their hooliganism. When students, teachers, journalists are beaten up for speaking up for what is just. When Perversity rules. When acid is thrown on the face of a  woman tribal right activist to muzzle yet another voice of dissent. When the country burns in the fire of communal hatred. When you are hounded and trolled for your stance on what is happening right now in the country When a twelve year old child is hit and her father killed for asking a second helping of meal. When the tragic suicides of the farmers is termed as “fashion”. When there is a complete breakdown of law & order. When anger kills the power of reason. When you are targeted because of your gender, caste, name, political stance or simply because you use your mind and speak out against the unjust.

It makes me uneasy. Makes me pause and reflect.

I fear for my life every single time I open my mouth in this country where I was born and raised. Who will stand up for me or any ordinary citizen? Who will listen to our pleas? I am not as articulate as many of my writer friends but I am a thinking and concerned citizen. A woman trying to stand for her rights and her dignity. A mother watching two young adult sons growing up in an environment that is getting vicious day by day. I taught my children dissent, I taught them to participate actively as citizens. I taught them to be discerning without being judgmental. That is what my parents taught me. I do the same. Does that make us Anti Nationals? Tell me how? Be very careful when you label anyone. Know its power. Labels box you in. I have been boxed in and I know how it feels. It dramatically changes your life in a matter of seconds. Most of the times scars you for life. Listen to that little voice of conscience and dissent that is knocking from within you to wake up. Listen and act.

In the midst of this unrest the spring came quietly to the capital bringing myriad hues of flowers. Every roundabout, every garden, every park is a riot of colours. The barbets, the flaming golden woodpeckers and the parakeets and many other birds are here. The roadsides and roundabouts are full of nasturtiums, yellow poppies, purple asters, yellow violas, red pitunias, Cinnenarias, dog flowers, marigolds, sweet peas, sweet williams, chrysanthemums, dahlias and bougainvilleas in varied hues have painted the city in every colour. Some of the Mango trees are blossoming too and then there is this distinct fragrance of the Saptparni tree across the city. The coral trees and the Silk Cotton trees are beginning to bloom too.

Delhi also hosts flower shows during Feb-March. I went to he 29th Delhi Garden Tourism Festival Yesterday to get soaked in the colours of basant (Spring)

And when we talk of flowers and blossoming how can we forget poetry. A poem got published in prestigious Open Road Review Magazine recently. You can read it HERE.

A Short Fiction also found a platform in Read Fingers, a portal for those who enjoy reading and writing. This story is very close to my heart. Do read it HERE.

Heartfelt gratitude to the editors who appreciated my work and included it in their magazines.

Talking of magazines, if you have not submitted your piece for Cafe Dissensus March issue (23) then please do it fast as the last date is not very far. Here is the submission link. I am guest editing the issue this time. 

I will leave you with this brilliant piece by my friend Nabina Das. – ‘After Every War’: Reading poetry in the dark times 

And One more by Saif Mehmood – Repression and Resistance, Delhi 2016: Through The Prism Of Urdu Poetry  

 

 

 

 

Time To Rejoice- Six Poems And A Story In Le Zaporogue XVI


The sun is shining bright and Delhi is jubilant.

This is how I am celebrating. With HOT CRISPY JALEBEES. I have more than one reseon to rejoice.

The much acclaimed Le Zaporouge XVI, the latest edition of Seb Doubinsky’s annual of literature, art, photography and illustration has been published and for the fourth time I have my work included in the magazine along with some fantastic writers/artists. It is a great feeling to be recognised as a writer and I thank Seb Doubinsky ( a great storyteller and fantastic poet) for this honor.

This special edition of 289 pages include Jerry Wilson– Tara Lennart – Celina Osuna – Jonas Lautrop- Laurent Maindon – Anne Krautwald – Franck-Olivier Laferrère – Manu Rich – Marcia Marques Rambourg – Justin Grimbol – Carole Cohen-Wolf – Tikuli – Valérie Debieux – Philippe Tertrais – Simone Rinzler – David Royal – Virgil Petite-Vallée – James Goddard – Alicia Young – Olga Theuriet – Dominic Albanese- Benoît Jeantet – Donna-Lee Phillips – Jacques Sicard – Mark and Janice Van Aken Williams – Stéphane Prat – Jean-Philippe Dreillard – Agathe Elieva – Serge Muscat – Yan Kouton – Maya Byss – ShaneZooee – Matt Bialer – Andréas Becker

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It is a must have impressive collection and  you can get Le Zaporogue XVI ( ebook PDF) as a FREE download here : ZAPOROGUE XVI

Or  for the FIRST TIME buy it in print too ( the back editions will also be available in print soon.) : Zaporogue (Paperback) 

So proud to be a part of this.  The good trend has continued from 2014 for my writing and I am hoping for more as the year ’15 progresses.

Here is an excerpt from one of my poems –

My Mother 

“Clasping your infant body
like a broken doll and a
picture of your mother in my pocket,
I took refuge at a patchwork of shelters
that had sprouted on the smoldering land.
A few of us sat under a small covering
of rags, tarpaulin and sheet metal,
holding whatever was left of our
precious belongings, somewhere
a man sharpened the knife on a stone,
click clack, click clack,
the blade glistened in the dark.”

Do read the rest of the poem and many more poems and stories that I enjoyed reading in this edition. Do give us your feedback.

Follow the FB PAGE by clicking on this link.

To know about more of my online and print publication click HERE 

My Debut Poetry Collection turned ONE this January you can read about it HERE 

Once more Thank You Sebastian Doubinsky for giving me the opportunity to share my work.

Jason – A Short Story


Jason was first published in MICROW 8 (Luminous) Winter 2013

It was a special day for St. Luis Hospital. The conference room was filled with medical students, support group volunteers, media people, friends and well wishers of Drs. David & Jane Brown.

Jane’s eyes scanned the packed 80-seat room. Most of those present were familiar with Dr. Jane’s captivating presence and they listened to the story of her courage and pain in rapt attention trying to imagine how a child could illuminate the lives of millions. She stood at the makeshift podium under the spot light; everything else was flooded with soft darkness.

A year ago they’d lost Jason. He was two years old and terminally ill. As David listened to his wife speak about their dying child, their hopes and despair during the two years that Jason lived he recalled his child’s gradual decline and his wife’s courage.

“I knew it was just a matter of time as I leaned against the nursery door taking in the sights and smells of my baby’s room I felt a profound sense of emptiness. As I ran my fingers along those untouched things we had collected for our son I felt that I didn’t know myself.  I could hear Sara playing and blowing soap bubbles with her father in the garden. Sometimes I would find her perched on a stool near Jason’s bed talking to herself or watching her brother quietly. She seemed to understand that her time with Jason was almost over.  When Jason smiled it illuminated the entire room and brightened our lives but I needed more, I needed a sound from him before he was gone forever.”

“I went and stood near Jason’s bed and watched the light filtering through the blossoming branches of a cherry tree. As I watched his face lit up and his eyes moved as if following something.  My eyes followed his gaze and saw that a soap-bubble had floated in through the window. He was fascinated as it drifted around him glistening in the sunlight. Slowly Jason’s hand lifted towards the bubble and then he chortled. My eyes filled with tears of joy.”

Jane stopped speaking, took a book from the table and held it up.

“This is a story of the two years we spent together, ‘Jason – A Mother’s Account of Letting Go’.”

She clicked a button and a large photograph of Jason smiling, filled the screen behind her.

“This is the picture my husband David took of that one precious moment.”

David and Sara joined her on the podium. They hugged and for the next half an hour she read passages from the book, finally she said:

“I hope my book will help all those with a terminally ill child cope with their loss. David, Sara and I would like to thank everyone for their support; you offered it when we needed it most. “

There was a moment of total silence, then a ripple of applause grew louder and louder. Jane listened with tears shining in her eyes.

 

Luminous

 

(Digital Art by my son Aditya . The story was published under the theme Luminous with a 500 word limit)

Proud Moment – Short Stories in Le Zaporogue 13 and MiCROW 8


Year 2013 has started on a great note. Two short stories featured in two illustrious literary publications. It is a blessing to have friends who support, encourage and unconditionally help me learn and polish my writing constantly.

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In January my short story ‘ The Bookmark’ shared space with some fine writers, poets songwriters and photographers in Le Zaporogue 13. You can click on the link and download it for free or purchase it too.

There are some other wonderful treasures in Le Zaporogue Store. Do take a look.

Le Zaporogue 11 has some of my verses and  if you are passionate about poetry please feel free to click on the link and download this edition.

I want to thank author and friend Sebastian Doubinsky  for giving me this platform to showcase my work.

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Riding on the back of  late spring  breeze came another surprise. This time a Flash-Fiction ‘Jason‘ based on the theme ‘Luminous‘ has found place in MiCROW 8 : Luminous  . This edition of Full of Crow flash fiction supplement section includes wonderful B&W photographs and some exceptional stories. You can read online , download the pdf. file or purchase the chapbook HERE . Check out the gorgeous FULL Of Crow ,a semiannual publication of very short stories and prose.

Thank you Michael. J. Solender  for giving me this opportunity. Looking forward to co creating more miracles.

This year I was able to break many mental barriers and swallow my self doubt to a large extent. I think I am more confident, more focused and tuned to myself and writing now. I am glad to have found mentors who helped me achieve this. Onward we go, one step at a time.

 

Related links :

online and print publications

Zaporogue 11

 

Photograph credits belong to the rightful owners. 

The Song Bird


Someone asked me,”Should a blog be used to rant about personal issues? Is it alright to expose your vulnerable side to the entire world?  Is it in good taste to bare your heart’s innermost feelings in front of  everyone? One can write about so many other things then why whine, rave and rant on a blog and why not use a pillow instead to cry your heart out? There will be hundreds who will offer you sympathy but that’s all BS. Actually no one cares a hoot.”

I listened patiently and said,”I don’t do it often and I don’t do it for sympathy. That is the last thing I want from somebody. Sympathy and pity. I write for no particular reason. Not everyone reads my meltdowns and those who do, maybe it helps them overcome theirs. Who knows? ”

Obviously she and I did not see eye to eye on this like many other things. So, if you think personal outbursts are not your reading material, move on. For, this is going to be one such post.

Sometimes one goes through this deluge of “what ifs and whys, If only and I wish” and seeks answers to questions which are better not raised. Questions which burn like embers in a dying fire. If you stir it you might start a wild fire. Uncontrollable and Unstoppable.

Your heart gets filled to the brim with this deluge and overflows on the blog. I think it is cathartic in more than one ways.

It makes me restless to realize that there is no escape to freedom. There isn’t a thing called ‘freedom.” It is always a caged reality. The cage gets bigger and better than the previous one but the walls begin to rise magically the moment you want to step out and not just the walls , the roof and the floor begin to close in till you choke and gasp for breath and surrender to “what is”.

It’s a woman’s life. A caged song bird.

“You always think as if  the entire world is out to get you and is conspiring against you.” She said. (It is strange when women talk about women’s issues in this fashion. Why am I surprised anyway? )

I think it is because at times I feel it.

Not the entire world maybe but then my world is very small. It is a world within a world and in this world are people who don’t give a damn about what I go through but are ready to make snide remarks, pass judgement, show all kind of indifference camouflaged as love, care, support and what not. It is an art. Not all posses this skill.

How does one feel to leave behind young children  in a personal quest for dignified living?  Mind you it is very different from “empty nest syndrome”  and ‘one day kids will grow up and do their own things and go their own way” thing. It is a living, pulsating, raw hurt which eats you away bit by bit. You try to reason with your self  but fail. I always said, “I have given my boys roots and wings”, never knew it’s not them but I , who will fly away leaving them to fend for themselves. Leaving, in search of myself.

Did I find “myself” ?

“No” and “Yes”.

“No”, because there is a lot that is concealed. There is deeper play of shadows that I do not understand at times. A door opens and closes behind me. I forge my way through the unknown only to discover a wall , a trap or again a door, sometimes just a window or a crack. The search continues.

“Yes” , because I managed to cut out most of the weeds which were blocking my way. I bled and bruised myself but finally found myself at the edge of a new beginning. Another challenge but certainly not as suffocating as the previous one

Some prisons have no bars. Some cages are imaginary. Some others we build around us unknowingly or knowingly because we are used to certain comfort zones.

I sometimes wonder who has got who locked in the cage. I just might be free, on the other side of bars. Looking in. Remembering my time within the cage. The feeling sweeping through me whispering to me that I am still there when I am not.

Have you heard the song of the caged bird? Do you find it different from the one who is free?

One day when I woke up I saw I had grown new wings. They seemed so unfamiliar and yet they were part of it. I was scared to spread them lest I lose an illusion. Instead I wrapped them around me and found comfort in the new-found warmth but wings are meant for flying. They throbbed with exciting energy sending sparks into my listless soul to make use of them as I should.

With the break of new dawn I decided to take a plunge into the valley of unknown. Either to sink or to rise.

The cage suddenly didn’t seem to be there. Was I living an illusion or just a shattered one? I wondered.

I looked around at the crumbs , the bowl of water now empty and turned upside down. I looked at the blue sky , slowly spread my wings, flapped them, took a deep breath and folded them back. I wasn’t ready. Then the wind began to blow. It picked up the momentum and I could feel my cage sway with it. Scared of this wind of change I buried my head in my breast but with one shove I found myself at the edge of the window. Perched precariously. Now there was no turning back. I leaped on the back of the wind and dipped my wings in brilliant sunlight and claimed the sky which was truly mine but the storm raged in insane fury and rain lashed like whip of bare skin. Bewildered and panicked by the raging storm, blinded by the dark rain I plunged and rose with the tempest fighting the forces beyond me, trusting my wings to keep me afloat. Fear gripping me from within, a tight fist beneath my breast. Caught in the whirling skirts of winds I circled and circled and longed for the comfort of the cage I had left. I scanned the murky unknown, shadowy in parts brightly lit in parts, a plethora of possibilities that could take me anywhere.

Startled by the fire bolt that swept the sky with lurid glow I screamed and was shocked to hear my own voice, stilled for so long. If I could scream in fear I could sing in joy. I began to hum and the words came back to me. Muted words buried in some deep crevices of my heart. In the midst of rolling thunder and chaos I had found my song. I began to sing and I don’t know when and how I glided out of the storm into a blaze of color — oranges, pearly pinks, vibrant purples, molten gold and when I looked down I saw deep green mountains and rivers coppery with sunset.

Then , at that moment I realized , “Deep in the heart of winter, there lay within me an invincible spring.”

I realized that the cage though real was also imagined. I had built it myself.  It was wherever I went and no matter where I would run, I just ended up running into myself. If you stay within the patterns and conformity you carry the cage with you. I broke those patterns and reclaimed myself, my freedom.

Songbird

This post is especially written for a songbird who lives in the Pyrenees.

Case 1 – Come Into My Parlor


This is one of the cases from a series of cases recorded by the narrator. I have given it a working title. Still a first draft. 

Fascinating and bizarre, those were the two words that came to my mind about my recent case.  As a psychiatrist I deal with all sorts of mental disorders and abnormalities but this case was special and very challenging, something beyond my domain. I am that kind of person who, unlike others, goes beyond conventional techniques to treat a patient but Tara’s case left me with no choice than to withdraw which again was against the ethics of medical profession.

It was only last month when Peter came to my clinic. There was nothing unusual about him except the eyes. Those deep-set brown eyes were nothing but pools of hurt and fear and anger. He mumbled a greeting to me and sat down nervously on the side chair. I noticed that his hands were trembling slightly and he kept shifting in his seat.

“My wife is an adulterous.” He began without any prompt from me. ” She has someone else in her life. A lover.  It has come as a shock to me. We shifted to this neighborhood recently. We hardly know anyone here. She has no friends and certainly no male friends.  We were happy even though we had our usual arguments and fights but then everyone has them, don’t they? “   I nodded silently. I got such cases almost three times a week. There was nothing unusual.

“I could not understand the change in her behavior at first. She became moody and purposely started to keep herself away from me. We stopped going out and calling friends over just because of her mood swings.  She did everything to push me away. Sex first became a routine and then died a silent death but never ever she insisted that I sleep in living room until two days ago. She said it was all over between us and that she had another man in her life. She said she cannot love me the way she loves that man. I, who have +been her companion for more than a decade. Tara never used to wear even a ring on her finger.  Not the kind who would dress up and flaunt her possessions. Am sure all the new clothes and jewelry she is wearing lately has been given by her….” He couldn’t bring himself to say the word Lover, got up and began to pace the room and then collapsed on the couch sobbing uncontrollably. I somehow wanted to go and hug the man but stayed glued to my seat for some unknown reason. He came around finally and muttered an apology. I offered a glass of water which he sipped as if finding it difficult to swallow.

“Have you met the man? Anyone you know, maybe some old friend of hers or yours? “

“No”. “I even hired a private detective to watch over the house and her but nothing came up. She hardly goes out and no one visits the house in my absence. I even tracked her emails, phone calls, social networking profiles but nothing. “

“I think she is unwell and I need you to cure her doc”. There was an urgency and fear in his voice.

“I feel the change has affected her and she’s going insane. I love my wife and suffer day in and day out knowing there is something wrong with her. ““Please help us”. His eyes welled as he pressed my hand in his.

I watched him closely.  He needed therapy more than his wife. To me he seemed in denial and shock, unable to cope with his wife’s affair but refrained from saying so. Sometimes a joint session helped couples in such cases. I made some mental notes, assured him that things will be just fine and told him to bring her along the next day.

The woman who walked into my clinic next morning was exactly as Peter had described, quiet, demure, and pretty. She had bright intelligent eyes and a beautiful captivating smile. She greeted me warmly and said she wanted to speak to me alone.

“I know why Peter wanted me to meet you. My husband thinks I am gone nuts”, she smiled “but let me assure you am perfectly fine.”

“Am sure you are”, I returned the smile.

“I love S, he is my childhood sweetheart. We had lost touch.  I never thought I would meet him like this but it was meant to be.  I didn’t want to hurt Peter. He is a good man, good husband but S is my soul mate.  Now that he has moved in with me I am much happier and alive than I was ever before. “  I noticed the glow that radiated from her.  She surely loved the guy.

“S moved in with you? How is it that Peter has never met or seen him? “I was beginning to see why Peter was worried about her.

“It’s our secret”. She giggled like a teenager. “He moved into the attic the same day we met. No one except me knew, not even Peter. She recounted all about the wonderful time she spent with S, their intimacy, and how they managed to keep it all hidden from Peter, waiting for the right time to reveal. “But then I was beginning to feel guilty to have both my lover and my husband in the same house. I had to tell him.” Her face clouded. Trust me I never thought it would turn out this way but I can’t help it. Hope you understand. That’s why I wanted to meet you alone.”

“I do”. I said but I knew from inside that this wasn’t going to be easy. There was something more than just what appeared at the surface.

“That’s a lovely bracelet you are wearing. “  The delicate silver filigree shone brilliantly on her wrist”.

“S gifted it to me as a token of love when we last met. I have always worn it since then.” She ran her manicured fingers gently over it.

“Doctor, I want you to help Peter come to terms with it.  I am thinking of moving out to the new apartment S and I rented some time back. I need a divorce. Every time we make love I am aware of Peter’s presence in the house.

“Is that the reason you told him to shift to the  living room”? I asked.

“Yes”. Her blushed and lowered her eyes.

“I will talk to him and I would love to meet S if it’s not asking too much.”

“Of course, he will be delighted to meet you. You will like him. In fact I am going to introduce him to Peter tonight. “

Interesting, I thought. How I wished to be there to witness the scene, a woman introducing her husband to an imaginary lover.

“You don’t think me mad, do you?” She turned around as she opened the door to leave.

“Not at all but I would love to meet you again sometime.”

“Sure. Thank you for understanding.” She looked at me with those deep eyes.

“Pleasure” I said and the door closed.

It was bizarre.  We met again a couple of times at different places and she never mentioned S being with her but always told some incident related to them. I did not know how to get her into therapy sessions. She intrigued me not only as a psychiatrist but also as a person. There was something about her presence that stopped me from looking at her as a patient.

I called peter and narrated everything about our meeting. I told her Tara needed medical attention.  We decided to meet and work out some plan to make her agree to take the treatment. I also told him to keep a watch on any unusual behavior.

The thing that disturbed me was that Tara did not show any signs/symptoms of any mental disorder. I thought it could be a mild case of ICI  until one day when Peter broke into my office unannounced and looked as if he had seen a ghost.  He was incoherent and trembling with fear.

“She moved out to her new apartment last night. I found the front door open and there wasn’t anyone there, just this note. I am scared and worried about her doctor.” His voice trailed off into a sob.

I took the note from his hand.

It had my name on it and an address.

“Give it to Dr. Shreyas and please do not try to visit me.” It said.

I had a difficult time making him understand that maybe Tara had created this whole story to leave him. She maybe couldn’t bring herself to break away in any other way. I told him to go home and rest while I investigate.

It was a still warm summer evening. I drove to the address written on the note. It was a small apartment with a small patch of garden in the front.  It took her some time to open the door.

“I was expecting you. Please come in”. She wasn’t her charming self and looked tired and irritated.

“I knew Peter would go running to you. He refused to believe in my relationship with S and kept insisting that I needed to be admitted to your hospital. I introduced S to him but he was rude and insulting. He called him figment of my stupid imagination. I couldn’t take it anymore so left. Please tell him to leave me alone. I will send in the papers to him.”

I stood there in the middle of the living room listening to her when I felt something shift in the air around me.  I ignored it as just a stuffy feeling due to humid weather.

“S, meet Dr. Shreyas”. She suddenly smiled and looked to her right.

There was no one but I still extended my hand and greeted.  I strange warmth spread through me.

It was unreal. I had never thought of this angle.

“Let’s have some tea, shall we?” She said.

The door to left swung open and closed.

“Don’t be scared Doc, S won’t harm you.  He is a good man.”

I was still to recover from my initial shock of having a ghost in the same room as me.

Something kept me glued to the place; I had no wish to run out of it screaming. Somehow I really wasn’t scared, just shocked.

She was living with a ghost in her attic, making love to him, and she left her husband to move in with him? A friendly spirit who had in some way filled the empty spaces of her life? It just couldn’t be true but it was. She looked happy and I could feel S’s lingering presence very prominently now.

I wondered how I was going to explain it to Peter.

It was surreal.

I don’t know why but I relaxed into their company and enjoyed it too.  In last one week I have met them a few times and it makes me a little guilty too as a doctor that I haven’t reported it to the authorities or said anything to Peter for that matter. I just told him Tara wants to stay on her own and I haven’t seen any man in her life.

I never saw Peter again but I visit Tara on and off. Remarkable lady. I am sure you will like her too.

******

The evening sun was slowly setting behind the buildings and the city shimmered  in a warm glow. I glanced at my watch.

“It’s time to introduce you to my friends. Let’s go” He smiled at me.

“I am looking forward to it. Let’s go.”  I said.  I had known Doctor Shreyas for years now and as a paranormal expert it was going to be an exciting experience.

We drove down in silence, each one wrapped in his thoughts.

We parked the car and walked up to the bright red door of Tara’s apartment. Dr. Shreyas rapped on the wooden door. There was no movement inside. He rapped again and then fumbled inside his pocket.

“I have a duplicate key to their house.  Tara gave it to me.” He said.

It amused me that she should give him a spare key? I just nodded.

He opened the door and called out, “Hey Tara, We are here.”

After a second his face lit up. “Hey girl how you doing, how is S?” He moved towards the winding staircase and held out his hand. ” Meet my friend Robin.”

“Robin, this is Tara”.

The house was empty.

Beyond The Unknown – A Short Story


I felt slowly being lifted out of my physical body. It wasn’t a hallucination. I was very much aware of the separation of my consciousness from the flesh body I was living in for all these years.  I was aware of one of my selves watching the other in moment of life. Fully conscious of what was happening to me I watched my sleeping self for some quiet moments, turned and began to walk.  Nothing unusual.

I walked on a familiar road shaded with the deepening shadows of ancient trees that lined on both sides and remembered what a beautiful shade of green they were during daytime but at night they acquired demonic shapes. There is one thing about the night; it paints everything in its own colour. All forms, colours, and shapes dissolve. It fills them with similar melancholy stillness. There are things one can see only in the darkens of night

The road beneath my bare feet was like a glacier. I was sure I heard earth’s soundless whispering drifting through the trees.  Why wasn’t I scared? Why did it seem familiar? Was it Déjà Vu? Or was I under some spell?

I remembered my physical body lying on plush bed. The slow rise and fall of my breasts and the constant humming of the ceiling fan. And then I saw him. A hound. At least I thought it was a hound. It sure was a larger than life and had deep non luminous eyes. A hell-hound?

I could see his balanced athletic body movement as it advanced towards me, slowly growing like a huge sinister black shadow.  Strange that he did not charge on seeing someone on a road – deserted, charmed, and vacant running through the middle of nowhere. It surprised me that the darkness of the night failed to camouflage him.  There was nothing ferocious or scary about him, not even the demonic red eyes that looked straight into mine… instead I instantly felt a connection, an at ease feeling. I felt his sinews strengthening mine with his growing presence. A strange sensation began to flow through my veins. He seemed friendly, maybe he was a protector, an animal spirit guide or maybe not. Maybe he had some ulterior hidden motives? As far as he did no harm, it did not matter much to me.

I felt a drop in temperature as the distance between the dog and me shortened but kept on walking. I noticed he had stopped midway blocking whatever lay in the darkness. For  fraction of a second as my attention shifted from the dog to the rustling of the leaves he was gone. As if he just melted into the night and slid into some dark hole taking it along with him. Making it all even less visible than invisible.

The scene changed dramatically. I could see the graveyard now, dilapidated, old, forgotten and vandalized. The headstones were barely visible even though the early morning light pierced through the thick foliage like spears making some sort of voodoo motifs on the earth below. Everything was transfixed except the light.

The graves themselves were covered by wild flowers and moss.  I stood there observing the scene that lay in front of me.  For a long time I kept staring at a headstone half covered with gray green moss. It was the only one intact even though it had aged with time and had a dull decaying appearance. I tried to step a little closer to inspect but found myself rooted to the ground. I just could not move.

A bunch of wild daisies fluttered furiously at the base of its left side as if desperately wanting an escape. It was bizarre because the breeze wasn’t that strong.  The flowers held my gaze. A strange feeling of some past connection swept through me. The effort and the feeling of déjà vu were now consuming me.  I felt as if my skull was about to crack open.

Suspended between a strong desire to stay there and a stronger one to return I stood there in the midst of all that sadness that had burst into various shades and textures of green.

Why was I there and whose grave was it? I noticed that most of the other grave stones were buried under wild growth or barely visible. Some seemed ravaged, as if mauled by some animal. I suddenly remembered the hound and instantly felt a presence behind me.

I turned on an impulse and floated into a dream.

The same woman who came in my dreams, my friend, confidante and lover was standing behind me, wearing only a smile. Her left breast seductively half concealed behind the long dark tresses which she had brought forward on one side. Let us call her Luna. The familiar feeling of being at the receiving end of a torrential desire crept up between my legs.

I looked at the sky, the shadow of the moon was slipping away slowly from under the clouds.  Either the time was travelling too fast today or her eyelids had closed upon the day. Day and night seemed to have merged.  Weak with longing and fatigue I sank into her arms.  The touch of Luna’s smooth skin felt like ice on my scorched skin.  I was delirious. I remember whispering strange meaningless words to her. My face resting in the curve of her neck and her strong comforting arms wrapped around me like a blanket. It was uncanny how easily I melted and morphed into her skin and became her. Our relationship was something between friendship and love, something which I had not experienced in real life. It was fluid with no spaces in-between.

Luna had been my dream companion since time’s beginning and even though I am not a lesbian many times I found comfort in her. It wasn’t just erotic sexual relationship we shared but the bond of intimate oneness was stronger than any I had experienced. We were friends. Inseparable. When this world became too much to bear I always turned to Luna or should we say Luna was always there.  I don’t how to explain my relationship with Luna.

It surprised me to find her here in the graveyard and that too naked, why was she roaming around naked? But then I had always seen her like that. No, sometimes she wore mist but today her voluptuous body shone like an August moon in tranquil night sky.

I felt a tingling sensation tickle down my spine. A cross-road demon?

My body seemed chained to the bed and yet it felt strangely relaxed.

It took a lot of effort to open my eyes.

It was then I realized I was nude under a thin sheet carelessly thrown over me.

The kaftan I had worn lay crumpled on the floor.

My throat was parched. Somehow I dragged my body to the cabinet twisted the bottle lid and took a long drink of water. Some of the icy liquid ran down my bare neck and sizzled as it ran in rivulet between my breasts. I was still hot like flaming embers.

I manoeuvred my way through the smokiness  of the room turned the door knob of the bathroom turned the shower on and stood under the cold needle sharp jets of water. Eyes closed. I could hear voices and feel the coarseness of a bathrobe on my skin.  The water had stopped running.  The heat was returning and I was drifting again.

*****

I could not have heard her last words had I not been sitting close to her. I reached out and touched her forehead. The temperature was normal.  She was fast asleep.

I picked up my recorder and stood up. My shoulders and back ached as I tried to stretch myself. It had been a long day.  I walked up to the window and looked out at the lengthening evening shadows.  It had been strangely hot and murky day.  The tarmac on the road steamed and gave out sparks as the vehicles zipped passed on it. Something moved and caught my attention behind the cluster of trees across the road. I thought I saw a large shadow leap and slip away into the forested area.

With a swift movement I turned around. The couch was empty.

 This story is based on a dream I had some months back and which returned two days back

 

GBE 2 Week#67 Peace


Danny watched the enthusiastic joggers and wondered if he would ever be able to catch up with the pace of the park which moved with its younger regulars sweating it out profusely before returning to their air-conditioned lives. A lot of elderly too visited the park to exercise, walk or just enjoy the lighter side of the city, meet friends, inhale the fresh morning breeze from the sea and reminisce about the past to avoid the present. Children usually came on holidays or in the evenings. He had seen the way this beautiful Park had changed over the last decade.

He noticed that today also the elderly gentleman was sitting alone at his usual place aptly named “Garden of Peace” away from the hustle bustle of the main park. This section was designed in the style of a Japanese Zen garden overlooking the sea. He and his companion had spent many a glorious mornings in these tranquil surroundings laughing, talking or just sitting quietly watching the sun break through the clouds just above the eastern horizon. It was almost a fortnight now since his companion had not shown up but he was always there. Oblivious to the surroundings he watched the water lilies float in the pond or gazed at the deepening rosy glow of the sky.

Today, in his freshly ironed lavender shirt the old man had sat there for more than his usual time.

Danny wondered what had happened to the old lady. Unable to stop himself he collected his sketchbook and pencils and walked up to him.

The old man was busy observing the little yellow butterflies flirting above a row of colourful flowers.

“Aren’t they beautiful?” He said looking up. His face was that of the Buddha, calm and peaceful. “She would have loved them. I have been coming to this garden since its inception and why not, it is I who planned and designed it.” He added.

Danny saw the riot of colours in front of him and the little winged beauties fluttering over them.

“You designed this garden? How wonderful. It is beautiful” Danny looked around the serene ambience that had attracted him to this place years ago and since then he came here every morning to sketch.

“May I see your sketchbook?” He nodded and gestured Danny to sit beside him.

“Sure”.  Danny noticed that the old man’s hands trembled as he took the sketchbook.

“I used to paint at one time, now it is difficult to keep the brush steady”, he smiled at Danny.

“Really, I would love to see some of your work”. There was something about the old man that drew Danny to him.

The old man did not reply. Engrossed in the sketches he turned page after page as if looking for something and then he stopped. His slender fingers traced the patterns on the lines and curves on the paper.

Danny leaned forward to see what had caught his attention.

It was a sketch of the old couple he had made just before the lady stopped coming. They were standing next to the lily pond holding hands. Her face shaded by the summer hat and his beaming with love.

“They have sent her to an old age home. I could do nothing.” His face betrayed a glimpse of the emotional storm that was swirling inside and then seeing the puzzled look on his face he placed his soft wrinkled hand on Danny’s and winked, “She isn’t my wife. She is my first love.” A faint hue from the sun-kissed sky spread across his face.

Surprised by this sudden revelation Danny didn’t know how to react so he simply smiled.

I saw her one winter morning strolling here, talking to the birds and flowers. The morning mist had just begun to clear. I recognised her instantly but did not approach. After all these years I wondered if she would remember me.” His face shone like the sun which was now shinning in all its glory. “For some days I lingered around avoiding her eyes, quietly enjoying her presence. She evoked memories that were long since buried in some crevice of my heart.

Then one day as I bent over struggling to tie my wayward shoelace I heard a voice, “you still can’t tie shoelaces properly, can’t you?”  I looked up and there she was with a mischievous smile on her face. She held me by the shoulders and helped me stand. For a moment it seemed like a scene from a fairytale.

“You thought I may have forgotten you, didn’t you? I was wondering how long we would play hide and seek,” She laughed.

“I remember, he continued, I had laughed sheepishly and muttered something silly. Since that day we met here every day, spent some time reminiscing the good old days and then parted with a heart full of hope to meet again. We found peace and solace in each other’s being and not being. Life had been a roller coaster ride for both of us and these hours of togetherness were in which we truly lived.

We often noticed your presence and she was the first to realize that you were making a sketch of us. “

Danny’s face flushed a deep shade of pink. “You knew I was sketching both of you?” “I am sorry I did not ask for permission. Both of you looked so much a part of this garden of peace that I could not stop myself.”

“I am glad you made it.” He glanced lovingly at the sketchbook in his lap.

Danny took the sketchbook slowly pulled the page from the spiral binding and handed it to the old man.

“She will always be with you.” He smiled and he gently pressed the two trembling warm hands.

For the first time the old man’s face really showed the pain of longing and separation. A tear escaped the soft brown eyes.

“Thank you.” He said softly.

Both men sat there in solitude under the shade of the fragrant Frangipani connected only by the warmth of their hands. The ‘Garden of Peace’ watched quiescent.

This post is written for GBE 2 week #67 Peace