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.”

Book Release, Interview And Other Milestones


So much has been happening lately that I have lost count of things I needed to share with my readers though most of those who follow me on other social channels must be getting the micro updates.
I gave in to the temptation and joined Instagram. It is overwhelming and though a great platform I need to nip that desire to make it a focal point of living. Those of you who are there can follow me  @tikulli 

Can’t believe I have already shared more than 120 posts there. 😀

Now to the Good news that has kept me busy and happy.

My elder son Aditya is getting married to his lovely girl friend Snigdha. I don’t know how to explain the feeling of happiness. It is a new chapter in their lives and ours. As the big day gets closer I am becoming very nostalgic and emotional. (Not that I am not that most of the time lol)

I wish them friendship, love and joy. And Peace. I know I tried to do my best as a parent and I hope he starts now on a new note leaving behind the grief, sorrow and grudges of the past. Cherish the bond we share.

Sharing a box of rich dark ganache, dark chocolate from Fabelle chocolate boutique, ITC Maurya Sheraton. This delicious chocolate is made with exquisite Ghana Cocoa. I went there recently and got blown over by the range. Post coming up soon.

Now to writing and other things.

In July poet-editor-academe Seb Doubinsky featured me on TABAGO, his wonderful international page for writers. A great honor for me to share a platform with some of the finest writers.

“I think both fiction and poetry are socially relevant projects just like any other art, a form of protest.”

Let stories be told, poems be written and songs be sung without fear. Let there be tolerance, compassion and love for all. We are living in difficult times and there is a dire need for change for the good of future generations. 70 years of Independence mean nothing if we still live in fear, if human lives do not matter. Violence, apathy, intolerance, bigotry needs to go.

Here is the link to the interview.  TIKULI DOGRA  

Another fantastic new is selection of my short story in ‘Silence is White’ an exceptional anthology dedicated to my dear friend, author, editor, academe, Seb Doubinsky. Kudos to  Chris Kelso and James Goddard for making this happen and Manu Rich for the brilliant cover.  I am the only Indian writer in the anthology and very proud to be included. Thank you James for putting the soul in my story. Releasing Date – October, 19th. You can pre order the book here. Soon it will be available here too.

 

 

I have a very important announcement coming up in a few days. Stay tuned. 🙂 

Meanwhile, my blog has been nominated in five categories for Indian Blogger Awards. Even non bloggers can leave a comment through Facebook. If you enjoy my writing, photographs etc do leave a testimonial by clicking on the given link.  #IBA2017 

Show some love by leaving a comment here.  You can even click on the right side bar widget to reach the page. Indiblogger completed a decade this year and I have nine years of wonderful association with them as a blogger. A great platform to be part of.

In nine years of blogging with WordPress I have now 2,700+ followers and 704,608 blog hits.

The blog was listed in Top Blogs of India for the sixth consecutive year. This year was the seventh edition of the Directory of best Indian blogs. A great milestone for me. Thank you for being part of my journey.

We blog, therefore we are.  

Keep reading and do leave your comments on the posts so that I know your views.

Thank you for all the love and support. Blogging with WordPress has been a very satisfying journey. The stats show the encouragement I get from all of you. Stay connected.

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.

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. 

My Poems In ZAPOROGUE 11


The new year started with this fantastic news.  I feel honored and over the moon to be part of this illustrious literary magazine.  You can download it for free   LE ZAPOROGUE 11    or buy a paperback  LE ZAPOROGUE 11

The magazine has some  great literary works by some of my friends who are brilliant writers  ( Matthew Bialer  , he is an amazing photographer too among other things. Check his FB Profile   and Maree Scarlett  , the gorgeous poetess from Sydney )  and other very talented authors.

Last year when SEB DOUBINSKY,  a friend and author of  GOOD BYE BABYLON (Black Coffee Press), asked me if  I would like my poems to be published in his literary zine.  I was thrilled to say the least.  For a moment it seemed like I have hit a jackpot and I eagerly said, “Yes, I do. I do.”  It came as a best new year gift to me. 🙂

Seb is a professor of literature in Aarhus, Denmark, a published literary critic and an acclaimed poet with a great eye, a sense of mission and a kind heart. You can see the passion with which he brings out this amazing magazine. Do  read.

Thank you Seb for showcasing my work. For a learner there can’t be anything so  heart warming than this. 

You can view the Author’s Spotlight  HERE