The Sinister Shadow

Finally, we were in Mumbai to appear the Army entrance exam. I got down checking if we had left anything on the seat and Rudy was as elated seeing the new place trusting her luggage with the friendly driver. I kept wondering why was he all smiles! The place seemed to have many lodges and they were quite colourful which made me feel a little brighter knowing Mumbai is generally horrible during the rains; humid and clogged roads.

The way to the god forsaken ‘affordable’ hotel was so far from the airport, I slept off in the taxi. My athlete friend Rudy gave me a nudge when we got there. I was holding my bag to my chest and slowly opened my eyes regretting that I didn’t see the approach road. Knowing her well, I knew she would have just looked out for places to hang out in the evening.

It was dusk already and getting dark soon. I wanted to check the rooms before the sun went down but we were a tad bit late for that. I went to freshen up and to my surprise, surely not so pleasant one Rudy chose a room already and it was a duplex.

long stairs in the dark

The ominous staircase with the sweeping shadow above.

The sun was down. Electricity off. Rain was pouring cats and dogs. The hotel looked scary with the dark staircase inside the duplex. No lights. The dim night lamp probably lit up on uninterrupted power supply (UPS) showed it was a big duplex. It was creaky and had poor latches. Nothing made it look welcoming except for Rudy’s excitement for the suddenly found freedom to wear anything, do anything, watch anything. She liked TV.

My train of thoughts came to a halt when I heard her shout, “Torquee! Come, let’s watch TV while the guy gets dinner for us!” I wondered what’s the point in supplying power to the TV instead of a bulb in the room! I turned around to ask the guy and hello! There was no one behind me. May be I was too preoccupied and cynical to notice him leave. Only thing I noticed now was the six guards outside in uniform peering into the glass door which was trembling in the wind. They all looked away simultaneously to avoid my eye. Why so many guards right in front of our room! The guards were in khaki coloured uniform and they scurried away like squirrels. I don’t know why I was feeling something was fishy about this whole thing of the smiling driver, this cheap hotel, the number of security guards, no lights, heavy rains and that idiot box with the glaring volume!

Feeling so uncanny and with this fear of the unknown place & no lights, I started climbing up the staircase. Rudy was already up & raised the volume of TV. It was some serial with a psycho killer enjoying in a wild party. The noise of TV was making me uncomfortable and feel irresponsible too as far as security was concerned. We were two young girls, checked in in an unknown lodge & in a new city. No checking of the room for hidden cameras, any lurking killer / kidnapper / or just anything under the sky! We should not have let the housekeeper guy leave without ascertaining the room was okay… Well, I couldn’t bother Rudy with these, the free bird she is, at least let her enjoy while I go around & check if all the windows were closed. The place didn’t look quite secure to me against heavy rains. Alright, as if this wasn’t enough the grandfather clock just started the ‘dongs’ behind my back & I almost shrieked into stunned silence. It was nine pm.

Suddenly, laughing out loud Rudy showed up above the staircase in her shorts & her favourite Coast Guard T shirt and said, “Don’t tell me you got scared!” and started walking down the stairs. I let that go unanswered and just looked towards the bathroom. God! Why can this girl not be a little conservative with her dressing in an unknown place! I just thought of checking the hygiene and heaved a sigh of relief that it didn’t turn out to be such a disappointment after all. Noticed a dim night lamp in there with a tap that trickled water in a narrow but constant stream. I just smiled, not sure if she could see it.

After helplessly trying to look around in the pitch dark I thought of taking bath. Seeing Rudy so relaxed I thought to myself may be I am worrying too much. Tomorrow was a big day and we both had to be fresh. I had started feeling tired already and thought of giving my mind some rest.

I took out my towel and went to that dimly lit bathroom. Without delaying I sat under the tap and let that trickling water flow down my neck but as I turned on the tap, I realised I left the bathroom door open! Well, on second thought I saw I left it like that coz it had no latch. Just as this realisation of the absence of the door latch struck me a sudden chill went down my spine. The front door had a loose latch too! I had never felt something so ominous in my life. I was sitting kneeling down under the tap and I lost balance. My body touched a chilly wall. And, the shower started on its own and the light went off.

TV playing in the dark room

The psycho killer serial being aired with the shrilly climax music.

Beside me, in the bathroom there was this partition of cemented wall measuring up to my ribs (if I were standing) that supported me. I had this weird feeling of presence of a dead body lying with open arms across the cemented partition & started imagining these visions of bloody water over flowing from that tank. I couldn’t sum up courage to feel inside that dark tank and somehow threw that towel across the front of my body and ran out calling for Rudy. I couldn’t find her anywhere. The god damned TV was still on at it’s glaring volume and the shrilly climax music was being played. The psycho was at another victim’s throat. Damn! Where was Rudy! I was scared.

I ran out on the slippery floor as my feet were wet. I saw the front door open. I came to an halt just as I stepped outside the door realising I was barely covering myself in the towel. I shouted out loud, “Rudy! Are you outside? Please come here at once.” I heard nothing except the swooshing wind blowing through the leaves of trees in front of me. I turned my head to look for her only to notice yet another long staircase on the right. How did I not notice this while entering the house! This thought was abruptly brushed aside when I saw a figure at the top of it. It was a human figure, and I presumed it’s Rudy. I was astonished at her sense of fun with a white dupatta (a light rectangular fabric used by women in India as a part of their traditional dress) flowing in the wind & it was looking down at me. I called out, “What in the world are you doing there?! And what’s with that dupatta!? Come here at once! There’s something wrong with this house.”

There was no answer; the figure that kept staring at me in the dark tilted her head as if she didn’t like what I uttered. The sounds from the TV inside stopped all of a sudden & the door shut behind me. Rudy answered making fun of me from BELOW! I froze. I heard a swooshing sound and the figure headed speedily right at my face gliding down towards me without any feet…

'ikat' work on dupatta

‘dupatta’ is a long scarf like fabric that Indian women over their shoulder on a dress

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