The Haunted Recluse

I woke up with a jerk to the sound of thunder. The room was dark and hazy. One would assume it’s either dawn or dusk. But in the place I live, it doesn’t matter. It could be 1 PM and it can still be dark. You can never predict the time of the day by looking outside. I lay on my bed looking at the various clippings on the board in the wall; various articles I had written for different magazines went on that board. The rain drummed over the roof of my house and I could hear the stream lapping. I wondered what happened to my plants in the backyard. I wanted to go out and walk along the stream. I love taking a stroll out of the cabin along the stream or sitting by it dipping my foot in the cold water or walking over the wet grass barefoot while reading a book. I once slipped and fell into the stream while reading like that. The great Austrian oak trees laughed at me. Now I can hear them rustle in the wind. I wonder if it’s just the trees. When you live alone, you always wonder if you are really alone!

I heard a beep from my laptop and looked at the study table in the corner of my room, below the work board. This board had the paper clippings and the map for my recent research. Right now, I am researching about the temples in Tamil Nadu, about the great King Raja Raja Chozhan and his history. In all my life, I have read several books about various rulers and the history of different countries and era, but I have never read a lot about the Tamil Rulers. It’s probably because I did not have a lot of interest in it. Well, until now. Tamil was not a language I chose to learn at school. I realized it’s a huge mistake when I went to these temples with my mother. Sometimes we marvel the beauty of a distant place but, fail to see what’s right under our nose. In one of the books written by Ruta Sepetys she says the history of small countries are rarely known to the world and I believe that it’s true for the State of Tamil Nadu. I think this goes for many places in India. So, I think you know what I do by now or have you at least guessed?

I heard a creak on the floor and my stomach turned to a knot. It cannot be night and it cannot be him. At least I hope it’s not him. I got off the bed, lit my cigarette and walked around my bedroom trying to understand what time of the day it is. It thundered again, like someone dropped a rock on an aluminium sheet. The colour of the lightning was blue. It was beautiful. I stood in the middle of the room with both my hands covering my ears, cigarette in my mouth. I waited for the thunder, false alarm. I stood there staring at the board I had carved and painted. It says, “History has its eye on you.” Sometimes literally, I whispered.

It’s quite beautiful around here. Mum likes it whenever she comes. We go for a trek and every now and then you can spot a deer, sometimes a leopard, if you are very lucky. Very rarely, I would like to think that I saw a unicorn. But mom says it’s just my imagination that’s running wild. But the fact that unicorns do not exist is not proven. What’s life without a little magic? Anyway, outside the cabin, there is a porch and a few meters away from the porch, we built a picnic table with the woods we chopped from the trees in the forest. Here, by we, I mean me and my high school boyfriend. He comes here every now and then too. Mum and I also built a place for the birds to come and sit. It was all mum’s idea and now I have to feed them. I walked to the kitchen to find something to eat but I do not remember stocking the kitchen with any food. A week back, I found a spider in there and from then I refuse to go back in. I take my car, drive down to the main area of the mountain where I can find some food. I will get some packed for a couple of days or buy as many fruits as I could to avoid going to the kitchen. But you know how they say, face your fears? So, today, I am going to go into the kitchen and make myself some coffee.

One year in this cabin and you might think that I should have gotten used to the spiders and other weird insects. But there are certain things that you could never get used to. Some fears that will never leave you, few memories that you can never erase and some people you can never forget. When you have seen the unbelievable, you start believing in everything you see. You wait for the unexpected to happen and you seek for a meaning in everything. You look for clues so you can protect yourself. I touched a tattoo on my wrist that has the tips of 4 swords touching each other within a circle.

I peeped into the kitchen to see if the spider was gone. I ran in to make some coffee. I put the seeds that I got from the nearest coffee plantation in the brewer and waited while I looked around for the spider. The room got colder than usual and the hair on my neck stood up. The light in the kitchen flickered and my heart beat faster. I closed my eyes to calm myself down.

‘The spider was gone long back’ I heard the chirpy voice I have been hearing from my childhood. I smiled and turned around. I laughed nervously. I think I am never going to get used to this.

‘What are you doing here?’ I asked looking at my mum who looked as lovely and divinely as she always did.

‘Well, I was getting bored. So I thought I will pay you a visit’ she smiled and looked at my cigarette. I extinguished it in the sink. ‘Sorry’ I muttered.

‘I see that you are progressing on the story of Raja Raja Chozhan’ she said looking at the bedroom.

‘Progress? Pfft… I am getting nowhere, actually’ I sighed.

‘I spoke to him. I mean, I tried’ she shrugged and laughed.

‘He was here the other night’ I told her. Like seeing ghosts from the past and the history books you read is a normal thing. Like your mum being around as a ghost is a normal thing or you talking to the air according to your friends is a normal thing. ‘He told me a few things about his early days. Like childhood… but most importantly, he began to say about his death which is a mystery according to the historians’ I flipped the pages of a book I had lent from the public library.

‘But before that, The devil was here.’ My mum gasped. I shuddered at the thought of having it in my house. It would destroy everything I had ever built; the courage, the stories in my head, my memories. It will take everything that means something to me away from me just like how it took my mother away from me.

The first time I saw it, we were on the 30th floor of our apartment in Mumbai. It was past midnight. My mother and I were chatting in my room. The room got cold, just the way it got some time back. I could sense a rotting smell. I told my mother about it but she said that I am watching a lot of horror movies. But the stench was too strong to ignore that I covered my nose. In some time, I was shivering and the glass of the sliding doors was freezing with a thin layer of ice on it. My mum was talking something to me. I could only hear her distinctively. I saw the thin ice spread to the floor. I tried to tell her but I choked. I saw a black figure with green eyes, slender arms and nails so long dragging her by her the hair and lifting her off the floor, when she tried to run away from it, she got thrown out of the balcony. It all happened so suddenly that I couldn’t understand what was happening. If I really saw a demon or if my mum just jumped off the balcony because we were talking about how our dad died. Coincidentally he died the same way. That night I packed my bags and left to our family cabin which is where I live now.

‘You do know that there is no devil, right?’ My mom scoffed. I lifted my eyebrows and looked at her.

‘What do you mean?’

‘You killed me and then you told the rest of the world that I jumped off the balcony’ she hissed. ‘And now you are making up some ghost story to cover your arse’

‘I did not do that’ I told her. Suddenly she was swearing and she never swears infront of me. She sounded condescending and was trying to intimidate me. My mother would never do that.

‘You did. Look at yourself in the mirror and see how different you look. Pixie cut, piercing in the eyebrows, you look like a punk! Like a low-life!’ She guffawed.

‘I do not look like a punk or a low-life’ I tried to turn away from her but how do you turn away from a ghost. This lovely mother of mine, she stood in front of me and laughed. ‘You killed me and ran off to this mountain. You are a sad novelist, columnist. Oh! How the world loves your stories.’ She said it theatrically. ‘But in reality you are only a mirage. Once you stop writing people will stop remembering you. Once you leave this place, you will start killing people. Remember what happened to that high school boyfriend of yours? Oh! The poor little fellow rammed right into a truck on the way to seeing you. Everyone around you, will die.’ she laughed with a roar.

‘You are not my mother.’ I looked at the windows and saw the thin sheet of ice.

‘You are destined to be alone, Tanya. Alone!’ the devil said hoarsely and smiled at me. His evil grin turning upwards as he came closer to me.

I touched the tattoo that I had gotten only my shoulder to keep the evil spirits away from me.

‘You think a stupid tattoo will help you? Will keep me away from you?’ The devil laughed again.

“Leave me alone. Leave me alone’ I screamed, closing my eyes and holding strands of my hair in my fist. ‘Never’ I heard a whisper in my ears. And then there was silence like the world had come to a standstill. I opened my eyes still shivering, tears blurring my vision. And then I smelt lavender and I know she was around. She is the sole reason why I am alone in this cabin. So I could live with her in some form. So I could talk out loud and not get weird looks. The rest of the world doesn’t matter. Well, the rest of this world doesn’t matter! I closed my eyes and sighed as I wiped the tears from my eyes and cheeks.

I walked outside the cabin with the cup of coffee in my hand and a cigarette. The rain had taken a break and the fresh smell of nature, wet trees, and grasses, the sound of the stream hitting the rocks and lapping, the clinking sound of the tiny bells from the dream catcher wind chime that I had on the porch, gave me a sense of relief. It reminded me of the reason why I moved to this cabin in first place. I sat on a rock by the stream looking at the dark rain clouds passing by. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath when I smelled it, the stench of rotten meat.

 

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