I was on my way back home in Pune from my friend’s farm house through the hilly terrains of Mahabaleshwar. I just had hit the slope that after some half an hour of speedy drive I heard the severe knocking of the car engine, which eventually ended up in final crashing of the engine forcing me to take a halt. My first reflex immediately prompted me to check my mobile phone which, all thanks to the Ghats, had zero network coverage followed closely by my inhibitions whispering,
“Boy, today’s gonna be a long night.”
I already was tired as I drove all the way from Pune to Mahabaleshwar in the morning to reach the friend’s place. The whole day was occupied by the brainstorming on do’s and don’ts of a business deal giving us time only to dine and then disperse. The non conclusive end also added onto the frustration of the hectic day, making me to opt to go home and at least have a worthy sleep there. But going by the spooky present scenario, sleeping in the car seemed the only possible option for me. I, following the tradition, came out and performed a formal checkup of the engine, which still had traces of smoke gushing out from it.
The inspection went as known.
I closed the bonnet and looked around; the whole road was empty, walled evenly by dense trees on both the side. The entire road was wrapped in the dark shroud of silence, with absolutely no mobile activity happening by anything living or dead.
I waited for some time for any kind of help to arrive, but bad luck kept crawling with me. After waiting for long, I finally decided to seek the invisible help doors and walked a little in pursuit of the same. After walking for some 15-20 mins, I surpassed my bad luck and fortunately spotted a lone hotel, standing there in nowhere. Suddenly the dead flowers of hope, received a ray of hope. I hastened up and headed towards the hotel, hurrying before my bad luck catches back again.
As I arrived, the sight of the place made me reconsider my options of going in and acquiring help. The Raahgeer hotel, as the board claimed, was the name of that dilapidated building, which seemed outcasted in all forms of boycotting by everyone, especially the owner of the hotel. It looked as if the structure hasn’t received any concerns of any sort since its inception, which was maybe centuries back. The wooden stairs which led to the main entrance of the hotel were either broken or had long dendritic crevices all along, all ready to collapse and defeat their purpose at a slight weight. While most of the steps were disreputable, a few which succeeded in retaining the “shape” of the stairs were heavily moistened up and covered evenly with uneven growth of fungi and algae. The whole building was under the seizing cover of growing weeds, creepers and dandelions from all the sides, crawling all the way up to its roof. The only light source, the white tube light above the hotel board, was also partially covered by the creepers and flickered occasionally like a camera flash. The entire wild outgrowth proudly declared its territorial dominance over the place, with no one to challenge their proclaim. The house walls, visible doors and windows showed a surrendering post-scream signs of decay out of neglect. The moon, too, casted a ghoulish effect on the ambience, painting every expression of everything into a single monotonous gothic mood. The location, the set up, the light, the building type was enough to freak out the bravest in me. I again looked back at my mobile, still no network. I also looked around and waited for a while hoping to get some luck outside, but NO. I think my wait gave my bad luck the extra leverage to catch up again. With no option left, I decided to move in and face what’s in there for me.
Each step warned me of collapsing by itseerie creaking noise. The plywood door did not give way easier, a forceful push was needed. I moved inside, by first trying and then later pushing forcefully to open the jammed netted door outside and reached the obviously vacant reception. I tapped the reception bell thrice at regular intervals hoping someone to pop up. On the third ring a stout, double chinned man came scratching his head and belly simultaneously with his left and right hand, with heavily drowsy wrinkled eyes. He somehow crawled out through the door, which just fit him, like his vest which was clearly not washed for months.
“What is wrong with you, why are you making so much noise, what do you want ehh?” were the polite greetings I received, as soon as his eyes restored vision. I replied, “My car broke down nearby; Can I get some sort of help?”
“Do I look like a mechanic to you, is this the reason you made such a chaos at this time of the day. Are you out of your mind?” he replied in an irritatingly casual way, maybe cause of his sleep.
“This is a hotel. I could only provide you rooms to stay, if you want, or else leave and let me sleep” were the last few words I could catch before he went in murmurs.
I wanted to retort to that pig, which talked exactly like his body odor, but owing to my situation, I refrained myself by just asking “Can I make a call?” to which he, avoiding me said, “The line is dead.” I, taking a deep breath with grinding teeth, asked for a room for the night. He frowningly said in a single breath, “Single bed 2000 rupees for the night, check out by 12 pm in the noon,” raising a finger at me to make his point clear.
I said, “I only need to spend a night, aren’t there any economical rooms than this” defeating the cause of his pointing a finger at me. At this he made a face as if I have raped his daughter, and said, “This is the tariff, do you want it, yes or no?”
I disgustingly said,“OK” to which he immediatelyextended his hand saying, “Money in advance.” I gave him the cash; he counted it like the villains from any 90,s C-grade bollywood movie. Once done, he took a key from his locker and led me to my room for the night in one corner on the ground floor. He unlocked the door and without even opening the door, said, “12 pm sharp or else 200 per extra hour” and left. I criticized myself for choosing to move tonight and moved in. As soon as I opened the creaking door, a musty, dank odor crept into my nose. Owing to the perceived preface, I was not expecting anything greatfrom the room, but the conditions within were even below the non expecting level. There was a lone bed in the room, with a mosquito net cover over it. The net resembled a giant translucent cobweb, not washed in ages, in the center of the room with a small wooden table and a rocking chair near the head side.
As soon as I closed the door, the chair started rocking on its own.
I turned and reached the chair, examined the space and stopped the chair. Dust swirled around the room as I made my way inside. The medicine cabinet mirror lay shattered in pieces on the floor tile. Empty medicine bottles lay in the stained porcelain sink at one corner of the room. The only sound to be heard was the drip, drip of the faucet. A closer look revealed the discoloration of the water, a brownish concoction. A family of mice ran throughout the floor, declaring it as their territory. Cobwebs covered every corner of the room with tiny black spiders threading towards their prey. Black and brown mold dotted the ceiling in clusters, evident of rain seeping through the roof. Thankfully it was not raining today. Windows were covered with layers of grime and dirt. The calm moonlight struggled to penetrate the darkness in thin thread rays. The sofa and chair grooves on the ground showed that they once sat here. Wallpaper and Picture frames hanged off-centered. Crayon markings scrambled upon the wall almost everywhere. The carpet squished as I walked. I clearly knew that this place never had a visitor in near past or maybe future.
Ignoring all I made my way to the bed, keeping off my belongings on the side table. And just before lying down, I thought I’ll go pee and then finally sleep. With this thought, I also got to know that there was no attached toilet in the room. I very clearly knew that calling off the manager will not be a good decision; hence I opened the door and went outside in the doomed corridor. I looked across the corridor but there was no sign of existence of toilet anywhere. I tried finding it a bit, but the whole place was as dead and silent as the people, if any, in here. I fortunately found a flower pot in the corridor and I exactly knew how to use it and return the favor to this place and its grumpy manager.
I quickly crawled into my bed tucking in properly the cobwebbed mosquito net, avoiding any thoughts of a twisted head person crawling down and having me for dinner. I summoned strength, closed my eyes and tried to sleep. I ensured that the light of the room was kept on as I didn’t like the darkness to cast the spell of unknown at a place like this. Also the mosquito net was filthy enough to make it translucent and make me sleep. Within some 2-3 minutes of my lying down, I heard the rocking sound of the chair, again. I took my time, with my eyes closed, to ensure the sound and with a momentary lapse opened the eyes immediately.
But no, the chair was there as still as the dirt on the floor. My skepticism made me tolook around and make myself clear on the situation before going back into the net. While I was still awake contemplating on what just happened; I saw the crayon scribbling on the wall move. I immediately removed the net and came out. But as soon as I got out, all went exactly as before. This time I felt a little paranoid. I immediately got up, inspected the whole room and its belongings one by one, came back and sat erect on the edge of my bed. I thought whether there is something seriously wrong with this place or I am extremely tired to cook up stories like this. And the latter reason correlated more with logic. While I was still in my thoughts, trying to boost up my confidence I saw a shadow moving across the wall. I immediately turned to look around, shouting…ooyee out of reflex from my already shaken self. I saw a spider hanging in front of the bulb. I irritatingly said “Enough is enough; I could not be like this. There is nothing out here. Why am I getting so feared?” I got hold of my thumping blood pressure again and consoled and convinced myself that there is nothing in here and went back to bed.
Within some 2-3 mins of restless switching the sides, I felt that someone is now standing near my head. I said FUCK IT, in my head and kept lying with closed eyes.
After sometime I could hear the rocking sound of chair again.
I still kept my eyes closed and laid.
After some time, it felt as if someone was encircling my bed by dragging its feet.
I still kept my eyes closedand laid.
With time, the sound of footsteps combined with the rocking sound of chair could be heard very clearly. Though my heart was pounding like the wings of a butterfly, still I convinced myself to take this as imaginations of a tired brain. The feeling turned sound turned noise increased with every passing moment.
It increased and increased and then suddenly a hand crawled in my mosquito net and clenched my fist.
I screamed. I screamed so hard, that if my friend in Mahabaleshwar were to be awake, he could have clearly heard me screaming. And I didn’t stop; I screamed and screamed until the manager along with his attendant came to receive me. He super annoyingly said, “Now what happened to you?” I still trying to get hold of my life and words only uttered GHOST…GHOST!!
To which even the always frowning manager smiled and said, “What did you smoke before entering this hotel. Why I always get customers like you. Go to bed Mister, there is no ghost in my hotel. Try not imagining stuff.” He spoke with such conviction that for once even my frozen spine started relaxing, thinking, I must have imagined cause of the ambience’s and my state.
The attendant passed me a bottle of water to drink, while his manager was still uttering some nonsense.
All was normalizing quickly when the attendant pointed out towards my fist,
which had deep red blood finger marks on it as if someone had clenched it tightly!!