It was still dark. I looked out. The entire Ashram was under the gray blanket of fog. I looked at the watch. It was 3:10am in the morning. It’s still an hour for the morning wake up bells. It was day two for me in the ashram. My entire room was filled with snores of my roommate, yet irrespective of the snoring, there was a chilling calmness in the ambiance. There were peace and stagnancy both existing in the moment. But I knew it was not the snoring. ‘Damn this habit of late sleeping.’ No matter how much I tried, a fucked up biological clock cannot be changed in a day.
This was what I tried explaining myself. But from within I knew it was not the habit, it was that incident.
I opened the window and looked out. The visibility was extremely low. There was a constant ding-a-ling sound of the bells, from the far off Golden Pagoda, blended perfectly with the swiftly blowing fog. If one tried focusing, it had the powers to cast a hypnotic effect on anyone. The ashram was on a hill amidst a jungle. And unfortunately it was raining since the day I moved in. There was a small bulb in front of my cottage, whose illumination made a ‘V’ because of the hindrance from the extended side walls of the cottage. The yellow beams struggled to mark its presence and faded quickly in the dense resistance offered. There was a small cluster of trees, across the road, which was visible only because I knew that they were there. The mild blowing winds ensured that it’s cold and misty both. I turned towards my roommate, who was busy sleeping. I battled a little and tried sleeping myself. But every time, I closed my eye, that shadow, the face, that slippery pool of blood will haunt my blocked sight.
I cannot sleep.
After switching sides and failing to close my eyes for a couple of times, I looked at the clock again. It was 3:25am. AAhhh time; it never passes when it’s supposed to. I got up and looked out. Nothing has changed outside. I tried reaching out for my water bottle in the dark. It was empty.
‘I’ll go and fill it up. Some utilization of time I’ll do.’
I got up; picked up my bottle, room keys, an umbrella and a torch. I locked the room from outside and started walking. The ashram had a common water cooler; a little away from my room. It was much colder than I thought it would be. The first few steps and I were completely out from the faint yellowish beam of the bulb. Visibility was so low that if I stretched my hand, it was difficult to see the palm in front.
The torch was lit, but it also succumbed like the bulb. The whole atmosphere was damp and musty. The entire environment was grayish black. I could feel the freshly wet ground, in spite of the slippers. The air was cold, thin and light. The chillness, with every inhale and exhale, and darkness ensured that the senses are active and alert always. I kept walking with whatever visibility I had.
And then, out of nowhere, I heard the sound of footsteps amidst the mild drizzling sound of rain.
I got Goosebumps and my senses went into their most alert state. With my eye balls moving from one corner of the eye socket to other, I hastened up my steps. And as I hastened, even the footsteps hastened.
It’s him. He has found me.
I speeded up. Even he speeded up.
I speeded up even more. Even he speeded up more.
In spite of me being virtually blind, I literally ran maintaining the walking stance. The sound ensured that even he was doing the same. But then suddenly I stopped and turned.
I don’t know what went through me, but I just turned, flashing my torch light through that dense mesh of fog in front. My heart was pounding heavily, ready to jump out of the socket. I think I was sweating. In spite of all fear and drama, I waited. I waited there for a while to cross check. Nope. There was nobody. It’s my over-frightened mind which is playing with me. I checked thoroughly, ruling out the possibility of any man, leave alone that shadow. After standing there for a while, I turned and started walking back again.
Another 7-8 step and the footsteps emerged back again.
I have to rush. And this time, no matter what I am not turning back. I hastened up and reached the Golden Pagoda. That place of Ashram was relatively well lit. At least now I don’t need my torch. The mysterious sound of footsteps was gone and was replaced again with hypnotic ding-a-ling of pagoda bells. I scanned around to ensure.
I went, filled the water bottle and sat on the rock nearby. The water cooler was near the big Golden Pagoda. It was the topmost point of the Ashram. And as it was the topmost point, it was relatively breezier than the rest of the ashram. I knew within 10-15mins the entire ashram will be awake. I just needed some lone time, to stabilize my hay wired senses. And the ambiance helped me to do so. The place was quiet, peaceful and chilly. Though there was silence outside there was extreme chaos within, especially because of those mysterious footsteps. Sitting there on the rock, those footsteps reminded me of everything. Everything I was trying to escape from. The scene unfolded in front of me piece by piece by piece.
That night when I was awakened by that shrill scream. I knew it was Asif’s.
I knew I should run up to check. But no, something extremely weird in me resisted going up and checking. It was exactly the same time as now. Somewhere around 3:30 to 4am. It was dark; the house was as dark as the intentions of that shadow killer. But no matter what prompted from within, I got up to check. I almost ran upstairs and just before reaching Asif’s room, slipped and fell. It was then I realized the pool of blood in which I just fell into. I got up and darted for Asif’s room. The light was off but still I could see him, the body. The dead smashed body of Asif Shaikh lying there on his bed. The lights were off yet the road light seeped in through the curtains and ensured that Asif was now just a body, a dead body for the world. The blood was still dripping from his body and now reached my already blood soaked pants and legs. I didn’t know what to do. As soon as I tried reaching for the switch board, the house was filled with another painful scream. This scream was of Shaiwal’s, my another housemate.
I ran, fully aware of what I was about to witness. The fear and panic made me forget that there was a huge pool of blood beneath, and the fact that blood is slippery, super slippery. As I rushed, I slipped and rolled down the stairs like a tumbler getting soaked in blood from top to bottom. This all happened so quickly that I couldn’t register what happened to Shaiwal in his room. But no matter how ephemeral this moment was, the over active senses caught the glimpse of blood seeping out from the gap under his closed door.
I was scared, dead scared. Plus this fall from the stairs made me lie down, lie down like those two unfortunate bodies up there. The darkness, the blood, the pain because of the fall, the sight of Asif’s body they all made me numb. I didn’t know whether to run for my life or shout and run for the murderer upstairs. I also was aware of the fact that now both of my friends – Shaiwal and Asif are no more. Malay is back home, and it’s only me in the house, along with that murderer.
While still lying numb and rock solid, soaked in blood on the ground floor, I saw him.
I saw him, that man, that killer, that shadow. I tried moving, but no, I couldn’t. I tried hard but no. The shadow contrary to me stepped down calmly. He was in full control of his movement and was looking at me. The little light from outside made the silhouette of his body but didn’t lit his face. He took one step at a time, all calm and composed. He was holding a wooden log, which he dragged onto every step. The screeching sound told me that the log had nails at its end. I immediately could imagine the pain that my friends might have felt during the blow. NO. I cannot die like this. Mustering all my courage, I stood up, opened the door and ran outside. As I ran, the shadow increased his speed and ran after me. And me, like a scared kid, ran on the streets of my society, screaming and howling for life, to my utmost capacity.
I couldn’t see him; I just caught a vague glimpse of how he looked. I think if he ever came in front, I might recognize him. While I was absorbed in my tragic nostalgia, I noticed a man; the mysterious footstep bearer, I guess, emerging from the fog from somewhere.
Relax. He is just another ashram mate. No need to panic always. I sat and focused on breathing to neutralize the inculcated fear. But no matter how much I tried the fear asked me to turn and have a check on him constantly. I noticed, with the corner of my eye that he came and sat on the next rock piece, some 2-3 meters away from me. It was because of the series of street lamps and the wind that I was able to see him partially. I consciously tired registering what he is up to, clarifying and negating any thought germinated in my mind. And as I turned to look at him, I noticed that he, like a synched robot, turned to look at me exactly at the same moment. I felt a little awkward but was shocked more when I looked. The same clothes, the same height, the same body type. My god, is that him?
No, no he can’t be him. Take it easy, I tried consoling myself. But no matter how much I tried the fear, the recent throwback of events and above all the body……aaa hh hh.
I got up. I got up but remained standing there. And as I turned to look again, even he got up. But unlike me he started walking; walking towards me. And then I noticed the log, the same wooden log in his hand exactly like the shadow killer. It’s him. It’s surely him. But this time, I am not going to run. I’ll stand and face him. He is what a human only….blah…blah…blah.
While I struggled to firm my swaying courage, the man started running, running at me. I got ready. This is the moment. ‘If you did what you did to my friends; I’ll fucking hit you, at least once, for sure.’
The man hastened up, he ran and ran. And with every step of his, the visibility became more and more clear. The perspiration and heartbeats were escalated exponentially. And as he was about to reach me, he rose up his wooden log and charged at me with full vigor. And just before making his bow, he, like a puff of smoke, disappeared magically in the fog.
But just before disappearing, the visibility gave way to reality. I saw the face. I saw that it was nobody else but ME. The shadow was me, the killer was me. My legs gave up and I stumbled on the ground. Lying there, on that cold and damp ground, I just wondered……Why…..Why did I kill my friends?