Story 8: Lord of the Rings
It was a moonless night in the month of March when the Hebbars were awakened by an eerie sound. The first to hear it was Aishwarya. She leapt out of bed and rushed to granny’s room.
“Pati!!” the 6-year-old sobbed, clinging to the old lady’s sari. “There is a bhoot in the house…”
The commotion had woken up the little girl’s parents by now.
“What? Ghost? What books are you reading before you sleep, magu,” admonished her mother.
She was quite tired with the exertions of the day. Cooking was an endless activity… and more so during this season. One day there was a ton of raw mango to be pickled, another day a mountain of coconuts to make chutney with. Tomorrow, there would be some guests at lunchtime.
“You go back to sleep,” said Pati, with a wave of her hand. “Aishu will sleep with me today.”
At that very moment, the shrill laughter of a child filled the humid night air. A chill ran down Mrs Hebbar’s spine. This was not someone’s overactive imagination. This, was real.
The sound grew louder and shriller. It was not inside the house, though.
“Let me find out what this is,” said Mr Hebbar, with convincing bravado. At the door, he picked up a lathi, which once belonged to his father. His sweaty palms made it difficult to get a grip….
It was a sprawling property – a bungalow with typical red Mangalore tiles, a large garden and a small plantation. This was where Prakash had grown up, he knew it like the back of his hand.
But that night, everything seemed different. As he made his way around the perimeter, Prakash almost expected to bump into a ghostly apparition. The combined effect of all the horror films he had seen – to hold hands with various girls in college – came rushing into his brain. In full technicolour and Dolby stereo sound.
The eerie laughter started once again, mocking the fully-grown man. Prakash followed the high-pitched sound until he found himself near a coconut tree. This was where the sinister chortling was coming from. Of that, he was quite sure. He stood there for some time, breathing heavily. But the ‘bhoot’ had decided to call it a day.
Nobody slept that night, of course. Ordinarily, Mrs Hebbar would have been busy all morning, preparing a feast. But today, she hastily prepared a simple bisi bele baath. Right away, her aunt and uncle knew ‘something is wrong’. Reluctantly, Prakash related the incident, wondering if it was at all believable…
“Such a small thing,” said kaka, “Here, call this fellow and he will solve your problem.”
A few hours later, a man with a long beard, flowing locks and a mala of plastic skulls arrived. He circled the tree, muttering something to himself. Then, he threw some cowrie shells.
“I knew it! A spirit is trapped in the tree… don’t worry. I have handled hundreds of such cases.”
Naturally, this handling came at a cost. After brisk negotiations, the exorcist agreed to perform a ceremony to get rid of the spirit. For just 25,000 rupees.
The sun had just set, night was falling, when all of a sudden, they were startled out of their skin. The eerie sound of a child, laughing like a banshee. Deva, when will this nightmare end!
As they huddled inside the house, a wiry young man entered the compound and headed straight for the tree. He clambered up like a monkey and slithered down a few minutes later. With a plastic pouch in hand and a wide grin on his face.
“Sister,” he said. “When I came to remove your coconuts the other day, I left my mobile up there! Every night I am calling, calling, but no reply….”
Story Photo Credits – James Sutton