There are always two sides of a coin. Each face has its own connotation. Whether in the tranquility of hours of darkness or in the luminescence of daylight, state of play perceives it differently. But are they really different? Logic would say, “No” they are the same but seldom reality claims it to be different.
Where the understanding of natural logical argument ends comprehension of a supernatural knowledge begins. Not every observable fact is so natural that could be explained with scientific reasoning because certain phenomena are paranormal too. They who stumble upon such inexplicable occurrence will always disagree to any reasoning. They who haven’t experienced any such occurrence will always think the other person as imprudent and ridiculous.
But do such things exist?
The impending story is a creation of imagination and has no relevance to any factual or real life instance. Any resemblance to the same with fact related to any person, dead or alive is purely coincidental.
All views expressed in the story are author’s personal. Names of individuals and places used in the story are fictitious.
The author does not intend to hurt anyone’s feelings and emotion or disrepute anyone’s sentiment. Nor wish to humiliate in any manner any person or any class or section of the society. The author neither wishes to incite any communal prejudice or ill feeling towards other community.
This is only a point of view which the author wishes to share with everyone.
The Chronicle of the Solitary Cottage
The serenity of old bungalows in the tea garden is spellbinding. These are all usually tall, strong and majestic, mostly constructed during the Britisher’s colonialism in India. These bungalows stand to speak for their denizens. Stood upon tall pillars, long glass windows, spread over lanai, slanting gable, upright staircases all combines to describe that its dwellers in times of yore were sturdy, blue-blooded, pompous and egoistic too. Most of these bungalows are dwelled in even these days. But few are left unlived-in too.
One such unoccupied heritage Cottage wedged the pinnacle of hysteria. It is situated on a hilltop terrain surrounded by tea bushes all around and far afield. The road leading to the bungalow is kept clean even today and the trees on both the sides provide it with the shade of tranquility along with the feel of eerie as well. The aging bungalow stood melancholically as a reminder of a nostalgic enigma. The Tea Garden owner nevertheless is maintaining the bungalow as aristocratically as possible, conceivably as a souvenir of past.
The garden workers or their young naughty broods never infringed into its encompassing territory. Not even in its fruit garden. Even when the fruit bearing trees would be loaded with ripened fruit these were left untouched and allowed to drop on the ground and decompose. Monthly once a whole lot of fifteen-twenty workers would enter the compound, clean the premises, carries out dusting of the rooms and furnishings, repair electrical installations or water supplies. By afternoon the whole hoi polloi would complete their job and come out together, close the gate and lock it from outside. At night there was no need for any chowkidaars as no one would enter in.
One fine day a group of five overseas nationals visited the Estate. Two of them were males while other three were females. They were all professional adventurers and travelers and keep visiting around the globe. All of them were matured, rational and cogent. The Manager was on leave and his Deputy was officiating. The Deputy had prior intimation of their visit. The scenic beauty of the garden habitually attracts au courant visitors from within the country and abroad. And this was normal in that garden. Mostly these visits were pertaining to business of buying teas but visitors habitually request for a tour around the garden premise. There were certain spots within the estate where one could see herd of wild animals naturally grazing making the milieu picturesque. But this particular visit had nothing to do with any business prospect.
“Hallo! I’m Karan Bhandari, Acting Manager.”
“Hallo! I’m Oliver. I’m a Geo-Researcher by profession. Meet my other teammates. …Lucas.”
“Lucas is a computer buff and electronic aficionado. …Amelia is a professional photographer.”
“…Sophie, she is a theorist, a truth seeker.’’
“Evie is a Doctor.”
Entertaining visitors is another way of marketing a Tea Estate’s repute. Moreover, Indians are habitually fascinated by the sight of foreigners and sets out overboard to entertain them. The Acting Manager deputed one of the executives to escort them around the garden. The hospitable executive took them round to every picturesque corner of the garden and locations of historical connotation.
Meanwhile, Karan Bhandari rang up his principal to inform the arrival of the foreign guest.
“The visitors have arrived sir.”
“Look after them well. Although they aren’t significant from the business point of view, however their contentment to our cordiality will matter a lot.”
“I’ll do everything necessary…but.”
“Are we doing the right thing by putting them up in the heritage bungalow?”
“Where else could we do? Had it been twosome or three, I would have asked you to put them up in the Bara Bungalow guest room.”
“Or should I separate them out ….put them in Assistant’s bungalow?”
“Hmm! Assistant bungalows are not in good shape. Moreover, they mayn’t like staying segregated.”
“I’m having an uncanny feeling…to put them up in the heritage bungalow.”
“I understand your concern my boy but you allocate them elsewhere and then they express their displeasure later, you’ll unnecessarily be set on firing line.”
“I’m in a no-win situation anyways.”
“I advocate, you go by the written advice conveyed to you. At best persuade some workers and keep them as special chowkidaars for the night. Allure them with some extra incentives.”
“You know sir; no worker will enter that place. I tried to contact the OC as well. He promised for a patrolling party around midnight but I doubt. This place is considered as cursed.”
“Karan, the incident occurred back in donkey’s years. Since then what we all have squelched to only what few workers have tale to us. May be they have lied us. So they won’t need to guard the isolated place alone.”
“But sir, we tried with more people, the tale was the same.”
“May be hitherto what the exorcist had performed the place has been consecrated. The stay will verify it. Let’s take a chance.”
“Are we not on too much perchance?”
“I appreciate your concern. The way we couldn’t have avoided this visit similarly you can’t negate an advice.”
“Sir, should we forewarn them about the bungalow?”
“….And invite in more trouble?”
“Fuff! Okay let me keep my fingers crossed.”
Protocol and directives sometime becomes so asphyxiated that it compels do things unscrupulous and pejorative.
In tea garden all visitors and guests are habitually looked after appositely. It is a ruling customary to leave no stone unturned to provide an exceptional hospitality to company abetted visitors. Every Manager in a Tea Estate takes personal initiative to ensure that no official guests go back displeased.
A get-together was organized in Karan Bhandari’s bungalow that evening to corroborate a benevolence gesture.
“So how did you like the garden?” Mr. Bhandari asked.
“Incredible. This place can very well be an attractive tourist spot.”
“Indeed. It is enriched with natural beauty and captivating wildlife.”
“Yeah, the workforce also appeared to be very submissive and chivalrous.”
“This is exotically serene, a genuine feast to the eyes.”
“I’ve been to quite a few holidaymaker spots in India but this place overrides all other places I’d been.”
“True, I wonder how come only fewer people know about this resplendent site.”
“Well, this is a private property or more correctly an industrial unit. Pronouncement it as a tourist spot will only encourage trespass and infringement by outsiders detrimental to the industrial site and business as well.”
“Yeah we understand.”
“We saw a majestic building on a hilltop while going round your garden.”
“That’s our heritage bungalow.”
“What a beautiful sight to see. Anyone stays in there?”
“Nope. You all are staying there tonight.”
“Wow! That’s great.”
A breeze of cold air blew the curtain of the front door unnoticed by everyone but Mr. Bhandari. A feel of eeriness run through his nerves.
“Jaswinder, the glasses of our guests seems to be touching the bottom. Could you please?”
Karan Bhandari was not at all happy with the imposed situation. Something inside him was forcing him to speak out his admonition. Nandini, his wife could read his eyes and mind. With elapsing time Karan Bhandari’s edginess was growing. After all glasses were topped up with new pegs Mr. Bhandari beckoned Jaswinder.
“Chowkidaars, have you managed?”
“…Six of them with much difficulty. But they aren’t entering inside.”
“Then where are they going to be?”
“…At a distance from the compound gate. I’ve made a small tent for them and arranged for some firewood for the night.”
“Good. Keep your senses awake at night. Tell the other guys too to remain ready to act if it demands.”
“Everything is okay, Mr. Bhandari!” Oliver asked.
“You were suddenly seemed nonplussed. No need to be ceremonial with us. We’re all enjoying your hospitality. Of course if there’s anything otherwise…. ”
“No..no...no. It’s nothing about you all. I was just making sure if there was enough chowkidaars in the heritage bungalow. Actually…actually that bungalow has not been habitat for a long time and therefore there aren’t any fixed people to guard it. ”
“Never mind dear, relax.”
“Thank you. Actually that bungalow remains unoccupied, so no worker is willing to stay in there even for a night. ”
“We’ll make ourselves comfortable.”
“Mr. Bhandari, we are adventure lovers. You can’t conjure up the kind of places we travel to and the situation we abide in. You can’t catch pleasure in an expedition if there’s no dare in it. We’ll make room for ourselves, don’t get hassled.”
After dinner Mr. Bhandari along with his associate Jaswinder went along with the visitors to drop them to the heritage bungalow. All rooms for the guests were unlocked by Jaswinder as there was no one inside the bungalow to do it. He personally checked all the rooms, balconies and washrooms. The geysers were on. He checked the water taps, showers, toilet flush, lights and these were all working. All beds were aptly ready to be slept upon. Then he checked the telephone in the front verandah. It was going on and off…
“Loose connection.” He muttered.
“Why, they didn’t check it in the morning?”
“I don’t know.”
“Take it easy Mr. Bhandari. We don’t have it in mind to bother you at night.”
“You never know.”
“Oh yes, we know for sure. We’ll not bother you at night.”
“Okay then. Wish you a trouble free and sound sleep. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight and thank you so very much for everything. You are amazing host I must say.”
The tall trees all around the catholic building and the lawn across-the-board with colourful perennial floweret garden within a conceived craft of landscape infer that the lady who dwelled in it happened to be beautiful, solicitous, stylish and yet forlorn and solitary. The huge rooms within, classy old furnishings and the regal fireplace, cozily arranged chesterfield signified that there were frequent rendezvous and celebrations behind excruciating isolation. The well designed woodcraft bar with tall stools and footrest kept around the empty bar signed fountains of wine and pouring liquor in euphoria and the endless braggadocios. The dance floor in the central ballroom insinuated the spectacle of couples in close embrace moving their toes and heals in sync with the melodic cadence corroborating their love amidst evolving distance. The swimming pool at a distance in the backyard encompassed with impervious but well-trimmed hedgerow pointed toward the intimacies with very own and philander with persona non grata too. And the spacious bedrooms whispered of lascivious nights of lust and deception. The large kitchen isolated at downstairs indicated that the domestic slaves were debarred from catching sight of these private intricacies. Today the heavy curtains with designed palmate over the windows and slim layer of dust pertinently suggested that for a long no one has stayed in here to repeat those events or attempted reversion of the past, the ghastly past.
The womenfolk decided to accommodate in the larger room while the two gentlemen decided to retire in separate rooms. The ladies were feeling drowsy and decided to sneak in their bed early.
“I’ll catch a sleep fast. Feeling too tired. Goodnight love birds” Evie pulled up a second pillow over her head, took a deep breath and closed her eyes.
“….As always you’re too teddy, goodnight sweet pea. I’ll pen down in my dairy before I sleep. Amei, aren’t you baby feeling sleepy?” Sophie pulled out her dairy.
“ I wanna take few eye-catching shots early morning through my cam. I’m getting my effects ready before I go in to sleep.” Amelia replied. After a while she slipped into her bed too.
The night was getting darker and heavier. There was infrequent gush of wind which moved the curtain invariably. Lucas was trying his best to slumber but some or other noise woke him up. He looked at his watch it was just a quarter past one and the night was still quite young to die. Exasperated with his sleeplessness he got up from his bed. He hunt into his bag and grabbed a can of beer.
“It isn’t be chilled to sooth my throat but might loosen my body to prompt a sleep.” He thought.
He picked up a fag from the packet and unbolted the door and headed towards the front balcony. The balcony was but dark and yet fuzzily visible. Probably Oliver had put off the lights before entering his room. From the hilltop height though it was little foggy the sight of lights of habitation down and the factory was feebly visible in between the erect tall trees on the tassel of the bungalow compound. The hanging flower pots moved with the infrequent cold zephyr. He gulped few sips of the beer from the can and went on to lit another cigarette. From the corner of his eyes he felt he saw someone standing in the other end of the balcony.
“ Is that Amelia…. Sophie……. Evie? Who’s there?
He walked towards the shadowy thing and stumbled over a flower pot.
“Oops…Damn it.” He settled himself and looked up and it was gone. He walked till the end of the other corner but there was no body.
“What did I see…? Did I really see anything? He wondered.
The howling wind pushed the tall trees. The bending heads gave an impression as if wanting to indicate something, something not natural. The rubbing noise of the leaves on the trees as if trying to whisper the presence of something invisible. Lucas was flustered but he didn’t see a reason for. So he walked back towards his room. As he was crossing the staircase he thought he caught a glimpse of someone climbing down the staircase. He peeped down to look but it vanished.
Meanwhile, Sophie had just finished writing her dairy. Today she was not quite being able to focus on her thoughts. Twice her pen slipped off her finger grips involuntarily on the floor and she had to get down from her bed to pick it up. Besides the blood red cover top above her bedside lamp which gave the milieu of the room look dirtily gloomy red. While writing she felt someone in the room was staring at her. She looked around at the settee arranged in the corner near the window but there wasn’t anyone. She put her dairy and the pen on the bedside table and again she felt someone was staring at her. She looked round again but there wasn’t anyone. She looked at her other two friends who were in dead sleep… Nothing was abnormal to alert her.
“Why am I having a notion that someone is staring at me?” she wondered.
She walked into the washroom. The two split shower curtain around the bath tub covered it all around. As she sat on the pot she felt a creepy sound as if someone breathing wearily inside the bathtub. She got up and moved the curtain but there was no one. She thought it was an illusion normally one gets due to a fatigue. So she walked to the basin and splashed water on her face. She pulled the hand towel and begins to wipe out her face. Suddenly she saw an indistinct image of someone standing behind her on the mirror. She frantically turned back to see. There was no one but for a tall mirror on the other side of the wall facing the basin.
“Jesus! So it was my reflection.” She continued wiping her face and tried to recollect what she had seen.
“No…” she gasped, “I saw a face with eyes, ear, nose and lips nothing like me. It couldn’t have been me.” She threw the towel on the ground and rushed to the door. She hurriedly unbolted the door and tried to pull it open. But it won’t open.
“Amelia…. Evie… open the door. Open the damn door. Do you hear me?” Sophie screamed and shouts.
The lights in the washroom started blinking and went off.
On the other side of the washroom another pandemonium was underway.
Amelia felt someone was pulling away the blanket of her.
“Hoon! Sophie, don’t disturb me. Let me sleep.” She pulled it up.
After a short while it happened again.
“Sophie, you’re bothering me.” She pulled it again.
Next moment the blanket was brusquely pulled down on the floor.
“What the hell are you doing?” She got up annoyingly on her bed but there was no one. She looked around. She suddenly felt her goose bumps.
“Sophie…is that you? You’re scaring me.” She looked around dreadfully.
Suddenly she noticed Evie groaning on her bed and the pillow was pressed upon her face. She rushed down to her bed and pulled the pillow and threw it aside.
“Evie…Evie… get up…wakeup…”She shook her belligerently to perk her up to normalcy.
It took Evie a while to get to normalcy.
“What had happened to you?” Amelia asked.
“I don’t know, I felt I heard someone screaming. I tried to get up but somebody forced me down on the bed and tried to choke me with the pillow.” Evie was shivering in trauma.
“Holy Christ! … Where is Sophie? ….Sophie…Sophie… where is you?”
They heard a very feeble banging on the washroom door. Both rushed and opened the door of the washroom. Sophie was on the ground, sweating and nearly unconscious. She was still beating her hand in the air involuntarily. Both dragged her on the bed. Evie sprinkled some water on her face to wake her up and she come back to conscious.
“Sophie what happened to you? Come on talk it out.”
Sophie couldn’t utter a word and burst into tears.
In the other room Oliver encountered a different situation. He suddenly felt someone slapped him very hard on his face. He woke up terrified. For a pinch of time he couldn’t assemble what happened. He switched on the bedside lamp. The room was bolted from inside. There was not a trace of a thing.
“Was it some kind of nightmare?” He wondered. “….Then why am I still feeling the burn on my face.”
He touched his cheek. It was warm than the other.
“What’s wrong?” He got up from his bed and went to lookup in the dressing table mirror.
“Holy shit…what is this scar on my face resembling to four fingers? Who could have done it?”
Oliver smelt something was wrong. He thought there was either a thief in the house or a miscreant trying to trouble. He opened the door and headed towards Lucas’s room. As he got nearer he found the door was partly open.
“Holy lord! Let nothing happen to Lucas.” He rushed into the room and found Lucas was on the ground with his frontal on the carpet.
“Oh my god! Lucas….Lucas. Man, are you alright.” He felt his breath and he was breathing. “….Get up man…get up.”
“….Oh my head is spinning.” Lucas groaned in ache.
“What happened to you man. How did you get on the floor?”
Lucas narrated what he run into.
“I just stepped inside and suddenly I felt my head had become heavy and I fainted.”
“Let me look onto your head….but there is no mark of any injury on your head.”
Lucas felt his head for himself.
“What could it be then?”
“Is some kind of ….”
“Yup, I suppose so.”
“Are you serious?”
“I don’t know but something is drastically wrong in this house. Something peculiar happened with me too” Oliver narrated his part of the story.
“What about the girls?”
“I don’t know?”
“Should we wake them up?”
“Should we? If nothing’s gone wrong with them, we will not be able to convince what we went through.”
“But if it does or if it has…?”
“Move, let’s go and check back.”
“Yeah, should they be alright we’ll cook up a reason for waking them up.”
“Anything. Let’s move fast now.”
At a distance from the compound gate, the chowkidaars who had been keeping an eye saw the movement of the guests. The switching on and off of the lights at this hour of night connote anything else than what the bungalow was opprobrium for.
“Hey! Look I think they have grappled with the evil of the house.”
“Yes. It seems so.”
“Idiots, what was the need for them staying in there when the house is haunted.”
“How would they know about it?”
“Why our Big Man has not told them of it?”
“I doubt. He was tensed throughout the day. Morning when I went to the office, I saw his anxiety on his face. He was talking to someone over telephone.”
“I suggest three of you go down to his bungalow and inform the situation.”
The ladies in the oubliette room were panic stricken. They didn’t know what to do next.
“What do we do? This room is possessed. We can’t remain here like this whole night.”
“Let’s get out of this room and wakeup the guys.”
“Who knows what we happen upon as we open the door?”
“It can’t be worse than what we have already come by.”
“Shush. Somebody is out there. I heard footsteps.”
“What do we do now?” And all three of them started blubber with fear.
“Oh Jesus! Save us.”
“Amelia…. Sophie……. Evie, are you girls alright.”
“That’s Oliver….that’s Oliver.” All three shrieked and screamed.
“Open the door…open it fast.” Lucas shouted from the other end.
The triads were dead scared out of their wits and could hardly gather guts to get down the bed to unbolt the door.
“Open the door…open it up. It’s us, Oliver and Lucas.”
Amelia with much hesitation got down and opened the door. Oliver and Lucas stepped into the room. Amelia burst into tears. Sophie and Evie also run down to the door and hugged them tight in horror. The three panic stricken faces spoke about the ongoing pandemonium unasked.
“Let’s move out of here right now.”
“But where will we go at night, we don’t even know the way.”
“Let’s get out of here then we will decide what to do.”
They heard a motoring sound at the gate. The beam of light from the headlight of the vehicle filled some relief in their core. Mr. Bhandari with his other Assistants climbed up the staircase. No one needed to say a word. They packed up their luggage fast drove down to Mr. Bhandari’s bungalow.
Obligated by the obstinate perseverance by the guests, Cops had to be called in the morning.
“Hello, I’m ASP Debabroto Mukherjee.”
ASP Debabroto Mukherjee listened to the weird experience by each narrator very minutely and attentively.
“Well, I’d like you all to come with me to the building site and one by one to narrate me what happened last night. This will help me to recreate the whole event for my analysis and investigation.”
Each of the guests narrated their part of the dreadful experience. ASP Debabroto Kukherjee patiently heard to each illustration in great detail and tried correlating with the scene of occurrence. After assembling sufficient inputs for his investigation he asked the visitors to stay back in the Estate for a day or two so that he could give them an insight of the occurrences before they leave the estate never to come back again.
Later in the evening after a long hiatus with all the guests seated intimidated and traumatized and the hosts know not how to react, Mr. Oliver broke his silence.
“You knew about it Mr. Bhandari, didn’t you?”
“Damn it, then why did you put us up in that haunted house?” Lucas was incensed.
“Why didn’t you tell us about it?” Sophie joined in too in the ruffle.
“You behaved so impressively and we thought you were a good man.” Amelia nodded her head in disappointment.
“…Enough. He is and was always a good man and that’s why he went to that ill-fated bungalow at such late hour of night to rescue your lives risking his own. He was concerned for you ever since he was informed about your visit and that you would be put up in that haunted house…Do you know in what all ways he tried to persuade his higher-ups that you all are not to lodge in that ill-fated bungalow? Mr. Oliver, last evening you noticed and had ask Mr. Bhandari for the reason of his being nonplussed. This was the damn reason.” Nandini, Karan Bhandari’s wife was peeved by the ongoing humiliation of her husband and couldn’t accept it any more.
“Nandini, hold on.” Mr. Bhandari tried to calm her down.
“I can’t tolerate anyone humiliating you. Particularly in this matter I will not accept a single word against you because I know how hard you tried to shun their accommodation in that bungalow. Even in the afternoon the other day you made your indisputable effort to accommodate them in other bungalows rather in that ethereal situate…”
“Nandini, if we were in their situation even we would have reacted in similar manner. They aren’t wrong. Heart of heart even you know it.”
There was a long silence.
“Mr. Bhandari, I’m sorry. We are all sorry for being uncouth with you. I think I can understand your professional duress. Since we all have brazened through the quiver of the house, I’d like to know the chronicle of the solitary cottage and the whole truth behind it.”
“It’s a long story. 21 years back I joined this garden as a Trainee Assistant. I was very young and spanking new to tea profession. Henry Blair was my Manager. He was a British. He was quite an imposing person I thought. My seniors nicknamed him as Honey Blair. It took me much time to understand why he was called Honey Blair. He was a womanizer. None of my seniors let their spouse stay in the garden. Henry Blair would illustrate his rancor against them by letting their bungalows into despicable condition. He would say, ‘Bungalow luxury is not meant for the men folk but for their lady of love, their spouse. When the lady isn’t there, there’s no need for embellishment of the bungalow.
On the contrary Hazel Nancy, his wife was very tranquil, empathetic and caring. She was very gorgeously looking and extraordinarily attractive. In the whole garden she was the only residing lady. We use to die to see one glimpse of her. Whenever she would be out on an errand all of us would wait on the roadside with some reason or other to wave our hand at her. She would pass a serene smile from her car window and wave her hand too. But between the lines of her engrossing smile we could read she was friendless and lone. She had no one to talk to, to share her predicament. The Old Man would go out to the Club and came very late at night, drunk to his throat. Many a times he would return the next day and straight to his office. When he would go out for golf sometimes he would return only after two or three nights.
The servants in the bungalow said both use to sleep in separate rooms. They hardly talked to each other. They would sit together on the same dining table but ate blithe of each other presence. We hardly saw them going out together. The servant never heard of any commotion between them but it was evident that there was a deep undercurrent of odium towards each other. The poor lady would keep herself occupied with gardening floret in the bungalow and talk to them when it blossomed. Even if a branch of her plant buckled for some reason, be it by the thrust of wind or by a trespass of a squirrel she would bleed at heart. She would treat it; nurture it herself as if it was her baby. She would talk to it, soothe it and would say, ‘No worry, Mama will look after you.’ She would attend her wounded baby till it would recover. You may think she was lunatic. But she was not. She was only trying to find a friend in something or someone who won’t hurt her yet again.
She would put grain in the open and would wait for the birds to fly down. She would be over the moon by the sight of birds having her grains. She would closely listen to the chirruping birds and tried emulate them. In the front esplanade she had designed a pond with a fountain in the middle and reared lotus around it. Then she had made another pond around the same for the fishes. She would spend hours and hours of the daylight in her garden invigorating herself gazing at her creativity. The resplendent look of the bungalow’s landscape was her creativity. Back in the evening she would embellish her bungalow interiors. She had converted a part of the cellar into a spare room and she called it as summer manor. She decorated it exquisitely to her liking and taste. So to say it was her personal room. A spiral staircase connected this room to her bedroom. However, she would go to every corner of her cottage dutifully and perfected it with unimaginable elegance.
She was a perfect lady and a perfectionist too. But she always lived with a sightless exasperation of solitude, remorse and penance. Perhaps deep in her core she realized all her doings had no connotation. She seemed ruminative that she won’t be ever rewarded for her endeavor. Maybe she always brooded over the living elusiveness amidst all that she had created around her. Perhaps she was being killed by the unending melancholy. Perhaps she was beginning to realize that all her oeuvre were for the ghost of her lonesomeness. Perhaps she envisaged she would soon succumb to her enduring afflictions and was just trying to live every lingering moment of her inconsequential existence. Alas! She couldn’t perfect her own life, her family life.
Gradually our penchant towards her turned into a rather compassion for her. We all wished if we could visit her once a while to console, to joy her, to give her a momentary companionship or to render a superficial hope of ecstasy. But we dared not. One of my senior had once attempted to break the icicle but he was not only brutally beaten up and later also thrown out of his job.
There use to be occasional revelry in the bungalow too. And whenever there use to be one, it would be in a grandiose way. There would be fountain of wine flowing, dance, rummy and swimming gala too. The gentlemen would sit round the bar bathe in wine narrating braggadocio of myth or that were generally lies. Ladies would enervate their love, lust and fantasy. Apparently each one in such gathering endeavored to exhibit their perseverance of living aristocratic way. Dusk would turn in dawn and dawn would turn into dusk and the merriment would continue unabated. But we were never invited. Perhaps Henry Blair thought we were not presentable. Sometime we felt ourselves worse than his servants. But we felt good for the lady believing that she was happy and in company. The lady would however send food and confectioneries to each bungalow with a small note of regret.
One such carousing event pirouette the entire scenario of this bungalow. It was on the eve of the New Year night. Guests had been arriving since morning. The swimming pool was filled with clement bathwater. Music was on full blast. Swimming pool was swarming with skinny-dippers. Noise of splashing water and thud followed by screech and earsplitting caterwaul and giggles of ladies allude to the ongoing flirting and friskiness in the swimming pool arena. Servants were being allowed to enter the showground with bowed heads only to top up the empty glasses and collect abandoned beer bottles.
The evening had begun in similar chorale and nothing less magnificent than the day. Corners of the bungalow with subdued luster of lighting soon began to be occupied by chirruping and smooching lovebirds. Matured couples were seated in the lawn under colorful garden umbrella and futon with candlelight spreading a vibe of amorousness. As the evening graduated to nightfall darkness the ballroom was coup d'état by dancing couples hugged close to each other betoken obsessive ardor and desire.
As the hands of the giant pendulum clock in the ball room embraced each other, it banged twelve gongs. Arrival of the New Year; everyone greeted each other in exhilaration. The music and the rhythm were in full pitch. The moods were high and ripples of jollity travelled far and wide. Hazel moved from one guest to the other with confer of her greetings, although in realism she was looking for Henry. She might have thought the New Year would bring a new element in her life. She looked for him in the ballroom, he wasn’t there. She looked for him at the bar, he wasn’t there. She looked for him in the other rooms, he wasn’t there either. She looked for him in the verandah; there was no sign of him even there. She walked down to the lawn, it was all empty. She run down to the swimming pool area, there was no one in there too. Where could he have gone? She asked the driver but she got a negated reply. Uncertainly she went to her bedroom, he wasn’t there either. She was just about to step out of the room when she heard a giggle by a female feebly audible and was from her summer manor. She climbed down the spiral staircase and stood in the mid of it. What she saw she was flabbergasted. It was unbearable.
She climbed up the stairs and went to the washroom. She stood under the shower and cried. She found herself lost, bewildered and hammered to her core. Then she opened the door and walked out in soaked cloths. Water dripped from her head to toe. All her guests looked at her curiously and perplexed. No one tried to stop her. A few very close acquaintances stepped into the bedroom to insinuate what made her so perturbed. They saw it too and came out nodding their heads in disgust.
How would a lady endure to see her husband sleeping in her bed with another woman and making love? How could a man do it on his wife’s bed in her being there nigh on? How could a stranger be so nasty and vicious to do this to another woman despite of being a woman herself?
The party got over premature. The guest couldn’t take to this far any more. Everyone seemed to realize this was no more a fun. It wasn’t ethical. This was an overtly torment to a woman. This was a vexation, a humiliation to a lady publicly. This was uncivilized. This was animalism. They felt pity for Hazel but they had no words to mitigate her. So they choose to decline from it, they opt to relinquish the party.
Next morning Police turned up to the bungalow. An ambulance carried a body wrapped in white apparel for postmortem. Henry Blair and Elizabeth Morris were taken into custody on accusation of torture and provocation to commit a suicide by Hazel Nancy Blair. Henry Blair and Elizabeth Morris were however released on bail a week later. Court released them as free birds in absence of justifiable evidence and lack of witness. Henry Blair left the job and returned to England. People say Hazel Nancy flit around even today in pursuit of her longing ecstasy.”
There was pin drop silence for a while. Mr. Bhandari nodded his head in self-reproach. The guests sat mutant. They didn’t know how to react to and what to say.
“Sometimes I’ve the feeling of a guilty conscience when I think of this ordeal. I feel I behaved inhumanly. I was selfish…immoral. Alike others I too distanced myself from this ongoing peccadillo considering it to be not my business…an opinion that it was a personal affair belonging to someone else that unneeded my snooping and meddling. My own sagacity of being social being had become a prey of my foreboding ….the trepidation of losing my job…How cruel and selfish…I, my seniors… We all are culpable.” Mr. Bhandari sighed.
“No, you are not. Relieve yourself from the burden of guilt. 21 years from hence what could you have done? You were just a new entrant. You would have never been taken seriously by anyone. Even in the eyes of the law your witness on presumptive argument would have hold no connotation. This are what you percept about the situation based upon what servants of that bungalow narrated you but could you have proved a thing? In the bargain your carrier would have been doomed even before it had begun. Moreover, our law enforcer index matters indifferently. Justice is contemplated differently for different class of people. No one would have even listened to you.” Nandini solaced.
“Tell me what was wrong between the couple? Why was such irreverent attitude of Henry Blair towards his wife? Why did they opt to live strangely incoherence with each other?” Oliver asked.
“That’s a mystery Hazel died with and Henry is no more available to explicate.”
Later in the next morning as they all sat for a cup of tea in Mr. Bhandari’s bungalow after breakfast, ASP Mukherjee dropped in. He was looking quite fresh and relaxed relative to what he was looking in the morning the other day while investigation was on.
“So Officer was it a paranormal thing?” Sophie asked.
“Well Ma’am, Cops don’t believe in paranormal hypothesis. Every observable occurrence encapsulates into a logical fact and facts always have an explanation. Sometimes what we see and what we conceive aren’t the same. Sometimes certain events that occur in front of us are like a jigsaw puzzle which remains a puzzle until we aptly assemble it. Many a time occurrences happening around us in the first look appear convoluted. It depends upon a person’s approach or more pertinently the person’s willingness to percept a particular phenomenon. If you have already decided in your mind that a particular occurrence is paranormal, no one can persuade you to think it otherwise. No logical or scientific explanation can convince you that it isn’t paranormal or clairvoyant.”
“Okay you’re trying to say what we went through is some kind of jigsaw puzzle?” Lucas was agitated.
“Seem to be and I think we have assembled the puzzle.”
“Okay how do you explain what I went through?” Sophie demanded.
“Ma’am, you said you were feeling uncanny while writing your dairy at night. Am I right?”
“You seemed to feel someone was staring at you.”
“Obviously the stare was from one particular direction only and the direction to my judgment was from the seating arrangement within the room.”
“But each time you looked around you found nothing.”
“That I’ve already told you.”
ASP Mukherjee paused for while and then passed a smiled.
“This is a kind of optical illusion goaded by psychosomatic or self-induced corroboration. A seating arrangement is where people generally sit. Your subliminal mind continued to give you a pre-percept impression of the seating arrangement with people sitting. This is something what you plausibly thought by looking at it the moment you first entered the room. Things happened very fast and your eyes and brain arrested a lot many things together and later when you sat down to write your dairy your brain subconsciously tried to assemble what your eyes had arrested and what your brain had thought about it.”
“I’m not convinced. Why did I have an uncanny feeling?”
“Look, you were in a partially dark room unacquainted of its various constituents. Every object in the room was unknown to you. Subconsciously your mind was gazing at things around you even when you were not noticing them virtually. So it occurred to you that someone was staring at you which gave a feeling of creepy whereas in reality you were staring at things instead.”
“What about the breathing sound then?”
“It was in fact the sound of you breathing that echoed in your ear. Try and understand; a washroom always generates echo or rather an amplified reverberation.”
“The reflection? …The face behind me?”
“It was your reflection only. When you stand in front of a mirror with another mirror facing the mirror you are facing to, it produces multiple images of your back as well as the front i.e. of the mirror you are facing too. What was in front of you but your reflection on the mirror and the same image will also be caught into the mirror behind.”
“And why didn’t the door open?”
“…..May be because you were pulling it to a wrong direction.”
“And what made me faint?”
“Phobia, it had tended to make you imagine and believe things which in reality never existed. In other word it had resulted into a delusion enough mind-boggling to make you weak and …. ”
“What about my situation? I had slap mark distinct on my face.” Oliver wasn’t convinced by the explanation.
“….Sorry sir, but you did it to yourself?”
“What nonsensical you are talking? You mean I slapped on my face?”
“I didn’t say that. But yet you did it to yourself.”
“Yes, it is ridiculous. You slept with your fingers and palm under your face for quite a long time. That’s how the impression you got on your face and the warmth when you felt it. The other side of your exposed face was cooler than the other. Don’t you realize your facial skin is soft and tender and can get the imprint of your hands pressed on it?”
There was a silence for some time.
“Then what about me. I wasn’t sleeping. I was all awake till the time I fainted.” Lucas asked.
“Yeah, your case is a little complicated and tricky one. I may have to stay the night with you in the same bungalow to illustrate what had happened. Would you like to spend one more night in that bungalow?”
“Okay, let me try explaining it to you. Night when you stepped out of your room it was windy outside. Is that right?”
“There weren’t any light glowing in the verandah, am I right.”
“Were the compound security lights also shut off?”
“I don’t remember having noticed it rightly. I suppose they were on.”
“Yes these were on. Perchance one of the lamps illume was partially reflecting on the walls in the corner of the balcony which may have given you the impression of somebody standing.”
“But I saw the damn thing move as well.”
“It must have. The shadow of a hanging flower pot in the line of reflection could give an impression of a movement.”
“Where did it disappear all of a sudden when I grew near it?”
“It disappeared behind you on your back. You were standing in the line of the light. When you were gazing at the corner the light and shadow was still playing its trick on your back.”
There was another hiatus.
“What about me? It was now Amelia’s turn.
“You felt someone as pulling your blanket, right?”
“You pulled it back and yet again someone pulled it.”
“Then suddenly somebody pulled it brusquely down on the floor, right?”
“The blanket was pulled on your right or left floor?”
“I don’t remember.”
“Okay, you were sleeping on your right or left?”
“Left….No on my right facing towards Evie.”
“Yes, your blanket was pulled to your left on the floor.”
“What does it mean?”
“Do you remember what material was your blanket made up of?”
“I don’t remember.”
“It was a slippery, a synthetic fabric blanket.”
“The blanket had partially fallen off your bed when you got up on to your bed to sleep. It was slowly slipping down by its weight giving you the impression someone was pulling it. When you pulled it up, you were actually pulling it diagonally and by the time you pulled it for the second time 70% of your blanket was already on the floor and the final pull was a brusquely down on the floor due to its weight.”
“But why did I faint?” Lucas asked again.
“Mr. Lucas marijuana grass is forbidden in this country. Alcohol and grass makes a deadly combination to give you a high enough strong to pull you down on the floor.”
“What about Evie? What is your explanation to what she went through?”
“Again in my opinion it’s because of a wrong sleeping posture.”
“What do you mean?”
“A fatigued body doesn’t make you realize how it maneuvers you during the sleep at night. The second pillow which she had pulled over her head was her culprit. Inebriation and a sleep after daylong exhaustion don’t make you realize which way you are turning your body and which way you are twisting your hands. Sometimes when you get up in the morning you feel sprain on your neck or other part of your body. This is because you don’t maneuver your body sensibly unconscious in your sleep. Evie had straightened her body but her hands holding the second pillow pulled it over her face. The situation suffocated her and in her sleep she felt someone was choking her. She groaned for help and coincidently Amelia was there to help her out.”
“Officer, your logical explanation to what we encountered was good. But I’m not convinced. It can’t be a coincidence that each one in the house would go through similar agony and in proximity of same time. I’m not buying it from you.” Sophie shook her head in discord and walked out of the room.
Having the chapter closed ASP Debabroto Mukherjee pulled out in his jeep. As he drove through his way he saw the glance of the lonely cottage visible from the road over the hill standing majestically and gazing around. From the rear-view mirror of his jeep he tried to capture a last glimpse of it again. Indistinguishably though, he felt he saw someone standing in the protruded balcony of the bungalow. He instantly squeezed the brakes of his jeep and looked at the rear-view mirror again. But it had vanished.