Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Stranger in the Corner - A Horror Short Story

Nobody stays over at my place anymore.  Not even my assistants.  I guess they must think there is something wrong with me.  What with all the rice powder I put religiously around the house every evening and my incessant chanting of the mantras.

They must think I am paranoid.

Once in a while someone asks me what the rice powder is for.  I tell them its to keep the positive energy from leaving the house.  I dont tell them I am actually trying to keep something from getting in.  But I guess they already know.

I dont want to sound braggy, but I am a rather popular and well respected pujari around here.  My schedule is always busy with pujas all over the town all around the year.  And when I am all done, at the end of the day, I sit in my room and recite mantras.

Three years ago, I was a completely different person.  I was one of those puraris for whom being a pujari was just a job:  Go to people's homes, do the pujas habitually, then by evening return home and relax.  But then, something happened.  Something strange.  Something that changed my life forever.

It all started at this home cleansing puja I was performing.  Sat before me were the parents and their 2 daughters.  Now, normally, when I do my puja and chant the mantras in vigor, people normally have a very serious and frightened look on their faces.  But on that day, it was a bit different.  One of the daughters kept staring right into my eyes.  There was no fear.  And I sensed a bit of mischief.  The red saree she wore accentuated her beauty.  And I began to feel distracted.  I tried to concentrate on the puja, but everytime I instinctively looked at her, there she was, staring right back at me.

I tried not to think much of it.  I finished the puja and left the house.  Few hours later, I and my assistants went to another house for a routine puja, and there she was again.  Sitting along with that family.

As I performed the puja, I looked at my assistants at times to see if they noticed her too, but they seemed to routinely go about with the puja with no sign of surprise whatsoever.  And as before, she continued to stare at me.  I once again ignored her and finished the puja.

After the puja, on my way out, I took the man of the house aside and casually asked him about the girl.  The man turned wide-eyed and exclaimed,
"What girl?!?"

"The one sitting with your family, dressed in the red sarree."

"What?  Ther.... there was no one else! Just my wife and son!" the man exclaimed.  I could see the fear in his eyes.  He was convinced his house was haunted.  I finally suggested that we do a house cleaning puja, and he agreed.  I then walked in the house to see if she was still there, but there was no sign of her.  I didn't ask anybody else about her because I didn't want to create a scare.

Back home, I lied down on my bed thinking about her.  The way she stared at me.  And the slight suggestion of a smile.

I woke up in the middle of the night with a start.  I must have drifted off to sleep.  And then I felt someone looking at me.  I saw her from the corner of my eyes.  Looking at me from outside the window.  Wearing a red saree.

I pretended to have not seen her and completely ignored her.  That's what my guruji had told me about these spirits.  You should never talk to them.  You should never let them influence you.  If you make any attempt to communicate with them, you are opening the gates of deception.

Thats what they do. These spirits. They deceive you.

As long as I didn't let her influence me, I had nothing to fear.  I faithfully wore the Kashi string that my guruji had given me a long time ago with his blessings to protect me against evil spirits.  She can't harm me as long as I wore it.

But the more I ignored her, the more she started invading my personal space.  A week later, she had suddenly moved inside my house.  Now I would see her standing motionless at the corner of my room just staring at me all the time.  At night, in the darkness, even though I couldn't see her, I could see her eyes at the corner of the room, fixated on me, waiting.

It was a couple of weeks later that I made the worst mistake of my life.  I woke up from my sleep and found her form standing right next to me.  For a moment, I was taken aback.  I sat up exasperated and exclaimed,

"What do you want?!"

"I want you to help me!" she said talking in loud gasps as if she had been holding her breath all this time.

I sat there looking at her.  Her face had concern written all over them.

"How?" I said finally.

"My daughter.  Her soul is lost in her body.  I need you to help her find her way back into her body.  If its too late, her body will die.  She just needs some help!"

"Where is she?"

"At an hospital in the city." she says.

"Okay, we will visit her tomorrow.  Now leave me alone!" I said trying to sound as authoritative as possible.  She noded slightly with a thankful smile and moved away towards the corner and stood there, once again, staring at me.  I felt the string on my wirst with my fingers just to be sure.  I had gone against what guruji had told me.  Never talk to the evil spirits he had told me.

Next day, I finished the pujas early and headed over to the hospital alone.  And, there she was, showing me to a room.

In the room was a girl on a bed with tubes running in and out of her body.  There were machines continuously beeping as they monitored her vitals.  Luckily, there wasn't anybody else in the room.  I really didn't want to explain to anybody that the spirit of the girl's mother brought me here to save her soul.  I just wanted to be done with it and get out of there.

I grabbed one of the stools nearby and sat beside this dead-looking girl and looked at her.

"I know you can help her." the spirit said placing her hand over my hand.  Feeling her touch, I quickly withdrew my hand.  I frowned at her and sat up straight trying not to show my fear.  I turned to the girl on the bed and started uttering the mantras.

Ten minutes later, the girl was still limp on the bed.  The beeping continued rhythmically.  There was nothing to indicate there was anything different.

"I have never done this before, but according to the scriptures, if her soul was stuck somewhere in her body, she should have been freed." I said finally starting to get up.

"No, please dont give up on her!," the spirit said.

"I dont know what else to do." I said.

"Wait! May be I can help.  I can go find her." she said.  I looked at her confused.

"I just need your help." she said looking at the Kashi string tied around her daughter's wrist.

"Please.  You are her last hope.  She might die!"

I hesistated, but then finally said,

"Okay, but hurry up."  I went ahead and carefuly removed the string off the girl's hand uttering mantras.  With that, the spirit smiled at me and then slowly swept into her daughter's body.

"What are you doing here??" I heard a voice from behind me.  I turned around and saw a woman in a nurse's attire.  Before I can mumble out a response, the machines started beeping loudly and the nurse rushed to the girl.

I got up from the stool and slowly shifted myself towards the door as more people rushed in:  doctors, nurses, and some other people who must be her living family.

After a few minutes, it was clear:  The girl was now breathing on her own and was on her way to a possible full recovery.  I felt relieved.  I begin to walk out of there before someone asked me something, but unfortunately I was stopped by an old couple.

"Swamiji, its God who brought you here.  Because of your blessings our daughter is getting better." said the woman.

I hesistated and asked the woman,
"Is she your daughter?"

"Yes swamiji."

"Is she adoped or a stepdaughter?" I asked again.

"No! She is my daughter.  My only child." the lady was now looking at her husband concerned that something was wrong.

I looked at the girl on the bed.  She looked back at me with a stare and a familiar smile.  Realising that I had been tricked, I quickly walked out of there without saying another word to the parents.

I never wanted to think about it again.  I considered telling guruji about this, but then thought otherwise.

Now, I dont know how things worked in the spirit world, but since this incident, I began to see more spirits walking around my house.  Some of them were so powerful that they could walk into my house after just a few days of waiting around.  I finally told my guruji, and he advised me to draw a circle of rice powder around my house as a defence against them and recite the mantras whenever I can.

And he instructed me again to never talk to them again.

But they still haven't left me.  Even today when I go out to conduct pujas, I still see them following me.  Standing around.  Waiting.

- Rejo John.

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