I have never been able to remember even a single situation where I may have felt scared. I could not even imagine what fear felt like until I visited that unfortunate place on that fateful day. So many years have passed still the series of incidents that took place that night haunt me till this present day.
It happened at a time when monsoon was on its way out and autumn was moving in. It used to get cold in the evenings but the showers had not stopped entirely. My girlfriend, after weeks of nagging, was finally able to make me take a break from work to take a trip with her to somewhere calm and quiet, away from the noise of the city. I had found this cottage for short term rent in the coastal town close to our city. It was off season which meant less number of visitors and we liked it that way. Both of us preferred avoiding crowded places . I booked the cottage for that weekend. We didn’t know back then that staying there for one night would become a lifelong burden for us.
We started early in the morning and reached the place before noon. The cottage sat right amidst trees and shrubs which gave a green hue to the surroundings and the blue from the sea made our journey absolutely worth it. I called the caretaker who fortunately for us was nearby. He came quickly and welcomed us inside. The cottage had its own kitchen, two bedrooms each with an attached bathroom, a drawing cum dining room and a guest washroom. The back of the cottage opened up to a narrow stretch bounded by green shrubs and other flowering plants, the path leading up to a deserted part of the beach. It was simply beautiful.
The caretaker was supposed to cook the food for us and leave for the day. Everything looked nice but there was something that distressed me. The moment we entered the house, I felt something was watching us and not in a good way. I felt uneasy and disturbed.
We went to the beach after freshening up. I hadn’t noticed earlier there was a tall and thick dead tree at the end of the path. There were no leaves or flowers on its branches but still they looked laden under some invisible weight.
The feeling of being watched stopped as soon as we crossed that tree overlooking the beach. It felt as if an immense burden was suddenly lifted off my chest. I didn’t understand what happened then or before. I confessed about the uncomfortable feeling to my partner and she admitted even she felt it. We brushed that thought aside and spent some quality time with each other. Soon, we forgot about that dreadful feeling altogether. We returned to the cottage after a little while. I started feeling the weight on my chest as soon as we crossed that tree. I even stopped to have a good look at it but couldn’t gather anything.
The caretaker had prepared our meals for the day and left. We had our lunch and felt this need to take a nap. The weight was wearing us down. It was almost sundown when my sleep was broken by a sudden noise. As I regained my senses and sat up, the sound seemed to be of someone running about inside the house. It was absurd as there were no localities around. I thought maybe it was the caretaker’s kid and as I turned my head to look at the time I saw a pair of eyes looking at us. Those eyes belonged to a painting sitting on the wall facing the bed. As soon as I laid my eyes on the painting, the pair of eyes on it went dead. I was trying to understand if I was still dreaming when I heard the sound of running feet again. I got out of the bed and walked towards the door. As soon as I peeked out of the door, I saw a pair of small feet disappearing into the backdoor. It had to be a little kid. I ran after them only to find myself outside, absolutely alone. I could still hear laughter coming from the direction of the beach. I ran towards it but I couldn’t see anything. Silence engulfed that area as soon as I reached that tree. I had an uncanny feeling of being watched by invisible entities all around me. The branches looked even more weighed down than before.
The sense of vulnerability was overwhelming and I almost ran back to the house. It was dark inside, darker than it was supposed to be. I went to the bedroom to wake my girl up and the scene in there struck horror deep inside me. A dark shadow was floating just over her and had almost engulfed her in a shroud. It did not have any describable shape, hovering in the air like a black tattered bedsheet. I stood there, numb, trying to figure out my next step. My mind had gone totally blank, like a baby drowning in a pond. Out of instinct, I ran towards her and snatched her out of the bed. She was limp, in a semiconscious state, murmuring something which I couldn’t understand. I had to carry her on my shoulders. The shadow let out a shriek which felt as if it pierced my ears. I was about to pass out from the pain but I didn’t. I knew I couldn’t not give up till I took her to safety.
The shadow glided towards us, darkening everything in its path. Everything seemed to get charred or wilted in its path as it closed in on us. I could feel my senses leaving me. I felt my knees give away and the floor seemed to move up towards me. I think I was falling. The lights grew dimmer and my surroundings seemed to grow darker. I thought I saw a kid dancing just under the shadow but I must have been delirious, there couldn’t be any kid but still there was. Then the kid looked straight at me and his gaze froze me to my very core. His eyes were hollowed out and blood oozed out from where his eyes should have been, the skin on his face rotting away. He was grinning and the grin became wider as the shadow moved closer. The sound of feet tapping on the floor grew louder. I was slowly losing my consciousness when suddenly something struck me from inside, my survival instinct. I pulled myself up and ran out or at least I think that I ran out. The tree at the back looked much larger now, it’s branches swaying wildly although there was no wind. I moved towards the beach as fast as I could but something was pulling me from behind. My feet felt heavy and that narrow stretch seemed to take forever to cross. I looked up at the tree but it looked somewhat different now. There were bodies hanging from its branches and they were moving. The tree still looked dead but now it looked vast, covering the whole sky. Moonlight could barely escape through its dead branches. I looked back towards the cottage but it had disappeared and in its place stood an old church, burnt to the ground except its charred beams and rafters still standing, like a huge skeleton. I couldn’t see the shadow anymore and that gave me little strength. My partner was still unconscious.
I placed her down on the ground. She looked pale, as if all blood had been sucked from her body. I shook her trying to revive her, but she didn’t move. Her body was getting colder as if life was being sucked out of her each passing moment. I knew I had to get out of that place but I didn’t know where to go. Everything around me looked different, the stretch leading to the beach was now bounded by thorny bushes. Something dark was oozing out of each thorn, leaf and branch of those bushes. Even though they didn’t move but it felt as if I was being strangled by those branches, my throat being pierced by their thorns.
I couldn’t wait any longer, she didn’t have much time. I put her back on my shoulders and tried to walk fast, but I couldn’t, my body felt heavier than before, I was losing strength. I moved as fast as I could but I was getting slower with each step, my legs getting heavier each passing moment, my shoulders getting weaker. I felt as if I was fighting a lost battle with an invisible foe but I wasn’t ready to give up, I wasn’t built to give up. I moved ahead and then I saw something that makes me sweat even to this day. It was the kid, sitting below the dead dark tree, bodies still hanging from its branches. He was oblivious to my presence, calmly playing with something round and humming an old nursery rhyme. I thought, this was a good chance to escape but he just sat there, between me and the beach. I moved slowly and silently, not taking my eyes off him, planning to get past without being noticed. As I moved, the image became clearer and what I saw, made me feel something I had never felt before. I felt numb, unable to decide what to do. The kid was not playing with a ball, it was the decapitated head of my girlfriend, whose body I had been carrying on my shoulders. I just stood still, I couldn’t dare to look back at what I was carrying and then he looked at me, his hollowed sockets fixed on me with a malicious grin on his partially melted face. I looked at her head on the ground and it was staring at me, eyes wide open and a sad smile between the lips. I was on the verge of breaking down, tears filled my eyes as the pain built up in my chest but I didn’t fall. I looked up only to see the hanging bodies looking straight at me. I looked down again but the kid had disappeared along with my partner’s head. My trance was broken by a sudden screech and I looked back. Darkness was creeping up on us, engulfing everything in its way. I could feel the bushes burning, embers flying about, the smoke burning my eyes. The church at the back now bore a malicious incandescent red glow, as if the church was alive and burning from inside. I had to run, somehow, with whatever strength remained within me. I ran, with her body on my shoulders which I presumed was dead. As I progressed towards the beach, the darkness moved faster, the hanging bodies started screaming together. I wanted this to get over, as soon as possible, even if I had to die.
Finally, I was able to reach the end of the path, the threshold set by the dead tree. As soon I did so, there was a sudden gush of wind which almost knocked me over but I hunkered down and kept my ground. I continued moving towards the beach and after a while my hands touched the partially wet sand. I felt relief build inside me and I burst into a run. No sooner that I went past the edge of the tree, everything stopped. There was no rushing wind trying to knock me over, there was no shadow trying to seize me inside the darkness, the tree looked similar to what it looked like during the daytime, there were no dead bodies hanging from its branches or any kid playing with a head underneath.
A cool breeze touched my face and my body gave away. I fell on my knees, placed her on the sand and myself crashed besides her. I think I passed out. It was almost dawn when I regained my senses. I opened my eyes and turned my head to look at her. I was half prepared to look at a headless body but it was not. She was lying there, the whole of her, breathing slowly. I was elated, couldn’t hold back my tears and I held her close to me, as tightly as possible. She woke up to the sounds of my weeping. She was shocked to see me that way and that too on the beach at sunrise. She had absolutely no recollection of what transpired between the previous evening and the present time. I told her of the events, what I saw and experienced, the darkness creeping upon us, the little boy with hollowed eyes and rotting face, how I saw her lifeless head being rolled about like a ball, the slowly burning church, everything. She was aghast, upon listening to my narration. She held me closely and said she had experienced everything but she imagined it only to be a dream.
We decided to stay on the beach till it was morning and the caretaker arrived. We sat down, in each other’s arms and watched the sun coming up from the horizon as it filled the sky with a reddish glow, it was soothing this time.