Sunday 10 June 2012

Short Story 2012 Longlist, Vasukumar Gangapalli

Sound of Anklets

The children gathered under the banyan tree to listen to a story, which Mohandas was going to narrate to them. They were discussing among themselves, which story should they ask him to narrate this time. They came to a conclusion by the time the old man arrived with a walking stick.
“Well, which story would you like me to narrate this time?” Mohandas asked the children, settling down under the banyan tree.

“A ghost story!” said Anil, on behalf of others.
“Well, even I had a ghost story in my mind.” Mohandas said, “Shall we start the story then?” He asked, looking at them.
“Yes!” They all cried in unison.

It was some time back in the past, ( Mohandas said ) when Rahul, who was  really bored with the noisy city life, decided to go on a vacation to some far away  quite place. He was travelling by train. After dinner, everyone in the compartment went to sleep. Rahul woke up sometime later feeling thirsty. He devoured last few drops of water left in the water bottle. However, that didn’t quench his thirst.

It was a full moon night, and the train came to a halt at a deserted railway station, after some time. He got down the compartment with the empty water bottle in his hand, heading towards the drinking water tap at some distance. He drank the water, and then started filling the empty bottle. He heard the train whistle, and as he turned back, found the train leaving the station. He rushed towards his compartment as fast as he could, abandoning the water bottle. But he missed to catch hold of the side bar of the compartment, and saw the train leave the station.

“Did you miss the train?” asked someone from behind.
“Yes,” He said, turning back, looking at the squint eyes; which seemed to look else where while he spoke to him. He was dressed like a porter.
“When is the next train?” Rahul asked him.
“Not until six in the morning,” He replied, “Be careful!” he added, before vanishing into the darkness.

“Why?” Rahul asked surprised. But he got no answer.
Rahul decided to lie down on the long chair, after answering the nature’s call. He walked some distance away from the station towards the busy land. He kept a cigarette in his mouth, struck a match to light it, when he heard the sound of anklets. He lighted his cigarette with that match, wondering who it could be at this hour of the night. He made up his mind to find out. So, he went in the direction of that sound.

He found a woman dressed in a long white gown, had long hair, walking at some distance in the lonely path; which was surrounded with bushes and trees. It was her anklets which were making the sound. He started following her.

The paths lead to an old mansion at the corner, which was surrounded by trees and bushes. She pushed aside the gate as she entered, the gate hung on one hinge. She walked towards the main door of the mansion. There were five steps leading to the main door. She entered the house. He quickly followed into the house, without making much noise. He saw her climbing the stairs, which lead to the room on the first floor and then disappeared into it.

There was complete darkness in the house. He struck a match. The match flared, showing him the way to the wooden stairs. The match stick burned out by the time he reached the landing of the wooden stairs. He started climbing the stairs in complete darkness. He struck the second match when he was about to step on a mouse. They both exchanged frightened glances at each other, before the mouse rushed downstairs. The match burned out soon again.

Finally, he reached near the door of the room. He struck the third match as he entered the room. The match flared round the room and gave him a flash picture of the surroundings in the room. There was a wooden chair near the window, upon which hung a curtain, which was blowing in the wind coming from outside the open window. There was no trace of the woman who had entered it.
“Where did she go?” He asked himself astonished.

He got scared, rushed downstairs, and out of the mansion as fast as he could. He turned back to look at the window on the first floor. He could only see the dancing curtain in the wind. When he turned back, he found himself standing in front of that woman.

“Did he die then?” asked Vijay.
“He was already dead when he had arrived to that place.” Mohandas said.
“Dead?” They all asked surprised.
“Yes, he was a ghost who was tired of city life, and was travelling in the train looking for some quite place in some far away destination.”
“What about that woman?” asked Anil.
“Well, she was a cruel ghost who picked her victims from the railway station. The porter who spoke to him was one of her early victims.” Mohandas said, “So, did you like the story?”
“Yes!” They all said together.

“Now, kids go to sleep.” He said, “Good night.”
“Good night, Grandpa.” They said to him, as he left the place.
The moon was shining with millions of twinkling stars in the sky. The banyan tree stood in the middle of the graveyard, and the kids retired to their respective graves.

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