It was a long bus ride to Jodhpur.
Sameer, Pia, and Anisha gathered all the snacks they had stuffed into their backpack and set them upright on their laps, feasting on a dinner none of their mothers would approve of. As the cold February air seeped into the bus, the shivers down their arms and spine elicited a response of thrill, something that made their teeth chatter with adrenaline rather than cold.
“How about we ring a doorbell to a random house and then run away?” Anisha suggested, which got her nothing but a glare from Sameer and a whack on the head from Pia.
“After years of planning, we’ve all finally made time to come to Jodhpur and this what you suggest? Something we’ve been doing all our lives, ever since we started school?” Sameer was exasperated.
Anisha put her hands up in surrender, apologizing. “Guys, how about this?” Pia spoke up. “We sneak into a fort after it has closed and have a picnic under the stars?
Everybody’s eyes lit up at the idea. “Yes, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”
Jodhpur was a magnificent city.
The local cuisine, markets, food, everything was picturesque and royal, and the three best friends felt like they sprained their wrists with the number of times they angled their phones to get the right picture. Come evening, they were exhausted, but their spirits were held high by the thought of their little rendezvous to bask in the glory of the famous Haveli when no one was around.
As expected, the guards shooed us away, half-heartedly telling us to come tomorrow and narrating the entry fees for the weekend over and over, as if that would put us off. We knew all about the back entrance of the Haveli – it was not an easy ride. First, trek up the uncemented road, then climb up a high wall, jump into the other side, and hope the others make it too.
Once the shenanigans were over, Pia and Anisha skipped around, marvelling at the glory of the place, and Sameer tried to capture the intricate pillars of the structure in the same shot as the full moon.
It really was a magical night in Jodhpur.
Soon enough, the adrenaline rush dwindled. Suddenly the air got chillier and the wind became the only source of sound in the entire surrounding area. “Guys, is it just me or are things getting a little eerie?” Anisha asked no one in particular. The others felt it too, but put on a brave facade, “Aww, is little Anisha scared?” Sameer and Pia laughed in unison.
A particularly harsh wind silenced them immediately, and to fill in the awkward silence, Pia suggested, “why don’t we set our mat down on the grass and lay down on it?” The lawns were lush, you could tell even in the dark, and the others agreed without putting up a fight. Unfolding the mat, they laugh and played around, taking a thousand pictures to tell everyone back home about their adventures.
As they watched the moon and stars, Pia couldn’t help but shiver a little. She felt someone tugging at her jacket and immediately chided,
“Sameer, stop that!”
He turned his face towards her, giving her an expressionless look and asked, “stop what?” When they looked down, they watched in horror, a jacket that had been clawed apart. The edges were so tattered that it looked like it had been torn apart by a pack of wolves. In reality, however, it was brand new. All three of them gulped at the same time but didn’t dare say anything.
It was only when they began to hear whistling along with the whooshing of the wind that they all stood up, fumbling and stumbling, petrified out of their minds.
None of them knew what to do, and in their fright, they couldn’t even speak. It felt like the temperature suddenly dropped further and Anisha didn’t try to hide the fact that she was crying now.
Sameer, taking charge after mustering up some courage, grabbed both of their hands and began to run towards the main exit. The guard was fast asleep, his chair creaking with every snore he let out. They flew past him, panting and teary, afraid of the presence they just felt.
“Oh god, Anisha, can you please stop crying now?” Pia asked, exasperated. For the fist time, Sameer didn’t join in on nagging her, however. He was still reeling from the shock of what had happened. He didn’t want to scare the girls further, but he felt a very strong presence in the garden, shrouding him, and it was still making him a little sick.
“Sameer,” Anisha spoke up, still sniffling, “I know what you’re thinking.” Sameer looked up at her as she continued, “and it wasn’t just you who felt that.”
There was a moment of silence, a heavy, impending gloomy kind of quiet. It was like an atmosphere where it felt like nothing would be okay again.
“Let’s just forget about this night.” An awkward cough. “This night in Jodhpur never happened.”
That night never really happened. At least, that’s what it felt like. They never spoke about it, and if anyone asked about their Jodhpur trip, they only talked about the shopping and bus rides, not once about the dreaded night.
Two months passed,
and the three of them put this incident behind them. It was when they were at Pia’s house, having lunch with her parents that it came up again.
“Why don’t you show us pictures from the Jodhpur trip?” Mrs. Sharma asked, adding another spoonful of curd into everyone’s bowls. The three of them looked at each other and began to smile, finally someone was asking for their works of art! They were photography students, after all.
Grabbing her camera from her bedroom, Pia beckoned everyone to the couch, setting the piece of equipment in such a way that everyone could get a good view.
“Okay, this is the first picture from the bus ride,” she laughed as she pointed at Anisha snoozing with her mouth wide open. The second picture was of Sameer pointing at a monkey, and the third was of them posing together in the hotel.
The next picture was nostalgic. But not in a good way.
Suddenly, the atmosphere changed from light and fun to heavy and dark. It was of them in the Haveli, as they were laying on the carpet.
“I didn’t take this picture, did any of you?” Pia asked, knowing the answer too well. They hadn’t even taken out their cameras from the bag that night. She turned towards Sameer and Anisha, both shaking their heads slowly, eyes wide with fear.
Probably sensing the shift in the air, Mrs. Sharma spoke up, “ah, you guys have probably forgotten, who else could take these pictures?” We nodded at her, smiling politely.
Pia continued to show them the rest of the pictures from the trip, but she moved around uncomfortably. Every one could sense her discomfort, but only Sameer asked, “what’s wrong?”
She looked at him incredulously, “can you stop that?” He looked at her confused, “stop what?”
She eyed him, “you’re scratching my thigh and it’s really hurting me!” She was screaming now.
Sameer got up and backed away,
“I’m doing no such thing!”
Her eyes looked like they were about to bulge out of her head. Slowly, she got up too. Looking down at the edge of her shirt, she saw as it had been clawed apart again. The same way it had been that night. The heaviness in the air returned. Every little detail from the night came rushing back. As shivers ran down their spines, Pia’s parents were left dumbstruck. They felt a shift in the air, so heavy, so dark, that they couldn’t even move from their place.
It felt like the world was suddenly devoid of energy. Just like that night.
When the camera began to beep on its own, Anisha screamed. Pia teared up. Sameer reached out to grab their hands again, but this time he couldn’t get to them fast enough.
Read another thriller here – A Murder Without The Mystery