Written by Nandini Sethi
I got to the crime scene as quickly as I heard. A 33-year old woman had been found dead in the forest, no clear evidence visible except for two snake-like bitemarks on the side of her neck. There was nothing suggesting strangulation and choking, and no marks or bruises on the rest of her body.
When I heard about this case, I indulged in what I like to call my ‘Investigator Ritual’. I comb my hair back, apply layers of gel, set the roundest pair of glasses on my eyes, and smother my face in aftershave so that people think I needed a shave when in reality I didn’t. After getting ready, I get into my official car and head to the crime branch to study the case and speak to the witnesses.
It just so happened that day that there were no passers-by or onlookers; one man from my office had been heading into a cottage in the woods with his wife, when he suddenly braked to prevent running over a body lying in the middle of the road.
The case was a curious one, and it sparked the interest of the ghost hunting division because, as stupid as it sounds, they believed the murder was the doing of a vampire.
At first, all of us laughed and brushed it off, but they brought stacks of paperwork with them that pointed towards such a conclusion. Despite doing an autopsy and then a psychological autopsy, the reports led nowhere, and we were left with no option but to head into the forest and look for something none of us really believed in: fictional vampires.
What seemed silliest to me was that we actually had to follow all the manmade myths about these mystical creatures – like the fact that they don’t come out during the day and that they are repelled by garlic. This worked in my favour because I was not a morning (or even afternoon) person and I absolutely despised garlic in my food. Everyone knew how badly I reacted to garlic in the office, so we had an unofficial rule ‘no garlic till after working hours’. We even printed it on a poster and stuck it on the wall.
So, at 7:00 PM on a windy November night, we set off into the famous ‘Cherry Forest’, known to be the home of wolves and other dangerous animals. We flashed the torchlights in the dark and howled like good-looking human-turned werewolves in a teenage film.
Despite having the best guns and weapons, I must admit the night did get eerie. The air had an icy edge to it and the silence was almost echoing: the crunch of dried up leaves reverberated with every footstep and the whoosh of the wind sent shivers down all our spines.
I could tell Officer Ghungroo was trying to put on a brave façade but the goosebumps down his arms told me otherwise. For a while, nothing happened. All the trees began to look the same and the chill in the wind became numbing.
We decided to stop for a minute, to catch our breath and take a sip of water. It was only when we were starting to walk again that we realized something weird: we had stopped walking, but the sound of the footsteps never halted. We became so used to that sound over the course of the few hours that it didn’t strike us.
Officer Ghungroo’s eyes widened and he slowly turned his head towards me. I mirrored his expression, at a loss for words.
Then, everything happened too fast. It began pelting rain and the temperature dropped even lower. All the officers began to shiver and squeal, but I only stood still, waiting for everyone to come to the same realisation as me.
Whispers began to pervade the silence; the oscillation of the trees, back and forth, back and forth, sounded in the air as if it were whining, begging, pleading to be set free so they could run from here.
Chaos ensued. Officers began running wild, trying to find the path back to the road, where our cars were parked. But I knew that wouldn’t be possible. The frightening possibility of our worst fears coming to life was getting closer by the second. The lingering question remained paused in the air: could there really be? Vampires?
I watched silently, standing behind Officer Ghungroo, waiting for him to turn around to see the truth himself. I watched as his sweaty neck stiffened in fear, and he unwillingly moved it to face me. I watched the horror and shock on his face, as he opened his mouth to voice a loud scream. There, in his eyes, I saw a reflection: a tall figure, hooded with a cape, smirking with a look of thirst in his eye, as his fangs protruded to pierce his own skin. It was then I realized that I was only looking at my own reflection.