(Last night I spent drafting and posting a story on The Write Practice. I knew it was publishable once it was okayed by akanksha bhattacharjee (pupu) / & anushka bhattacharjee. When Mrs. Anindita Basu, the famous writer-daughter of the famous Bengali writer, Narayan Sanyal, commented on the story later, my cup of joy and happiness was full. Here is the story I copy-pasted from the site along with Mrs. Basu’s comments for you.)
The Deadly Bet:
It was a silent, stilly night. The walk past the Kali temple gave Dona a momentary fright. Or the pujari rather. The barebodied, hairy man looked at Dona as if the world had come to an end before breaking into a rumbly laughter.
“You impertinent lass, how dare you step inside a sanctuary even men fear to trade? Don’t you fear for your life?”
As Dona sat down against the sycamore tree, she recollected, all on a sudden, the number of ghost stories she had read in her childhood concerning the tree. An owl, disturbed by the sudden unusual movements, screeched out of the shadowy branches of a solitary tree. Unnerved, she took a deep breath, trying to steady herself. She glanced at the time on her tab, a quarter past one. She still had four hours to kill in the samsan. She would dig the hole, put the cross in it, cover it up with the soil. She’d watch ‘The Last Samurai’ on her tab before getting back to teach a lesson to those chickenhearted friends of hers. In the twenty first century when girls were taking the world by storm, doing the impossible, her so-called educated friends were a disgrace really. She was brought out of her reverie by the priest thundering out from the temple:
Jai RaktaKali Mai ki …. (Let the blood-suckling Goddess Kali be praised.)
His booming voice was more scary than she would like to admit to herself. Hardly did she take the small knife out of her wallet, when the silence of the samsan was shattered by the heart wrenching cry of a she wolf from the other side of the Matali river, separating the samsan from the dense forest.
Dona decided to get to work. The crescent moon emerging in the sky, cast an unnatural tinge. A gentle breeze rustled among the branches. Dona started digging. When she felt that she had made a hole deep enough for the cross, she unhooked the majestic cross from her neck. She held it in the hole with her left hand. She didn’t mind the end of the sari around her waist coming loose while gathering the loose soil around the cross. Once the hole was filled up, she made sure that the cross would hold up. An eerie silence had descended on the burning ghat by then. Strangely, the thought of Mariam’s mom putting an end to her terminal disease with all the sleeping tabs, came to her mind. For an instant, she could see her on the bamboo cot, with two cotton balls pressed into her nostrils. And the nauseating odor of the perfume that permeated the air. She turned towards the Kali temple to get the scene out of her mind. But how did the air over where she was kneeling, smell of the same perfume? She tried getting the disturbing thought out of her mind as well. As she tried to get up, her back to the cross, someone tugged at her from the back. The owner of Black Belt; known for her courage and fearlessness; had a severe jolt. Something was out there behind her, trying to stop her from getting up and back to freedom. For some reasons she couldn’t turn her head back. Even then without losing her head, she tried to jerk herself free with all her strength. The pull from the back was greater, coursing straight through her up to her heart. Overcome with a sense of helplessness and fear, Dona stumbled and fell forward. She was gone even before she hit the ground, face down.
As the deathly pallor gradually settled on her face, her soul left for the place where it had all started a week earlier ……..
“This is preposterous. Are you guys nuts or what? How can you believe in ghosts and such stuff when Science and Technology has gone too far?” Dona asked her friends.
“But it’s a fact. Jemi can’t stay alone since her mom’s tragic death. Jemi’s quite close to her and has been hallucinating a lot since then,” I cut in. “Whatever it may be, I’ll stay with her for a few days.”
“I can’t believe this! Are you both science grads? Studied in the best college in the city? You really want me to believe this shit?” Dona asked incredulously.
“OK, Dona. Don’t buy our story if you don’t want to. You’re the Champion of Virtue and Valour, na? Can you prove that ghosts don’t exist?” Jemima was hurting from inside as it was clear from her challenging voice.
“Let’s have a bet to see how daring, how smart you’re by asking you to spend a night at the RaktaKali Samsan one of these days. If you can carry out our terms and conditions, we’ll accept your suzerainty unconditionally. “
That is how the bet materialized between us. The terns of the bet were laid down at the town gym later.
As per the bet, she was to go to the samsan alone, fix the cross under the sycamore tree at the danger end. Spend the rest of the night there and come back to the gym. Besides the wallet, she could also carry her tab to make a call in case of emergency. As Dona left the gym with a contemptuous smile on her face,Jemima cried out piteously,” Oh, God! The scent of that perfume again!”
We waited for Dona till late the next day. When we didn’t hear from her in the morning, we informed the police. We were asked to accompany Inspector Sukhbir Singh to the RaktaKali Samsan Ghat at around two in the afternoon. Even getting inside the cremation ground with security, gave us the goosebumps. While heading towards the northern end, where the dead bodies were burnt, I had a glimpse of the image of goddess Kali in the cylindrical temple under the banyan tree. It was the most terrifying image of a goddess I had ever seen in my life. She was standing over Lord Shiva with her tongue out in shame all right, but the garland of skulls around her neck, hanging low to her bare waist, made a sight. I don’t know for sure but I had this strange feeling that the blood tricking down the corners of her mouth, was more real than painted. And what about that fierce look of angst in her eyes? Both Jemima and I stayed close to the inspector flanked by the constables on the sides.
When we got to the northern end. There was a muddy wall separating the samsan from the once swift-flowing now dried up river. As we neared the sycamore tree, we found Dona, lying on the ground, her face down. Blood drained out of Jemima’s face. I could feel her nails in my palm the way we were holding our hands. The inspector asked the constables to shift the body to the ambulance waiting outside the entrance. As they bent down to lift her lifeless body, they were in for a surprise. A corner of Dona’s sari somehow was clinging to the cross sticking out the soil used to fill up the recently dugout hole!
Jemi lamented piteously, “God! The sickening perfume again.”
January 21, 2019 at 2:19 pm
Wow!! Very good Rathin and quite eery. That is my first impression. Was going too fast..you held the reader’s attention tight..now will go one more time slowly to really read and enjoy your piece. By the way, Happy New year.
January 21, 2019 at 4:15 pm
Thank you, Anindita. Let me tell you that for the first time since joining this site, I read someone else’s story first before posting mine. I read your story to see if I got the prompt all right or not. I’ll comment on your story later.
Welcome back. Missed you, if I ever really knew the meaning of ‘missing’ anybody at all. Take care and Happy New Year to you too. Love and regards.