A Product Called Fear

With the killing descended peace.

Not the cold and unbending peace of death, but warm and soothing..like the touch of the first rays of the sun on your skin after a long stretch of cold.

The peace coursed through the killer’s veins even as he dug the shallow grave- casting his eyes every now and then at the gaping wound on the woman’s throat- practically a grin in the shape of a wound, the coagulated blood which rimmed its edges looking more black than red.

When he started digging the grave, he kept looking over his shoulder, to see if someone passed by on the road behind. Kormangala was one of the places in Bangalore that was most densely populated. To pull off a murder here and to bury the carcass in the vicinity was a double thrill for him- the girl who met his maker this evening, thanks to a swiftly applied cut to the throat, delivered by his expert hand was the first of his kill in the city that they call India’s Silicon Valley.

He has been here for eight days now. Came to the city with high hopes. He has heard how young women were plentiful in the city. He has also heard how cool and futuristic the city was. He wasn’t disappointed on the former. Not only did he see a lot of young women in the city, he also found that many of them just stood around in alleyways talking on the phone at night- as though that was the only way in which they knew how to kill the time till bedtime, when sleep would cover their eyes until sun-u,  when they would once again start running around like a headless chicken to make a living in the city.

As for the idea that the city was cool and futuristic, the killer couldn’t agree with that. This was the first time that he was here, and the way he saw it, it’s one of the most wretched places to live in- overpopulated, congested streets filled with shit and filth, the air toxic, everything-and literally everything- overpriced, and from what he read in the newspapers, the city was fast running out of natural resources. Including water. In fact, there was a mention in an article about ‘water mafias’ working in the city, the public infrastructure having failed to bring water to the people. Of the more than 300 lakes in the city, there were just around 80 left.

Cases of depression and suicide-even among the affluent, especially among the affluent were going up.

In other words, a veritable hell in the making, disguised as a coloured dream of capitalism.

No, he didn’t think that this was a cool city. Nowhere near. But it’s in this hell that he was going to get his pick of women, it seems. There was something about snuffing the life out of someone who considers herself immune to bad things- which is just about every woman who grew up in a financially well off family, that gave him a lot of satisfaction.

The look in their eyes when they finally acknowledge that this is it- that there’s not going to be many more breaths in their life, is a mix of surprise and denial- and it’s the best thing that you can ever hope to see in your life, like the glimpse of civilization after an arduous walk through a desert, or the touch of cool water in your parched lips.

The killer looked at the woman’s half naked body one last time before burying her.

Except for the gash in the throat, she looked unblemished- unless you looked closely and saw the various telltale signs of futile struggle that she put up. He hadn’t wanted to bury her half-naked. But the top came off during the struggle and it was somewhere back in the apartment. He wasn’t confident enough to go back in to get it-what if someone saw him? The apartment was empty, of this he was sure but what if one of the neighbors chose the moment to go up to the balcony and talk on the phone. Looking down at the neighboring house, they would see someone- a stranger snooping around, and they could raise an alarm.

No, this must do. He didn’t like the idea of his prey’s nakedness being seen by some random stranger who discovered her- such shallow graves were sure to be discovered sooner or later. But he couldn’t do anything about it!

Shit!

The thought threatened to disrupt the newfound peace.

He buried the body, then folded the shovel- one of those foldable types that’s a recent entry in the market, wrapped it in a towel which he had brought for the purpose, and put it away in the duffel bag which was his constant companion.

The plot behind the woman’s house- a two storied affair with a  landscaped exterior and posh interiors, has been marked out for a building construction . A sign board planted at the entrance mentioned the name of the upcoming apartment complex.

But for the time being, the land remained empty, except for the shallow grave in which lied a 23 year old woman’s body.

The killer waited for almost 15 minutes by her grave, lamenting the fact that he couldn’t bury her fully attired, lamenting even more the fact that it upset his peace.

‘But no matter,’ he thought, ‘I can regain the peace if it’s lost. All I have to do is kill again.’

Grinning softly, throwing the duffel bag over his shoulder, he turned and walked away. In the pale silvery moonlight the lone figure cast a long shadow behind him.

**

The man is handsome and certainly not a ghost!

Remya kept telling herself this.

But the ghostly figure that appeared behind Roy mingled in her sight with her flesh and blood date.

“Are you alright?” Roy said, not for the first time during the dinner.

Remya nodded with effort. Her eyes strayed to the blue coil of cereal bulbs wound around a pillar behind Roy- a luminous ornamentation piece in the restaurant which was making Remya distressed. She had thought that she could ignore it. But no, the luminescence was turning out to be too much for her fragile nerves.

“Remya?”

The concern in Roy’s voice was real but there was nothing she could say to put his mind at ease.

In fact, to her surprise, she found that there was nothing that she could say. Period.

For her lips felt dry and her tongue was a dead weight inside her mouth. It  felt like her mouth was filled with lead pellets.

The ghostly shape flickered in an out of her vision even as Roy kept calling her name, asking her repeatedly if she was alright.

She sensed the gaze of the other patrons of the restaurant on her face.

However, before the sensation of feeling strangers’ eyes on her face could turn into full-fledged embarrassment, her brain shut off and she fainted.

**

“Why did it take two days for you to come to me!?”

Remya didn’t like anyone talking to her in a patronizing tone, but Dr. Natesan was an exception. Not just because he was around the same age as her father, but also because he was genuinely concerned about her. Ever since the disease has been diagnosed when she was 15, he has been her caregiver. And he has done an excellent job of it.

“I thought that it was just like any other time,”Remya couldn’t keep the pleading tone out of her voice- something that came naturally to her whenever she came to consult Dr. Nateshan at his office in Sarjapore Road. “But it was only over the last two days-when I was at the office that I kept getting a recurring view of the ghost-like shape.” She said it with as much drama as someone might talk about the sun rising in the east.

As a sufferer of the neurological condition, Neuritis Pragalia, Remya was used to waking hallucinations.

Her condition rendered her vulnerable to sensory overload. This made it impossible to go to the movies- the loud sounds would inevitably get to her, giving her a splitting headache at the least, or any venues where they played music loudly. This was one of the main reasons that, beautiful though she was, she didn’t get invited for that many dates.

This time around, she was sure that it was the surprisingly bright light of the blue cereal bulbs in the restaurant where she went with her date that tipped her over the edge.

“Have you seen such ghostly figures before in any of your episodes?” the doctor asked in that calm and measured tone of his, which never failed to put Remya’s mind at ease. She often joked with her father that more than any of his medicines, it was the doctor’s tone of speech which helped with her incurable ailment.

“I have seen such figures-just a couple of times before, that’s been years,” she said , “but never this distinctly…Do you think that I’m getting worse?” she added, hardly able to keep the note of panic out of her voice.

Once her condition got so bad that even the slightest sound-like that of a pencil falling off a table would sent her mind reedling to the realm of unreality. It was some three years ago- she was around 20, in the final year of her graduation. She remembered how she would lie with her hed buried under the pillow, feeling miserable, on many instances, unable to tell what’s real and what’s not.

She hoped this wasn’t the beginning of a recurrence.

It took Dr. Nateshan almost a week to bring her back to normal. “Stress caused by overworking,” that was the reason he cited. The prolonged episode happened when she was preparing for the semester exams.

The words that Dr.Nateshan presently spoke mirrored his words from years ago.

“Are you, by any chance, working too much?”

Remya looked up. She wanted to say no- the kindly doctor always reminded her not to overwork. But she had a feeling that if she were to lie, he would know. She was never really a good liar- especially with the good doctor.

Remya worked as a secretary to the manager of a memento manufacturing firm. Until she joined the company-right after her studies, her first and so far, the only job, she didn’t know that mementoes were such big business. The company- with HQ in Kormangala, Bangalore had clients in countries as diverse as Japan, Norway and America. She was glad to know that there were so many people around the world with disposable incomes to buy such things as heart shaped pendants for their lovers.

And along with the growth in the disposable incomes of the global population, the company’s revenue also grew steadily.

However, this also meant that things have been rather hectic in the past few months. Her manager- a young man of 35, though efficient overall wasn’t the best of book-keepers. He relied onn Remya for everything from finding an invoice a client raised six months ago to ensuring that the dinner appointment with a prospective client was done.

Remya nodded. “Yes, things have been a bit hectic of late.”

“Then I am sure that’s what brought this on,” said the doctor. “But just to be sure, I would also run a couple of tests the results of which would tell you if this is something other than that!”

Seeing how glum she still looked, the doctor said, “Don’t worry. I’m sure there’s nothing to it. I suggest that you take a couple of days off from work. Stay at home. Take some rest.” Looking closely at her, he added, “Is there anything else you wanted to tell me?”

There was something else which happened over the last two days at work-aside from seeing the weird ghostly shape like transmission through a faulty channel.

It was about Roy.

He joined recently at the company in the accounts department. She did notice the signs that he gave from early on that he was interested in her- from how he would join her at lunch and how he kept approaching her to ask questions that a novice would ask- what’s the leave policy in the office, are there any good snack shops in the vicinity? etc.

But he has always been gentlemanly and that’s one quality which she hasn’t seen in many young men in the city. Or elsewhere for that matter.

“You must know something,” she had told him when he asked her out for dinner. And she told him about her condition.

He waved it away, saying it’s nothing. “We wouldn’t go to any place with a live band!” he said, smiling.

But once he saw how her eyes swooned and a trickle of blood coiming out of her nostril at the restaurant, his concept about the disease was apparently toppled. For the last two days, she felt him growing distant from her, evading her even when she went to him, confining his answers to her questions in monosyllables.

But that wasn’t information that she wished to discuss with the doctor.

“No,” she said. “There’s nothing else.”

The doctor nodded. Assuring her once again that it would probably be just the over-working, he gave her a smile.

**

That night, sleep was hard in coming.

She felt surprised at how much she was affected by Roy’s behavior at the office the last couple of days.

She had hoped that maybe she would call her and she waited for his call all day long. Silly her.

She has never had a steady boyfriend. She was young enough to warrant such things in the future, but somehow she doubted  it. As soon as they learned that she had an incurable disease that put her at the mercy of continuous medication, they scooted. Or if they stuck around, it wasn’t in anticipation of a long term relationship. And easy sex wasn’t what she looked from a relation either.

She had taken three days off. “You can have even more days off if you want,” the HR Manager- an elderly woman who knew of her condition, told her over the phone when she requested for leaves.

Thinking how she didn’t have to wake up early the next morning to go to work, she decided that she would watch a movie on the tab. The only way she could watch movies or any other entertainment of the manner was on a device over which she had complete control. She could always keep the volume low and if too colorful a frame appeared on screen, she could immediately turn it off.

She has access to the common television on the floor where she stayed in the PG, but she rarely watched it. For one thing, there was something faulty about the TV which made it impossible to turn the volume down beyond a point.

She didn’t think that the movie that she was about to watch would pose any problem for her. It was one that her best friend, Natasha had given her. Natasha and she grew up together and if there was anyone who knew which films would be safe for Remya to watch, it would be her.

Lying on her bed, she turned on the tab and began watching the movie. Half way through it, she began to feel sleepy. Yawning, she checked the time and was surprised to see that it well past 1 in the morning.

She turned off the movie and was about to pull the earplugs from her ears when she caught something flitting out of the corner of an eye. The movement was swift but it was unmistakable.

Lowering the tab, she looked up to see the ghost like figure from her hallucination, hovering right over her bed, leaning its head towards her, snarling.

Putting the tablet aside, she sat up.

The ghost was more vivid than it was in the hallucination. She didn’t think that it was the movie that has set this off.

She did what Dr. Nateshan has told her to do in situations when she felt too stressed out, feeling her nerves buckling under pressure- she closed her eyes and took deep breaths. One..two..three..four..

Her plan was to suck in air ten times, letting each gulp out slow and steady. But she couldn’t keep at it. For the ghost spoke midway, “Why are you trying to shut me out?”

Remya opened her eyes and looked right at the ghost’s eyes-two black fathomless pools which glared in the light from the CFL that glowed bright in the night.

The ghost did look more substantial than in the hallucination.

In her hallucinatory vision, it was nothing more than a white wisp in the dark, like a white curtain swirling in the night. But now, it was more solid- it’s body covered with what looked like hardened scab, dots of thick black ooze dripping from its pores, its nostrils propped up like it belonged to a disfigured face and the light crackling sound it made whenever it talked- details which she weren’t present in the hallucination.

The ghost’s voice was that of a man’s. But it sounded like it had to strain a lot to talk- as though every single word were a bulbous mass of flesh which needed to be birthed through a pin sized wound.

“Don’t try to shut me off!” it said, “That would be a terrible mistake!” The ghost looked right into her eyes, and Remya felt as though it was looking right to the centre of her being, as though it knew something about her that she herself didn’t.

The sensation this lit in her was almost as disturbing as the presence of the ghost itself.

“Come out tomorrow. Night. After midnight. To the rain tree.” After uttering these words, the ghost lingered for just another moment before disappearing into thin air, leaving nothing but cold air in its wake, and Remya’s heart beating at a mad pace.

**

 

“So, essentially what you are saying is that you got an invitation for a late night date from a ghost?”

“Ouch!” Remya made an expression of mock-hurt. “Seeing how I don’t seem to be getting too many date invites from the living, I think the non-living might be the only option I have left,” she added good-naturedly.

Natasha, who was busy stirring sugar into her cup of coffee looked up. Her eyes crinkling with concern,  placing a hand over Remya’s she said, “Oh, darling, I didn’t mean it like that. That was pretty insensitive of me, wasn’t it?”

“Nah, it’s cool,” said Remya, waving away. “Though if it was anyone else who had said that, I would have killed her.”

Both of them smiled at that.

When she thought of whom to tell about the weird episode from last night, the only person she could think of was her best friend. She had a tough time getting a good night’s sleep after the ghostly visitation. So, by sun-up, she was awake and alert, though her nerves were somewhat fraught- the bed rest which Dr. Nateshan had prescribed was not being followed, due to circumstances beyond her control.

And it was the doctor whom she called first- even before calling Natasha. She needed to know a couple of things.

One- is it possible to get auditory hallucinations due to her condition? So far in her life, all the hallucinations that Neuritis Pragalia gifted her were of the visual kind – until last night when the ghost talked with her. An eerie, but distinct voice. Two- has her test results come, and if yes, did they reveal anything unusual?

The doctor sounded bright, even though it wasn’t yet seven in the morning. But she knew that the doctor-though he was on the other side of sixty was someone who kept himself sprightly by getting out of bed early in the morning and going for a jog.

“Well, I cannot remember coming across any such instance in medical literature or online. Of course, you are my only patient with this particular condition-you know, how rare it is..So, I’d be lying if I were to say I am familiar with all the variants of Neuritis Pragalia. But I can say with some confidence that I do keep myself updated with all the latest in the medical development in the field- the internet has made such endeavours not just easy but even more pleasurable. And I don’t think there’s any mention anywhere of a case which has auditory hallucinations associated with the disease,” the doctor said in his calmly explanatory tone, answering her first question. “Why, did you experience anything of the sort?” he added immediately.

For some reason, Remya wasn’t willing to talk to the doctor about what happened last night. Odd as the experience was, she couldn’t shake a feeling of intimacy which had existed between the ghost and herself, perhaps established by the former when he invited her to a late night rendezvous by the rain tree.

An intimacy which felt too personal, even to be shared with her doctor.

“No,” she said, “I was just curious.”

As to her second question, the doctor said that the results came in last evening. He was to call her today when she called. There was nothing to worry about. Everything was normal.

When she got off the phone, Remya felt almost disheartened.

She reckoned she just might be the only patient in the world to feel bad about having test results turning out well. But some anomaly that the tests might have shown could have explained the weird episode from last night.

The alternative was just too damn strange to contemplate- even for her.

That was when she decided to call Natasha.

**

Natasha took the information that her friend provided her in stride.

When she got the call in the morning and Remya told her that there was something “urgent that I want to tell you!” she asked her to spill the beans immediately. But Remya suggested that it might be better if it was done face-to-face, and the bean could be spilled somewhere where they roasted beans of another kind- coffee beans, to be precise.

It was Natasha who suggested that they meet at ‘Nambiar’s Coffee’- a small but elegant coffee joint in oKormangala. In fact, the place was couple of minutes walk away from Remya’s PG which was on the 5th Block.

Remya would have preferred somewhere else- the two days she has spent alone at the PG, not going to work made her crave to be outside, to be among people, preferably some distant away from the PG. But when Natasha told her that she would be coming back from work and her office cab would swing by there, Remya didn’t contest the idea.

Remya reached the coffee shop five minutes before Natasha. The uneasiness that the ghostly visitation gave her hasn’t completely left her. Besides, she kept wondering if not telling her doctor about it was such a good idea, after all. At one point she even picked up the phone and dilled his number, before abandoning the endeavour, feeling confused.

But all feelings of confusions and apprehensions fell off from her at the sight of the smiling face of her friend.

Natasha and she have known each other ever since Natasha moved into their neighbourhood in Pathanmthitta as  a toddler. The secrets that they have shared with each other were numerous and they were there for each other during many of life’s rough patches.

Though they met in a café, Remya didn’t order coffee. Coffee made her hyper sometimes, and hyper was the last thing she wanted to be at the moment.

“So, what do you think about it?” she said to Natasha who, having done stirring her coffee was now drinking it, exclaiming how good it was.

“Do about it?” she said. “What to do about it? It’s another one of your episoides, isn’t it?”

“But, I told you! This time, it was different. This time, it felt more real!” Remya said, trying to keep her voice low while at the same time, trying to communicate how strongly she felt about what she was talking about.

“You felt it so real because of the voice,” Natasha said, “Did you ask Dr. Nateshan about possible auditory hallucination?”

“I did! He says that’s highly unlikely!”

“Well, then, what did he say about the episode?”

Remya remained silent. She lowered her eyes to the steel table where they stood.

Natasha lowered the coffee cup which she was bringing up to her lips, without taking a sip. Eyes widening in surprise, she said, “You didn’t tell the doctor about it, did you?”

Remya shok her head, still not meeting her friend’s eyes.

“Remya, what are you doing?” said Natsha, “You know you should be-“

She bit off her words when something occurred to her. Her widened eyes now shrunk and she lowered her head, peering at Remya closer, as though she were concentrating harder on a passage in a book she was reading.

“You actually believe that it’s real!” It wasn’t a question but a statement- a statement of discovery which an exultant but quietly awed scientist might make after years of research, trying to crack a particularly baffling phenomenon.

Glancing up, Remya shook her head vehemently. “No!” she said.

But even as she uttered the word, she could hear the hollowness in her voice.

What her friend said was true, and it was something she hasn’t acknowledged to herself- she did believe what she saw and experienced last night in its literal sense. An ugly looking ghost visited her in the night in her PG room where she lived alone, and for unknown reasons, it invited her to a sojourn under a nearby tree.

A cheesy ghost, maybe, but a ghost all the same.

Natasha silently appraised her for a while before speaking, but only after draining the rest of the black coffee in her cup.

“So, assuming that it’s real, what are you going to do about it?”

**

Nothing. She intended to do nothing about it. She only hoped to go to bed a little early tonight-maybe around 10 and get a good night’s sleep, to make up for last night’s slumber dotted with disturbing nightmares and moans in the night.

And that’s exactly what she told Natasha.

“I think you ought to tell the doctor about it,” Natasha had said before they parted for the night. “But I have a feeling that you wouldn’t do something that went against your belief,” she added with a wry smile-one that was as much an acknowledgement of her friend’s stubbornness as was an expression of her love for her.

During their childhood, during one summer, a dead body turned up at a canal in their village. The body was so decayed that it was impossible to identify it. The officials couldn’t get a blood match, and since dental records were not in vogue in Kerala, it was impossible to make a match that way either.

There was one person in the village who has been gone for over a month from home and wasn’t back yet. This was a time before the cell phone. Indeed, in the village only very few people owned a land phone- those who did have them were minor celebrities of sort.

The missing man had told his wife that he would be back in two days-  a school teacher who also ran a tutorial home in the village, he was going away for an education conference in Hyderabad.

When he wasn’t back and the body turned up, the cops suspected it might be him.

And they had good reasons too. For one thing, the cop’s height matched that of the teacher’s. Then, there was also the fact that the plaid shirt on the corpse- partially decayed and torn in places matched the description of what the missing person was wearing the last anyone saw him.

A search party from the village had found that the teacher hadn’t reached the conference. But that was the extent of the information that they could turn up.

All this made the cop suspect that the teacher either committed suicide or maybe slipped into the waters by accident. The canal was a sub-channel of the lake which flowed past the village church. It would fill with water come monsoon when the lake overflowed, spilling excess into the aqueduct that coursed water to a reservoir which the village could draw from during the summers-and summers could be harsh in the village.

It’s plausible, theorized the officials, that the teacher might have slipped and fell in the lake when he set out from home. It was night and it was raining. His house was near to the church and to reach the bus stop he would have to walk for some ten minutes, along the side of the lake- a terrain that was made muddier, and slippery by the rain.

And when the teacher’s wife- teary eyed, revealed to them that the man was under severe financial constraints- the tutorial home for high school kids was running on loss, and due to a recent operation on his father for which he had to spend a lot, he had to take out huge loans, the cops flipped their theory and said it was indeed suicide.

In fact, the cops didn’t have any issue fitting the man into this scenario- after all, Kerala has the highest suicide rate among middle aged men in India and the major reason for the suicides is finance-or the lack thereof. The state being rather affluent, generally speaking the sense of shame that one felt due to lack of money was acute, living among such an affluent people.

When the matter of the teacher’s financial troubles came to be known widely, the villagers also accepted the fact that it was the teacher-a gentleman who always had a smile for everyone who turned up as a carcass in their canal.

All except one, that is. But who was going to believe what a ten year old girl thought about  a probable suicide?

But Remya was adamant in her belief- she was a student of the teacher, attended the tutorial every Saturday and Sunday. Indeed, she spoke with him on the day before he was last seen. Though what they talked was regarding one of her lessons, Remya has felt the warmth flowing from the good teacher as clearly as  you would see the moon on a cloudless fullmoon night.

Nearly a month after the dead body was first glimpsed by a bunch of boys who went to take a dip in the canal, Remya was proven true.

The teacher came home. He had an accident, sustained some injuries, injuries which prevented him from reaching the conference, an accident that kept him on the verge of unconsciousness, partly delirious, for quite some time.

Someone got away with the accident victim’s bag from the site of the road accident. So, there was no way anyone could identify the man. By the time he was strong enough- and conscious enough to gather thoughts and communicate who he was, he was only a week away from getting discharged from the hospital.

He called and informed that he was alive. Not just his wife, but the entire village rejoiced. Indeed, members of the society even formed a group to pool money and bail out the teacher from his financial troubles. In fact, the fund became a permanent fixture in the village’s management- there for someone to access in their time of trouble.

Another change that came over the village was a respect for the child who “believed the teacher is not dead.” Earlier, they had thought it cute that a young student  would show so much faith in the inherent goodness of the teacher- a goodness which she believed would prevent him from doing himself in.

But what would a child know about the wile ways of the world! They had thought.

But that was before news came that the teacher was alive. And when he came home and someone told him that it was only little Remya who, in the entire village actually believed that he was still alive- when they even held a burial with the dead body they found in the canal- the teacher personally came to her home and presented her a box of chocolates. A gift that was a testimonial to the quality of her faith, and in her instinctual knowledge that sometimes, it’s best to go with your gut feeling, even if it went against the grain of logic.

A gift which she considered as the sweetest she has got in her life so far, and not just because it was a gift of chocolates.

**

But believing that your teacher whose eyes widened when he explained to you the wonder that was an atom-the building blocks of something as magical as existence, wouldn’t just fling his life away was a far cry from believing in ghosts.

And regardless of the belief, she did try to go to sleep early that night, hoping that sleep would help her forget all about the ghost and the proposed rendezvous by the rain tree. Only, sleep wouldn’t come to her, evading her like the logic of the ghost.

Her restlessness grew as the night deepened. By midnight, the restlessness began to make her body visibly shake. She started anticipating the appearance of the ghost. When a lizard flittered cross the wall, she thought that it was him and gasped. When she heard the sound of someone opening and closing the common bathroom on the floor- their floor had three rooms, each occupied by one working woman- she practically jumped off her skin.

Deciding she needed a walk to calm her nerves if not to quench her curiosity regarding the ghost, she got out of the room and went down the stairs.

At the front gate stood the security guard- a man in his forties who joined some three or four months back- much after Remya herself joined the PG. The previous guard would be sleeping at such an hour, but this one, even though he sat in his chair was wide awake, watching the road, gazing at the vehicles that passed by occasionally, gazing after them long after the vehicle passed out of view.

It was a boring job, no doubt, thought Remya. One that was bound to send even the most enthusiastic of persons to sleep.

But she was thankful that the man stayed awake, reasonably alert, so that  soon as he heard her footsteps, he said, “Anything wrong, madam?”

The question, she assumed was because she was still in her T-shirt and pajama bottom, not exactly the kind of dress you would wear to go for late night clubbing. Saying no, she walked out of the gate.

She had intended to walk a bit down the road, keeping to the main lane which connected the 5th block with the Hosur highway and which still had a trickle of traffic, but she found her feet taking the direction towards Nambia’rs Café, as if they had a will of their own.

The rain tree that the ghost had mentioned was in the alleyway right next to the Café. She had found her gaze straying to the tree earlier in the evening when she went for the rendezvous with Natasha at the café.

**

Samanea Saman- that’s the scientific name of the rain tree- a species that used to be plentiful in Bangalore not long ago. But once the city began to expand and more number of buildings started pop up than you could shake a stick at, the tree-which grew up to a height of 25 m and which branched out like an overgrown umbrella was deemed an inconvenience for the city which needed buildings to be stacked with practically no breathing space between them.

So, they began to take down the rain trees-among other growths of the earth in a large number. Only a few survived the onslaught, one of which stood in the alleyway by the Nabiar’s Café.

Remya stepped into the alleyway with trepidation.

As far as alleyways went, this one was narrower than most that you could find in Bangalore. Hardly wide enough for two people to walk side by side, it connected the main road by the café to a backstreet which had, at this time nothing but houses with sleeping people in them.

The tree stood some 30 meters down its entrance, almost directly opposite to a Royal Enfield service centre. Moving closer to the tree, Remya saw that the service centre remained closed. Though it was only to be expected that the centre would be closed at this hour, she still felt somewhat disappointed. It would have been nice to know that there were people in the vicinity-someone to hear if she were to scream.

As she got closer to the tree which was probably older than the majority of Indians at this point ,she felt a coolness envelope her. Instead of feeling thankful for the coolness in these times when even the usually clement Bangalore weather has turned hot, she felt fear.

For she couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something unusual about the coolness- the phrase “cold like a grave” which she has heard say in many a Hollywood film crossed her mind.

Augmenting her fear was the ghost who presently appeared from behind the trunk of the tree. Indeed, it looked as though the ghost were a part of the trunk that took distinct form and came out of it.

The ghost walked on nimble feet- swift and graceful. Since the only source of light was the light from a lone lamp post that stood some 40 feet away from the tree, it was hard to see the ghost clearly, given how most of the light was blocked by the arched canopy of the rain tree.

But the scab-filled skin surface- if it was skin and also the eyes that gleamed red could be seen well enough, the sight of which made her take an involuntary step back.

“I was waiting for you.” The ghost’s voice sounded softer than yesterday, as though it was being more courteous. Perhaps because I have obeyed its orders? thought Remya.

“Why did you ask me to come?” That was something obvious which she had planned to ask him. But saying the words out loud in the dark and lukewarm night, she felt stupid. What if this was just another piece of hallucination?

The ghost remained silent for a moment before he answered. The answer was but a gesture. A pointed finger that was directed to one side of the tree trunk. Towards a portion of the wall on which was graffitied a giant heart and an arrow across it, along with the names of two people who apparently were in love with each other.

But it wasn’t to the graffiti that the ghost invited her attention. Rather, it was to a woman—the dead body of a woman to be more precise.

The body’s torso was leaning against the wall, stiff and rigid, like it was being an obedient student listening to a lecture in the classroom. It’s arms lied across its lap- unmoving, unnaturally so. In fact, it was this factor which gave away the fact that it was not a living body that she was looking at.

Though alarmed at the sight of the carcass, she was nonetheless fascinated- not least because it was not there a moment ago. Looking closer she saw a piece of chord extending from off the back of the corpse’s neck. At first, she thought that what she was looking at was a lock of hair, but closer inspection revealed it to be a chord of rope.

It didn’t take too much of imagination to realize that it was a woman’s body she was looking at.

Judging by the quality of the skin of the hands which she could see, she assumed the dead woman to be in her twenties, possibly around her own age. She was wearing a pajama bottom with dog paw designs which looked darkly comedic to Remya given the circumstance. The top was striped- interleaving reds and blues. There were white buttons nearer to the neck, two of which gleamed in the harsh light of the streetlamp.

But above that was a cocoon of darkness, caused by a thick clump of leaves on the tree which blocked the light, almost completely. A gentle wind presently blew, making the leaves part now and then, which shed the light in occasionally like the shafts of sunlight falling on the ocean through breaks in the cloud.

And what these shafts revealed were sights unseemly- an eye that was hanging by a thread shaped flesh from its socket, her cheek split open vertically, somewhat jaggedly, a part of the cheek lying open like a cake cut open on someone’s birthday.

Most unsightly was the stare in the one good eye of the woman. The eye was open, fixed in death, just as the open grin on her face. But the grin and the look in the eye both suggested that the dead woman beheld Remya.

The breezed halted and so did the gentle swaying of the branches in the tree. The leaves didn’t part anymore and the light couldn’t penetrate any more either. At least, not enough to reveal any more of the dead woman’s face.

Remya wasn’t sure if she felt thankful for this or disappointed. She would have liked to look at the woman’s face closer. Though the facial features weren’t exactly in pristine condition, the glances that she had of them made her feel that there was something familiar about them. Was it someone she knew? Was it why the ghost asked her to come here tonight?

But despite the curiosity, there was also the aversion that the sight elicited.

Like most of her peers, Remya too was tech-savvy. More than reasonably. Which put her in that category of people who experienced first-hand that science, or the application of it, could produce magic. A magic called technology.

But such an experience couldn’t displace the primitive sensations of dread for death- one concept which science couldn’t explain fully well. And the reason for that is that science, till date hasn’t been able to explain life all that well. Indeed, there were conflicts of interest in the scientific community regarding the definition of death. If life means reproduction and transformation over time, then don’t rocks represent a rudimentary form of life? Their transformation in shape and size may take far longer than  humans but it does occur. And as for reproduction-why, a large number of pebbles owe their existence to their ‘ancestor’ rock.

And in a dark alleyway on a lukewarm night in Kormangala 5th block, standing under the canopy of a tree which was a member of a species fast disappearing from the city, Remya felt the weight of the absence of an explanation from science acutely, sending tendrils of shivers up her spine, making her move away from the tree, towards the screaming sounds of the fast moving vehicles on the road, towards light and civilization, towards the land of the living.

“Wait!” the ghost called out even as she was moving away. But Remya didn’t stop.

The fact was that the voice of the ghost- from beyond the grave, and the sight of the horrendously mutilated dead body together made a sensory load too weighty for her nerves to bear.

And unless she reached back in her room fast, she feared that she might faint- lying on the side of the road in an unconscious state was so not the best of positions for a young woman to be in. Especially not in a city like Bangalore where you could end up lying on the side of the road for hours before someone stopped to help.

As she rushed back into the gate, the security guard, eyes widened seeing the alarmed look on her face, aked, “Madam, is anything worng?”

She didn’t stop to answer. Instead, she rushed into the three storeyed building- taking the stairs two at a time. Soon as she entered her room, she bolted the latch on the door, and turned the key which she then took away from the keyhole and put on a desk.

Not that such measures would be any defense against a ghost- she knew that only too well, but doing such things did give her a sense of being in control.

However, she couldn’t enjoy that sense of power for too long. For even as she moved towards the bed, she felt her heart hammering in her chest even faster than before, and it sounded in her head like tens of machine guns fired in a closed, windowless room.

The last thing that she saw before fainting was the face of the ghost. She wasn’t sure if it was real or not.

**

“Here you go,” Natasha handed her a cup of hot lemon tea before taking a seat on the sofa.

After last night, Remya wasn’t sure if she could stay alone in the room without letting go of her sanity. So, she called her best friend, told her about what happened- at least, as much as she was willing to recount before the memory of it all became too much of a load to bear.

Even before she asked, Natasha told her that she would come stay with her for a few days. Natasha lived with her uncle and his family n Bommanahalli. Though her commute to and work would be prolonged by almost an hour if she were in Kormangala, she had no qualms staying with her friend.

“Only, I have a cousin’s wedding to attend in Mysore on the third day,” she had said. “My parents are not going for it- so I have to represent them. I would be back the next day, though if something..err..unusual happened I would cancel it”

“I appreciate that,” Remya had replied.

Now, sitting beside her friend on the sofa, Natahsa gently rubbed the back of Remya’s neck, as though the latter were a puppy or a cat.. Sipping the hot tea that she made for her, feeling the relaxing touch of the fingers on her skin, Remya certainly appreciated her friend’s presence. Indeed, she wondered what she would have done without her.

Simply having another person in the room relieved her so much.

Her condition made her acutely sensitive to the changes in the atmosphere in the night. Shifts in temperature and quality of light automatically put in motion an adjustment mechanism in the human body . That was something many people took for granted but for Remya, it was a problem, feeling the shift like a grating of the sharp edge of  pins on her skin.

The presence of someone with her made it easier for her to bear that transformation period. Natasha reached home by 7 in the night, around the time when the atmospheric temperature began to dip perceptibly.

Remya placed a hand on the side of her fiend’s arm- a gesture she knew would hardly suffice to express her thankfulness. Natasha looked at her and smiled.

Nothing unnatural has happened since Natahsa got here. Since she got here, Remya rarely felt any sensory overload. Even if she was away at work, Natasha would call her every hour, talk to her, making her feel relaxed and soothed.

This made her wonder yet again if what she experienced- the ghost and everything associated, was not just a hallucination after all? Now that she didn’t feel stressed, the ghost has disappeared.

“Listen,” she said. “I want you to go to that wedding tomorrow.”

“Are you sure?” said Natahsa. “As I told you, I would be happy to stay in.”

“No, really., You should go. As you said your parents aren’t going, so you should. And nothing..nothing bad happened these last two days, isn’t that so?”

“But I would be back only day after tomorrow!” Natasha said after thinking for a while.

“It’s fine. I am sure nothing would happen tomorrow night as well. I am sure that the ghost, or whatever it was, was just a part of my hallucinations.” Or so I hope, Remya added in her mind.

**

Natasha left early in the morning. Her uncle came to pick her in the car.

Once she felt, Remya went back to bed. She would have liked to stay asleep at least until noon but she came awake by 10 o clock.

She had extended the leave at work by two more days. Now, she wondered if that was such a smart move after all. Maybe work would have kept her distracted. But then, Dr. Nateshan’s voice came to her mind- what he said about getting as much rest as she could. His advice certainly seemed to be working.

But she could hardly stay idle all day long, now, could she?

**

After ordering breakfast from a nearby restaurant, she decided that it was time to get her laundry done. She would have to call the laundry guys to come and pick the clothes but before that she would have to get the clothes that needed to be washed, in a plastic bag, ready to be taken away.

Though the PG she stayed in was termed a “Posh” pg, it was nothing of the sort. Her room, for instance, had just one shelf the height of  half a wall which coupled as both her wardrobe and where she stuffed her other belongings- like a few books, makeup material, even the file that contained all her academic certificates. Other than the shelf, the amenities included a bed, a table which had seen better days and a chair that was equally bad. And a nail on the wall from which hung a cloth hanger which she rarely used.

She usually relegated the right half of the shelf for fresh clothes while the left half was given over for the soiled ones. Natasha, who read a lot of psychology books- she said it helped her in her practice as an HR manager, theorized that this was because Remya, like all Indians used the left hand to clean her bottom after taking a dump. So she was subconsciously inclined to use the left hand side of the shelf for soiled clothes.

Though she found quite a heap of soiled clothes on the left hand side presently, what caught Remya’s attention was a piece of clothing on the right hand side. Neatly folded and kept near Natasha’s red hand bag was a pyjama top and bottom- prints of dog paws and blue and red strips- usual motifs that are to be found in such clothes but which instantly made Remya’s mind reel.

The dead body by the rain tree that the ghost showed her! It wore these same clothes. Was that Nastasha’s? Is it something from her future that the ghost showed her!

**

Remya called her friend soon after.

Her repeated questions of was she fine made Natasha suspicious that there might be something wrong. But when she asked about it,Remya just said, “No, nothing. I think, after you being here for a couple of days, I’m feeling protective of you!”

Though the explanation didn’t satisfy her completely, Natasha didn’t press the matter, largely because she was at the wedding and they were calling her up stage to take pictures with the bride and groom.

Promising that she would call her later, she got off the phone.

As she was calling the laundry guys, Remya’s mind once again strayed to the thoughts of her friend’s clothes. Maybe I have seen them sometime before and was stuck in my mind somewhere. That must be how it got into my hallucination.

Unlike Natasha, Remya was no reader of psychology. And she wasn’t sure if her theory held water, scientifically speaking or not. Either way, it wasn’t working much since the idea of the clothes being part of Natasha’s wardrobe kept disturbing her mind.

After giving the soiled clothes for the laundry, she took a shower. If there was one thing that cooled her warming head down, it was a long cold shower.

She did feel considerably better after the shower. Taking off the white towel which she had wrapped around herself, she sorted through the shelf, looking for a fresh pair of clothes to wear. But she found that there was not a single piece of clothing that she could wear at home that was fresh. She has been on leave from work for almost a week now. And in these last days, she had worn all her home clothes.

So, she donned a pair of trousers and an executive shirt which she picked from her work wear selection. Some ten minutes after putting them on, she began to feel stupid.

The clothes also made her feel hot. The shirt with buttons right up to the neck and the pants made of thick fabric were styles that originated in countries with colder climates and were appropriated by Indians. In an air conditioned environment- like in her office, these functioned perfectly-making her look professional and not sweaty as hell.

But in a PG that wasn’t posh, it only made her look like she just had a prolonged session of sex which made her sweat all over.

So she took them off and reached for the only option of home clothes available to her at the moment- Natasha’s pyjama set. She was sure her friend wouldn’t mind. She would wash them before giving them back to her.

 

Putting on the clothes, the thought did occur to her that maybe the vision that the ghost showed her was her own demise. But then, such an idea was too wild to even contemplate. For who would want to kill her? Not that she could envision many people wishing to murder Natasha. But still, all said and done, though her best friend, Natasha was another person.

And Remya was grown up enough to know that there are things that even best friends don’t share with each other.

**

What an ass I am!

It wasn’t the first time that the thought was crossing Roy’s mind in the last few days. In fact, the thought now pops us so frequently in his mind that it has practically become a background noise to him- like the sound of traffic while you’re waiting for a bus.

But instead of getting inured to the effects of those words, with each iteration of the thought, he felt the shame more and more acutely. Yes, shame.

In fact, a couple of times he came very close to calling Remya to apologize.

She did tell him beforehand of her condition. Only, when he saw the blood coming out of her nostril and her fainting, he just freaked out. And the state of mind persisted over the next couple of days which made him behave towards her like an..well, like an ass. There was no other way he could have explained it to himself, though he did try to come up with something that wasn’t so scathing.

All the same, he wasn’t able to call her, his fingers dropping the phone at the last moment before dialing, for the cell phone, even though ubiquitous is hardly a device suitable for apologizing- this he knew only too well.

I may have acted like an ass, but I don’t have to remain one!

This thought was the impetus behind him ordering a bouquet of flowers from the florist. A bouquet of red and pink orchids, beautifully arranged, which they delivered some fifteen minutes back, while he was still getting ready, checking and re-checking himself in the mirror.

But now, he was ready. He carried the bouquet out, putting as much confidence in his strides even though he felt nervous inside. He didn’t know how Remya would respond when he apologized.

“I am sorry and I would love to have another chance,” was the gist of what he intended to say. But if Remya were to say something along the lines of “Go to hell!” he would still understand- if he were in her shoes, he just might say the same thing.

But that didn’t mean he was not going to give a try. He had thought about calling ahead but abandoned the idea soon as he thought it, afraid that if she said over the phone that she didn’t wish to see him, his plan would come to an end even before it was carried out.

Taking a deep sigh, he walked to the waiting cab. Getting in, he gave the driver the address of Remya’s PG as the destination.

**

This was the day. The security guard felt it in his bones. Or rather, in the way there was a deep disturbance swirling inside his soul, like a whirlpool made of nothing but debris.

And he knew a way in which he could still that whirlpool and regain peace.

He must kill again.

More than that, this time he ought to make it known to the public in Bangalore that he has arrived. His previous kill- the only one in Banglore so far, lied buried in an empty plot some two kilometers away from the ladies’ PG where he presently worked as a security guard.

He had bet on the fact that that grave was shallow would make the discovery of the dead body easy.

But even after nearly two months, they haven’t discovered the mutilated corpse. He would scan the newspaper every day like he has never done in his life-only to be disappointed every day by the absence of the particular news piece that he looked for.

All his previous killings were in villages and small towns, places that would rarely feature in international news, unlike Bangalore. Though he has found the city hellish with its shoddy infrastructure and ultra-congested streets, he still liked the idea of becoming famous for his deeds here in this city. The killings had begun almost five years ago, when the weight of years of abuse- more psychological than physical- that he suffered from his mother finally caught up with him.

It was the day he came home with the report that he was no longer employed with the mill where he worked. They had to let him go since they were facing revenue crunch and so had to downsize.

“You are 35 years old and you still haven’t managed to find a steady job!” was his mother’s first remark. Growing up fatherless, his mother- someone who worked as housemaid in different houses-brought him up with the sweat of her brows, and a lot of abuse that came out of her mouth.

She never hesitated in pointing out whenever she got the opportunity, how much of a failure he was. When he dropped out of school, she said this, laced with words the kind of which are fit more for a whorehouse than a house with a mother and son in it. He had thought that once he started working-which he did soon after he dropped out of school when he was 12, first as an assistant to construction workers and later as a transport assistant for a moving company where his primary duty was to check whether all the objects from one household did reach the destination, his mother would leave him alone.

But she didn’t. Not even when he gave her the money that he earned.

In fact, whenever he gave her the money, she would taunt him, saying how little he earned. “Look, the little man trying to be like the big man!” she would say.

Years later, when he was big enough to think about such things, he would think that his mother simply liked to taunt him. He was the single point in her life upon which she could vent all her frustrations. Nowhere else could she do that. Not with his father for the man had come and disappeared from her life as swiftly as a draft of wind. And she wasn’t sure in which direction he had gone.

She would have liked to give him a piece of her mind, but she couldn’t go after a ghost-which was practically what he has become.

Then, there was her work.

Lying in the dark at night, the boy would hear his mother mumbling angrily about the harassments she suffered in the households where she worked as a maid. “I wish one day I would be rich enough to be able to stop doing the dirty dishes for them, so that I could give them a piece of my mind!” she would say on such nights. “But I don’t see that happening, do I? Not when my son has just dropped out of school and is working as a labourer- and how hard would it be for a labourer to make something of himself in this life!” Lying beside him, she would give him a rough shove in the back. The boy would pretend that he was already asleep. Otherwise, the abuse would only escalate.

As a boy, he was scrawny, weak and always afraid of his mother- the kind of characteristics which made him an easy target for the woman.

And whenever he heard someone say such things as “a mother is the best thing in the whole world!”- the kind of thing that he would mostly hear in movie dialogues, he would wonder how that could be. He found it hard to believe that that was how it was with most people. He thought they were all just lying.

He bashed her head in with a huge rock he found in the backyard. He hit her with it from behind and  a single swing of the rock was enough to make the old woman lie still on the ground, blood and brain particles oozing out of the shattered skull, like juice from a pierced soft drink can.

By the look of things, the woman was already dead.

But just to make sure, he bashed her head in four or five more times. By the time he was done, the woman’s entire head was nothing more than a pulpy blob.

The sight should have been horrendous but instead of terror, it had the opposite effect on him. For the first time in his life, he found a peace so complete that he felt it was an ocean in which he could tirelessly swim for eternity.

But eternity didn’t last too long.

About a month after the killing-while he was on the run, thousands of kilometers away from home, he felt the stirrings within- a yearning to fill the void which gaped again.

As if by destiny’s intervention, he happened to see a lone woman on the side of the road just then. She was carrying a pot of water on her head, she was all alone on a stretch of road that was lined on either side by empty farmlands- a stretch that continued for a couple of kilometers. There was a good chance that no one would pass by there anytime soon. He has been walking along that road for almost half an hour and this woman was the first person he saw.

The woman looked too young to be a mother. And there was no sindoor on her forehead to indicate that she was married. But she would surely become a mother. And there is always the chance that she would be a bad mother. The risk that such a potential posed for the unborn child is huge, he theorized. Taking her out of the world would potentially save the world from having another sad child in its premises.

Since then, he has always killed young women- women who bore the potential of being a bad mother. The motto “prevention is better than cure” was one that was stenciled on the wall of the government clinic back in his village. And it was a phrase that he would mumble to himself as he snuffed the life out of each of his victims.

The young woman who stayed in this PG- the one whom he saw walking out of the gate well after midnight a couple of nights ago, certainly looked like someone who would go on to be a bad mother. She had that disturbed look on her face- the look of someone who couldn’t find closure, the same look he has always seen on his mother’s face-a woman who has never found the answer to the question, “Why do I have to suffer like this?”

He has noticed how she has been staying in in the PG these last few days, not going to work. This being a working woman’s PG, this meant that she was the only one in the building during the day while everyone else was away at work. He had noticed also that the woman who stayed with her last couple of days- presumably her friend, had left this morning.

As he walked towards the main entrance door to the building, he patted the pants pocket. The familiar bulge of the pocket knife put a smile on his face.

The smile broadened as he thought of the irony of him being appointed as a security guard in the women’s PG.

When he came to know about the opening, he had applied without much hopes of getting appointed. He had thought that it would require a whole lot of recommendations.

However, as it turned out, all that was required was a good bulk- and at above 6 feet, he certainly had that, and an Aadhar card. There was no criminal record in his name either. No criminal record at all.

**

Though he has been guarding the PG for over a month, he has been within the building only twice. Once, on a hot day like this when he knew there was no one inside- there were just 12 inmates in the 3 storeyed building which made it easy to keep track of them.

That day, he went in and checked all the floors. Found the door to one flat open, went in and used the common bathroom. Standing under the shower, he masturbated, thinking of the women who usually used the shower.

Another time, he heard a short scream coming from the ground floor. It was night. He rushed in to investigate, as would be expected of him, only to find that one of the lodgers had found a cockroach running across the bedsheet.

Presently he climbed the stairs on to the ground floor where he knew his newest victim lived. In less than two minutes, he was at her door and knocking.

**

Even after paying the cabbie and seeing the car leave, Roy stood at the PG gate for another minute.

The nervousness, even though it made his heart hammer inside his chest so wildly that it felt like it would jump out of its cage, didn’t help moving his legs even a bit.

It was sweltering. Sweat beads began to flow down his forehead like a mini-waterfall, though he has been riding in an air conditioned car. Unlimitedly, it was the heat more than anything else that made him move.

Pushing open the gate, he found the security guard’s station empty. He could see the empty chair within the small cone shaped security chamber, and a Hindi newspaper on the chair. However, the guard himself was nowhere in sight.

He waited, wishing not to proceed into the building. But a minute passed without any sign of movement.

Maybe someone is in the lobby. Thinking thus, he moved to the main entrance, only to find that there was no lobby as such. In fact, he saw that it was just a house that has been converted into a PG. The exterior glass casing gave it an executive appearance but apart from that it was just a plain old house.

This meant that instead of a lobby, there was a hall which led to a corridor deep within, and which branched to a staircase to the right.

It was from one of the top floors that the scream came .

**

There were no words in the scream- just an expression of animal terror. A sound that put Roy in a fight or flight stance. Though he made an unconscious step back, something stopped him from running away.

It took him a couple of seconds to figure out the logical pathways that his mind took to reach the conclusion that instead of turning away, he should run up to the sound of screaming, and help the person in trouble. The logical deduction, once he had calmed down enough to fathom it, was simple enough- Remya is on leave today. He knows this is a working women’s PG. He had checked the time before he stepped out of the cab- it was nearing noon. There was a good chance that Remya was the only person in the building now.

And when the image of the empty security guard’s chamber popped in his mind, he didn’t waste another minute. Taking the stairs two at a time, he reached the landing on the second floor. He was about to take the next flight of stairs- assuming that the scream of fear originated from the top floor, when he heard noises coming from his right.

Turning his gaze in that direction, he saw the door to a flat standing open. The sounds-a shuddering gasp followed by a gargling or maybe choking noise, supplanted by the sound of something like a wet towel hitting the floor, all came from inside the door on the far end.

The quality of the sounds suggested unpelasntness, and Roy proceeded slowly, careful not to make any sound as he put one foot in front of the other.

Reaching the door which stood slightly ajar, he pushed it open.

His brain refused to process what he was seeing.

A table was toppled over. Beyond that sat a bulky man in a security guard’s uniform. Remya was lying on the floor beside him, her eyes wide open in death. The man had spilt open her stomach, he was presently coiling her large intestine around his fist, playing with it like a child, a mad grin on his face, his hand smeared with blood, holding a knife.

Hearing the creak that the door made he raised his head and looked at the visitor, offering him a wider grin, as though asking, ‘Isn’t this amazing?’

Roy’s brain all but shut down, feeling a brain-shaped ice in his skull that sent shivers down his spine.

It was only until the security guard was just two feet away from him that the response mechanisms in his body came awake enough to allow him to move. But by that time, it was too late.

He turned around and began to run, the bouquet of flowers slipping from his hand, the palm of which has suddenly turned cold with sweat.

It took the killer just two leaps to reach him. A part of the dead woman’s intestine was still coiled around his wrist, like a wrist chain made in hell. That same hand also head the blood-smeared knife, which he presently rose, plunging it into the back of the running man’s neck. Another gargling sound filled the flat.

**

The woman’s body, he dragged out of the PG and over the wall which lined the nearby alleyway. The body fell on the alleyway with a loud thud. He jumped over the wall and landed on his feet beside the carcass.

Just like with the last time, he felt a wave of thrill pass through his entire body at the idea of doing this in so public a place. Unlike last time, he was doing it in broad daylight-which made it even more exciting.

This alleyway was just perfect for his purpose, this he had noticed. The Royal Enfield service center was the only establishment- commercial or otherwise in here, and even for them, the main entrance was on the backstreet. People rarely used this alleyway.

He dragged the body to the foot of the rain tree. He had put on gloves in the last few minutes after thoroughly scrubbing the body, wiping it clean of any marks. He would have to repeat the procedure on the room and the second body that was still in the flat. It was a casualty which he couldn’t have foreseen and it would cost him time- now that the peace has descended, he needed to get away soon.

But not before disposing of the other body and cleaning the room of any prints.

If he hurried, he could be away from here in half an hour.

However, before that, he must do something. He must publicize.

He toot out a coil of rope from his pocket and wound it around the dead woman’s throat. For effect, he also coiled part of her intestine around her neck, hoping that no crow would peck it away before the body was discovered. His plan was to hang the body on one of the low hanging branches of the tree.

Hurrying through the motions, he finished tying the knot on the back of her neck. The alleyway jilted a bit to the right a few feet after its start from the main road. This kept him-and the body-well out of view from anyone in a passing vehicle, or who might be walking by. But this didn’t mean he wasn’t nervous.

This was the first time that he was disposing of a body in so public a place in broad daylight. He could hear the screeching sounds of vehicles passing by on the road, and their incessant honking. Although this made the proceedings altogether more thrilling, it also made him more nervous.

He pushed the body up against the wall with a heart shaped graffiti on it. Holding one end of the rope in hand, he looked up at a branch, ready to fling it over the branch, so that pulling on it he could hoist the body up. He would then tie the end of the rope to the tree’s trunk.

That wouldn’t make it look like a suicide. But then, that wasn’t his intention, not when the woman’s bloody entrails were hanging out of a wound the size of a football on her stomach.

But it would be a horrendous sight for anyone to discover. One that would make Bangaloreans know of the arrival of a killer amongst them. One that would make him famous, far from a nobody that his mother has considered him to be!

He was swinging the length of the rope like a lassoe when he heard a screeching sound from somewhere behind him. At first he thought it was the sound of a passing vehicle. But there was something wrong with it, he thought.

For one thing, it was coming from the wrong direction.

Turning around he saw the shutter on the garage of the service center coming up. The shutter faced the alleyway. The garage was diagonally opposite to the rain tree. Which meant they wouldn’t have a view of the dead body in its present state-which in their eyes is hidden by the tree trunk.

But if he were to hoist it up, they would see it as easily as you would see the stars in a cloudless sky. More importantly for him, they might see him.

As the shutter was opened, he caught a glimpse of a man in blue overalls within- grease smeared, the hair on his head sticking close to the scalpopf his head with sweat. The man looked to be in his early thirties, reasonably fit. But he could take him out if he wanted to, this he knew. And the temptation to have the woman’s body hanging from the branch of the tree was almost too much to bear. It would be like putting up a hoarding for a brand new product- a product he has launched, a product called fear.

But better sense prevailed. It might be just one man in the garage. But the garage was part of a bigger establishment, and there could be more people in the service center. The killer cursed at the fact that the service center was open. He cursed at his own foolishness

.Before going into the PG to make the kill, he did check and simply assumed by the closed garage door that the center was closed.

“Stupid!” he hissed at himself. Anger surged through him, anger which threatened to upset the peace.

He threw the end of the rope that he held in hand at the corpse. Casting one last glance at the body, he made his way out of the alleyway. But not before taking the gloves off and stuffing them into the pocket.

Once he exited the alleyway, instead of turning left towards the PG, he went in the opposite direction. He would have liked to go back up there and clean up the mess, to take the second corpse and stuff it somewhere it wouldn’t be seen right away, maybe under the bed of one of the lodgers. The look on her face when she saw the horribly mutilated body under the bed would have been priceless…

But he couldn’t do it. Not now when he came so close to being discovered. The fragile peace that he has discovered was like a thin sheet of glass and cracks were already appearing on it.

He tried to take comfort from the fact that though he didn’t string the body up on the tree, they would still discover the body- see the terrible handiwork he was capable of.

As he passed by the Nambiar’s café, he saw a lone young woman in shorts and tee shirt standing at a table, sipping coffee and talking on the phone.

She was talking animatedly on the phone, with a smile that was so broad it could hardly fit her face, when her eyes fell on the passing stranger.

The killer saw fear in her eyes. There was something in his own stare which made the woman feel like she was plunged down a long hole that went all the way down to the core of the earth where the heat was unimaginable, savage.

And he liked that.

Breaking the glance, he moved away, walking faster before hailing an autorikshaw, moving away from Kormangala, but not out of Bangalore.

He intended to stick around. His brand of fear, after all, was only just launched in the city.

**

After plunging the knife into the back of Danny’s neck, the killer had  repeatedly stabbed him, all over his body, so much so that the violence of it even affected his soul- the ghost that urgently detached from the body appearing with cross-crosses from head to toe, with black ectoplasmic bile coming out of the slashes.

Danny’s soul got its first lesson regarding the afterlife- what happens to the body could crush the soul as well.

Finding his dead body too terrible to behold, the ghost moved away, carrying its weightless weight across the air, drawn to another recently dead soul in the vicinity by instinct. Instinct alone carried him to the rain tree where Remya’s ghost was just coming out of the body which would begin to decay in a few more hours.

“Is that you, Roy?” It was only because he herself was a ghost that she recognized. Otherwise, he was almost beyond recognition, the soul was that violated.

“Ye-“ Roy couldn’t finish the reply. For they felt a shuddering, like the land was shifting beneath their feet. The clouds in the sky revolved in an aticlockwise direction and night and day shifted rapidly- like they were in a hurry to reach somewhere. The two ghosts remained where they were. And once the shifting of the fabric of reality ended, they both saw Remya walking past with Roy, towards a restaurant

Remya found it equally exhilarating and scary to find herself both dead and alive at the same time.

Danny’s ghost floated out of the alleyway and to the road. A child sucking on an ice cream, walking past him, holding on to its mother’s eyes, looked straight through him.

He was sure that no one living could see him.

He watched as Remya and himself- both alive and well took their reserved seats at the classy restaurant on their first date.

For some reason, Roy’s ghost felt that she would be able to see him.This was more  a conviction than a feeling. A conviction born out of instinct- the same instinct that guided him to Remya’s soul by the rain tree before.

Remya’s medical condition, for some reason gave her access to communicate with those in the afterlife, he felt sure of this. A conviction that was as real as his own death. And the same condition has helped her glimpse the future, only she didn’t know of it.

I must make her see that!, he thought. I must make her see what would happen to her in the future. If I could show her the corpse by the rain tree, she would surely move from the PG. Then, she wouldn’t come to any harm.

Thinking thus, he looked towards Remya. She was but a few feet away.

Even as the  ghost began to wave his arm to catch her attention, he couldn’t shake the feeling that this was something he has done before.

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