December felt unusually cold this year and Christmas had no effect on these
outskirts, far away from home. As an official member of the nature club, I’d planned an excursion to the forests. But, quite unfortunately, no one was up with the plan — leaving me alone to explore nature. The bleak gusts of wind lingered on the streets, hesitating around me. They waited for a while before they decided to move on. The cicadas, who were unremittingly chanting a natural hymn, had now ceased: leading me to believe that either I had turned deaf, or the world had turned dumb. The phone vibrations conveyed that though I had turned deaf or dumb, it had remained firm on its decision to help me find my way to the guesthouse and had lived up to its non verbal, mild oath. Following the directions my impassive assistant was giving me, I reached a colossal gate and stared at the imposing structure. It was supposed to be the old forest guest house. White and humongous, it matched the pictures that my assistant had shown. However, it was rumoured to be
haunted. A storm was raging and I had no choice but to spend the night there.
The storm started. “I’d rather deal with a house full of ghosts”, thinking, I walked in through
the gates, wrapping the fancy shawl around me, and onto the pebbled path to the front
Doors. A small peek around the garden proved to be drab. No one had attended to the flowers in a long while. Unusually, the lobby was well lit, but was devoid of any kind of humaneness. A pale face dozed on the counter. A tap from me woke him up.
“Can I rent a room for a night?”
“Sure.” The voice was raspy.
“Room 101 was cleaned today. Take the elevator and on the fourth floor to the right.”
I followed the directions and went up to my room. The wooden floors clean but old creaked under my pressure. The bed, with its white covers and fluffy pillows seemed welcoming enough. I restrained my mind and tried being rational. Had dozed off for 15 minutes when
suddenly footsteps woke me up. They dragged and prolonged each step taken. People spoke in raspy voices. Unnerved, I opened my eyes false alarm. It was just a bad dream.
Not the guest house, the voices. Now that sleep had been scared off, I knew it would be extremely difficult to bring it back. I stared at the ceiling in a feeble attempt to win it back.
Whoosh. “What?” I woke up, alarmed. Swish. My mind and senses warped and
twisted by fear and draped with legends, it took me three seconds to jump out of bed and into the toilet. I knew something was wrong with this place. Someone banged on my
door. It was impossible to remain in the toilet. It was extremely dark and the small window there welcomed the wind and rain with open arms.The more the bangs continued, the harder it became for me to stay there. I had a compelling urge to go open the door, but something told me that I’d get devoured by ghosts if I did so. I was dead sure it wasn’t human. Who’d
be here? Searching for me? That too in a Government Guest House? I am surprised they actually have people, even if it is a single person, working here. And if there is something I’ve learned in the past twenty-five years, it’s the fact that legends don’t mess around. Next the voices came. Hushed ones. I couldn’t make out the words from my apparently safe position but it was voices. And I wasn’t asleep.When the voices shushed, it proved to be a long night. Thinking, that in the morning, I’d find all this turned to a heap of old stuff, like in
the stories, I fell asleep.
I woke up to find myself still in the toilet, crammed heads up beside the commode. “Eeew.” The reaction was completely out of-context, because the floors were sparkly clean! As soon as I came out and looked around, I saw that the evidence of last night’s struggle was
still there in the bed. And the room had a large window through which sunlight tried to find
its way in. Half nervous, I picked up my bag and went down to the lobby and what I saw there left my heart fluttering. Lots of well-dressed children played around. In the huge lawn,
through which a beautifully pebbled path snaked its way to the door, people sat and enjoyed their morning sips, admiring the flowers, reading the papers and discussing last night’s
storm and how the hotel management department had managed to clean up and restore the compound so beautifully in a few hours. The road lay just outside the huge gate and there was wilderness on the other side. And from the wilderness peeked out the head of a house. Curious, I asked a passer by, “Do you know what building is that?” The guy looked away from his mobile screen and blinked. “Umm…that is the old forest guest house?”
“Thanks.” I managed to utter, without dropping to the floor. A little while later, a finely dressed
chaperon handed me something-and I dropped dead once again. It was the bill I had levied on myself for staying the night in a three-starred hotel. A whopping two thousand rupees for emergency renting, house services, washroom (?), electricity and other etcetera. ‘Oh God, why didn’t I end up in the old forest guest.