Genre: Horror/ Setting: Advertising/ Character: Bully
Sonalee screamed. It was a blood curdling sound that ripped through the evening sounds of the forest and sent shivers down the spines of all within earshot. Everyone froze, even the continuously chattering monkeys fell silent. It was as if some supernatural being had said the magic words in the childhood game of “stop” and the small film crew shooting a commercial in the forest had turned into a tableau of stone.
Shrikant, Range officer of the Junona range where the film was being shot, was the first to recover. Rushing to Sonalee, now collapsed on the grass, he shook her, gently at first, but then with more urgency when she did not respond. Her mouth was open and her eyes, huge stricken orbs. Her once beautiful face was ghostly pale and for a moment Shrikant thought she was dead. Gently he lifted her head and put his finger to her delicate nostrils, relieved to feel the uneven ebb and flow of air on his finger tip.
The worried crew edged towards the young woman, eyes darting around them, mouths clamped tight shut.
“What’s wrong with her?” Shouted Avinash, the much hated film director and company owner.
“I don’t know?’ Shrikant replied curtly.
He disliked everything about Avinash. The way he treated the film unit, always shouting, barking out orders, leering over the women, picking on the weaker ones. If it weren’t for the fact that Avinash was his boss’ relative Shrikant would have kicked his butt a long time ago.
“We need to get her to the camp and try to revive her.”
“Leave her! There’s nothing wrong with her! She’s just faking! We carry on filming” Avinash screamed.
Shrikrant ignored him. He was broad and muscular and easily carried Sonalee’s limp body to the jeep, calling out to Jaya and Pushpa, two crew members “Sit either side of her, make sure she doesn’t fall! Hurry!”
Shrikant jumped into the driver’s seat, turned on the engine and pulled away leaving the rest of the unit, and a furious Avinash, to follow in the van. Camp was four kilometres away but the road, a mere dirt track, made it impossible to drive quickly.
Darkness had fallen on the trees and a heavy winter mist was settling in making it difficult to see beyond a few meters. The trees that had looked so lovely and inviting during daylight assumed sinister shapes in the dark. There was a mood of nervousness among them, a feeling that something dreadful was about to happen. All they wanted to do was reach camp, abandon the shoot even, go home.
Shrikant was negotiating a huge pothole when he felt the hairs on his neck stand up. A strange voice hissed, “Stop the vehicle.” He looked behind and saw that Sonalee had regained consciousness and was trying to get out of the jeep.
Her eyes were wild and her nostrils flared as she struggled with Jaya and Pushpa and shouted in a deep husky voice “You mother fu…., I said stop the vehicle at once.”
“Don’t let her get out!”
Jaya and Pushpa began whimpering.
Remembering something he had read in his childhood, Shrikant pushed down hard on the accelerator and turned the jeep towards a temple of the goddess Kali that he knew was a few hundred metres away. He was aware he didn’t have much time; they had to go fast.
“Hold on tight.”
They pulled up sharply in front of the stone idol of the goddess Kali the scourge of the forces of darkness. He hoped his hunch was right.
The granite Kali idol was almost as terrifying as Sonalee had been. This slayer of evil, had eight arms, each one carrying primitive weapons or a demon’s head. Her tongue protruded from her mouth, and her huge bulging eyes glared angrily down on them.
As soon as they entered the temple grounds Sonalee slipped back into her stupor much to the relief of Jaya and Pushpa.
The van caught up with them and the worried crew led by a fuming Avinash got out.
“Why have we stopped here?” he demanded.
Jaya and Pushpa spoke at once, an incoherent babble.
“Shut up both of you” Avinash snarled, “I am asking you Shrikant, Why are we here?”
“I think she may be possessed. I am sending for Penta Talandi the witch doctor.”
“What nonsense! These things do not exist! You of all persons should know this. I demand you take us all to camp, NOW,” Avinash screeched.
Shrikant turned on his heels and walked purposely over to the van driver.
“Don’t you DARE walk away from me! I will have you whipped!”
“Rafiq, there is a hamlet about a kilometre from here on the road to the camp” Shrikant spoke quietly to the driver. “Ask for Penta Talandi and tell him there is an emergency and he should come immediately. Don’t stop for anything till you reach the hamlet.”
Seeing the reluctance in the driver’s eyes he gestured towards the group huddled around Sonalee.
”Take Jaya and Pushpa with you. Don’t worry, we’re all scared”.
Rafiq smiled at him gratefully.
Jaya and Pushpa looked to Avinash for permission. His face was contorted with rage.
“Go on then, go! What’s it to me?! I will just take the time out of your wages!”
They jumped into the van and drove into the mist. As the engine faded, there was only silence. There is never only silence. Where was the cheep cheep of the crickets and the comforting voice of a hooting owl? Something was very wrong.
They huddled closely together, seeking comfort in each other, even Avinash joined the group.
Shrikrant switched off the jeep’s headlights.
“The battery will run down.”
Darkness engulfed them “Please keep them on” a nervous voice in the dark. Ignoring the plea, Shrikant switched on his LED torch and all eyes turned towards him.
“Anyone have a lighter or a match? We’ll make a bonfire. Get some dry twigs, but be careful and don’t go too far.”
No one dared to venture outside the temple perimeter. They collected the wood casting nervous glances over their shoulders, waiting for something, or someone to pounce on them.
They gathered enough for Shrikant to start a small fire and huddled around it, not caring about the smoke that burnt their eyes and flavoured their breath.
“How much do you have to shoot still?” Shrikant asked in an attempt to break the silence and lighten the mood.
“Well, eighty percent of the work is finished. It is an advertisement for a famous Jeans’ brand. We are hoping to finish by tomorrow” said Vinayak, the camera man.
“Do you think it is possible with Sonalee in this state?”
“It HAS to be possible and there is nothing wrong with Sonalee. I bet she has taken some drug earlier” interjected Aviansh. “I am going to punish her for being so irresponsible.”
Vinayak looked at him with distaste and said,” You can’t be sure what happened, give her a chance Avinash.”
“You don’t tell me what to do Vinayak!” Avinash snapped.
They settled back into an uneasy silence.
Finally they heard the sound of an approaching vehicle and, as the headlights of the van appeared on the horizon, bobbing up and down as the vehicle negotiated the rough terrain, their relief was palpable.
The van came to a halt and a tall dhoti clad Adivasi, whose forefathers had roamed the forests since ancient times, emerged. He walked towards Sonalee and the crew fell in behind him.
He examined Sonalee, then nodded to Shrikant and motioned towards the jeep hinting that he wanted to speak in private. Avinash tried to follow but the Adivasi shook his head and Shrikant pushed him away.
Penta Talandi spoke quietly. “This is serious, Sahib. I warned you not to shoot in these parts. The girl is possessed and will die soon, but before that she might take a few lives”.
“I’m sorry Penta, I could not stop that idiot from choosing this spot. He is connected to the Chief Conservator and threatened to get me transferred if I did not comply. This girl must be saved. Do whatever you can, she must live.”
“I will have to perform Kali pooja immediately. It will be hard. I suspected something like this so have brought a cockerel to be sacrificed along with the other things I will need.”
“We will have to inform everyone what this is all about. You make preparations and I will tell them about it.”
As Penta moved towards the van Shrikant headed back to the waiting group.
“So what’s this hoo haa about Mr Ranger?” Smirked Avinash.
Shrikant ignored the sarcasm.
“She has been possessed by a churail that used to haunt these parts and is in danger of dying as well as posing danger to others”
“Nonsense, there are no such things. You are trying to protect this girl. I demand you put her in the jeep immediately and take us all to the camp. I will deal with this bitch tomorrow morning.”
Shrikant looked at him with contempt “You can go if you want to. I won’t allow you to touch her.”
Avinash motioned to the crew to follow him and started towards the van. Before anyone else could move a cackling laugh split the air. Everyone, except Penta who was chanting mantras, oblivious to everything around him, froze.
The laugh was coming from outside the perimeter of the temple, from the darkness.
A second cackle propelled them into action. Screaming, they ran towards the sanctum sanctorum and took cover; Avinash looking like a dog with its tail between its legs.
Penta Talandi’s chants grew louder as he invoked the goddess. The cockerel struggled in his hands. Penta drew his knife and cut its throat in one smooth motion, then let the blood flow on the mouth of the idol. The city bred onlookers closed their eyes in fearful disgust. The girls hugged each other and shook like leaves in the autumn wind. The blood flow stopped and with that, eerily, so did the cackling. There was a defiant scream and the branches of the big banyan tree near the temple started to shake. Penta broke a coconut at the feet of the Goddess and gave each one a piece of the kernel.
“Keep this with you till you reach your home and no harm will come to you” he said in a grave voice.
“What are we doing here?” A calm female voice asked and everyone looked in wonder at Sonalee, now wide awake and looking as fresh and beautiful as she had earlier in the day. No one said a word as Shrikant took her hand and guided her towards the jeep.
“Let me tell you a story.” It was Penta. “Long time ago these lands were owned by the Deshmukh family of Warora. It was in 1947 that the Zamindar’s wife Nayantara died during her pregnancy due to negligence on part of her philandering husband. As the legend goes she became a churail and started killing all the males of that clan one by one. They tried every preventive remedy prescribed in the Puranas but could not prevent her ravages till the last of the males of that clan was dead. Each death was horrifying with their bodies sucked of all the blood and semen and even the youngest looked like an old man when he died. I do not know why she has resurfaced.”
“Did you say Deshmukhs of Warora?” Avinash asked almost choking on his words. “We are not going back to the camp. Take us back to Nagpur immediately.” He was shaking as if stricken by ague. “Please Shrikant I beg you.” He whined. Gone was the swagger of the bully.”You can send our equipment later”.
Shrikant looked at Penta. “Will you come with us?’ Penta nodded in agreement.
It was a very quiet group that travelled 200 kilometres to the city that night. Only when they reached the safety of their homes did some of them realise that they had wet their pants.
Work at Sunidhi Advertising had returned to normal and the finishing touches to their latest ad were being given in the studio. The remaining shoot was completed employing technological trickery. Avinash was back to his bullying ways and seemed to have forgotten the episode in the forest.
“The laughter must have been some wild animal making noise and that idiotic Ranger was ignorant about it. Or maybe because I am a descendant of a bastard son of the Deshmukh’s must have saved me” he thought. He drummed his fingers on the desk expectantly.
Sonalee had been very cooperative to his advances since coming back and had agreed to see him today in his studio. He had planned her seduction to the last detail. The door opened and he looked up. Sonalee entered wearing a very sexy outfit that showed every curve of her youthful body. Her face was flushed with desire and it was as if it was her and not Avinash who was the predator.
“Let’s go” she said in an urgent whisper as she took his hand and pulled him towards the inner room. Avinash followed her mesmerised by her sensual walk. Once inside she did not wait for a moment and undressed herself, wrecking his plans of a slow seduction.
“What are you waiting for?” she asked him as he stood transfixed looking at her curvaceous body. “Don’t you want me” she taunted him. “Of course I want you” he said and flung his clothes on the floor and pulled her to the bed. He kissed her on the mouth fervently and placed his hands on her ample breasts. The nipples were hard and he closed his eyes in wonderment.
“Got you, you bastard” he heard a gruff voice saying and as he opened his eyes in surprise, his mouth formed a scream, but this time no sound came out. What he saw in front of him was a hideous naked old hag with sagging breasts and an ugly, wizened, face, her mouth curled in a triumphant smile, her long matted hair falling to her waist. He looked further down and saw the feet were pointing backwards.
“Oh my God it is you!”
The next morning the cleaning lady entered the studio and ran out screaming in terror. Avinash Deshmukh was found dead. He was forty years when he died but the body was that of an old man drained of all blood and his male member was destroyed beyond recognition. Nayantara’s revenge was complete.