The proud man can learn humility, but he will be proud of it.
- Mignon McLaughlin
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“Run Preeti, run faster” I screamed. It was pitch black and for once I thought that it was the end of everything. I was screaming on the top of my voice while running away from the darkness.
All I could hear was a voice calling my name, “Wake up Uma, and please stop crying”. Finally I opened my eyes and saw that it was Tani.
“Another dream?” she asked.
I gave a nod and she handed me a cup of coffee. Though we both remained silent but deep down we both knew that it was not just a nightmare.
A week passed since the incident took place that shook our lives completely.
It all started when last week Preeti called me and Tani, and told us that we should visit her aunt this weekend. At first we were not sure about this plan as we were too busy working on an article, but she promised us that her aunt could give us a great story and finally we had to agree because Preeti knew her work all too well and for newbie journalists like us we couldn’t miss any good story.
So on Sunday morning we were all packed up for the journey, when suddenly Tani told us that according to her horoscope she should not travel anywhere today because it would be unlucky for her!
Both Preeti and I had a pretty good laugh at this, and did a group hug. After all we are not only colleagues but also childhood friends. My car was waiting for us, Tani took the back seat and opened her handbag, while Preeti started going through the playlist which brought me to the driver’s seat.
I smiled bright looking at them and thought to myself that finally a trip with my girlfriends but as I was closing the door of the car I saw a crow which was looking at us or maybe I just thought that and then something unexpected happened the crow came right into our direction and all we heard was a banging sound on the door. Both Tani and Preeti were startled, I opened the door and saw that the crow was lying on the road. We were looking at each other and Preeti said that we were just wasting our time in this so I put on my seatbelt and started driving. And for the next four hours I remained quiet and continued driving and tried not to think about that crow. We stopped the car near a local shop to buy some food. Tani and I were busy buying chips and cold drinks when we saw Preeti talking to the shop owner, a man of fifty. After paying the bill we came near our car when Preeti said that she was verifying the routes of the village with the shop’s owner and he asked her whether we want to return back from the village.
“It’s a joke right?” Tani asked being perplexed.
“Of course it is” Preeti said with a laugh.
“Oh, come on Uma stop overthinking. These local people are very confusing, stop decoding a mere joke.” Preeti said pulling my hands and signaled me to sit in the car.
“Nothing will go against the plan” Tani said with a faint smile.
And in the next half an hour we were proved wrong. Both the back tires of the car got punctured and nearly fifteen minutes were left for the sunset. After waiting for some help at the deserted road we decided to take our bags and find a shelter for the night. After walking for more than an hour we were exhausted, our legs were hurting and we had no energy to walk any further.
All of a sudden Tani stopped walking and points her finger, both Preeti and I found that Tani was pointing towards a house. Some light was visible and we decided to go and ask for some help, though we knew it was dangerous but we were not left with much option. We started walking in that direction, and the closer we went the more it looked like a film set for a horror movie.
It was a big house but with so less light we could hardly see the details. I knocked at the door but no one responded.
“A watchman will come out with a lantern, Uma” Preeti almost whispered in my ears.
“Very funny Preeti, now stop” I said being quite irritated as we were in this mess because of her brilliant plan.
Again I knocked and this time the big door creaked open, and we saw an old lady dressed in white standing in front of us, we told her our problem and requested to help us out and after almost a minute of observing she told us to come inside in a shrill voice.
We went inside and looked everywhere, the house looked bigger from inside and it seemed to us that the house was as old as that old lady. Everything was covered with a thick layer of dust and, most of the furniture’s were covered with white sheets.
“Can we charge our mobiles? Preeti asked the old lady.
To which that lady just gave a smile.
I looked at Preeti with a frown and she said that she needs to click some pictures of this place.
Tani was totally silent because she was too tired to speak or react.
The old lady showed us our rooms and went away, we were in the second floor and the room was huge. Tani immediately throws herself on the bed and closed her eyes.
I was still looking around the room and came across a picture on the shelf, it was a small family picture most probably a picture of the lady with her husband and son. I was still lost in the picture when I heard Preeti saying something.
“This is weird” said Preeti.
“What is it?” I asked keeping the picture aside.
And she told me that how every electrical appliances were working perfectly but she couldn’t charge her phone!
I totally ignored her as I was really tired, went and sat on the bed. Within no time we heard someone knocking at the door, Preeti opened the door and found that the old lady brought us sandwiches.
Preeti took the tray of sandwiches and Tani almost jumped up from the bed to grab her share, but I didn’t move maybe I couldn’t after watching that. The lady was standing near the wall but I could not see her shadow behind her! Even in that dimly lighted room I clearly saw her face, a face with just a mysterious smile. She waited for a few moment may be for me to take my share but when she saw that I was staring at her she hurried away but before leaving said that dinner would be served within one hour.
The moment she left I got up closed the door and looked at my friends who were still busy eating and gobbled up everything on the tray.
“Something is really wrong about this place” I said and explained everything that I just saw.
“NO SHADOW!” exclaimed Tani with fear.
Preeti didn’t say a word and both of them asked this obvious question that “What do we do now?”
“Let’s just go downstairs and find out” I said after thinking for a few seconds.
We all tiptoed down the staircase and saw the lady going towards another room, taking the advantage of that time we all started searching for any clue that would help us to know what exactly was wrong with the lady and this place.
Both Tani and Preeti were searching in the drawers and suddenly my eyes fell on the newspaper which was lying on the center table. I took it up and stared at the headline, a big burnt house and its owner’s picture was printed and the headlines read that due to some electrical fault a house was set on fire and only one dead body was found. And according to the evidence the burnt body that the cops got was of an old lady who was the owner of that house!
And it didn’t took me long to realize that it was the same house and the very old lady who helped us!!
I felt a chill down my spine and was unable to utter even a single word, my hands started shaking and I could feel drops of sweat on my forehead.
Tani took the newspaper from my hand and then both Preeti and Tani was looking at each other, I saw their pale faces and they couldn’t react.
For a moment everything became so silent that all we could hear was our heartbeats.
Tani was almost in tears, we looked at the main door of the house and that was it.
We ran out of that house as fast as we could, came near the road and nobody dared to look back at the house!
Few people said that some truck drivers found and helped us to get back. We didn’t know what exactly happened that night.
Maybe it was too dark to see anything!