Bedtime Stories

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Little Peter always knew that he wasn’t alone in his room when he slept. When his mother tucked him in and kissed him goodnight, he used to plead with her not to turn off the lights.

Little Peter was afraid of darkness. And the sounds that came from under his bed. The soft taps on his shoulder, as he shut his eyes tight under his blanket. The raspy breathing that he could hear. The soft scurrying sounds, the even softer whispers.

His mother had told him never to peek out of his blanket and to just sleep tight. Or else the bogey monster would get him. Night after night, he would stay awake. Eyes shut. Trembling. Never peeking out of the sheets that he would curl into.

But then one night, he broke the rule…and this is what he saw. Or did he?

Childhood can be darn scary time.

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P and his Dog

P was born in a white-washed, airy house with a small vegetable patch, lying somewhere north-east of the great big city. The sunlight flowing into the house made curious criss-cross patterns on the walls and wooden floor, where a lazy-eyed dog could often be seen stretching out. The family pet. It was a cheerful house inhabited by well-meaning, middle class folk with mediocre aspirations and expectations.

P was a slow child, bordering precariously close to being called stupid. He was the shame of the Annual Sports day. Always the last one to finish the race, but always managing a big, goofy grin, flashing a set of crooked teeth that melted most people’s hearts. He was nothing special when it came to lessons either- failing to live up to his big glasses and small frame. He was no mathematical genius.

P was a happy child. Every evening when the dusk settled in, spreading a loving violet hue across the front yard, he would sit down quietly on the steps of the house. And beside him would be the lazy eyed dog. The family pet. Little boy and his old dog, side by side. The sweet, pungent smell of the vegetable patch, mixing with the kitchen smells. And everything in the universe would feel just right.

The House on 23 Moore Avenue

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We stay in a large compound housing a lot of trees, and quite a few houses, in 23 Moore Avenue, the southern part of Calcutta. It’s like a quasi-joint family where most part of the large family lives together, but in separate houses. And in most cases, people can’t stand one another. The houses were built a long, long time ago. Some time in the 1920’s, I think. And like most old places, there are many stories woven around it, passed on through generations. Urban legend type. The exciting part? They are mostly ghost stories.

Growing up, I used to sit in awe, as my grandfather, and later, my mother and uncle, narrated story after story about 23 Moore Avenue. Apparently, the entire compound was built on top of a graveyard. And we all know that spirits do not like their rest to be interrupted. I mean, who wouldn’t? I would get murderous if someone tried waking me up when I am asleep. So, as the story goes, when the construction work for the houses began, there were very bizarre instances that occurred. Some eerie, like trees falling down, without any rhyme or reason, without any strong gust of wind or anything. Some downright scary. Like construction workers dropping dead while the main large bungalow got built. Yep. It was jinxed. but people moved in anyhow. There were tragedies which followed. My grand dad’s sister passed away, at the age of 2. Followed by the death of his infant brother. What followed was a mental breakdown for his mother, who never quite recovered. She still wrote brilliantly though, and sang with a clear, strong voice.

Perhaps, due to this series of unfortunate incidents, the entire place gained a reputation for being haunted. The neem tree at the entrance of the large green gate, was considered especially notorious for housing a rather mischievous spirit. One who liked dropping things on passersby and cars. On moonlit nights, when my mother and uncle sat chatting on the terrace, they often saw someone on the opposite terrace. Someone a little too translucent to lay claims on being real. Someone who flickered a bit too much to be considered human. Someone who had a propensity to disappear with remarkable speed.

My grand parents had several pets. Around 5 German Shepherds, and 10 cats. One of the dogs, Tiger, went into a frenzy one day and attacked the entire family, except for my granddad. It resulted in my mother and uncle being hospitalized, wounds being stitched, etc. The vet wanted Tiger euthanized. That thought was unbearable to my granddad, and to my mother. He was family. Somehow, after that incident, he became mellow. But there used to be a frightening look of alarm in his eyes.

August 1975, my aunt’s boyfriend passed away in a terrible motorcycle accident on a highway, along with the pillion, his best friend. They got hit by a speeding truck. He was 23 years old, and my father’s elder brother. He was a beautiful person, as far as I have heard. One who wrote poetry and played the accordion and mandolin. He had long wavy hair, a sharp nose and very high cheekbones. He used a very distinct perfume, a bottle of which he always kept in my grandfather’s house, because he visited so frequently. The day he passed away, he was returning to Asansol from Calcutta, after visiting my aunt and the family.

Tiger was very close to him. He had a very calming effect on the dog. And for many months after his death, Tiger behaved very strangely. Barking affectionately, jumping up and greeting someone very familiar, someone he knew very well and loved. And often, that unmistakable perfume could be smelled, permeating through the entire house, as Tiger went into a joyful barking frenzy.

Strange things happen I suppose. And I believe in the strange, because I believe there are things that go way beyond our cynicism and calculated logic.

My house looks nothing like this, but at times (just at times), I cannot help but feel a slight chill run through me if I stand alone on the terrace. I feel a strange bond of empathy with a house that has seen witness to so much. And for so many years. I made this sketch as a sort of depiction of my house, though it looks nothing like it. But the moon? It sure can be sinister.

Lost in the Woods

lost in the woods

The woodland sounds grew louder as the skies got darker. It was late evening, and the fading daylight died among the trees.

Emily was scared. But she had to be brave for her little brother.

Suddenly, the forest seemed illuminated by a million little lights.
Pairs and pairs of glowing eyes, drawing closer to the two little children.

The trees were coming to life and there was nowhere to run.

(Another sketch I had made.)

Beyond the Garden

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Sunlight on the tips of dew drenched leaves.
The smell of wet vegetation overpowering the air.
Verdant. Evoking newness, the promise of spring.
The cacophony of songbirds as the small, naked feet run out the kitchen door, into the garden.

Lost.

Somewhere in that garden with its orchards and thickets and dangerously twining vines and a dried up fountain with an angel looking up towards the sky with its mouth wide open. Naked. Like the small feet. Innocent in its nakedness. Without a sense of shame. Without the infiltration of sin.

Stark.

The skin breaks into goose-flesh as it grazes the cold marble. As pure and lifeless as ice. The feet now hurry along the wet pebbled pathway, beyond the orchard. Past the tree house. Never looking back at the wooden fences. The kitchen door stays wide open.