TODAY -

Unsettling Stories
- Part 2 -

Gautamjit Thokchom *



So this rumour†, assisted by the natural enthusiasm in gossip of the country side, ran so many rounds that by about two weeks after the incident not less than five versions of the same incident spread far and wide. Children had a great time, listening to long forgotten stories of the unexplained being revitalized by the incident. Old men and women got new following and accompaniment, merely by narrating stories. Parents used derived threats to dismiss pestering demands from their kids, like -"Then the man with smiling face will come and catch you tonight." Of the boys, little was heard. Some say they preferred a withdrawn lifestyle and refused to reveal more than what I have already narrated. The whole village was in a fever, of caution and speculation.

After a quiet month, rainy season started bringing torrential rain more than life, of the cultured and the wild asked for. Despite the peaceful shade of green all around, an even more chilling incident occurred.

THE RICE FIELD INCIDENT

As I have already said, it was rainy season. Farmers spent more time in fields than in the comfortable household afforded by the slightly cold weather of the season. All were engaged in tilling land, sowing and planting of rice to ensure a big enough granary for the next year. By the fourth week after the first rains, the age old ritual of sowing rice was over. But there was someone still labouring in his fields. He was said to live alone after the death of his father. All the villagers identified his plot by an acacia tree which stood on a dome shaped slightly elevated patch of land. A small pond next to it made it quite a popular place among farmers to evade the sun in summer. It was near the hillock but at a good distance even from the road which led to the sinister field.

That day the young man came down to work a little late. He had intended to finish planting the nurseries by that afternoon. Driven by a feeling of guilt for coming late, he was too absorbed in his work that he forgot the trajectory of the sun above and to look at the shadow of his cap formed on the surface of water. It was noon. The sun was overhead, and it was time for kites to hunt, and for snakes to come out of their holes to bask. The monotony was broken by his sudden awareness of the water his feet were dipped into turning cold and making waves. Thinking it was fish playing around and touching his feet, he muttered, "Come next month, I will catch you all." With a smile, he dropped the few nurseries from his right hand and slowly directed it towards his feet and reached for the spot that was disturbing him. He felt a slippery, flat thing caressing his hand. It was not the body of any fish he knew existed in his part of the world. He grew curious and kept his hand underwater. Then something unusual happened. The thing began to slide itself against his knuckles. He could feel it sliding on his palm. It was slimy at first, and then it became less slimy, almost rough. He could feel its scales, gradually beginning to scratch his skin and becoming sharper and sharper and the whole body abruptly tapered down. In terror, he withdrew and flung his hand at once, but something sharp ran across his palm as he did so. It made an incision, painful and with lots of blood.

Feeling uneasy and frightened, he ran. He fell down repeatedly into water and mud. At last, he reached a contour, and quickly made his way to the acacia tree under which he had kept his things. He cleaned the wound and tied it with a piece of cloth. He looked at his watch and it was 12:12 pm. He cursed himself to have put himself into trouble. Then, he heard a faint, but clearly perceptible sound. It was not singular. He thought it was like raindrops hitting water. Just below where he sat, and where the rice-field made a corner with the elevated patch a swarm of fish was playing. It was what was producing the disturbing sound. He saw something resembling froth floating over it. Unfortunately it didn't move away. More and more fish seemed to join them and the chorus of their small lips cupping water became louder and extremely odd. They seemed to have a mind, a consciousness of what they were doing. They came with a sinister plan to overpower the lonely man. They knew he was vulnerable, and were exercising their limited power with such a dramatic effect. He remembered many stories to this effect and knew he was into something bad for sure. He remained there staring at the swarm which seem to enjoy the reactions of its noon-time human companion. As he looked, suddenly there came up turbulent, rumbling currents of water in the middle of the swarm. It was like water boiling in a huge container. The water became muddy, and all the fish were gone at once. And the ensuing smell of fresh mud made him sick. He felt a warmness sweeping through his body, and a sudden gong in his ears- the pulsations of tensed veins. The disturbance underneath the water gradually became stronger, and was spreading out along a convoluted pattern. Something was there underneath, and he didn't want to see it. That it was a living form was certain and that it was something monstrous and irregular was more certain. Clutching his things in a hurry and carrying an increasingly forceful thumping inside his chest he stood up and was about to run when a sweet feminine voice called out, ''Oh dear, you look nervous. Something's wrong?" He stopped immediately; it had been only a month since that rumour ran rounds throughout the village. For the first time in many years he remembered his mother and longed for her protection and care. He felt overpowered and outnumbered. He was sure it was going to be his last, so many things were waiting to take their turns and he would certainly fall to one of them.

The young man, although pale with fear, mustered all his courage and turned around to make a last bid for survival. His ears traced the voice to a figure sitting on a branch of the tree which was quiet small to bear the weight of the former – the bald old man. Like a child, the old man was hanging his legs down and swinging them back and forth. He kept his arms straight, palms pressing onto the branch so that the usually stooped shoulder was lifted. He was in his black fronted outfit as rumoured and also carried his famous smile on his lips. He looked like a carelessly made doll, something in between the realms of the lifeless and the living. During these moments of semi-trance observation, the young man couldn't ignore those evil eyes. The cheerful sparkle of the human eye was absent; instead they were dark, agitated and very small. They were fitted deep into a big socket forming a depression around his eyes as if to hide their hideous purposes. The young man took his eyes off him and tried to steady himself against the fear overrunning his body and soul. He felt himself slowly being dominated and conquered. The rumour was true, and he was not as lucky as the group of boys. Then the old man interrupted, "You know, dear. There is a peculiar amusement in observing poor souls falling into my silliest traps. Of course, I'm not talking about you. I'm talking about that swarm of fish, and that creature underwater. They are my friends, and it seems they are hungry and they want you. Even this useless fish want human flesh. So, I was bound to stop you from running away." The young man did not make a single move. To his back, in the field below, the chorus of the swarm of fish erupted again and the creature underwater became restless. A dry scaly hand slowly crept in and pressed against his chest. He was too small to resist the authority. It made a gentle push, and he fell off the elevated patch and splashed onto the water right into the middle of the swarm.

It was exactly at the corner of the field next to where the acacia tree grows today. It became a landmark of increased significance, and a reminder of the lovely lad who met his untimely death.


(† Read the first part of the series, THE RUMOUR)


* Gautamjit Thokchom wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer is a "simple hearted introvert on medical intervention" and can be contacted at thgautamjit(at)outlook(dot)com
This article was posted on June 18, 2013



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