Hang in There

Two girls are playing alone in the forest. The atmosphere turns eery. You know something sinister is about to happen. But wait, has it already happened?

The world looked weird upside down. I always liked the funny feeling in my stomach when I hung upside down from the branches. The winds smelled different today. It shifted from the usual tangy to a dark smoky stench. The evening burst into the skies and I knew I should return home. But playing on the branches was somehow addicting. I was upside down on one of the lower branches and my head started to get dizzier. I like how the blood rushed into my head when I jumped down onto my feet after a good hang. Geeta has just perched onto the opposite branch, ready to hang down with me- like bats. We used to do this as little kids and mother always came bursting out of the house, worried that one of her girls might crack her skull open. “Geeta, let’s head home. We shouldn’t be here at this hour.” I explained. Geeta didn’t pay any heed to my words as she climbed higher on the tree. 

I quit persuading her and joined her in our little monkey game. Just then the winds started howling into the dusk. The leaves rustled, as if they were calling upon the spirits. The clouds covered the setting sun and the birds stopped chirping. It was unusual for them to do that. Eerie quietness enveloped the empty yard. I was starting to get worried. I climbed onto the branches once more to get a better look at the situation. “Shikha” Geeta implored “Stop being such a wimp about these things. Monsoons are near. The clouds do cloud up. It will be so much fun if it starts to rain! Nobody will come looking for us.” The moment she said that I heard a rustle at a distance. It was so clear because the rest of the nature was silenced. Geeta heard it too. Her face was surprised but she was trying to find a logic behind it. I felt sweat trickle down my eyebrows. Nervousness was gripping inside me. We saw a shadow behind the other tree at a distance. The winds began blowing harder. Geeta shrieked in her highest pitch, as the shadow walked to us. Dust blinded our eyes. We barely managed to open it when we heard my name being called at a distance. “Shikha!” I recognized that voice. “It’s mother!” Geeta finally said. 

 “What are you doing, Shikha?” my mother’s voice echoed into the empty yard. I was still perched on of the branches. Mother was wearing her red sari, with the pallu around her shoulder. Her bindi was red and large in the centre of the forehead. Her glass bangles made a sweet noise, as it clicked against the clay pot she held. Her smile was like I always remembered. It had still not changed. I looked at Geeta and gulped. We were in trouble. We should’ve gone home straight after school. She looked at me with fright as well. I didn’t know what else to do. I thought for a short second and took a deep breath and said “Mother, it was Geeta’s idea!” I exclaimed “She saw the tree and said we could play the climbing game after school…” Geeta didn’t say a word. She was looking at me, as if she was frozen. She nodded towards me as I asked her not to worry about anything. I jumped down from the branches and walked towards mother. 

Mother hugged me tight and said, “Shikha? Dear, I know what happened was unexpected. It was all of a sudden. I couldn’t get over it myself. But you need to stop being crazy. I know you keep imagining your sister is here! She is not going to come back. Don’t worry. Time will heal it all. Come now, let’s eat.” I shook my head at her, as she retreated into the fields, disappearing the same way she appeared. I looked up at Geeta, who widened her eyes at me. She was slowly climbing down the tree. Her eyes never stopped looking at mine. Horror filled my eyes, as I ran across the other side of the yard. I thought quickly about what had been talking to me all this while. The anxiety filled my veins as I dreaded to look behind. Who was that I had been talking to all this while? Why did she say Geeta was imaginary? It was the shock that compelled me to rush further away from the empty yard. “Shikha!” I heard Geeta call out my name. But I didn’t want to wait for her. I wanted to get as far as possible from the thing that had been talking to me all this while. I began imagining the most sinister details.

Geeta climbed down the tree, as I rushed towards the bank. I stumbled forward. I was breathing heavily. My ankle ached but I still didn’t want to wait behind. The pain was gripping but my fear was greater. I just wanted to get away from there. With a loud thud, Geeta followed me right after. I didn’t look behind even once. Footsteps pattering behind me told me that Geeta wasn’t far enough. I jumped off a low fence to run onto the main path. Geeta struggled to keep up. The winds began howling once again. The weather was giving me a signal that something evil was lurking, not very far from me. Thick droplets of rain started falling from the broken skies. The sky was cloudy. The sun had disappeared, just like all the happiness I was going through, moments ago. I could hear Geeta panting loudly. She wasn’t stopping and neither was I. That is when I rushed past the barren lands. I remembered that place. It was the graveyard. Dread was creeping inside me, like climbers. The rain water blurred my vision. Tears fogged my thoughts, but I was deterred to escape. The sight of the graveyard made my head grow dizzier. It was the graveyard where my mother was buried. 

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