The Hitchhiking Spirit of Abbott Mount
Notes From A Nature Camp
Baby Doll main sone di….
The night had descended long ago. The vibrant, lush green beauty of the winding Himalayan roads had been reduced into an impenetrable, twisted tunnel of darkness lined by gigantic trees that resembled shadow monsters.
It was like a horror ride in the amusement parks. Minus the cheesy sounds effects and tacky costumed ghosts.
It was like a horror ride that was insidious, real and eerie in a way no amusement park can or should ever dream to replicate.
Baby Doll main sone di….
Roy cringed and made a face at the song blasting from their car stereos. Ila noticed his expressions and gave a wicked grin.
Their car rushed up the windy road that led to the fabled Abbott Mount cottages — the rest houses from the British era that still served as a tourist attraction in this area. Of course, the tourists were few and far between. And were usually either enthusiastic to the extent of being ignorant or serious to the extent of being annoying. Either way, like most hill-stations, tourism was important for Abbott Mount’s economy. And despite the fact that ‘bustling’ was never really an adjective that could be applied to Abbott Mount’s tourism, its 13 cottages registered enough foot-fall to count as a decent business for the town.
Ila and Roy’s car whizzed past a mile stone, barely visible underneath the shrouds of mist that were gradually blurring everything in the vicinity.
As the milestone gradually disappeared from sight, a white mist began gathering in their rear view mirror. A thick wall of smoky fog that was gradually descending on their car from behind.
Ila and Roy, however, had been recently married. And like every couple whose conjugal bliss was yet to be touched by the harsh implications of sharing a bathroom and a life with another person, they were predisposed to not noticing something amiss until too late.
“You have a terrible choice”, Roy muttered, fumbling with the stereo buttons to switch to something decent.
The mist in the rear view mirror was now as thick as a woolly curtain. Nothing was visible beyond.
“I know”, Ila responded, glancing at Roy mischievously, “I realized it the day I had chosen you”
The mist had made its way into their back-seat, while Ila and Roy continued to remain oblivious.
“Lame and cheesy”, Roy was unimpressed.
“Sincere and true”, Ila countered, smiling and looked up.
Her gasp was lost in her throat as her knuckles turned white on the steering wheel. Surprised by her strange reaction, Roy’s eyes darted towards the rear-view mirror.
He froze in his place, his eyes wide and unfocused as his mouth opened around a scream that came out as a stilted, choking whimper.
“Much as I enjoy your adorable bickering”, a fruity, feminine voice echoed through the car, “I would appreciate it if you would play something bearable on those stereos”
In the backseat was a figure, silhouetted in the mist that draped her like a blanket and which spread across the car like a humongous swirling cloud.
It was evident that she was ‘she’ even though her face was barely visible. And it was not just because of the voice. Her aura, her form, her entire being exuded an exquisite feminine radiance that was awe-inspiring and scary in equal proportions.
And her voice — it was like several ringing bells. Except those bells had a weird resonance, like a chorus inserted as an after effect. It was a singular voice that created an illusion of a multitude, an illusion of many speaking as one.
“Careful”, the voice said in a sing-song as the car veered wildly on a turn with Ila regaining her senses just in time to maneuver it.
Ila and Roy took several deep breaths and exchanged a glance. Not daring to turn around, Roy looked at the rear-view mirror, hoping desperately that it was just a dream, a chimera…something, anything that was not real.
The figure looked back at Roy, her head tilted as if she was mildly curious.
“May I have a cigarette?”, the voice sounded pleasant. And polite.
“What?”, Roy was bewildered enough to find his voice.
“A cigarette?”, the voice repeated.
It was like a normal conversation. Except that it was a conversation with a corporeal spirit that had appeared in the backseat of their car out of nowhere.
A spirit that apparently wanted to smoke.
There was a wild moment when Roy actually considered saying no. Partly because he really did want to share his cigarettes with a ghost. And partly because Ila thought he had quit.
On cue, Ila turned around to look at him, her face pale as an ash and nodded her head towards his pocket.
Roy had a moment that was a disturbing mixture of panic and relief. And then, he remembered the spirit in his backseat.
Roy fumbled around his pockets and dug out a packet of cigarettes. With shaking hands and without turning around, he offered the pack to her.
“Thank you”, she said, pulling one out.
It was a feat, lighting that cigarette without really turning around and without meeting her eyes. If she had eyes, that is.
Roy, however, managed it, blindly and hands trembling like he was having a fit. Maybe he was. That would probably explain this madness.
Ila, on the other hand continued driving, eyes fixed on the road and sweat pouring off her in buckets even though the temperature inside the car had dipped below the freezing point.
“Nice meeting you”, the spirit said genially as the cigarette’s smoke slowly rose and mingled with the mist.
Roy nodded. Or tried to.
There was a pause as the spirit finished her smoke with an air of someone who had all the time in the world. Meanwhile, Ila and Roy had turned into statutes, barely breathing and not daring to look anywhere except the opaque curtain of fog their car was driving through.
“Thank you”, the spirit said, jolting them out of their fear induced stupors, “Have a safe journey”, she said.
There was a wild moment of relief for Ila and Roy.
Then, she flicked a finger.
Ila and Roy’s screams were drowned by wild screeching of the tires on the gravel. A loud, deafening thud echoed across the mountains.
Soon, it was dark and silent. Again. Except a single tree by the side of the road that blinked in the dark like a forgotten Christmas tree.
A Christmas tree below which instead of cheery toys, there was a broken, mangled car.
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