The car was nearing Athahalli village, some 150 miles away from Bangalore. It was evening and the sky was overcast. Vijay turned to his wife Aparna and said "We should be able to reach my aunt’s place before the sky breaks into rain”.
“Have you visited her anytime? I remember your telling that it is decades since you had visited your native place” she asked. “May be when I was a kid when my parents were living. I have only hazy memory of her, a short and slim woman who had no children and who lived alone. Yes it is nearly two decades and I was in US”
“Nice that she remembered you and sent for you. Is she your dad’s cousin?”Aparna asked
“Yes, I don’t know why she has sent for me. I remember she was living alone even when my parents were alive. I got a call in my office yesterday from her asking me to visit her immediately. I wonder how she knew I was here and got my number. Strange it is. We will know soon” he said
He had no difficulty in locating the house that was a little away from the other houses. There was no one around in the village street. The evening light was dull and the overcast sky made it worse. The house looked dilapidated with broken windows. The walls were dark with greenish moss having never seen a white wash He pushed the rickety and squeaking gate open. He found dry leaves and droppings of birds along the pathway to the house. There was no semblance of inhabitation.
Aparna shivered when she saw the walkway unkempt with weeds and creepers all over.”It gives me creepy feeling, Vijay. Are you sure this is the house?”Aparna asked
Vijay did not answer. He knocked the door and again loudly when there was no response.
After sometime what looked like eternity, it opened. A frail old lady in a white sari with silver white hair and hollow eyes in her ashen wrinkled face said “Welcome, Vijay. Is she your wife? Sorry the house is not presentable. I have no help and am too old to tend to it.”
“Yes Aunty, she is Aparna. It is almost two decades or more since I had been here. It was a surprise to receive your call yesterday. In view of the urgency in your tone, I made it today. Please have these fruits. What is it you wanted to say? I could not make out as your voice was not clear” he said.
“Thank you so much. Your uncle had passed away years ago. Now my time is over and being childless, I wish to bequeath my house and lands to you. I have made a will in your favour and is in my steel box in the first floor room. Can you bring it down? I am unable to climb the steps. Let me rest in the easy chair meanwhile” she said in a voice that was a whisper from her toothless mouth.
He started climbing the shaky stairs leaving Aparna behind. She jumped and said “Let me also come with you. May be you may need my help.” There were cobwebs all over, sparse old furniture covered with grime and dirt and a dim light flowed from the lone broken window. There was no electricity and they had to look for the box with a pencil torch light. Aparna felt a cold shudder in her spine and turned round to see some pictures on the wall hanging askew looking at her with penetrating eyes. She said “Vijay, let us leave this creepy place soon. I am not comfortable. Let us go”
“Just one second. The box is here. It has no lid. Here is the faded envelope.Come on, let us go down and swiftly take leave of her” he said.
As she came down the steps, Aparna felt something brushing her body but she could see none. She heard the howling wind in the rain and eerie sounds of laughter. They both clasped each other and went to the easy chair. She was not to be found. They looked in the kitchen. There was none.”Aunty, aunty “ he called twice. There was no response save the cackle of a laughter that sent a panic. They rushed out of the house with the envelope in hand sweating with fear. They ran till they found a man outside on the road.
He asked “Where are you coming from? That haunted bungalow.”
When they nodded their heads, he said “An old lady who was living alone in that house died long back. There is some relative of hers who is yet to claim the house”