A Short Story
Due to the enormous costs of the wedding, my uncle asked my parents if they could have the reception at their house, and they agreed. I was not too happy about it. I had to work the next day, which means up by two, so I can finish all my chanting before work.
The reception was in the evening, and at that time the guests started noisily coming in, women inside, and men outside, as is the custom in our family. As the night wore on, I began feeling more and more uncomfortable, being conscious of my sins. My eyes kept looking up at the window of my sister’s room, where the girls could sometimes be seen. They had gotten comfortable, now wearing pyjamas, light and skimpy.
“I think it’s time you also got married.”
I turned to see who was talking. It was not a relative. He was a friend of the family, a barber by profession. I suppose he’d noticed the direction of my gaze.
“Find yourself a wife my friend,” he said, “and in the meantime, chant all your prayers, the name of God. Chant now, in the garden.”
There was no arguing with him, so I took my prayer beads into the garden to chant.
“But beware of the far side,” the barber called after me.
What does he know? He’s just a guest, and a barber.
The garden at my parent’s house is large, a lawn surrounded by tall trees. The marquee had been set up on the one side, nearer the house. By “the far side,” I suppose the barber was talking about the area near the fish pond, where there’s a thick cluster of trees. I decided to take a walk down there, chanting on my beads. The problem was, the guests were following after me.
I was now surrounded by men in tuxedos, laughing and smiling with wedding jollity. To make matters worse, they were also chanting God’s Holy Names, as if in mocking imitation of me. Were they all drunk? Some of them, maybe, but I know my parents would not have permitted the serving of alcohol in their house. In any case, they certainly looked drunk, and they sounded drunk, as they milled around me, and we were now all busy making a din with our chanting of the Ineffable Name, everyone giddy, with happy smiles. We chanted, I amongst the wedding guests, as if lost in purpose and confused. We were all chanting as if drunk – unfeeling, and unchanged.
That was until we had gotten to the far side of the garden.
In the far side of the garden, besides the fish pond and the tall trees, there’s an old building, something like a pavilion, looking over the water. The building is never used. My parents never got around to fixing it, so it stands there, unkempt and disintegrating in the golden light of the sun, and empty and foreboding at night. Now it loomed in the glowing light of the moon, windows thick with darkness, looking at us as we approached near the water.
We, the drunken party of chanters, came to a place where all was dark, with a darkness foreboding and black, and, as we neared the pavilion, as if stricken with a cold fear, we all stopped chanting, one-by-one, until we were stood like lost sheep in a field amidst the howling of wolves. But there was no howling that night, no sound, except for the wind wailing through the trees, shaking madly in the night.
No one was chanting now, not even a peep, and we were all looking around in darkness and in fear. There was a strange, preternatural light, lingering around the plants and the trees, like a luminous green. I had seen this somewhere before.
Something similar happened to me a few nights ago. I was sleeping, and, in a dream, I noticed a bright plant-like light glowing around my head. I knew then that it was the trap.
The presence in the pavilion was the same evil presence, a ghost of some sort. It was then that I felt that same dark, cold, menacing presence at my back, and I started chanting again, now with the fervour of real fear. I was chanting, but all the others, the so-called wedding guests, remained silent, looking at me with hollow eyes, all stricken dumb. And I too was stricken dumb.
The presence was not in the pavilion. It was here, now, at my back, searching for my spine.
It happens like this. Suddenly, in your sleep, you realise you’re in the paralysing grip of some evil presence, a ghost. You struggle to wake up, but sleep sticks onto you, and cannot be shaken off. The bastard has gripped you, somewhere along the spinal cord, usually the neck.
That night, a few nights ago, it may have been due to unclean bedclothes, or late-night reading of Umberto Eco, but I saw it coming, in the dream. I knew it was close, in the dream. I was searching the broom closet, in a large hall with wooden tables and chairs, and I was chanting the Holy Names. I was chanting loudly in the dream, feeling the closeness of a threatening presence, but he saw me, and latched onto me, some foul looking creature, with hollow eyes. At that point, I knew I had to wake up. I had to chant the Holy Names loudly, not in the dream, but with my real, physical body, my lips and tongue, but I was stuck, paralysed in its grip. I may have chanted, but it was not enough, so I brokenly stuttered:
Not loudly, not clearly. Brokenly, desperately.
It was then that I knew I needed a wife, someone to sleep next to me at night, to wake me in the midst of the trance. I need her to chant loudly, to wake me, to jostle me. But what if she were too frightened to do anything? What if she had asked to sleep with me that night, but, due to angry pride, I had refused? What if, upon waking to the broken, gargling sounds of my despair, she were only to suspect me of witchcraft?
I would be close to death, gripped by the cursed presence, sucking and feeding upon the electrical currents of the spine, and, if I stopped trying to chant, being able only to murmur with broken sounds:
If I stopped, and fell silent, I would be dead, and she would think that I had fallen asleep. So I would keep on chanting weakly:
That night I was released. The thing, the ghost, had finished feeding. It let me go, and I could chant the Holy Name loudly. I lay stunned, and then sat up.
The wedding guests were stricken dumb. They too were ghosts, in the presence of the one ghost even they feared, and they were silent. But I chanted, and I woke, chanting the Holy Names, the precious parts of the dream.