Guard was standing near the kitchen. He was trembling like a dry leaf in icy wind. He was holding a butcher’s knife in his hand. Blood was dripping from the knife.
Guard was mumbling something in a slow monotonous tone. He could not comprehend what the guard was saying. He listened carefully and heard the guard muttering, “I did not do it, I did not do it, I did not do it.”
His mind went numb. Something in him was asking him to run away from that place without a moment’s delay. But he knew that he could not leave the poor guard in that pitiable condition. He was baffled too. He just could not understand how the guard had come to hold a butcher’s knife in his hand, with blood dripping from it.
He got hold of himself. He carefully prised open the hand in which guard was holding the knife. He pulled the knife. He looked at the blood and shuddered. He threw the knife in one corner and literally pushed the guard into the room. Guard was badly shaken. And it took some time for him to regain his composure.
“Sir, you did not agree. That was a mistake. Now the ghost will make us pay for this mistake. He is very angry with us.”
“Just calm down and tell me what happened in the kitchen.”
“Sir, I had told you but you did not listen to me. You think I am village bumpkin. But see, what has happened. It was bound to happen. When I was cleaning the kitchen he came there. He grabbed me by my neck and turned my head. I saw his eyes, those eyes were fearsome, they were like burning coals. He was holding a butcher’s knife and he forced me to slaughter a goat.”
“You killed a goat?”
“He was carrying a goat on his shoulder. He can do anything. It was a big goat too.”
“You are scared and you are imagining things. I didn’t see any goat in the kitchen. It is just your imagination. Don’t you worry and try to relax.” He was trying to show that he was in control of himself but a weakness was already creeping into his heart. “Did I look inside the kitchen?” he silently asked himself.
“You think that I am telling a lie, that I am imagining things. You are totally mistaken. Goat’s head is still lying in the kitchen. I had to kill the goat. He compelled me to do it. I was terrified of him. He carried away the goat’s body. But the severed head is still there. You can go and see for yourself. I am not lying.”
He was unnerved by this harangue of the guard and didn’t know how to respond. He still had a lurking suspicion that guard was making a fool of him. He decided to check the kitchen for himself. He went towards the kitchen but this time with some trepidation.
He was stunned to see a severed head of a ghost in one corner of the kitchen. Part of the kitchen was splattered with goat’s blood. Dead eyes of the goat were staring in his direction. It was a ghostly stare that shook him.
He suddenly realized that his hands were trembling and his legs were going wobbly.
“This can’t be true, this can’t be happening.” He heard himself muttering such words. Suddenly he was ashamed of himself. Even in the worst of times he had never been that weak and helpless as he was at that moment in that forest hut, far away from the maddening crowd of his slum.
He bolted the kitchen door and rushed to the room; the guard had shrunk into one corner and looked small and pathetic.
“We will leave this place at sunrise. Now try to get some rest and try to sleep.” He could think of nothing else that he could say to the guard.
Nothing unseemly happened during rest of that night. They left the hut next morning without any breakfast. Guard was too scared to cook breakfast in the kitchen. He was also not sure whether he would like to eat anything prepared in that kitchen, with a severed head of goat lying in one corner and blood splattered on the floor.
He was back to his office and usual business of pushing papers. But it took him couple of days to get over the unpleasant experiences of the night in forest hut.
It was the fifth day after his return from his trip. He was travelling in official jeep on some official business when jeep driver casually mentioned, “Sir, you remember the forest guard who accompanied you during your last inspection.”
“Yes, what of him? Has anything happened to him?” He was surprised at the choice of his words, as if he was expecting that something would happen to that man.
“That guard is a crook and he rightly got beaten up yesterday; few days back that rogue had stolen a goat’s head and a knife from a butcher’s shop in his village. Yesterday the butcher confronted him and bashed him up……”
Driver kept on narrating details of the incident. But he was not listening. He was reliving the shame that he had momentarily felt when he was in that ‘haunted’ forest hut.
© i b arora