A small red rat crawled to her with slow cautious steps, its tail cut off extremely close to its body. It was making the horrific noise of a crying wolf. It was a dream, Zaimain knew it was a dream. The nightmares were back. She looked at the rat that was now looking up at her with its soulful eyes as if begging to be rescued.
“Zai!” Her eyes flung open and she gasped for breath. She was at home, safe and there wasn’t any begging creature in front of her. Zai looked at the clock on the nightstand and said a silent prayer before looking back at it. It has now stopped, right at seven of the morning. It was her daily schedule to then put it one minute ahead of 7:00 am so it starts to tick again. Zai never understood this deal with this specific clock but her grandmother had said, “Some mysteries are best left as mysteries so answers don’t haunt you.”
There aren’t many guest visits in this town of India, most don’t even believe it exists for real. The natives have many legends about why this is so but no one has an answer. Some believe the haunting spirits are real and roam in the street of Sale-brown, some believe those spirits are waiting to be freed at the old museum and only wake at night to perform the same play every night. No one has ever seen that play so it was as believable as the stories of hell and heaven.
Her room, which was at the far-left end of the guest house, was isolated from the rest and it takes almost five minutes to go to the front reception. There was rain last night. A puddle down the doorsteps was proof of it.
“Zaimain, checking out, love.”
“Oh, Jill. Good morning.” She walked over to the reception desk and pulled the register from under the desk and tucked the key in one of the drawers. “Done with the book?”
“Just the first draft but I will let you know when it comes out. Thrills are epic. Your guest house takes the credit for that. I have written three thrillers and one horror here. All of them are banging.”
“What is this one about?” Asked Zaimain.
“You will know. See you next year.”
“And my nephew is arriving in a few days. Maybe by the end of this week and it will be great if you show him around and give him a little interview. It’s for his college stuff as he says.” Jill walked out the wooden door with a huge backpack on her shoulder and stepped into the puddle as she walked into the garden and out the front iron gate. The Frisk Whispers sits on the top of the reception desk. Jill’s first book she wrote at the guest house eight years ago. It was when it still belonged to Zai’s grandmother, who died in her sleep three years ago.
The one guest couple who were currently staying at the guest house were not up yet but Geet was already in the kitchen preparing breakfast. It’s been thirty years, she arrives at seven in the morning and leaves before seven in the evening. There was no changing her routine. Neither Zaimain nor her grandmother ever asked. It was like those tales that can’t be written without taking away the essence of it.
“I do not want to be the one to tell you how to do your job or how to run this place but I hope you will listen and leave this place for the next few days. And also, don’t take in any more of the customers after this one leaves.” Geet said when Zai was busy rummaging through the plates on the kitchen shelves.
“Why? Is there a reason I should.”
“It will be thirty-one years since the night Vashi died.”
“Geet, that was not a prophecy. He was dying and he said some things. People lose their brains when they are on their deathbed. They start to see things that aren’t there.”
“He said he will come back on the thirty-first anniversary of his death and I saw his eyes when he lost his breath here, in this kitchen. They were not the stare of a liar.”
“He wasn’t lying. He was himself deceived by his senses as his death neared.”
“Will it hurt you to leave the guest house alone for a week? Why must you be so stubborn?”
“Geet, I respect you but I can’t leave this place just cause you believe in an unusual prophecy.” Geet’s face was horrified and tired. She looked like she had run a mile trying to convince Zai why she must not stay.
“Do whatever you wish, I would be happy to find you alive and well here next week.” Geet turned away from Zai and busied herself in the boiling pot. “I will stock the fridge with some food for next week.” She said at last and Zai knew the conversation was over. That was the last she saw of Geet that day or the days that followed. On Sunday morning the front door bell rang and Zai, who was on the reception desk, reading the last page of The Frisk Whispers, raised her head up to see a young man, possibly in his early twenties, sprint inside with a red backpack. He smiled wide at Zai and placed his bag on the chair before pulling out his I.D from the back pocket.
“I am Ben from London. Jill pointed me to this hotel. You are Zaimain.”
“You are Jill’s nephew.”
“Yes. I don’t want to be that forward but I don’t have many days to spare here. Honestly I don’t even believe the stories the street crowd out there is talking about.”
“Do you want me to give you a room, Ben?”
“I would like a room but only for today and I intend to finish this interview as well. I don’t mean to be offensive but I need something that can make my fellow student’s skin crawl and this place seems pretty normal except for some delusional natives.”
“I see now. The difference between you and Jill. She came with an open mind. You believe everyone is delusional except you.”
“I am sorry. Do you believe spirits do roam in this town?”
“I believe delusion is what ignorance can’t see and I don’t see you as ignorant. Come with me.” Zaimain guided Ben to the far side room that once belonged to her grandmother. “I don’t clean it everyday. I haven’t cleaned it in three years and it never catches any dust. You see this mirror, my granny used to say when she died, it will be her home and I saw her here right after her death. She was sleeping on the bed and I saw her reflection, smiling at me. That’s how I knew she was dead. I checked the heart rate and it was no more.”
“Delusion? I know. It could be but here is another thing. That clock. Do you see it ticking?”
“Go closer.” Ben moved up to the grandfather clock and placed his ear on the glass. He shot his head away with a jerk. “What did you hear?”
“It’s not possible. You are joking with me right?”
“What did you hear, Ben?”
“I heard someone saying ‘tick-tock, tick-tock. Like very slow and whispery.”
“It started when I was five. This man died in this guest house and he said he will return on his thirty-first death anniversary.”
“How long has he been dead?”
“Today is the day he died, thirty-one years ago.” The room plunged into silence for a long time. Zai noticed the damp around Ben’s neck above his brows. She walked to the door and held it open for him until he passed. “You can leave now if you want. It’s noon, you can leave the town before night.”
“No, I want to stay. It’s hard to believe but I want more of it. I want to know this isn’t just a prank you and Jill are playing on me. Can I record?”
“You can. Just don’t pan the camera to me.” They started from the front reception, where The Frisk Whispers still sat on the wooden desk. “This is Jill’s first book. I read it when I was fourteen. It was how I got into horror.”
“Good for you. This is, as you know, the reception. It’s not as useful as it should be. Guests are not a luxury here. Here starts the guest rooms. I try to keep them as cheerful as possible but that’s not what guests want when they come here. They want the creepy vibe this place offers. You can take any one of these. They are all empty. Last group of guests left a few days ago.”
“Where is your room?” Ben asked zooming in on a dirt spot on the bed.
“It’s on the other side of the house. Assume a mirror opposite direction to granny’s room. This is the kitchen. Geet works here. She is on break for the week being the thirty-first death anniversary. You can take something to eat from the fridge if you want. She’s stocked it.” Zai didn’t look back from the kitchen counter but she heard the door open and a plate being shifted, then dropped. “What?” She turned around and saw the plate of pie on the floor.
“I am so sorry. It slipped off my fingers.”
“It’s okay. Take something else.” They moved ahead to the common room where there was a television set and a chess table. Ben sat and relaxed on one of the couches and Zai took the seat beside the fireplace which was now cold.
“This feels like I really am in some sort of horror series. A storyteller by the fireplace and me on the couch, listening, taking notes.”
“You know you don’t have to believe me. Some things can’t be said and some are not meant to be heard. My grandmother never told me the stories that locals here believe. Those spirits in the street and museum. I heard it out there but never believed it. There is a lot about this town that can’t be explained but spirits, I believe are a myth.”
“So no one’s ever seen the play they are supposed to perform at the museum? Not even you?”
“No. I tried once when I was fifteen, but got a fractured shoulder. Granny said I must never try it again, at least not until she is alive.” She stopped speaking when she realised Ben was not listening to her. He was looking at his camera. “What do you see?”
He looked up, face ashen and eyes looking somewhere past her head. He turned the camera around and there was a frozen picture of an unlit fireplace and an empty chair, the chair Zaimain was sitting on. “How is this possible? You are here.”
“I told you not to pan the camera at me. Don’t worry, just rewind the tape and it will start recording again.” Zai’s voice was as smooth as any human voice could talk. Ben did not budge from his spot, he just rewound the camera and it started recording again. He looked at the blank television screen and saw his own reflection in front of an empty chair beside the fireplace. But to the naked eyes, Zaimain was still there. She looked at ease, at peace.
“This place can get lonely sometimes. It is nice to have someone around. Is there more you would like to know?”
“You are not really here, are you?”
“Where else would I be? I am in this house.”
“I am not talking about this house. You are not here, on this chair.” Zai said nothing, she stood up and Ben followed her out of the room. “You wanted to see my room. It’s on that corner. There is a small stand clock there. My granny said it was one of two that my parents bought on my first birthday. The day they died in a car accident. One clock was broken, the other one survived, just like me and my twin sister. It stops everyday at seven in the morning and I put it one minute ahead so it can work again.” They entered the room that he presumed belonged to Zai. He looked to the nightstand and saw the clock. It was stopped at 07:00
“You didn’t put it one minute ahead today. Or you couldn’t.” Ben said as he noticed Zai looking at him with her soulful eyes. He felt the grief but there was no pain so he realised her death was peaceful but she was sad. “Why were you sad? Did you not want to die?”
“No. I have been waiting for this day. I knew it would come but didn’t realise it would be my grandmother.” Ben ran out of the room and went straight to the first room Zai had shown him. Her grandmother’s room. He walked past the bed and saw a body laying there. It was Zai’s. Her neck had a slight bruise on it and there was a puddle of spilled water on the side. A shadow appeared beside and he looked up at the mirror to see Zai standing beside an old lady.
His phone rang in his pocket, he picked it up and held it close to his ear.
“Hey buddy. How’s your project going on? Did Zai help?”
“Jill, your friend is dead. Looks like she died sometime last night.”
“Yes. I am looking at her right now.” Ben said, looking from the reflection of Zai in the mirror to her lifeless body on the floor. He walked to the reception, leaving the camera on the desk, he picked up the backpack and left out the front gate.
‘Some stories are not meant to be told.’
Mansi writes about his background: “
Hi I am Mansi Rathore from India. I am 24 years old and I write horror fiction and poetry as my major interest with occasional political blogs. Here is the website to check it all –
Only other interesting thing about me is, I saw a cat spirit in the mirror when I was four but that was probably a hallucination.
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