Read the 1st part of The Alathur Yakshi before you to get down to this story. Click here for the First Part.
Long ago a man went to a festival in a distant village. It was late night when the temple closed and he decided to return. As he was walking back along a deserted road in the darkness, he was stopped by a figure who asked him for a matchbox to light a beedi. He gave it to him. When the stranger lit the beedi, the man saw in its flicker a monster with its body covered in glistening black hair. He had pooled blood for a pair of eyes, two slits for nose, and dry scaly lips to cover his hideous mouth. The man shrieked and ran away as fast as he could until he found an auto rickshaw coming along. As the vehicle slowed down, the man leaped in and told the rickshaw driver in one breath what had happened. The driver listened to the man patiently as the rickshaw needled through the dark roads that had not seen a single soul for many hours. Finally he stopped the auto below the sprawling canopy of a banyan tree, flicked the dim light on, turned, and asked: “Has he got as much hair as I do have?”
The path to the check dam was rough and unmarked. I hobbled along trying hard to twist my mind free from the spine-chilling stories I had been fed by the novels of Kottayam Pushpanath since childhood. Stop imagining, Manu!
How much hard I tried, I could feel those horrible fictional monsters stealing in from behind, hiding their footfalls behind mine. Ahead of me awaited the odds of a ghastly woman rising from the water at midnight to upset my sanity. Here I was walking through the razor-thin border between fiction and reality.
At one moment I felt my forest-self curiously unreal; I might wake up from my bed for college.
It was dark; the moon failed to sieve in through the canopy; I walked guessing my way forward, upward, downward wherever the immediate earth in front of me led me to. Even though I could not see my students I followed the muffled voice of human shuffle and the trail of sweat hung in the air. I tripped over and would have crashed on the rough earth many times, had it not been for those sinewy ropes that dangled down from tall trees.
I clung on to them with all my life until they began to cut into my skin. Ah, it hurt! I peered down into the bruised darkness that was my hand.
Would these loose boulders where my feet fell give away! It could be far worse if they were sheltering live coils of neurotoxin under them. Snakes! A cold shiver ran through my spine when I thought about them. I already had too many encounters since I came here. I was far outside the perimeter of that single torch shining ahead of me.
No one talked. No one could amidst the heavy breathing. Only the noise of Sreeni’s machete swishing crisscross on the leafy outcrops and the dull noise of slippers squishing wet leaves kept an absolute silence in check.
Sreeni grew up in a mountainside village in Idukki, he knew the terrain, he knew how to clear the way for the rest of us. He took care of Vinod and Vijeesh who were trailing him closely. Rajesh, Praveen and Baiju formed the middle of our team. Sajimon and I who brought up the rear had now fallen far behind. “Vijeeshe…” I called out whenever the silence grew too unbearable to check all was right with the darkness. “Entha mashe?” The darkness in the front would answer back for my relief. “Sajimone…” The darkness behind me replied.
I knew I would never forgive myself if something happened to them. No, I should not have taken them with me.
Suddenly I stopped. A shudder ran down through my nape. I perked my ears up, and listened. Another cry! I could feel my heart thumping against my ribcage. Then the cry rose again, a wail that pierced the gelid night air and cracked it into a thousand pieces. A lone fox wailing somewhere in melancholy. Then I heard another beast join the night dirge as if answering; the evil pack had come out for the hunt, another one joined, then another, until the woods which were so silent a moment ago now quivered with the presence of the uncanny.
It was not the first time I was listening to fox wails in Alathur; they had kept me awake on many nights in that ancient lodge where I thought I was trapped. “Sajimon!” “I am right behind you Mashe,” the darkness behind answered. Has his voice changed! What if, I thought with a tremble, as I resumed walking, what if, I turn and catch that hairy monster instead of Sajimon at my back!
The wails of those foxes formed a perfect backdrop to such a gothic spectacle. I swallowed hard, my neck stiffened. Here I was walking, a teacher, losing all his courage to turn back and check the face of his student in the sporadic moonlight.
I climbed faster and faster to catch up with Sreeni, the torch bearer, our pilot and my messiah of the moment.
Even when the moon finally cracked through the leaves to give one continuous ablution of light, the earth had only a bleak face to reveal. We walked through depressing pictures. A little light creates the scariest spectacle in the wilderness, I saw. Tall, forbidding trees, drew strange hieroglyphics in the air that my eyes could hardly make out. Those occasional palm trees, -with its fan like leaves and mythical connotations -I desperately wanted to smudge them all with a black brush until my eyes would fail to tell them apart from the general clouds in the background.
After half an hour of intense walk my ears picked up the gurgle of a river taking shape. The foxes might have found their prey and settled down for the night; their wailing had long abated. Only the gurgling river now stayed.
There we stood, eight men in an open ground bathed in moonlight facing the river. It was 1:30 am.
A check dam is a crude structure built across rivers in the countryside to break the flow of water and also to help irrigation. The one before us, as we stood in the vast land, had a concrete platform crossing the water. It was no easy and continuous walkway to the other side of the river; but there were wide breaks on the concrete path along which the river drew from one side to the other. If you want to get to the middle of the dam, you have to leap across a series of those wide gaps in between.
We did the leap with ease during day time when we came here to bathe. But now in the moonlight I felt the leap tricky. If you slip, you would end up fighting against 20 feet of water. For me there would be no fight as I didn’t know how to float, alive.
We leaped across successfully and settled down on the cold and rough concrete slab at the middle of the dam.
There was enough space for everyone – enough space for sitting and waiting, but not enough space for startling and jumping back if something came up from the black river surrounding us. The cold water seemed ready to consume anything that fell its way that night. Without catching much attention from other arses sitting in a ring, my arse crept towards the centre inch by inch. “Are you afraid, Mashe?” Baiju asked. My arse froze. “Not a bit. What for!” I smiled. I smiled to others too hoping that the moon at the other side would pick my smile and pass it on.
The long waiting began. It went on until it was almost 3 in the morning,
No smell of jasmine wafted in with the breeze. No figure rose from the water. Just the eight of us sat in in the middle of a dam in a circle with eyes as big as lemons. The yellow light of an occasional bike that sped through the far away bridge was the only thing that knit our eyes to a common point. Soon, some of us began to imagine ourselves back in bed.
“Mashe, what are we doing here! Your friends took us for fools to believe their story, eh? “ Vinod asked. Vijeesh joined: “Everyone in the campus knows about our expedition. We should not disappoint them mashe. If there is no yakshi, we are going to create a yakshi to feed their curious minds, just like your friends did it to us. What do you say mashe?” I knew they were pulling my legs. They roared out in laughter at my expense. Another bike passed the bridge; its tut-tut was still in our ears when a sudden smell of jasmine stung us into jittery alertness. It can’t be!
Then I saw it!
I saw it in the eyes of Vijeesh, who was sitting opposite. I saw his jaws drop out of their hinges. I saw him jump to his knees. He gripped my left shoulders tightly and stared beyond me. I never had seen such a look of horror on any face in my life; then his dry lips shaped the scream that got coiled in his throat: “Mashe!!!” I didn’t need to swing my head back to see what was behind. My blood curdled; my breath stopped, for a moment I feared, I would drop as a senseless heap on the concrete slab, the moment I would turn back and look.
I remember the rest of that night only in patches.
I remember later that I too sprang up to my feet, turned and looked. Blue smoke, I saw only blue smoke curling up from the water. But it was more than blue smoke! The blue smoke had the definite shape of a woman! There was no blue smoke now; there was a thick black outline of a woman.
I swayed like a blade of grass in the wind standing on the concrete slab. When my heart finally jolted back to life, I saw the blaze of a torchlight. The light cut through the blue-smoke woman and fell on the side of the faraway bridge.
Suddenly I knew I must run or fall dead.
When I finally gathered some courage to pluck my eyes from the horrid figure, I saw at a distance my students, my friend, and Sreeni, the brave attender fleeing in the moonlight. I knew my moment had come; if I don’t run I might die.
I still don’t know how I leaped across the platforms across the river back to the river bank. I tripped over roots, crashed on the ground, gathered up, ran, fell again, gathered up only to fall again, climbed up, crawled down, got separated from others until there was no team, there was no adventure; each one I knew, would be straining hard somewhere in this wilderness to drag his life far far away from the hideous dark water as fast as he could.
Back to a road that seemed far far away.
What happened later?
2) The matter spread like wildfire not only in the campus, but it also became big news in Alathur village as well. People pointed at me in markets as well as in private buses as the Mash who had sighted the ghost in Thennlapuram check dam.
3) A local newspaper carried a news item about strange sightings in the dam.
4) Brave students in the campus like Sampath formed teams in mornings for another expedition, but the teams were dispersed as the sun went down.