‘I’m glad we’re leaving this place. It spooked me out,’ said Ravi hoisting his rucksack onto his back.
‘Really? I thought it was fine. I enjoyed the quiet,’ said Soumya.
‘It wasn’t just the quiet. First there’s that deserted burnt down portion at the back, then look at these cobwebs. The sheets smelt musty and weren’t they too cold? Plus did you see that hag at the reception? Given a choice I would have turned back.’
‘But we had none. I am just glad we found a roof over our heads in that rain. I’ve never seen lightening like that. The weather was spooky that’s all. And now we’re going home, so it doesn’t matter,’ said Soumya
‘Ma, can you come out, please?’ She heard her six-year-old twins calling her.
She glanced at Ravi, ’Can you finish up here?’ I’ll go see what the chintus want.’ Ravi nodded zipping up the strolley and wheeling it towards their SUV.
They were on a day trip to Mahabaleshwar and the rain gods had decided to open up. Within minutes the usually beautiful ghats had taken on an ominous look with monsoon waterfalls spilling onto the road and the threat of landslides becoming only too real. The family of four had to take shelter at a run down bungalow-hotel.
Soumya was surprised she had never really noticed the bungalow during their numerous trips to the lake town off Pune. It was almost like it had sprung up out of nowhere.
Ravi had been dubious all along. He was a light sleeper and had woken up during the night several times insisting he could hear babies crying. They had finally gone to investigate, only to find nothing. She had slept off after that but Ravi had lain awake tossing and turning.
The morning had dawned, dull and overcast, but at least the rain had stopped. Soumya walked out briskly to check on the twins’ latest adventure.
Half an hour later they were all in the car and on their way home.
They had barely gone a kilometer when Ravi said, ‘Did you hear that?’
‘What? Crying babies?’ teased Soumya.
‘No.. the tyre. It’s making a strange sound, like it’s bumping along the road.’
‘Lord! I hope it’s not a flat. Oooh maybe your hag doesn’t want us to go. Maybe she did some black magic to bring us back to her haunted house. Maybe she’ll keep us there forever’, laughed Soumya.
‘Stop joking,’ said Ravi tersely. Soumya looked up surprised. He seemed to be on edge still.
‘Hey,’ she said gently, ‘what’s up?’
‘I don’t know’, muttered Ravi, ‘I just don’t have a good feeling about this whole thing. I cannot get the sound of those crying babies out of my head.’
‘There were no babies Ravi, relax,’ she said giving his shoulder a squeeze, ‘It was just an old rundown house’, she said, ‘not haunted’.
‘Haunted? The house was haunted?’ squeaked Kitu.
‘….and I slept through it! I didn’t even see a single ghost,’ was Soha’s regretful rejoinder.
‘Shush both of you,’ said Soumya, ‘I was just pulling daddy’s leg.’
The rain had begun to fall again and the skies had taken on an ominous blackness that seemed to deepen by the minute. It was almost like last night was replaying itself. ‘Only this is daytime,’ thought Soumya, ‘Thank goodness.’
And then they all heard it, again – an incessant bumping that seemed to shake up the SUV. Soumya turned to look at the twins. A look of panic passed between them.
‘I need to check this’, said Ravi bringing the car to halt on a shoulder of the road. He stepped out with an umbrella. The rain was coming on faster now, in thick translucent sheets that seemed to block off vision completely.
And there it was again. But it wasn’t the tyres, it was the trunk. And then he heard the babies again, crying. He exchanged a worried look with Soumya who had got down to check what was taking him so long. ‘Should we look?’ asked Ravi. ‘We have to,’ said Soumya, pushing down her panic. Ravi’s dread seemed contagious and she felt her heartbeat spike up. They approached the trunk cautiously.
For one small moment Soumya wondered if the old woman really had something to do with it. Nah, she wasn’t worried about ghosts. It was the living that scared her. A kidnapped child, perhaps, who the woman want to get rid of? She shook her head. ‘What am I thinking,’ she told herself sternly and gave a shaky laugh, ‘Let’s look’.
Together they lifted the trunk and there in a broken down wicker basket were four tiny black kittens, shivering and jumping, crying to be let out.
Ravi heaved a sigh of relief, while Soumya bellowed, ‘Kitu, Soha,’ didn’t I tell you we could NOT take the kittens home.’
Written for the Write Tribe Festival of Words June 2018 for the Day 2 prompt ‘Use this idea to write a story : You’re traveling in a rental car when you hear the thumping of a flat tire. You pull over and discover the thumping is not coming from a flat, after all, but from the trunk. What or who is making the noise?.’