‘’Are you actually telling me that your house is haunted?’’ The incredulity in my voice said it all.

Michael nodded sombrely and ran a hand through his dishevelled hair. I noted the trembling in his hands.

‘’You’re thinking that I’m either drunk or out of my mind, right?’’ he asked half-smilingly. ‘’I don’t blame you. But you’ve got to hear me out. I haven’t anyone else to talk to.’’

He was right about that. I was the only friend he had who hadn’t been overawed by his superfluous  brilliance and remained in touch with him after school. While I did my degree in Mass communication and became a freelance journalist, he moved on to the realm of academic greatness by being the youngest ever guy to do a PhD in Quantum Biology. He was moving to Atlanta in a few months time after he was done writing his doctoral thesis. I was pretty sure he’d go a long way in life.

But his current appearance somewhat baffled me –unshaven with dark circles under his eyes, haggard and gaunt-looking. I’d never seen him like this before. Something was really bothering him. I let him continue his outlandish narration.

‘’ A few months back, I was looking for a good place to have a little vacation. I’d been working really hard all year and wanted a break. You do know that we own a tea plantation in the Hills, right? In the plantation is a bungalow where our old manager used to stay. It had been lying locked ever since he passed away, almost abandoned. Dad suggested that it would be a good place to take a leisurely break and then start working on my thesis undisturbed. He got the place spruced up and I moved in a few days later.’’

The bungalow itself was a quaint old place, with a personality of its own. It was built sometime during the British-era to suit the fine tastes of some Englishman. It had an elegantly done drawing room with a huge fireplace, heavy oaken furniture, a very English-looking kitchen and a gorgeous bedroom with a four-poster bed. I was instantly in love with the place. It was a bit dusty on account of many years of neglect, but I didn’t mind. It was just perfect.

A few days into my stay there, I got a feeling that the plantation workers weren’t too comfortable with my presence. I mistook their discomfort as a personal dislike of me, but learnt later from one of them that it was, infact fear – not of me, but for me. They feared for me.

It sounded ridiculous, but they believed that the bungalow was haunted. Apparently, the old manager had disappeared without a trace, in the dark of the night, leaving behind his young wife, who went stark, raving mad and killed herself. I think it was some lethal pesticide she used for the ghastly deed. Her spirit had apparently lingered on, waiting for her husband to come back to her.

Fools of the highest order!

I scoffed at their wide-eyed naivety and busied myself with my thesis. I wouldn’t let their cock and bull story of ghosts of unhappy young wives who haunted colonial bungalows, ruin my stay.

But the events that followed were quite beyond any logic or reason. I couldn’t for the life of me, write even a single page of my thesis. It was astounding how I’d wake up every morning all fresh and eager to start off but end up staring at my laptop for hours endlessly, drawing a blank,until I dozed off again. I started to feel depressed for no reason. I was often talking to myself, took a sudden dislike to tea (which I was hooked to all these years) , drank a gallon of coffee every day and began dressing in formals all the time (even to bed!).

I noticed nothing amiss until the day the workers remarked that I was beginning to look more and more like their old Manager. He was a tea-hater who consumed endless cups of coffee and was never seen in anything other than formal shirts and trousers. It was then that a queer uneasiness began to possess me.

I felt that I was being watched constantly by an unknown presence, though not malevolent, it was an ever watchful one, whispering to me, influencing my mind, making me prefer things that I  never did and keeping me away from my thesis.

Once while I was shaving, I glimpsed a pair of beautiful eyes staring at me in the mirror. Startled, I cut myself. Believe it or not, I distinctly heard a ghostly feminine chuckle somewhere behind me…At that terrible moment, my feeling of uneasiness turned into sheer terror and I ran out screaming.. I decided to leave the bungalow and get back home. I packed my bags and set the alarm inorder to leave first thing in the morning. But strangely enough, my resolve dissipated overnight and in the morning I was reluctant to leave. It was almost as if some unseen force was urging me to stay on. And I did. I started staying indoors all day, refused to attend calls from dad and generally moped around the bungalow with my unseen companion. I was too powerless to do anything else.

You might be wondering why I asked to meet with you? I have, in a journal of mine, recorded all the bizarre things that have happened to me ever since I moved to the bungalow. I cannot for the life of me imagine discussing all this with dad and admitting my failure to complete my PhD thesis on account of being haunted. He simply wouldn’t understand – he’d be disappointed in me for letting him down so. Probably take me to some psychiatrist for an evaluation. All I ask of you is to read this journal with an open mind and then, if you’re convinced yourself, speak to dad. Perhaps, he’ll understand.’’

‘’But, I don’t get it, Michael!’’ , I burst out, ‘’What about you? Why can’t you come with me, right now? What’s stopping you from leaving that cursed place?’’

He gave me that sad, faraway smile again. ‘’I wish I could. I really do. But you need to understand, she won’t let me leave, again.’’

And seeing the shocked look on my face, continued –‘’ Oh don’t worry about me! She won’t hurt me for sure, she needs me around. Haunting me makes her happy. And I have a great idea to handle her. Please leave that to me.’’

I stared at him dumbfounded wondering whether his sheer brilliance had left his mind unhinged? Or were all those terrible things he said about the bungalow, true?

Had I known that he had a vial of a highly lethal pesticide, tucked away in his trouser pocket, that very moment, I’d have stopped him. But how was I to know?

I watched him leave, without a word.

And then, I never saw him again


PS: This is my entry for Indispire challenge 121.

Write a story ending with “…. and then I never saw him/her again.”