The cold zephyr tingled my ears as the gossamer curtains swayed gently at its touch. My heart turned frigid. I gripped my chest in terror. I looked up at the ornately carved mirror above the luxurious washbasin.
She was back.
Her eerie smile exposed a gaping mouth, blood dripping from the sides.
The loose strands of her long hair veiled her face.
Her red bridal dress was crumpled, torn, and tattered.
Her head was smashed! Brain matter oozed out.
Her wild empty eyes stared at me.
I screamed! Hurling my hairdryer at the mirror, I turned around. She was gone!
“Prerna, open up!” Abhay was banging on the door.
My shaking hands fumbled with the knob. I kept looking in the mirror, mortified, desperate to flee before she returned.
I rushed into Abhay’s comforting embrace when I finally managed to open the door.
“She’s out to get me. She will not go! She’s there! She’s there!”
Again Abhay calmed me down. He gave me my pills and tucked me into bed.
“Ooh! Again? I wonder what the memsahib sees! Her?” Kantabai whispered conspiratorially as she peeled onions for the omelets.
Gangadhar was trying to drown last night’s horrifying memories in a cup of hot, sweet tea, his shivering hands rattling the cup. He could never get used to the dread he felt when he heard the blood-curdling screams.
“For the umpteenth time in the last two months, her ear-shattering shrieks turned my heart cold. If the money was not so good, I’d never work in this wretched house.”
“I’m also staying for the money. You just do your garden work and stay put in your room. Don’t venture out at night, no matter what!”
“Never! Not after that horrendous night when I first heard her screams. Thinking someone was in trouble, I rushed out of my room. There was a sudden frigidity in the air that creeped me out. I stood under the bedroom window and called out to the master. He was banging on some door, calling out memsahib’s name. He couldn’t hear me over the sounds. She was saying some crazy stuff.”
“She’s out to get me! She’s still here!”
Gangadhar shuddered involuntarily at the memory.
“I heard Sahib consoling her. After a while, everything went silent. I called out again. This time, he came to the window. He looked terribly frightened. But he shooed me away and told me to return to my room. Memsahib seems to have had a nightmare, he told me.” Ganga finished, gulping the last bit of the warm tea.
“They had it coming. What was the hurry? How will Nitya memsahib find her way to the other world if her spirit saw her husband gallivanting with her best friend in such indecent haste? I’m sure she’s haunting…” Kantabai stopped midway as she turned around and found Prerna staring at her, her cold eyes livid and frenzied.
It has been a couple of months since we returned to Oviedo. Things seemed to be better, more peaceful! No more ghostly visits! I was hoping with all my heart that she would remain in Mumbai.
A beautiful two-floor home in a tiny, remote village, far away from the noise of the city, was our home. The spacious living room designed delicately in subdued tones reeked of our newfound wealth. It opened into a long, large porch running through the entire front portion of the house. A lush garden adorned the northeastern part of our vast estate.
A spiral staircase led to the first-floor living area that opened into an L-shaped terrace protected by an elegantly carved parapet. The view from the terrace overlooked zigzagging little hills across the eastern horizon. The narrow street was clearly visible from this terrace.
It was my favourite place. I would sit and gaze for hours as the villagers walked through the street.
I had all that I dreamt of. I should’ve been happy. If only she left me in peace!
Nitya and I were inseparable in college! We even shared birthdays! But were we so inseparable that she couldn’t leave me alone even after death? I don’t think so. In fact, we had lost touch for nearly an entire decade.
After college, we went our separate ways. Nitya joined her father’s well-established furniture business. Being an only child who lost her mother at birth, she was doted upon by her father.
I joined my middle-class family’s aspirations to make it big in life. After all, I was an academic topper right through school and college. I was smart which was supposed to help me make it out of the cursed middle class into the big league.
But life gave me nothing more than a low-paying sales job at a used car showroom. Money was never enough. My hard work and measly salary were frustratingly asynchronous. I was hungering for more, a lot, a lot more.
Abhay was my only ray of light. I left my family for him and now there was only my beloved Abhay!
In those years of pitiful struggles, I didn’t know the universe was conspiring to help me. The cosmic plan began unfolding when I bumped into Nitya in a mall, about three years ago, a few months before our 30th birthday.
I heard her familiar voice from behind. We hugged happily. A decade of separation dissolved into nothingness as our friendship took off anew.
Her father had died. She now managed her father’s business successfully. She was immeasurably wealthy. She was not famous, just wealthy.
Abhay was happy that I reconnected with my bosom pal. The two of them hit it off well too. The three of us spent a lot of time together after that.
Nitya was happy to see I had found love in Abhay. She could see how much we loved each other.
She told us how lonely she was despite her wealth and success. She missed love, she said. She often looked tenderly, yearningly at Abhay.
One day, suddenly it hit me. She wanted Abhay for herself!
Her doting father made sure she got what she wanted. Always! She had gotten used to it. She wanted Abhay too. She took him away from me! My darling Abhay! My best friend! My lover!
The extraordinary soulmate who was the only reason I put up with the utter ordinariness of my life. Now, he too left me for her.
Of course, I was livid. But I was patient. I bided my time for revenge, and it came on the night of the Santa Campana in Oviedo.
She chose to wear her red bridal dress that night. Lucky for me she was a vain, foolish bitch! She loved selfies. She wanted one with the moon lighting up the village behind her. She stood right at the edge of the steep cliff for this.
She also wanted to capture the ghost parade from there! Her final shot must have been spectacular, the shining eyes of hundreds of ghosts shimmering eerily in the photograph. Who knows? Her mobile was never found.
She had looked straight into the eyes of the parade’s leader carrying a crucifix and a cauldron! She couldn’t help it, I suppose. After all, when you are told not to do something, doesn’t your uncontrollable mind want to do it?
Startled, she lost her balance. A slight nudge from the darkness of the bushes where I was hiding was enough. Her spine-chilling scream is deeply etched in my soul. So is her face filled with shocking surprise when she saw me looking down at her as she tumbled fatally into the deep dark valley. I couldn’t resist lighting up my face with my mobile phone torch. I had to let her know! That was the revenge I sought!
“Will you please deal with your fears, Prerna,” pleaded Abhay. “Don’t let all our hard work go in vain!”
“She’s here too, Abhay. She’s following me everywhere!”
“No! She’s dead, and exactly as you planned, my darling. If it was not for you, we wouldn’t have been so rich. You are brilliant, remember? Don’t give in to your irrational fears!”
I smiled gratefully at his praise. Yes, I am brilliant.
I had noticed the way she looked at Abhay. She wanted him and, in a flash, I knew what she would be our ticket to riches.
Abhay and I loved each other beyond measure. We were soulmates. Nothing could separate us. We shared the same desires. We wanted the same things.
But we had to stay away from each other so that she could have him, just as she wanted. It was easy to feed her vanity. Abhay played his part well. He told her he had stopped loving me the day he had laid eyes on her. She was irresistible, he told her. She fell for it, hook, line, and sinker.
After their marriage, I played the part of a heartbroken victim. Abhay and I worked together. I followed them everywhere.
She was angry at first. But my relentlessness soon drove her insane with guilt. Abhay was the perfect husband, keeping her “safe” from me everywhere I “bumped” into it. She became increasingly dependent on him.
It took eight months of persistently chasing them to get what we wanted. For her to decide to run away from home. To a place where I wouldn’t find her, or so she thought.
Remote, beautiful Oviedo was perfect. Abhay and I decided on the place. The night of the Santa Campana was also the perfect situation for my plan.
She sold off her furniture business for a spectacularly large amount, and both of them moved to Oviedo. He chose a home aligned with my needs because it was going to be our home. Not hers!
It worked brilliantly! The local police closed the case as an unfortunate accident. Abhay got all her money. We had the life we wanted.
But then she came back! The dead had given her refuge.
She stalked me as I did her! I couldn’t escape her.
We thought we’d go back home. She’d remain here with the dead souls of Santa Campana who gave her refuge.
But she pursued me to Mumbai too. The unstoppable gossip surrounding her death and my “indecently quick” marriage to Abhay drove us back to Oviedo. Things were quiet for a while. I thought she had given up and chosen to stay back at home.
But at this year’s parade, again I saw her walking in the midst of the white-hooded ghouls, dressed in her red bridal dress, feeling completely at home. She was calling me to join her world with her red candle.
I thought she would go away after Halloween. But no, she stood with her red candle at our gate, in our bathroom, in the wardrobe among my clothes, in the kitchen, and everywhere else I went. I tried shooing her away. I screamed. I bad-mouthed her. I tried apologising to her.
She was unperturbed and persistent, just holding out the red candle, her gaping mouth overflowing with blood, her head cut in two, her red dress torn and tattered!
Only her eyes were bewitching; sometimes, filled with angry fire, sometimes with a yearning sadness, sometimes, an enigma! I wanted to gouge them out of her face.
My life was hell!
Finally, I gave up. I reached out to take the candle from her. But then she didn’t give it to me! She just went away, her heinous laughter ringing in my head eternally.
She kept floating away every time I tried to grab the candle she held out! She was driving me crazy. Did she want me to join her or not?
Now I only hear myself screaming, “Give me the damn candle, bitch!”
Her evil laughter is the only response I get within the walls of this asylum which has now become my home! Abhay only visits me occasionally.
According to Spanish folklore, Santa Campana, or Holy Company, is a procession of dead souls led by a living person holding a cross and a cauldron. According to this belief, the leader can be freed from the horrible task only if he finds a replacement. Further, one must never accept a candle from the dead souls because if you do, you will have to join the parade.