Image by Andi Chrisman
When Aarthi arrived at the Santhanapuram Palace, located at 20 km from Nagerkoil and 50 km from Trivandrum, with her pet cat Pissi, thunder struck the Palace.
Wait!! Did I say, “a thunder struck the Palace?” This is why one should not narrate a story in the shivering cold.
I should have said that, the Palace struck like a thunder in her.
She was really amazed at the dimensions of the Palace. The Palace was very much wide with a beautiful fountain that stood to welcome tourists. The lawn at the recess was beautifully fenced. There were ducks here and there standing on one foot. People were taking photographs sitting with them. There was a shop, people were going in and returning.
She heard thunder. Sky looked like a child about to cry. It looked like the rain might shower anytime. The wrist watch on her left hand ticked 4PM.
The Palace would be open only until 5PM. After that, the main entrance would be closed. There was hardly an hour left to explore the entire Palace. If it was not possible to see the Palace thoroughly, she wanted to finish at least a portion of it so that she could save the remaining for a later visit. She was not the kind of girl who, never knew before that, visiting more than one place on a single day might throw her only half way through.
It was very boring at home. She didn’t want to become to couch potato. How long a small cat can keep her engaged? She desperately wanted to pass her time. But there were no companions except for Pissi. Considering the boredom at home, Pissi’s companionship was just enough to give her the required guts to step out.
She held Pissi in one hand, walked through the corridor, and entered a big hall. She had learned from someone that the Palace was built in 1600. She was surprised to see the wood work on the ceiling still unblemished. Much of the corners of the Palace were dark with less or no light. There was only one tube light that seemed to have taken the responsibility of illuminating the wide hall of the Palace. The Palace stood on several pillars. Each one of them reminded of an African mammoth. There was no laceration found either on the pillars or on the Palace walls.
Moments later, there came a man in his late forties. He introduced himself as the tourist guide. He had a huge belly. She wanted to let him know that his attempt to cover his belly inside his shirt was a grand failure, but she didn’t. It was like his trunk was holding him, rather than his legs. His head was bald. If it was a bright sunny day, his bald head would have glittered.
“Only a few touring hours left , Ma’am” he announced.
“Guess it is not over yet.” she replied politely.
“This is Tower Clock, built by the great unfortunate Maharaja of 1600.” he said.
“Why? What’s wrong?” Aarthi asked.
“He had been living here peaceful until one day, when he was found dead on his bed. There were teeth marks on his neck. The shocking fact was that the teeth marks were not human. It was something like that of a vampire.” he said.
Aarthi’s facial expression asked for more details.
“Vampires have a body, but no soul. For the same reason, a Vampire would not show up in the mirror. They suck blood from live humans. Once they bite, the humans would become vampires too, as the blood gets contaminated. The vampires hung themselves upside down. Haven’t you seen them in Hollywood movies? They wander for blood in the dark.” he said.
It was by then, his cell phone rang. He took it from his pocket, held it by his right ear and moved away.
Aarthi walked a couple of steps with Pissi in her hand. She looked around. The Palace was indeed wide. The ceiling looked grand with lots of hand works. Anyone who looked at the hand work closely could write a big book on it. Much of them are flower works, but not of the same flower. It was difficult to make out what those flowers were. There were huge jars kept at every corner, made of platinum and bronze. The walls were hosted with heads of different animals like bulls, tigers, cheetah, and elephant and so on. There stood a huge mirror at a distance, which looked old but hedged by a metal which shined even in that faint light.
Aarthi looked at her wrist watch restlessly. It was half past four. The guide was nowhere to be found.
Aarthi heard loud thunder and with that, the only tube light that lit the entire floor went off. Darkness quickly fell all over. Aarthi heard a loud rush of rain outside. She instantly got scared.
Darkness engulfed everywhere. Nothing was seen.
Aarthi cursed herself for having chosen that day to visit the Palace. She hoped that the tiny light from her mobile phone could help her walk back to the entrance. She took out her mobile from her handbag only to learn that it was dead.
Her mind was blank and didn’t know what to do. She took a few steps and hit her knee on something. Holding Pissi in one hand, she shook her leg couple of times, hoping that it would subside her pain.
“Anybody out there?” she shouted once. There was no response. She could hear her voice echoing from all corners, which only haunted her more.
In the flashing light that lived short from the lightning, she saw herself standing in the middle of a huge hall and there was a wall, 10 feet away from where she stood. The rain was pouring outside like a heavy shower.
She hoped that she could trail back to the entrance by sticking to the wall and walking. She walked 10 steps towards the wall. Once again lightning struck. This time, she saw herself, standing in the middle of the same huge hall, where she stood earlier and the wall was still 10 feet away.
With shrunken eyebrows, she walked again 10 feet and in the lightning that followed, she saw herself, back on the same place with the wall, at exactly 10 feet away from where she stood earlier.
She was scared out of her wits. Her eyes widened.
She ran 50 steps in the darkness. In the lightning that struck moments later, she could again see the wall, still 10 more steps to reach out. She felt a chill down her spine.
There was no electricity. Her mobile was no longer of any use. The darkness had engulfed everywhere. The rain showered like anything outside. The lightning that struck from time to time was the only hand of god to her at that moment.
Aarthi felt like crying. Her heart was beating heavily.
Lightning struck at that very moment, and she saw a man standing at a distance. Even in that faint light, she was able to make out that he looked handsome. He was tall. His shoulders were wide. Eyes were dark and attractive. He was dressed like a tourist. A trouser and a half sleeves shirt and shoes. There was a camera that hung around his neck. He looked composed and capable of making any girl feel secure under his arms. Aarthi felt that he should have been a fellow visitor like her.
“Which way is the entrance?” he asked.
“Even I am puzzled.” Aarthi replied. His mere presence brought her needed comfort.
“I somehow lost my way to the entrance. What about you?” he said.
“Yeah, so did I. I never thought the electricity would go out. Could you please take me to the entrance with you? It is so scary here!” she pleaded.
“Sure. I am heading that way. Come along.” saying so, he held her hand. She felt his huge, but soft and fleshy palm. She was not sure from where she derived that promising feeling from him. She felt secure.
As she followed him, she felt that they were walking on a straight path, unlike the zig-zag path she followed when she came in. She was wondering if that was the way to trail back to the entrance. The place was completely dark and felt haunting. Heavy rain outside and she was with a strange man. Thinking this, she felt scared. She thought talking about something might help.
“Is this the way to the entrance?” she asked.
But there was no response from him. As seconds passed by, his palm became more and more rough. She immediately felt that something was wrong.
“Leave me! This doesn’t look like the way to the entrance!” she shouted and pulled back her hand from his.
The struck several lightning in a row and in that light she was able to see him. He stood staring at her. As he smiled wide, two sharp glittering teeth from either side of his upper jaw, extended downwards to a couple of inches. His fingers now looked like the claws of a bat.
Aarthi was frightened.
He came forward towards her and held her by her waist. She pushed him away, yet he advanced on her focusing his teeth on her neck. The lightning stopped and darkness again overwhelmed.
Pissi’s cry, heard aloud.
Right then, the power came back and the tube light spurted white light around. She saw him, biting Pissi’s neck while Pissi was crying loud, pedaling her legs on his lower jaw.
Aarthi stepped back. In the mirror that was kept at a distance, she could neither see herself nor the handsome man who was biting Pissi’s neck.
The mirror showed Pissi, floating without any support and her neck was bleeding and her whole body began to slowly disappear as Pissi slowly died.