‘Happy Diwali folks!’ screamed Daniel as he stormed into the house. Aarav and Prisca started up from the couch, grinned at the intruder and waved back. In his arms, Daniel gripped a wide, rectangular box wrapped in rainbow colored plastic paper with a neat purple ribbon at the top.
Prisca rushed towards Daniel, her wide black eyes fixated on the present. ‘What is it?’
Daniel smiled. ‘It might be anything. Could even be the I-Pod that you asked me a while back,’ he intrigued her, then shuffled across to Aarav and slumped on the couch.
‘Can I unwrap it now?’ Prisha squealed and jumped up and down the black-white designer tiles of the floor.
‘Wait a little longer, little sis.’ Daniel lifted Prisha, twirled her round, and set her down. ‘We will unwrap the present at midnight together, OK?’
Prisha nodded, pouted for a moment before rushing to the kitchen shouting, ‘Mommy, Mommy! Look what Daniel has got for me.’
‘Did you get the stuff?’ Aarav asked, his gaze fixated on the TV screen.
Daniel glanced towards Aarav. Aarav’s eyes were almost slate gray, which meant that he was dead serious. ‘Yes, I got it Aarav.’
‘Good,’ Aarav responded, and flipped through the channels using the remote. Then he turned it off, and stood up. ‘Shall we go to the room?’ Aarav said, his gaze piercing through Daniel.
Daniel nodded, and they started upstairs.
‘You guys want some sweets? — ‘ Aarav’s mother questioned and without pausing for a response, continued, ‘– I will bring them up in some time.’
Few moments later, both Aarav and Daniel sat at the edge of the bed, listening to the sound of crackers, and looking at the rockets that blasted in the night sky. Few of them were regular, cheap rockets which fizzed out as they reached the top; Few were sparkles mix, which carved an intricate diamond design against the heavens; Few others were very special, costly and custom made.
They were waiting for these to be released from the shackles of their owners. Based upon their experience from the previous year, this time they expected at-least thirty of these behemoths to be fired.
Daniel pushed the present under the bed.
Both their eyes were glued out the picture window, not wanting to miss the first giant rocket fired majestically in all its glory.
So they waited, their faces cupped by the hands, and the elbows set at the base of the window sill. ‘Did you keep the other present on the bed?’ Aarav asked.
Daniel swore under his breath.
‘Damn it! I kept it under the locker of my Activa.’ He sensed a mild annoyance from Aarav, and stood up from the bed. His hands searched for the keys in his right jeans pocket. ‘Let me get it right now.’ Daniel rushed downstairs — leaping the steps two at a time, and bolted out through the open door. His bike was parked on the west side. He shifted towards right, his legs in full gear, while one of his eyes rolled up to see if he could spot any gigantic rocket. There was none. Removing the keys from his pocket, he slipped it in at the hefty side of the vehicle, and heard an audible snap as the lock turned. Then he pulled the seat up and grabbed the present. He locked the seat and turned back.
Both of his legs locked against each other and he righted himself just in time to prevent the fall. Against the shade of the Neem tree, a woman leaned in the shadows, her lanky frame clouded in the canopy of the boughs above. Wild, wavy hair floated from her head to the north, whilst her face was hidden in the shadows. The air around him became cold and unsettling. Daniel reeled back as if he had just taken a punch to the gut.
The woman never moved from her place, and stood her ground, content with watching him. Suddenly, her dark fingers clasped one branch, and she leaned forward. The face was still obscured, but Daniel saw the moonlight reflecting against the sharp, curved nails — No… they were more like the talons of a beast, gnarled and ugly, and they gleamed blood red.
Daniel yelped, but his throat would not produce any sound. He made to get up only to fall onto the dusty ground again. The shape slowly started to leave the confines of the tree. It made another step forward, but it was more like a glide — as if there were no legs.
All pores opened up on his body, and his trousers drenched from the urine that loosened down between his legs. He scuffed back, only to bring up more dust.
The creature cocked its head, and wailed. Daniel covered his ears. His eardrum thrummed inside his brain, and blood rushed to his head. Then the hands came out, and a powerful stench assaulted his senses. It was like stepping into a septic tank — only worse. An amalgamation of twisted tendons, broken bones and pus-filled veins broke through out of the dark. Daniel retched and vomited up front.
His vision swam and he felt dizzy. Adrenaline pumped inside him, heightening the senses, but it only made him more aware of the impending doom. He could not escape. It was as if he was enclosed in a special dome that would not give. He was as good as a ragged doll. Coarse tears streamed down his eyes, and he sobbed and raged.
He made his final attempt at running away, and was pulled back down by an invisible force. A voice whispered inside his head.
You are where you belong.
His throat parched up, and he could only wheeze as his breath pulled back little by little.
I will take care of you, little one…don’t worry…It won’t hurt a bit.
‘No…’ he moaned, and dug at the ground with his fingers. His nails broke, but he pushed past the pain and move backwards to gain some distance from the monster who was straight out of a horror movie.
It spoke to him in tones of melody, almost as if singing his death song. He was swayed by the musical speech and began to relax. Yes…there was nothing to worry. For all he knew, it might be his friend after all.
That’s it. Feel the rhythm. Relax your muscles. It will all be over real soon, the dulcet voice whispered again, and soothing currents of pleasure rushed through his veins, and he sighed.
Daniel lost sense of himself. He could see his body through his eyes. In fact, he was floating two feet above his real frame, and looked at his previous self with a cognizance of detachment. He was finally free — to go wherever he pleased.
He was ready to offer his body to the creature in exchange for this unlimited freedom — in fact, he was grateful for receiving this beautiful gift.
Overhead, a giant rocket framed upward in a beautiful trajectory and burst at its highest point, to paint the sky with the words: ‘Happy Diwali.’
Daniel was overjoyed. He had to see if Aarav if too saw the rocket. His eyes glanced to the upstairs picture window.
Aarav was looking at him. ‘Did you look at — ‘ Daniel’s vocal chords gave out halfway as Aarav smiled and waved back.
In one hand, Aarav held the Ouija board. So he did open the present after all, Daniel thought. But why? They were supposed to do it together.
The master wants to talk with you, the voice cooed against his ear.
The spell surrounding him broke, albeit Daniel inherently knew it was only for a short while. He pushed towards Aarav, but the little bubble held him suspended in the air.
The soothing voice died out, and Daniel saw the gaping maw of a translucent, tawny contorted form lingering beneath him. He could almost make out the contours of the horns sticking out from its head. He bawled his head off, until the air gave out beneath his lungs, and his voice singed to a moan.
Aarav shook his head. ‘No one can hear you Daniel. But, hey, thanks for the board and the chalks dipped in chicken blood. It was really useful for drawing the pentagram.’ Daniel grinned, showing sharp, canine teeth at the edges of his mouth. ‘You must be in surprise. I know. I would have been surprised myself. You know, there was one last page which I tore off from the book. It required a sacrifice to complete the pact — a human sacrifice. Well…where was I to go and find out someone in the middle of the night?’
Aarav laughed, and his eyes betrayed the malice he had hidden so well until now.
Daniel spattered and twisted but his mouth remained closed. ‘I’m sorry if you thought this was a conversation. I wanted to speak with you…and not hear you bleat your bloody mouth back. Oh, well — ‘
Aarav pointed the plastic plaque at the demon, grumbled some incoherent words, and pointed his index finger at Daniel,’– so long Daniel.’ With that Aarav turned his back to the window and closed the blinds.
Daniel squirmed against his unseen bonds, and screamed betrayal at Aarav, who was way past hearing his voice. Suddenly, the demon was on Daniel. His last words died in his mouth as the Demon’s jaw closed around him.
Aarav went down the hall and slumped against the couch. Prisha was sitting there eating popcorns out of a small green bowl.
‘Where is Daniel?’ she inquired.
‘I gave him an errand to run,’ Aarav replied as he plucked a popcorn out. Prisha flinched, and pulled back her dish.
‘You always send Daniel to do this and that. And when he comes back, you always give him something to do again. I never get to play with him,’ Prisha fumed, and crossed her arms in obvious anger.
Aarav turned towards her, and winked. ‘Don’t worry, you will get to play with him the next time he comes back. I promise.’