Mainstream Horror, 320 pages
Cover art by Richard Stroud
ISBN 978-1-61309-206-4 $4.99
A bullied girl must learn not only to fight her bully but also a ghost who is intent on harming her. When she learns the shocking identity of the ghost and the conspiracies surrounding her family, she must solve the mystery quickly before she becomes the next victim
The room suddenly felt too quiet and the only sounds came from the machines that were kept by her grandfather’s bedside. Raina’s eyes scanned over the heart monitor and saw his pulse increasing.
She swallowed and jumped when her uncle called her.
“Raina, why don’t you go to your room and unpack?” he said without looking at her.
She looked at her grandfather and wanted to know who he was talking about, but she knew that even though her uncle wasn’t looking at her, he was waiting patiently for her to leave.
“I’ll... go unpack. See you later, Grandpa.” She half waited for her grandfather to reply back, but seeing his condition, there was very little chance he had even heard her.
She walked out of the room and a maid gestured for her to follow. As they went up the stairs, Raina marvelled at the chandelier that hung from the ceiling. The window near the spiral staircase showed her a small garden and the lake she had seen when she had arrived.
“This is your room,” the maid said and opened the room.
Her luggage was already inside and another maid was already unpacking it. Raina shrugged her shoulders and climbed onto her bed. She lay down and stared at the ceiling wondering what she was going to do. There wouldn’t be any chores to do here and a maid was already unpacking her things and putting them into the wardrobe. She got up and looked out the window. The ride over here had been pretty exhausting, but she had slept and now she wanted a little exercise.
She jumped off her bed and walked out briskly. There were several rooms along the corridor, but she didn’t feel like exploring them right at the moment. Cold weather made her lethargic and the weather in this town was a lot cooler than it had been at her uncle’s.
As soon as she was downstairs, Raina realised she had no idea which door led outside. She walked towards one of the doors and gave it a gentle push.
The door revealed a large kitchen, where five chefs were busy stirring something in pots. One of them, a woman, looked up at her.
“Do you need anything? Lunch will be ready soon.”
Raina shook her head and closed the door. Lunch? She hadn’t even had breakfast yet. Still, the aroma from the kitchen smelled delicious and she couldn’t wait to eat. She walked along the passage and stared at the photographs that hung from the walls.
She stopped suddenly and looked at a picture of her grandfather when he was young. He and his father stood, while his mother sat in a chair, looking stern and proud.
She smiled as she saw her great-grandfather. Uncle Rabindra looked so much like him, except for the hair, of course. Uncle Rabindra was bald while the man in the picture had thick wavy hair. She walked past the other photos of the family and then stood back. She looked at the last photo of her and her parents and then back at the others.
Apart from the wives of her uncles, there weren’t any other girls in the family except for her.
“That’s so weird,” she said to herself. Was Ahan really right? And hadn’t she heard Aunt Lily also proclaim that there was a curse on the family? She shook her head. That was absurd. Just because her father and his brothers hadn’t had girls didn’t mean that none of her cousins wouldn’t have any either.
She found another door and opened it to find that it did lead outside. She took a deep breath and smiled as a breeze swept over her face, bringing along the sweet scent of flowers that grew in the garden.
Raina walked over to a tree and leaned against it with her hands behind her. It was such a beautiful day and such a perfect view.
A gardener walked right past her and she straightened up. “Hi,” she said.
“Hello,” he replied solemnly and started to pull out weeds.
“Such a beautiful garden this is,” she said and smiled, but the gardener seemed reluctant to talk, which was understandable considering the owner of the house’s failing health. She walked towards the garden gate and decided to go see the lake instead, when a familiar sweet scent rose up to her nostrils. She paused and placed her hand on the small white buds of jasmine growing on a shrub.
“I thought these weren’t winter flowers.”
“They aren’t,” the gardener said and stood up. He dusted his knees and walked towards her. “This one, however, is.”
Raina looked at him and saw him staring with unblemished pride at the small shrub. “This one’s been here for almost six to seven decades.”
“I didn’t know they lived that long.” The gardener stared at her and she pointed towards the flowers. “I mean, I thought they bloomed in the summer or something. Unless these are winter jasmines?”
“Winter jasmines are yellow,” the gardener said dryly. “These flowers never die, the leaves never die and it has never dried out. There was this one time when Shaun forgot to water it for a month. I was on a sick leave. When I asked him about it, he told me he had forgotten and I was sure that plant would have been dead.”
“A month without water? And it still survived?”
“During the summer,” the gardener said, as if delivering the punch line to a joke. “We’ve had heavy snowfalls, unforgiving storms, yet the jasmine endured it all and still stands even when none of the trees and plants had.”
“I didn’t know they were native to this place. Then again, I did see them at my uncle’s house too.”
The gardener looked at her with a strange look on his face. “No, jasmine isn’t native to this part of the world at all. This plant was a gift from a family friend, I think.”
“But...”she started to argue and then closed her mouth. The gardener started to talk about the leaves and buds, but Raina felt her mind reeling. Something didn’t seem to fit and it was making her feel like she was supposed to know something. She turned towards the house and looked at the window where the curtains were drawn. Maybe, she should have tried to listen about what they were talking about.
She took a deep breath, said her goodbyes to the gardener and walked out the gate towards the lake. This wasn’t her problem. Her problems were going to begin when her dad would arrive day after tomorrow and take her back to Willow City. But he wasn’t here right now and neither was Mallika. Finally, after a month of hard labour, she was getting a little time off to relax.
She climbed up the dock and walked over to one of the chairs. This was probably grandfather’s chair and she could imagine him, sitting here and looking at the sun setting over this lake. She sat and stared at the lake. The sun was warm, but the breeze was cool. She sat there for a few minutes and then got up. Removing her jacket, she threw it on the chair, before lowering herself on the dock. She lay down on it and closed her eyes.
“Now this is a vacation,” she said. Her grandfather was fine; Uncle Rabindra wasn’t the villain she had thought him to be and Ahan...
Raina smiled to herself as she remembered the way he had taken Samar away and spared her an embarrassing situation. Ahan was nice and nothing she had expected him to be. Her heart ached as she realised she wouldn’t get to see him before she left.
Maybe she should have invited him and Samar in. Samar would have found something to amuse himself with and she would have gotten a chance to talk and get to know Ahan. Maybe they would have even exchanged numbers. But Raina knew that would have never been true. She had and would always be too shy of boys.
She turned her head, and started to feel herself falling asleep. Everything seemed perfect and even though Ahan and she would never meet again, she still felt a warm feeling in the pit of her stomach.
In the distance she could hear a bird, and the wood beneath her creaked suddenly, but Raina paid no heed. Her mind was starting to drift off and she was about to fall into deep slumber, when a sound roused her. It sounded like water dripping off a partially open faucet.
Raina turned away and ignored it. There was probably a leak somewhere or maybe her water bottle had sprung a leak. She opened her eyes then. Except, she hadn’t brought her water bottle. She got up slowly and wondered why it had become so quiet all of a sudden. The breeze had stopped and the birds no longer chirped.
Raina held her breath and realised that someone was behind her, dripping. She tried to relax her shoulders and tell herself that it was probably one of the servants who had gone to take a bath in the lake, but her heart still thudded loudly.
She turned around and uttered a shriek. A girl in her teens stood barefoot in a lavender dress that was torn and soiled. Wet tendrils hung over the girl’s face and her fists were closed. Raina pushed herself back, finding it difficult to breathe. The girl stared at her intently with dark eyes that shone in contrast to her bluish-purple skin.
Raina’s eyes travelled lower to her feet and saw that she was dripping wet. Her feet started to move then and Raina quickly got up.
“No!” she cried, but the girl, her head slightly bent, walked closer to her and started to raise her arm.
“No!” She screamed again and started to run the other way, when her feet slipped and she fell into the lake.
The water was deeper than she had expected and as it swept over her head, Raina realised to her horror that she didn’t know how to swim.