This story was one of the scare stories my grandmother used to tell me as a child. I cannot verify its authenticity or provide any proof of it having originated from a real experience, except from the fact that nearly everyone in my mother’s family knew of the story and can relate it to me accurately to the slightest detail.
The story goes that there was a man of around 25 years named Paato, who was my maternal grandfather’s great uncle of some sort, or a relative in any case, and he used to live in a village somewhere. I should remind the readers that this story is from a time in when the subcontinent was still ruled by the British, and villages were few and far between, separated often by thick sub-continental jungles, and the roads network was nothing of the sort we are used to.
Paato was once invited to attend a wedding in another village once. He travelled to that village on foot during the day, and unfortunately due to some delays it was already getting dark by the time he was only midway back to his own village. The path was a narrow one, winding through thick jungle and travelling on it after dark was quite dangerous. So Paato was getting quite nervous, and becoming aware of his surroundings more and more by the moment. Robbers and highwaymen were about the best he could hope to meet on the road, since tigers and other beasts often come out to hunt in the dark. He could not even run properly if that were to happen, since the dress he was wearing had pants that would surely trip him over (a ‘Dhoti’).
It was then when Paato came across a house in a sort of clearing in the middle of the jungle. There was a woman sitting outside the house, cooking something on a large pot and she called to him as he passed.
“Traveller! Would you like some food and a place to stay for the night?”
Paato was somewhat taken aback, since it was strange for a woman to be living alone in the middle of the jungle, and stranger yet, that she would invite a complete stranger passing by into her house for the night. However, these were times when people were often very hospitable, and grateful of having someplace safe to stay at for the night, Paato took up the offer.
Paato was fed a fair meal and the woman seemed to be friendly enough. The food and the warmth of the night put him at ease, so he started to become quite drowsy. The woman made a bed for him on the floor, choosing to sleep on the farther end of the fairly large room herself. Paato’s bed was made right up against a table on which rested the only source of light in the dark: A brightly burning candle. As he lay down he felt much too exhausted from the day to even get up and blow out the candle himself. He tried covering his face under the sheets, but that still did not help since there were tiny holes in his sheets through which he could still see the candle. He could also see the woman sitting down on her bed through a similar hole, still sitting up, so he asked her to kindly blow out the candle for him.
What he saw next quickly pushed out any semblance of drowsiness from his eyes and replaced it with gut wrenching, sickening and petrifying terror.
His eye grew larger under the sheets as he saw the woman, sitting down stretch her arm slowly, steadily to cover the distance from her bed to his bed to the candle above it, and smother the flame. If the sight of the snake-like stretched out arm had not been frightening enough, the last view of the woman’s face as the light went out definitely was. Her face was twisted, terrible, with wide hungry eyes under which her wild hair that gave her the impression of a wild animal. She was looking right at him lying with as he lay there when the lights went out, with a wry smile curled on her face. It was the face of his death.
Paato lay there in utter shock for a little while, at loss of what to do. He could not simply run. He would never make it out of the house. The creature would be onto him in an instant with its stretching limbs. He could also not lay there for much longer. Who knew how long it would be before the creature did whatever it had lured him there for? So Paato thought up a plan; the best plan he could come up with given his situation.
“I … need to pee” he announced, hesitantly.
“Ok, the toilet is at the back of the house” said the thing.
“That’s ok,” he said “I can just do it in the bushes outside.”
Saying this, he got up and went outside, squatting behind the bushes. The creature meanwhile, was at the door, looking at him each moment.
“Can you give me some privacy? I can’t go about my business like this!” he half-yelled, half pleaded from behind the bush.
The woman went back in the house after hearing that, which was lucky, since Paato needed every moment’s advantage he could get.
He quickly took off his pants—his dhoti to allow himself to sprint, quietly slipped out of the bush and started running as fast as he could. The thing realized what had happened though and came after him quickly enough. But Paato kept running, never looking back once even though the thing kept shouting at him to stop and come back. Finally, just as he seemed he would give up himself, the thing stopped chasing him. But it shouted something at him which re-froze Paato’s insides just before he was out of its earshot:
“You can run Paato! But my sister will be waiting up ahead to greet you! And she can run much faster than I can!”
This however was not true. Paato ran for what seemed like hours to him, but, there was no ‘sister’ lying in ambush on the path ahead. He made it back home just as the roosters were screeching. He was breathless, feverish and quite delirious.
I would like to say that it ended well for Paato, but it did not. He is said to have died of the fever he got that night, never recovering from the terror. But not before letting his family, and the village, know of the terrifying danger lying in wait for them in the dark jungles.
Salman Shahid Khan