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It was a stormy night. The clouds thundered outside and lighting flashed continuously. Rain splashed against our town in torrents.
I lay on my couch in the living room. The television was off and a Sidney Sheldon novel lay open on my chest. I was staring at the ceiling lost in thought.
I was broken from my reverie by the sound of someone banging on the main gate downstairs. I got up suddenly and realized the knocking must have been going on for sometime and I had not noticed it because of the storm.
I opened the main door and quickly descended down the stairs to the gate. I wondered who could have come calling during the storm. I had a lot of relatives here and they often came to visit. But no one in their right mind would get out of the safety of their homes in this weather. I concluded it must be some stranded traveller. My house was on the outskirts of the town so the idea was very feasible.
The gate was connected to the stairs, so I didn’t have to worry about getting wet. I unlatched the iron gate and swung it open.
A beautiful girl stood there, drenched to the skin, wet hair clinging to the sides of her face down to the shoulder.
“My car broke down.” She was yelling to be heard over the storm. “Can I take shelter at your house till the weather clears?”
I yelled back at her. “Sure! Come inside!” I moved back and beckoned to her to come inside. As soon as she was on the stairs, I turned and locked the gate again.
I led her up the stairs to my home. We entered the hall and she looked around with curiosity.
“Nice house,” she complimented me.
“Thanks,” I told her, distracted. I was staring at her. My first thought when I had seen her; that she was beautiful; was completely wrong. She was not beautiful. She was stunning.
She had beautiful black eyes, luscious full lips, and a small cute nose. Her wet hair clung to the sides of her oval face, and somehow added to her beauty. Her wet T-shirt and jeans clung to her, emphasising her perfect figure.
She had been looking around the house as I admired her looks, but then she suddenly turned towards me, and caught me staring at her.
“What?” she asked me politely.
“Er…you would like to change, right?” I asked her quickly.
“Oh, yeah,” she said, smiling slightly. “That would be nice.”
“I have some of my sister’s old clothes. They should fit you okay.” I told her and fled to the bedroom. I opened my sister’s closet and rummaged for a minute till I found an old pair of jeans and a T-shirt. I wondered about getting her undergarments, but then discarded the idea, thinking that could get embarrassing.
When I came back to the hall with the clothes, she was staring at a painting in the hall. It was a painting of the sun setting at the sea.
“My sister painted it,” I told her, standing beside her.
“It’s beautiful.” She said, her words filled with sincerity.
“I know,” I said. “She is really talented.”
She turned to me and saw the clothes in my arm. I handed them to her and pointed to the master bedroom. “Wash room’s in there,” I told her. “You can take a shower if you want.”
“Oh yes,” she said gratefully. “I would really like a quick shower.”
She turned to go to the wash room when another thought occurred to me. “Wait,” I called to her, “I forgot to get you a towel.”
I hurried into the same bedroom and brought a clean towel for her. I handed it to her, and she took it with a ‘thank you’ and a smile.
The girl went into the master bedroom and I heard the bathroom door close inside. I went into the living room and plopped onto the couch. Something was troubling me, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Then I realized what it was. I hadn’t even asked her name! I decided I would ask her as soon as she came out of the wash room.
I decided to make tea for my unexpected visitor and got up. I added water and milk in the kettle, and leaving it to boil at low fire, headed to the living room. I turned on the T.V and sat down on the couch. I was channel-surfing when something caught my attention. It was the news channel. A beautiful girl in a raincoat with an umbrella over her head was reporting from a dark road in the middle of nowhere. Rain was splashing all around her.
The headline read: “Young girl loses life in an accident during the storm.”
I increased the volume to hear the reporter speak.
“ – and the car must have been going at a very fast speed because the girl couldn’t control it when a sudden turn appeared and the car slid to the girl’s doom over the edge of the road and into the huge trees with terrifying force of impact.”
An image of the destroyed car covered the screen and I flinched. There was no way anyone could have survived that.
Then the reporter was back on. “The accident happened an hour ago here in the outskirts of a small town called Sinkar in Uttar Pradesh.”
I straightened up suddenly as I heard the name of my town.
The girl was continuing. “- her name was Shilpa Salone. Here’s the unfortunate girl’s photo that the police recovered from the accident.”
Once again a photo covered the screen. I gasped. My eyes bugged and my heart stopped beating.
It was the photo of the girl who was taking a shower in my washroom at this very moment. There could not be any doubt. The photo was completely identical to her face. The same black hair, beautiful oval features, and full lips.
My body was paralyzed with shock. Then the fear came. It infused in my blood, spreading in all directions until I was trembling in fright.
The reporter was still talking. “- it is such a tragic accident that a young girl who had her whole life …”
I needed to move. I needed to get the hell out of here. Fast. She could come out of the washroom any second. She was a ghost of course. She must have come here to kill me. She probably decided to play with me first, with the whole “stranded in the rain” story. I needed to get out of here if I didn’t want to die a horrible death.
But I couldn’t move. Fear had completely paralyzed my body. Sweat had broken out on my skin as adrenaline burst into my blood stream and made my heart beat faster. But I still couldn’t MOVE!
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Thunder cracked outside and the rain fell with more fury. I suddenly realized I could move again. I jumped up and turned to run out of the room.
But I couldn’t. She was standing right there in the doorway. Her hair was wet. She was dressed in the clothes I had given her.
She came into the living room casually. Her eyes fell on my face and she immediately became concerned.
“What happened?” she asked, her brow furrowed.
I was scared out of my mind. She stood just in front of the doorway, blocking it. I looked around the room desperately, feeling like a trapped animal. My eyes fell on my father’s old rifle, attached to the wall as a showcase. I knew it worked because he oiled and maintained it every few months. I lurched for the rifle and grabbed it. I turned blindly around and aimed it at the girl. The barrel of the rifle shook with my trembling hands.
The girl gasped. Her eyes widened in fear.
“What are you doing?!” she cried out. “Are you crazy?!”
I kept my aim at her chest and tried to stop the shaking. It could mess up the shot. I did not know what to do. I wondered if the gun would do any good when I would shoot her. Would the bullet just pass through her without hurting her like in the movies? Or would it have some effect? I did not know. But the rifle felt good in my hands. It gave me some security.
Suddenly the electricity went out and the room became completely dark. At the same time, the loudest thunder of the night exploded in the sky like an atom bomb. I didn’t think. In the dark, unable to see, I reacted instinctively. My finger squeezed the trigger and a new thunder exploded. This time in the room. A flash of light burst from the barrel. There was a scream and the sound of a body falling on the floor.
I stood paralyzed in the dark. The sound of thunder receded from the horizon, but the heavy rain continued. There was a new sound now though. I could hear weak whimpering sounds coming from the hallway.
It took me several minutes to unfreeze. Then I realized that I needed light to see. The emergency electric lamp was in my bedroom.
One hand on the wall beside me, trying not to think of anything, I started moving slowly. I reached the doorway and stopped for a moment. The whimpering sounds were coming from ahead. Since the bedroom was to the right, I didn’t need to go anywhere near that sound. The thought filled me with relief. I continued moving toward the bedroom.
The bedroom was down a small corridor. I reached the room and found the lamp on the desk where I always kept it. I turned it on, and it illuminated the space in front of me in bright white light.
As the light of the lamp shone on the bed in front of me, my thoughts turned to what I was just about to investigate. My stomach tightened with fear, and goosebumps erupted all over my body. I shoved the thought roughly away.
With the lamp throwing light in front of me, I exited the room and headed to the hallway. All the while my mind screamed at me to just run. Not to even look at what had happened, but to get to the front door, wrench it open, and escape into the night.
But I knew I had to know. So I forced myself to be calm. I tightened my grip reassuringly on the rifle which was still in my right hand.
I came to the hallway. I turned the lamp downwards and stared at the scene.
The girl was lying on the floor. Her whole chest was covered with blood. The force of the shot had blasted her body almost two metres. There was blood splattered everywhere on the floor, some on the walls nearby.
She was breathing weakly, her eyes on the ceiling, her face distorted with pain. As I watched, the breathing slowed, and eventually stopped. Her expression relaxed.
I stood there for some time, as still as a statue. Then I moved closer to her and knelt beside her. My mind was screaming at me to get away from her, to run, but I ignored it. I reached my hand towards her and took out her wallet from her jeans pocket.
I opened it calmly. I saw her photo in her driver’s license. Her name was written beside it. It was Reeta Singh.
The name of the girl who had met her death at the accident nearby was Shilpa Salone. The reporter had mentioned it.
I stared at the girl again. So young, so beautiful, lying on the floor peacefully with her eyes closed.
I closed the wallet and put it back in her pocket. I turned off the lamp and the room was enveloped in darkness. I kept the lamp and the rifle on the floor. Then I sat beside the dead girl, leaned my back on the wall and stared into the darkness.
After a while, I closed my eyes and listened to the sound of the rain pounding against the house.