Ashutosh fumed as he stepped out of the hotel. They had poor meals, poorer service, and had the audacity to advise him to stay indoors for the day. Some nonsense about a school van accident and recurring deaths for the past three years. Cheap tactics to increase his stay! Ashutosh’s trip included a dip in the hot water springs and he was already late.
The mellow sun was ineffective against the March chill. The natural beauty of the verdant hills soon overcame his anger. He selected his YouTube song list, fixed his headphones and proceeded towards the springs.
The mist came out of nowhere. His songlist ended abruptly emphasizing the silence around. Even the birds and the crickets had gone quiet. He was in a woody area, the silent trunks of pine trees surrounding him like sinister sentinels.
Some time later, having tried to proceed in all directions, he was more hopelessly lost than before. He was tired, hungry, and thirsty. The silence made him anxious. He sat down, the ground flush with bright yellow dandelions, a cheerful omen to his overworked heart.
What was that?
He perked up his ears. Incongruous as it sounded, it was the sound of singing and clapping. As he looked, the mist was speared by twin beams of light and a van soon followed, slow and careful. It slowed near him and he could hear the sound of joyous kids.
He got up and proceeded towards the idling van.
“Bhai, can you point me towards the highway? The children are going to Chandigarh for some exhibition. I’m new and lost in the mist,” the driver hollered.
Ashutosh stopped in his tracks disappointed.
“I’m a tourist,” he replied. “And lost myself,” he muttered.
The van was again lost in the mist. Ashutosh realized he should’ve asked for a lift. At least he would be inside warm on a seat. He sprinted after the van. It wouldn’t be hard to catch, if he hurried.
The woods thinned away soon and gave way to a mountain road, sloping down into a deep gorge on one side and hilly terrain on the other. He could see the taillights of the van glowing ahead like some cat’s amber eyes in the mist. With a fresh burst of energy, he ran towards the lights.
Ashutosh was still some distance away, when he heard the sickening crunch. He ran towards the curve, which the driver could never have seen in the mist. Ashutosh wasn’t a brave man and shuddered at the thought of the blood, broken limbs and gore that was sure to greet him.
When he reached there, he was flabbergasted. There was nothing. No twisted metal body of the van. No bodies scattered round.
Did they fall into the gorge?
He went to the road’s edge and peered over. The mist swirled gleefully, hiding everything.
He suddenly felt tiny hands scrambling at his legs. He shuddered and stumbled. They lifted him and poised him up in the air as a recently heard voice whispered, “You should’ve stayed inside.”
As he flew, the sound of claps, laughter, and happy children’s songs filled his ears.
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