I stared at the building in awe. I have done so for the last thirteen years. Although dilapidated, the house looked majestic. There was a huge iron gate with the statues of two lions on both sides. The Iron Gate has rusted, and the lions have lost a limb or two with the passage of time. But I still find this old abandoned house as charming as ever.
When I was young and read the story of Rapunzel, I thought that a princess lived in this house. I hoped that if I stood near the window and shouted, she would let her hair down. Then I’d climb up, and enter a world of magic. That was a childish fantasy. But my determination to enter the house at least once remains as strong as ever.
Nantu and I decided to enter the house. We pushed hard at the gate, the old Iron Gate creaked a little, but didn’t give way. We knew that we had to come back again better prepared. “Maybe, we can climb up the wall,” suggested Nantu.
We were forbidden from going anywhere near that house. It was a Haunted House, and people had woven all sorts of stories around it. People heard the laughter of women, tinkling of wine glasses, shattering of window panes, and thuds.
Nantu said that we need some sticks to enter the house. If anything was on the way, the stick would help us clear the path. Besides, if there are snakes or other animals, we will be able to scare them away with sticks. We also needed two torches and some ropes. We could easily hide the ropes and torches in our rucksacks, but the problem was with the sticks.
I got hold of some sticks and just as I was going out of the house, my mother stopped me. “What are you doing with the sticks?” she asked. I came up with some vague excuse. She did not buy it. So I thought that I would try umbrellas instead. We can use them as sticks. The next day when going out to play, I was carrying an umbrella. My mother stopped me again. “Surely you don’t need an umbrella to play football!” she said. She was becoming more and more suspicious of my activities. She had an inkling that I would go to the haunted house.
Fortunately, I was lucky the next day. My mother asked me to go to the shop to buy bread. It was raining. I deliberately did not take the umbrella. She shouted, “Take the umbrella. Otherwise you will get wet.” I took the umbrella and promptly gave it to Nantu. Next day the two of us set off again for the haunted house.
The gate, majestic as ever, did not give way. We pushed and pushed. Our palms were sore and our hands ached. Then, we climbed up the walls. The umbrellas came in very handy, as there were lots of shrubs and even trees. There were thorns which pricked our skin and tore our clothes. We had a few bruises as we stumbled on the uneven surface. A couple of bricks under our feet gave way. We were up again on our feet and steadied ourselves with the umbrellas. The main door was locked. Some of the windows had their panes shattered. We entered through the windows.
The paint has peeled off in many places. In some places, the plaster has peeled off too, and you can see the bricks. There were shards of glass from broken window panes as well as from broken mirrors and chandeliers. The inside was dark and damp. You could smell the bird droppings, and the musty smell of old uninhabited buildings. We felt slightly eerie. We spoke to each other loudly to keep up our spirits as we continued to explore the house. There were cobwebs on the walls. Two rats scurried away when we entered the room. A few bats flapped their wings as they flew across the room. Some pigeons flew out of the house through the windows.
The room was barren except for a small couch. It definitely had seen better days. It had a thick layer of dust on it. From the ceiling hung the remnants of a chandelier. Even today, you get the feel that one day it was inhabited by rich aristocratic people. Gradually, our eyes and nose became accustomed to the place. “Why should people be afraid of this?” I wondered. “People have nothing to do and they make up stories,” replied Nantu. “Ghosts wearing white sarees, laughing women, where are they?” he quipped. “I guess they are afraid of us,” I replied in jest.
“It is time to go back,” I said. “Sure,” replied Nantu. Suddenly all the windows were flung open. A lot of pigeons escaped through the windows fluttering their wings wildly. It seemed that they were scared. “Must be a sudden gust of wind,” said Nantu trying to put up a brave face. “Naturally, what else,” said I, trying to sound cheerful.
Suddenly all the chandeliers lit up and we saw the beautiful well-polished marble floors. There was a big dining table with plates and glasses and cutlery laid out on it. The windows had lace curtains that were dancing in the wind. “We must get out quickly, otherwise we might be caught,” I tried to tell Nantu. But the words did not come out of my mouth.
We went out through a window into the courtyard. There were no overgrowths. It had a well maintained lawn with beautiful statues. The porch had a horse drawn carriage. There was a faint aroma of alcohol and perfume in the air. “Am I dreaming?” thought I.
I turned to look at Nantu, but he was not there. Instead I saw a skeleton walking by my side. My heart started racing, and I was sweating profusely, although it was December. “Na…an…tu, “I stammered. He laughed sinisterly. His laughter echoed through the house. I panicked and started to run. I ran towards the gate, forgetting that the gate is shut. But, to my surprise, the gate opened noiselessly. I ran outside. Nantu was running just behind me. I did not look back. I didn’t dare to.
Suddenly, I had an idea. I thought I’d use the umbrella as a shield from Nantu. Just as I opened the umbrella, a gust of wind came and blew it away. I clung to the umbrella for dear life. I was up in the air. I could see my village underneath, with the streets, our houses, our playground, the ponds, the temple, everything.
“Am I dying and going to heaven?” I thought to myself. The umbrella swirled and I was now circling my village and the Haunted House. The house was full of people. It was decorated with lights. The majestic gate was decorated with flowers.
“Open your eyes,” I heard the voice of Nantu as I looked up and saw the clear blue sky. He was splashing water on my face. “Are you all right?” he asked. “I am fine,” I replied. “But what happened to you?” I asked. “Nothing,” he replied. “Except that I was worried because you were behaving so strangely.”
Apparently I was brandishing my umbrella like a sword and headed straight towards the gate. I stumbled on the bricks and bruised my knees, but I was not aware of what I was doing. I ran around the courtyard, with Nantu trying to catch me. I stood under one of the windows and shouted “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, please let me in.” Nantu tried his best to talk some sense into my head but in vain.
Finally he grabbed my umbrella and hit me on the head with it. I was frightened and tried to enter the house first through the door and then through the window. He restrained me with a good deal of effort. Fortunately, Nantu is tall and well built, but even then he had a difficult time getting me out into the courtyard.
“I really cannot scale the walls with you on my shoulders!” said Nantu. And the gate will not open. “Whoever built the house, made sure that the gate was sturdy. Nobody can break into the house.” “We don’t know how old the house is,” Nantu replied. “But, we have read in story books that dacoits used to turn up in Zamindar houses and carry on looting and plunder.” “Not this one,” I said proudly.
We slowly walked back to our homes. I was limping and Nantu supported me with his shoulder. I am lucky to have a friend like him. But, I could not tell him that I thought he was a skeleton. It is well past our playtime and I need to make up a story that would be acceptable to my mother.
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