“First time here?” the barman filled the glass.
Derek nodded while scrawling into his red pocketbook.
“Where you staying?”
“Be careful on your way back, pal.” The barman lowered his voice, “Trust me, you don’t want to be outside by yourself at night.”
“And why is that?” he stopped writing.
“Haven’t you heard of the boy’s doom?” the barman said.
“I saw the rock on my way,” Derek sipped at his glass. “Thought it was the sunrise point.”
“It is,” the barman smiled.
“What’s with the crappy name, then?” he kept the red book inside his pocket.
“Don’t play a dork, dude,” a female voice said.
Derek turned his head. On one of the adjoining stools sat a young woman holding a beer mug and dressed in a red t-shirt and baggy trousers. She had weary features and the soiled patches on the sleek heavily-packed rucksack beside her stool indicated she had been travelling for quite some time.
“Are you done checking me out?” she encircled the rim of the beer mug with the tip of her finger, eyes at the wine bottles on display behind the barman.
Derek moved his awkward glance away and said, “Hell of a haversack for a hiking trip.”
“Hiking trip?” she took a sip. “I wonder what gave me away. Was it my photo in some mountaineer magazine or the nylon hiking rope around my waist?”
Derek missed the sarcasm. “Umm…” he shot a quick glance at her waist. “…what rope?”
She looked at him, “You weren’t playing a dork, were you?”
“Excuse me?” Derek was visibly offended.
She turned herself over the swivelling stool to face Derek. “Look at them,” she pointed at the tables. Tourists were dining and chatting among themselves. “Do you think they flock this place for some hiking trip?”
“I didn’t ask them,” Derek retorted. “I am not that chatty with strangers.”
“Dude, how exactly did you look up this place on the web? Mountains to trek within ten miles?”
“Fifty,” Derek slammed the empty glass on the table. “…and it showed up on the first page. Don’t underrate these mountains, miss.” He paid the tab and stood up.
She shook her head.
When he walked out, it was past seven thirty. The saloon stood at a junction of the village’s main street which sloped down through an array of small thatched-roof houses. The path wasn’t well lit and the houses seemed to be standing since the medieval era. Tall trees waved in the dark behind their roofs.
Derek took out the flashlight from his satchel and shined it on the path.
The village was small. The population was smaller and everyone knew everyone. Tourists either left before evening or crashed at the locals’ homes. Hills hugged the village from all sides. The nearest town was almost an hour’s drive along a narrow road that served as the village’s only connecting link to the outside world.
As Derek walked, something caught his attention. Far away within the arms of the mountain surrounding the village, a place seemed to be lit by a strange cluster of light. The shades were changing and the lights were moving.
He stood there watching the bizarre phenomenon, trying to figure what was causing it.
“They closed that cemetery,” a voice said.
Derek turned. It was the woman from the saloon.
“He was the last one to be buried there,” she said drably and started walking.
Curious, Derek strode to catch up.
“Wish there was a luxury hotel nearby,” she snuggled her forearms across her chest. “I could really do with a hot bath right now.”
Derek was annoyed at the change of subject. But he chose to be polite, “The internet mentions a guest house somewhere here, but it won’t accept booking.”
“That’s coz it shut down three months back,” she seemed well-informed. “Mysterious reasons.”
“What mysterious reasons?”
“Wouldn’t be mysterious if I knew,” she looked at him and smiled. “Ilyana.”
“Derek…So, who’s buried in there?”
“An eight-year old boy who died about fifty years ago. They say weird things started happening after that. So, they closed the cemetery,” Ilyana looked in the distance. Light specks of various shades were weakly shimmering there. “Since then, the place often gets lit up at night that way.”
“What causes it?”
“No one knows”
“There must be some explanation,” Derek was incredulous.
“Be the first one to find it”
“Come on, how hard can it be? People just have to go there and look.”
“Yeah, I wonder why it didn’t occur to that whole bunch of oddballs and myth-busters who visited this place before you,” she mocked.
“You mean people did investigate?”
“The lights vanished when someone went near. So, they planted close-circuit cameras and motion sensors and whatnots.”
“It doesn’t happen every night. They left those things there for nearly a week till those lights appeared again.”
“Then?” Derek was getting impatient. “What did the cameras get?”
“What do you think?” she teased.
“That’s sort of what they got.”
“What do you mean?”
“When they went there the next morning, all they found were fried remains of their gadgets, burnt to the core.”
Derek didn’t say anything.
“Many tried after that,” Ilyana continued. “Nothing changed.”
“So that’s what the tourists come for,” Derek commented.
“That’s not it,” Ilyana’s tone was intriguing. “There is more.”
Derek shot a questioning glance at her.
“After the incident, the boy’s mother couldn’t bear the pain. The neighbours heard her outbursts every night for the next few weeks, until one day she disappeared. Search parties went out and returned empty-handed. Fifty years have passed. The woman was never found, but…” she stopped.
“But?” Derek asked.
“You’ll find out,” she smirked roguishly.
Derek studied her and then asked “How did the boy die?”
“Missed his footing while playing on a rock and fell to his death.”
“The boy’s doom!” Derek muttered as he stopped near an old worn-out door. The nameplate hanging beside it had come apart. Just ‘..liver Anders..’ remained. The house looked like it had been lying abandoned for years.
“I am staying with the Paulsons. They still have some rooms left, you know,” Ilyana couldn’t hide her contempt. “I mean who chooses this?”
“A dork,” Derek tapped on the door and smiled.
The wind was roaring outside. Ilyana sealed the window, latched the door and plonked the rucksack on the table.
‘The guy is a nerd,’ she thought.
The bed looked cosy, but it was too big for her.
‘…and a dork,’ she smiled at the thought.
She went to the bathroom and turned on the faucet. The warm water felt nice.
Ilyana removed her clothes and got into the shower. Just then, there was a knock on her door. She stepped out of the shower and picked up her bathrobe.
“I thought of taking your advice,” Derek said as soon as the door opened.
“Which was?” Ilyana was still knotting the robe on her waist.
“To be the first one to explain that,” he pointed at the glass window on the common aisle. It was windy outside. The noise travelled through the trees and echoed on the mountains. So peculiar was the sound that it was hard to tell if it was the howling of the wind or the eerie weeping of some woman.
“I am listening,” she tousled her wet hair.
“I mean I don’t have it right now, but…”
“Well, as we go deeper into the night, she cries louder.” Ilyana interrupted. “You want to talk about it?” her tone was mildly inviting.
“Umm…yes, first thing…after I come back from the trip,” Derek failed to read it.
“What trip?” Ilyana was taken aback.
Derek smiled mysteriously, “Myth-busting trip,” he waved goodbye and turned around to leave.
“Is that all?”
“No, I have some business with Mr. Paulson,” Derek tossed the words while walking down the stairs. “Good night, Ilyana.”
The rock sat at the side of the road beside a small signboard displaying ‘The boy’s doom’.
The place indeed had a frightening picture at night – on one side, mountains soared into the black sky in a steep incline, while on the other the land plunged into an abyss of darkness. The narrow road slithered between them like a serpent. Posts of old street lamps stood like metallic carcasses towering at the outer edge of the road. Some of those still worked dotting the giant world of blackness with specks of flicker within thick curtains of mist.
Derek sat upon the rock and scribbled his findings in the red pocketbook under the faint light from a nearby lamppost.
The decommissioned graveyard stood another mile up the road. The rock offered a decent view of the place. Derek paused his writing and gazed that way. Tips of white tombstones quietly revealed their presence in the bizarre illumination as the wind swept through the place swaying the tall grass to its will.
‘Bioluminescence,’ he thought.
Derek closed the pocketbook and set his gaze below. Hiding under the thick black curtain several hundred feet below was the valley. He caressed the rock gently, got down on the road and started walking.
A gust of wind smacked the trees causing the uncanny cry to intensify in the air. One of the street lights flickered with a sizzling sound and went out.
‘Column of wind passing through the crannies of the mountains emitting sounds of varying frequencies that somewhat resembles a woman’s howling,’ he said to himself. ‘It’s just…wait, what’s that?’
Some distance away on a small rock, a human form remained seated with the hand buried in the face.
Derek went nearer. It was a woman in a blue skirt and a white blouse.
“Hey,” Derek asked. “Are you okay?”
She looked up at him with red, swollen eyes – her face ashen, hair unkempt, blouse ripped apart at the shoulder.
“Have you seen my son?” she whimpered.
“Who are you?” Derek asked.
“I know he is here somewhere,” she stood up and walked away hastily in the opposite direction. “I know…”
‘These pranksters! It’s a pity how these poor souls give their best at make-up and story-telling,’ Derek shook his head and continued walking.
He had to get to the cemetery. The wind was chilling, but Derek barely felt a thing. As he turned around a bend, a human silhouette ran towards him from the opposite side.
“Have you seen my son?” a female voice bellowed through the partial darkness.
‘Another one!’ Derek sighed.
The woman came nearer and looked at him.
Under the light from a nearby street lamp, Derek gaped with surprise at her face. It was the same woman, dressed in the same blue skirt and torn white blouse. Derek gazed in the direction where she had disappeared couple of minutes ago.
‘Impossible!’ he turned away his face and continued walking without turning back.
Ilyana was about to get under her sheets when she found something lying on the floor near the door.
‘Who slipped that one through?’ she thought as she picked up a red pocketbook.
Ashley stood near the boy’s doom looking at the sky.
Alex arrived there.
“How was it?” Ashley asked. “Must have become white as a sheet on seeing you, eh?”
“I am tired of this,” Alex made a long face.
“So am I,” Ashley looked at her and then started walking towards the village. “But the landscape doesn’t make it a tourist spot, my dear. The legends do.”
“I just hate this,” Alex grumbled.
“You want to swap roles with the glow-worm keepers? Or maybe with Brad and Wendy? Some geek had planted sensors at the cemetery last week. I heard Wendy singed her hair taking care of those with the flamethrower.”
Alex didn’t reply. She was peering through the darkness at something on the road.
“So,” Ashley continued. “Consider yourself lucky that you were born with an identical twin.”
But Alex wasn’t listening. She started running forward.
Ashley rushed after her sister.
About twenty yards down the road, a motorcycle was lying next to a rock.
“It’s Mr. Paulson’s bike,” Alex cried.
“Must have lost control and hit the rock,” Ashley turned on the flashlight.
Beside the motorcycle, lay there Derek, dead.
VICTOR NANDI is a Senior Content Developer with an Indian Edtech Company. His works have been published in Verdad magazine, Amanda Steel Publication, Virtual Zine, Clover and White, Tiger Shark Magazine, and Healing Words Poetry Exhibition in London. He has also won various story-writing competitions.