Round 3 – Me vs My rusty brain
Howdy. Just thought I’d try a hand at writing a spooky short story. Comments and criticism are very much welcome. This ones called “The Last Ride.” Hope you like it. 😀
The Last Ride
The crackle of frying eggs woke Ramesh from his reverie. He was waiting around to grab a midnight snack at a local snack stall. It was rush hour as all night workers dropped in for a midnight snack at such stalls all across the country. The wait had made him slip off into the depths of his mind. He was thinking about life in general.
Ramesh was an auto rickshaw driver and like most lower class people in India, was in a financial crunch. He had four mouths to feed – three kids and a wife. All his children went to school and their fees were giving him a hard time. He could really do with some extra cash. At this point in thought, his platter of fried eggs and buttered bread arrived and he dug into it. He was ravenously hungry. He relished his meal and just as he finished eating, he raised his eyes to see an old man standing in front of him. He was just standing there. For how long, Ramesh didn’t know.
He looked creepy, the old man. He was dressed entirely in white; a white kurta and a white lungi. He wore rings with different coloured gems on them. He was a thin and scrawny man with evil-looking bloodshot eyes. His scabbed, bald head with scanty hair added to his sinister look. And when he spoke, it was with a deep and dominating voice. “Will you take me to Bharathpur?” he enquired. Bharathpur was very far and Ramesh had to get back to his family; so he refused. But the old man was insistent. He offered to pay him double the fare. Ramesh still wasn’t ready to go. After a few more minutes of offers and refusals, the old man made a final offer – ten times the fare. This offer was too good to refuse since Ramesh needed that kind of money. He agreed and the old man seemed satisfied. Ramesh paid for his meal and beckoned the old man over to his rickshaw. The old man slipped inside. He was pretty quick and agile for his age and appearance. Ramesh then gunned the engine and they were on their way.
Bharathpur was an hour’s ride away and the road was recently developed. It was a smooth ride with a payoff ten times the original. What more could Ramesh want? Cool air brushed by Ramesh’s face and he felt at ease – until he peeked into the rearview mirror. The old man had disappeared! Ramesh felt like his heart had stopped. He panicked but only for a moment as he saw the old man’s reflection rise into the mirror again. Apparently, the old man had dropped something and had doubled over to look for it. Ramesh felt relief wash over him as he saw the old man again and he chuckled at his stupidity. He hoped the old man didn’t catch the look on his face. It was an embarrassing moment for Ramesh.
The rest of the journey was uneventful as the old man never spoke a word. As they neared Bharathpur, they passed by an old cemetery. Ramesh felt a chill trickle down his spine. He had heard notorious stories about this cemetery. The graveyard near Bharathpur, it was called. He had completely forgotten about it! Ramesh was really scared and it wasn’t momentary this time. He peeked into the mirror again and saw the old man staring blankly at the cemetery. Ramesh was holding his breath, half expecting the old man to turn into a hideous zombie. But it never happened. They reached Bharathpur without incident. The old man got out, paid Ramesh and left without a word. Ramesh was richer by a few thousand rupees.
Ramesh lit up a cigarette and watched the old man fade into the darkness. It was a foggy night and Ramesh felt oddly relaxed smoking in the moonlit darkness. He thought about the creepy old man and the cemetery. He would have to make the dreaded trip back home bypassing the cemetery. There were quite a few stories about that place and a part of Ramesh wished he had never come to Bharathpur. He had no choice now so he hopped into his rickshaw and started his trip back home. Ramesh felt the cool breeze in his hair again but this time it was not pleasant; he felt cold. There was no incident as he passed the cemetery although it felt creepy. He said a silent prayer and thanked god for his luck. The whole trip had been an unusual experience. First the old man, then the graveyard. He would gain a little notoriety amongst his friends when he would tell them about his brave visit to Bharathpur cemetery at midnight. He smiled at himself. His smile faded as his headlights caught someone standing on the side of the road.
It was a woman, tall and slim. Ramesh’s first thought was that it was a ghost. But contrary to the popular belief, she was dressed in a brown saree instead of white. Also, she was holding a baby in her arms. She waved out to Ramesh, asking for a ride. Ramesh stopped by and asked her where she wanted to go.
“To the next village.” she said.
“What are you doing out here all alone?” Ramesh asked.
She replied, “I stay nearby with my old in-laws. But my father is sick in the next village. I couldn’t find an auto-rickshaw so I started walking, hoping to find one. I’ll grateful if you can take me there.”
“Where’s your husband?” Ramesh enquired.
“I’m a widow.” she said.
She was a beautiful woman . He looked at her and then at the baby. He felt inclined to help her and her child . He asked her to get in and continued on his trip. A million thoughts raced through his mind. Could she be a ghost? But she wasn’t dressed in white as most ghost stories dictate. And did ghosts have children? Now that he had offered to help, he couldn’t back out and ask her to get off. Just then he saw another man waving out to him from the side of the road. Ramesh slowed down and for the first time in his life, was relieved to see a stranger. He stopped beside the man and asked him to get in the front seat with him. Once they were settled, Ramesh asked him where he wanted to go. “As far as you can take me.” he said. Ramesh shrugged and then nodded. The man sat beside him and they left. Both his companions were very silent. Ramesh attempted to make small talk but they just pretended as if they didn’t hear him.
And so it happened that the unfortunate auto rickshaw driver looked into his rearview mirror for the last time. What he saw made his heart stop. The ghastly scene in front of him was unlike anything he had seen in his entire life. What he saw was this:The pretty woman he had seen a few moments ago was digging into her child’s belly and eating his insides. Her saree was soaked in blood and she had a sadistic look on her face. Her fingers had grown into claws and she was hungrily gobbling up the baby’s intestines. Ramesh was scared out of his wits. His face was white with shock. It was one thing to watch such a scene in movies and another to see it happen before you. His mind was paralyzed. Even prayers didn’t occur to him. Ramesh was relieved that he had picked the man too. He quickly turned to him and whispered desperately,”The woman in the back seat is not human! She’s eating the baby! What do we do?!”
The man turned to him and smiled. “Oh, there’s no need to look at her.” he said, “Look at me. I’m right beside you.” A confused frown creased Ramesh’s forehead. He wanted to ask the man what he meant, but the words wouldn’t come out of his mouth. A moment later, his question was answered. His confused look turned into a look of horror as the man dug his fingers into his belly and tore it open, exposing a gruesome display of flesh, blood and organs. Ramesh was aghast. He had nowhere to go. He could see only one way out and he took it. He jumped out of the running rickshaw and hit the road with a crunch. He had broken his neck and a couple of ribs. He was in immense pain and was losing a lot of blood. His vision started blurring. Ramesh was dying a wicked,painful and slow death.
After a few excruciating minutes, his pain started fading. He thought, “So this is death. It’s not too bad.” and he smiled to himself. He could see a ball of light floating towards him. It had a celestial feel to it. He could not turn his broken neck to see it, but it grew brighter in his peripheral vision. Ramesh felt elated. God was coming for him. He thought about his family. He prayed that the few thousand rupees in his pocket would go to his family and not into some corrupt official’s pocket. All this time, the bright light was floating towards him. He flashed back on his life as dying people always do. He saw a series of pictures in his mind’s eye; the day he got married, the day he saw his first-born son, the day he bought his first auto rickshaw. Just then the heavenly light approached him with a wailing siren. Ramesh realised it was a truck’s horn. The truck ran over him with its celestial headlights. There was a loud crunch and Ramesh was dead, his body lying in a pool of blood in the middle of nowhere.
Ramesh had been a good man all his life, a hard-working one at that. Yet, he had died a gruesome death. Death had claimed him at a young age. Nobody knows what became of his family. The simple auto rickshaw driver had taken a lot of fares on a lot of rides – some long ones and some short. This had been his last ride … his last ride to hell.