The Next Village

It was a cold and moonless night. A light breeze carried the cold straight to your bones. I was on my way home from the district market, where I had managed to make a small fortune in exchange for my skills in pottery. Darkness had swallowed me and a longing to see my family again clawed at me. Being alone on a forest trail in the dead of night isn’t the best situation to be in, but as fate would have it, I chose to walk home that night. Darkness often gives us a feeling that we’re being followed. But it was not just a feeling this night. I heard them, the heavy shuffling footsteps, and whipped around, praying. It was an old lady; withered and ancient. She reached out to me; a sign to wait for her. “Will you accompany me to the next village, son?” A part of me wanted to refuse, partly in fear of consequences that might pursue, but turning my back on her wasn’t the best choice either. I agreed and we strode together, side by side.

She was amazingly fast for someone her age, strong even. My mind was a plethora of entangled thoughts, some of which were desperate courses of action and fear of what would happen next. A couple of things caught my eye; her bushy white eyebrows, her red sari which was torn in places, black bands on her ankles and wrists, abnormally large grey eyes and the fact that she walked bare feet. “I’ll be taking the left ahead. I have to visit someone in the neighboring village first.” I blurted out, overwhelmed by fear. She turned slowly and looked at me without a word, her large grey eyes penetrating me. I felt a shudder. Then she nodded and the silence resumed.

Ten minutes past, I started feeling the heat of constant bodily action spread within me and a bead of sweat broke on my forehead. Perhaps it was the fear. Perhaps it was the body heat. She was still going strong and fast. Surprising. My train of thoughts was interrupted when I spotted a silhouette not far from where we were. It was a man, a tall and gaunt one. The sound of our footsteps had reached him before we had. The man stood facing us. I was relieved to see him, stranger as he was. “Hey there, would you be willing to accompany this old lady here to the next village? I’ll be taking a detour from the fork up ahead.”

The gaunt face stared back at me. I noticed abnormally large grey eyes on the man’s face too. “What old lady?” he asked blankly.

My stomach tightened. I looked back at the old lady. Her face was like stone, expressionless.

“Who’re you talking to?” she asked me.

The bottom of my stomach dropped and my limbs stopped functioning. I was out of breath and sweating, even as I turned back to face the tall man. I felt my heart stop.

I was dead before I hit the ground.

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