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SOMETHING BENEATH THE DARK

Abhirami Katayaprath

The lighthouse on the ocean coast is crystal clear from the downtown café. It looms over the cliff, towering our little town. The grimy moss has taken over the lighthouse in circles; in the words of tourists, it gave a "rustic touch." I sat in the café looking at our lighthouse sipping my rhubarb shake, it is one of the specials in shakes and creams here. Rain and mist have covered the town. The dim light from the street lamps paved a lustreless path for the people who walk as if this town doesn't harbour any secrets. I know too much about the nooks and crannies of this town. Sometimes, it gets overwhelming when I know the routines and mundane rituals of the townspeople. I do crave the hustle and bustle of city life, but I feel a sharp sting in my gut whenever I fantasize about leaving. I know too much of the town… of these people... I saw things which I shouldn't, and without closure, I can never sip martini from my backyard pool far away in a posh suburban city.
******************************

My great grandfather moved to this little town during wartime. We are the third-generation settlers. I learned about this town through his enormous collection of history books and his own deferred research about the townspeople. His death was registered as "natural cause," but I believe he saw something just like me.

Down the lane, next to the motel, sits an array of apothecary shops, and in the far left is the "shop of strange and unusual." I visit there often. Thumus, the cat who lives in the shop, is very fond of me, just like I'm fond of the boy who sits in the counter.

The "shop of strange and unusual" sold antiques which are strange and unusual. On a foggy, dreary evening after my English class, I went there to look for a copy of Mary Shelley's first edition of Frankenstein. The shop kept the rare, vintage books separately in the attic. By the time I told the old miss Owen to get it for me, I had spent my time looking at the beautiful daggers on the wooden glass shelf. Stroking Thumus and sometimes looking at the boy in the counter. I never got a chance to talk to him. He had this unfriendly gaze whenever I tried to smile at him. I moved towards the table, pretending that I'm interested in the broken chairs huddled up beneath the grandfather clock. Slowly I shifted my eyes towards him. He had a pretty rough face and stitches all over the jaw. As a conversation starter, I decided to ask him about his careless injuries all over his face.

"do you go to Clifton high?" I ask him curiously.

He looks up at me, coldly, ignoring my question.

Up close, I could see his stitches very well.

"Woah! That for sure is done by an unprofessional hand", I exclaimed, hoping an answer.

Before he could throw a lifeless look, miss Owen was back with my copy of Frankenstein.

She gave it by warning me to take care of it properly.

"Careful not to make a scratch or coffee stains in the book," she said to me with an earnest face.

"I will not dare to even dog-ear the pages! You can count on a book nerd's pledge", I declared mirthfully.

Miss ovens inquisitively glanced at my face with a kind smile "you are fond of books, I see," she spoke with a revelation.

"I wouldn't ask for books If I weren't," I replied politely.


The interaction with miss Owen was very much unsettling. After a hot minute of awkward silence, in a trice, she offered me tea and scones. I shifted my weight on the right leg with discomfort. I looked outside through the foggy glass. Dark clouds hovered over the lighthouse, signalling the coming of a heavy rainstorm.

"I should probably go home; it's going to rain," I said to her.

"well, I guess it's good to have a hot cup of tea and warm scones in this stormy weather. You should stay. It's safe in here."

I couldn't figure out if she was concerned or commanding. With a gentle smile, she led me to a small parlor in between the dagger shelves. She poured me a cup of tea with 2 cubes of sugar and buttered my scones. All this while, the boy in the counter stayed there blankly disengaged in our conversation.

"you stay and enjoy your tea I will be back in a minute "



My mother had taught me two things: never accept anything from a stranger and always wait for the guest to join in before stuffing my hungry mouth. However, being a guest of her evening tea, I thought I would be respectful and wait for her to join me.

It's been a solid fifteen minutes, and she still hasn't come yet. The tea has gone cold, and the rainstorm outside grew stronger.

"you should leave," the boy in the counter demanded.

I jolted at the unexpected bass of a sound that slashed the silence inside the shop.

I turned to the boy from my chair, "so you can speak? huh"

I stood up and walked towards him, "why should I leave? am I making you nervous?" I teased him.

"the stitches? You asked me about my stitches, right?" he said nervously. I could sense the apprehension in his voice.

"yeah? what about it"?

"she gave me that! The stitches you see all over my face, miss Owen did it. Beware of the old here. They are not sweet and kind as you think. They offer you tea and sweets make you all warm and fuzzy inside but, when the sun sets, it is they who roam the dark", he said in one breath.

"I don't understand "

"Trust me! go home"

Something about the urgency in his voice made me alert and nervous at the same time. I took my jacket and bag from the counter, ready to leave.

"leaving already?" miss Owen appeared from the hallway, surprised. "I had an important call to make." She said with a warm smile.

"I'm already late. I should get going." I returned a smile and mouthed thank you to the boy and left the "shop of strange and unusual."

By the time I stepped out, it was dark and cold. The faint street lamps guided me to the way home. I kept thinking about the conversation I had with the boy. I couldn't comprehend what he meant by that. I walked pass through the apothecary shops. My home is only a street away, but this walk has become long and tiring after the odd interaction with miss Owen and the boy.

While crossing the lane, I saw Avery's grandfather, headed to the town hall. Avery and I take the art class together. We are not clearly friends, but we do smile at each other during lunch break. I also had a crush on her in junior high.

Along with Avery's grandfather joined others, some with walking sticks and some in a wheelchair. Something didn't seem right. I remember the boy's word about the old roaming in the dark.

My mother always said I was a curious child. I yearned for stories so much that I go looking for them in forbidden places. She said it will land me in trouble, but I love me some good challenge. I'm not frail and vulnerable enough to get caught at the same time I'm not conceited or impulsive enough to invite trouble. I had my ways. I guess I got that from my great grandfather.

Not everybody can unfold the secrets in the dark, but humans are sometimes drawn towards it for no reason. I decided to quietly follow the group of old. If something wrong happens, I can always count on our old lighthouse. I go after them towards the town hall. By the time I got to the door, it was locked and bolted. I peered through the foggy hopper windows by standing on an unfinished brick fence beside the pine tree. The group of elderly gathered around the small dingy room inside the town hall. In the middle, I can see a little girl asleep. My heart was pounding, and my hands were sweating in the cold weather. I can already sense what is going to happen next, I remember the stitches in the boy's face. I saw Avery's grandpa making a toast to the rested soul of the little girl lying there. After that, he took a sharp knife and plunged it to the girls' eyes, scooping out her eyeballs from the socket. The blood was dripping down her cold little face, and flesh was hanging out towards her pink cheeks. He then proceeds to disfigure her face, and others joined him in scrapping and peeling her skin off. I didn't want to know what happens next very quietly with a shaken heart. I tiptoed towards the misty darkness and made my way to the home.

***************************

My mother was furiously waiting for me in the kitchen with the cold pizza.

"where have you been"?

"I stayed back for a school project," I lied.

I still had Goosebumps, and my face was pale from the things I saw.

"you look like you might be sick any minute are you okay love?" asked my mother

"Yeah, I'm all good. Uh, mom, is Grandma here?" Grandma lives with us after the demise of my grandpa a few years back.

"she will be back any minute, I guess. She had made new friends in the neighbourhood they've been going for walks around the park at night".

I was quivering from this new piece of information; all I could think was my Grandma peeling off that little girl's face.

"Oh! here she is back. Hey, gammy had a good walk"?

"Oh yes, dear," exclaimed my grandmother with a cheerful grin.

I couldn't meet my eyes with hers, I've gone cold, I can hear my heart pounding in my throat.

"don't roam around in the dark, my sweets; it's not safe," my grandmother whispered to me as she walked towards her room.

A chill ran through my spine. I feebly smiled at her. She smiled back at me. I noticed a morsel of flesh stuck between her sharp yellow teeth. She looked at me with the same revelation as miss Owen like, she could read my mind and sense my fear.

"go to sleep," she said before shutting the door.

I bolted upstairs to my room and took a hot shower to calm my numb mind and cold body.

I sat in my warm bed, buzzing with questions and fear. This small town is not just quaint, bright, and cheery. Something sinister lurks in the dark. The secrets are safely tucked away in the alleys. Shadows are dangerous. And the warm, friendly, old grandpa who smiles at you when you walk past the flower shop could just scoop your eyes out in the dark. I could just wake up and pretend it's all a dream, but I saw too much of this town, and someone would know about it! Before that, I should do something. I should know what else reeks behind the curtains of this sweet little town. There is a reason why my great grandfather decided to settle here, and I am about to resume where he left off


7 comments

  • What a humdinger..!

    Harilal
  • Captivating reading, sharp language.

    Gopalakrishnan kk
  • Wow…😍that was so good.👌👌👌

    Manisha
  • Nicely written

    Kritika
  • Whoaa!! Brilliant. I am not surprised that your talents were recognized. Congratulations🎉!!!
    I enjoyed it from beginning to end🔥GO AMY!!!👏👏Keep writing and writing 👌

    ASWIN
  • Her style of writing is amazing. Don’t feel like Indian.

    Sandhya Sharma
  • Nice presentation…. good feel

    Jyothis katayaprath

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