By Anamika Mukherjee
Help! There’s a poltergeist in my house!!!
First let me assure you that I am a non-believer in such things. Not a very firm non-believer, it is true, but a skeptic nonetheless. It is sometimes very tempting to allow oneself to believe in such romantic notions, but somehow one's logical mind does not quite accept it. Poltergeists, bah! snorts the logical mind derisively.
Despite which, however, one finds oneself unable to deny that certain mysterious things do happen around the house from time to time. Around this house, in particular. In the kitchen, for instance, dishes move for no apparent reason. Put it down to a cat, or other forms of wildlife, invisible though they may be to human eye. (Much of the wildlife is admittedly all too visible, namely the hundreds of cockroaches that seem to appear and disappear at will.) The lid of a kettle slides along the kitchen counter in front of my eyes, blithely and completely ignorant of Newton's laws of motion, which state, in effect, that motionless things ought to remain motionless and ought not to move around without any very good reason to do so.
In the bathroom, a shower that hasn't worked for months suddenly starts to stream water. When nobody even turned it on! Put it down to increased water pressure, a leaky washer, whatever. Then, one day, as I leave the bathroom cursing after having been thus unexpectedly sprayed with icy water in the middle of winter, the mug, which has been hanging quietly where it should be and minding its own business, suddenly takes it into its head to rest on the floor a while, and slides there of its own accord. Put it down to a draft created by me in passing, though I didn't, didn't even break wind, not even slightly, honest.
But what happened late one Friday night put the seal on it. It was final and conclusive proof of the presence of poltergeists in this house built on a graveyard, with cracked, sloping floors which leak moisture in the monsoons -- probably coming up straight from the graves: the cold, dead breath of souls restless and at unease.
Anyway, back to that Friday night. Was it Friday the thirteenth? It may well have been. In any event, it was a dark, stormy evening and the wind was howling menacingly around the built-over graveyard, when there was an electricity failure. Suddenly, in addition to the wailing wind and the lashing rain, we were surrounded by complete darkness. Ominously, this darkness descended on very few, one could almost say hand-picked houses: those around the back had abundant light. Even the street lights remained. Only very few houses had an electricity failure, of which ours was one.
Candles were duly lit, and since there was really no storm, they did not flicker and go out, but were amenable to being carried around by various members of the household as per our individual needs. Eventually, for want of anything better to do in the miserable dark, we all drifted to the front verandah (enclosed) and sat down - my mother, my sister and I: my father was out - with one candle placed on the bookshelf, where it started to burn the flowers that were residing in a vase thereon. When I pointed this out, the flowers were hastily removed to safer abode the candle was left where it was. Eventually, after maybe a quarter of an hour, electricity came back.
But nothing happened, you say. Flowers burnt by a candle flame do not a poltergeist signify, you remonstrate sharply.
No, but blood stains on the floor do. And that's what we found when light returned to our lives. It was bloodstains on the floor that opened our eyes to the presence of poltergeists unseen, unheard, but quietly bleeding.
Not that we believed it immediately. Candle wax, said my mother. I rubbed it with my slipper and it was soft. It should have set by now, I pointed out. Besides which, the candle never came anywhere near here – “here” was a good three or four feet from the bookshelf. Everyone examined this statement from the point of view of their movements while equipped with candles prior to our seating ourselves down, and came to the conclusion that I was right (as ever) and no candle had ventured there. Besides, another few moments had passed and the “wax” still hadn’t set. Touch it, suggested my mother. I demurred, but bent to get a closer look and involuntarily got a good whiff of it.
Blood, I pronounced.
Rubbish said my mother stoically, but it indisputably smelt bloody.
So we all checked ourselves and each other, and especially the dog, for signs of injury. None. Meanwhile the servant came in and wiped it up, having been told that it was candle wax, and vouchsafed independently her unasked opinion that it was blood. Then my father came home and was informed of the happenings. Cats, he said. Rats. The cat killed a rat. The dog killed a cat. The injured rat walked across the floor, he hypothesized, getting somewhat carried away.
And disappeared into thin air? I asked. Besides, the blood was in drops on the floor, the way it would be if you cut your hand and it bled onto the floor. Or the way candle wax might drip. But candle wax doesn't smell of blood.
Poltergeist. That was the only possible explanation. Not your friendly, harmless kind of poltergeist either, bleeding all over our floor. Was it a sign? Were we to follow up clues of a long ago death on just such a night at the very same spot hundreds of years ago? Would we have to talk to neighbourhood elders to discover the truth buried in years of deceit, a la Agatha Christie?
Unfortunately no, as we discovered shortly. Simply a defunct flashlight, whose batteries had been left in too long, and had started leaking. Someone had picked it up in the fond hope of light, and had dripped pseudo-blood on the floor.
Come to think of it, we never did find out who had picked it up.
It wasn't me, nor my mother. Maybe my sister, but to this day she stoutly denies it.
Maybe... dare I say it... our friendly poltergeist...?
After all, there is someone moving things about in the kitchen and bathroom, so why not in the verandah on a dark, stormy winter’s night?