The night sky shone brilliantly as a lean, 26 year old Kashmiri lad, 6’2 in height, trudged up the roads of Bheemtal. Sameer had a degree in engineering from Delhi, and after staying with his mother for a year in his hometown, he had decided that it was time for him to get a job. He was headed towards Delhi, and on his way, halted to spend the night at Bheemtal. Clutching onto the five thousand rupees in his pocket, he was looking for a place to stay. He knew that he couldn’t spend more than a thousand rupees that night, as the money would have to suffice till his first salary.
While walking, he saw a brightly lit guesthouse at the corner of the road. As he entered, he saw a warm, blazing fire at the hearth and could smell a heavenly mutton curry. He went to the desk and asked the short, stout and bald man behind the counter about the lodging rates of the guesthouse. Sameer’s brows rose with disbelief, as he heard that it was only eight hundred rupees for a night, and two hundred, including breakfast and dinner. He quickly paid up and was then escorted upstairs where he kept his bags and came down for dinner. On the table, there was a steaming mutton curry, along with dal and rice. Almost instantaneously, his mouth started watering, and his stomach rumbled in response. He finished the dal quite fast as it was not something he particularly liked. The first piece of mutton he put in his mouth seemed to melt almost instantly, and accompanied with the rice, the mutton tasted like home to him.
After almost three helpings, Sameer quickly went up to bed. The day’s travel had exhausted him. He had a long day ahead of him and needed to rest. When he reached his room, he quickly changed and got ready for bed. Before getting into bed, he made sure that he was all packed up and ready to leave for the next day. Ensuring that everything was in place, he hastily pulled the sheets over him, tucking himself in, as that was to only way to battle the spiteful cold. At first, the unfamiliar atmosphere kept him from sleeping, but soon the metronomic ticking of the clock lulled him to sleep. He was engulfed by darkness and his fatigue was soon forgotten.
Suddenly, the loud dinging of the grandfather clock down the hall woke him up with a jolt. When he looked out of the window, he saw that the sky was still pitch black and the stars were twinkling like sparkling diamonds in the sky. He was about to hush himself back to sleep when he heard the floorboards and door creaking. Assuring his perplexed mind that it was perhaps just the wind, he finally managed to fall asleep again. When the rattling of the door of the adjacent room was heard, Sameer woke up slowly and skeptically. He grabbed his torch from his bag and stepped outside to investigate. When he went out, he noticed that the formerly brightly lit guesthouse was now enveloped by a bone chilling darkness. He went ahead and saw that a man was standing in front of the stairs. It was the same bald, stout man who was behind the desk. Sameer said,” Excuse me, I just heard a weird noise, could you tell me what’s going on here?”. The man responded by saying, “Oh! The rattling ,sir? I must have forgotten to mention that we charge five hundred rupees extra for special services called the ‘Crimson Ride’.” He turned around and grinned, his teeth were stained red and he held a knife dripping with blood in his hands. Sameer stared at him... aghast. An unwelcoming warmth surged through the partly digested mutton in his stomach, when his torch lights flickered.
- Stuti Bhattacharya