I wrote this story about four years ago, right here. I 'redux'd a lot of my earlier stories here, but not this one. I guessed it'd be a good time to put it up, for all those who missed it then. :)
Meera and Vasu stepped out into the sunlight, basking in the pleasant winter warmth. They looked at each other knowingly. This was perfect. The house of their dreams. It had just about everything they wanted in their ideal home. Dinakar, the broker locked the house and followed them to the front gate.
"So, Mr. Vasudev...what do you say?" He looked at the couple with that hopeful look, knowing fully well they'd liked the place. He could always tell when the woman of the house was happy with a house.
Vasu hemmed and hawed, trying to sound as calm and composed as possible. Meera tapped her toes impatiently, clenched her fists, and tried to look the other way. She knew if she so much as looked at Dinakar's face, he'd know they'd bitten the bait. But what the heck. They loved the house. So why deny it? She wished Vasu would close the deal soon.
"So..uh, the rent you quoted...is that final?" Vasu almost sighed.
"Sir, why would I be unreasonable with you, you tell me?"
"No, but still...you know, it's a great house, and you're quoting a bit less than what is normally expected of this kind of a house. You're sure nothing's wrong with it?"
Dinakar closed his eyes and smiled, a saintly nod accompanying that, and he put up his palm. "Yes, sir..I do understand that. But like I told you, the landlord wants to join his son abroad, and presently he's not in a position to sell the house either. He's a simple man. He just wants to ensure the house is occupied in his absence. He doesn't have relatives he could count on in this city. You know..."
So, it was done. Finally. They waved at Dinakar and turned to get into their car.
They didn't notice the thin guy at first. It looked like he was a passer-by, but he was actually approaching them. He coughed softly to get Vasu's attention.
"Excuse me, sir, but did you just agree to take this house?"
Vasu was not very comfortable around strangers. "And you are...?"
"Sir, I'm Hari," he said, extending his hand. Vasu ignored him and tried to size him up.
"Look sir, I don't want to be rude, and it is none of my business, but I felt it's my duty to caution you about certain things."
The couple exchanged glances; Meera shook her head.
Vasu turned to the guy. "Do you live in this area?"
"Yes, sir I do. And...this house..it's just that, this house..nobody has been living here for the last 5 years now."
"Really? I don't think so, it looked well maintained, and Dinakar told us that the landlord..."
The stranger shook his head sorrily and chuckled. "Dinakar. It's business for him, sir. He'll be paid a hefty commission for getting tenants for this house, right?"
"And in any case, that guy is..forget it," He waved it aside.
Vasu motioned Meera to get inside the car and closed the driver's door.
"Ok, tell me. What's it ?"
"Sir, this house is...," He peered at Meera nervously and turned to face Vasu. "it's haunted, sir."
And he went on to recount instances of how the house got haunted, what happened to subsequent tenants etc etc.
Vasu laughed, and then looking at the guy's reaction, sobered down.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to..you know...but uh, well. You see I don't believe in all this. So..it's ok. Thanks for the update, anyway." He extended his hand to the guy.
Inside the car, Meera looked on as Vasu started driving.
"What did he say?"
"Huh?" Vasu continued driving.
"Come on, Vasu, what did the guy say?" Meera waited for him to turn to her.
Vasu threw a quick glance at her and turned to the wheel again. "Hmm, nothing of importance. Just wanted to warn me about this Dinakar guy. Says he lives in the neighborhood, and cautioned me about him."
They were silent for a while.
"That wasn't all, was it?" Meera started.
"Sweetheart, that was all. Really." Vasu smiled at her.
"Don't hide anything from me, Vasu. Please." Meera looked out her window seriously.
"Now, come on Meera," he began, then stopped. He drove on for a while, and found an empty spot below a tree. He pulled up and shut the engine.
"Ok, " He said, sighing. "He says the house is haunted."
"What? And you say it was nothing? Vasu, come on..." Meera looked at him in disbelief.
"Honey, we can't take a stranger's word on this one, just because he's from around here. And besides..." Vasu took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "... who knows. Maybe he wants the house for himself, so he's pulling a fast one on us. Who knows how many prospective tenants he's turned away."
"Vasu. I know I might sound primitive, superstitious and all that, but remember what happened to Karthik uncle?" Meera said.
"That was totally different. And they all knew it from the start. There was an eerie air around that episode. But this..." He turned to face her now.
"This is a great house. Something we've been wanting ever since we moved to this city. Right?"
He looked at her imploringly.
"I don't know, Vasu..." Meera said, her voice droning as she again looked out her window.
"Look at me. Baby...," He gently held her chin and turned her face to him.
"Ok, here's the deal. I'll call Dinakar right now and set this whole thing right. Ok?"
"Yeah, right. As if he'll just fold up and cry mercy for giving us a haunted house. Vasu. Why would he admit to anything like that? Like that guy back there said, it's business for him, isn't it?" Meera looked into his eyes.
"And remember the rent he quoted? You asked him about it, didn't quite sound right for that house, hmm?" She raised her eyebrows.
Vasu turned to look outside through the windscreen. That was right. He'd not thought about that. Maybe there was something in this. And though he didn't believe in these spooky stories, maybe he didn't want to mess it up for Meera.
Two months later.
Vasu burst into the living room, his body stiff with rage. Meera was flipping through the news channels.
"What's it, sweetie?" She asked.
"I was passing by the area where we saw that house. Remember?"
"And guess who I saw?"
"That same guy, Hari.. that...that son of a bitch. He was walking into the gates of that house with a grocery bag in his hand. He looked at me and smiled. Can you beat that?"
"That bloke who stopped us from taking that house, with all that ghost bullshit. That guy."
Vasu then gave her the 'I-told-you-so' look.
"Vasu, don't give me that look. You know fully well I left the decision to you finally. You did all the background work, you found out if the house was really haunted, you blasted Dinakar and found another broker. Right? Now, don't look at me like it were my fault."
"Yeah, but didn't it turn out it wasn't haunted? I gave it up because you were uncomfortable with it, after that guy spoke to us. Son of a gun, he played with our emotions."
Vasu shook his head silently. I have to fix this guy.
Vasu rang the doorbell and waited. He was dying to see the expression of the guy when he opened the door. It was only 8 pm and he had seen the lights on the first floor come on as he was entering the gate. So he knew people were indoors.
He waited for a few more seconds before ringing the doorbell one more time. But there was no answer. Strange. He retraced his steps and walked over to the side. The blinds were apart and he could see the living room. He couldn't spot anyone but he had just seen the lights come on upstairs. Maybe the guy was alone. He pursed his lips and thought. Should he return later, the following day, perhaps? But he had to settle scores with the guy for manipulating them in this way.
He stepped out on the road and looked back once more. The house was dark now. That was strange. The power hadn't been cut anyplace else, the lights were on in all the other houses. Bloody hell, he might've seen Vasu and decided to pretend nobody was in the house. What cheek.
As he watched, the lights of the bedroom on the first floor came on, and he saw Meera standing at the window, waving her hands frantically, and shouting out to him, though no sound came from her lips. Then she turned her back to him. His mouth went dry with horror as he saw the blade of an axe lodged in her head. He wanted to cry out her name, but his voice was stuck.
Then, she turned back and transformed into Hari again, smiling and waving Vasu goodbye.
The lights went out, covering the house in darkness again.