Sandeep was watching the late night edition on a news channel, completely engrossed in it to notice the quick movement behind him, across the hallway, towards the bedroom.
He was changing channels occasionally to catch something interesting.
It was then he heard it. A distinct giggle. He muted the TV. The neighbor’s kids sometimes created a din late in the night. But this sound was definitely coming from inside the house. Impossible, since he was alone at home. His wife and daughter had decided to sleep over at his in-laws’ place tonight.
“What the hell…”, he muttered and turned. “Hello. Who’s there?”
Ha..Sandeep, this isn’t a movie. Come on. He felt dumb.
He turned to the TV and increased the volume.
The voice, again. This time it was a full-throated laugh. He jumped from the couch and rushed to the bedroom, checking all the doors along the way. There were two, one beside the kitchen near the sink in the dining area, and one toward the rear, across the lobby.
There was a slum nearby – you never know, some kid might’ve gotten curious and tiptoed in. But this was ridiculous. He reached for the switch in the first bedroom.
“Come out,” he said, in a commanding voice hoping to scare the kid.
Silence. It was obvious that there wasn’t anyone here. He walked across the room and pulled open wardrobe doors and knelt down to check under the bed. Nothing. Nobody.
He stepped out. Then he made out the silhouette against the hazy moonlight in the kitchen. It was a kid. Sandeep slowly walked to the kitchen, his eyes steadfast on the child, and switched on the light.
He woke up with a start, sweating. He was breathing heavily. His wife, Malini, turned to him in her sleep, and absently threw her hand across his chest. He held her hand and looked up at the ceiling.
It was a dream? Hell, he could’ve sworn it seemed real. He swallowed, and then got up, gently lifting his wife’s hand and placing it by her side. His throat was parched. He staggered out of the bedroom and headed to the kitchen.
Huh? The TV was on. He rubbed his eyes.
And there was someone on the couch, watching that same channel. His heart racing like a sprinter now, he slowly walked to the couch and saw. It was him watching the channel, just like in the dream. What the...? But he was too sleepy. He just stood there, absently watching himself for a few seconds, his eyes drooping again, slowly. Dream, dream, he kept on repeating in his head, waiting for the other guy to disappear, and the TV to be off. Then - Oh, yes. Water. He was about to turn when the guy sitting on the couch turned to him.
“For me too.”
Sandeep almost fell back.
He awoke with a start, in that slouched position, his neck resting on the couch cushion. A political debate was playing on the TV. He lay there and opened his eyes wide, wetting his lips with his tongue and looked around. Shit..This was crazy.
It was a dream? Hell, he could’ve sworn it seemed real.
Then he heard it. A distinct giggle.