From the Frankly Spooking outtakes
Sagarika paid the rickshaw driver and got down. She dug out the piece of paper from her bag and checked the address again. This was it. She’d had to read the ad twice to actually believe it. A two bedroom house as a PG accommodation, just so the landlord wanted someone respectable to live there in the absence of their daughter, who was abroad? You must be kidding me, she’d thought.
But then again, she’d heard a lot of stories about gregarious Albert Town folks who’d gone so far as to even arrange for weddings of their PG tenants, mostly girls who’d grown close to them like their own daughters. These girls would’ve lived in the PGs for more than 5 years, graduating from fresh-out-of-college gigglers to the mature-oh-so-suave-and-smart office-goers who’d gotten themselves boyfriends along the way and then would’ve introduced them to their PG folks first, to their parents – later.
Oh well…thought Sagarika as she ambled along the cross road where the said house was located. She squinted her eyes to read the house numbers, some were really diffult to make out - smaller than ants, and some bigger than rats. After about seven houses, she came upon her house. No. 378 – ah, there it was.
She looked at the house from outside and almost swooned. Was it for real? A grand Victorian style house built to perfection on a modest 60X40 site (yeah, A good old Victoria on the said dimension was always a tough feat to achieve). She complimented the architect mentally, thanking him, whoever he or she was. She pushed open the iron gate and stepped in. There was a lush garden on her left, with a few trees lining up the wall and a small bench even, in the middle. That was awesome. And the partly cloudy sky made it all look so beautiful, so picturesque.
From the gate, a cemented pathway led a visitor straight to the main door of the house. Sagarika walked slowly, taking in the surroundings. She’d already made plans with the lawn – Where she’d sip her Sunday cocktail, where she’d hang up her hammock and read a novel on those lazy Sunday afternoons. And hey, wouldn’t hurt to invite the old couple to a few barbeque parties she’d throw for her friends.
That is, after she’d made enough money to buy barbeque grills and earned enough friends in this new city. She laughed at her own chicken, which hadn’t hatched yet. She now stood in front of the door; a small whoop of pleasant surprise escaping her lips. She couldn’t believe they still made that – a large round bracelet-type ring screwed on in the middle of the door, for you to knock it with. She knocked a few times gleefully. Felt good. Oh, there was a doorbell too. She rang it once.
As she waited for the owners to arrive, she looked up and down the house, the stone walls, the creepers climbing up to the rooftop, the myriad designs on the windows. Then her eyes fell on the outhouse to the right. It was slightly smaller, but looked like a residence nonetheless. Probably the servants. And then she saw the window on the first floor of that house open and a woman part the curtains. The old lady was about to open her mouth when Sagarika heard someone clear his throat and turned to look back.
“Another software engineer, I’m sure.” Said an old man, perhaps in his 80s. She looked around and then at him. She hadn’t noticed him earlier. Maybe he was tending to the plants behind the trees.
She raised her eyebrow. “I’m sorry…sir, did you say something to me?” She started walking towards him; studied him. He certainly didn’t seem like the landlord. His clothes seemed old and ragged. Maybe he was that lady’s husband, in the outhouse. And he had an old cap perched on his head. Like the one Sherlock Holmes used to wear.
For a minute he looked puzzled, a little shocked even, like she wasn’t supposed to have heard what he said, but she had anyway. He then stood still, seeing her approach him.
Just then the old lady from the out house called out from behind her. “Excuse me, child…but have you come for the PG?”
“Oh yes aunty,” Sagarika said walking to her now.
The old lady smiled. “You love plants?”
“You love plants,” the woman said. “You were talking to..”
“Oh that, yeah…” Sagarika turned to point at the old man, but he wasn’t there. Must have gone around to the backyard. The woman opened the door and led her inside.
“Come, come, child, come in. My name is Martha.” They shook hands.
The old lady smiled. They toured the house slowly, looking at each room.
Sagarika was in total awe of the house. “ It’s so beautiful”. The rent was a steal. And Martha had thrown in the morning breakfast too, with the works.
They walked around a bit more. Sagarika couldn’t believe her luck.
“Aunty, you said in the ad that your daughter is in the US. Is she planning to return?”
Martha shook her head, and then shrugged. “But who knows…she might. Her grandfather loved this house so much…this house actually was built by him. And he lived a long life here. Used to love little Lisa.” She looked at Sagarika’s questioning look. “Oh..Lisa is my daughter’s name.” Sagarika smiled.
“Lisa had told her grampa that she would continue living here, no matter what. So..we’re a little apprehensive renting it out, actually…but..times are bad, child. You understand na?”
“We need the money,” Martha said, letting out a sigh. “So…we told Lisa that we’d only give it to respectable girls. And we’d charge very less..”
Sagarika looked at the old lady sympathetically. They were back in the main hall. Sagarika looked at the huge paintings adorning the walls. Forefathers and other members of the family, she guessed.
And oh, there was a picture of that old man she spoke to outside. Only a little younger. Sagarika smiled at the Sherlock Holmes hat. Too bad he had the same frown on his face, and his eyes seemed to pierce hers. She wondered how she’d put up with him here. She imagined a fussy old man with a long list of dos and don'ts.
Then her eyes fell on the portrait beside him. It was Martha’s.
“Oh, that’s you…” She started saying, and turned to Martha. But the old lady had disappeared.
Suddenly the hall resounded with a low drone gurgle that turned into laughter. Martha.
“Bloody hell,” Sagarika said, looking around frantically. The house now began to change color. It grew darker inside. The walls started looking old, there were cob-webs everywhere; and the floor turned dusty.
Suddenly the old man’s picture fell off the hook and onto the floor with a resounding crash, sending a cloud of dust flying all over.
The laughter died down, giving way to an eerie silence. Sagarika turned and fled toward the door. As she neared it, it made a creaking sound and closed with a thud.
“No, no, no,” Sagarika screamed, rushing to it. She tried pulling it open. “Come on, open up.”
Then she started banging on it – maybe someone would hear it outside. “Help,” she shouted.
She gave up after her hands started hurting. Tired, she turned back, and jumped out of her skin.
Martha was standing behind her, blood dripping from her eyes.
“Please don’t go, child. Please,” She sobbed, slowly walking towards Sagarika.
Then as she stood inches from a petrified Sagarika, the old lady’s lips curved into a grin.