Monday, September 30, 2013

Closing soon...

From the Frankly Spooking outtakes

They ate steamed corn and walked over to the main lounge on the second floor. It was a new mall; a lot of shops were yet to come up. The shape was a funny hexagon, and seemed like the shops would never end. But when they came back to where they started from, Deepa heaved a sigh of relief and laughed. Ashok shook his head too. “Phew.”

Just then tucked away between the wash-rooms and the audio shop, in an L-shaped corner, was another shop. Deepa craned her neck to see what it was. Looked like a garment store. Ashok was looking the other way, at the Apple store across the circular lobby.

“Baby, I’ll just step into that shop for a second?” She said, tugging at Ashok’s sleeve.

“Hmm? Oh, ok..I’m at that Apple store,” he said.

She smiled. “Okie dokie.”


Deepa pushed the glass door and stepped in. There was nobody in the store. Maybe they'd stepped out for a break. Deepa looked at the dresses on display and started browsing. Impressive. This was really good stuff. They were all arranged on stands in neat rows. She went on seeing, and after a while, it was like a maze. There were so many designs, so many colors, it blew her mind.

Wow..this is some collection.

She never realized the time. Oh, there was another room inside.

She stepped into that room and her jaw literally dropped.

Was this even possible? This was like a dungeon of dresses. How come they had such a humungous room here? She thought they were on the far corner, where at the most, the store front was all they could manage with that space. This was endless.

Deepa stepped in further, and several lights came on at once, bright and shiny. Automated lights. Not bad. She started walking along the rows of cloth-stands. She had never seen so many designs in her entire life. She considered herself an avid shopper. Even by her standards, these designs were all unique. She sighed. Oh, if only she had the dough to pick up everything. Like a school girl, she giggled and moved on inside.

She approached the end of a row, near the other end of the hall when the lights went out.


She waited for the backup lights to come on anytime now. That never happened. She let out a loud sigh.

“Hello,” She turned in the direction of the store front. Maybe they were back and would step in any moment now with some sort of a backup light and an explanation.

But nobody came.

Just then her phone rang. “Oh thank heavens,” she said out loud. It was Ashok.

“Where are you?” He said, sounding a little impatient.

“I…I’m right here Ashok. The damn lights’ve gone out. I’m coming out. You done?”

“Done? Deepa, it’s more than an hour since you went..”

“What? No, impossible. It’s just been like what..10 minutes?”

Ashok laughed. “Come on, honey.”

“No really. Ok, I’m coming out,” She said and started to make her way out, but she just kept on walking.

“Funny, I could’ve sworn the door of this hall was right here,” she muttered as she thought she’d approached the doorway. Ashok was still on the line.

“Any problem? I’m coming there,” he said.

“Yeah..could you please? Nobody was here when I came in. Please call someone and tell them the lights aren’t coming on either.”

“What lights?”

“Hasn’t there been an outage?” Deepa asked, sounding a little worried now.


“Shit..something must’ve happened here then.”

She reminded herself not to step into a new mall, still half way in development.

She hung up and pointed the cell phone’s light at the rows of dresses, to make her way around. She could see the wall on the other side. Strange. The hall didn’t seem so large now. Maybe it was the semi-darkness. Maybe there were mirrors. She couldn’t care less now. She wanted to get out.

Ashok called again.

“Yeah,” she said.

“Where are you? Which shop is it?”

“Arre, the one beside the wash-rooms – It’s called..some “Mirage..something…you can’t miss it, sweety.”

“I’m standing right beside the wash-room area, Deepa. There’s nothing here.”



“No, no..that can’t be. It has to be there. Just ask someone around na?”

She could hear him asking someone. He came back online.

“What did you say the name was…?”

“Ashok, how the hell does it matter what name? The shop’s right beside…wait. I can see a light come on. I’m coming there.”

She found the door and walked through. The store looked different now, and the lights were still very dim. She found the familiar rows of dresses and started walking. She reached the front portion and let out a sigh.

“Ah, I’m here..see, I see you there. Come on in.” She waved at Ashok, who was outside the glass door and looking everywhere else but at her.

Ashok looked around, looked through her, and then back at something else.

“Arre, Ashok…I’m here,” She said and stepped towards the door. But there was none. It was all a glass wall.

What the hell was happening. She was getting irritated now.

“Where?” Ashok asked.

“Turn to your right.”

He turned at looked straight at her. She looked at him and waved. But he kept on looking through her.


“Ashok, you’re looking at me. Hellllloo..” She waved frantically. He looked puzzled.

“Where are you? I’m just staring at a wall here.”

Wall? Her heart racing, she slowly came to the glass wall and touched it. What the hell was Ashok saying? She was looking right at him. Why couldn’t he see her?

She called out to the store keeper. “Hello. Hello, I’m stuck here. Where are you?”

No reply.

She looked back at Ashok.

“I…I’m right here, baby, please don’t say you can’t see me” she said. Her voice had dropped down to a whimper now.

“Sweety, don’t worry, I’ll get to you..just tell me where you are.”

“I’m right here, damn it,” She shouted.

“Hello?” Ashok said.

“Ashok…can’t you…can’t you hear me?” She said, tears welling up in her eyes.

“Hello?” He repeated, looking at his phone and again putting it to his ear.

She banged the glass wall, sobbing.

“Please…let me out of here…”

“Hello, Deepa..Deepa?” Ashok kept on saying.

Exhausted, she hung up and turned around. The walls of the store were now closing in on her and the lights getting dimmer. She turned to look at Ashok, who was still looking around frantically. He was talking to one of the house-keeping staff, pointing to where Deepa was.

But the other guy was shaking his head, as if to say, “No, there’s nothing behind this wall, no shop.”

And then, Deepa remembered the name of the shop.

Mystic Maze.


Thursday, September 26, 2013


From the Frankly Spooking outtakes

The quiet of the night was shattered by a rudely loud “You bloody bitch”, the last word rising a few decibels higher than the rest.

A door opened and slammed somewhere, and many girls, standing and chatting in groups, in the corridors of the working womens’ hostel, could see a figure emerge out of that door and move rapidly towards the far end of the wing.

Comments ranged from hushed tones to audible banter.

“Who was that?”

“Oofff..the drama has started again.”

“It’s Neha. Stomping off to pick a fight with someone, I’m sure. Wonder who’s the target this time.”

For the uninitiated, the object of gossip here was Neha. She was known for her wicked temper, manipulative demeanor, and a vicious “I-hold-a-grudge-against-anyone-crossing-my-path” attitude. Her latest target was apparently Ankita, her colleague and more importantly team member. The hostel grapevine had it that Ankita was a better performer at office, than Neha, and this more often than not, landed her in the direct line of Neha’s sarcastic fire, sometimes leaving a dazed and hurt Ankita silently licking her wounds in the bathroom. A recluse, Ankita hardly ever shared her sob story with anyone in the hostel. And whatever little was known, came from Neha’s roomie, who would invariably let out nuggets of the office war to the others. Some were true, some made up purely for dramatic effect, and some, well, totally hogwash.

But on this calm and quiet October night, Neha’s ire was a certain missive she received in her inbox, from their boss Vikram Deshpande. The email was obviously a result of Ankita’s report of Neha’s disgusting behavior and a few minutes after her storming out the room, word went out that Neha had been fired on that very email.

“Oh my God, poor Ankita. I hope she’s not in the hostel tonight. This one’s going to kill her for sure.”

And well, they might not have been entirely wrong in speculating that one. Neha was indeed on fire.

“Where’s she?” She stormed into Ankita’s room and came out.

“Kusum, where’s Ankita?” Neha literally caught Kusum’s collar and asked.

“Hey, let go Neha…I don’t know.”

Letting her go, Neha stomped towards the bathrooms.


She found Ankita in the first bathroom, standing in a corner, hiding her face and sobbing.

“Ah, the great Ms. Spitfire is here, huh? Or shall we say, the squealer? You bloody bitch…”

She waited for a response but Ankita continued sobbing.

“Oh stop it Ankita. Stop being such a saint. The whole world knows what you did with my boyfriend. And now this. How…how dare you. How dare you go and tell all that nonsense to that fucking creep, Vikram. What on earth made you think you could get away with...”

Just then a blood-curdling scream from the adjacent bathroom made her jump and she walked out to the main corridor . She saw many girls running in the direction of the scream. Neha went with them to have a look. “I’ll deal with this scum later,” she thought.

She elbowed her way in with the others. Collective gasps, wails, moans, and assorted screams escaped the girls’ lips as neared the scene. Neha slowly made her way in and came to the spot. An involuntary gasp escaped her lips as well.

There, in one of the small clearing areas, hanging from a hook on the wall, was Ankita’s limp form. Her eyes were almost popping out, and her broken neck all but managed to hold the rest of her body together.

Neha, disbelief, shock, and a host of other varied expressions darting across her face, slowly walked back looking down at the floor and stood outside the bathroom. Many more women hurried past her, some pushing her in the process. But Neha was oblivious. She kept looking at the floor blankly.

She then looked up and toward the other bathroom where she’d just blasted Ankita.  She slowly walked in that direction, her steps almost zombie-like. She peeped into the the bathroom and slowly entered. She stood in the place she thought she’d seen Ankita. She had seen her right here, by the basin mirror. She could swear she had seen her. Sobbing away like she usually did. Making the whole world hate her (Neha). And now…

She bent down and splashed some water on her face. And when she rose…

She heard a giggle, and looked behind her in the mirror. Ankita.

Her heart leaping to her mouth, she swung around sharply. Nobody was there.

Then the lights went out. And the bathroom door slammed shut.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Attic

From the Frankly Spooking outtakes

It was not the first time Aabha heard sounds coming from the attic. It could’ve been rodents – her mom always thought it was that, her dad would always shake his head and continue reading the newspaper, paying no attention whatsoever to whatever Aabha had to say after he was done shaking his head.

So there.

So it was on a Sunday afternoon, Aabha – armed with two to three packets of rat kill tablets, a canister of ‘hit’, and bread crumbs, climbed the rickety stairs to the attic. She always wondered what the attic contained.

“Oh, some old stuff from your great-grand father’s time, a trunk full of junk, and then some,” her father would shake it off.

Strange. Why didn’t these guys realize that an attic with relics such as those had a good chance of having stuff worth over lakhs of rupees, to say the least. And she wouldn’t let all that crumble to dust just because some gluttonish rat decided to make it an ‘all-you-can-eat’ buffet paradise.

“Here I come, Jerry.”

She pulled the cloth mask over her nose and mouth, and stepped into the attic. It was dark, though some light did come in from the squarish window on the far side. She flicked on her cell phone’s torch and searched for the light switch. It would be a wonder if it worked. But it did. A dusty 40-watt bulb flickered itself on. There were assortments. The odd trunk, everything covered in cobwebs, of course just like in the scary movies. The dampness inside made her suffocate. Luckily she’d sprayed on some fragrance into the cloth mask. She coughed her way around, looking for her enemy.

“Come out, come out..wherever  you are,” she whispered. The floor beneath her creaked.

“Aabha,” her mother called from below.

“I’m here,” she hollered back.

She could hear her mother cursing her for climbing up there.  She’d done it a few times as a child, but soon after had lost interest in it. Now, after almost 10 years, she had somehow decided that something really vintage was lying around there. And she decided to clean up the place, have an auction perhaps. In the garage.

“You’re nuts,” her best friend Aarti had told.

“Tell that when I laugh my way to the bank.”

Goodness..I can’t believe we live right below this trash can. It needs a thorough vacuuming.

She shone her torch at all the the nooks where light didn’t make it. No movement, just the good old cockroaches and lizards flitting around. Then she heard a distinct thump behind her, to the right.


 She turned slowly, crouching, and placing a few poison pellets below a smallish table, from where the sound seemed to come.

“Here ratty, ratty, ratty…” she whispered, and pulled back, waiting for the creature to come out. She sat still for a while, sweat breaking out on her brow. She breathed heavily, and looked around; mentally calculating the amount of time it would take to sanitize the place.

I’ll have to ask Rohan to get some guys. We need to take down the trunk first. And then…

She heard a thump from inside the heavy wooden trunk right behind her, against which she reclined, making her jump.

Shit, what was that…

She stood up and looked at the trunk. The thumping continued. She pulled the heavy latch out, and slowly opened the lid, shining her torch at the contents inside. The thumping was coming from a box. Her hands shaking, she clutched the handle of the box and pulled it out, placing it on the floor.

She then took a deep breath. Here goes…

She opened the lid. It was empty. What the…

She looked inside the trunk again. If it wasn’t the box, where was the sound coming from? She looked back at the empty box. The thumping went on. She frantically looked behind the trunk now, the suspense getting to her.

Come on…

She turned to check on the pellets. Looked like a whole colony of rodents in here. She walked over to another corner where she hadn’t checked. But the sound definitely came from near the trunk. She walked back and stood with hands on her hips. Hmmm.

She squinted her eyes, the dim light from the bulb making it all very hazy, but did she just see the box move? She crouched and kept looking at the box.

It did move!

She shook her head, tied back her hair tighter and positioned herself properly, on her knees. She shone the torch at the box now. Her heart pounding, she watched the box slowly changing its shape, while the sound continued. It was as if something invisible were squeezing the box right in front of her eyes. So it wasn’t wooden after all. Felt like it, though.

She watched as the box got squeezed some more, like dough, and melted onto the floor. Holy shit...

The light went out suddenly, making her drop her cell phone. She patted the floor around her to search, but she couldn’t find it. Damn, damn, damn. She was now scared to cross the ‘box’ or whatever it had turned into, and reach for the door, which she’d closed behind her. That was dumb, Aabha.

She cleared her throat and tried to shout her mother’s name, but nothing came out.

She then felt something cold, something liquid move across her feet. She pulled back with a scream that now escaped her lips, hoping her mom would hear her at least now. But the cold fluid just kept coming at her. Breathing heavily, almost weeping, she shrank back, trying to shake it off. But she couldn’t.

Caught unawares, she felt something push her roughly as she fell back.  She tried to get up but the force just kept pushing her down, until she was lying on her back,  unable to move her limbs or face. The cold liquid engulfed her.


Aabha’s mother stood below the attic and called out. She’d heard Aabha cry out. Not that it was anything new. She’d been hearing her scream ever since she was a small girl. But she didn’t reply now.

“Aabha, what’s it baby…are you ok?”

No reply.  She turned and left.


The light came back on in the attic; the small box had come back to its original shape, and was now rolling back into the open trunk.

But the thumping continued... a bit faster now.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Playlist, on demand

From the Frankly Spooking outtakes

"…Seagull airlines flight no….boarding from gate A…requested to…"

Esha Nigam could faintly hear these words coming from the ancient public announcement system. She adjusted her back against the uncomfortable chair and looked at the flickering display that went blank every few minutes. Her connecting flight was almost an hour later, at midnight. At this odd hour, the airport activity was relatively slower. She could count the number of passengers. It was a small town after all.

She buried herself inside the best-seller, oblivious to everything else. A few minutes later, she bookmarked her page, closed her eyes and reclined. She was even tapping her foot gently and mouthing the words of the song that played on her iPod.

“I just love this song," said a voice, softly.

Esha’s eyes flew open. Who was that?

Her song was still playing. But she’d heard those words clearly, in her ears. She pulled out her earphones and looked around. There was nobody sitting beside her, or for that matter, anywhere in her row or the row in front and back. Just an old man in the first row, snoring away. He was more than four rows apart. He couldn’t possibly have said that.

She shrugged, plugged her earphones back, and opened her book again.

She'd barely finished a page, when it happened again.

A chuckle, this time. She switched off her iPod and closed the book. The earphones stayed, though.

“Yeah, I know. It happens sometimes,” the voice said.

“Who…who’s this?” She said softly, looking around. What on earth was happening?

“Please don’t stop the music,” the voice whispered.

Esha looked at the display. Her flight was on-schedule. Then the screen flickered and a music video appeared. It took her just a second to realize it was the same song playing in her ears a moment ago. She looked to her right again. Everything seemed so normal. The airport staff was moving around, people milled about, maintenance staff were doing their job. So, what the heck was this?

She kept her eyes glued on the display and switched on the music again. It was in perfect sync with the video, almost like the video had been playing all along and she’d just switched off the audio.

On a hunch, she jumped to the next song. The video changed too. She played random tracks from her list. Every single time, the video on the display matched the audio. She sunk back in her seat.

“Nice,” The voice said. “Now, I don’t want this moment to end.”

Esha’s heart raced and she immediately switched everything off. The video changed, back to the flight schedule. She sighed. Phew.

The flight names appeared. But the time against each one read '00.00'.

She then turned to her right slowly, beads of sweat slowly rolling down her forehead.

The airport was empty now. Not a soul.

“He he he he he,” came the voice from the earphones.

Then the music started all over again. So did the video on the display screen.

But her iPod was still off.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Heads you win, Tails I lose

From the Frankly Spooking outtakes

Raghupathy looked out his window and sighed. He was an Assistant Manager in his company and things looked up; he would even make it Manager in a year's time if he performed at this rate. But now, a dumb mistake in his personal life was about to cost him his job, and family.

It was a one-night stand as far as he was concerned, nothing more. But he hadn't reckoned it to be such a juggernaut, threatening to engulf him and throw him off the cliff. But there it was, and he couldn't ignore it.

As all cliched one-night-stands go, he met Pramodini on a business tour. Her pull was irresistable, and a few drinks later he'd found himself in her bed...not to mention life. Initially the arrangement was convenient and worked well for both. No strings attached, just some good ol' rolling in the hay once a while. But knowing the ways of the world, Raghu hadn't quite prepared himself for the emotional barrage that would eventually emerge. Pramodini wanted more than a fair share of her pie. And Raghupathy didn't have the time, energy or guts to fulfill her wishes. And he couldn't just wish her away. She was after all flesh and blood. And he didn't want to belittle himself and her by offering monetary compensation.

He'd tried it once, subtly though. But she'd seen through it. "Is this about money, huh Raghu? Don't push it, Mister. If it were about money, you'd be a pauper by now. Just be thankful for that."

And they'd left it at that. Would he leave his wife for her? "Pramodini, you know it's impossible," was his argument.

And it went on...and pretty soon, his worst fears started making brief appearances in front of him, like those annoying mosqitoes humming right into your ears. Only these weren't annoying, they were most likely to give him a heart condition. Pramodini threatened to go to his wife, Shilpa.

"This is going to ruin her life too, and you can't sit smug about it. She has a right to know the truth. And if you can't do it, I'll do it."

Shilpa was extremely senstive. And she couldn't bear to take the news. But he knew Pramodini was a determined girl, and one day she'd do it. He pursed his lips and headed back to his desk, thinking. Thinking hard.


It was almost 9 in the night, when he parked his car a couple of streets away and walked briskly to Pramodini's building.

They hugged each other wordlessly as he entered the living room.

He walked to the couch as she followed him. He turned. "Uh, Pam..listen. Can you fix me a drink sweety? I'm all drained out..and, I want to talk."

"Sure," Pramodini said, heading to the fridge. "The usual?" Raghupathy nodded and stretched on the couch, loosening his tie.

"What about you?" He asked seeing a single glass in her hand.

"Me? go on."

In reply he just rose and headed to the fridge himself, fixing her a drink. "You'll need this, baby, trust me," he laughed nervously, handing her the glass and plomping on the couch again. She was still standing.

"Cm'here," He beckoned her by his side, and pulled her to him soon as she sat. She squirmed.

"Pam sweety, I've been thinking know, what you said..and I agree, it's mighty unfair on you.."

She looked on, her face slowly changing expression. But he wasn't noticing. He sipped from his glass and continued.

"I've decided to leave Shilpa."

He was expecting a hug from her. Instead, she looked at him silently and opened her mouth so say something. He waited. Maybe it was too good for her to believe. He'd always maintained that he'd never leave his wife, no matter what. He would take care of Pramodini as well, but would never ever leave his wife. So, maybe this was unexpected.

"I'm serious honey," Raghupathy continued.

Pramodini was still silent, tears slowly peeping from the corners of her eyes.

"Oh, baby," Raghupath tried to pull her to him. She shrank back. .

He hesitated for a minute, then sat back and continued. "Soon as I go home tonight, I'll tell Shilpa everything. And'll be a while before I prepare the divorce papers, know, the works."

He searched her eyes. Something was amiss. She wasn't herself. She didn't seem to be registering what he was saying.

"Baby, are you ok?" He reached out touching her cheek. She hastily wiped her eyes and got up.

"I'm, I'm fine..excuse me...," she muttered and headed to the bathroom.

She was back in a while and sat down. She gulped her drink in one go as he looked on surprised.

"Raghu..I too want to say something. I thought you'd never tell Shilpa about me. And I didn't want this life, not like this anyway. I couldn't take it anymore Raghu, I couldn't wait forever. So I..."

She could never complete the sentence as she gagged on her drink, clutched her throat and keeled over to the carpet. She had a puzzled look on her face as she coughed, trying to throw up the poisonous liquor that seethed down to her system, quickly immobilizing her.

"I'm sorry, sweetheart," Raghupathy said, fighting back tears. "I didn't have a choice. I..."

The small bottle, knocked by his hand, fell to the floor. She looked at it, her sight blurring slowly as she read the words 'Mortein'. She looked up at Raghupathy, trying to mouth the word 'why'. But he just sat there.


Back in the car, he made a quick checklist. He'd taken all the photographs of them together, anything that spoke of his presence in that house, anything that associated her to him and vice versa. He'd made sure no one saw him enter the house. He'd wiped off all the prints. He mentally ticked all these points and leaned back in his car. He felt awful doing this, but he had no choice. Time would heal this. In time he'd get past this and move on. He reminded himself not to repeat this mistake again.

A while later, a strange fear clouded him. Pramodini wanted to say something. Did she have copies of all the evidence? Had she informed someone? She was smart - capable. What if she'd arranged for information to reach the cops somehow. Or even the media. Blackmail. Anything was possible. What if the cops came looking, and found something that gave him away? And then there was the fact that he'd actually killed someone. It wasn't something that you did, as an honest citizen of this country. He couldn't negate the fact that he was now a potential suspect and this could cost him more than just his job and family. But he took a deep breath and crossed his fingers. Let's just get past things one at a time.

The inner ghosts could be handled later.

"But what about the ones outside, Raagu? What about them?" said a voice behind him and he swung back sharply, spraining his neck.

"Shilpa? How the hell...were you inside all the time? When did you..," he tried to speak all at once, words failing him. His mind was reeling. He turned his bewildered eyes on the road for a moment to avoid any accident, and continued to look in the rear view mirror.

Damn, what was wrong with the mirror? He turned it a bit to see clearly. Then his heart almost leapt out of his mouth. He panned the entire back seat with the mirror again. But he couldn't see her.

His hands shook terribly as he turned back to the wheel and realized that she'd reacted to his thought, and not words.

"No point looking in the mirror darling," Shilpa said sadly. Raghupathy stopped the car without looking back.

Then he slowly turned back. There was something wrong with her hairdo. "What happened to your..." he stopped midway. It couldn't be. A portion of her head on the left was...was missing. It was just a big, lumpy, bloody mess.

"It's a bullet wound, sweetheart," Shilpa said smiling sadly. Then she suddenly laughed, before turning sad again.

"It's all over, baby. Pramodini called me this afternoon...and well, I couldn't continue living after hearing it, so..." She pointed sadly at her own wound, her eyes boring his. "I'm sorry..." Her eyes beseeched.

"I'm sorry too," said another voice suddenly. He squinted his eyes. Pramodini suddenly appeared beside Shilpa, a white froth slowly seeping out from a corner of her mouth.

Raghupathy turned back for a second, his head throbbing. He grunted and gasped, trying hard to breathe, but he couldn't. He clutched his chest, and quickly tried to unbutton his shirt. A moment later he slumped on the wheel.