Neeraj and Prakash were in Neeraj’s farm house for just over a day and they were bored to death already. Their summer vacations had begun and Neeraj’s father had promised them some great trekking on the mountains alongside their farm house. But unfortunately he had to rush back to the city for some unforeseen business, stranding the two boys in the lonely place all by themselves. Neeraj’s mother, who was also an entrepreneur, was to join them a couple of days later. That left them with more than 48 hours of boredom.
“Come on Neeraj, this is so boring – and I’ve not even got my games with me,” Prakash said, the evening Neeraj’s father left.
“Come on dude, not my fault,” Neeraj said, frowning. He was equally frustrated.
It was an old ancestral farm house with a medium-sized farmland in and around. While mango was the main plantation, they also grew some coffee and other vegetables. The place was looked after by an old couple, who were now more than two decades old here. Neeraj had little inclination to come to this place aside from the fact that there was some great trekking to do behind the house, a path that lead to the mountains, and offered a great view. He usually accompanied his parents here during the vacations.
The two boys were 14 and 15 respectively. Prakash was Neeraj’s bum chum, and had visited the farm house a few times earlier. This one had turned sour though.
“Why can’t we go trekking ourselves?” Prakash said, toying with the worn out remote of the worn out old television set, as their favorite sport played on the screen. Neeraj frowned some more. “Ha. Alone? Not with my dad around, buddy. He learns of it, we’ll be on the menu here the next day.”
The two boys sat silently, watching the show on mute.
“Hey,” Neeraj said a few moments later.
Prakash looked at him, puzzled.
“How about we do some trekking in and around? You know..just around the place. No going to the mountains and all…”
“Around the farm man. Just hang around the coffee plantation. Something is better than nothing, right?”
Prakash sniggered. “And then what? Do some farming as well?”
“Shut up. And…” he said, lowering his voice, “there’s that old cabin also I spoke about, remember?” He winked. Prakash just stared at him silently, a little slow to catch on until it struck him. “Oh, you mean, those ghost stories the old man keeps telling…that one?”
“But didn’t you also tell me that place was out of bounds for us?”
Neeraj clicked his tongue. “Who’s going to tell papa?”
Prakash was unsure. “I don’t know, dude…”
“ Hey, sissy. You coming or not. I’m going,” Neeraj said, on his feet already.
“What else. It’s still not dark. We can come back by then.”
“That old goose’s wife keeps looking out for us. What if she notices we’re not around and rats on us? She’s done it earlier too.”
“Man, you’re such a sport.” Neeraj was already on his way out. He stopped at the door and turned, rolling his eyes at his friend. Prakash switched off the TV and got up reluctantly. He craned his neck to check on the old woman and joined Neeraj finally.
The vegetation was at a lower plain with a lot of thick growth in between. The boys carried sticks to cut through the thick bush. They spent the first half of the morning simply trekking through the plantation. It was huge and beautiful, and they took a lot of pictures. Neeraj had already uploaded some pictures on Facebook.
A little before noon, they came upon the old well. It was clearly a very old well, maybe a half century.
“Wow,” Prakash said. He’d been to this farm house a few times earlier, but they’d never ventured to this part. He wondered why. Maybe they’d been kept from this place on purpose. Maybe the ghosts..oh well.
“Is this the spooky well? Looks pretty normal to me,” he said.
Neeraj smiled. “That’s what they want us to think. Normal. But I’m sure there’s something.”
They walked up to the well and bent over. It was quite deep, but they could see the ripples at the bottom. Their reflection bobbed up and down as a few pebbles fell into the water.
“Coo…” Prakash piped, his voice resounding across the wall of the well.
Neeraj looked around. Aside from the occasional bird and a distant dog, it was quiet and warm here. He looked at the cabin behind the well and nudged Prakash.
They stood outside the cabin, looking clueless. It was a regular cabin, with just a single room housing the water pump and generator inside. They walked around it and came back front.
“Hmm, nothing unusual here as well,” Prakash remarked. Neeraj nodded and stood.
“Maybe we ought to have come here after dark,” Prakash said, chuckling. Neeraj smiled. “yeah.”
“Shall we do that?”
Neeraj looked at his friend and raised his eyebrows. “Are you nuts? I could get killed.”
“Oh come on, you sissy..” Prakash ribbed him. The boys spent some time looking around the place.
“Give me your cell phone,” Prakash said at long last.
“What..” Neeraj started.
“Shh. Just give it.”
Neeraj handed him the instrument. Prakash took pictures of the well and the cabin, and then walked over to the edge of the well. He pointed the cell phone down and clicked a couple of pictures. The well lit up momentarily in the flash light.
Prakash was still leaning over a bit when he looked at the saved picture.
“Holy shit…,” he said, his hand and shoulder jerking suddenly; and down went the phone into the well, with a soft ‘plop’ as it dove-tailed into the water.
Neeraj took a second to register this. Prakash looked down, and then at him, open-mouthed. Neeraj ran to him and looked down.
“What the f…, Prakash…” he yelled. Prakash was holding his head, his face twisted into a knot. “Shit, shit…shit,” he said.
“Yeah, that’s right. That’s what I’ll be doing soon as I go back and tell dad about this…fuck, he’s gonna skin me alive, man. Aaargh,” Neeraj said going in circles frantically, his eyes wide open in horror and disbelief.
“Man…” Prakash clutched his hair, his jaws clenched and he hit the wall of the well with his hand. “Bloody hell.”
The boys then stood for a minute, clueless. Neeraj looked around frantically. Prakash, the ever ‘practical’ one, pursed his lips.
“What are you looking for – a rope? Do you plan to go down?”
“Do you have a better plan, genius?”
“But, Neeraj..we don’t know how deep the damn thing is, man. Just..forget about it.”
Neeraj glared at his childhood friend. “Yeah, it’s easy for you to say that, you moron. It’s not your fucking phone. Dad coughed up almost 30k for this one, and that too because I made his life hell.”
Prakash had guilt written all over his face. “I’m sorry, Neeraj..I didn’t do it on purpose. Come on..I..I’ll get you a new one.”
“Yeah? Like how? By selling your bike?”
The air got a little bit thicker with that comment. Prakash was a middle class guy, and they both knew what it took for his father to buy him the bike. Neeraj regretted it the moment he said it.
“Sorry. I’m…I’m sorry Prakash, I..I’m just so scared.”
Prakash was silent. Though hurt, he knew what his buddy was going through. “It’s ok, dude. It’s my fault.”
The two boys sat down on the ground, thinking. Neeraj was chewing on a blade of grass.
“What made you drop it, anyway?” Neeraj said finally. Prakash looked at him and shook his head.
“They’re right. The well is spooked, dude.”
An involuntary laugh escaped Neeraj’s lips. “Yeah? Is that why you dropped it?”
“Man, you’ll not believe what I saw in the phone. It was weird..I mean..really crazy.”
“Cut the crap, Prakash. Tell me.”
“I saw someone in the picture.”
Neeraj stopped chewing and let go of the grass blade. “What?”
“Yeah,” Prakash said quietly.
“You mean…” Neeraj looked at the well and back at his friend. “There? Inside?”
“Not there..I mean, in the picture I clicked.”
“Great,” Neeraj said dropping his hands. “I guess now we’ll never know, shall we?”
Prakash took a minute to realize.
“Hey.” He shoved Neeraj gently. “Don’t you believe me?”
“Yeah, I do,” Neeraj said half-heartedly.
“I said I do, man, what more do you want me to say? I just find it a little..you know – crazy. It’s not like we’re in a fucking graveyard, and neither is it in the middle of the night.”
“Are you saying you’d believe me only if it were night?”
“I don’t know, I just know that my expensive phone just fell into a well, and my fate is sealed. Is that too bloody difficult to understand. Huh?”
“Ok, ok, man…” Prakash said, throwing up his hands. “Fuck.”
Tired of thinking of alternatives, the boys decided to call it a day. They trudged back to the farm house and after a wash, plonked in front of the TV, neither really understanding or actually watching anything. Their minds were working furiously.
Neeraj lay in his bed later in the night, his eyes wide open. He still couldn’t believe he’d lost his phone, all because of a dumb picture. He wondered if Prakash was really telling the truth, or just …
He tossed and turned. His mother would be here the next day, and …and then he had an idea. He’d tell everything to his mother. She always covered up for him. Maybe she’d come up with something. She’d give him a hearing for sure, but she’d come around. She always did. He suddenly felt light. That’s it. He decided to tell Prakash about it. It wasn’t his fault really. Maybe, maybe he just freaked out looking at the dark picture. Sometimes people did strange things. He sure was pissed at his buddy, but then he was his best friend and had stuck by him through many tough spots.
He got up and headed down to the TV room. Prakash had stayed back to watch a late night movie. He descended the stairs and came to the living room. The TV was on, but Prakash was nowhere to be seen.
The caretaker who was cleaning up, came into view.
“Puttaiah, seen Prakash?”
The old man just shook his head and said, “He was here watching TV.”
“ok,’ Neeraj replied. That was informative.
Neeraj walked to the land-line and called Prakash’s cell phone. No response. He hung up.
He called out to him a few more times and went back up to his room. And there, by the window, was Prakash standing with his back to Neeraj. The room was dark, save for the light coming in from the lamp post outside the window. It was something Neeraj’s mom had felt necessary.
Neeraj shook his head.
“Bloody hell, there you are. I tried calling you so many times…”
Prakash turned around and smiled. This irritated Neeraj even more.
“What happened?” said a voice behind him, just then. Neeraj swung around sharply. Prakash was standing behind him, adjusting the string of his pyjamas. He looked up at Neeraj finally. "I was in the bathroom. I think the food was a bit heavy..” He stopped. Neeraj was looking pale.
“What’s up, dude?” Prakash said
“You were in there? Then who was there?” He turned toward the window. The curtain swayed gently. Prakash side-stepped him and came in. “Who was where?”
“There, by the window. Weren’t you standing there, just now?”
Prakash rolled his eyes. ‘I thought I just said I was in the bathroom. What’s up with you, dude?’
Neeraj looked at Prakash strangely. “Holy shit man..I just thought I saw you there, by the window. You even smiled at me.”
Prakash chuckled. “Neeraj..I think you took the well thing a little too..”
Just then Neeraj’s lost cell phone rang out from the bedside table.