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The Old Mansion

Short Story by Anita Bhattacharjee

I hurriedly ran upstairs as the strange spine chilling cry had come from same room of the old mansion. Fog engulfed the entire surrounding and there was a faint light from the half hidden corner of the room. I cursed the moment I had entered the old mansion to trace the source of the blood chilling cry that broke the silence of the night.. But now there was no turning back. I walked rapidly towards the room with dim hope of survival.In this strange mansion miles away from the civilized world, there was faint hope that even my dead body would be traced after many months.

Two months back, I applied for a job and received a telephonic interview call. A pleasant voice asked me many questions and my answers seemed perfect and up to the point. The pleasant voice hired me and sent me the appointment letter immediately. I received a weeks time to shift to the remote village and serve the poor villagers by teaching their small kids. I always wanted to serve people and perhaps after so much struggle and hardships finally life is providing me an opportunity to correct my past misdeeds. I did not think much at that moment;  in fact I was rather excited to start a new life in a new place.

I gathered few belongings and boarded the bus to the village of Raipur. It was a bumpy ride in an ordinary bus. There were few passengers in the bus and I stretched my leg in the back seat and fell asleep. I woke up with a start. The bus was partially empty except two people in the rear seat. Dusk was approaching and birds were returning to their nest before nightfall. The forest became denser and denser and darkness enveloped the sky. I lit my flashlight and moved to the rear of the bus. The two men were not very talkative but the driver gave the necessary information I wanted. From his words I gathered Raipur is a remote village situated in the heart of the forest. The villagers were simple, naive and uneducated. There is a single school in the entire locality for which I was hired as a teacher. The village was ruled in ancient times by Raja Mansing and after his death nothing remained of him, but the ancient mansion which is rapidly falling apart.

The bus finally screeched to a halt and an old man holding a lantern with feeble eyes inquired about me. I deboarded the bus and immediately regretted my decision to shift to this remote village and had a mind to reboard the bus and go back to my cozy home. But the thought of returning to my abandoned home without my Sophia was heart rendering for me. Sophia, my dear wife, died in a car accident and that perhaps was the most tragic incident in my life. I lived a life that was not worth living without my dear Sophia. The job that led me to this remote village was perhaps an escape from her thoughts and existence.

                        My leg touched a slimy body and I woke up with a start from my thoughts. We had crossed the village and approached a small cottage. The man with the lantern turned to me and said, 'This is your accommodation provided by Mr. Bhowmik. He will meet you tomorrow as he had retired for the night. Please ring the bell if you need anything and I will be there.' The slimy thing that touched my feet turned to be reptile and disappeared round the corner. I entered the house. The house immediately appealed to me - it was neat and tidy with the basic furniture - a study table, a bed , an almirah , an old antique clock. There was a back door and I tried to open the door. It was stuck and after much struggle I managed to open it. Once my eyes got accustomed I saw a huge mansion in pitch darkness. It was scary like some life size monument from some scary horror movie. I bolted the door and returned to my room. I closed my eyes and stood for a moment near the door. I opened my was pitch dark. Where was I? Perhaps I am too tired after the long journey. I tried to feel the door which I locked but there was no door only the slimy wall. I felt the ground and sat there. I heard a distant cry and banging of the door. I was dreaming-  it can't be real. I tried to call the man with the lantern ...felt dizzy and lost my senses.

                                   I woke up as daylight crept in and the chirping birds above me. The sky was filled with blue clouds. But where was I lying- I sat up and looked around. It took me a few minutes to realize that I was inside the big mansion. How did I get inside when I clearly remember I had gone back to my cottage? I stood up and tried to find a way out. I located a series of stairs after sometime and came out in the open ground . I saw my small cottage nearby, but yesterday the mansion seemed so near. Perhaps I was too tired and sleepy. I had not slept properly since Sophia's death. I entered through the back door; the room was in the same position I had left it the earlier night. I opened the front door. No one seemed around - where was the old man with the lantern? I walked on the narrow path leading to the main was so gloomy. Silence was prevalent everywhere as I had reached the end of the world. I saw a small hut behind a cluster of trees and an old lady washing clothes. I approached the lady and sat silently beside her. The old lady with wrinkled face lifted her eyes towards me.

'Are you new in this village?. I have never seen you before', she asked.

' I have been appointed by Mr.Bhowmik to teach in the village school. I came to the village last night and an old man with a lantern accompanied me to this cottage. Since then strange things had been happening to me.' I said.

The old woman nodded her head,'You are not the first person to have experienced the things you mentioned...there were two more teachers before you who narrated to me the same experience. Mr. Bowmik is a great man who had spent the best years of his life serving poor villagers. But his personal life is quite tragic. His wife died after the birth of his daughter. A maid took care of the child till she attained the age of eighteen. Then the same day, when Mr. Bhowmik was out of the village, the maid was brutally murdered and Mr. Bhowmik's daughter dissappeared mysteriously. The case remained unsolved till date'.

A shiver ran down my spine hearing the story and there I was in the middle of nowhere. I silently returned back to my cottage. The old caretaker had returned by then and got up from the chair as I entered the premises. He informed me that he lives in the village nearby and stays within the premises only in daytime. I ordered him to bring tea and snacks while I took shower and freshened up. I had my breakfast and finally unpacked my belongings. The photograph of Sophia fell out of my clothes and brought back a flood of memories. I kept the photograph safely in my diary and finally sat down to write the events of yesterday night in my diary. I dozed off after sometime, but woke up as someone knocked loudly at the door. Mr. Bhowmik entered the room with a smile,

'Welcome to the village of Raipur and my humble dwelling. We are honoured to have you here.  The school is closed for this week as the building is under maintenance. We will resume school from next week onwards. Till then you can look around and make a tour of the village. But one thing I want to make clear ...stay away from the mansion as it is rapidly crumbling down and not safe to move around. My caretaker will help you to look around the village. If you want I can also provide you a maid to take care of your house and cooking.'

I smiled back," I really appreciate your help...thanks a lot. I would like to have a maid as I don't know cooking. My wife Sophia was there to take care of me until she died last year."

Mr Bhowmik smiled sympathetically, "I understand your situation. Don't worry. I will take care of everything." Saying this he got up and reached the door.

"Mr. Bhowmik any news of your daughter? Is there anything I can do to help you?" I asked. 

A sign of fear crossed Mr. Bhowmik's face and he seemed lost somewhere. He walked out of the premises in a hurry.

I spent the day roaming around the village. The villagers were simple and naive. Few of them greeted me and the market place was small yet there were commodities for daily needs. Mr. Bhowmik seemed to be God on Earth for these simple villagers. In the evening the villagers sat near the fire and I joined them in their gossip. I gathered a lot of information about Mr. Bhowmik's daughter. Her name was Angelina and Mr. Bhowmik was very possessive of her. He was so particular about her that he did not sent her to school, rather taught her himself at home. The Villagers rarely saw her as she was not allowed to go outside her house. An old doctor spoke up that once he had the privilege to see her as she was very ill and had fainted one night. The old doctor was summoned by Mr. Bhowmik urgently. The old doctor said that Angelina who was a  sweet and innocent girl, reacted violently when she regained consciousness. She flew into wild rage and threw all her medicines saying that it contained poison. Someone planned to kill her. Before the old doctor could understand what was going on...he was sent back to the village with the explanation that Angelina was stressed out due to examination papers. Everyone listened in some astonishment.

    That night I was tired and fell asleep as soon as I lay on bed. I woke up in the middle of the night with a loud sound and a crash. Probably the walls of the old mansion are falling apart. But suddenly there was a thud and a loud cry. I woke up immediately and it immediately came to my mind that someone might be injured. I ran out hurriedly towards the mansion and opened the huge gate. I rapidly walked towards the side stairs that led to the rooms and walked towards the sound. Someone was in deep pain. I could see light in one of the rooms. But as I approached it blurred and extinguished in darkness. I walked into the room. It was pitch dark and so I lit a match stick. There was a strange odour and I was hundred percent sure there was a human being in this room. I saw a candle and lighted it. I saw a bangle on the floor and picked it up was blood stained. I returned to my room and deeply thought about the matter.

   I never believed in ghosts or demons. But there was something fishy about the whole matter. Someway the things are connected and linked but what it was that connected it, I wondered.  The new maid, a middle aged woman named Mrs. Sen, came from the next day. She took hold of the household responsibilities and was a fantastic cook. In spare time she was rather talkative and loved to gossip. She also worked part time in the house of Mr. Bhowmik. From her daily gossip, I gathered Mr. Bhowmik was a wonderful man who had dedicated his life to serve the poor people after the death of his wife. His only daughter Angelina was the apple of his eye. Angelina grew up within the four walls of her home and led an isolated life except the companionship of her maid. She was a girl of strange temperament and often threw dishes and utensils in anger. Perhaps she longed to be in school and led a normal life like other girls. However, Mr. Bhowmik would not think of leaving his daughter even for a single moment. Life went on and on... Angelina grew up to be rude and aggressive. She was beautiful beyond words, but one day she suddenly disappeared. Another strange thing was that a doctor from the nearby town often visited Angelina as she was undergoing some kind of treatment.The name of the doctor was Doctor Anand and I noted down his address. I have still five days to solve the mystery before I joined the village school.

The same evening I went to the nearby town and met the doctor. Mr. Anand was an aged man and  I introduced myself and sat on the chair of his chamber. I told him that I was Angelina's relative and trying to find her. Dr. Anand gave me some amazing information about Angelina and wished that I would soon find her.

I returned to my village. That night I took the basic things for the night including my flashlight and settled myself comfortably in a corner of the mansion. I viewed my watch- it was 9 O' clock and I sat silently. At about 12 0' clock the sound of footsteps approached the stairs. I silently crept near the stairs as a huge figure walked up the stairs. I followed the shadow. It stopped near the door of the same room and after looking around quietly went inside the room. After half an hour he came out and descended the stairs. I waited for a long time before I came out of my hiding place. I slowly walked up to the room. By now I was prepared to unveil the suspense finally. The room was empty as usual and I lit the candle. I walked up to the empty fireplace. I tried to open the block slowly that was so tactfully made into a hidden door. The door gave away and there a strange sight met my eyes. A beautiful girl in a white dress sat on the floor. She was bound in chains. The room contained a bed, a fireplace where fire was lit to keep her warm and a table where her food lay neatly covered. The room was well maintained. Seeing me she lifted her head and gave me her hand. I was mesmerized and walked towards her. She took my hand and before I knew it she sank her teeth on my hand like a wild animal. I drew back in pain as she laughed in the most horrible way I ever heard and the next moment she was cried her heart out as she realised she had hurt me. She was Mr. Bhowmik's daughter Angelina.

  The next morning I gathered enough courage and walked up to Mr.Bhowmik's house. He welcomed me and as I sat comfortably in the drawing room, I came straight to the point," Mr. Bhowmik, I know your secret and I want to help you. Maybe God has sent me here with a mission...Angelina is innocent and she needs medical help to cure her disease...I am sorry I interfered in your life ...but I had a discussion with doctor Anand".

Mr. Bhowmik sat looking at me as if dumbstruck and broke down crying. I sat beside him and consoled him as best as I could. He revealed that his wife died soon after Angelina's birth. At the age of 40 he was a widower with the sole responsibility of a motherless child, so he hired a babysitter. He was mostly away on business trip while the babysitter treated the motherless baby cruelly. When he finally came to know about this, it was already too late. Angelia was already mentally unstable and unpredictable. She had fits of unmanageable anger and violent fits. " I kept her confined within my house. Somehow I felt I was responsible I was so much grieved at my wife's death that I failed to take care of my only daughter. As she grew up I took special care of her, but her condition grew worse. She talked to herself often and finally I took Dr. Anand's help. Dr. Anand revealed she has schizophrenia and she had illusions. I kept a full time maid and paid her a good salary to keep her mouth shut regarding my daughter.

        I took a house in this remote village and started serving the poor villagers.Then came that unfortunate day that ruined her whole life. I was away on a business trip. The maid forgot to lock Angelina's door. That day she almost escaped but the maid saw her and brought her back. After much struggle she managed to drag Angelina back to her room and lock the door. The maid called Mr. Bhowmik who rushed home immediately. That evening Angelina in a fit of anger pushed the maid, the maid collided with a flower vase that killed her. Mr. Bhowmik came home and saw the maid lying in a pool of blood. As a father he wanted to save his only daughter, so he hid Angelina in the old mansion. I nodded sympatheically and said," Mr. Bhowmik, I don't think that is the right solution. My close friend is associated with an organization that take care of such patients and I assure you that with loving care, your daughter will get cured. I take her responsibility. I want to take Angelina there immediately, you have got to trust me Mr. Bhowmik."

Mr. Bhowmik agreed and made arrangements. The next night we booked a private van and went towards the rehabilitation center. I talked with my friend and he assured me that he will handle the case very sensitively.

The Story continued here.....