Som rubbed his eyes sleepily, unsure where he was. As he let out a yawn, he realised that school was over and all the children had left. Grabbing his satchel, he dashed towards the door.
It was shut. Somebody had played a prank and locked it from outside.
Bang! Bang!Bang! he pounded with all his might.
‘Must be Viv and his gang. They are definitely giggling outside at my plight. I will complain to the Principal this time,’ he thought.
Bang! bang! Bang! his fists hurt.”OPEN THE DOOR…OPEN IT AT ONCE! Or I shall complain to the Principal,” he barked. He used his water bottle to thump the door.
‘What the hell was Aaya didi doing? She should come to clean the class at least.’he fumed stomping with anger. He rattled the door as hard as he could holding the knob.
“Didi! DIDIiiiiiii!” he yelled with all his might.
‘They should have come to clean and lock the classes by now.’ An uncomfortable thought creeped up his mind.’Could it be that they had already locked the classes?’ His heart pounded fast, as he rushed towards the window.
All the classes were on one side of the corridor with the other side opening towards the assembly area. The classroom did not have any window towards the corridor. The two windows opened up towards the playground.
Som peeped out to see if he could see someone. It was strangely vacant. Someone or the other always moved around in the ground at all odd times. But now it was uncannily vacant. None, except the trees stared back at him.
‘Mom must have gone off to take her classes at the coaching centre by now, she would be furious again. Dad wouldn’t come back till eight,’ he mulled.
There wasn’t any clock in the class to know the time. Som started to panic…drops of sweat trickled down his forehead.’ Was it too late? How did he fall asleep on the last bench? Could it be that everyone had left?’
“Didiiii! Bhaiya!!!! Open the door, I’m locked inside!!!” Som howled with all his might, his voice turning hoarse with every attempt at making himself heard.
There wasn’t any response. Som started to feel uneasy. Nobody would miss him at home before eight. Both mom and dad came back around that time.
‘Would Aman and Sonu miss him at the park?’ he wondered.
“PIN DROP SILENCE! ” Teachers would often scream at them – now he assessed the actual meaning of it. The lively school that he was used to was transformed into a strange eerie place with a strange atmosphere.
School got over at 3pm. It must be around 3:30 at most. Suddenly it started getting dark , Som looked outside the window and watched grey clouds gather. He shook the grills with all his might, trying to make them loose , but they had been cemented to the frame some forty years ago and refused to bulge.
The sky was got darker with every passing minute. Som desperately wanted to get out. He took the teachers chair and flung it against the door. Nothing happened. Next, he pushed the table hard at the door in an attempt to break it but the table was too heavy for a fifth grader, to make an impact. The door was solid oak and was impossible to break. At least by a ten year old boy.
“MAMMAAAAA….!” Som cried out in despair.
Outside, it had become dark and clouds began to rumble.
CRAAAAKK! Went a thunder following a lightening that split the sky in two. Som sat down below the whiteboard and covered his ears in terror.
‘Was she worried?’ He remembered the innumerable times that he did not answer the phone, being in the washroom, or drowned in his loud video games. She had told their neighbour to check on him the first year when he was in fourth grade. Now, she resorted to scolding him every time she got worried.
Som switched on the light. Nothing happened… He switched on the fans… nothing… Som’s eyes widened with fright as he pushed the switchs on and off in desperation. Covering his face with his hands he sat down on the floor and let out a sob.
The school bhaiya had told him once that students never turned off the fans when they left; so they switched off the main switch to ensure that electricity was not wasted through the night.
Darkness descended like a shroud engulfing the furniture in its embrace. The familiar classroom vanished into darkness.
Som held on to the grill of the window in a hopeless bid to hold on to the faint light outside that was fast being replaced by dark eerie shadows of trees and shrubs. The black shadows of trees which waved their hands at him amid the strong gusts of rain were soon lost in the darkness that spread across the ground. The gloomy darkness inside the room shook hands with the darkness outside and their differences disappeared.
Time stood still… paralysed by the fear inside Som’s heart. The dread multiplied with each dragging minute. Som heard his own ragged breathing in the class where he often had to close his ears due to loud noise. Now, the noise was replaced by a deafening silence.
Som huddled in the corner of the class clinging to his satchel, and wondered what his parents were doing at that moment. ‘Had they come back home? Did they miss him yet? Were they searching frantically for him?’ Som kept his eyes closed, it was better that way , at least he could imagine that he was in that pit darkness because his eyes were shut. The benumbing fear made him doze off to a slumber.
A strange feeling made him jerk out of his slumber. ‘Had his parents come for him?’ He was about to get up from the foor at the corner of the class where he had fallen asleep, when a spooky feeling made him freeze.
There were people moving around in the class. No they were not people, for they were merely hushing sounds that glided weirdly over the floor. Som perceived ethereal, distant, muted sounds of people settling down in the class. The door did not open; yet he felt someone come in. The ones inside stood up and sat down.
Terror gripped Som and he felt as if his heart would burst. Those phantom figures the class would hear the booming of his heart and come for him. He was petrified and felt woolly headed. A strong nausea made it impossible for him to keep his presence a secret. He closed his palms over his mouth to prevent a shriek from escaping. His eyes were open wide yet he saw nothing but darkness.
Within the darkness he could make out darker shades of darkness. The ghostly shadows sat where they had been sitting during their classes. A bigger shadow sat on the teacher’s chair.
Muted distant sounds reached his ears almost similar to the louder sounds that they made everyday during their classes. The bigger shadow moved towards the board. A chill went down his spine as he pushed himself further towards the corner as if he would melt into the wall if the shadow came any nearer.
The shadow did something on the board and the muffled sounds decreased. As he watched the shadow move near him he felt something spiky creep up his neck . A chilling scream escaped him even as he dug his nails over his mouth in a bid to stop himself.
The other hand involuntarily grabed the spiky thing at the back of his neck. He felt a large cockroach in his hand and threw it away shaking like a leaf with fright.
Eyes transfixed with terror he saw the shadows approach him. Faceless shadows loomed around him slowly, bending down close for a better look.
The distant muffled sounds increased and transformed into something like laughter. Terror gripped his throat until he choked in his own breath. His eyes widened in horror as the shadows surrounded him like thick smoke. He passed out as they came closer almost touching his face.
The dull sounds continued to surround him as he floated from consciousness to unconsciousness. He did not dare to open his eyes though his heart hammered away rapidly in an attempt to escape from the clutches of the spectral beings.
He heard his mother’s voice in his nightmarish dream. She was cuddling his head and loving him. He felt her tears on his face, and a few drops escaped his eyes. The shadows slapped him on his cheek laughing: then they jolted him away in order to take him with them. He spread out his arms in terror pleading his mother rescue him from the harrowing ordeal. “Mammaaaa! Save meee! They are taking me away,” he wailed.
He felt the comforting arms of his mother around him. ” Nobody can take you away from me Som. I’m here.” he heard her sobbing, holding him tighter. Voices floated around, then something pricked his arm. He breathed easy and drowned himself in a deep slumber.
When he opened his eyes he found himself in a hospital bed. His mother fast asleep on a chair beside his bed.
“Mamma!” he called out his voice was squeaky and strange.
Som’s mother woke up with a start and held him close as tears of joy flowed down her cheeks.
Som’s parents had registered a police complaint when they failed to find him. The police had searched for him everywhere barricading all exits from the state. Every car was searched at check-points to nab possible kidnappers. Som’s mother had rung up all his friends and when nobody could recall seeing him coming out of school with them, his mom had insisted on checking the class.
The Principal had accompanied them and he was found unconscious in his classroom about 3am in the morning. It had been five days of delirium before he had come to his senses.
Som told them of the shadows in the class and refused to go back to school . The mere thought of entering the class was a punishment for him. The school was near a cemetery and Som could not even imagine himself sitting on the very benches where the spirits had their school at night.
It was a good thing that his father got transferred to Bangalore. Som was happy to join the new school where he resume his schooling afresh.
‘Kalapalli Cemetery’ the sign read as their car sped through Old Madras Road towards the International school where he had taken his admission. Som, watching the city through the other window felt happy to have left that haunted old school for once and for all.