The Girl In The Yellow Dress- A Horror Story -Chapter 1
He cursed himself silently as he drove along the dark and winding road. A road which appeared totally deserted of all traffic except for his single car. He should not have taken this road. He should have listened to his mother-in-law or at least his wife, or so they had kept repeating all through the evening. Both of them were thankfully sleeping now, his wife curled up on the seat beside him with her eyes closed and breathing deeply and his mother-in-law snoring loudly in the back seat with their son lying on her lap. He took his eyes off the road for a minute to glance down at his sleeping wife. Even curled like a worm as she was, she still looked sensuous and beautiful and no one who saw her then would say she was the mother of a five year old boy. And that brought him back to the vexatious problem of his son who was growing into a real brat and getting too attached to the mother-in-law. Boys should grow up brave and independent shouldn’t they and not hang around gossiping old women all day long. Well, maybe that little problem would resolve itself over time and he would do better to keep his mind on his current problem. This damn by-pass road he had taken on the recommendation of a colleague seemed to be twice as long as the highway route although his friend had sworn that it would save almost 5-6 hours off his total travel time by going directly across the country side instead of winding around every sizable town and hamlet like the state highway did.
At first it looked like his friend had been spot on with his advice. The road was quite free of traffic and had allowed him to push his car along at a smart pace, something which he had longed to do ever since he had got it.. His brand new car was his pride and joy. The new Premier Padmini 1969 model vehicle which he had recently taken delivery of, just two years after booking the car. Everyone in the office told him he was lucky as people had waited for more than four years after depositing the booking money to get delivery of their cars. But that was mostly for the Ambassador, the only other car in the market and the most popular car around. Somehow he had taken a dislike to the ambassadors blunt shape right from the beginning and had favoured the Padmini’s sleeker look, not surprising as it was a rip off of the original fiat car seen in automobile magazines brought from abroad. And the other factor which decided his choice was that the premier company was faster than their competitors Hindustan Motors in production and they were delivering their vehicles earlier and earlier. He had for instance booked this car on his sons third birthday and here they were going to their native village to celebrate their sons fifth birthday and in their brand new car too- delivered just a week ago. The country was indeed progressing at a fast rate wasn’t it? Very soon we would be a developed nation, better than the English and the Russians. Then a sudden jolt brought him back to the road in view, away from his musings on the state of the nation.
There. At a distance. A single light. Looked like a hurricane lanthorn at this distance. Must be some petty shop. It was about time. He wanted to stop and ask for directions. Just to confirm that he was on the right road. According to his friend, he was supposed to reach a railway level crossing just about now and take a left turn into the Rani Kottai (queen’s fort) road. As he slowed his speed down from the high 50’s down to a coasting crawl, they reached the light. It was surprisingly a small tea shop cum petty shop. He got down from the car and stretched his legs. Closing the car door silently as not to wake up his sleeping son he went up to the shop and bought a cigarette from the lungi clad shopkeeper and lit it from the manila rope hanging there smoldering gently. As he pulled in the smoke through the filter cigarette, surprisingly they did have a filter cigarette in this godforsaken little shop in the wilderness, although he wasn’t that finicky and would have smoked even a beedi for that matter, as the fire lit the cigarette, he breathed in deeply, inhaled it all the way and let it loose with a small “aahh…” of pure satisfaction. Nothing like a smoke to ease the fatigue of a long drive. He heard a rumble just then and looked up to see a passing light, a goods train by its length pass across a little distance away. That explained this shop. So near a level crossing, it must be quite popular in the daytime, when the gates were closed and the traffic probably backed up here in front of this shop.
His wife called to him then. Softly as not to wake up the still sleeping child who was now lying on the front seat with his head on her lap. “Does he have tea?” she asked “for me and mother…and a little hot milk for the baby if he has any fresh”. He shook his head at that “better give the kid the milk in the flask- we should not risk an upset tummy where we are going. But I will get the tea for you”. He walked up to the shopkeeper and said “masterrr rendu chaiya” (tea-master- two teas, please). The man hesitated for just a bit, maybe he had been thinking of locking up for the night? And then nodded and proceeded to pump the gas stove to make the teas. As he stood there to a side, puffing away contentedly, he started to make conversation with the teamaster “nayyare, is the rani kottai road nearby?” he knew it should be, but still wanted to confirm. The tea master shook his head and answered mournfully in a low voice “chetta, (brother) I am new here. I don’t know” which surprised him as he didn’t think anyone could miss knowing about a road which practically started on your doorstep. But the tea-master resolutely refused to meet his eyes while he handed over two glasses of piping hot tea.
And then a thin reedy voice pipped up from the darkened interior of the tea hut. “saare, why do you want to go on that road at this time of night? And with your family too with you.” He peered into the darkened hut as his eyes adjusted he could make out an old crone sitting cross legged on the floor grinding something “Why not ? Isn’t it the shortest route from here?” the old lady tutted at him as if in exasperation and said “It’s not a safe road. Especially after dark. Better you go back a few kilometers to the town you must have crossed and sleep till the morning and come back tomorrow in daylight”. He snorted and turned away and almost bumped into his wife who had come up silently behind them and stood there. There was a frown on her face indicating she must have heard atleast the later part of the conversation. “What is it?” she asked in a worrying voice “what are they saying?” he kept quiet but handed her the two tea glasses and told “take this to your mother”. She waited a minute staring at him, unwilling to leave without learning more. And again the old woman piped up from her perch “amma, tell your husband to take the straight road from this side. The rani kottai road is not safe for going at nighttimes. It has an evil reputation” and she stopped abruptly as if someone inside had shushed her.
As his wife stood there unmoving blinking in the dim light of the lanthorn, he felt himself getting irritated at the concern on her face. Facing her squarely and blocking her view of the old woman inside “go give the tea to your mother first” he said in a low growl. She turned halfheartedly and took a few steps towards the car and as she opened the back door, her mother who had woken up, god only knows when, although he should have guessed by her ceasing to snore and the sudden blessed silence, called out in her usual falsetto “what are they saying is the road blocked? Do we have to go back again?” he cursed his mother-in-law silently. The old woman had the best ears of them all. Sitting inside the car she seemed to have heard it all, while even he had to strain to make out half of the crones words.
But his mother-in-law would not give up that easily. He knew her and he knew how inquisitive she always was when it came to listening to gossip. He dreaded the day that she would chance upon some gossip on himself. Like mother like daughter he wryly reflected. Over the years they had been married he had done his best to cure his wife of her ingrained habit of carrying tales but she still lapsed in the presence of her mother, who must have breast fed her all these sterling qualities of gossip and tale mongering. He shook himself grimly. Now that the old lady’s curiosity had been aroused, there was no way she was going to leave that place without learning the rest, even if it took the rest of the night. If he was going to reach his native place by morning as he had planned, he should be leaving nowabouts, mother in law or not. And for a minute he was tempted to leave his mother in law there itself listening to the local gossip and send someone else to collect her in the morning, but he knew his wife would never abandon her mother and settled back on his heels to finish his cigarette soundlessly as the old lady got down from the car carrying her empty tea cup and in the guise of returning it to the shop hurried up to the old crone sitting inside the hut to hear the rest of the local gossip about the rani kottai road. “Tell me more dear lady” he heard one gossip asking the other and sighed inwardly about the delay.