The Girl In The Yellow Dress- Part 3
As he sipped on that tasteless hot water named mistakenly as tea and stood there thinking over what he heard, he reflected on how in every single village or hamlet you can hear a tale like this. A tale told to frighten the children from venturing out at night and a tale which often served the same purpose for adults too. He permitted a half smile to cross his lips as he thought about the backward customs and superstitions of this particular district which mandated the erection of a guardian warrior known as Ayyanar at the outskirts of every village to prevent the entry into the village of wandering evil spirits which are supposed to haunt the wilderness and crossroads after dusk falls. In the past, people used to take days for journeys and had to often camp out in the forest and wilderness and so told themselves such stories to justify staying and traveling in large groups. But all that had changed after the invention of the automobile for the dark nights now held no fear and you could traverse great distances at over 50 kms per hour speed and hence such stories were fit to frighten only old women and little children. Oftentimes in later years he wished that at that exact point in time he had changed his mind and gone on the national highway again instead of taking the shortcut.
Anyway, his mother-in-law wouldn’t let up once she had the bit between her teeth and she took up the old crones challenge “what do the travelers’ tales tell?” she asked in a breathless voice. The old woman, took her time answering and said “oh, that road has got a bad reputation ever since it was built, there have been many, many accidents there and a number of lives have been lost, especially children. People talk of seeing a strange looking foreign woman standing in the middle of the road, just before the accidents take place, clad in a yellow dress, with long yellow hair streaming behind her.. That’s why I told you not to take that road, especially at night time and when you have a small child with you. Haven’t you heard that some evil spirits are very much attracted to small children?” she asked and spit into a corner of her hut. He wanted to bawl the old women out for propagating such superstition nonsense and prepared to deliver a stern lecture but just then he heard the sound of a car, a car fast approaching them and glanced up to see who it was.
It was a large car of unknown (foreign) make and as it passed the small tea shop, it slowed down for an instant as if ascertaining its whereabouts and route but the driver had probably got his bearings right for he soon picked up speed again and roared past the hut towards the railway level crossing but in the instant that it had stopped in the light of the teashop, he had seen that the car had contained three occupants- a small family of three- husband wife and child. The husband looked to be driving and the child was seated on the mother’s lap beside him. They must have slowed down for the same purpose that he had stopped it seemed, for they too paused for a minute beyond the railway level crossing and suddenly the car swerved left and took the short cut via the rani kottai road. When he saw that he smiled with relief for it showed that his friend had been right about the shortcut and he too could follow the other car’s example and go the same way banishing any irrational fears and old wives tales. He gestured to his wife to get in the car and said “come, we have wasted enough time here, let’s be on our way”.
As he started the car and pulled out of there, his mother-in-law started the trouble which he was waiting for. As usual she spoke through his wife and not directly to him “Di, surely your husband is not going to take that road is he? We should go through the main road even if it takes a little time”. He laughed savagely at the suggestion and turning towards his silent wife said “a little time? Do you know that it will take us five more hours if we use the main road? Don’t be so damn silly, we will take the bypass which connects to the highway like everyone else and within an hour or so at the most we will be back on the highway and still save four or five hours of traveling time. Just go to sleep and I will wake you when we are near our house” he concluded in a firm voice which brooked no argument for that was the only way to shut up his mother-in-law when she was on one of her quests to dominate him. His wife as usual held her tongue for she knew better than to be a go-between when these two old enemies fought amongst themselves using her to talk in-between. She was a soft, pliant woman, used to letting him have his way with her and what’s more she trusted her husband’s judgment in these things and so she tightly clasped the child who had shifted to her lap in the front seat and closing her eyes feigned sleep.
As he passed the level crossing and turned onto the rani kottai road he could see the dipping beam of the car which had passed them in the far distance. Some strange instinct for companionship compelled him to increase his speed to try and catch up with the vehicle in front so they could move along as a single convoy. He gradually pushed the pedal to the floor regardless of the dark and unknown road in which they were traveling and its bumps and throws. As he neared the other car he noticed that the driver had slowed down to a reasonable speed and hence decided to reduce his too to match up with the speed of the other car and keep it at a constant distance to the front. And then it happened, for no particular reason he could recall later. With a sudden screech of brakes the car in front stopped, swiveled sideways, rolled once and incredibly rightened itself to stop straddling the road halfway. Almost automatically he had applied the brakes on his own car and had stopped it just a few feet away but still his car too had skidded onto the curb hard rattling the doors open and almost spilling them out. When he glanced out to the car in front he could see that the other car had indeed suffered grievously and the doors were hanging open with the man in the driver seat slumped lifelessly in the middle of the road, thrown cleanly off his car; while the women was hanging upside down and half in and half out of the car but clearly unconscious and bleeding all over the road. But incredibly, the child who had been seated on her lap seemed unhurt and was just crying out loudly for its unconscious mother. And then he saw something which froze his very marrow.
Standing in the center of the road, just where the other car had braked was a girl, a girl in a yellow dress, who stood there just staring at them. So she was the reason the driver of the crashed car had braked so suddenly, sending his car into a skid and a spin and crashing it. But how could she stand there so calmly, such a little girl as she looked and not be frightened by the narrow escape she had just had. And it was then that he saw her truly and clearly. The girl looked to be around 10 years old and incredibly had blonde hair and fair skin and looked every inch a foreigner, a blonde foreign child in the middle of a godforsaken road at midnight. Could it be true? What the old crone had said about the foreign woman dying close by the rani kotai road? He shuddered at that very thought. But what really rattled his bones in his body was that when he looked closely at her, he could see the road beyond her clearly through her body and her yellow dress and she was clearly, truly transparent. Incredible as it seems it was true and he rubbed and rubbed his eyes.
The girl just stood there, or stood was the wrong word, she just floated there for he couldn’t see where exactly she hovered over the road and she looked like an insubstantial moonbeam in the night, but glowing brightly for all that. And the look on her face. That cruel mocking smile froze him to his seat and made him almost wet his pants. Everything he had heard and read about ghosts and evil spirits came tumbling through his head. For the first time in his life he understood that there was really some truth in old wives tales and that there were things beyond mans comprehension in this world. Too late, he thought ruefully, for this knowledge to come. Like a stubborn ass he had not only put himself into danger but also his family. As he glanced sideways beside him, he saw that his wife was unhurt and staring rigidly at the strange apparition in the road with a face frozen with a repressed scream and wondered whether his face looked the same too.
The ghost in front of him, for he had accepted that’s what it was the minute he saw how transparent it was and how he could see the road beyond it through it and would be simply cheating himself to deny the evidence of his own eyes, made a sudden ululating sound like a call for a pet dog. And the child in the crashed car got down all of a sudden from his unconscious mother’s lap and started walking forward towards the calling spirit. He never knew where he found the courage then, but he had his own door half open and was getting out to stop the child, save that child from the monster in a child’s garb floating there in front of them, no matter what it took, when with a sudden pull on his arm his wife stopped him. “No”, “no” she whimpered like a hurt animal, “she can’t have him” and then he saw the horror beside him. Their own son was fighting with his mother to get out of their car and go to the call of that monster out there. For such a little man, he was fighting so fiercely with his mother, pushing at her restraining hand, biting it and was frantically trying to get away from the safety of their car towards the siren call of the ghost, just like the boy in the crashed car had done. His mother-in-law who had strangely kept quiet till then, suddenly screamed in a falsetto voice “get us out of here, maapla, drive back, drive back now, don’t think to help them or she will get our kid too”.
He sat there paralyzed in dilemma for the few seconds it took the kid in the crashed car to reach the evil hovering there in front of them. As the kid reached her, she took his hand in hers almost affectionately and then she looked up straight at his car and smiling sweetly like the 10 year old child she looked she gave the same crooning sound again. And this time, he himself almost got out of the car and walked up to her, such was the hypnotically powerful pull of that call of hers. He was in such a fog filled daze with every base instinct inside him wanting him to go up to her as the sound of her cry promised him pleasures unimagined in this world or the next. But a hard yank on his hair from the seat behind courtesy his screaming mother-in-law and his wife’s terror filled cries beside him, finally broke through the fog of his thoughts, and he saw with shock that his son had somehow slipped out of his wife’s grasp and was on the point of jumping out of the car onto the road. His parental instincts awakened powerfully by the imminent danger to his kid, he leaned over and in an instant pulled the little brat inside and slammed the car door close and averting his eyes from the dead and dying persons lying on the road in front of him and steeling his heart to the strange call filling his blood with lust, he turned the ignition key to switch on his car and in one screech of tires he fluently reversed his car around and went haring back the way he had come.
As he drove back as fast he could to the main road, he took one last lingering look in the rear-view mirror and he could still see the girl in the yellow dress standing there holding hands with the other kid and looking balefully at his fast departing car. He was struck with enormous guilt for abandoning the wounded and the living to such an horror, especially the child, but he had made his choice, he had done what any parent would do in his situation, be practical and save his own family first. But he vowed to himself that this would not end here. This long un-dead foreign fiend cannot be allowed to continue killing people like this. He would be back and next time he would come prepared, he promised himself, as he drove away never to return.
(to be continued……)