Terror at the Burning GhatorThe Ghost that wasn't

Author unknown

Anupam was thrilled. Not only did he get a new cycle, but one that had a lamp with a dynamo. The dynamo was fixed to the side of the front wheel and, when engaged, would supply electricity to the lamp.  

He had dreaded the five-km walk to the school especially at night for the tuition classes. During the daytime it was fine and walking by the burning Ghat had only occasionally frightened him. But walking by it at night, all alone . . . he shuddered.  

The Ghat, bordered on one side by the road and on the other by a small creek, was for the few small villages of the area. The columns of dark smoke rising into the sky would send the message that another person had died. 

People told dreadful tales about what is happening at the Ghat at night. Of course, few ever ventured to the place during darkness except the odd drunk who once passed by there by accident. Their tales, of course, only the very gullible believed, so many asserted. However, Anupam knew that people from his village who’s business called them to the main road would take the longer but less dangerous road that passed by the Ghat.  

There were stories of ghosts dancing on the road. During moonlight they were black shadows that moaned and waved their arms seemingly begging for help which none of the living could offer and the dead - what could they do for their fellow dead . . . Their moans, so it was said, would chill the blood and those who heard it would never be the same. Did not old Pancham turn mad after a night on that road? They found him in the morning walking across the Ghat crying pitifully and waving his hands as if to ward of some dread. Then the Bhagat of Khungoan was he not found strangled in the most strange way with his own kurta? The stories, all terrifying, were endless.  

Even with the cycle and the light, Anupam was not very happy at the prospect of having to traverse that road at night for four, seemingly endless, months. Cycle or no cycle he would take the longer road. The teacher’s scoffing, that there were no such things as ghosts, did not help. He, after all, had an old Rajdoot motor cycle, the noise of which would drive away anything and, this besides, he smelled bad enough to keep even ghosts at a safe distance. 

Anupam had taken the long road to school for a few days but tonight he was determined to ride by the Ghat. Cycling down the road he remembered too late that today old man Thakur died; they had burnt his remains only this afternoon. He had been an evil man who hated everybody and was hated by everybody. He was the right stuff for a disgruntled evil spirit who would haunt and pursue people till they met his fate. Of this everybody in the village was sure.  

But the certain wrath of his teacher, should he be late, was more compelling to go onward than the uncertain wrath of an evil ghost even that of dead old Thakur. And so, Anupam, though filled with dread, continued along the road.  

Coming closer to the Ghat he saw greedy flames still licking the remains of the wood and those of the old man. Anupam’s hair slowly stood on end. Goose pimple formed on his arms and he began, in spite of the coolness of the night, to sweat. To his mind came all the stories of dancing ghosts and strangled villagers.  

He tried to regain his courage by repeating to himself, like a mantra, “There are no ghosts, there are no ghosts.”  

As if to prove him wrong -- suddenly, right in front of him, in the light of the cycle lamp - an apparition started to dance . . . A sob of fear escaped Anupam’s lips. In his mind he screamed, “Let me by! Let me by! Please Thakur Sahib, let me by!”  

Then there was a tug on his cycle. “Somebody is trying to stop me. Anupam thought wildly. There, another little tug. Anupam increased his speed to escape. But his feet felt like lead. His movements seemed to him like he was forcing his way through molasses while pursued by fiends from the Abyss.  

In front of him the wraith danced faster and faster as if trying to match the speed of Anupam’s racing heart, while behind him another dread . . .  

Coming around the bend in the road -- he saw in the distance the beckoning light of the school building promising safety. “Oh, please let me go, please, let me go Thakur Sahib, He sobbed, while dread like an icy hand clamped itself around his desperately beating heart. 

The ghost too seemed to understand the meaning of the light. The hand that tried to pull the cycle to a stop gave several jerks. Anupam, bathed in sweat, his eyes like caged wild animals flickering from side to side, tried to force more speed out of his leaden legs. But there was no escape for Anupam that night . . .  

A mighty tug suddenly stopped the cycle dead in the middle of the road. With a scream of abject terror Anupam was somersaulted off the bike into the bushes at the side of the road where he remained prostrate, cowering in unmitigated dread his mind - a kaleidoscope of gruesome possibilities . . . 

When the cycle finally came to rest on the rock-strewn road, the glass of the lamp shattered and the little moth, that so desperately had danced to escape the confinement of the lamp and the heat of the bulb, escaped to freedom.  

Lamp apart, the only other casualty was Anupam’s lungi -- that had wrapped itself solidly around the spokes of the cycle’s back wheel. 

The end ... 

Bhagat = Witchdoctor

Lungi = A cloth like a sarong

Ghat = Where the dead are burnt