The Mystery of the Missing Lungi

Frank M. Juelich
"Agreed, I will do it! If I do it I will gain Rs.50 and if I loose it will be  ..." "50 Rupees" chorused his friends. Arjun simply nodded his head. How could he possibly loose? After all, there were no ghosts, no dancing skeletons in the moon light. It was all nonsense.

The story ...

Old Mr. Collins had died during the day. He was to be buried that day but  some problem came up like relatives being late and other things. The five boys, all about 12 years old, were not sure of the details. But they knew enough that the coffin would stay overnight at the Christian graveyard some distance from the village. The reason was simple, there was no ice available in the village and in the heat the body would generate some offensive smells.

The bet was also simple. Arjun would sneak into the graveyard and just a minute or two before midnight drive a nail into the coffin. His friends who did not share his idea about the nonsense of ghosts and dancing skeleton would stay a safe distance from the graveyard and await his return - if ever.

The timing was important. Had not old Bapu with quavering voice told them the story many times? The church bell would give three clear rings at midnight  that would have a strange effect on the dead. This was true on a night with a full moon - a night like this. At exactly that moment the dead would come out of the graves and skeletons would dance in the moonlight and awful sounds would be heard. They would drop whatever gown they were buried in and pitifully raising their skeletal hands to the sky and dance and moan and produce other spine chilling sounds. Oh yes, Old Bapu the village drunk had witnessed this and never been the same. Had not one of them tried to grab him when as a boy he had dared to go too close? It was only the church bell that rang in the 1st hour that saved him. That baleful look in the skeletons eyes seeing his prey escape . . . He shivered at the memory.

It was only last night, the night before old Mr. Collins died, that he regaled them once again with the story. And looking up at the full round moon he nodded his head wisely and whispered to himself. "It was a night like this."

After hearing the story again, Arjun said things would change. He would once and for all disprove the story Bapu kept telling to gullible listeners to get a free drink or something to eat. There are no ghosts; there are no skeletons dancing in the moonlight. It all was old drunken Bapu's imagination.

That night, Arjun, leaving his friends at a save distance - for them - behind, resolutely ran down the path towards the graveyard. He knew the coffin was placed under a big Neem tree which gave it shade during the day and also cast a dark shadow in the moon light. In spite of his bravado before his friends - he was afraid. The hand that held the hammer and nail was sweaty and each time a thorn bush caught his lungi, he would gasp in fear. Like a mantra he kept repeating to himself: "There are no ghosts, there are no ghosts; there are no ghosts." It helped but little.

He reached the coffin, a splash of white in the dark shadows of the tree. A sudden breeze sprang up that made the leaves rustle like a thousand voices of protest. His lungi billowed upwards at the same time that Arjun bent over the coffin to place the nail on top of it. Almost sobbing with fear he hit the nail with all his might. The sound like a thunderclap fully unnerved him and with a small scream he sprinted away. But - it was as if a hand grabbed his lungi. He was held. A scream of terror rose from his mouth: No! No! No! I am sorry. Let go! Let go! His words became incoherent and with a mighty effort he tore himself free leaving behind his lungi in whose ever hand had grabbed it.

His friends hearing the screams and thrashing were petrified. They jumped off the path as Arjun came careening by his face a frozen mask of terror with eyes wide and staring as if they had seen awful things, his hands flailing as if to ward off some great evil and somewhere he had lost his lungi. They watched Arjun disappearing in the lane that led to his house and then looked back towards the graveyard to take instant flight should something or somebody come their way.

After nothing happened for some time they calmed down but none of them even suggested going to investigate what had happened. May be tomorrow morning but now ... Old Bapu's story and Arjun's mad flight were too strong a deterrent.

The next morning, after an uneasy night's sleep, while the dawn painted the sky grey-red the four made their way hesitantly to the graveyard. A fog that just hovered above the ground made the place look eerily mysteriously dangerous. The tree under which the coffin rested looked threatening and the darkness underneath it daunting. But on they went. As they fearfully approached the tree they saw - impaled on a nail on top of the coffin - Arjun's missing lungi.