(Book 2: Hello, Can You Fear Me?)
Moonlight was filtering through the window again. The ghosts seemed to have vanished, all of them except for his father, who had returned to being curled up by the dim corner.
Not even two steps inside, Ravi raised the Captura to his eyes, and he clicked a shot. Putting in a fresh plate, he clicked again. He took four more shots in quick succession, a different angle of the room each time. Then he checked the InstaCopies.
The room looked just as empty in the images as it was in plain sight. But not everything was the same.
In place of his father’s figure, there hovered a wisp. It was almost an orb of blue light, with three tiny appendages sprouting in different directions. A pair of big round eyes and a toothy smile completed its face.
Had the wisp been solid, Ravi imagined it would have fit perfectly in a child’s plush toy collection.
It was the only ghost in the room.
Engrossed in the images, Ravi hadn’t noticed that the ghost of his father had risen back up. The man was standing mere feet from him now.
Even as he looked up, Ravi staggered back with a jolt.
‘You have failed me,’ his father repeated.
Just then, the door behind Ravi opened and Inspector Fernandes walked in. ‘Mr. Thakur, I’m so sorry. I invited you here, I can’t be cowering behind the—’
Her eyes caught sight of Ravi’s father, who glared at her ferociously.
‘NO!’ she gasped.
‘You can see him too?’ Ravi asked. He took advantage of the distraction to click another shot of the ghost.
‘Him?’ Fernandes said, looking lost for just a second before her fear returned. ‘No, it’s her… the girl!’ She was looking at Ravi’s father but not meeting his eyes. Her line of vision was directed at the waist. ‘I couldn’t save — couldn’t save you, I’m so sorry… so sorry…’
While his father focused on the inspector, Ravi retrieved the latest InstaCopy. The blue ghost hovered in the image exactly where his father stood in the room.
Inspector Fernandes was backing away now. Ravi’s father moved towards her for a moment, then looked back at Ravi, then turned his attention to Fernandes again, seemingly considering whom to approach.
‘Please… I couldn’t have helped you,’ Fernandes told the ghost. ‘It was too late… I’m sorry. Please, forgive me.’
‘Inspector, whatever you’re seeing, it’s not real,’ Ravi said.
No sooner had he spoken, than his father spun around to face him, if it could be called that. There was no actual turning involved. One moment the man’s back was turned to Ravi, the next instant he was facing his ‘son.’
The ghost moved forward, covering the distance to Ravi inhumanly fast.
Ravi shut his eyes, anticipating some form of impact — a slap, a punch; a stab?
It’s not real, he told himself. It’s not real.
Nothing happened for three long seconds.
With extreme caution, Ravi opened his eyes only to find that the ghost had collapsed onto the floor.
Fernandes was backed against a wall. ‘You’ve upset her!’ she cried in fright. She was still looking at the space above the curled up figure. ‘Help me! Help me!’
‘It’s not real, Inspector. Whatever you’re seeing, whoever it is, they’re not here!’
‘It’s a vision. Trust me.’
Inspector Fernandes didn’t say anything but continued to watch the space above the curled man.
Ravi jogged to her. He forced the InstaCopy in front of her eyes.
‘Look,’ he said, ‘that’s what the ghost really looks like. It’s taking the form of your fears, your regrets. I saw my father, and other people, but they’re not actually here.’
Fernandes looked at the image of the wisp, then back at the real room, squinting, as if to read something at a distance. Finally, she sighed.
‘Is it gone?’ Ravi asked.
‘No,’ she answered. ‘It’s turned into you.’
‘What?’ Ravi looked back, but he found Uncle Silver there instead, smiling.
‘Different visions for different people,’ Ravi said, mostly to himself.
‘Really? You don’t see you? What then?’ The inspector asked.
‘I see Uncle Silver. Whom did you see before this? The one who frightened you?’
‘A little girl from a case seven years ago. I couldn’t save her. I’ll never forget that day.’
‘I saw my father, he thought I failed him. I wonder…’
‘Inspector, can you think of someone irritating?’
‘Huh? What? Why?’
‘I have a theory I want to test. Please, think of someone who irritates you. It could be anyone. From your work perhaps?’
‘Okay… umm…’ She seemed to concentrate for a while.
‘Imagine them doing something that really gets to your nerves.’
‘And… what is this supposed to lead to — ohh!’ She stared at the ghost in surprise.
‘Aha!’ Ravi exclaimed at the same time. ‘I knew it.’ He too was looking at the ghost, which no longer looked like Uncle Silver, nor like Ravi’s father. It had taken the appearance of Subro.
‘Ravi, my man,’ Subro’s figure greeted. ‘You missed me? I’m so touched!’
‘I see him, I see my boss,’ Fernandes said. ‘How is this happening?’
‘I think — I think the ghost in this room is giving form to our emotions,’ Ravi explained. ‘When I entered, I was thinking of Officer Rehan’s story, wondering if I would see dead people, and so I did! I saw my father’s ghost. Same goes for the policemen yesterday; they found exactly what they had feared to find.
‘When the ghost of my father told me that I had failed him, the vision latched on to the idea of failure and showed me other people with expectations I haven’t lived up to. This is when I noticed that not all the visions were of dead people.
‘Then, when you walked in, you got a taste of the failure theme as well.’
‘I see,’ Fernandes said. ‘And now I see my boss because you told me to think of someone irritating, so it’s not all about fear and regret?’
‘Exactly. Also, I see Subro, who irritates me—’
‘Or you just miss having me around,’ Subro said.
‘—even though it was you thinking of your boss. So I think it takes the loudest emotion in the room and presents it tailor-made to everyone.’
‘Hmm.’ She stared at the ghost suspiciously. ‘It’s back to being you.’
‘Back to Uncle Silver for me,’ Ravi said. ‘Someone I respect, someone knowledgeable. Because we’re figuring this stuff out.’
Fernandes considered it. After a while she asked, ‘So, what do we do about it?’
‘Do about what?’
‘How do we get rid of it?’
‘Rid of it? Inspector, this ghost is not some pest that you need to get rid of! It’s fascinating, if anything. I mean, look at it.’ Ravi raised up the InstaCopy he had taken earlier. ‘A cute little thing with an incredible ability. It’s harmless!’
‘You’re awfully optimistic about these ghosts, Mr. Thakur. But don’t expect others to be swayed by your naive viewpoint. You cannot label something as harmless a few minutes after encountering them. You have no idea about its intentions.’
‘We’ve been talking here for a while, and the ghost has been pretty still. If it wanted to do something, it could have done it by now.’
‘The visions it showed threatened me, they threatened my men, and even attacked you. Did you forget the state in which you exited the room last time?’
As she spoke of the attacks, the figure of Uncle Silver morphed into an agent of the Company.
An attacker, Ravi thought.
‘I’m not sure it intended to do those things,’ he told Fernandes. ‘I told you, it shows us what we are feeling. If we hadn’t been afraid of it in the first place, things would have played out differently.’
‘Even so, I do not trust it, and in any case, we can’t just leave it here in this house. So, Mr. Thakur, can you please concentrate on extracting the ghost from here? Or would you like me to take charge of that?’ She pulled out her gun.
‘You think a gun would help you?’ Ravi asked. He noticed the agent’s figure had unsheathed his its knives as well.
‘Trial and error is our best bet here. If this doesn’t work, we can move on to bigger weapons.’
‘No, no. Okay, let me try something. Let me think.’
‘Do it fast.’ She leaning back against a wall, not taking her eyes off the agent or whatever figure she was being made to see.