(Book 2: Hello, Can You Fear Me?)
‘Hi, my name is Ravi Thakur. Nice to meet you.’
Two things happened as Ravi said the words to the ghost. There was a snort from Inspector Fernandes who was behind him. And the ghost took on the appearance of Subro.
‘Ravi!’ the painter’s vision greeted him. ‘You really do miss me, don’t you? Second time you’ve brought me here.’
‘No, ugh,’ Ravi expressed. He looked back to the inspector. ‘Could you please be quiet while I figure this out. Don’t even snort. Please.’
‘Okay, okay,’ she said, though she looked amused.
Ravi faced the ghost again. ‘Now, can you tell me who you are?’
‘Really, brother?’ Subro’s figure said. ‘You forgot me in four chapters?’
‘Ugh, why does it have to be you?’
Subro laughed. ‘You’re not helping your case by getting more frustrated, you know.’
Ravi grit his teeth, then realised that the statement was true. He took a deep breath.
‘Okay,’ he said, ‘I’m asking the ghost, not Subro, so please, if you can hear me, give me a sign.’
Suddenly, Subro’s body went limp. Then his head straightened. His eyes went wide, looking straight at Ravi. His lips parted, slowly.
Ravi felt himself shudder.
Subro’s figure raised both arms up to his head like horns and then blew a rather loud raspberry.
‘Fooled you!’ he said, bursting out laughing.
Ravi clenched his fists, shaking. ‘This is not going to work. Please, I beg you, show me someone else!’
Subro covered his ears. ‘Not listening, not listening, blah-blah-blah…’
Ravi sighed. He looked at Fernandes, who was watching him silently, almost enjoying herself. ‘Some help, please?’
‘I thought you wanted me to keep quiet.’
‘Sure. After I’ve stopped seeing Subro.’
‘What can I do?’
‘Think of something that’s not frustrating. If we both do it, he’ll go away, I’m sure.’
‘Okay,’ Fernandes said, and she seemed to focus her thoughts.
‘Wait, what are you thinking about?’
‘None of your business.’
‘No, seriously, how do I calm down? I’m not very good at this.’
‘Well, think of something happy. Some place you like, someone you admire,’ she said.
Ravi thought about it. Whom do I admire?
Even as the thought arrived in his head, it took physical form in the room. The vision of Subro turned into Sharmila.
Ravi nervously darted a glance back at Fernandes, wondering what she would think, then realised that she wouldn’t be viewing the same vision as him. He saw her smiling at whoever it was that she was seeing.
‘You’re adorable,’ Sharmila’s figure said.
Ravi turned back to her. He could smell her perfume in the air.
‘Hi,’ he said lamely.
‘We haven’t spoken about last night yet,’ she reminded him.
‘No, but now’s not the time.’
‘You don’t have time for me?’
‘No, I mean yes, but…’
Sharmila looked away, starting to sob.
She’s not real, she’s not real, he thought. ‘Look, can you help me?’
‘You want my help?’ she asked him shyly. The tears in her eyes had vanished. She was smiling, excited. ‘What can I do?’
‘Umm, I need to know if the real ghost can hear me. Can you confirm this?’
‘That’s all?’ She was suddenly disappointed.
‘Yes, can you?’
‘I thought you meant something more interesting.’
‘Oh, you know, fun stuff,’ she giggled. ‘I know you like me.’ She winked at him.
‘I don’t mean… Look, now’s not the time.’
‘Who cares? I know you’ve been thinking about me.’
‘You’re not real!’
‘I’m real enough to give you what you want,’ she said mischievously. The next moment, her hands reached to her chest, starting to undo the buttons of her shirt.
Ravi went red in the face. ‘St—stop! What?! I don’t want this, not now!’
‘Oh, no time like the present! Stop worrying so much!’ Ravi could see a red bra now as she continued to undo the buttons. The sight of it gave pause to his thinking. He was staring, and the more he stared, the stronger Sharmila’s resolve to undress seemed to get.
She wrenched the shirt off and flung it away, smiling as she walked seductively towards him.
‘Mr. Thakur,’ Inspector Fernandes’ voice came from behind Ravi. ‘The vision has gotten really awkward… Just what kind of thoughts are on your mind?’
‘I’m — I’m not…’ he said. ‘No! STOP!!’ Ravi squeezed his eyes shut as he yelled.
When he opened them, Sharmila was properly clothed again.
‘Good,’ he breathed. Raising his voice so the inspector could hear him, he added, ‘Umm, I’m going to use the Captura to see if it helps somehow.’
‘If you say so,’ Fernandes replied, drawing out the words.
Ravi ignored the remark, pulling the Captura to his eye. He clicked a shot of Sharmila and retrieved the InstaCopy.
The ghost still hovered in place of Sharmila in the image. How to communicate with it? How to get myself across? The thought of Uncle Silver’s new device, the Echorder, flittered through his mind. But we don’t have it right now. What else?
He looked at Sharmila. She was motionless, not trying to tempt him anymore.
He had asked her to stop. Had the message gotten through to the ghost? What was different? He had yelled the order, but was it that simple?
He recalled the time when the vision of his father had been about to attack him, but had stopped. He had tried to convince himself that it wasn’t real, back then.
The ghost gives a physical form to our emotions. Was the process automatic? Or did the ghost need to ‘read’ the information to be able to present it?
‘It’s getting late, Mr. Thakur,’ Fernandes said. ‘Your time is running out.’
‘Shh!’ Ravi put a finger to his lips as he silently instructed the inspector to be quiet.
When he looked back at Sharmila, she had a finger to her lips as well. This pretty much confirmed his suspicion.
I don’t need to speak what I’m saying, I need to ‘will’ it.
Sharmila looked at him, smiling.
Who are you? Ravi asked, concentrating on the words as he thought them.
Sharmila pointed at Ravi’s hand where he was clutching the InstaCopy.
Okay. Why are you here?
The figure of Sharmila turned into her cousin. Subro stood before Ravi for the third time.
Because of Subro? No.
The painter’s figure had not passed any remarks this time around. At once, he turned about and reached for the dim corner, cowering there like Ravi had seen him cower months ago, when the Company had been chasing them.
You’re here because you’re hiding.
Subro continued to crouch in the dark corner. Ravi approached him.
You don’t have to hide. Come with us.
Come with us, Ravi tried again. Nothing. Maybe it doesn’t understand.
Ravi tried a different approach. He looked at the ghost in the InstaCopy, focussing on it’s image. Then thought about the police car waiting for them outside. He thought about driving away in it.
You, car, drive away. You, car, drive away… Ravi repeated the mantra in his head a few times.
Finally, he got a reaction.
Ravi had to step back quickly as something large emerged out of the corner with big, shining eyes. The thing grumbled to a stop, inches away from him. It was the police car he had been thinking about. The ghost had taken up the form of the vehicle.
Ravi breathed hard. Yes, the car, he thought. We can get away from here in it. Are you coming?
But the automobile remained inanimate, other than its engine revving on and the headlights continuing to shine.
Ravi glanced at Fernandes, who was no longer leaning by the far wall. She had moved closer, alert, one hand clenched around her gun.
Ravi wondered if she had been right. The ghost was starting to give him the impression of being rather mindless. Were they wasting time here?
We could be looking for Subro and Anurag. What if they’ve come across Abhijit?
No sooner had the last name occurred to him than the car vanished. The figure of Abhijit took its place, a deep frown etched across his face.
He didn’t even give a warning. Raising his hand, he shot a yellow lightning bolt at Ravi, hitting him squarely in the chest.
For the briefest moment, Ravi thought that the attack would do nothing, that it was just an image of the original. Then the breath was driven out of him, as though he had been punched hard. He fell back a few paces.
It was nothing compared to the actual attacks Abhijit had hurled, back at the theatre, but it still hurt.
The sound of gunshots cut through the air. Fernandes was dealing with the ghost now.
‘No!’ Ravi moaned. ‘Inspector, don’t.’
‘I can no longer call you optimistic, Mr. Thakur,’ she said, firing a shot every second. ‘Now you’re just being stupid. The thing attacked you!’
Ravi forced himself to get up. ‘Please, I think it knows something. Please. Don’t hurt it!’
But as he looked at the figure of Abhijit, he realised that his protests were unnecessary. The man was unscathed. The bullets Fernandes had fired were buried in the wall behind him.
‘This isn’t a game,’ Fernandes was saying. ‘This is serious. We need better weapons.’
‘No! Just give me a moment!’ Ravi almost yelled the words. He didn’t check the inspector’s reaction. His focus was on the figure.
You know something about Abhijit, don’t you?
Abhijit’s figure remained motionless.
You turned into him rather quickly. You know something. I’m sure of it!
Still, Abhijit didn’t move.
Do you know where he is?
Very slowly, the figure nodded. The next moment, Abhijit had disappeared.
‘Follow me,’ said Uncle Silver, in his place.