(Book 2: Hello, Can You Fear Me?)
Abhijit continued with his chant.
The words made no sense to Ravi at all. They sounded ancient and alien to his ears. Even as he wondered what the man was attempting to do, he noticed a faint golden hue silhouetting Abhijit. At once he was reminded of Ghosty.
Ghosty! Where is Ghosty? Maybe it can help us! Ravi looked around and found the figure of his father curled up on the floor among Abhijit’s captives, shivering uncontrollably.
Help us! Ravi communicated to the ghost. Please, you have to help us!
Ghosty took on the appearance of Subro, but stayed curled up and shivering.
The chanting had grown louder still, and with it, the glow around Abhijit’s person had grown more defined. It seemed to flow about him like golden vapours, getting denser and brighter by the second. The tendrils of amber-coloured smoke soon solidified into a dozen tiny tentacles that arose from various places on the man’s body.
Everyone who was awake now had their eyes fixed on the man.
Under their stares, Abhijit unfroze from his meditative pose and reached out with one hand to the device in front of him. Without breaking his chant, he flicked at a switch on the Echorder with a tentacle that grew out of his forearm, and at once, his voice appeared to grow many times louder, amplified by the device.
No sooner did this happen than all the tentacles on his body burst to life. They grew longer, thicker, and they wriggled about furiously. Then they sprang out at the sky like snakes going in for the kill. It was a rather uncanny sight.
The tentacles were visible only up to a few feet away from Abhijit’s body, but everything about their appearance suggested that they merely faded out of view at that point, extending invisibly beyond that length.
Abhijit stood up and looked into the distance, almost as if expecting something grand to come about. He had an ecstatic look about him as he turned round and round where he stood. The bases of the tentacles adjusted themselves on his body as he moved.
‘Yes!’ he exclaimed suddenly. ‘YES! YES!!’
It was then that Ravi realised the man had stopped chanting a while back, having delegated the task to the Echorder entirely.
‘Come to me!’ Abhijit said over the sound of the chanting. ‘I want more of you! I want all of you! You cannot hide from me!’
Ravi’s doubts regarding Abhijit’s intentions were answered within moments as terrible screeches rent the air. The wind picked up suddenly and blew through the entrance with stormy strength. So powerful was the gust that Ravi worried he would be blown to the back of the temple. But he soon realised that his bindings were preventing him from being moved.
The terrible screaming continued. There was no one in sight, but Ravi was confident he had deduced the truth of the matter.
It’s the ghosts! Abhijit was capturing them somehow with his tentacles, just like he had at the theater, like he had in the morning. Their screams were audible through the Echorder.
‘Leave them…’ Ravi tried to speak. The cords around him tightened as he tried. One end of the cord lashed at his throat, wrapping around it, suffocating him.
Anurag turned to face him. ‘What was that?’ The man waved a careless palm and the cord left Ravi in peace.
Ravi coughed out as his breath returned. He wanted to massage his throat but his hands were still tied.
‘Leave… them…’ he repeated, his voice hoarse. ‘Leave them be.’
‘Or what? What will you do? What can you do?’ Abhijit laughed throatily.
‘Why are you doing this? What have these ghosts ever done to you?’
‘Well, nothing, really. They don’t do much, do they? At least, not until after I absorb them! Then they do a lot! They give me power, so much power. You could even say I’m helping them serve some purpose. I want all of them, Ravi Thakur, every single ghost in the city, the country, the planet!’
‘You give them purpose? What purpose? What are you going to do with all this power?’
‘Haven’t you guessed it yet? I’ll put down people like you! You have shamed my family. I will seek revenge on you and others of your kind. People will cower beneath me and my family, and we will rule over them.’
‘Not again,’ said someone.
‘What?’ Abhijit turned towards the voice.
Ravi craned his neck too.
‘Not again,’ Subro repeated himself. ‘Didn’t you hear me the first time? Here I thought you were awesome at the intuition business.’ The painter was rising up. He hadn’t been tied up like the others because he’d been unconscious.
‘Subro.’ Abhijit hissed his name with such contempt, the tentacles around him vibrated for a second like rattlesnakes’ tails.
‘Yeah it’s me, Motu. What’s up?’
‘Don’t call me that!’
‘Well, no, you’re right, it doesn’t suit you anymore. How about Octopus? Or Squid?’
‘Now, now, stop distracting me. What was I saying? Yeah. “Not again!” What is wrong with you villains? Why is it always world domination with your kind? What are you, Dixit’s apprentice? She had the same bloody idea!’
‘Dixit!’ Abhijit almost spat the name out. ‘Of course she had the same idea. Our idea! She was leading the Company, wasn’t she? Father always said she was too weak-willed to get us anywhere. Never did anything herself, always delegating. Father was against her leadership from the start, but the Company voted for her over him, and they suffered for it. Her mistakes cost us everything. This is the problem with having women in high positions. But no more. Now I will be leading and everything will go as we have wanted for ages.’
There was a sound of struggling, and Ravi watched Madhu fighting against her binds. ‘You bastard, I’ll show you just what women are capable of. Fight me, you—’
Only when a section of the animated cord around her tied itself across her mouth did she stop cursing.
‘Hey thanks, Madhu,’ said Subro. ‘You gave me some more nickname ideas for my dear cousin.’
Ravi shifted in his own binds. All the while as they were talking, the strong winds kept blowing and the ghosts’ screams refused to die. Abhijit was absorbing them even while maintaining conversation.
On one side, Ghosty was still cowering. Now in Subro’s guise, now in Ravi’s father’s, now in Uncle Silver’s, now in Rehan’s. Over and over its form shifted, but every apparition shivered in fright on the floor.
Are you okay? Just hold on! Ravi tried to tell it, but there was no sign that the ghost could hear him. Every time one of the tentacles wriggled on Abhijit’s skin Ravi worried that it would make a grab for Ghosty. What should I do?
Abhijit had ignored Subro’s last jest. He seemed distracted; his eyes were closed, his head was nodding and a thin smile twitched at his lips. ‘More, I want more,’ he was murmuring.
Then suddenly, he broke from his blissful trance. His eyes shot for the entrance and a frown replaced his smile.
Ravi followed, but he couldn’t see anything. It wasn’t until a while later that he heard footsteps climbing up.
Before they could see who was arriving, Abhijit announced, ‘I thought I told you never to show your face to me!’
Sharmila! Ravi thought. Could she help them out? Could she deal with her brother this time?
‘Why are you here, Sharu?!’ Abhijit asked again. ‘Come to disappoint me again?’
The sounds of footsteps grew louder.
‘I don’t want to disappoint you Dada,’ Sharmila’s voice said. ‘Please, if you will just hear me out?’
At last, Ravi saw a head emerge above the landing.
‘Why should I hear you?’ Abhijit grumbled.
‘I — I have brought you a gift. So please, just listen to me?’
The head was followed by a torso, but it wasn’t Sharmila who climbed up the landing, or even a girl. It was a man with his hands behind tied his back and a tape over his lips.
‘A gift, is it? Hmm, very well,’ said Abhijit. ‘Let me hear it then. Let me hear your apology.’
The man who had climbed the stairs was a policeman, Ravi noted. Sharmila arrived behind him. She had a gun pointed at the officer.
‘I’m sorry, Dada,’ said Sharmila. ‘I’m sorry I acted against you. I didn’t think we had a choice. Our family’s secrets were out, our parents were captured. I was frightened. I thought they would come after us if we tried anything.’
No! No! No! Ravi clenched his fists. This can’t be happening. Not her!
‘I told you I would handle it!’ Abhijit told his sister. ‘I told you I would make things right.’
‘I know you did. But I — I wasn’t sure you could. I didn’t know how you were going to do it. I couldn’t imagine you would be able to tap into this much power. If you had only told me…’
‘The secrets of our family are entrusted to the men, Sharu. You had no business knowing.’
‘I know. I should have trusted your knowledge. I am sorry, Dada.’
‘Are you? Prove it.’
‘Prove it? Prove it how?’
‘You know how.’
Sharmila gulped. She stared from her gun to the officer she was aiming at. Slowly, she nodded. ‘Yes, I know,’ she said softly. She gripped the gun tighter, her index finger twitching at the trigger.
‘Don’t do it, Sharmila!’ Ravi told her.
‘What are you doing, Sharu?’ Subro said.
‘I must,’ said Sharmila, ‘I must do this.’ And then she pulled the trigger.