Chapter 31

(Book 2: Hello, Can You Fear Me?)

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The officer before her fell to the floor.
Sharmila pulled the trigger again and again and again. She shot a total of six times, though the job had been done well before then.
It grew awfully quiet in the temple as the chanting died down. The Echorder had been riddled with holes. Its rotating disc lay shattered over the floor in a dozen pieces.
The fallen officer stayed down, shielding himself with his hands, but was alive.
Sharmila stood shivering. ‘I’m sorry, Dada,’ she said and dropped the gun.
‘You…’ Her brother said. ‘You dare!!’ The tentacles erupting out of his skin appeared to have shrunk down to golden wisps again in the absence of the chanting.
‘I’m — I’m sorry…’ Sharmila cried.
Abhijit strode furiously towards her and slapped her with the back of his hand with such force that she fell to the floor in pain.
‘YOU LIAR!’ Abhijit screamed. ‘TRAITOR!’ He literally spat at her. ‘I left you alive out of kindness. Is this how you repay me?! You trick your own brother? When I’m trying to set things right? WHY?!’
‘I don’t — I don’t want this!’ Sharmila said, sobbing as she held the cheek he’d hit. ‘This isn’t how I want things to be!’
‘You don’t want what’s good for our family?!’
‘I do… but not like this! What has gotten into you Dada? How can you be okay with murder?’
Abhijit glanced at Rehan’s charred body which still had flames flickering around it. ‘Don’t you blame me for that! I gave him a choice, and he refused me. Stupid man.’
‘Do you hear yourself, Dada? When someone refuses you, you don’t kill them, you try to reason with them. For all you know they might have some truth to—’
‘DO YOU HEAR YOURSELF?’ Abhijit screamed. ‘You’re thinking up excuses to defend our enemies! Why can’t you find such compassion towards your own family?’
‘Dada, please…’
‘I’ve heard enough! You don’t want to back me up while I do good for the family, fine! But don’t interfere! Get out of my sight!’
Sharmila looked like she wanted to say something but couldn’t settle on the words.
‘GO!’ Abhijit screamed at her. ‘Don’t make the same mistake as Officer Rehan.’ With that, he turned his back on her. He frowned at the many pieces of the Echorder, his jaws grinding.
Sharmila had not moved. She watched as her brother kicked at the Echorder’s pieces in frustration. One chunk shot for the far wall where it shattered inches away from Uncle Silver’s shoulder. Abhijit let out a guttural roar that made the hairs on Ravi’s neck stand erect. Ravi noted that the man’s eyes appeared redder now, more deathly.
It was during this tense moment when Subro tried another one of his taunts. ‘Well, looks like all the fun has fizzled out of this party,’ he said to Abhijit. ‘I hope you’ll understand if we go home now?’
Abhijit’s crimson glare looked so murderous, it almost seemed he would kill his cousin with the stare alone. When he stepped towards the painter, Subro grew uncertain, backing away.
As Abhijit closed in, the artist mumbled, ‘Now, now, I was just making a note of the situation. No need to be hasty…’
‘You think this is over?’ Abhijit barked. ‘You think I am defeated?’ He reached for Subro with one hand, and as the artist tried to hurry back, he found himself against the wall behind him. Abhijit was upon the painter in an instant, grabbing at his neck like he had grabbed at Rehan’s.
‘NO!’ screamed several people at once. Abhijit paid them no heed, until he heard another. ‘Dada, please, don’t. I beg you.’
With his fingers wrapped around Subro’s throat, Abhijit took a deep breath as if to calm himself. He released the painter and spun around. ‘I told you,’ he said to Sharmila, ‘I told you not to make the same mistake as the officer!’
‘Please…’ Sharmila begged.
‘I told you to be gone!’ Abhijit’s teeth were clenched, and his fists were shaking. The golden smoke rising off his person was thickening. The tendrils seemed to gravitate towards his arms, towards his hands. They began to spark as they concentrated at his fingers. Then the man aimed his hands at his sister.
A blinding flash erupted out of his palms, and a deafening bang sounded as it collided against the figure in its path.
Ravi stared in horror at where Sharmila had been standing. Thick clouds of smoke obscured his vision of her. As the air cleared, though, the figure in its midst appeared to be still standing.
That figure… Ravi thought, squinting.
It wasn’t Sharmila. It was Ravi’s own form shielding the girl who was behind it.
Ghosty! Ravi realised. Ghosty has saved her!
The next moment, Ravi’s doppleganger dropped down to its knees, exhausted.
Abhijit studied the scene. He actually smiled. ‘You people want to stop me from collecting these ghosts, and then you bring one right to me?’ He marched hungrily towards Ghosty. ‘I must thank you for this gift!’
‘Stay back!’ cried the real Ravi. ‘Stay away from Ghosty!’
‘Ghosty?’ Abhijit laughed. ‘You’ve named it. How cute. Well, your pet is going to make a delicious meal.’
Ghosty turned its head towards Ravi, and there was a sad smile on its face.
Abhijit was right next to the ghost now. He put a hand on its head. The wisps on his fingers licked at Ghosty’s face.
‘I feel it,’ the man noted, mostly to himself. ‘This one is strong. It will give me quite the energy boost. Yes!!’
Ghosty’s figure began to shimmer. It morphed into Subro, then Uncle Silver, then Rehan, then Fernandes, then Madhu, Anurag, and even Abhijit himself. The appearances came one by one, each one lasting a shorter duration than the one before it, until they were cycling too rapidly to be discerned.
‘NO! Don’t do this!’ Ravi cried, but to no avail.
Abhijit continued to work his evil. He seemed to be sapping the ghost of all its power.
And Ravi could do nothing more than to stare. He realised that the ever-changing face was looking straight at him, still smiling. As he watched, its lips parted, and Ghosty uttered two words an instant before getting sucked up through Abhijit’s palm.
‘Thank you.’
Ghosty’s last words rang through the temple.
Abhijit straightened and faced Subro. ‘My dear cousin,’ he said, ‘I’m afraid the party is very much alive.’

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