My younger sister is someone who would talk and talk to such an extent that she would at times leave the listener staring at her in amazement and also wondering as to how on earth could she keep up with so much of chatter. Personally I feel that it is rather irritating. The constant chatter would drone on and on till I would feel like I should probably gag her or stuff my ears with cotton. But then she is so beautiful and charming that it becomes slightly difficult to say anything to her that might hurt her sentiments. So I would suffer her silently. She has three children, two daughters and one son. My nieces and nephew were a curious bunch of children. They would spend entire days spitting at each other or finding out different ways and means of annoying the rest of the family to such an extent that we would be forced to sit around a table and actually conduct a meeting on how to distract them from such destructive activities. But then they grew old and they became tolerable. My nephew especially was growing up to become a very intelligent young man (I always felt that he had taken after me. His father is a rather insipid, insignificant man). He would sit with me and ask me questions regarding various branches of science in a grave manner. I observed that he did not have a logical bent of mind. In fact he chose to defy logic and try to find inferences that would confound logic. I would feel a little angry at times when he did this but I was an encouraging uncle and I did not want him to be bereft of knowledge, hence I would provide him with opportunities to keep questioning.
One day he came to me and asked with a funny look on his face, “Sir, did you know that a boy lives in the tree house?” I looked at him with a frown. “A boy, you said?” He nodded his head. “No. I am not aware of such a thing. When did you see this boy?” He thought for a while. “Last night. At one o’clock.” I looked at my nephew. “And what were you doing staying up so late?” He seemed unaffected by this question defeating its purpose completely. “I was reading the book that you had lent me,” he replied distractedly. I realized that he was a little disturbed. “What is it that bothers you, my boy?” I asked gently. “I don’t know,” he said. Then he looked at me with a sudden desperation and asked in a rush as though he wanted to get the question over with before he lost courage, “Will you please stay up with me tonight, Sir. So we could go and explore this.” I thought for a second and nodded. He seemed very relieved. Before I could say anything he said, “Thank you, Sir. I will then expect you in my room at around twelve o’clock.” And he left. Maybe he did not want to talk to me about it. The reason why I said yes to him was because I was a little miffed that strange boys had encroached into my property. This is not done.
As the clock struck twelve I knocked on his door. He was dressed and ready. His face had an eagerness and also a tinge of anxiety. We went up to his window and looked into the garden. Now, reader, my garden is not all that extraordinary. It is like any other garden with a few flowering shrubs and other trees. On one of these trees is a house that was built on a whim. There was some extra wood left over and we were at a loss as to how we could utilize it. And my wife came up with the suggestion that we could build a tree house. So we did. It looked good but there were times when I felt that it was a little bit of a monstrosity too because the wood had been grotesquely arranged at some points lending it a very strange kind of look. As though the builder had thought something but had decided, after finishing halfway, that he wanted to do something else. Anyway. We stood looking out of the window and in the general direction of the tree house. Nothing stirred. Time seemed to pass even slower than a snail. It is indeed interesting how time seems to slow down immensely when you are waiting for something to happen. Such a frustration too! But there was nothing to be done about it and we had to wait. So we waited. It was also interesting how the two of us who would never tire of talking at length about different subjects, were unnaturally quiet that night. We could feel the tension that was mounting within the other person. Maybe that’s why we refrained from talking.
The clock struck one. It pealed echoingly around the house. As if on cue there was a movement in the tree house. A light was to be seen. Shadowed against it was the profile of a boy. Just like my nephew had mentioned. I was quite surprised to note that the boy was completely at ease inside the house. His posture seemed like he owned the place. And that irritated me mightily. I made as if to move and go down. My nephew’s restraining hand on my elbow stopped me in my track. I looked a question at him. “No,” he said, “we must wait and watch what he does tonight. Tomorrow we’ll go down and meet him. Please, Sir.” I had never seen him in such a state before. It was apparent that a mere trespasser was being a cause of unnecessary concern to my nephew. I was a tad bit disappointed in him. In matters related to courage, he was definitely a coward, like his father. I acquiesced and we stood at the window continuing our vigil. During the hours that followed when darkness was still roaming the countryside with her black veils flowing lushly over the hills and vales and leas, the boy did several things. He read, he ate, he drank and he slept. And so did I. The sudden chirping of a bird at the window woke me up. I found my nephew in the same position in which I had left him. But he seemed slightly out of sorts.
“What happened, my boy?” I asked. He turned towards me as though he had suddenly realized that I had been with him all the time. “That boy spoke to me,” he said. “How did he manage that?” I asked. “And how come I did not hear him?” “He got down the tree house. He walked towards our window. The next instant he was sitting at the sill.” My nephew spoke in a monotone which worried me. “He has been shot. The bullet hole is still visible on his head. He said he only wants this place to spend his nights. During the days he has other places to go.” I was incredulous. What nonsense was my nephew ranting? A boy who has been shot in the head has to be dead and lying in his grave in some graveyard and not spend nights in decent people’s tree houses, harassing them to no extent. I got up and said gravely, “Now look here, my boy. We have to get to the crux of this matter. That boy is obviously some vagabond who had no place to sleep and has found a convenient place in that tree house. We cannot let this continue. Tomorrow night you and I are going to him as soon as he comes and we are setting all this straight. Agreed?” My nephew had been staring at the floor all the while. He then slowly looked up and I almost fell back in shock when I saw a bullet hole in the centre of his forehead with a trickle of blood that had flowed out and had dried before it could fall free on to the earth. Trapped in the creases of the skin. His eyes had turned a strange shade of grey. But that boy had his mother’s blue eyes. What was this? Who was this? This boy in front of me was not my nephew. If it was not him then who was he? Suddenly I saw my nephew shudder and start. He looked at me with frightened eyes. I stared back at him uncertainly. “Sir,” he began tentatively. I held up my hand ordering him to stop talking. His shoulders slumped, he closed his eyes and I saw that he had fallen asleep. In a flash. I lifted him tenderly and took him down to my room. I had decided then and there that that child was going to remain with me the entire time till I had sorted out this matter. The incident at the mansion had never been erased. And what about the wolfman? If such strangeness could happen with me they could happen with anybody else too.
All day I kept a close eye on him. Watching his every move. What he ate, how well he ate, where he went, what he read, how much he slept, what he spoke? Everything I observed. I found that apart from a little puffiness around the eyes (which I shall attribute to lack of sleep) he seemed perfectly normal. It got me wondering. Was the boy acting? Because I had mentioned in the morning that he was not to come with me when I spoke to the trespasser. And he had looked disappointed. I had also enumerated the reason as to why I had felt that it was not a good idea for him to be with me when I was sorting out the matter, viz. his lack of sleep and his health. So was he being all cheerful and active because he wanted to be with me? But then only I knew why I taken this decision. My nephew was one of those human beings who were able to communicate with ghosts. Like me. It took me a mammoth effort to put this thought into words. And I was damned if I would let that particular, nonsensical, useless, ability to enhance and gain strength. No Sir. My nephew had been born to achieve greater feats and conquer the world of science. He was not to be reduced to one of those foolish men who call themselves scientists and explore the paranormal realm. Paranormal, indeed! Oh I could shoot the bunch of them for creating such ridiculous notions and then talking about it too. So that susceptible young men lost their rationality and start believing in something that has no scientific premise in it. This train of thought let out so much fire that I had to drink a glass of water to extinguish it. It also reinforced my decision of not taking him along with me that night.
Night arrived as usual. I glanced at my nephew who was lying on my bed reading an adventure book. He would glance at the clock in between and I also felt his eyes on me several times. I sensed that he wanted to say something and I was deliberately avoiding his look so that he did not get an opportunity to start a conversation. To make matters more difficult for him I took up a ponderous tome and made as if to read. After a few pages I realized that the book would definitely put me to sleep if not anything else. And it would be disastrous if I were to fall asleep. Hence I put the book aside and peeped out into the tree house. Now, reader, my room is much closer to the tree house as compared to the room that we were in last night. In the sense that we would be able to not only get a closer look at the trespasser but also talk to him if need be. I waited for the clock to strike one. It did eventually. It had to. And when I looked at the tree house, there he was. The light came on and the activities of the night began. My nephew moved restlessly. It was as though he had felt the presence of the trespasser. “Sir,” he said in a desperate voice, “you have to let me talk to the boy. We’ll talk in front of you. We have to agree to his wants.” I grimaced and asked, “Why on earth should we agree to that chit of a boy’s wants? I could crush him in the palm of my hand if I chose to.” “No, Sir,” said my nephew, “if we don’t then he will hurt me. He said he will. He said he will make me do things that I don’t want to do. And say things that I don’t want to say. Please, Sir.” By now there were tears in his eyes and my heart went out to him. He was my blood and I had to stick by him. But his words had also dented my oversized ego. How dare the trespasser make us do things that we don’t want to? How dare he threaten to hurt my nephew? I said after a lot of thought, “Ok. You can come.”
We walked towards the tree house and went up the steps. The boy was reading. And, yes reader, he had a bullet hole in the centre of his forehead. He also had strange grey eyes. He looked at me nonchalantly. I could almost have hit him for his audacity. “Hello,” he said cheerfully, as though we were inside his sitting room about to embark on a conversation related to the weather and politics. “So, you want to have a word with me,” he was addressing me all the time (not glancing at my nephew at all), “maybe you want to eject me out of your property. Make sure that I never return.” And he laughed at me. My anger had been simmering and it had now reached boiling point. “Now look here, you,” I thundered, “I have had enough of your nonsense. If you don’t leave this property right now I swear I’ll have you out and none the wiser.” He shook his head at me. “Such anger,” he said cheekily. Then all of a sudden his manner changed. He got up slowly and came towards us and I don’t know why, but he seemed to grow larger and larger in size. No this was not happening. It was just the lights playing tricks on us. He was now close enough till I could touch him if I wanted to. And then something happened which still haunts me. There he stood in front of me and my nephew moved to stand next to him. I stared aghast when I saw the same bullet hole on my nephew’s forehead and the child’s blue eyes had turned grey again. My nephew came up to me and caught my collar in a grip which spoke of a strength that he definitely did not posses. His eyes stared into mine and he said, “I will do very bad things to your family if you don’t let me stay here for some days, Doctor. Very bad things.” All this my nephew spoke, not in his voice, but in the trespasser’s voice. Every muscle in my body became numb. I could not move. Fear had caught hold of my throat and was pressing down slowly making it very difficult for me to breathe. I was powerless. I managed to say in a strangled gasp, “All right. You can stay here for as long as you want. And please don’t do anything to my family. But most importantly, please, please leave my nephew alone. I beg of you.” His mocking laughter cut through me like a knife. How easy it is to forget one’s ego when a loved one’s in danger. My nephew had returned back to himself. But the trespasser continued to laugh at me. “All right,” he said. “I’ll leave your family alone. And your beloved nephew too. And don’t worry, Doctor. I’ll be gone soon. I have better places to live. This hovel is just a whim that I give in to once in a while when I decide that I want to get away from luxury. And now you have to leave. I must get back to my reading. It was nice meeting you. Goodnight.” And in this way, we were dismissed.
Slowly we trudged back inside the cottage. My nephew did not remember anything that had occurred with him. And I had absolutely no intentions of telling him either. So I put an arm around his shoulders and smiled down at him. He smiled back. I did not notice that as soon as I looked away his smile had disappeared. Just like mine did. Together we went inside the bed room and laid ourselves down. Sleep did not come easy. All the while I kept waking up and checking on my nephew. Morning dawned. The day arrived like every other day. We spent cheerful moments with the family. We went out to visit our friends and to enjoy the scenery around the hills. My sister was with us for a month. Every night at one o’clock my nephew and I would see the trespasser go about his actions. Suddenly one night the clock struck three. I woke up. I had heard a sound at the window. My nephew had heard it too because he was up in the bed listening intently (Yes, reader, after that night I had taken the decision that my nephew would be sleeping in my room with me till the rest of his stay there). We looked towards the window and imagine our reaction when we saw the trespasser sitting on the sill with the cheeky smile on his face. He waved at us and gave us a mocking salute. The next instant he was gone. We literally jumped out of the bed and ran towards the window. But he was nowhere to be seen. There were no lights and no movement inside the tree house too. I turned towards my nephew and said, “Listen, child, we are not going to talk about this ever again. Just remove it from your mind as though it was a dream. Do you understand?” He nodded his head and we went back to sleep.
After that night, till date, reader, I have not seen that trespasser ever again. Good riddance! But one day several years later, when my nephew had grown into the fine young man that I always knew he would grow up to be he asked me a question. He asked me as to what happened to him that night. I just smiled.