It was not uncommon for Ahmed to tread these roads. He had driven his car on this highway for many years now. He knew the roads like the back of his hand. But driving it on a dark moonless lonely night had its own charm. The only light was the one gleaming from his car’s headlights.
This passage from the woods was his favourite. The topiary around which appeared handsome in day light was now conjuring dark images. The fire flies and moths dancing in the radiating headlights were the only life visible. The occasional glint from the eyes of a passing wild dog in the jungle was distinct and the intermittent howl of a fox, terrifying. The vacant road was seducing Ahmed to speed up but he wanted to go carefully, to avoid any breakdowns on such a lonely highway and avoid hitting any animals. Ahmed kept peeping into the rear mirror to check on his sons on the back seat and saw pitch darkness following his car,. Today he was accompanied by his two sons 11 years old Adnan and 5 years old Waqar. The boys were drowsy but Ahmed wanted them to see the darkness outside and revel in the unpredictability of the journey.
Just as Ahmed was turning on a curve he could see a see a light blinking at a distant. His heart skipped a beat, he instinctively looked in the rear mirror and felt assured to see his two sons sleeping peacefully and darkness beyond them. As he neared the blinking lights he realized it was from a car parked on the side of the road. It was an old car with faded paint and scratched and dented in a few places. He wanted to get down and check, but the folklore was to never get off the car and never to help stranded travelers on this highway but most importantly never ever to touch strangers. The highway had the notoriety of being haunted and oblivious travelers getting possessed by spirits. But the instinct to help was overwhelming. He slowed down his car as he neared the waiting sedan. He traced a silhouette of a man sitting on the driver’s seat. Ahmed slowly passed the sedan and noticed the man was slouching and his head was resting on the steering wheel. “Is he dead?” was the first thought in Ahmed’s mind. He honked a few times as he passed by. And immediately the man in the sedan sat up and saw Ahmed’s car passing by. He got off the car and started waiving fanatically with both hands and shouted “Help help”. Ahmed saw the figure in the rear mirror and he stopped and slowly reversed his car.
The man came running towards the car, he appeared middle aged, decently dressed and educated. He wore thick glasses and had a paunch. Ahmed rolled down the window. “I am Amit” said the man. “Please help, my car’s broken down and I need to get out of this jungle”.
“Sure. Come along” assured Ahmed
“My mother is in the car, wait I will get her” Amit said and left in a hurry
Ahmed waited patiently. He saw Amit accompanying an old lady towards his car. The lady was old but appeared strong. Her face and body appeared completely wrinkled. The skin had become leathery and sagging. Her hair was completely white and left untied. Her forehead had black tattoo dots, once enhancing her beauty but now looking shabby in the wrinkles. She was toothless and the lips and the chin were almost touching each other. Her big ears were sagging and pierced in multiple places. She was walking with a stick which looked liked a shaft from the jungle. She was wearing a white saree and a white blouse. She appeared ghostly.
Ahmed opened the rear door of his car and gestured the old lady to be seated behind. Adnan and Waqar were now awake. Ahmed asked them to make place for the lady to sit. Both his sons looked visibly petrified on seeing the old lady but did not react.
With Amit in the front seat with Ahmed and Amit’s mother and Ahmed’s two sons in the backseat they started driving. Ahmed and Amit did not converse much just a few monosyllables. Ahmed kept checking in the rare view mirror and to his surprise he found the old lady slowly falling sideways and lying down on the laps of Adnan and Waqar. Ahmed gave a quizzical look to Amit but Amit just smirked and looked from top of his glasses and said ‘She is tired”. Ahmed glanced again at the rear seat and found his sons missing. Ahmed went cold. His heart was thumping violently and his knees shivering. He was drenched in sweat and just did not know what to do. He adjusted the mirror but only found the old lady lying on the seat and his sons missing. His body was shaking and he almost lost control of the car. What happened to my sons? Where were they? His throat was choked and no voice was coming out of his mouth. He finally managed to scream “Waqar!!!”
“I am right here Abbu, why are you screaming?”
“Where is Adnan?” he continued exasperatedly
“He is right here, sleeping”
“But the old lady is lying on your laps”
“That’s Ok, she is old”
“Why can’t I see you?”
“Can we just drop these people”
Ahmed was a little relieved to hear his son’s calm voice but was still cold with fear. He did not know what to do? Should he just throw out these strangers from his car? What if they harm him too? What if they harm his sons further? Many such questions were now running through his mind. He did not glance at Amit, just continued to drive. He was now driving faster, just to arrive at a destination and get rid of these strangers.
At a distant Ahmed saw a few lights. He glanced at the rear seat again, the ghostly old lady was lying down on the rear seat and still no sign of his sons
“Waqar are you and Adnan okay?” he bluttered
“Yes Abbu” He received a calm reply.
A few kilometers later Ahmed saw an old tattered motel and hurriedly said “I will drop you and your mother here”.
“That would be perfect” Replied Amit
Ahmed dropped the strangers and sped away.
Amit got down of the car sweaty and shivering. He held his mother’s hand and moved in to the motel. A sleepy attendant came to the counter at the sound of the visitors. He saw the duo in a disoriented and terrifying state.
“Everything’s ok?” he asked
“Alright now, but had a harrowing journey through the jungle”
The attendant ran in and got the owner of the motel, Sultan.
Sultan was an aging man in late sixties.
He made Amit and his mother sit down and offered them cold water.
“Tell me from the beginning” said an anxious Sultan
“Is everything alright? Why are you people so alarmed?”
“First please tell me what happened in the jungle” persisted Sultan
“My car broke down and there is no mobile signal in the jungle, so I was waiting for help from some passer-by. A lot of cars went by but none stopped. Eventually as night fell I gave up on the waiting and decided to sleep in my car. Till this gentleman Ahmed came along and offered help. He seemed to be a decent man. But was weary of my mother. When my mother went to sit at the back he behaved as if making place on an empty seat. And he kept talking to some unseen people Waqar and Adnan. And later he started shivering and sweating and drove fast and reached here at break neck speed“.
“You are lucky mister” said Sultan
“Why you say that?”
“About 20 years ago, Ahmed was travelling on this highway with his two sons when his car hit an animal on the highway and his car broke down. When he got down to seek help he and his sons were attacked by some wild dogs and wolves. They lied there bleeding and seeking help but none of the cars stopped and Ahmed and his sons died on the highway. Since then many stranded travelers have been helped by Ahmed and brought safely out of the jungle. Though they do not like to be touched and your mother lying down on his son’s laps must have irked him.”
Amit was listening attentively and gave a relieved look to the old lady with him, Maya, fellow exorcist. Maya tapped at a bottle under her saree and said proudly “We have his two sons.”