Beserk, p.1
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       BESERK!, p.1
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           Joseph Martin
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  Stifled! (Gems of fiction-1)

  (A Collection of Short Stories)


  Joseph Martin

  Dedicated to






  My grateful thanks to

  Sweety, Charvi, Varsha, Sam, Vicky, Nilesh, Ajay, Munna, Prashant, Mitesh, Tikoo, Aakash, Aagam, Shivang, Clinton and Bryan.

  Author’s Note

  These stories that I have written are fictitious. But every story, believe me, has some iota of truth. For instance, the theory of Reversal of Gene Sequence in the story, ‘The Behemoth’. It had been put forward by a few scientists a few but was rejected by the scientific world. Recently the theory was once again fielded and accepted. It is now being once again looked into. Even the aircraft—the V-22 Tiltrotor is a US aircraft soon to be made functional for military, naval and civilian purposes.

  Structures with similar history and architecture, such as the Chaudari Havelli of ‘Death Plot’, in Madhya Pradesh decades ago, and Tahali Khandar, a Fort in the Konkan coast do exist.

  The characters of ‘The Crazy Devdas’ and ‘The Moken Prophecy’ are also inspired from true incidents that recently appeared in a nation’s leading newspaper.

  Lastly the story, ‘Code Among the Apaches’ deals with the Apache—the Native American Indians. They were fearless and freedom-loving warriors, who lived with a strict-code of life and death. All the facts mentioned here, are true.

  Guys, I have been an ardent reader. And I love reading books of substance. So even in my stories, I have written to the point without beating around the bush. So guys do read these stories and send me the feedback on Any kind of feedback is welcome! It does not matter whatever you have to say—good or bad! So just read it and enjoy! Bye guys. Happy reading!

  Chapter 1: Tahali Khandar

  “Salim was bitten on his neck last week…” Uncle Chandra was speaking to someone over the telephone.

  The grimness in his voice stilled my feet rather than the words. And try as much I could not move on without hearing the further conversation. So I crept towards the slightly ajar door and listened. I’m not a habitual eavesdropper but today I could not help being one.

  We are an average family. Not orthodox or too liberal, and my uncle in particular was an epitome of etiquette. He would never take my interference in his matters lightly. Though I was nearing eighteen, he still treated me like a twelve-year old. Little did he know I had already gone through a dozen of hookahs, a few cigarettes, even beer and tequila!

  Ah! And there was also Gignasha aka Gina my GF, a year senior to me. She was no Kim Kardashian but definitely a hottie. Nobody called her Gignasha, she felt the name too pedestrian! Just as everyone called me Andy! (Throughout my school days I was known as Andaa, meaning EggHead. Now I did not want any of the same.)

  But who could tell all this to uncle, he would never understand. I guess he was from the old school of thought. If uncle ever knew about all this he would blow his top! But he would know only when I wanted him to know. That, I was most certain! But then uncle’s next sentence struck me with lethality.

  “Salim had gone to the Tahali Khandar and now it has caused him death.” Uncle continued. “Girish too had accompanied him to that place. He is lucky to be alive… but having returned from there he has been suffering from bouts of fright fevers.”

  Girish was my village childhood friend. According to what Uncle Chandra spoke over the phone my worst fears were confirmed. Something in the Tahali Khandar had terrified him to such an extent that he developed fever due to acute fear. Tahali Khandar was a ruin in my village. It was rumored to be the haunt of an ancient chudail—witch and her horde of blood lusty narpishach—ghouls.

  Could this be the cause? Could they have bitten Salim? No, I told myself I was letting my imagination run amok. In this modern era it was absurd to even entertain such a thought. It was pure crap! Salim was probably bitten by some rabid or wild animal. But my village was an island which was cleared of most of its animal inhabitants by the British about six decades ago. They had planned to build a secret naval base, which never materialized. Since then, it has stayed the same to date.

  I did not have time for such bullshit! My hottie angel was waiting for me. But Uncle Chandra’s next statement was reinforcement to my doubts.

  “The poor boy’s trembling and shivering after dark, night after night was pitiful. This lasted for nearly a week. By the end of the week he died.”

  Salim? Trembling in fear? I could not believe it. I had heard much of his fearless episodes, like raiding the Headman’s orchard, saving his playmate from drowning. He had even ventured into the mangroves beside the Tahali Khandar in the dead of night, to prove there were no ghouls! And now those very non-existent beings had tried to devour him.

  As I stood listening, I heard footsteps behind me. It was time to move away. But the last sentence convinced me.

  Again uncle was speaking. “I am going to organize volunteers from the village and venture into the Tahali Khandar to find their lair and decimate every one of them. We have borne them for too long.”

  I quickly moved away before I could be caught.

  Uncle Chandra is my foster uncle. My dad, Arjun Gaikwad and he, as kids were inseparable. When I was a year old, dad and uncle had gone together on a harmless adventure to Tahali Khandar. They had a fatal accident there which injured uncle but brought my father a slow death. The details of the accident: my uncle tactfully evaded when inquired by me. Why? Also on certain days of the year my uncle would get uptight especially on my birthdays. I always wondered why the hell? I am sure uncle was hiding some skeletons in his cupboard!

  Anyway, Dad knew his end was imminent so he instructed his lawyer, Yash, to declare uncle the custodian of our village property until I turned eighteen. Uncle brought me to our city house when I was seven, where I live to date.

  We shared a very cordial relationship. These days Uncle was overjoyed on two counts. Firstly, I would be going to the village after ten odd years. Secondly, he would hand over the document papers of my property to me. I would turn eighteen next month. The property-he considered to be a heavy burden on his shoulders.

  Uncle expressed his joy openly but he could not conceal from me some conflict that was nagging him deep within. It was the same uptightness he expressed on my birthdays. So I decided to share his anxiety. I felt the cause of his anxiety was Salim and Girish. Also, my property?

  Uncle’s words lurked in my mind. I went to my room and pondered over the hush-hush telephonic conversation.

  Uncle Chandra was going to the witch’s lair? My uncle was going to kill the vampires? Shucks, it was too far fetched to believe! I had seen such witch and werewolf hunts, but only in movies. An angry mob of villagers would assemble with fire torches, pitchforks, scythes, swords and what not, to hunt these evil creatures. But that only happened only in the movies!

  All day long I could not get the thought out of my head. I guess, I have a thing for ruins, historical places and the occult. It is the only thing that separated me from my friends.

  Chapter 2: Tahali Khandar

  Later in the day I found uncle reading a newspaper in his favorite chair. “Uncle, what time are we leaving for Velugar, tomorrow?” I inquired, to strike a conversation.

  I detested going back to my village, Velugar. I knew the living conditions there. That horrible well-water for drinking, no air-condition, eating and drinking from steel vessels…Ugh, it was worse than a labor camp! But I had no choice I had to receive my inheritance; it amounted to a few 1000Ks.

  Without putting down the newspaper, he answered casually, “
Not we, I will be leaving tomorrow. You can join me later. As I have to attend to some urgent matter before you reach the village.”

  “Ah! Our good old village!” I said, trying to sound pleased. My friends, especially Gina, had drilled it in me to pretend that I was pleased to go. Uncle would be happy she reasoned. “I shall meet Girish again.” I added on second thoughts deliberately to rake up Girish’s story. The telephonic conversation had stirred my curiosity no end. “By the way how is he?” I probed further.

  Uncle now put down the paper, without batting an eyelid he answered, “Fine.”

  What a load of crap uncle was giving me! “And Salim?” I persisted.

  At these words he looked straight at me. In a low voice he said, “He is fine too.”

  I was adamant, so I asked, “Uncle, tell me why are you so disturbed? Only, I know you are upset about something.”

  “OK, fine,” he sighed, “if you must know, I just got a call from Yash, your lawyer, informing me that some of the property papers are missing! And none can claim authority over your property until those papers are found. Not even you.”

  Uncle’s words made me choke on a lump. What no property! My face must have shown the disappointment, for uncle immediately said “Relax son, it’s just a matter of few days and everything will be settled.”

  I felt the lump in my throat dissolve. I was back to my interrogation, also since he relented, my next query I was dying to ask slipped out. “Uncle, please tell me now, what happened to dad and you on that fateful night at Tahali Khandar?”

  He looked angrily at me, gritted his teeth and thundered, “Anish Gaikwad, you meddlesome swine, you want to poke your nose everywhere! How many times have I told you not to ask this question?” With these words he stormed out of the room.

  Uncle could not be blamed for the outburst. He felt responsible for my father’s death. Besides, people knowing my uncle’s carefree nature blamed him for the accident.

  I strongly felt that the mishaps of dad, Girish, and Salim were linked to some mystery in the Khandar, unknown to me!

  x x x

  Without even saying a bloody goodbye to me Uncle left for the village the next day. Good riddance! Who cares!

  x x x

  A few days before Durga Pooja, I left for my village. Gina and a few friends came to leave me at the bus-stand. All the while they joked about my attire. I was dressed in the traditional kurta. They had never seen me dressed this way. I always dressed in branded clothes, but today.

  Gina often told me that she was attracted to my Matt Damonish looks. She was not the first girl to say so.

  I was forced to dress so, for these down-market villagers stared, like you had landed from Pluto.

  The bus ride from Pune to Velugar was a five-hour journey. The Neeta-Volvo bus was comfy but the popular Bollywood movie playing was boring, at least to me. It was supposed to be hilarious, all my fellow-commuters were laughing uncontrollably. But hard as I tried I could barely get a smile from the movie.

  I wished they had played a real Hollywood classic, something like Inception, Bourne Ultimatum or maybe even Matrix Reloaded… But I am sure my ‘half-brained fellow-commuters’ would be like cavemen watching an automobile!

  Irritated, I got out my Blackberry. It had been my piece for the last six months! I now yearned for an iPhone-4, but uncle would have nothing to do with it.

  I promised myself, with my heritance, I would buy the best piece in the market. Probably an iPhone-4S from Apple, it had an A5 chip that made it twice faster than the iPhone-4 and also a dual-core with several times better graphics. But for now I put on my earplugs and listened to sexy Rihanna sing… Cheers-drink to that.

  Soon, listening to it made me thirsty; I got out my pineapple Bacardi Breezer and made short work of it.

  My village Velugar is a small fishing village on the Konkan coast; close to the state of Goa. In fact it was a part of Goa until the state of Maharasthra came into existence. I had heard someplace that I come from a royal lineage. My great great-grandfather was a jaghirdar—a kind of small regional prince. And his estate included the entire village of present day Velugar. While Uncle Chandra’s lineage came from foot-soldiers of my estate.

  Tahali Khandar is an ancient ruin to the far side of our village. It was one of the many lesser known sea-forts built by the Marathas as early as 18th century. Later, it was taken over by the Siddhis. Around 1840 the British conquered it and it remained in their possession till Independence.

  It had a gory and infamous history. The fort had witnessed a lot of bloodshed, during the 1857 revolt. It was said that hundreds of Indians were killed. Their corpses were thrown in the sea adjoining the fort, to rot. Thereafter, villagers claimed to have seen the spirits of the slaughtered ones.

  I seriously believed all of it was crap. All forts witness bloodshed, of course they have to…They are built for offense and defense. So, does it mean all forts are haunted? What about those forts which are well-maintained and visited by tourist? Why are such forts not haunted by spirits and ghosts?

  Tahali was a Khandar—ruins, because the Indian Archeological Society had ignored it. Or probably the IAS had no idea of its existence.

  The bus crossed into Velugar and though it was early evening it appeared dark. Rain clouds loomed over the village. It was real crappy weather. When would I finish with this God-forsaken place? Soon our bus passed by Tahali Khandar. A strange kind of excitement filled me. The place bore a dark desolate look. What really existed in the damned place?

  Chapter 3: Tahali Khandar

  The bus drove through the village and entered the depot. I stepped off the bus with a kind of trepidation. Uncle Chandra’s twenty-two year old son Looney Vishy and their servant, Mohan-the schmuck, had come to pick me up. I prided myself in choosing nicknames for individuals according to their characters. And boy, I excelled in it!

  Looney Vishy was a nerdy guy. He was tall, scrawny and wore tacky clothes. He wore his hair like a jerk and was ever-aloof. Saying a quick hi-and-bye, he left the place hurriedly. Looney Vishy, had always been like this, he never interacted with me. Uncle had probably sent him to learn some panache from me. He was not a bit like uncle, sometimes I even wonder if he was really uncle’s son or a bastard! A stupid foot soldier indeed!

  Mohan was a schmuck, a youth about my age. He had a retarded look about him, he was dark and short, and his hair was like twisted pieces of wire, like the aborigines of Australia. And his favorite topic was spirits and witches. Besides he was to be my Man-Friday for the next few days, so it was necessary to be polite with him. That meant yakitity-yak with him.

  The schmuck told me that Looney Vishy had always been a recluse. He was uninterested in worldly affairs which was a constant source of worry to his father. Uncle was busy with the village festive preparations. Aunt was busy at home. It did not matter; I had Tahali Khandar on my mind.

  Just as my luggage was unloaded, the skies opened and it began to rain. Crap, it was just the luck I needed!

  We took shelter in the depot and waited for the rain to lessen. We stood there chatting. But I had certain questions on my mind. And Schmucky was the best to answer them.

  I asked him, “How are Girish and Salim?”

  “Fine. Anish baba.” He answered.

  Anish baba? How low society it sounded. But what else can you expect from a schmuck! I did not care a crap what he called me. I just wanted my property and boogie out of this village of a shit-hole!

  “Are you sure?” I persisted.

  “Yes, Anish baba, only, I haven’t seen them for some time.”

  Why were they all lying to me? I wondered. But I kept silent. I soon veered the conversation to Tahali Khandar. I wanted to know everything about that damn place. Mohan, I knew, had a penchant for it. So I decided to milk him some more about the place. Once again I asked him, “Are you sure there is nothing about Girish, Salim and the Khandar?”

  He grew solemn and said, “Yeah, they were attacked by
the chudail—witch. And now they have become vampires.”

  I stared open-mouthed at him. My heart did a double flip. Was it possible? For a moment I did not move. What the fuck!

  The stupid look on my face was too much for him. He burst out laughing, uncontrollably.

  I grew red-faced and glowered at him. Just then I noticed a woman staring at me.

  She locked me with a steady wild look which was unnerving. I looked away but moments later my sights were back on her.

  Her wild steady look had not left me.

  She appeared to be poor. It was evident that her underprivileged state made her look old.Her face was bony; her hair was salt and pepper colored. But what stood out in her bony face were her eyes. They were as sinister as a snake’s eyes. And they still hadn’t left me. She was not a person to encounter on a dark night. I was getting spooked with her look.

  Mohan must have noticed my discomfort for he turned to where my sights were.

  “Anish baba!,” he whispered urgently. “Don’t look at her! She is evil! She is Maltibai the witch! Everyone believes she is mad but she is a worshipper of witches…”

  My gaze could not shift from her. As if I was hypnotized.

  Mohan grasped my arm and turned me around, “Anish baba we have to go home!”

  Lifting my luggage he guided me through the depot. “What were you doing, baba?” he scolded me. “You can easily fall prey to that witch. She always roams near the Tahali Khandar. Never ever look or speak to her. Come let’s go the rain has lessened.”

  As I reached the depot’s end I could not help turning around. She was still staring at me. Suddenly she raised a bony finger and beckoned me to her.

  The hair on my neck stood, I turned away and followed Mohan as quickly as I could. What other weirdos were in wait for me?

  Chapter 4: Tahali Khandar

  Tonight, I somehow sensed, it would be an unsavory night. Mohan’s warning was the only thing that reverberated in my ears. Anish baba, please close the windows at night!

  Yet, I had ignored his warning and left the window open. I hated to be told what I should do and what not. But as it grew late an uncanny feeling that I was being watched hung over me like a dark shadow. Outside the silence was overpowering. There was the constant sound of crickets and the occasional croaking of frogs. Far in the distance the breaking of the ocean’s surf was audible. At times there was a gentle wind lifting the window curtain exposing the darkness outside.

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