Rahul and Mahesh were sitting in the former's one room flat watching an old black and white horror classic. It was based on the legend of Dracula.
"This could be quite scary on a large screen," Mahesh said.
"It wouldn't scare me in the least. In fact I find all this nonsense about spirits, vampires and ghosts quite silly. In these modern times how can one believe in this kind of hogwash?" Rahul declared.
"You're sure you won't be scared even if you happen to meet a real vampire?"
"Of course not. Because there is no such thing as a vampire - real or otherwise. Ghosts, spirits, vampires - all these are only the products of demented minds."
"Even if you say you don't believe in the supernatural I am sure I can scare you quite easily?" Mahesh said with a chuckle.
"Ha! That is what you think. In fact I am sure it is the other way around. You are far more jumpy than I am. Scaring you out of your wits would be no big deal," Rahul replied.
"In that case let us have a bet."
"Ya. If I succeed in scaring you, dear Rahul you have to shell down ten thousand bucks and if you manage to scare me you get ten grand from me."
"Ten thousand! That's too much!"
"Why? Scared already?" Mahesh taunted, his lips curling into a sarcastic smile.
"Of course not! Since any way I am going to win, why should I object? I have been planning to buy an assembled PC for sometime. I have already arranged for some funds. Your ten thousand will come in real handy."
"We'll see about that."
Two weeks later Rahul was on the 7 down on the way to Tambipur a small town around two hundred kilometers away. Both Rahul and Mahesh were medical representatives working for S.K.Pharamceuticals. They had joined two years ago after graduating in science.
Rahul had to meet the doctors at Tambipur Government Hospital in connection with a new analgesic their company had launched.
The train lurched to a halt at 12.35.
Rahul picked up his suitcase and jumped on to the platform. It was cold. Luckily he had been prepared for it. A pair of shoes, woolen socks, jeans, a full shirt, half sweater and a thick blazer - he was quite comfortable.
He looked around. It was an apology to a railway station. A tin shed, two benches, a couple of kiosks which were closed for the night, and a room, which must be the grand office of the station master or whoever it was who manned the place, was all there was to the station. At the far end he saw a man standing with a green lamp in his right hand and a red one in his left. He shook his right hand in small tired strokes. Blaring its horn and grunting and groaning the train trundled forward, gradually gathering speed. The rhythmic sound of its wheels slowly faded away and once again silence descended on the station like a thick blanket.
The man with the light trudged up to the room and opening the door went in. A few minutes later the door closed.
'He would probably take a nap till the arrival of the next train,' Rahul thought. He had been told Tambipur was a hick town and the station would be quite a modest one but he had never imagined it would be so pathetic.
"One more thing," his boss John Kutty had told him, "You will be reaching after eleven so don't venture out. It is not safe. Stay at the station till morning and then step out."
He walked across to the first of the benches and found a dirty brown street dog curled up and sleeping quite comfortably. He decided to let it be and turned to the other bench which was a couple of yards away. It was enveloped in darkness since the light of the solitary lamp which lit the station didn't quite reach the bench.
As he neared the bench he was surprised to see a figure sitting huddled up. He could have sworn there had been no one just a few minutes ago. Probably the darkness was playing tricks on his eyes. He went and sat down. He could now make out a man with a quilt draped around his head and shoulders. He seemed quite oblivious to Rahul's presence.
"Have you come by 7 down?"
Startled Rahul looked at the man. His head was poking out of the quilt and he was looking at Rahul with a half smile on his lips. He had large round eyes, a sharp, beak shaped nose and a pointed chin. He looked like a human incarnation of a vulture. It was difficult to tell his age but most likely he would on the wrong side of fifty. He was dark and when he smiled or rather half smiled his sparkling white teeth shone like smartly dressed sentinel.
"Yes?" Rahul replied.
"Are you coming here for the first time?"
"Yes. What about you? Do you stay here?"
"Are you going somewhere?"
"Then what are you doing here?"
"Waiting for you?"
"Yes, someone like you. My nephew, who is your age was to come by this train. But he hasn't come."
"So what will you do?
"I'll wait for the next train."
"When is it due?"
"I don't know. But I'll wait. I am used to waiting," he said looking at Rahul with a strange expression on his face.
"Are you scared?"
"No, of course not. Why should I be scared?"
"You are in a strange place in the middle of the night talking to a stranger..."
"So? It is not easy to scare me."
"Really! I also used to think so....until...."
He stopped and looked at Rahul, the strange half smile again appearing on his face.
"Leave it. It is a very strange tale. You'll get scared?"
"Of course I won't. Tell me."
"It happened exactly a year ago. The 25th of November. Just like you I had come on a visit to Tambipur. The time was twenty minutes past midnight when the train stopped. It was a lonely, cold and dark winter night. I went to the first bench, just like you had. There was a black cat sitting on it with its red eyes burning like embers in the darkness. As I sat down it fixed me with its eyes. A strange sound was emanating from its lips - a kind of low, soft scream which was almost human. It was as if it was warning me that if I invaded its space it would jump at my throat and tear it to shreds. I backed away staring at the cat. Believe me young man, I am not a coward. I don't scare easily. But that creature was weird. As I backed away it seemed to smile - a strange kind of smile which was more like a leer.
I stumbled across to the bench and almost collapsed on it. I found a man sitting huddled up - just like you found me a few minutes back. I sat down and he started talking to me. He was waiting for his friend who was to come by 7 down, he told me.
He then looked at me and asked, "Are you scared?"
"Why...why should I be?"
"A strange place, a cold night, a weird beast and a strange man asking you funny questions - surely you must be scared?"
"No, I am not."
"Are you sure? he whispered and there was something in his voice which made me look at him - into his eyes. And that was my mistake. His eyes seemed to hold me in a vice like grip. I couldn't move, or even shift my gaze. I just sat there mesmerised at the most horrifying sight I had ever seen or would ever see. His large, round eyes disappeared into their sockets. Two sharp slits appeared where his eyes had been and ..and his mouth - it was no longer there. All I could see were two sharp, long and pointed teeth dripping blood, thick, red blood .. drop by drop by drop...... I leapt and ran for my life......faster and faster and faster. My heart was thumping. It felt it would explode. I could hear footsteps behind me - when I turned I couldn't see anyone. I kept running on and on....sweat dripping from every pore in my body. Finally I couldn't go on any longer and leaned against a tree at the very edge of the platform. I looked around. I couldn't' see anyone.
As I slipped to the ground in relief I felt a heavy hand on my shoulder. I looked up straight into the face of a vampire. It lifted me effortlessly and plunging its teeth in my neck started sucking my blood.....drop by drop.....till I collapsed on the ground, dead," he stopped and looked at Rahul.
"Nice fantasy," Rahul mumbled.
"You think it is a fantasy? Can't you see it is true?"
"Come on Mister. What do you take me for? A little kid you can fool with your weird tale? You are very much alive. Where is the question of you having died," Rahul answered.
The man got up, pulled the quilt over his head and started shuffling away.
"That is what you think," he mumbled as he walked away.
As Rahul watched him, he saw him throw the quilt high in the air and turn. Rahul froze. His breath was stuck in his throat. the man was moving towards him. His eyes had disappeared into their sockets and all he had for a nose were two slits. His teeth were long and sharp and pointed. Blood was dripping from them drop by drop....He lunged towards Rahul emitting a blood curdling scream. Rahul tried to shout but no words came out. As the creature reached him, its hands stretching towards his throat, Rahul screamed and collapsed on the bench.
"Wow! Bikasda, that was terrific! Simply out of the world."
Mahesh emerged from the shadows behind the kiosk and walked towards the bench.
"Now please remove the mask. It is really quite hideous. I don't blame Rahul for getting scared. Even though I knew it was you, I had goose pimples."
Bikasda peeled off the mask. He had a long face, with deep set eyes, a broad forehead and long aquiline nose. He bend down and peered at Rahul.
"Hey Mahesh, I think Rahul has fainted. Get some water."
"Fainted! Rahul the Lion Hearted turned out to be Rahul the Chicken Hearted!" Mahesh chuckled, running towards the lone tap. He cupped some water in his hand and running back sprinkled it on Rahul's' face.
"Hey Rahul! Get up. Bikasda is a stage artist. I persuaded him to disguise himself and enact this drama to scare you."
There was no response from Rahul. He was still curled up on the bench, his eyes closed.
Bikasda put his hand on Rahul's chest, a worried expression on his face. After a few moments he gently picked up Rahul's hand and felt his pulse. A minute later he dropped the hand which fell limp on the bench. He got up his face deathly pale.
"My God, Mahesh....!" he gasped.
"Ra..Rahul...he is....he is dead," Bikasda blurted out..
"D...dead," Mahesh backed away. "B..ut how can that be?"
"The shock was too much for him. It is all your fault. You should have told me he has a weak heart. I would never have tried anything on him. Now you have killed him. This is murder - cold blooded murder, " Bikasda screamed. Mahesh started trembling. His face, bathed in sweat, was mask of fear.
"I.... I.... never thought...it.....it......was only a bet...." he whimpered slumping to the ground.
"Take it easy Mahesh, this too was only a drama yaar!"
Mahesh looked up. Rahul was staring at him, grinning from ear to ear.
"Wha... you ....are you all right?" stuttered Mahesh looking from Rahul to Biksasda who was also laughing.
"Of course. This is called a classic case of tit for tat."
"What do you mean?"
"I'll explain. Mahesh you went to Bikasda and told him that you wanted to scare me to win a bet.
Together you hatched a plan which was executed beautifully by Bikasda. You promised him three thousand rupees for his effort. Well, Bikasda is my uncle Ravi's friend. When he came to know it is me you planning to scare, he told me the whole story. I told him to go ahead and promised him he would still get his three thousand but he would have to add this little twist in the tale which he did to perfection."
"My God Rahul you really had me scared. I was convinced that ...that you were dead. You have won your bet. But I can't tell you how happy I am to see you safe and sound," Mahesh said hugging Rahul.
"By the way Bikasda, where did the mask come from?" Rahul asked.
"I had it hidden under the quilt. When I turned and walked away I put it on. You couldn't see me doing it since I had the quilt around me," Bikasda explained.
"Come, on let us go. I have booked a double room for the three of us in the only hotel in Tambipur," Mahesh said.
As Mahesh and Rahul waked away they heard a sound. They looked around. Bikasda was no where to be seen. They turned back. They saw a shadow coming towards them. As it neared they could make out a face which was green, its eyes without eye lids, its eye brows missing and its mouth contorted in a ghastly snarl...
"Come on Bikasda, please the drama is over ......" Mahesh and Rahul shouted together as Bikasda removed the mask and burst out laughing.