On a footpath beside a solitary road, parting away from the highway, there was a solitary bench. A bench that was notorious for several things. Spooky appearances were the most common of all, including people who sat there after a particular time, never got back their sanity. A few lost persons can also be added to the mix along with eerie noises and invisible people speaking to them. They say writers have imagination. Well, they haven’t ever seen a panicked crowd and a juicy horror story. The kind and number of convoluted tales that can arise from that one single incident can make anybody go mad. To make things even more interesting, the bench even had a name. Tommy.
Yet, here I am, a writer, with a fair share of my own imagination and curiousness beyond limits. This story intrigued me and I was determined to know more. If possible, encounter our friendly ghostly apparition, maybe have a chat, if at all any such person or thing exists. I had made up my mind, my next novel would be based on a ghost, and hopefully a real one and his past life, if he or she grants me an audience and then let me go, too, unscathed and with all my mental faculties intact to be able to write something my publishers would be impressed with.
And hence, I had decided to investigate the matter and see for myself what happens. I was inclined to believe the local people too, because of two reasons. If the ghost turned out to be real, I would have a completely real story since I like to put a real tinge to all of them and the other would be an opportunity to reaffirm my faith in their existence. I was pretty much confused about their existence, my fictional novels had all the kinds my mind could conjure and yet the other part of my mind blatantly said whatever I wrote was for young naïve minds and such things had no place in the real world.
My loving wife asked me, “Do you really want to do this? You have a brilliant imagination, what’s the point of going out there and seeing for yourself? God has given us the imagination to be wary of the dangerous, right?”
I laughed and replied, “You so sweetly compliment me yet put your point across so easily. Do teach me this. If I do get to meet our ghostly friend, I’d need this talent of yours to save my life and fill our stomach.”
My wife didn’t even smile. She simply stomped out of the place, without even bothering to look behind at me. I shook my head smiling. I sometimes think about the first horror writer, who had been born. He had been so successful in fooling the masses that his influence still persists. What an amazing man!
And so the day finally came. I quietly drove down that highway, turned down at the road and parked my car several feet away from that seat. The entire place looked something like a scene I remembered from a long time back but it is not something I want to go into now. Too much pain associated with that memory. I forcefully pushed the thoughts out of my mind and pressed my mind into the thing that I had at hand right now.
I flicked on the torch I had brought along with me and checked the surroundings for any anomalies. There was just a single rusty and worn lamppost right beside the bench, a strong storm wind could probably knock it over. But the light fixed on the top was glowing so I could switch off my torch as I neared the bench.
This was when all the human carnal fear began manifesting in my mind and began messing with me. A simple wind somehow felt colder than usual, bringing a shiver down my spine. Any other day, I would have been able to see up to a certain point in the darkness beyond which my eyes would fail to register anything. But somehow, today, that threshold seemed to have become a quarter of its former self and my vision was mostly restricted to the bench and that was about it. Things didn’t add up anymore and I wasn’t that confident of myself either.
“I’ve come this far. Let’s just be done with this.” I said to myself. I mustered enough courage within me and pushed myself forward to go ahead and sat down on the bench. The metal again seemed unnaturally cold, despite the fact that it was a summer night here in this part of the country. The lamppost was shining in all its glory, giving sufficient illumination around the bench. That was a relief. But if something were to attack me they could easily do it. They would have shrouded themselves in the darkness and I’d be right here, under the light, as open as a chicken in a coop, waiting to be cut up, cooked and served. I slid across the bench, closer to the lamppost, imagining that would give me an added advantage over the foe but I didn’t really know. I just did it instinctively.
Suddenly, something struck me. Earlier it only seemed to be that this place resembled the place from the scene I had in my mind. Not a scene from a story though. Even though I tried not to, I delved back into the memories I had locked away at the back of my mind. Something that had plagued both me and my wife for the past ten years.
I was back again into my memories, I distinctly remember sitting on a similar bench with the lamppost on my left. The only apparent thing that was different was the time. The time in my mind was around six or seven in the evening and there was a park behind me. There was the sound of many happy children playing together. Sounds of laughter, of children falling softly on the ground, the sound of mother’s scolding and a mix of so many others. I turned my head and found my beautiful wife sitting next to me smiling and our little daughter snugly fit between the two of us.
She had a white patch on her hand, and a plastic IV tube sticking out from one of the ends. Her head was completely bald, not a single strand of hair that had been left to decorate her beautiful face. Her beautiful round eyes looked up at me, trying to say so many things but couldn’t. She tried to move but fatigue overtook her and she fell sideways onto her mother’s lap. My wife gently held her, and brought her up so that she could sit up again.
This was the ground where our daughter used to come and play during the evenings before she fell ill. Oh she had so many friends in that place. I remember every day how she used to fight to go to the garden to play and if, by chance, one day she couldn’t, hell was wrought down upon us. I smile as I remember those days. Those days when she used to stomp about in the house, infuriated and we couldn’t do anything except agreeing to take her. I also remember the smile she used to give, right on the moment we gave in. Her beautiful smile. God! I miss my daughter so much.
She had come as a blessing in disguise, a happy object in our rather usual daily life. Her very presence used to light our family up. Her gleeful laughter or a sorry tear. I missed everything about her.
And that evening, we sat, the three of us. The doctor had told us that there was nothing more he could do. Our daughter couldn’t be saved. And that evening was our last evening together. It had been her last wish to visit the garden; she had grown bored of the white sanitized environments of the hospital. We couldn’t refuse. The nurses prepared her and we took her to the garden. We sat on that bench, for several hours, trying to cherish the last few hours we had with our sweet little daughter who had come to this planet for just this while and only to leave so soon again.
Our house had become totally empty, lifeless more rather. We couldn’t hear that voice anymore. We couldn’t hear the playful laughter anymore. Or the adamant cries. Or the incessant demands for new toys.
We missed everything. And I missed one thing more than anything.
One unique voice to call me.
My eyes flew open as I looked around. I saw myself lying down on the bench. I had gone to a sleep, dreaming about my daughter but something had woken me. A voice. A familiar voice calling out a familiar word that my ears hadn’t heard in a very long time.
“Daddy?” the voice spoke again.
I stood up, my heart quadrupling the number of beats it made every minute. What was happening around me? I was getting Goosebumps all over my body. The voice was all too familiar. It was almost exactly like the voice, the voice of my daughter.
“Daddy is that really you?” the voice spoke again.
I looked to my left where the voice emanated from. And from the darkness, I saw one tiny footstep emerge. And then the second. And then the third. After which I saw the full body in the light.
And there was my daughter. Standing right in front of me.