By Neel Anil Panicker
‘Yes, he knew about it. No, he wasn’t afraid. Yes, he will take care.’
Raghav brushed the thought away, a trifle annoyed.
Grandmothers can be a pest at times, he wondered.
His mind ached with her cantankerous words.
“Does he know about it?”
‘I mean what a dumb question is that? Tell me, who hasn’t heard of the forest? The entire school knew about it. The old lady is really losing it as the years pile on’.
Rags checked his watch. It had been an hour since they broke off. He turned around; there was not a single soul as far as the eye could see, not even a tiny speck to remind them how far they had strayed from the comfort of their school building.
‘Granny wants me to be careful. Well, here he is, and he sure as hell will take care of himself’
Rags detested this exercise. The calling part, that is. The stupid phone call back home that he was obliged to make, purportedly, every time he planned a getaway.
A small boys night out. In this case, a day out.
I mean look at him. He was all of thirteen. Grown up. A man__well, almost. But definitely big enough to take care of himself. And then, maybe, a few others.
His eyes caught his companion, and his heart heaved a sigh of relief.
His mind went back to last night’s invitation.
‘Hey Rags, we are going to the clearing. Wanna come?’
That was Rakesh __ the hostel stud, bully to all, excepting, of course, him. And almost a hand taller and a pair of dumb bells heavier than him.
‘He is taller, heavier, smarter and …hey, what the fuck … Big Burly Rocky is just way better than any guy in the entire school, and that’s over 1600 kids. Or, any any other guy that he had ever seen.’
Big, rocky hills were his weakness and when climbing them, which was more often than not, he would be found hurling them__those monstrously large stones__, across the river that separated them from Mount Mary’s, the lone girls’ school.
Either this, or chasing girls from the other end of the Valley.
It was rumoured that he had managed to impregnate at least a dozen girls, and that, incidentally, was one of, if not, the primary reason Rocky kept repeating the same class.
With only a year to go before the Boards, he had been warming his class bench for the past three years.
Rags looked at him, barely a shoulder ahead of him, and, striding forward purposefully into the interiors of the forest. All his fears vanished in a jiffy.
‘Whatever Rocky did he put his heart and sou into it and he always came out trumps’.
“Hey, see there? Looks little strange.”
Rocky’s shark eyes had zeroed in on a small, dark, undergrowth.
‘Come lets see what’s there’.
Rags stepped in behind Rocky.
“It looks like an entrance”.
Rocky tore off a branch from the sole overlying tree that hung around the patch of uneven land, its multitude of interlocking branches and thick leaves forming a protective arc over the rocky formations, much like the way a hydra headed sea serpent guards over a treasure trove of priceless valuables.
Voila! there it was.
The two boys turned into statues__mouths agape, eyes transfixed, feet paralysed, and their bodies immobile.
Staring into them, less than half a feet away, at the mouth of the cave, were a pair of eyes, the whites of its balls shimmering and glowing under the relentless gaze of the mid-afternoon sun like ball of silvery moons peeping out through a thick blanket of blackened sky__a pocket-size blur of black fur and fury straight out of hell.
‘Beware, don’t go further down the hill. It is the abode of the The Dark’.
Sometimes words out of a grandmother’s mouth, even if they come out of one who is over a hundred years old, ring starkly true.