MIND OF THE DARK
Copyright 2017 Palvi Sharma
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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It wasn’t fair, of course. She was the youngest, so it was natural that she should have been preferred for her parents’ affection. Instead, her elder sister was gobbling up all their love.
Her mother repeatedly assured her that she had no favorites. And that she was fortunate to give birth to two girls.
“My two goddesses.” she would tell both girls. “You’ve brought luck and fortune into our home.”
But of course her mother would only be looking at her sister and not her as she said that. There were times when she felt her mother was trying to be nice to her even though inwardly she hated her. Or perhaps, feared her.
It was the latter, she found out later. Seven years later. She had entered puberty and suddenly something changed. In fact, everything changed.
There was an incident in the village the day she had first started her menses. It was early in the morning, and she had spilled milk all over the floor which had caused her mother to scold her. But she was barely paying attention. She was looking out at the dead grey sky and a tree which was losing its last leaf.
“Why can’t you be more like your sister, Abhaya?” Her mother was scolding. “Rumaya, are you even listening to me?”
There was an uproar outside, just then and her mother turned around to look out the window. All the villagers were gathering and speaking in loud terrified voices.
Her mother rushed out of the house. “What happened?”
A few men, passed by her without another word but an elderly woman stopped and shook her head slowly. “Dinesh’s goat was killed.”
Rumaya followed her mother outside, even as Abhaya told her to stay inside as their mother wished that.
“It’s the witch,” The elderly woman said, in a haunting tone. “She has returned.” Then she looked at Rumaya. “To take back what is hers.”
Rumaya saw her mother turn and look at her with fear. Then composing herself, she grew stern. “I told you to stay inside the house. Go back in!”
There was another cry heard, a chilling one that stilled the air. Her mother rushed to the fields, as if in reflex, and Rumaya followed. Behind her, Abhaya kept screeching for her sister to return and when she wasn’t paid any attention, followed her sister and mother to the fields.
The drought-ridden fields had only a few trees around. In the middle, the crowd of villagers had gathered in a circle. Rumaya saw her mother joining the crowd, but instead of standing by her side, pushed ahead through the crowd and got in front.
There was a dead goat lying on the ground, with its mouth slightly open and blood smeared all over its body. There was a large star drawn on its stomach from which guts and blood was spilling.
“Rumaya!” Her mother screamed and dragged her away. “Must you be so insolent as to never heed my advice?”
“What happened to the goat?” she asked, curiously.
Abhaya had just joined them and was out of breath from running. “What is the matter, mother.”
“Nothing. Nothing is the matter.”
“There’s a dead goat in the fields,” Rumaya said. “Someone drew a bright red star on it. There was blood all over it.”
“Someone carved the goat?” Abhaya looked at her mother with frightened dark eyes.
“Someone very sick, did this.” Her mother looked visibly upset. “Let us go home.”
“Mother, has the witch returned?” Abhaya asked.
“There’s a witch?” Rumaya felt a slither of excitement. A witch! A witch had done this! All she had heard about witches were that they performed magic. That they had unimaginable power. How fascinating!
“Let’s just go home.” Her mother looked ahead. “Your father must be arriving soon.”
For two days, the village was on guard, watching all entry gates with a keen, nervous, eye. The villagers were convinced an intruder was in there midst and the farmers were terrified that their livestock would be slaughtered in the name of sacrifice.
Rumaya was fascinated by the whole thing. The fact that one person could invoke so much fear in so many people, made her wish she was the powerful one. All she knew, was that there was a witch in the village and that meant she must have some great power within her.
If only she had that power.
Her parents were visibly more shaken. Anytime a plate dropped or a tree branch scratched against the house, her mother would let out a scream and it was up to her husband to pacify her. Abhaya was playing the dutiful daughter and didn’t pry in her parents’ affairs as they had their secret conversations, though Rumaya began to wonder if it was perhaps her sister knew what was going on or was simply uninterested.
It must be the former, Rumaya thought with dismay. Of course her parents would choose to reveal their secrets to Abhaya rather than her. As if her elder sister was so special. As if the house would fall into shambles without her. As if she was the only reason the family was intact. As if the world revolved around her.
Rumaya was determined to get to the bottom of what was exactly going on around her. Who was the witch and why were her parents so fearful?
That night, she didn’t allow herself to sleep. She was tired from playing all day and stealing fruits from the neighbor’s fields, but she would still not let her close her eyes. Once the lanterns were turned off, Rumaya crept out of bed and cast an eye on her sleeping sister.
Of course she was asleep. Ten minutes ago, mother had told her to go to sleep and the ever obedient daughter had done just that. Rumaya walked with soft steps towards her parent’s room and frowned when she found that a lone candle was burning in an empty room.
Where were they? She stood in the darkened passage of their tiny cottage and listened. She could hear muffled whispering and a sob. Following the noise, she saw her parents sitting outside, through the window.
Her mother was sobbing while her father had an arm around her.
“It is going to be alright. She won’t reach us. There are guards all around the village,” he was saying.
“That witch has her ways. She infiltrated the village once before, she might do it again.” Her mother put a hand on her forehead. “If only I hadn’t invited her to our house.”
Rumaya pushed herself against the wall and turned her head, trying to catch every word her parents were saying.
“It was a dark stormy night. The winds were strong and menacing. The sky was lighting up and there was thunder. I had gone to check if the door was locked and found it wide open.” Her mother paused and Rumaya saw a haunted look on her face. “She was sitting there. Right on our doorstep, cradling what we thought to be her baby.”
“Maraka. She was…”
“Shhh!” His wife held his hand. “Even taking her name is bad luck. No, she wanted water and since we never turn away a guest, I went in to get it. When I came back, she had taken the cloth off her baby and I saw…saw that it wasn’t a human child.”
Rumaya saw her father hold her mother in his arms. “Yes, yes. I remember too. I was right behind you and saw that it wasn’t a child but a dead piglet. She was talking to it like it was alive. Like it could listen.”
She started to weep. “Her short white frizzy hair, should have been a clue. I should have known that witches were said to have frizzy hair and upturned feet.”
“It doesn’t matter that we didn’t know.” He looked morose. “I was unable to stop what happened next. She used her blood and the dead piglet’s blood to draw a symbol on your pregnant belly.”
“My daughter is coming, that is what she said.” Her mother looked like she was on the verge of insanity.
Rumaya felt her breath stuck in her throat.
Her daughter? Maraka’s daughter? What was going on?
“And now she’s come back for her,” her mother was saying. “Exactly like she promised.”
They were silent for a while and then Rumaya saw her father speak hesitantly.
“Maybe that is not such a bad thing,” he said.
“Whatever do you mean?” Mother asked.
“You have to admit there is something wrong with Rumaya,” he told her. “She’s unlike the other girls. There is no compassion in her, no empathy. It’s like, she’s hollow. Waiting to be filled with evil.”
“Everyone is born hollow,” his wife snapped. “It is up to the parents to instill good values in our children so that they are enriched with goodness rather than evil.”
“It is nothing to do with our upbringing. Look how Abhaya is turning out to be. She’s a sweet, compassionate, dutiful daughter. Rumaya isn’t just a spoilt child. She has a knack to be something that we could never handle.”
“Enough!” She got up and raised a hand in front of him. “Rumaya is our daughter and no one dare take her away from us!”
“No one will.” Rumaya saw her father stand and put his hands on his wife’s shoulder. “We will be safe, I promise.”
Rumaya started to make her way to her room when she saw her parents returning. She got back into her room and jumped into her cot. Beside her, Abhaya was still sleeping, still oblivious to what her parents had been conversing about. She wondered if her perfect elder sister knew what that witch- Maraka- had done.
Rumaya turned away from her sister’s sleeping face and looked out the window where the crescent moon shone. So the witch had cursed her before she was born. But what if it wasn’t a curse, but a boon?
Rumaya felt a surge of thrill rush through her. What if she had been blessed with powers she had yet to realize?
There was something wonderful inside her and it was just waiting to grow.
Next night, Rumaya was unable to sleep a wink. She felt too excited after what she had learned about her birth and Maraka. She knew she wasn’t just an ordinary girl, she was a witch’s daughter. Soon, she too would have powers.
Her parents had either stopped discussing the witch or were being too discreet with their conversations, which was why Rumaya hadn’t learned anything new. All day, she had just watched her elder sister being perfect in every way and wished she had the power to do something that would change all that.
She wanted to be the favorite; she wanted to be loved, revered and be talked about. The whole village should be bowing down to her because she was the special one.
When she accidentally bumped into her neighbor, lost in her thoughts of being exalted by the villagers, she was brought down by the woman’s scolding.
“Watch where you’re going, stupid girl,” her neighbor screamed.
Rumaya glared at her as the woman she called ‘Auntie’ continued to be condescending before moving away.
Now, laying on her bed, Rumaya wished she had the power to ruin that woman’s day. How dare she scream at her like that? Who did she think she was? Just because she was a girl, didn’t mean anyone could come and say whatever they did to her.
Rumaya sat up, too riled up to fall asleep. Of course, her sister was fast asleep. Rolling her eyes, she got up from bed and wrapped her shoulders with a shawl. It was going to cold outside. Now, that she knew who she was, why should she stay here with mere mortals?
No, she would find the witch- Maraka- and ask her to take her away from this stupid place.
She realized soon, that she didn’t need to worry much about her parents hearing her opening the front door; they were fast asleep as well.
Rumaya walked out and started to walk toward the cremation grounds. She had heard once that witches roamed the place where people spent their last days in this world. That was where Maraka must be hiding.
When she reached the grounds, Rumaya couldn’t help but feel a little scared. It was dark and she hadn’t brought a lantern. The only light came from a lit torch, hung outside the priest’s house. The land was barren, except for a large tree in the middle. She couldn’t imagine where Maraka could be hiding and Rumaya considered canceling her plans and going back home.
That was when she heard the rustle of leaves and saw the large tree shaking. They should have cut it off, Rumaya thought. An ugly looking tree like that shouldn’t be still standing.
When something fell off the tree and she heard a thump, Rumaya sucked in her breath. In the fog and dim light, she couldn’t make put much except for a dark figure slowly standing up.
She knew it was her, though she couldn’t understand how she did. Bravely, she walked over to the tree and saw an old woman with frizzy grayish white hair, standing with her back towards her. Rumaya could see her scrawny arms before her and her long pointed nails. Dressed in a long black tattered dress, she couldn’t make out if the witch had upturned feet or not.
She was saying something, whispering words she couldn’t make sense of.
“Maraka?” Rumaya said, as she approached her.
The woman turned slowly, revealing a haggard brown face and broken but pointed yellow teeth. “So you’ve come. I’ve been summoning you for two days now.”
Rumaya swallowed. “What?”
The old woman turned towards her, chuckling. “I’ve become old now, too old to be powerful anymore. Took me two days to put an idea in your head to come see me. In my younger days, it would take me mere seconds.”
“You called upon me?” Rumaya asked and swallowed again. “You put an idea in my head that I would find you here at the cremation grounds?”
“I can do that, you know.” Maraka put a long, thin, pointed nail at the bark of the tree. “I can do a lot of things. And teach you as well.”
Maraka smiled at her. “You are my daughter. I could feel you being born. I knew you were going to arrive in this world.” Then she suddenly looked sad. “I had to make sacrifices for my powers. One of them was giving up the right to give birth. But through my powers, I was able to create my baby in someone else’s womb. Your mother seemed the perfect vessel when I saw her at the cremation grounds.”
“At the cremation grounds? I thought women weren’t allowed to attend funerals.” Rumaya said.
“Perhaps that is why.” Maraka giggled. “Her father had just died, and your poor mother couldn’t keep away. She wanted to see him one last time. That was when I saw her. She looked like an epitome of innocence…the perfect vessel that wouldn’t corrupt my baby. I wanted my child to grow up without anyone instilling useless characteristics in her.”
“And now I’m here.” Rumaya raised her head. “Take me with you.”
“Not now.” Maraka shook her pointy finger at her. “No before I have taught you what you need to. Right now, I’m too weak. I can’t take care of you and you are too young to take care of yourself.”
“The villagers are looking for you. They will find you. We must leave now,” Rumaya said.
Maraka shook her head again. “No, first I must teach you. Awaken the power that has been suppressed.”
“I don’t want to live with those people anymore.”
“You must,” Maraka advised, then grinned. “Who else will you practice your powers on?”
It hadn’t been a very nice day. Her mother had gone out to visit her brothers in another village and that meant that all her mother’s chores fell on her and her sister.
She had been picking up a banana from the bowl when her elbow hit the milk pitcher.
The crashing sound brought her father and Abhaya to the kitchen and she had gotten a pretty bad scolding.
Her father called her stupid and proceeded to yell at her about how the spilling of milk was a bad omen. Abhaya looked smug and then taunted her before agreeing with her father that she was too careless with housework.
Rumaya had felt her anger grown. It throbbed inside her, stiffening her muscles and pulling her breath.
Without a word, she stomped out of the kitchen and house, making her way straight to the creation grounds.
“I don’t want to live with them anymore!” She cried when she saw Maraka.
Maraka looked gleeful when she saw her.
“Now what’s the matter?”
“I dropped a little milk and they scolded me as if I had run away with their gold.” Rumaya fumed.
“You have gold?” Maraka looked interested.
“I think so. Father sold some to buy cows, but we may still have some.”
“Why? Do you want…some?”
Maraka burst out laughing. “Why would I want it when I can create plenty of my own. It is no use to me.”
“You can create gold?” Rumaya looked at her in wonder.
“I can create so much more.” Maraka’s eyes gleamed with unspoken promises. “But enough of that. Let us focus on your little problem today. How angry are you?”
“Very.” Rumaya felt her anger rise again as he remembered the morning’s events. “How dare they treat me this way?”
“They do not understand you. They have no idea what power they are dealing with.” Maraka smiled. “Now let us put that anger to good use. Leaving it inside would only weaken you.”
“Oh. What should I do?”
Maraka sighed. “First, take a deep breath. Hold it. Focus on all the things that enrage you. Put all your anger in that one breath.”
“And then release me breath,” Rumaya said, in a bored tone. “Mother has told me numerous times to meditate and control my anger.”
“No, my child. I don’t want you to release your breath. I want you to spit.”
“That’s something new.” Rumaya shrugged. “Alright, I’ll try it.”
Standing still, Rumaya closed her eyes, took a deep breath and then held it. Her mind repeated all the incidents in which she had been scolded, insulted and even punished. It was unfair. These people who were not even her family, were treating her so poorly. And her so- called sister! Abhaya was a pest in her life. She was too perfect. Everything worked out for her. It...just...wasn't...fair!
Now it was her turn to have things work out for her. The right way or the wrong, she would make sure she would win every time.
“Let go now,” Maraka whispered in her ear.
Rumaya opened her eyes, taken aback a little by the winds swirling around her. Dried leaves were creating a whirlpool all around her. The sky was a brownish gray and the birds were squawking in fear.
Opening her mouth, she spot and saw a blob of black emerge from her mouth and splatter on the ground before her.
“What is that?” Rumaya was suddenly scared. The black mass was squirming and spreading on the ground. It seemed to breathe and grow in the wind.
“Don’t worry, child.” Maraka looked pleased. “In the coming weeks, all will be revealed.
But Maraka didn’t survive to see another week.
Three days later, Maraka was dragged from her hiding spot by angry villagers. Apparently the priest who lived near the cremation grounds had spotted her along with Rumaya.
The villagers were divided on what to think of her. While some thought Maraka had corrupted her, others, who knew why Maraka had actually come to the village, were wary of her.
Rumaya was expecting a scolding from her parents, but they were temporarily preoccupied with helping the villagers get rid of the witch.
“Burning her is the only way to kill her,” one of the villagers suggested.
“At sunrise. That is when her powers will be weak and she won’t be able to escape,” the priest added.
So, it was decided. Early next day, Maraka would perish in the fire. Rumaya was upset, but she had been told what to expect. And what she had to do.
“You are not coming with us,” her mother told her the next morning. “You will stay at home. If I see you outside again, you will be severely punished.”
Rumaya didn’t say anything. Just watched as her perfect sister assured her mother that she wouldn’t let her little sister out of sight.
As soon as her parents left, Rumaya returned to her room and then jumped out the window while Abhaya was in the kitchen, boiling milk.
She hadnt reached far before she heard her sister call.
“Come back this instant!”
But Rumaya would not listen. She had a mission to complete.
“They will come for me,” Maraka had told her. “They will find me and kill me. I can’t stop them. The spell that could immortalize me is too difficult for me to learn at this age. It requires to much power, too much perseverance.” Then she had grinned. “Although, I shall teach it to you. With it, you shall never be destroyed. But for that, you will need an important ingredient. Without it, you won’t be able to initiate the spell.”
“What would I need?” Rumaya had asked.
Rumaya headed to the village square where a huge bonfire had been prepared. Maraka was tied to a large wooden pole in the center.
“Kill the witch!”
Everyone was screaming but Maraka hardly looked disconcerted. It was when she spotted Rumaya, that a pained smile spread across her wrinkled face.
Rumaya stood apart, watching her with a deep dark gloom in her chest. This woman had been her friend, her mentor, her confidant. Ever since she had entered her life, she finally had someone who understood her and the greatness within her. Now she was going to be mercilessly killed by people who had limited intelligence. How she hated them!
The priest was the one to light the bonfire and when the flames started to spread, Rumaya hardened her heart.
It didn’t matter anymore. Maraka was dying. Her screams were fearful and agonizing. Grey smoke was filling up the air and everyone started to move back.
“You will all pay for what you did to me!” Maraka cried out and then looked at Rumaya. “Make them pay!”
Hardly anyone paid heed to her words as they cheered the end of the terror that had plagued their village. But Rumaya caught her mother turning and looking right at her. She was in the middle of the crowd and a good twenty feet away from her.
Rumaya stared back, watching her mother and then Maraka before turning and walking away.
It would be only later in the afternoon, that she would be able to collect the ashes.
The sun was low when Rumaya crept out of her house. Her father had gone out to meet with the village elders and her mother, who had become tired after the morning’s events, had fallen asleep.
Abhaya was supposed to be watching her, but her perfect sister had been studying and fallen asleep as well.
Rumaya didn’t wait to see if anyone was stirring. She walked out as if she was being beckoned to the cremation grounds.
Maraka, even though she had perished in the fire, had a powerful voice that was calling out to her.
Once Rumaya reached the grounds, she saw the priest talking to some men and holding a wooden box.
“I don’t want her ashes on these grounds. They must be thrown far from this village.
Rumaya felt her anger stirring and walked over to the priest.
“That is no way to talk about the dead.”
The priest looked at her wide-eyed. “Go away, little girl. This is none of your affairs.”
Rumaya snorted. “On the contrary.”
With a flick of a hand, the box floated from the priest’s hands and into hers.
“Give it back!” The priest yelled.
“No,” she replied simply.
“Go, call her parents,” the priest commanded. “Her insolence will not be tolerated.”
The men he had been talking to, started to walk, but Rumaya recited a spell Maraka had taught her for this very situation.
Within seconds, the earth slipped from beneath their feet and the men fell on the ground. Their legs started to contort and they screamed in pain.
The priest backed away, fear etched on his wrinkled face.
Rumaya laughed. “Much more than that.”
Another spell would finish them off. A small voice inside her told her to refrain from going down a path that had no return, but it was quickly quelled.
The spell was recited, the powerful words merged with the atmosphere and suddenly she found herself in control of the people around her.
“Kill them,” she whispered.
The priest looked horrified. “What?”
Rumaya smiled. “Then kill yourself.”
Saying that, she turned around and walked with the box in her hand. The tree at the centre of the grounds was beckoning to her.
Behind her, screams of horror, cut through the tranquility of the evening.
The sun was going to set any moment now.
Rumaya reached the tree and opened the box. Her hands lightly touched the ashes and then she set it down.
Turning, she saw the lifeless bodies of three men, but that presence was no longer of importance to her.
Closing her eyes, she recited the spell Maraka had taught her before she had been killed mercilessly.
“They will come for me,” she had prophesied. “And when I die, I want you to use my ashes to give you powers. Powers that are beyond your imagination. A witch’s ashes, when used in accordance with the spell, will grant you invincibility. That’s the heirloom I’m going to leave behind for my daughter.”
It was a difficult spell. One which, started to consume all her energy at once. She found herself getting fatigued and unable to continue. Though she must.
Her abdomen felt like it was on fire and her chest felt like someone had stacked it with cold bricks.
She wanted to throw up as her head felt like it was swirling.
As her breath started to slow down, she uttered the last words out loud, choking on them.
Her eyes flew open as her skin started to feel prickly. Looking down, she saw that the ashes from the box had risen and swirling around her.
The wind grew stronger and suddenly, the trail of ashes entered her mouth and nostrils.
Rumaya wanted to scream, but the wind gagged her. She found herself floating above the ground and then just as suddenly, she was thrown down.
She coughed and put her hands on her aching throat.
Her whole body ached and vibrated. She felt different somehow.
Her mind still buzzing, she got up and looked up at the setting sun.
The three bodies were still lying unnoticed. It would be some time before the villagers noticed.
Rumaya thought she could hide them.
“But then where would be the fun?” She chuckled. They needed to know and fear that Maraka couldn’t easily be defeated.
And that her daughter would avenge her death.
When she reached home, her mother was frantic and scolded her for leaving the house.
Her words barely grazed at Rumaya’s heart and mind. She was looking at Abhaya, her perfect elder sister who was shaking her head in disappointment. She looked so smug that Rumaya hated her even more.
“Where were you?”
Rumaya looked up at her mother and said very coldly, “You told me to go buy milk.”
Her mother looked at her in bewilderment and then out one hand on her hip. Alright, then where is it?”
Rumaya glared at her and then smiled. Conjuring up a pitcher of milk wasn’t going to be much trouble.
She raised her hand. “Here it is.”
Her mother looked at her in shock. “I don’t…remember..seeing anything in your hands. And I don’t remember sending you to buy milk.”
Abhaya looked equally perplexed. “Where did that come from? A minute ago, your hands were empty.”
Rumaya smiled. “You just weren’t paying attention, sister.”
Abhaya looked cross. “Mother didn’t send you anywhere. And besides, you were supposed to inform either of us before leaving the house.”
“You were sleeping,” Rumaya said plainly. “And mother said it was urgent. She wanted to make pudding. Rice pudding.”
Her mother looked confused. “I did? I said that?”
Rumaya smiled widely. “Yes, you did. Rice pudding is my favorite.”
“I think I did say that.” Her mother took the milk from her hands and as if in trance, walked to the kitchen.
“Mother?” Abhaya tried to stop her but her mother walked right past her.
“What did you do?”
Rumaya smiled at her sister. “Nothing. Nothing at all.”
“There is something wrong with you,” Abhaya said with disgust. “I’m going to be the one who teaches you lessons in obedience.”
“Good luck with that, sister.” Rumaya walked right up to her sister. “Now excuse me. Mother is making my favorite food and I like it really hot.”
Rumaya walked past her sister to the kitchen. Smiling to herself.
This was too easy. And only the beginning.
Seven years later
Rumaya got down from the horse cart and adjusted the strap of her cloth bag over her shoulder. The sun had just risen and the sky was golden. The early morning fog had cleared up and the air was cold and crisp. Her sister had gotten married a year ago and moved to a village far from their home.
Abhaya’s husband was loving and a hardworking, honest man. He had given her everything she desired, even a child. Yes, Abhaya was pregnant but this didn’t bring any joy to Rumaya who was sick of her elder sister being adored for no reason.
What enraged her even more was when five years ago, their mother had decided to move from the village into a little town, because she feared that the village had been cursed after Maraka’s death. Rumaya wasn’t allowed to go out on her own anymore and that meant she couldn’t visit the cremation grounds.
Oh, how she longed to openly practice her powers. She was growing weary of playing petty tricks on her family and the neighbor. Maraka’s powers could do a lot better than turning someone’s mil sour or causing warts on their skin.
It was easy controlling her mother with her powers, but lately, she had been compassionate to both her daughters so Rumaya didn’t need to use her powers to bend her family to do their bidding. Even on Abhaya’s wedding day, Rumaya too had received jewelry and gifts.
Her sister on the other hand, would stay far from her. She could sense there was something amiss about her little sister and Rumaya started to feel unnerved that she might guess her secret before she wanted it to be revealed.
However, Abhaya had gotten married and moved out from home and Rumaya was finally able to breathe easily. That is, until her sister announced her pregnancy and her mother had insisted she go and take of her.
So here she was, in a dump of a village where she doubt clean water even existed. Her brother-in-law was already waiting for her and after a friendly greeting, took her bag and led her down the street.
All the time he was talking about how pleased he was to see her, Rumaya couldn’t help but be jealous of her sister. Makand was handsome, friendly and sweet. What did her sister do to deserve him? She was lucky, that was all.
When they reached a small cottage by the lake, Makand bid her to enter and Rumaya opened the door to find Abhaya smiling widely at her.
“You’ve come.” she hugged her sister and Rumaya felt another pinch of jealousy. Her sister was heavily pregnant, yet she looked beautiful and glowing. Not tired like the other women she had seen in her town. “I’m so glad you did. I missed my little sister.”
Rumaya blinked at her. Was Abhaya actually saying she missed her?
She was made to sit while Abhaya got her water. As she turned, all Rumaya saw was how long her sister’s hair had gotten. They looked soft and silky; unlike hers, which were curly and rough.
As they all had lunch, Rumaya kept watching her sister as she talked and laughed while her husband gazed at her with adoring eyes and made sure his wife was eating enough. Then in the evening, when Abhaya and Makand prayed, Rumaya stood apart, making excuses about now being pure enough to stand before God.
It was when she was made to eat the offering, that Rumaya had to rush out of the house and vomit violently.
Her whole body shook with pain and her mind felt dizzy and weak. She was getting weaker. For too long she had gone without practicing magic.
“Are you alright?” Abhaya came rushing to her sister.
“Just tired after the journey. I should sleep,” Rumaya lied.
She was given her own room, the one Abhaya was preparing for her child. Watching the moon out of the window, Rumaya felt restless. Her sister had no right to be happy. She had no right to have such a caring husband. How dare she give birth to a baby? Why should her life be filled with happiness?
Getting up, she walked out of her room, wanting nothing better than to distance herself from this loving family. Then stopped herself. She saw Abhaya and Makand sitting in the veranda and looking so happy. They were embracing while Makand kept saying how lucky he was to have such a beautiful and intelligent wife.
Rumaya felt a spark in her mind. No, her sister didn’t deserve this. She would have to make sure Abhaya’s life became miserable.
She waited for the hours to pass and it was at three in the morning, that she crept to where her sister and husband had fallen asleep. They were still holding each other in their arms and looked peacefully asleep.
Rumaya sat next to Makand’s head and caressed his hair. It felt soft beneath her fingers. The spell in her mind began and her lips started to move. Bowing her head, she whispered in his ear and then when she had finished the spell, she sat up, smiling to herself.
Abhaya’s troubled times were about to begin.
Next morning was fun.
Makand woke up in a bad mood and Abhaya was flummoxed by this.
While her husband kept grumbling and banging down things, Abhaya was in tears and Rumaya couldn’t be more pleased.
“Was it something I did? “ she asked tearfully.
Makand responded by slamming the door shut when he went out for work.
Come evening, and Rumaya had to hide her giggles.
Makand had come home drunk and abused Abhaya for not offering him a hot meal.
“You’ve never touched liquor your whole life. So why now? “
Abhaya’s question was met with an angry glare.
As Rumaya left to sleep in her room, she heard Makand abusing his wife.
The week passed with even more arguments between husband and wife until one night, Rumaya heard a loud slapping sound.
Makand had hit his wife and Rumaya only felt sad that she wasn’t there to witness it.
Later that night, while Makand slept in his room, Abhaya was outside in the cold night air, caressing her pregnant belly and crying to herself.
“I only have you now. I don’t know what has gotten into Makand.” she wept. “But at least I have you.”
Rumaya had been listening to her sister crying with a smile, but now she dropped it.
The child. No, Abhaya didn’t deserve love. Not from her husband and not from her child.
Later, when Abhaya cried herself to sleep, Rumaya crept to her and lightly touched her belly.
“You shall not have loving parents, but an aunt who will teach you things you could never imagine.”
Grinning, she started the spell. Her lips moved with the venom laced words and when it was over, she sat up, satisfied and pleased at what she had accomplished.
Standing over Abhaya, she gazed at her sister.
Her sister would no longer know any happiness.
Not as long as Maraka’s teachings remained within her.
As years passed, Rumaya decided to move to her sister’s village. People in the other villages were starting to notice that she wasn’t aging, even though she should be fifty years old now.
After her parents had passed away, Abhaya was all the family she had left after all.
The village had secrets of its own. Come night, there would be wailing heard from the lakes, growls heard from the trees. The people thought it was the cry of a wounded cat or a pack of dogs fighting. It was on a full moon night that Rumaya discovered the truth- the village was inhabited by demonic souls, all looking for a chance to create mischief.
They were pleased to meet Rumaya.
“You feel like one of our own,” The demon on the tree said. “But you’re in the wrong place. To create havoc, you need a bigger place and more people. The city, perhaps?”
“My sister is here,” she replied. The smile that the demon gave her, reflected her own. He understood. “Do you know the other creatures that wander at night?”
“Yes, I’m the leader of them. We are all restless. We seek a place where we can do a lot more than spook people when they pass by the trees.”
Rumaya held up her head. “When the time is right, I will lead you to such a place. When I beckon, I want you to follow me. I shall be your leader.”
The demon didn’t hesitate. “Anything for you.”
Weeks passed and Rumaya spend them all in her house, planning, practicing. Abhaya noticed her sister, but not once did she approach her.
It was when Rumaya had gone to the well to get some water, that she found Abhaya waiting for her.
“I know what you did,” Her sister accused. She had aged terribly in the last few years. Her hair had gone completely white, her skin had become coarse and wrinkled and her nails were brittle and yellow.
“And what have I done, dear sister?” Rumaya started to pull on the ropes of the well.
“You don’t look a day over eighteen. Mother was right. You are a witch.”
Rumaya poured the bucket of water into her pot, smiling as she did so. “Yes, I am. I’ll keep no secrets from you, dear sister.”
“Don’t! Do not call me your sister.” Abhaya clenched her fist. “You ruined my life. My husband didn’t just change overnight. You put a spell on him.”
Rumaya looked down at her sister. She was taller now. “Why, of course I did. You don’t deserve to be happy.”
Abhaya had tears in her eyes. “Why? Why do you have so much hatred towards me?”
“Because you were always favored for no reason!” Rumaya spat. “Mother and Father adored you, the whole village did. They always told me to become like you. You, who was so self-righteous, so condescending. I was supposed to get all the love, the adoration, the respect!”
“What have you done to earn that?” Abhaya retorted. “You were a spoilt child who always wanted what other had. You were disobedient, hurtful and a terrible sister. What makes you think people would appreciate that about you?”
Rumaya glared at her sister. “Our parents are gone now, sister. Your husband despises you, your children hate you.”
“My children don’t hate me.”
Rumaya gave a short laugh. “Oh, they do. They think you’re such a terrible mother. They believe their father when he says that you slept with other men.”
Abhaya charged at her sister and caught her throat. “I’m going to kill you. I’m going to strangle all the evil out of you!”
Rumaya put her hands over her sister’s, but was surprised by the strength her sister displayed. Slowly, she could feel her breathing becoming constricted. Her throat ached and she couldn’t swallow anymore.
“Just die!” Abhaya cried.
Rumaya tried to scratch at her sister, but failed. She fell to the ground and Abhaya straddled her, still choking her.
Dark clouds appeared in her vision, as did Maraka’s wispy face. She was grinning and Rumaya knew that Maraka wanted this for her.
“I cannot die,” she said in a choked voice. “Killing me will only make me stronger.”
Abhaya didn’t believe her. “You cannot fool me with your lies. I won’t believe you anymore.”
Rumaya caught her sister’s long white hair which had come loose from her plait. “I’ll return. Stronger. Maraka lives within me.”
“Lies!” Abhaya screamed and her bony hands tightened around her sister’s neck.
Rumaya felt her body getting weaker, but something in her abdomen was burning up. I was scratching her insides, tearing her up. Her blood was boiling and her heart, though slowing down, felt stronger somehow.
She was dying. But she was also becoming stronger.
Don’t worry, my child. It was Maraka’s voice. Her soft, comforting voice. You’ll survive this. All you have to do now is reclaim your realm.
Rumaya closed her eyes and drifted off.
When she woke up, she was surrounded by fire. The wood around her was burning, but the flames hadn’t touched her skin. Through the smoke, she saw Abhaya limping away, obviously pleased at herself for getting rid of her sister.
Rumaya swung her legs over the pyre, as if she was getting out of bed, and jumped over the flames. It was night time and the moon was full and bright. It also looked bigger and reddish.
Rumaya checked her skin and found no bruises or cuts on her skin. Not even dust had managed to smear it.
Looking down, she found herself dressed in a long black flowing dress.
I always keep my promises. Maraka’s voice whispered inside her.
“Thank you,” Rumaya said. “You have been more of a mother to me than my real mother. You saved me. For this, I pledge my life to you and your teachings.”
Then do what you were born to do. If you can’t destroy this world, then create one you can destruct.
Rumaya nodded dutifully. “I will.”
In the dead of the night, she first went to her sister’s house and found her sleeping all alone. Through the barred windows, Rumaya closed her eyes and recited a spell. She felt something separate from her and when she opened her eyes, she found herself staring into her eyes.
She had two souls now. After dying and coming back, she had duplicated her soul. Her soul self had a purpose to complete- to make Abhaya’s life miserable. Her soul had all the powers and all the spells she needed to know.
Rumaya walked away, leaving behind her soul to haunt her sister. She headed to the tree and tapped at the bark. The leader of demons, slithered down and hissed.
“Come,” Rumaya simply said.
The demon beckoned the others and they all followed Rumaya as she traveled back to the village where she had been born.
But she didn’t head to her old house to relive her childhood memories. She made her way to the cremation grounds and was delighted to see the ground covered with black saplings. There were some trees too!
The tree that had always stood in the middle, was no longer an ordinary tree. It had become a gateway.
Rumaya looked all around at the black wispy saplings who swayed and wailed. They had been waiting for her so she could take over.
She still remembered the day Maraka had told her to spit out all the hatred and venom she had for her sister. This was the result of her poison.
This was her forest of the dark.
Thank you for reading my story. I really hope you enjoyed reading it as much I enjoyed writing it.
This is a prequel to my horror novel ‘Forest of the Dark’ that was published by Solstice Publishing and is available at all authorized retailers.
‘Forest of the Dark’ is my most cherished horror novel, and I couldn’t just let it end there. I wanted to delve into that story one more time, writing about two characters that were mystifying and play a very important role in the story.
Of course, the tone of this story is a lot darker than ‘Forest of the Dark’. Somehow, I couldn’t write Rumaya in any other way than this.
You can find my horror novel here:
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Two sisters, Rumaya and Abhaya, find their lives disrupted by the arrival of a witch in their quiet little village. As much as the villagers fear her, Rumaya can't help but be drawn to her, unaware that she has a special connection with the witch.