ABOUT an hour after we arrived in the northern Indian town and drove through the gates of the nice, big colonial bungalow, I was told, very discreetly and very quietly, that the place was haunted.
Dilemma time. We were going to be there for about a week and the most pressing matter was whether I should pass this information on to my wife.
I opted against it, simply because it seemed like the most logical idea at the time. As dusk turned to night, I found the guest book and — while I would not normally spend much time reading something like that — it was an illuminating introduction to our huge, temporary abode.
Many visitors had written of feeling a certain presence in the house. Others had described hearing loud and inexplicable noises, especially at night. And one person had written that while there was definitely something ghostly or extra-worldly about the house, there was — apparently — no reason to be fearful.
In short, the general consensus was two-fold — there was something lurking in the bungalow, but it was not an altogether threatening presence. I thought it best to kept this knowledge to myself.
The questions begin
But within a couple of hours, I was already scratching my head. Earlier, we had put our two-year-old son to bed in a guest room at the front of the house while we joined other family members in a room farther down a long corridor. Naturally, as parents of a toddler, we checked on him regularly.
To our surprise, we suddenly found him awake and standing, with quivering lip, just outside the door of the room where we were congregated. The fact that he had walked through two dark rooms with glass furniture and crystal ornaments to find his way, through a dark corridor, to where we were — in an unfamiliar house — was strange but not inexplicable.
But I could not rationalise another aspect. How on earth had our toddler managed to open the closed door of the room he was sleeping in?
It was a heavy timber, floor-to-ceiling door that even our seven-year old had difficulty opening because it operated on a heavy spring. The servants had already left the house, so who had opened the door for our little son?
Despite the mystery, I opted not to reveal the ghostly warning to my wife.
On the third morning, she mentioned at breakfast that she had been kept awake during the night by several loud explosions.
Really? I had not heard a thing, but put it down to the fact that I am a heavy sleeper. We concluded that, given the time of year, it was celebratory firecrackers in neighbouring homes.
Much later, we realised that our bungalow was isolated. There were no neighbouring homes. I was reminded of the “loud and inexplicable noises” referred to in the guest book but held my counsel.
And things fall apart
Halfway through the week, we were out at a dinner reception when someone asked my wife where we were staying.
“Oh,” said the other lady, “that place? You do know it’s haunted, don’t you?”
The next morning, our hosts told us of another mystery. They showed us a ceremonial sword in a curved scabbard that they kept above a fireplace in one of the many huge rooms in the house. The sword was placed so that it leaned against the wall behind it. Yet every morning the sword would be found lying flat on the mantelpiece. Curiously, none of the china and crystal figurines beside it ever fell to the ground.
I was sceptical. So every night during our stay there, I checked that the sword was resting against the wall. It was, indeed.
And every morning I would go into the room to check what had happened during the night. The sword was always flat, having fallen away from the wall. And none of the decorative figures had moved.
Still, there was nothing to suggest — definitively — that there was anything truly inexplicably supernatural about the place.
Until this happened.
It was mid-afternoon. My wife was out with the lady of the house. The man of the house was at work. The servants had cleared up and left after lunch and would only return in the evening. I was alone in the rambling house with my son and daughter.
We decided, as we did most days, to go to the large, square room that had been set aside as a playroom for the children. The room was one of many that led off a central corridor.
My son, who carried a collection of metal miniature railway engines with him in a backpack wherever he went, took them out and the three of us started playing with them.
After several minutes, he took one particular toy, a traction engine, and pushed it a long way across the smooth, cool marble floor.
I watched it very closely. If one of the engines had gone missing, there would have been tears until it was found. As the father, it was my responsibility to ensure that all the engines in his collection were accounted for at all times.
I watched carefully as the engine went all the way to the door that separated the room from the corridor, stopping precisely under the curtain that divided the room and the long corridor. We could all see the engine clearly and my son played for several more minutes before he asked me to retrieve the engine.
I walked the few metres to the curtain and the doorway. I bent down, putting my hand down to pick up the engine. But it was no longer there. I felt all around. No engine. Then I lifted the curtain completely. Nothing. The traction engine was nowhere to be seen.
How could it have moved when the three of us were the only people in the whole house and none of us had touched it?
No one had walked into the house. No one had walked out of the room and no one had walked into the room.
So I had to tell my son that the engine was nowhere to be found.
He just smiled, as if he knew exactly where it was. He walked out through the open door of the playroom, made his way unhesitatingly down the corridor and asked me to open the heavy spring-loaded door to another bedroom on the other side of the corridor.
Puzzled, I did so. He entered the room without hesitation.
He walked unerringly over to the double bed. And then he put out his little hand to retrieve the traction engine from on top of the bed.
Needless to say, we high-tailed out of the house in quick time.
Details of this venue have been omitted as it is part of a government institution and cannot be identified.
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