It's a clear, beautiful day with the sun shining bright on everything it touches. Nothing to worry about; nothing to fear—not your typical cloudy gloom or chilly winds. Everything seems normal—very normal—yet, in the heart of an eleven year old, fear lingers.
She hunches herself in this strange fear as she walks home, back from school. Creatures lurk in the darkness, don't they? And monsters come out at night when you're alone? But not to her. She sees them in broad daylight, scattered among the humans.
She hunches so she won't be too visible. Something creeps by her legs; she pulls her socks up to her knee where it touches the school skirt. Nothing can creep her now.
Is nobody else seeing these creatures? She has thought about that a lot over the past few years. She couldn’t ask her friends; she didn’t want to be that weird girl. So she kept the darkness to herself.
She was in kindergarten when she started noticing these creatures.
It was a cold morning, and she was waiting with her parents at a bus stop to return home from a short trip. They had been waiting for some ten minutes, when something grazed her. She jolted around and found someone standing a few inches away.
At first she thought it was a person, but she noticed something so different about the face. Its eyes were upon her, and they were unlike any eyes she ever saw. They were filled with a kind of hunger that she never knew could exist. And its smile; that wide stretch across its face seemed obsessed about getting what it wants. She knew then that it was no human.
Her stomach squirmed and she looked up at her mother who was holding her hand. Her mother smiled. She wanted her parents to notice the thing that was behind them, but she couldn’t find the words or the courage to express her fear. So she smiled back. Her mother turned away and her smile faded. She wished her parents could read her mind. She desperately wanted to get out of there.
The creature tried to grab her again; her heart thudded too loud. She slowly moved to stand in front of her mother, hoping she would be safe there. She saw from the corner of her eye, the creature lurking around, tall and terrifying. She caught a glimpse of its eyes waiting to seize a moment to drag her away.
Thankfully, a bus arrived. She rushed in first and sat down. Her father asked her why she hadn’t taken the window seat as usual, but she didn’t want to answer. She fixed her eyes to the floor of the bus all the way home.
Since then, she started noticing those creatures very often around her. The only solace in those times was being around her friends and family.
When she was seven, and had almost forgotten about this incident, she encountered another creature up close.
This time, it was at her friends's house; they were twins—a boy and a girl. She visited them often and they did the same. Their mothers had taken them out together on several occasions too.
One fine morning, when she was bored with all the cartoons on the television, she set out to the twins’s house. She rang the bell once; she rang the bell twice; there was no answer. Just as she was about to leave, the door opened wide. There were no twins, nor were there any creatures.
Thinking the twins were playing a prank, she stepped in and looked behind the door, there were still none.
She heard a sound inside the bedroom and she strode through the dark hallway towards it. The entire house was lifeless, except for the bedroom where a single fan spun fast. She stepped in and searched around, there seemed to be no one. She bent to search under the bed, when the bedroom door closed and the upper latch fastened.
She sprang up expecting the twins. Instead, a creature, fat and shabby, with the same grin and eyes she had seen two years ago, greeted her. She froze. The creature plunged forward and pushed her. She started falling into a void. She knew it was bad; she knew she had to do something. So she stretched her hands out and managed to grab on to the edge. She pulled herself up with all her might. She was scared the creature might try to push her down, but it didn’t. She clambered out onto the floor and did her best to stand straight. She didn’t want to turn and look at the void.
The creature was standing in front of the door now, still grinning. She looked up at the fastened latch and slowly pointed at it, hoping the creature would unlatch the door. The creature stared. My parents will come for me. They’ll find me. It was as if the creature read her mind, because its grin narrowed for a second before it stretched back. And the creature unlatched the door.
She never ran out. She walked, composed, but not calm. She was shaking on the inside; there was still a long way to reach the entrance. Yet she continued to walk because she thought the creature might sense her fear and gain power over her otherwise.
The walk seemed long, but she managed to get out of that house. She never spoke of it. She didn't think anybody would understand. She didn't feel it would be safe either.
As she walks in that afternoon heat, these thoughts come back. She thinks of the creatures and the void, and her mind swirls.
Back at school, she does mimicry. It was almost a friendly battle between her and her friend. He was good with creating comical phrases; she was good with imitating people. Together, they made their friends, and the other girls and boys in the class laugh.
She showed her talent for imitation at other places too—at her home, with her neighbours and recently, in her chess class.
She started going to these weekend classes about a month ago, and she has managed to make friends using her imitation skills. Even the two teachers were laughing at her jokes. She started to look forward to those classes.
The weekend arrives. She attends the class with her usual enthusiasm. She makes people laugh, wins a couple of chess matches, and the class comes to an end. The students leave, one after the other, as their parents come to pick them up in the hot afternoon. Her father seems to be late today. A teacher leaves, she waves bye. Twenty minutes later, all students have left except for her. The cleaning lady goes out to sweep the veranda, and it is time for her to meet a third creature.
She stands in the classroom, squinting out at the sunny road to see if her father has arrived, feeling safe that someone was still with her.
Before she could notice the creature that has crept in, a hand grazes under her t-shirt and pulls her ever so gently into that void. She looks up and sees those hungry eyes and obsessive grin. Her mind goes back to the day at the twins’s house.
She is not able to move. The creature pulls her deeper into the void. She wants to run. Her body starts to numb and shiver, when a comforting noise reaches her ears. It’s her father’s bike. The creature withdraws its hands.
When the grip vanishes, she walks, just as composed as she had done in that house, just as shaken on the inside.
Her father meets her half-way, and she smiles and hugs him as he lifts her up. The following week, she pretends to have a stomach ache to skip the class. She does so the next week, and the week after that too. By the time she returns to the class, the creature was gone.
Years later, she comes to discover an appalling truth. The creatures she thought were visible to her alone, were visible to her friends too. Some had seen them personally; others came to know about them through their mothers, sisters, girlfriends, and wives.
Those creatures had tried to grab them too. Some had even seen the farthest depths of that void. They too had done things to protect themselves, like she hunched and pulled her socks up. They too knew things as a child when all they had to know was innocence and play.
Some sought the help of others who saw those creatures. Some tried to fight the creatures, but there were too many.
She didn't know how to feel about this. It was comforting to know she wasn't alone. But that very thought was agonizing as well. There were too many who saw that void. And yet there were equally as many who denied its existence, who thought daylight could never bear evil, even worse, those who believed the creatures were right in terrifying those children, women and men.
Sometimes she thinks that such people were creatures disguised as humans, like the twins’s father in that house and the chess teacher in that class. They can make the brightest day seem gloomy, the happiest child seem lost. And in that brief moment their masks would fall off.