– a short story.
“Once upon a time…. ”
This was only the second story Mom was into and already the book was slipping from her hand and her eyes were closing. In a minute I could hear her deep breathing. She had fallen asleep in my room on my bed, reading out stories to make me go to sleep. Poor Mom, she must have had a tiring day. With my brand new baby brother on the scene, Mom had enough on her hands.
I gently lifted the covers without disturbing her and slipped out of bed. I opened the door to the balcony. I am not supposed to be opening any of the doors at night. But this one opened to the balcony and where was the harm?? It was lovely outside. The moon was behind some clouds. Everything looked beautiful in that half moonlight coming through the clouds. I looked again… Didn’t the clouds look like someone had upset a giant bowl of thick curd, not the beaten smooth one though. But the one with the lumps still in it. Yeah the clouds sure looked the way it had looked when I had upset the curd bowl one day and poor Mom had to clean up the whole mess. I helped her of course. I always help my Mom. I know what Mom’s friends and neighbors tell her about me.
“He is such a good boy!”
They say that in between, going on and on about what their Babloo or Pinky or Munna did that made them mad. Makes me feel good. But then I have to take care of Mom, haven’t I?? Dad has to travel a lot and its Mom and I most of the time. And now my baby brother too.
I felt thrilled standing out in the balcony like that with no one around. I am not afraid of the dark. I am a big boy now, seven years old. Should I fear darkness like Babloo next door, who screams at the top of his voice when there is a power cut?? I tease him about it sometimes.
I looked at the clouds again. The moon was still behind it. That’s when I saw that small speck of something black. What could it be, I wondered. I watched the moving black dot idly. Was it getting bigger?? Good God! It was! Soon I could see that it had wings. The wings seemed gigantic. It was getting closer by the minute! And as I watched fascinated it circled right above our garden and alighted silently on to the green grass. Not a sound had the flapping wings made! I realized then that it was no bird, not even a giant bat! It was a man.
A man with wings??
His legs had claws on them in the place of toes, as did his hands. I could see that in the faint moonlight. And when he turned around, scanning the surroundings, I saw his face. It was so scary. Eyes all red, bulbous, and shining. He had no ears. And, here I shuddered involuntarily, he had long fangs!!
The creature lifted its head and seemed to sniff the air. Its head swiveled in my direction. I held my breath and stood in the shadows hoping it would fly away. I could feel my heart beat louder. Would the thudding sound reach it??
It spread its wings and silently rose in the air towards the balcony. In that split second it struck me where it was headed. It was my baby brother it wanted. I had seen it on TV once. There were these monstrous half bird-half man creatures that flew away with babies. Baby-snatcher Monsters they were called. Bright Light Man was the one who came to the rescue. I felt my blood run cold. Dad was away and I had to do something or I would lose my baby brother. The creature had alighted noiselessly a few feet from me, on the balcony. It was sniffing the air again and moving towards the open door. I had left it open!!
My eyes fell on the cricket bat I had left lying in the balcony yesterday. I had not put it back in its place like Mom had told me to. For once I was glad I had been forgetful! In a flash, I drew it into my hands from where it was lying and hit the creature with all my strength. The thud sound made me wince. But I steeled myself and swung my bat again. The creature turned towards me with a howl of pain.
That howl was going to wake either the baby or my Mom and Mom would definitely come to investigate. I felt desperate. I had to keep my Mom and my brother safe from the creature. I closed my eyes and kept swinging the bat again and again. The creature’s hands shot out and the claws scratched my arms as it tried to wrench the bat from my hands with one hand. With the other it held on to my hair making me immobile, unable even to move my head.
Just then I heard Mom’s soft inquiring voice,
Then a more surprised,
I prayed she wouldn’t come any further. But even as I fought desperately with the creature, I saw Mom on the other side of the open door, a look of utter shock on her face. And my baby brother was in her arms. She had probably got up to feed him and was burping him. I could see his cute face resting on Mom’s shoulder.
“Mom!! You go in now!” I told her urgently.
“Take baby inside.. please go!!” I pleaded urgently as I struggled with the creature. But suddenly, I found that it had let go of me. It was sniffing the air again. A sob escaped my lips. I didn’t want my brother snatched and taken away into some strange land to be turned into another half bird-half man creature, which would come back again to snatch more babies!!
I ran ahead and tried to shut the door close. But the creature pushed it open easily, making me fall backwards. That’s when I remembered what Bright Light Man, usually did in the TV series when faced with these creatures. Apparently, these creatures were terrified of very bright light. That’s why they roamed around in the night.
“Switch on the lights Mom!” I yelled.
Mom seemed to be paralyzed and anyway how could she run with the baby?? I ran panting to the switchboard and soon bright light filled the room. I could see the creature struggling in the light and retreating towards the less bright night outside!!
“More light!” I gasped as I switched on the new torch that Dad had got me. I shone it in its face and it almost toppled over the balcony railings in its haste, as it staggered back. I switched on the balcony lighs as well and with one last howl the creature flew off as silently as it had come. I turned to Mom,
“The light did it Mom!! The light did it!!”
Mom was standing rooted to the spot. Poor Mom! What a shock this must have been for her! But what’s this?? Is that anger on her face? Her eyebrows are all knit! I had just saved her and my brother!
“Viren!!” she was almost screaming now. The baby turned its head at this rise in the tone of voice.
“Do you know what the time is??!!”
“Get up and get ready. The train is at 9a.m. and we have to be there early enough!”
Train?? Early?? What was happening??
“And what are you screaming for light anyway??” she smiled as she patted the baby walking towards the balcony.
“No!” The word almost escaped me. But I stopped myself.
I had been dreaming!! I went all red at the thought.
“The sun is already up and there is enough light!!” Mom said teasingly.
It had all been a dream!!
“Get up lazybones!”
“We are off for our holiday today!”
“…¦and we will be meeting Dad soon!” she said in a singsong voice.
I smiled back at Mom and ran to get ready.
This had been my response to a challenge set by an online friend Vidya, to write something beginning with the words, ‘Once upon a time…’