Orson didn’t quite know what made his tormentor leave his side. When he woke up, he was aching and bleeding all over. His eyes were shut, and he held his body like a fetus in a mother’s womb. It was around the precise moment when he was again drifting into unconsciousness when he heard the laugh.
It was a melodic laugh, like someone was right in the room with him, looking at him; and he immediately turned to look. He only saw the shadows of the night forming and dissolving on the walls of his little room, but he could see little else.
Dismissing it as a trick played by his petulant mind, he turned back to sleep, but the laugh played out again, this time louder than the first. He woke up and sat upright, as much as his almost broken back could afford. He looked around and found nothing. But the laugh was distinct. He hadn’t heard it before, but, he had a faint recognition of it.
And then a thought entered his mind—this is the way Bessie would have laughed.
With that thought in mind, he hobbled onto his feet and went right up to the window which was still open. He hoped to find her back, sitting again by the window, just as he had seen her the last time. But his hopes were dashed to the ground as soon as they had sprung in his mind. The chair, devoid of any occupancy, mocked at his misery in the nocturnal silence.
He sat on his bed, puzzling over whether to lay down or not, nodding his head in disbelief at his easy credulity, when he noticed the slight movement out of the corner of his eye.
It was the poster—the poster of her.
He was sure there had been a movement in it.
And then, even as he was straining his neck in its direction to catch it again, it happened again.
This time it was sudden that he almost fell backward right on his bed. His eyes were fixed on the poster, which had now begun to exhibit a state of turmoil. The silvery white of her hair was blending with the blue of her dress, and darkening to an unholy color of sickness. Her white face was getting filled with warts, and the blue eyes were becoming blacker than the night. He saw in utmost fear the eyes blink and the face move, and then the lips, which were now burnt black, cracked and opened to reveal a most vile mouth inside.
He could even feel the stink.
The reality of Bessie had now chosen to present itself in front of him, and this was a reality he could have done without. He tried to run away, but he could not. He found himself pinned to his bed.
Then the poster moved.
This was not just the flat movement that was happening up till now; this time the movement was three dimensional. It was first those breasts—they popped out of the poster—and he could see their bizarre inhuman shape. And then the face came out, and then one limb after another, and he saw how they terminated in the most perilous talons he had seen. The whole entity now popped out of the poster and began moving toward him.
It stood there, in the middle of the room, and he pinned on his own bed, could do nothing but look at it in amazement.
Then he felt the strange feeling. It was at once pleasurable and bizarre. It welled from deep inside him, and it was an erotic feeling, arousing him sexually, though he tried to stifle the feeling. But nothing was in his control now.
The creature in front of him did not touch him. It just hovered there, like some kind of holographic apparition, but he slowly began to moan with the pleasure of the most intimate contact he had ever had.
But he knew this should not happen. He knew this would be his last climax if he reached there.
And, just like that, with a big burst of energy, he pushed himself away from the bed and found the energy to flee from his house.
+ + +
He did not stop running till he was on the beach.
He fell down in the sand, and tried to get his breath back. When the sound of his gasping had receded, he realized that he was not alone. He sensed the hollow breathing of someone close to him.
He lifted his head.
Seated on the same bench as three months ago was another woman. This one was in pink, but she had the same white complexion, the same silver blond hair, and the same incomparable beauty. And he was again mesmerized; drawn toward her despite his best counsel.
“Who are you?” he asked her. This one was not crying but she was brooding over something.
“Annette,” she said.
“What are you doing here?”
“Looking for someone.”
“She is like me, but dressed in blue.”
“Oh, you have seen her.” There should have been rejoicing in her voice, but she said that in a very detached sort of manner. “Where is she?”
“Don’t know. Why do you ask about her?”
“I am her mother.”
He stepped back from her. She did not look like a mother in the least. She looked youthful and beautiful; she did not at all have the matured appearance that a mother is supposed to have. And, when he stepped back, he saw something in the darkness behind her shoulder.
The house was just as he thought it would be—green walls, white paneled windows and a large red roof with a chimney atop it.
“Whose house is that?” he asked.
“Mine,” she said.
“I have been looking for it,” Orson said. “Where was it all this time?”
“It only shows to people when they need to see it,” she said. “Would you like to see inside?”
He stepped inside with her. And the moment he stepped into the house, everything changed. It was another night, and suddenly the house was filled with children. There were at least four of them, all aged below ten, and the youngest could have been no more than three. He looked at her and was suddenly amazed. It was her—the little child was Bessie! There was no mistaking the hair and the complexion; he knew instantly it was her.
And then there was a commotion outside.
“Burn them down,” the men outside were hollering, “burn all of them.”
Annette, who was still dressed in pink, but somehow appeared younger, came up to a window and looked at the men spreading fires everywhere. She sent all the children away, and they immediately dispersed. Then she took the youngest—Bessie—in her arms.
“They have come for us, Bessie,” she said. “They will kill us because they cannot understand us.”
Bessie was too young to comprehend anything.
“What mumma?” she asked.
“We have to go,” Annette said. “They have already burnt the rest.”
It was a valid question. There was nowhere to go to, except the beach. She had no time to think. Cradling the little Bessie in her arms, she ran to the beach, leaving footprints in the sand. And Orson followed. The men with torches ran after them, many of them running right through him with their unseeing eyes.
But it was too late.
She was already in the water, with her child, lapped up by the waves.
And he turned back to look.
The house was burning down, with the little children inside trying to run away in the vegetation surrounding it.
The fires burned down and Orson was again enveloped by the darkness of the night with the woman in pink.
“They tried to burn us down,” she said. “I lost all my children, but I saved my Bessie.”
“I saw you drown,” he said without believing the scene that had just unfolded in front of him.
“But we came back. Bessie and I. To take our revenge on the men who tormented us.”
And then he understood the seriousness of that statement. For her, he was just a man, one of the faceless people who had burned her house down. Blind vengeance is the worst kind of vengeance.
Not prepared to wait there any longer, he tried to move away. Annette remained sitting on the bench, and she let out her bloodcurdling laugh, but he had moved away from her range. “Bring her back to me,” she yelled out. “She is trapped in your house. Bring her back.”
+ + +