Short Story: Moonstruck

Vishal smiled as as his jeep began the ascent up hill ,as the narrow winding roads snaked upwards , forests of Oak and Pine spread out beneath him. An occcasional pine cone would come rolling down the hill and on the road .The picturesque scenery was marred sometimes by clumsy Dhabas for the tourists. Soon he arrived at Ranikhet , the unspoilt hill station of the Shivaliks, but he continued his ascent till the very top of a hill where the forest rest house was situated.

“Good Evening Sir” said the old caretaker as he hobbled across the courtyard to greet him, “It is a great location to stay sir, on clear days you can see the Nanda Devi peak and…”, Vishal cut short the discourse by handing him his luggage. He was shown into a high ceilinged room that was supposed to have been there from the British times . He was here for the three day National Conference on Environmental awareness in Ranikhet and he was representing the state forest department. Thinking of the conference ahead he fell into a deep sleep. It was the chilly December air that woke him up; he woke up to see his window open and the curtains fluttering in the breeze .Wrapping his blanket tightly around himself , he shuffled towards the window and just as he was about to shut it tight his eyes fell on a strange spectacle. On the rocky ledge twenty feet from his window, bathed in moonlight sat a figure, it was a girl that he could make out from the cascade of hair falling down her back. He checked his watch, it was three in the morning, a sense of curiosity gripped him but he forced himself to go back to sleep.

“I saw a woman on the ledge yesterday night” he asked the caretaker as he enjoyed his breakfast of scrambled eggs , the old man who had been talking so amicably, suddenly changed his tone and his features twisted with rage “ she is a bloody witch , she has been coming alone to this ledge for a couple of years now, back in the village there are all sorts of legends and rumours about her dark activities, she just sits and watches the sky all night, don’t look at her again sir, it may not be good for you.”The following night he could not sleep, and to be honest to himself he did not even want to sleep, he waited till two in the night and then went to the window, yes , she was there again , for some moments he stood gazing at this figure while an internal battle raged inside him where curiosity on one hand to meet this strange personality, was being thwarted by reason that he would land himself sick. Curiosity won.

He unlatched the door and stumbled into the night, he noticed that the twigs cracking beneath his feet did not have any effect on her. He finally reached the ledge; there she was gazing up at the moon. She was a small girl with typical features of hill folk, small eyes and small nose but unlike others she was dark. He said a polite” hello”, but there was no reply, this strange woman kept on looking at the moon without batting an eyelid. He was a little louder this time, he tried greeting her way hill folk do , but still no response, curious and slightly afraid, he too sat beside her and looked up, wondering what was up there that  was so interesting.

It was a dangerous position to sit, with a deep gorge below. However unfazed he continued to gaze at the sky, after sometime his neck muscles started hurting and unable to continue, with shivering fingers he touched her on the arm, this time she did respond with a furious glare, as if somebody had disturbed her from in the middle of something. He started talking quickly to pacify her,  “my name is Vishal , I am a forest officer , I have come to Ranikhet  to attend a conference, I saw you last night at the ledge, i was just wondering… ”by this time she was again gazing up. Slightly miffed, he tried questioning her about her object of interest “you seem to be really interested in something up there” he asked her , she turned to him again, but this time with a slight smile…she did not reply but stretched both her hands forward and cradled the moon lovingly between her palms, so, thought Vishal, she is staring at the moon, he wondered why the moon only , there are brighter things in the sky , the stars , those twinkling orbs can mesmerise with their beauty, looking at his questioning face, she spoke for the first time, “ I love him”.

He was taken aback, but she kept speaking as if speaking more to herself than to him, “He is the ideal lover, he always gives but never demands”. Somehow even Vishal became acutely aware of the moon now, from the cliff it seemed so close that you could stretch your hand and pluck it out of the sky, “every night he embraces me in his light, his light enters my veins and my soul till we become one and i can see and feel nothing but his radiance” she pulled back her sleeve “see, I can feel his numb touch”, he could see her hair standing up on her dark arm, it somehow unsettled him, this concept of loving the moon was difficult to digest, he even thought for a moment that she was kidding, but she wasn’t, he knew that the moment he looked at her face again, it was staring up with so much hope, love, longing …he tried to start another conversation several times but failed, she was too involved in her communion with her lover.

Next day at the conference was a disaster, he was tired from his late night yesterday and he was thinking about this ethereal relationship all the time. He could not wait to get back to her as this would be his last night here, and finally the night came. As usual he walked up to her and she didn’t notice him, he smiled and said in a loud voice.. “So, i have been thinking about you both since last night , and I just can’t understand how this is a relationship, I mean there are no emotional ups and downs involved, like  do you guys fight sometimes” , she turned, and laughed “yes we fight a lot, then he goes away, but I still sit here all night saying sorry, and then the next day he reveals a bit of himself and then everyday as I make it up to him he shows more of himself till again I can have him completely”.

Vishal giggled to himself, she certainly was crazy. He asked her in jest whether her moon had ever given her a gift, she turned to him with moist eyes and the moon that was reflecting in both of them was taking strange shapes in their depths “he has given me hope, that he will stay with me till the end of time, can any lover give a bigger gift, and he has promised me, that very soon he will call me to his abode in the skies”. This time they kept talking till it was early morning and moonlight was beginning to wane, she abruptly got up and began to leave, Vishal asked her name, “MaliswarI” she said, and left in a hurry as if shying away from the sun. He shouted at her retreating form ”It would look nice on the wedding card, Moon weds Maliswari” .

Next Day Vishal’s conference went off well, and after a satisfying lunch, he left back for Delhi in his govt vehicle. However they encountered a huge traffic jam due to a landslide, the driver informed him that they would have to take a shortcut through the ‘khampa’ village. Vishal resigned himself to the agony of driving on a rocky village track .He was beginning to doze off when on the outskirts of the village he saw a lot of commotion.

On a closer look he found that a house was on fire, but strangely the villagers who had assembled instead of helping to douse the fire were cheering and clapping. Concerned he ordered the car to stop “what’s happening?, is anyone inside the house”, a couple of villagers who worked as staff in the forest rest house recognised him and said, “nothing sahib, just a crazy mad woman named Maliswari , it is for the good of all , she was moonstruck, deranged ,insane”, “bloody witch!!” spat another . From the window of his car, Vishal could only see fumes, fumes of that burning house flying to an unknown destination in the sky……….

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