Beauty and the Brute
Posted July 2, 2012on:
It was a frigid December night. Thick fog overshadowed the full moon. Dreadful stillness prevailed all around. The jungle seemed to be resting too.
Lanterns and lamps defused. The darkness engulfed the houses of the locality.
Weary people fascinated themselves in their quilts. They were dreaming of their sweet dreams being realized. Serenity reined over the place.
It was 12 o’clock midnight.
Outside that town was a jungle. Not very far from there passed a rail track. And alongside ran a small water channel. The frozen channel glistened in the dull moonlight, flowing along the rail track. On that channel’s wall sat a black tomcat. He stared down the length of the rail track, his sharp sight cutting through the gloom. His ears pricked and he froze. Nothing, not even a cricket disturbed the peace. Good.
He went back to carefully licking clean his paws.
What was that?
A faint familiar rhythm reached him. The clacks-clacks were maddening for some, but music to his ears. It was Night Express. He deliberately stood up and stretched, yawing as he did so. With a slight wriggle, he got the blood circulating in his limbs. His eyes widened and he tilted his head slightly. He slowly licked his lips and flicked his tail.
A pale light appeared in the distance. The tracks in this stretch ran straight for several hundred yards, a safety precaution when approaching any village. The train’s headlight grew sharper as it sliced through the reluctantly parting fog. Sadiq Hussein glanced at his watch, almost midnight. Another hour and he would pull into the next station for a crew change.
“What the hell?” Hussein peered into the darkness. He couldn’t believe his eyes. People, what are they doing on the track? He had no choice but to sound the whistle—- against the regulations but—
In the train cabin, Hussein could not believe his eyes.
The people all wrapped in white shrouds refused to move. They lay across the tracks.” Suicide! Oh God!” the train whistle had no desirable effect on these mad people intent on killing themselves.
He threw the lever to cut the power to the engine and slammed on the emergency brakes. The train screeched as a thousand banshees screamed in unison from under its metallic wheels.
“Oh God, please stop! Stop!” The train screeched. Metal wheels on metal tracks. The headlight shone on tracks. The people, all wrapped in pristine white robes, did not budge. Hussein shut his eyes as the train ploughed into flesh and bone.
The train came to a halt with squeals and hisses. With a small cry of anguish, Hussein slumped to the floor and buried his head in his hands.
Ashraf Ahmed woke with a start. He cursed down all his readymade vulgarities on the train driver.
“Midnight and the fool blows his whistle!” he grumbled as he pulled up his trousers over his protesting stomach. Grabbing a lantern, he stepped out into the cold, uttering more curses. The Light shone on a pair of smoldering red eyes. Ahmed sucked air sharply. The hair on his neck strained on roots.
Ahmed holding the swaying lantern above his head ran painfully towards the headlight.
“What are those?” he held the lamp high, his heart pounding. Ahmed sighed, his relief morphing to black anger. “You, evil spirit, queer tomcat!
You gave me such a fright.” He picked up a pebble and flung it at the animal perched on the channel barricade. But the feline crouched and hissed. Ahmed picked up another stone. The train whistle shrilled and the wet stone slipped out of his hand.
With a curse, he stooped to pick another stone but the cat was gone. A chill ran down his spine. “Strange, he muttered, “but….but it was only a cat.” A few minutes passed followed by hurried and loud banging on the door and he heard a vaguely familiar voice.
Pulling himself to his feet, Hussein opened the door.
“Oh, it’s you. I thought it was…..” the track guard, Ahmed, bent with hands on his knees as he caught his breath.
“‘Sadiq, did someone pull the emergency chain?” no, Sir, I stopped the train myself,” Sadiq replied, his face white as sheet.
“What happened,” Ahmed gasped, “you’ve seen a ghost?”
“I’m sure they all died.” The chilly night had no effect. Sadiq had broken into sweat.
Ahmed’s anger melted rapidly. “Who died?” what are you talking about?”
“Follow me Sir and let’s see.” Hussein swallowed hard and set off down the track.
“Do say something Sadiq. Who has died?”
“Believe you me Sir, I didn’t see them. One moment they were not there, and next moment, they were.” Hussein hurried into the dark, but after every few steps, he would wait for the elderly man to catch up. “All of them Sir, were wearing white only.”
Ahmed grabbed the young man’s wet arm. “Who” “Who was wearing white” Hussein did not answer. He had broken into small shivers. He blinked rapidly and hurried along the track with older man at his heels.
After five hundred yards, they had turned the corner. “Honest to God Sir, I saw four or five people with my own eyes, lying on the track. That’s why I pulled the brakes.”
The black fog surrounded and embraced the men. Even the faint glow of the moon disappeared in the dark. “Come, let’s backtrack,” Ahmed said.
Just then, his lamp flickered and died. Utter darkness surrounded them.
“What was that” Ahmed asked.
“There I saw something!”