Forest of the Dark-- Excerpt
At eleven-thirty at night, everyone was either going home or to a late night party. The city was quiet and the streets were quickly emptying as the traffic lessened. The stall keepers were closing down and counting the earnings of the day before they too would return home.
Sitting under a building on a wooden bench, Preeti watched an old man put a wad of notes in his shirt pocket and get on the bicycle. He would go home where his wife and children were probably waiting for him. That image added to her despair.
Only a month had gone by since Abhi had broken up with her. He had been the love of her life, unfortunately, she hadn’t been his. They had been together for three years and he had professed his love for her every day, along with sweet promises of marriage. She had even found a ring in one of his drawers one day while cleaning out his room.
When a week passed by and the proposal hadn’t come, Preeti had become restless and had asked him straight up if he intended to marry her. Then to her horror, not only did Abhi refuse to do so but also admitted to having an affair with another girl.
She couldn’t say anything as he told her how moving in with her in the first place was a big mistake and his parents would never agree to their marriage because of her open-mindedness to have a live-in relationship. She had just stared and said nothing for a while. When he started to walk away, she had grabbed his arm, whirled him around and slapped him hard on his face.
He had been shocked at first and before he could open his mouth to vent out a tirade, she had screamed at him and thrown him out of their house. No... hers.
The month she had spent without him had been pure agony. Her heart was broken and the will to eat or sleep or do any of her regular activities, waned. Then last week, came yet another blow—she was fired from her job at the call center.
That had been the last straw for. She had gone back home and cried her heart out. Her friends had called her numerous times, but she had no strength to attend to them they even sent her texts and when she read them, she had felt more miserable.
One of her friends, Aksh, had finally become a doctor and wanted to celebrate. Her friend Maya also told her that Aksh was getting engaged to an affluent girl. Seeing her friend’s lives better, had filled her with jealousy and misery. Here, her world was falling apart and there, her friends were progressing in theirs.
Maya had texted her about a promotion she had gotten in the newspaper office she worked in. Dhiraj had made it to the badminton championships and her photographer friend, Rudra, was dating a beautiful model.
Preeti had thrown her phone on the nearby couch and wept into her pillow. When they were all in college, Rudra had proposed to her in front of everyone. She had declined and told him that she was looking for someone else who shared her ambitions. Now look where she was.
She had wiped the tears from her face. Perhaps, she should have given Rudra a chance; he wouldn’t have cheated on her like Abhi had.
The phone had rung again and Preeti had finally given up trying to ignore her friends. It was Aksh and he told her that he was arranging a get together at his parent’s farm house and that she would have to come. Preeti had tried to make excuses, but Aksh assured her that he would break the door of her house and drag her out.
That had made her smile. She couldn’t imagine her scrawny friend dragging her much less breaking open a heavy wooden door. But he was smart and she was sure he would find a way to get to her.
Now here she was, waiting for her friends on a dark and windy night. She imagined if Rudra was driving, he would no doubt be late. Then a thought occurred to her. Aksh had confirmed that it was a friends-only get together, but what if Rudra was bringing his girlfriend to flaunt in front of her?
Preeti took out her phone from her pocket and drew her small grey trolley bag, closer to her. She was about to call Aksh when she saw the wallpaper. The one thing she still hadn’t been able to do was get rid of Abhi’s pictures. She missed his smile and the way he always made her special and tell her he loved her.
Taking a deep wavering breath, Preeti went into her photo album and started to delete all the memories that were nothing but lies. She didn’t want to remember how he had held her hand when they had gone to watch a movie, she didn’t want to think of the moment he had asked her to be his girlfriend at a lavish restaurant. She couldn’t bring herself to remember that perfect day on the beach when he had kissed her just as the sun was setting.
The water under their feet had been cold and so was the wind, but his touch had filled her with warmth and that was when she knew she had wanted to be with him for the rest of her life.
When a teardrop fell on the screen, Preeti realized she had been sobbing out loud. She turned to see the security guard of the building, watching her with hesitance. He obviously wanted to ask her if she was okay, but like the neighbors, even he knew that she had just broken up with her boyfriend.
“Madam...” he said.
Preeti raised her hand. “I’m okay, Suresh.”
Suresh nodded and went over to tend to his dog. “Haven’t you eaten yet?” he cooed to the dog.
The black dog barked happily and walked to his dish. With the security guard now also gone, Preeti was all alone on the lonely street. The winds were getting colder and the trees surrounding the building were swaying. The branches brushed against a glass window and made a screeching sound.
Preeti jumped and tapped the phone in her hand. She hoped the Suresh would come back soon. Picking up her phone, she started to dial Aksh’s number when she saw her phone had no service.
“What the hell?” she muttered to herself. Raising the phone she found she still had no signal to make a call. “They’ll be here any minute,” she said to herself and put the phone away.
The wind brushed against her and she shuddered. It was getting colder by the minute on this moonless night. The clouds were gathering up, promising a storm later on. She hoped that they would be further down the road and away from this impending storm.
“Where are you guys?” she shivered and then slowly jogged on the spot to provide her body with some warmth.
A tap on her shoulder made her gasp and when she turned, she saw no one. Suresh’s cabin was still empty and she couldn’t hear the dog anymore. Preeti grasped the handle of her suitcase and looked all around her. She was certain the touch on her shoulder felt like someone’s hand, however with the wind strengthening, there was a possibility that a twig may have...
When there was a tap on her shoulder again, Preeti let out a cry. She turned, but again there was no one.
“Is anyone here?” she asked. She took a few steps forward toward the road and looked both ways. There were no cars on the road, so the chances of her friend’s playing a prank on her was unlikely. Besides, Maya knew the state of mind she was in. She hadn’t talked to her friend, but had messaged her about the break up in two lines.
Maya had responded in concern and kindness. She had told her she would call her when she was ready to talk and for now they would have a fun weekend to forget all their worries. It was only later that Preeti had wondered if perhaps Maya was going through something as well, based on her melancholic tone.
“Hello?” she called. Looking down at her watch, she saw it was midnight. Where were her friends?
Something touched her shoulder and Preeti froze. Holding her breath, she tried to recognize if it was a twig or a plastic bag that had clung to her shoulder—but the touch felt like a hand, and that meant someone was behind her.
She counted to three and turned, but again there was nothing. “Who’s there?” There was a loud crack and she turned to see a broken branch landing on the ground. Preeti stepped back instinctively and a gust of wind brushed against her.
“Don’t go,” someone whispered in her ear.
Preeti let out another cry and turned all around her. “Who is it?”
A loud blare of horn startled her and Preeti stumbled to the ground. The car was speeding toward her and all she could do was stare at the bright headlights.
The car came to a stop, just inches from her and she swallowed.
“Preeti?” It was Rudra’s voice, as he climbed out of the jeep. “Hey, are you okay?”
Preeti gazed up at him. He had combed back his wavy long hair and was dressed in a black jacket and white t-shirt with black jeans.
He offered his hand and she took it, wondering absurdly if he had dressed neatly for his girlfriend.
Her friend Maya too came out of the car. In this cold weather, she had donned a brown mini skirt and a brown jacket with an animal print scarf. Her short curly dark hair was covered with a black cloche.
“Preeti? What are you doing in the middle of the road?”
Preeti stared at her, trying to collect her thoughts. “I thought I heard...” Then when she realized how foolish this incident would seem to her friends, she took a deep breath and lied. “I just tripped. Clumsy me.” she smiled.
“Let’s go!” Aksh said from the car. His usual friendly voice was a bit harsh today and Preeti blinked at him. Aksh should have been happy after finally getting his medical license, yet he seemed perturbed. His hair had thinned quite a lot since she last saw him and he kept pushing up his glasses in annoyance. Dhiraj was sitting behind him, but he was lost in his own thoughts, gazing out the window.
“I have to get my bag,” Preeti said and ran back to the bench. She grabbed her suitcase and saw Suresh standing in his small cabin and looking at her. She put up her hand to wave at him, but he didn’t respond.
He only stared at her while the dog started barking. Preeti saw the dog looking at her and growling. Shaking herself, she dragged the suitcase behind her and tapped on the car. The trunk opened and Rudra helped her put her bag in.
“All set?” he asked.
Preeti smiled. There was no one else in the car apart from them; he hadn’t brought his girlfriend. “Sure, let’s go.”
As they left the city and headed to the highway, Preeti gazed out the window, staring at the night sky, lost in her thoughts of her failed relationship. It was only after a drop of rain hit the window that she snapped out of her reverie and realized that no one in the car had spoken a word.
Aksh was driving and he had propped up one elbow against the window and clutching his forehead. For someone who had just achieved his dreams, Aksh appeared withdrawn and tense. Rudra was sitting beside him and he was glued to his phone. No doubt his girlfriend was texting him.
Preeti felt a twinge of jealousy and dismissed it immediately. She had no right to be jealous of someone else’s relationship just because hers had failed. In fact, she dreaded revealing her breakup to Rudra who would be amused since she had rejected him in college.
She felt Maya’s hand clutch hers and she looked at her friend.
“Are you okay?” she asked in a low tone, intended only for her ears.
Preeti nodded, making sure Dhiraj who was sitting on the other side of Maya, hadn’t heard. She needn’t be concerned as Dhiraj was listening to music on his phone. When he saw her looking at him, he removed a earphone and raised an eyebrow at her.
Preeti smiled and shook her head. More rain splattered against the windows and windshield, but it looked like it wouldn’t turn into a storm after all. Aksh was a cautious driver, so they really had nothing to fear about skidding on the slippery roads.
As more minutes passed, and no one had said anything, Preeti squirmed in her seat. This would be the first time that the friends had met up and not created the revelry that was usual for them. At first she had thought Maya must have briefed them about her breakup, but the way her friends were acting, it seemed everyone was entwined in problems of their own. She longed to ask them about it, but then she would have to reveal hers as well.
Unable to bear the silence anymore, she pushed herself forward.
“So where exactly are we going?” she asked. “I mean, where is the farmhouse?”
“Uh... it’s in the countryside,” Aksh replied, distractedly. “It’s a two hour drive.”
“Oh,” Preeti said in a small voice. “What is the name of the place?”
Aksh seemed annoyed with her persistent questions. “In Diladar.”
Rudra, who was sitting beside him, suddenly slammed his phone on the dashboard and punched the side door.
Aksh turned to him. “Hey!”
Rudra picked up his phone and shoved it down his pocket. “Sorry, man.”
“Are you okay?” Aksh asked.
“Yeah.” Rudra looked over and pointed at the indicator. “You’re running low on petrol.”
“I’ll make a stop at the next petrol station. After that there won’t be another one until we reach Diladar,” Aksh replied.
Preeti sat back, watching the rain slowing down. Somewhere in front of them was a couple on a motorcycle. Only the man had the helmet on while the woman was shielding herself from the rain with a scarf. They made a right and were gone, leaving their jeep the only vehicle on the long road.
Maya leaned her head back and closed her eyes and Preeti decided that her friends were probably tired which was why they weren’t their usual selves. She decided to get some sleep too, when Aksh made a sharp left turn.
Sitting up straight, she saw the bright lights of the petrol station and decided to get out and stretch her legs while Aksh filled the tank. When the car stopped, Preeti opened the door and found herself being pushed out by Maya.
“Sorry,” she said. “I was feeling a bit stuffy in there.”
“You could sit by the window when we get back in.” Preeti offered.
“Thanks,” she said. “Let’s get a bottle of water from the mart.”
“You girls stay here,” Dhiraj said. “I’ll go get it.”
Everyone got out of the car while the attendant opened up the tank and inserted the nozzle.
As Aksh and Rudra made their way to the small mart, Dhiraj was coming out with two large bottles of water in his hands. “Here you go.”
“Thanks.” Maya broke the seal and uncapped the bottle. “Want some?”
Preeti shook her head. “You go ahead.”
Dhiraj stood with his hands in his pockets, looking around at the station and then back at them, as if hesitating to tell them something.
“You seem distracted,” Preeti told him.
“Yeah, just some stuff. And other people’s stuff as well.” He turned toward the mart, indicating Aksh and Rudra.
“What do you mean?” Preeti asked.
“Hey!” Maya said. “I thought we guys decided not to discuss our problems.”
Preeti was leaning against the wall and straightened, looking at her two friends curiously. “What’s going on? All of you look so serious.”
“It’s nothing.” Maya took another gulp of water.
“We’re all friends here. If we can’t tell our problems to each other, then what’s the point of our friendship?” Preeti said.
“All right, then you go first.” Maya challenged, putting the bottle down on the hood of the car with such force that some of the water spilled out. The attendant looked startled but kept to himself.
“What’s your problem?” Preeti asked. “Why are you so irritated?”
Maya twisted the cap back on the bottle and took her hand. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Look, all you need to know is that something happened and we all needed a break. We need to have some fun and forget all our problems. After the weekend, I promise we’ll talk about it. Until then, please...”
“Okay,” Preeti said. “Just one question: is it serious? Are you guys in serious trouble?”
Dhiraj patted her back. “Nothing we can’t handle.” He smiled. “It’s a bit of an ugly coincidence that we all have gotten ourselves into trouble at the same time.”
“Nah, mine has been brewing since I was born,” Maya said. “It’s just become unbearable now.”
Dhiraj watched Aksh and Rudra come out and frowned. “For some, the problems have been created by their own hands.”
“What are you talking about?” Maya asked and Preeti was relieved to know that she wasn’t the only one who didn’t know what was going on.
Dhiraj shrugged. “After the weekend is over, remember?”
Preeti took a swig of water and stared at Rudra wondering if Dhiraj was talking about him. After seeing Rudra’s outburst in the car, she wondered if it had something to do with his girlfriend. Did they break up as well?
She chided herself for being smug about it. Just because hers hadn’t worked out, didn’t give her the right to be happy if someone else’s relationship wasn’t working out.
“Ready to go?” Aksh asked.
“Yup,” Maya said, returning to the car. Preeti offered to let her sit by the window again, but Maya declined and sat between her and Dhiraj.
They all resumed their places while Aksh paid off the attendant. Then he got back in the car and started to drive.
“It’s finally stopped raining.” Preeti tried to make idle conversation. Anything was better than the eerie silence from her friends.
“Hmm,” Rudra said.
“You guys want to listen to some music?” she asked.
“I’m trying to sleep,” Maya snapped. Preeti frowned but didn’t argue with her testy friend. They drove in silence again and Preeti took a cue from Dhiraj and took out her own earphones from her purse. She wasn’t sleepy yet and plagued by her troubled thoughts anyway.
Inserting the earphones in her ears, she scrolled down the playlist to play soft instrumental music that reflected the beautiful night. The clouds had finally parted and the moon made its appearance. Twinkling stars littered across the inky blanket that was the sky and Preeti felt a glimmer of peace settle within; enough to sedate her to go to sleep. She rested her head on the window and closed her eyes, savoring the music playing in her ears.
This was her favorite part. The piano gave way to the violins that evoked a feeling of peace within her. She started to fall into the deep dark pit of sleep, when suddenly she was jolted violently from it as the car came to a screeching halt.
“Watch where you’re going!” Aksh screamed at someone.
Preeti felt her heart pounding in her chest. The music in her ears turned to a shrill cry and she plucked the earphones from her ears and thrust it aside.
Beside her, Maya too was sitting up straight while Dhiraj let out a cry and pulled out his earphones. He rubbed his ears and Preeti realized he had heard the shrill sound too.
Staring ahead, she saw an old bearded man dressed in white, walking toward them. He was limping and supporting himself with a thick stick. When he drew closer, Preeti clutched the headrest of the front seat.
The man looked to be about eighty-years-old at least and his eyes were green and milky. He knocked on Aksh’s window until he finally relented and opened it.
“What are you doing here late at night?” Aksh scolded him. “Walking down the middle of the road... I almost hit you!”
Preeti swallowed as Aksh screamed at the old man. Since when had her docile friend turned aggressive? Troubles sure changed people, she thought.
“Don’t go,” The old man said in a wobbly voice
Preeti gasped. She remembered how she had a whisper in her ear when she had been waiting for her friends below her building. Hadn’t the voice sounded the same?
“What?” Aksh said rudely.
“There’s danger ahead.”The old man warned.
“Is the road closed?” Rudra leaned over.
“Don’t take the forest road,” The old man told him. “It is dangerous.”
“Why?” Preeti asked. “What’s happened there?”
“Death strolls the roads,” The old man said in a mystical tone. “Many have died in the forest road.”
“Forest road?” Aksh asked incredulously. “There is no such road. Unless you mean...”
“Don’t even take its name!” The old man said. “It’s cursed. Anyone who travels it meets only despair and death. It’s haunted by ghosts that have never found peace. They seek revenge and prey on anyone who crosses their path.”
“He’s crazy,” Maya murmured. “Sir, please go home. Does your family know you’re out here?”
“Don’t go ahead.” The old man shook a finger.
“Just drive,” Maya said, tapping on Aksh’s shoulder. “He’s a senile old man.”
Aksh drove off and Preeti turned to watch the old man standing in the middle of the road, staring at them.
“That was spooky,” Preeti said. “Which road was he talking about?”
“Didn’t you hear him?” Maya laughed. “The mere mention of the name will kill you!”
Everyone started to laugh except for Preeti who only smiled. At least her friends were happy, and that made her feel a little better, even though it was at the expense of the poor old man.
“Darkwood Road,” Aksh told them.
“That doesn’t sound too scary,” Preeti said.
Rudra turned to her. “Oh that’s not what the people call it. It’s called The Haunted road or The Road of Death, as the old man said.”
“I have never heard of about it,” Preeti said.
“You must have heard about Tina Sulekhna,” Maya said.
“Yeah, the daughter of the businessman who went missing two years ago.” Preeti said.
“Uh-huh, apparently rumor has it that she was raped and killed here and her body dumped in the woods that run along Darkwood Road,” Maya told her. “Some say that her spirit has been seen, but her parents refuse to believe their daughter is dead. They still hold out hope she’ll return to them.”
“That’s so sad,” Preeti said. “Didn’t the police investigate leads? I mean if people saw her spirit, maybe they actually saw her, lost and roaming around to find her way back home.”
“The police did come and investigate. But they found nothing and as night fell, they returned,” Dhiraj said. “The horror stories of that place frighten even the police.”
“What else happened there?” Preeti asked.
“Apparently years ago, the woods were a haven to the criminals. They buried their enemies there—sometime alive.”
“Whoa!” Preeti gasped.
“Yeah and I heard a disgruntled failing student murdered his teacher and hung her on the tree,” Dhiraj said.
“Oh and there was a woman who escaped from the mental institution and found a home in the woods,” Maya added. “Legend has it that till date she roams the woods and the road in search of her children, which she’d murdered.”
“Okay, guys stop!” Preeti said. “This is really scaring me.”
“Two lovers committed suicide there,” Rudra said. “Their parents were against their marriage, yet they married and their families chased them out of town.”
“Oh no,” Aksh said, finally breaking his silence. “The families were hunting them down. They chose to kill themselves in each other’s arms rather than be killed by hatred.”
“That’s disturbingly romantic in a way,” Preeti said. “Okay guys, you have me convinced. We are not going down that road. I don’t want to run into any ghosts.”
“But that’s a shortcut to the farmhouse,” Aksh said in an expressionless tone.
“I don’t care!” Preeti said.
“Yeah, I don’t think I would be very comfortable either,” Maya said. “We’ll take Shirin Road instead.”
“You girls are afraid of everything,” Aksh said in a temper.
“Hey, if they’re not comfortable...” Dhiraj started to say.
Aksh turned around, his eyes wide and wild. “We are going by Darkwood Road!” he screamed.
“Aksh...” Preeti was suddenly scared.
“Hey just relax, you’re scaring them,” Rudra intervened.
Aksh glared at her and Preeti averted her eyes. When she saw a blinding white light ahead, she gasped. “Aksh... look out!”
Aksh turned around, but it was too late.
From the very beginning, Dhiraj was used to a strict regime set by his authoritarian parents. He was to wake up at five in the morning and made to take a lap around the whole garden ten times, after which his Father would make him do cardio exercises for half an hour followed by a healthy breakfast of fruits and milk. Only then, he would be sent off to school.
In the weekends his parents would take him to a multi-sport club, where he would be exposed to various games. His parents were both tennis players and wished for their son to master any that would take him to the world championships.
Dhiraj never knew if he ever wanted to be someone else. He tried tennis, hoping he would be a natural at it like his parents, but somehow his skills felt lacking. He tried football and basketball, but nothing drew his interest until one day he played badminton in school. He took an instant liking to it and when he told his parents they seemed a tad disappointed but also relieved that he had finally picked something.
Dhiraj practiced every day in the evenings after his studies. His parents didn’t seem to mind that he brought only average marks in his tests and exams; all they wanted for him was to be a sportsman. He went on to win school tournaments and then club tournaments. He was finally selected for the national team—a day Dhiraj thought would never come.
His coach made his train every day and Dhiraj defeated his opponents effortlessly. Then a week ago, while performing a serve, he twisted his wrist. He had ignored the pain at the time, he had been so close to winning. But later, after the adrenaline rush of victory had waned, he had been in unbearable agony.
The doctors advised him complete rest after informing him that he had severely sprained his wrist. Dhiraj was in dire pain, but he hid it well from his parents by continuing to perform his usual training activities. Then yesterday, the doctor told him what he had feared- he had torn a ligament in his wrist and would be unable to play for the championships.
Dhiraj tried to persuade the doctor to do something about it and administer some medicines, but the doctor had refused and advised him to put no more pressure on the hand or else it would cause further injury, which could require surgery.
Replacing his wrist band, Dhiraj had left the doctor’s office feeling dejected. Not only would his career suffer but his parents would be so disappointed in him. They had persevered with him and he had nothing to fall back on. His grade reports in college were dismal and he had never wanted to work in a cubicle anyway.
It was over.
Aksh’s message couldn’t have come at a better moment. He told them about the get together and Dhiraj decided that before he would tell his parents, he would spend one weekend, enjoying the few moments of his life, before he decided to deal with his problems.
He had been leaving the club when he had run into Sumit—his opponent. His injury was no secret to him and much to his chagrin, Sumit began taunting him, reminding him that his position in the team was replaceable and he was next in line to claim it.
Dhiraj wanted to ignore him; he really did try to, but when Sumit kept prodding him something inside him snapped and he punched the bully hard on his face. Sumit suffered a broken nose and needed stitches on his upper lip.
Assault charges had been pressed and he had to call his family lawyer for help. Mr. Mathur was asked to be discreet and not reveal this to Dhiraj’s parents. Mr. Mathur complied and Dhiraj was released on bail. This was yet another secret he would have to keep from his parents.
His wrist hurt as did his pride, but nothing hurt worse than the thought of his career going down the drain. As he left the police station, Sumit taunted him some more. He was one hell of a relentless bastard, he thought abysmally.
When he met his friends, he pushed away every one of his troubled thoughts and greeted them with the same friendliness they were accustomed to. It didn’t take him long to notice how withdrawn each of them looked. Upon Maya’s insistence, they had decided to not discuss their problems this weekend, but looking at his friend, Dhiraj wondered what Aksh was hiding in the first place.
They hadn’t talked about the incident at the hospital and Dhiraj wasn’t sure he wanted to bring it up. He had just gone there to get his wrist checked on. He hadn’t expected to see what he had and encouraged himself not to let his thoughts run amok especially when he didn’t know the whole story.
Nevertheless, he promised himself to enjoy the weekend. Preeti thought he was listening to music; he wasn’t. He was listening to a meditation tape that helped his relax before his matches. Right now he needed it more than ever considering the bubbling anger inside him.
He hated his injury, he loathed Sumit and he despised his luck. He had been immersed in his gloomy thoughts when the car had screeched to a halt and he had heard Aksh’s voice interrupt his tape. Pulling out the headphones, he heard Aksh scream at the old man.
After that bizarre encounter, he found himself relax a bit as his friends returned to their normal selves by talking about the horror stories of Darkwood Road. He had a few to share too.
Then suddenly Aksh turned moody again and before he knew it, Preeti was screaming.
“Look out Aksh!”
There was a strange blinding white light that enveloped him. He covered his eyes with his hands and then all of a sudden, the air around him started to get thicker. He pushed against the side door, dimly aware that the car had stopped.
He heard someone cry out and before he could reach out to his friends, the door had opened and he fell out. The smoke dissipated and he crawled blindly to the side of the road, gasping for breath. His lungs seemed to be full of smoke and he coughed hard.
After a few moments, when his breathing became easier, he looked up to see that he was leaning against the tree and that the car had gone.
“Hey!” he called. Using the tree trunk for support, he staggered to his feet and coughed again. “Guys? Where are you?”
Had they left him?
“Hey! Aksh! Rudra!” He coughed again. “Preeti? Maya! Where are you all?”
He turned around to see an empty road on one side and the dense woods on the other. He saw someone running behind a tree and raised his hand.
“Who’s there? Hey!” he called, but received no response. He ran into the woods, seeing the figure duck under a branch as he ran. “Aksh?”
The figure clearly belonged to a man he determined. He ran behind him as fast as his legs could carry him, keeping his eye on the flitting figure, hidden behind a veil of fog.
“Stop!” Dhiraj called. He grabbed a tree branch and panted for breath. He had run faster and run miles ever since he was a kid, but tonight it was as if the energy had been zapped away from him. He started to feel dizzy as he tried to catch his breath.
The fog was making it impossible for him to breathe. He saw the dark figure make a jump and then disappear behind some undergrowth.
He was about to chase after him, when he heard a loud click behind him. His feet froze as he felt a twig snap. Then cool metal pressed against the back of his neck.
“Make one move and I’ll kill you,” A hoarse voice whispered.