(You can read Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3 here.)
But the real shock awaited me a week later. I heard that Shalini's step mother went mad. The villagers said that she saw something on a full moon night. Something or someone who looked like Shalini. She has spent the rest of her life murmuring things to herself and being ridiculed by everyone. And her father? He was found dead a few days after his wife lost her mind. And what haunted everyone was the fact that the father was found hanging on the exact same tree that Shalini breathed her last.
I was a haunted man the next few months. Some part of me wished that she would give me what I deserved. That she would take away my life too, if the stories that were circulating were true. But you know what, my child? On some moonless nights, I can still hear her laughter. The sound of her laughing gleefully as she used to while urging me to push her higher and higher on the swing. Maybe in some strange way, it was meant to be my punishment. Or maybe, it was just Karma.
After a year of her death, I thought I would go mad too. The voices inside my head wouldn't let me be at peace with myself. Her voice followed me everywhere. I started getting nightmares, I couldn't sleep. And that was when I decided to end it once and for all. I had to talk to her. I needed to get some sort of closure. And that was the time I chanced upon the Ouija board at an antique store. The owner warned me about the consequences before selling it to me. But my mind was made up. I had to talk to Shalini.
Though the first rule of the Ouija Board was never to play it alone, I went ahead and broke that one. I couldn't let anyone know. Not even your grandmother. This was just my unfinished business. At first, there was nothing. But then, she came. I wanted to believe that it was her. But the spirit that hovered around me that night, years ago was not the gentle girl I knew. Maybe I had played the cards wrong. There was something malignant about the spirit that refused to leave me. Or this house.
I ended it right then and took the Ouija board on the attic and left it there. It lay forgotten for years. Till you came along and decided to play with it... My Grandfather trailed off, looking into my eyes.
I was starting to feel guilty now. What have I done? I felt a gush of emotions then. Sadness for the girl who never had a chance to grow up to be a woman, sympathy for my grandfather who spent his entire life living in guilt, fear for my sister who was still a child herself. I felt a deep pain in my chest. What if it's irrevocable? What if none of this could be undone?
My grandfather must have seen it in my eyes because he took my hands and told me, 'I have to do it tonight. I have to call upon the spirit once again and talk to it. Ask it to leave Riya alone...'
But the unspoken question hung in the air between us. Like a painful past. What if it doesn't listen. What if we lose Riya forever. It can't happen. It couldn't. I put those doubts in the back of my head. My sister deserved a chance at life.
It was almost midnight as we got the Ouija board ready once again. But this time it was different, there was none of the gaiety or thrill that I experienced from it the last night. As we got the candles and the Board ready, there was just a painful, deadly silence around us. Riya sat before us, waiting. Her big eyes filled with unshed tears. We couldn't explain what was happening to her. It was best that she did not know.
My grandfather asked me to leave the room. He needed to do this alone. Despite my protests, I stood outside. This was something which was important to him. At first, I head nothing. There was just some heavy breathing. And then, there it was, the same laughter that had terrified me the last night. I stood frozen to the spot. I could hear grandfather's raised pitch inside. But none of it made sense. I thought I heard his cries too, but it went as quickly as it came. After what seemed like hours, or maybe it was just minutes, he opened the door. I went rushing in. Riya lay on the bed unconscious, drenched in sweat. The Ouija board was tucked away safely, under his arm.
'Riya is free. Don't worry, when she wakes up, it will be fine. This would be like a nightmare that she had. One that she can put behind her. There would be no more troubles with her. Get ready to pack your bags and go home tomorrow. I am calling your parents first thing tomorrow morning..', his voice was stern.
'But...', I started to protest.
'No ifs and buts. And no more questions. You already know too much. Let the sleeping dogs lie. Just know this, that I love you both very much. I just don't want your lives at stake here. Go home, that would be the best for everyone...', he said.
And that was how we were packed off the next morning. Riya woke up as the bubbly girl I knew. I got my sister back. But when we kissed grandfather goodbye, there were tears in his eyes. I knew that he would miss us. The house would be lonely for him without our laughter and stories. I looked back from the backseat of our car, waving my grandparents a final goodbye. That was when I saw it. A girl swinging high under the Pala tree, laughing at me. I blinked my eyes for a moment and the image was gone.
Meanwhile, up in the attic, a wooden planchette twitched.
P.S. Thanks to all of you, my lovely readers, because of whom I finished writing this! Confused soul, Soumya, Red, Seeta, Prasanth, Bikram, Usha Ma'am, Reema, Vinodini, Uma, Juhi, Remya, you guys are the best and I Love you all... I'm sorry if I left out anyone. But everyone who has reading me and been boosting my confidence for this series, you have helped me in so many ways. A big heart felt Thanks!