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Monday, January 17, 2011

The plantation

    The old house sits on the edge of a hill overlooking a forest that seems to stretch from one horizon to the other. The hill itself seems out of place in the midst of trees as it is the only thing besides the path which leads to the distant town on the edge of a cove which breaks the monotony of the dense forest. A stream which emerges from the forest runs across its edge and finally into the distant desert. A long forgotten farm field runs parallel to the stream facing the forest.

    From the knowledge that I’ve gathered from the lone butler that stays here with me and the rest from town’s folks, I have discovered that the house itself is many centuries old yet others say that it’s old as time itself. It was passed from one generation to the next without fail even through the hard times and no one really knew who actually built it. It’s been whispered in hushed tones that the original owners fled the northern puritanical states to escape the witchcraft trials and settled here to start afresh.

    There used to be a plantation bordering the edge of the hill and it extended many miles into the forest. It was an ever losing battle with the forest as many people simply disappeared when clearing the area of trees around the hill or the forest simply reclaimed the open spaces over a period of time until the hill remained as the only open space. Seeing the dwindling number of laborers, the plantation owner finally decided to shift the farm lands to the outskirts and start afresh. Time moved on and a new farmland slowly came up. Things seemed too quieted down a bit for many years until one stormy night many centuries back, the hard taskmaster was dragged off his horse, ruthlessly dismembered by the workforce whom disappeared into the forest yet the body was never found.

    The house always had a dark forbidding look and no one ever came to these parts. The people who were brave enough went back blabbering strange tales of creatures that should not have existed and the odd footprints found near the edge of the forest, the stream and around the hill. These people slowly retreated to the edge of the town forever banished and labeled as madmen. This house always magnified my fears and made the stories I heard about them in the taverns more vivid. The dark pools of shadows appearing in the oddest of places seemed to slither and move. I always used to hurriedly run past them before something crawled out and dragged me back inside.

    On the dark moonless nights, sometimes I used to hear the all too familiar growl of a wild cat on a hunt. At other times, something used to come all the way to the door, bang on it hard before letting out a howl and retreating once more into the darkness. Sometimes I used to hear a scratching at the window even though there was no tree nearby nor any way for a person to reach so high. Time moved on and I slowly got used to these disturbances. Yet, there was one incident which I have not yet forgotten even though many years have passed by.

    I had gone to some event which I simply cannot remember now. Time flew by and the day soon turned into night. I was so caught up in having fun that I was one of the last few to leave. As I left the building, I looked up and saw that the wind was picking up, and the sky clouding up. It seemed like rain was imminent and I wanted to reach the safety of my home instead of being stranded on some lonesome highway in the dead of night.

    During my journey back home, the sky cleared up a bit and looking up I saw a full moon emerge from behind the clouds. The pale dirty yellow moon hanging from the sky seemed to glare at me like it wanted vengeance for some crime I had committed. It started to make me feel uneasy whenever I saw it emerge from behind the clouds as it seemed to follow me around. As I started to drive down the long dusty roads, I remembered those superstitious stories that my grandma always used to tell me on stormy nights and always reminded me that these were always a bad tiding moment. Rounding a bend, the car suddenly sputtered and died on me. Turning the ignition key didn’t help and the unexpected car problem in some back road surrounded by a farm field added to my woes. Opening up the hood, I looked inside and could not figure out what was wrong. Slamming the hood down, I went back inside and turned the blinkers on and waited for some passerby to lend a hand even though I knew that no one would venture out in these parts.

    Looking down the stretch of road, all I see is a lonely stretch of land where nothing could be seen for miles upon miles. The moon still seemed to glare at me through the clouds and at other times through the tops of trees as I walked through the road. Looking up, I cursed at it telling it to go away and leave me alone and not add anything to my misery. I’ve been through this area many a times yet something was different. I could feel it in my bones, but I could not put my finger on it. I felt like a leaf caught in the gently flowing river called time which gets swept along vainly struggling to find it own path as it gets swept along at ever increasing rate until all control is lost.

    A breeze rustles the tree branches and gently ruffles through my hair as if it wants to say something. Off in the distance, I hear the sound of a man barking orders to someone. Looking towards the source of the sounds, the trees slowly disappears and a lush farm field appears in its place. I see a horseman in middle of a farm field where numerous people are working. I stand there hypnotized as one scene after another unfolded before me. The field was plowed and the plants sowed. The field was flooded with water and weeding was carried out. The plants grew bigger and soon it was harvest time.

    A great crowd led by a man on a horseback gathered in the field for the harvest. The harvest had started, yet the horseman with the help of hired army was having difficulty in controlling the human herd. Off in the corner, I could see a few people who huddled in the corner whispering amongst themselves. There were occasional shouts, a few angry words and the worked up men were seated down once more when told to hush up. Heading closer to the field, I glanced ahead wondering what was in store for me and the events that led me to this place were indeed a dream or was it real.

    A few drums were heard and the sound reverberated back and forth. My eyes scanned the deep dark forest, ran through the barren plains and back to the road from where I had come from yet the disembodied drum sound seemed to have no source. My eyes wandered back to the image ahead wondering what it all meant and what kind of danger it implied. The drums which seemed to pound continuously for some time suddenly went quite. Every one froze in their feet’s and looked up and realized that the pounding of the drums had stopped.

    An arrow flew out from the dense forest cover and thumped on the horseman’s head. I whirled around to face the forest yet nothing could be seen except the dense leave cover and my eyes wandered back to the arrow. Everyone froze in their tracks as a one of the guards pulled the feathered arrow out and a few of them ran into the forest to chase the one which sent the group a warning. A few leaves rustled as the figure which seemed to have been watching them melted back into the forest from where it had emerged. A loon cry was heard and the leaves rustled on their own it seemed. The sound of a broken twig and the stray foot print left on moist river bed were the only signs of someone running away from them. A few moments later, the sounds of yelling men could be heard from the forest and it soon turned into shrieks.

    The forest became silent once more. Something came over the men in the field as they started to overpower the guards whom went down one by one. The clothes that the bonded labors wore now seemed alien and peeled off in the same manner a snake sheds it skin. They merged back with the past once more and drove away the demons that had haunted them all their lives. They gathered whatever they could lay their hands on and merged back into the forest as silently as the whispering winds. A river of blood flowed through the lands for many days. The plantation as well as the house burned till nothing was left except for ashes and the few remaining survivors fled to other safe harbors. The plantation and the house which had been like a blister on the hand were gone and the land was healed once more.

    The vision started to blur and finally faded from view. I suddenly snapped awake with a gasp. Still not believing my eyes, I looked around once more and felt relieved by the forest and the moon overhead which was casting its light upon the landscape. I really don’t know how much time had passed by, yet I noticed that the wind had died down. There was utter silence all around. I looked around and it seemed like the forest had suddenly come alive and could sense me looking at it and walking around. I swore I sensed some movement in the forest and I saw many pairs of large yellowed eyes some distance away staring at me which disappeared when my attention turned towards them.

    Somewhere far away, the ground started to shake and one could hear the ground break into a thousand pieces. I clenched my fist tight in fear as I heard the sound of the stones, wood splintering breaking and the scream of the creatures as they lashed out at everything in anger. The moon started to shake, turn blood red, and an enraged half naked bearded creatures with a sword slung over their shoulders appear out of the forest. As the moon started to fall downwards, numerous other creatures were seen crawling out of the forest. The forest itself came alive as the trees uprooted themselves. They moved towards the road and finally towards the house on the hill.

    The shrill hoot of an owl on the hunt woke me up from the spiraling vortex that I was being drawn into and I woke up with a gasp and I realized that it was late in the night and the blood red moonlight made me realize that I was caught in some horrible doom. As they hurtled towards the house on the hill, the owl seemed to let out a piercing whistle and numerous owls swept down from the clouds. One of the owls sweeps down and picks me up with its beak. Terrified that my end had come, I pray to all the Gods above hoping for some salvation. Opening its beak, I fall some distance and land on the back of another. Clambering unto the center of the flying beasts back, I reach over and hold onto the feather tight. As it lets out a loud hoot, the other owls swing away towards the house which is still some distance away.

    Looking back the chaos, I vowed to leave this cursed placed and never venture here anymore if I ever survive this night. By car it was a half an hour journey, yet the night turned into day and I woke to a clear sunny day as it seemed like the journey would never end. The moment for which I had anxiously waited for had finally arrived. Down below I saw the old house still in one piece.

    As I neared the house, I saw the front door open and out of the shadows appeared a huge bearded burly man. It seemed like Jim was all right though I could see the panic which seemed hidden just below the surface. “Sir, we must hurry. The forest has come alive and we have to make our exit while we can.” Was all he said as I got off the feathered beast. While running into the house, I looked back to see the birds fly away.

    Rushing up the stairs, we finally reached a never ending hallway. It shakes and shudders as it is buffeted by some storm. Opening one of the numerous doors, I find myself in a room which is similar to the ones located downstairs. The floor boards creaks every time I put my foot down, there were cobwebs in the ceiling and the lone window was grimy from eons and eons of existence. With some effort, I reach the couch and slump into it as I am fully exhausted from this nightmarish ordeal. Jim who seems unaffected heads off to a room located to one side. I see him come back after a short while with a kettle and mugs on a tray. Grabbing the kettle, I pour both of us some coffee into my mug to banish the cobwebs from my mind and the coiled up stress, weariness from the body.

    As if waking up from a deep sleep, I started to panic as I realized that death must be at the door steps by now. Jim was sitting at the table some distance away and he looked over his shoulder and told me that this has been repeated many times and the time isn’t right just yet to leave. Walking up to the window, I pull the tattered curtain and rub the window to peek outside. A green sky which seemed to surround the whole house greets me above and I saw infinite number of endless translucent corridors crisscrossing it. One door flew open; two people, who looked vaguely familiar barge in, run down the corridor and into another door a little further down.

    “This happens every few centuries when the stars line up in this pattern as it was tonight. The beasts come alive and come to drive away the people from this land and reclaim the hill. They always burn down the house, yet it reappears from the ashes once more same as before when the cycle is complete” I was told. I asked Jim how he knew all this. He kept his silence yet it seemed he knew far more than he revealed.

    It seemed like it was time to go as we started to walk towards the door at the very far end of the room. The hallway was dimly lit except for a few pools of lights that seemed to flicker every so often. On each side there were numerous doors. Some doors were closed, others partially open and others seemed like they had been broken into. I eventually found my way to an old wooden door with a heavy brass knocker near the center and a brass handle on the right edge. Two monstrous cement figures which looked like the creatures I had left behind sat on each side glaring down the hallway. The door opened just as I was about to knock.

    I saw a car heading down the long dusty back roads which was surrounded by a huge patch of trees. As I further got drawn into the car, I looked up and noticed that the sky clear up a bit and I saw the harvest moon charting its course across the sky as before. These long drives always wore me out and the unexpected car problem in some back road surrounded by a forest added to my woes. I remembered what had happened in this very spot, yet it seemed like it had happened in another lifetime. I quickly opened up the hood, looked inside and tried to figure out what was wrong. Slamming the hood down, I went back inside and decided to turn the ignition on once more. It sputtered, coughed and let out a huge black cloud from the exhaust before idling smoothly.

    Putting the car into gear, I hurriedly sped away towards the house before the nightmarish experience repeated itself. As I make my way home, I look at the clock on the dashboard and see that only a few minutes have elapsed, yet I wonder how that is possible. As I sped through the forest, I started to wonder what I will find and the end of the road. Within a short duration of time, I rounded a corner and saw the house still standing on the hill surrounded by the forest which stretched from one horizon to the next. It was as if nothing had happened or did it?