The Boogeyman

Priya walked toward the cave, glanc­ing around. She didn’t want to reveal her ren­dezvous with John. Dew­drops fell off mist-laden foliage, wet­ting her feet, as a cold wind blew. Bright moon­light deflect­ed off damp swaths of bush­es cam­ou­flag­ing the landscape.

She had to also be cau­tious of Riya, whose sud­den appear­ances at times when she least expect­ed her, gave Priya the jit­ters. She often act­ed as if she were crazy, dic­tat­ing terms to Priya; what she should, or shouldn’t do. 

Priya felt a sin­gle vibra­tion of the cell phone in her skirt’s pock­et and retrieved it, hop­ing to see John’s text. ‘Hap­py Valentine’s Day 2000…’ Some jerk, send­ing a mes­sage at the stroke of mid­night to some­one who wouldn’t even rec­og­nize the number.

“Fuck,” she mum­bled as she approached a Yak­shi Pala, the devil’s tree, near the cave’s mouth. Leg­ends claimed that Yak­shi, a female demon, dwelled on the Yak­shi Pala. As mid­night fell, she’d assume the form of a beau­ti­ful maid­en, go on a hunt­ing spree to lure her male vic­tims. She mat­ed with them, lift­ing them to the high­est peaks of car­nal plea­sure. Then, she drank their blood, ripped off their guts, and ate the innards. 

A shud­der jolt­ed her body as she felt the cold touch of a fin­ger on the tip of her ear, and some­one whis­pered her name. Priya swirled around, just in time to see a pala leaf bounce off her shoul­der. Afloat. Sway­ing in its way down to the ground. But the voice she heard? Maybe, it’s her mind play­ing games with her. She con­tin­ued to walk, brush­ing aside her thoughts. 

Why hadn’t John called or texted her yet? It was unlike him. He’d nev­er want to put her in a state of anx­i­ety. She saw no point hang­ing around out­side in the cold, espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing Riya’s sur­prise vis­i­ta­tions. Would she know a cave exist­ed here? Priya decid­ed to go inside and wait, rather than risk­ing exposure. 

She stopped at the entrance, scanned the sur­round­ings again, to check whether some­one was spy­ing on her.

As she entered the cave, her flashlight’s beam fell on a trail of blood drops. 

She saw scar­let stains shine on the mossy wall, when she reached clos­er. She tracked the trail with the light’s beam, and John’s face, bathed in blood, came into focus. 

A wave of chill jolt­ed through her body and goose bumps mush­roomed on her skin. “John!” Her voice echoed in the hol­low­ness. “Wake up, John.” 

Reach­ing down for his shoul­ders, Priya felt a stab of pain in her right knee. She swept her skirt up and stared at the white cot­ton ban­dage. She didn’t remem­ber being injured. Riya? Nah, she wouldn’t know how to tend to injuries. 

Priya had slept until the alarm went off at 11:30. She didn’t recall hav­ing got out of bed after sneak­ing into her com­forter, the Feb­ru­ary chill of Wynad lulling her. Then, how could she get injured?

John remained on the floor, legs at an odd angle, eyes open, and mouth agape. 

A draft of cold air blew against her calves as Priya moved towards him, her skirt swirling and she almost tripped. The flash­light fell off, rolled on the ground, its beam danced across the cave’s wall. 

She held his hand, shook him. “Wake up, John! Please…” He sat motion­less. But she could rec­og­nize a dis­tinct scent on his palm, a famil­iar aroma. 

Droplets of water dripped from the cave’s roof and she felt vibra­tions under her feet, as thun­der rum­bled. Anoth­er gust of cold wind blew, mak­ing her shiv­er. “No, you couldn’t die!” 

But dead he was. 

Priya noticed his cell phone lying next to his leg, grabbed it and checked for mes­sages. The last one was from Priya’s num­ber at 21:45. ‘Just a slight change,’ it read: ‘We’d meet an hour before sched­ule. Sor­ry, but hur­ry… see you there by 11:15.’ Next to it was her ear­li­er mes­sage, that had con­firmed their meet­ing at 00:15 beneath the Pala

Who’d send a mes­sage to John, from her phone, resched­ul­ing their meeting?

Did she hear foot­steps? She turned around; noth­ing, but the fore­bod­ing shad­ows cre­at­ed by her flashlight’s beam. 

“The boogey­man, Priya,” Riya’s voice echoed inside the cave’s labyrinth. “Can’t you see, don’t you rec­og­nize his aftershave’s scent?” 


Moth­er often warned Priya when she was a child that the boogey­man would come and get her if she acts naughty. She’d nev­er seen a boogey­man. But she con­jured up an image in her mind. A disheveled man, his large haver­sack hold­ing chil­dren kick­ing their feet.

As an adult, she’d wake up dur­ing nights, hear­ing his foot­steps, and scru­ti­nize the murk when his lean frame emerged from the shad­ows. His fin­gers made her shrink, curl, and turn. But she nev­er fought back. He was a demon, a male ver­sion of Yak­shi. He must be dreaded. 

So, pre­tend­ing to be asleep, but alive to his cold touch, she’d peek at his fig­ure. His red eyes, burn­ing embers. Stub­bles, hard as coconut husks. Incisors, curved like a serpent’s fangs. After he left, she’d sit up, cow­er­ing, pull the linen over her breasts. His scent lin­gered, a haunt­ing aroma. 

Priya knew Riya since her ear­ly teens. On many occa­sions, this strange girl appeared in her life and it amazed her that she looked like her. But, a bit dark­er and smarter. 

In con­trast to Priya’s docile nature, Riya had a defi­ant atti­tude. She often asked Priya, why she nev­er fought the monster.


Despite the fears about the boogey­man, child­hood was fun for Priya. She remem­bered ruf­fling Grandpa’s jet-black hair combed back in sleek cowlicks, a hint of coconut oil mak­ing it glaze. Run­ning her hand along his clean-shaven face, she’d feel his cheeks. 

Grand­ma would sit in her chair watch­ing them, her gold-rimmed spec­ta­cles raised high on her fore­head, curly locks swept back under its frame. A book on her lap.

Unlike papa and mama, who fought with each oth­er, her grand­par­ents loved each oth­er. An only dis­cord between them was Grandma’s objec­tion to his par­rot hunt­ing, and occa­sion­al drink­ing. Espe­cial­ly, par­rot hunting. 

“So bad you kill those poor birds,” she’d say. 

Grand­pa laughed. “I got to pro­tect my paddy.”

“Why can’t you have some­one else do it?”

“In any case, their deaths will count as my sins.” 

Grand­pa used to be the police chief that head­ed Mal­abar, the North­ern Ker­ala region, dur­ing British regime. He owned over a twen­ty acre of land inher­it­ed from his par­ents. After retire­ment, he involved in agri­cul­ture, a small part of it for cul­ti­va­tion of paddy.

He used to take Priya also for par­rot hunt­ing, despite Grandma’s protests: “Why do you make her par­take in your sin?”

He waved at Grand­ma, as he took Priya’s hand and walked toward the field. “She’s to inher­it my prop­er­ties, and she must learn to pro­tect her possessions.”

The par­rots came in large flocks, swooped down on the fields, drop­ping into an ocean of green. They’d remain cam­ou­flaged in the lush growth of pad­dy plants, savor the taste of ten­der grains.

Grand­pa sat in his easy chair, kept under the shade of coconut palms, and reached for his sling­shot hang­ing from the chair’s arm. Raman, his male ser­vant, stood by his side, full atten­tion on the master’s ges­tures, eager to serve him.

“The ten­der grains taste sweet,” Grand­pa said, pulling back the flat rub­ber band hold­ing the stone until his hand touched his chin. He took aim, clos­ing one eye and squeez­ing the lids of the oth­er into a nar­row slit. “It’s their scar­let beaks that betray them.” He released the stone.

Out in the field, Priya noticed a chaot­ic sway­ing of pad­dy plants. The flock took off, fran­ti­cal­ly flap­ping wings, and fad­ed into dis­tant horizon.

“They’ll come back soon,” Grand­pa said, look­ing at Raman. 

Raman fetched a tray with chew­ing paraphernalia. 

Grand­pa picked up a betel leaf, dabbed it with lime paste, and sprin­kled a few shards of crushed are­ca nut over it. “Go, bring the bird.” He pushed the rolled betel into his mouth.

As Raman placed the tray on the ground, Grand­pa said, “Allow her the opportunity.”

Priya ran into the fields, thrilled at the chance to retrieve grandpa’s hunt. 

Shak­ing plants revealed the fall­en parrot’s loca­tion. It wrig­gled in a mesh of pad­dy plants, try­ing to squeeze its way between their stur­dy stalks. Its attempts to raise its wings served only to increase its torment. 

A splat­ter of blood masked the crim­son ring around its neck. Part of its brain peeked out of a shat­tered skull. As Priya picked it up, the bird’s head rolled on its frail neck. A gush of warm blood hit her wrist. 

The bird shud­dered in a final spasm. Its scar­let beak hung open to reveal a fleshy tongue. A shiv­er ran along Priya’s spine as its eyes closed.

She’d seen worse sit­u­a­tions. Some­times, Grand­pa hit a parrot’s wing instead of head, leav­ing it for a longer, more excru­ci­at­ing strug­gle. She watched them des­per­ate­ly cling to their lives, try­ing to raise their wings, cir­cling on the ground. “Why don’t you shoot them with your gun?” 

“What’s the point in wast­ing a bul­let when a stone is enough? Bet­ter to save bul­lets to kill hunts that take bul­lets to die.”

Priya returned. “It’s dead, Grand­pa.” She hand­ed him the carcass.

He gri­maced, see­ing the shat­tered skull. “It’s going to take lots of patch work,” he said and ges­tured to Raman. “Keep it in the basement.”

A self-made taxi­der­mist, Grand­pa kept sev­er­al stuffed par­rots in a shelf in the base­ment. With shin­ing eyes and glaz­ing feath­ers, those soul­less birds looked real.


Priya also cher­ished her mem­o­ries about John. Togeth­er, they had faced hor­rors beyond the car­i­ca­ture she drew of the boogey­man. They had heard rumors about a cave at the far end of Grandpa’s estate. He said it exist­ed only in freaky sto­ries. But, a few months after Priya turned thir­teen John came to her home, took her aside from a group of girls she played with.

“The cave is for real,” he whis­pered. “My dog found it.”


“Jim­my, chas­ing a mon­goose, led me to it.”

“Real­ly,” Priya asked, her eyes dart­ing around, look­ing for the dog. 

Papa hat­ed John’s dog as much as he hat­ed its own­er. So, John came home only when Papa was away at the office. 

“You went inside?”

“No, it’s some­thing we’d do together.”

“Let’s go.” Priya grabbed his hand. 

It took them almost half an hour of scout­ing through thick shrubs grow­ing under large man­go and jack trees. John part­ed the foliage with his hands. As they bent down to inspect, the dark­ness inside the cave’s mouth seemed to wheeze, as if an asth­mat­ic mon­ster lurked in there. A dense growth of creep­ers pre­vent­ed sunlight.

Priya pulled at John’s shirt. “You sure we want to do this?”

“Don’t wor­ry.” John switched on his flash­light. Lying low on the ground, he stretched his arm into the foliage, to direct the light.

“It’s so spooky, John.”

He held her hand. “There may be an open­ing on the oth­er end. Let’s go that way.”

On the oth­er side, there was a grassy path.

“It looks like some preda­tor fre­quent­ly uses it,” John said.

The mid­day sun revealed jagged gray stones bor­der­ing the cave’s open­ing, beyond which dark­ness loomed. John lit his flash­light. The beam trav­eled along the brood­ing inte­ri­ors. A large group of rats looked up; eyes glow­ing, nos­trils flar­ing, whiskers quivering.

“Nasty crea­tures.” John picked up a stone and threw it to chase away the rodents. “Let’s see what’s in there.”

A shud­der ran through her body, and she clutched at John’s arm as they climbed down the zigzag­ging path on the cave’s floor. Sud­den­ly, John tripped and fell. Priya held onto him and they tum­bled down togeth­er, land­ing against the mossy wall. 

The flash­light slipped off his hand, rolled down, and got lodged by the side of a boul­der. Its beam cast a halo on John’s face as he tried to rise. 

Her head ached. An acute pain clutched the insides of her bel­ly. Some­thing was ter­ri­bly wrong with her. She glared at John, a watery veil blur­ring her vision. He laid on the ground, head tilt­ed to a side, a gap­ing lesion on his fore­head. A tiny stream of blood oozed out from the thick mat of his curly hair. 

Pain shot down to Priya’s groin as if an arrow churned in her gut. A warm trick­le seeped down her legs. She curled her fists, closed her eyes. Teeth grit­ting, she crawled towards John. Lean­ing against the wet, slimy wall, she sensed some­thing move on the cave’s ceiling. 

Priya grabbed the flash­light and trained it at the source of the sound. Bats, nestling in the dark cor­ners, sud­den­ly began to squeal. She watched in hor­ror as the crit­ters crawled around, hang­ing onto the ceiling’s rocky surface. 

Eyes twin­kling, tongues dart­ing out of their tiny, rosy mouths, the legion con­tin­ued their wail­ing. Anoth­er trick­le erupt­ed on her thighs. Priya raised her skirt. The par­rots had cursed her for par­tak­ing in Grandpa’s hunt­ing. She watched the crim­son trails in stunned ter­ror, and swept the skirt down to her ankles.

Priya felt John stir. 

“What hap­pened?” he mumbled.

Priya rest­ed her head on his shoul­der. “I’m afraid,” she said. She felt her heart thud faster in her chest. 


Riya nev­er turned up when Priya need­ed her. Her vis­its occurred after the boogey­man left Priya’s bed­room. Riya would wipe away her tears and urge her to fight the mon­ster. Priya knew, if she tried, some­thing worse would entail. The boogey­man might hurt her grand­par­ents, or John. 

To mark Priya’s puber­ty, Grand­pa held a cus­tom­ary cel­e­bra­tion at the man­sion. All their rel­a­tives and friends attend­ed, except John and his family.

Priya com­plained to Grand­pa, and stretched her arm to ruf­fle his hair.

“No,” he said. “Don’t do that. You’re no more a child.” 

Priya didn’t like the stern­ness in his voice.

Grand­ma came and held her close to her bosom. “Come on, I’ll brush your hair.”

“You hugged me,” Priya said, “why couldn’t he?” Priya didn’t under­stand why Grandpa’s gen­der should be a bar­ri­er to his affec­tion, after she became pubescent. 

Rev­e­la­tions came with age. Priya real­ized the impli­ca­tions of John being a Chris­t­ian. Papa wouldn’t allow him to come to their house, or her to meet him at his place – first because of his reli­gion. Sec­ond, his poor social status.

Priya nev­er under­stood his phi­los­o­phy. John refrained from meet­ing her in the open. So, they met only in the cave, their rendezvous.

John had killed most of the vam­pire bats and rodents. He’d sprayed repel­lents inside the cave so the rest wouldn’t return.


Grand­pa had got Priya enrolled for a med­ical degree, a year before she lost John. She had no friends in col­lege, nobody shared a com­mon inter­est with her. Back home, she had those stuffed par­rots in the base­ment and Grandpa’s tools to keep her company. 

His col­lec­tion includ­ed an assort­ment of autop­sy saws with gen­er­al pur­pose and cra­nial blades, skull keys, harpies, and scalpels that he pre­served. “I had to drop out of med­ical col­lege,” he said once. “I want you to be a doc­tor, a goal I couldn’t achieve.” 

She also had the stacks of books on taxi­dermy and embalm­ing. Those were her price­less inher­i­tance rather than the estates or mansion. 

In his will, Grand­pa left noth­ing for papa. “He believes in his inde­pen­dence,” he had told Priya, as a clot of blood erupt­ed from his mouth. “He wouldn’t want my property.”

He strug­gled to breathe as air stalled in his chest, his can­cer­ous lungs fail­ing him. “You seem…” A bout of cough stopped for a few moments. “You’re act­ing odd some­times. And, I see the par­rots… flut­ter around you.”

“I’m okay. And see, there are no parrots.”

“Don’t…lie.” He coughed again. “You’re for­get­ting things. It’s like… you’re dis­so­ci­at­ing from your true personality.” 

“It’s just that I some­times for­get things.” She cast her eyes away from his gaze. 

She knew it wasn’t just that. A week after John was killed, Grand­pa told her he’d seen her return­ing from the woods. Near­ly an hour before she actu­al­ly found John’s dead body. But she didn’t recall her going there previously. 

Was it Riya that he’d seen, per­haps, did she kill him?

She kept won­der­ing, how the boogey­man knew the cave. How could he know John was there? Text mes­sages in her cell phone, perhaps? 

Did Riya know too? Did she fol­low her, on a day Priya might have been care­less, and found out?

Grand­pa coughed again. Anoth­er stream of blood gushed out onto her wrist. His fin­gers began to lose their warmth. She stared at the red splat­ter, sup­press­ing an urge to free his hold, run to the wash­room, and retch out her remorse.

The par­rots now hov­ered, those crim­son cir­cles promi­nent­ly pro­nounced around their necks, wings flut­ter­ing. The com­mo­tion caused the air to wash over her like a tidal wave. Priya felt chill lash along her body, mak­ing her shiv­er. Grand­pa squirmed in bed, like a par­rot that took a hit on its chest. 

Eggs of the par­rots her grand­pa killed might still be rot­ting in their nests, deprived of the warmth of moth­ers to hatch them. Drawn by the thoughts about the unborn chicks, the par­rots’ souls took off to where their eggs nestled.

Stooped over their nests, they furi­ous­ly cracked the shells in which their babies began to decay. Fumes escaped and a stench of rot filled the air. The par­rots came back, hov­ered around Priya, flap­ping their wings with fren­zied vigor.

The smell of decay curled and swirled, cas­cad­ed down from the nests, swept towards the man­sion like a tor­na­do. It stormed inside, burst into the bed­room. A suf­fo­cat­ing odor filled the air, swept into Grandpa’s lungs. He choked in a cough­ing spree, his body twist­ed and turned.

Priya sat mes­mer­ized, as he strug­gled in his bed, flayed his limbs. Final­ly, she released her grip on his throat as he gave up his efforts to breathe. 


Grand­ma reassert­ed the notion that some­thing was ter­ri­bly wrong with Priya, when she asked, a few days after Grandpa’s death, “Why have you been so crit­i­cal of me in the morn­ing? You also mum­bled some­thing like par­rots’ revenge.”

“What?” Priya, sit­ting next to her, said. “I don’t remem­ber hav­ing spo­ken to you in the morn­ing at all.”

“Don’t think you can fool me.” Grand­ma cast a stern look into Priya’s eyes. “You think this is a joke?”

“What do you mean?”

“You don’t real­ly remem­ber?” She stared at Priya for a long while. “You asked wasn’t I hap­py you couldn’t play with Grand­pa any­more.” She took a deep breath. “You accused me of being jealous.”

It was true that some­times Priya thought she’d noticed a glint of dis­like in Grandma’s eyes, when Grand­pa showed his affec­tion. But she’d nev­er men­tion it to her Grand­moth­er, knew it’d be impo­lite. “No, you know I’d never…”

“I must tell you this.” Grand­ma held her hand. “Some­times, you act as if you aren’t who you real­ly are.”

“Sor­ry…” Tears rolled down Priya’s cheeks. “I real­ly don’t remember.” 

“Don’t wor­ry.” Grand­ma embraced her. “I know, you’re a good child. Maybe, you didn’t recov­er yet from the shock of grandpa’s death.”

That night, Grand­ma killed her­self. Doused in kerosene, she set fire to her white sari, a sym­bol of her mourn­ing. Par­rots rev­eled in her agony, flut­ter­ing in the smoke-filled room. Priya, held down by Riya, watched won­der­ing, did Grand­ma know what transpired? 


The police offi­cer that did the inquest on grandma’s death was the same who han­dled a miss­ing per­son report on John’s dis­ap­pear­ance. He asked sim­ple ques­tions to Priya like whether she noticed any­thing unusu­al. When asked why her grand­moth­er would com­mit sui­cide, she said, “Grandfather’s death would’ve been too much for her to bear.”

While inves­ti­gat­ing John’s dis­ap­pear­ance, he had asked Priya whether she knew any­thing that could help the case. She said, “I broke the rela­tion­ship with John, because my papa was against it. Maybe, he threat­ened him, so he ran away.”

The offi­cer did not press any further. 

Priya’s per­son­al­i­ty, like boogeyman’s haver­sack, held dread­ful mys­ter­ies. She had sev­er­al secrets hid­den in dark recess­es, like stuffed par­rots Grand­pa stocked in shelves. Most pre­cious of her col­lec­tion was John’s embalmed body hid­den in the basement. 

Nobody ever went there except her. With Papa and Mama gone to office on week­days, and sneaked into their sep­a­rate pri­vate worlds on week­ends, Priya had enough time to engage in her indul­gences with­out being noticed. 

Mama often was proud of Priya’s grades, believed she’d become the first doc­tor in their fam­i­ly. So, cir­cum­stances favored her. Grandpa’s tools and read­ing of his books trig­gered the idea of pre­serv­ing John’s body. 

“You know, Priya, you’ll nev­er have a life with John. Your father won’t allow it,” Riya had told her.

Of course, she knew.

“He’d mar­ry a Mary, or a Jol­ly, aban­don you,” Riya laughed. “What’s going to hurt more, you know?”


“Just, think Priya, you’d have to watch him through­out your life…”


“See him walk, with Mary, or Jol­ly… hand in hand… And, imag­ine him mak­ing love…” 

“Stop it.” Priya stood pant­i­ng. “I’d keep him, for­ev­er, with me.”


In the wee hours of the day of John’s death Priya had shift­ed his body. She cleaned an old bath­tub left in the base­ment with deter­gent and anti­sep­tics, filled it with water. She immersed him in it, scrubbed and bathed him.

“Don’t wor­ry,” She whis­pered while comb­ing his hair. “I’ll take good care of you.”

She laid John’s body on a table where she’d spread fresh linen and a plas­tic sheet over it. “Now, it’s going to hurt a lit­tle. But I know you’d go through the pain for us.”

She removed John’s brain, filled his skull with bitu­men, salt and sev­er­al aro­mat­ic herbs. She inject­ed his veins with cedar oil. 

“Yes, you’re my John.” She kissed his forehead.


The boogey­man had vis­it­ed her on the night of embalm­ing also. She laid awake, eyes closed, and lis­tened to the door creak. His odor filled the room, the smell of aftershave.

A rough palm snaked up her back, fin­gers sneak­ing into the hem of her blouse. His hand squeezed her flesh. She closed her eyes tight and a teardrop slow­ly found its way out, smear­ing the lashes.

Priya thought about the taran­tu­la that Riya gift­ed her.

After each night of boogeyman’s vis­it, Priya took refuge in the spider’s com­pa­ny the next morn­ing. She’d take it out of its glass jar for a pur­ga­to­ry rit­u­al. She’d strip, lie on the table where she dis­sect­ed John, and leave the arach­nid on her chest.

It enjoyed her warmth, her soft­ness, pound­ing of her heart. It’d raise its forelegs as if to greet her. Then, it began to move, crawl­ing over the mounds of her breasts at an aching­ly slow pace. It’d slide down the space between her chin and neck, legs stretch­ing over her lips, and pok­ing into her nos­trils. Its touch cleansed her of filth the boogeyman’s fin­gers left on her. 

She had oth­er spi­ders in a dif­fer­ent jar; black wid­ows, brown reclus­es, and a giant goliath bird-eater. They thrived in their lit­tle cage, feed­ing on small frogs and insects she provided. 

Those were reserved for the boogey­man. A com­bi­na­tion of their bites could kill. One day, when she’d muster courage, emp­ty the jar on his face.

Priya jolt­ed up as the monster’s hands now pressed the mounds of her but­tocks. Sens­ing her awak­en­ing, he fled. Before she sat up, she heard a latch click as he pulled the door shut from out­side. Maybe, he couldn’t stand the glint of recog­ni­tion in her eyes. 

Riya appeared. “You should’ve snuffed him.”

“I’d, one day, soon.”

Riya gig­gled. “Let’s see…”

“I’m sure,” Priya said, “he’d give me a rea­son, an act I wouldn’t forgive.”

“Good,” Riya said. “His anni­hi­la­tion mat­ters. And, I’d give you the right reason.”


The fol­low­ing day, after her par­ents left, Priya went to the base­ment. Her worst fears became true. John had disappeared.

“John!” she called out, search­ing every nook and corner.

Why did Papa hate him so, and why wouldn’t he allow her this much free­dom at least, to keep John with her?

Papa didn’t men­tion any­thing about John when he returned. Maybe, he didn’t like to talk about the topic.

With­out John down there, she wouldn’t want to return to the base­ment. So, she shift­ed the spi­ders into her bedroom. 

She didn’t want Papa to get rid of her legions.


In the night, Riya came to Priya’s room ear­ly, when she sat at the dress­ing table, comb­ing her hair.

“Are you ready, Priya, to trap the monster?”

Priya didn’t see her in the mir­ror. When she turned, Riya stood just behind her, now plac­ing a hand on her shoulder. 

“Sor­ry, I didn’t see you,” Priya said.

“I just walked in. So, today is our day.”

Priya remained silent.

“You go to bed,” Riya waved her hand. “I’ll come again when the time ripens.” 

Priya lay awake in her bed, lis­tened to the door creak.

The boogeyman’s sil­hou­ette appeared among shad­ows, on brisk steps. Priya squeezed her eye­lids shut, peeked through the nar­row slit.

Inside his guise, Priya smelled him, he couldn’t erase the scent that betrayed him. 

He sat on her bed, ran a hand along her exposed calves. A palm crept along her legs and squeezed her inner thighs. She grabbed the flash­light and hit it hard on his fore­head. “You dared to steal John?” She kicked at him with both legs. 

Riya sud­den­ly appeared. “That’s nice, Priya.”

“Who’s John?” the boogey­man asked before falling on his back. 

Clutch­ing the flash­light between her jaws, Priya grabbed the jar, and emp­tied its con­tents on his face.

“Crush that jar on him,” Riya said.

Priya threw the jar onto the bed, trained the flashlight’s beam into the boogeyman’s eyes. “I want to see your dread,” she said.

A cou­ple of brown reclus­es dart­ed into his mouth as he began to speak. He tore at his face with both hands. The black wid­ow inched into a nos­tril. He choked.

“Good job, Priya. You see, I kept my promise, gave you a good enough reason.”

Priya saw the goliath bird-eater arch its back and stridu­late. She wished she could see its bris­tles spike into his mucus mem­branes. She knelt by his head. “Your smell betrayed you,” she hissed. “You thought I wouldn’t know if you ran off when I waken?”

“C’mon, Priya” Riya said. “Your plans worked, own up you orches­trat­ed the cha­rade.” Riya disappeared. 

The par­rots arrived.  “Riya was smart enough to be present at the right places, at the right time, when each died… John, Grand­pa, and Grand­ma,” the birds spoke in unison.

“To hell with Riya… And, you lit­tle demons, go away.” Priya swung her arms. 

“You couldn’t endure the pain of los­ing John to anoth­er woman.” The birds hov­ered above her head. Their cacoph­o­ny echoed inside. “Pos­ses­sive­ness.” 

 “Just go away.” Swing­ing of her arms became frenetic.

“Your option, keep him in the base­ment. So, you can have him forever.”

“Riya killed John. Stole his body, to get the boogey­man killed.”

“You made it appear so. Riya is but an exten­sion of your ego, one dis­so­ci­at­ed from your iden­ti­ty. Your moth­er nev­er mat­tered in your life, so you spared her?”

“Grandpa’s ten­der grain, go feed your­self more. It’s made you intel­li­gent,” Priya said, before shoo­ing away the last of her demons.

What’s scarier than short horror fiction?

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Hareen­dran Kallinkeel (he/him) writes from Ker­ala, India, after serv­ing in a police orga­ni­za­tion for 15 years and 5 years in the Spe­cial Forces; plus, 3 years as an online tutor for a US por­tal col­lab­o­rat­ing with Amer­i­can Uni­ver­si­ties. His fic­tion tends to be dark with some fan­tas­tic or mag­ic real­ism ele­ments, and rarely a hint of humor. Recent pub­li­ca­tions include Bryant Lit­er­ary Review (Bryant Uni­ver­si­ty), El Por­tal Jour­nal (East­ern New Mex­i­co Uni­ver­si­ty), Car­di­nal Sins Jour­nal (Sag­i­naw Val­ley State Uni­ver­si­ty), Night’s End Pod­cast, and 34 Orchard. His sto­ry will appear short­ly in Hyphen Punk Mag­a­zine. A final­ist of Best of the Net 2020, he has also been nom­i­nat­ed for Push­cart Prize.

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