Everything started with a mere joke. My son Alex picked up a pebble from the road and said, “Dad, it looks like Aunt Martha.” I looked at the pebble, it was almost round, but its edge had a double chin like appearance. My sister Martha too had a fleshy rounded face with a prominent double chin.
Martha smiled, her husband Jonathan broke into laughter, but Alex’s mother Clara looked angry. “Leave it, Alex,” she said, “it is a dirty stone.”
Clara was a hygiene maniac. She took away that stone, threw it into a stream and the current splashed it away in a whirlpool. Though I was not in favor of her harsh action, but could not say anything.
“Mom, Aunt Martha drowns.” My son yelled.
An unknown fear came into my mind. I looked at my sister; she was enjoying his talks.
Jonathan said, “Well, let’s go to the nearby village. I’ll give you nice handmade dolls.”
“Isn’t it unusual for boys playing with dolls,” Martha commented.
“Why is it unusual, Martha?” Clara slapped, “only girls will play with dolls and boys with guns?”
Though Clara started the argument, it also appeared to be a bit odd to me. Alex never showed any affection for dolls.
I changed the topic and accepted Jonathan’s offers almost immediately, “Yes, let’s go.”
We started walking toward the village.
“Where we are going now?” Clara asked.
“We are going to the nearest village, where you’ll see whiskey making,” I replied.
“Oh, really,” Clara sounded cheerful, “Thanks for such a nice trip.”
I smiled; it was my idea of spending a couple of days away from busy London. Though Clara initially wanted to visit Paris, I suggested Edinburgh. I had another plan in mind. Martha was continually inviting me to visit her, but I could not make time.
Martha and Jonathan had arranged this trip for us. We visited whiskey farms, then enjoyed our day in Loch Ness cruise and finally returned to our homestay, surrounded with green meadow and undulating hills.
“Really, I don’t want to return,” I said, “but……”
“But you have lots of meetings to attend…..” Martha smiled. “Let’s enjoy the night, bro,” she said, “why don’t we try horse riding?”
It was not a bad idea. We all agreed for horse riding and quickly prepared ourselves. Scotland generally enjoys long summer days in July, so, we need not carry lights. Alex looked excited to see his brown pony. The horse keeper helped him to ride.
I choose a black stallion, Clara and Martha picked up two chestnut mares and Jonathan preferred to be on the ground.
The horse keeper warned us, “These horses have a tendency to go near the brook, it may not appear shallow, but has current. If you are not habituated in riding, please tell me.”
We were habituated in riding, so, mounted on our steeds confidently. We spurred our horses towards the wood. Very soon, Martha’s steed overtook us. Clara yelled, “Martha, watch out.”
Martha laughed; we followed the sound and discovered ourselves in a clearing, where Martha was waiting for us on horseback. Martha raised her hand, pointed out, “The brook.”
“What about wading in the babbling brook?” Martha asked.
“Wonderful idea,” Clara supported her.
“But, the horse-keeper asked us not to go near the brook.” I reminded.
“Philip,” Clara discarded my fear, “I don’t know, why did he say that thing. It is not deep.”
“I heard it has eddies.” I tried to say, but it was too late. Martha had already instructed her horse. The steed galloped towards the brook with full might and a violent jerk, which displaced her from the horseback.
“No, Martha,” I yelled.
Water splashed everywhere, wetted us partially. We forgot about our drenched clothes when we heard Martha’s shriek.
Martha was lying far away from the place where her steed jumped. She was partially drowned in the water and struggling desperately to find solid land; she was trying to swim against the water current. However, swimming was almost impossible in the stream full of treacherous current and submerged boulders. Whenever she was trying to swim, her body was hitting solid rocks, creating wounds on her body. “Help” the last word she uttered before losing her sense. We approached cautiously and realized that she was in a whirlpool. Clara called the Police and life-savers.
Finally, after an hour’s effort, we rescued Martha, but she was gravely injured. Immediately, Martha was admitted to a hospital, but unfortunately, we could not save her life.
A week later, we came back to London. Martha’s sudden death shattered me badly. She was not only my sister but also a good friend and adviser.
“I should not throw the pebble into the river,” Clara regretted.
“Pebble ?” I forgot completely about the pebble.
“Yes, the stone, which Alex found vaguely similar to Martha. I threw it into the water, and it splashed away. Did you remember, what he said? ” She sounded nervous.
“Mother, Aunt Martha drowns,” Alex’s voice was still ringing in my ears.
“It is a coincidence,” I said, but could not accept.
“Papa,” Alex ran towards me. There was a wooden doll in his hand. “I have made this in my Work Education class.” I examined the doll. It was curved out nicely to form a perfect oval shape on which he had drawn eyes, nose, mouth, and ears with yellow paint. Its finishing was perfect, and the skin was smooth enough to label it as professionally crafted.
“Our cricket captain Robert.” He said, “I have made this memento before the final match.” He said.
Alex’s newly developed interest in dolls surprised me, but I appreciated him. He cheerfully lifted his school bag from the sofa and ran towards the entrance, “I am already late, papa.” He shouted and almost jumped onto his bicycle.
Just after his departure, I noticed the doll he left on the center table. I took it, re-examined and finally kept it inside a bookshelf.
In the evening, when I just returned from my office, Clara anxiously asked me about the doll, “Where did you get it, Philip? I found it in the bookshelf during dusting.”
“It is your son’s handwork, Clara.” I smiled.
“It’s unusual,” Clara replied. I was shocked at the intensity of her voice.
“What is unusual, Clara?” I felt a little upset.
“Playing with dolls that resemblance true human faces,” Clara replied coldly, “it is a kind of black magic, people of Africa and Asia often practice it.” She paused awhile, “it is called voodoo.”
“Don’t read too much of fantasy.” I discarded her fear.
“No, I’ll not keep the doll in my house.” Clara sounded hysterical. She took the doll in her hand and went off to find a dustbin outside the house. I was not ready for such a harsh action, but when I realized what she was up to, I followed her.
Before long, I found her in front of a garbage disposal truck. They were collecting garbage bags from our residential area. Clara threw the doll into the garbage truck; it fell into the truck with a thudding noise. She stood for what seemed ages watching the lorry, when I approached her, “Clara, we should return.”
Clara coldly said, “Probably I have made a mistake.”
“Well, everything happens for a reason,” I answered, “would you like a drink before heading back? I think it is a hot and sultry day.” I offered.
“Yes,” she replied. The word ‘yes’ was out of her mouth before she even thought about it. She was mechanically walking with me into the pub. I sat Clara in a wooden chair and offered her a drink. I had no idea what we were going to say if Alex asked for the doll.
We finished our drinks and set off for home. Alex returned late from the school because there was a cricket match. However, he was not looking cheerful.
“We lost the match,” He replied, “we were winning, Robert made a century too, but the ball hit him badly. He has a broken nose, could not play anymore.”
“I hope, his injury is not serious,” I prayed.
“No, papa, it is serious,” he replied, “We initially thought that he had only a broken nose, but later realized he had a broken skull too. He got several stitches. He cannot play for months.”
Clara’s superstition gradually engulfed me. I started believing in voodoo and black magic.
“Alex, my son, May I ask you something?” I asked politely.
“Yes, papa,” Alex stared curiously.
“Who taught you all these crafts, I mean, those dolls look so professional….” Alex seemed forgot about the wooden doll. He took time to recall and finally answered, “I have a good friend John, and he knows it.”
“He is a good craftsman. May I meet him?” I asked politely.
Alex looked confused, “Well, I’ll tell him.”
I thought the boy might be his school friend, but very soon I realized my mistake. Two days later Alex said, “Well, John will meet you today after 7 pm.”
“Where?” I asked, “Where does he live?”
“Near Mistwood Park,” Alex said, “It is not too far from our apartment, only fifteen or twenty minutes walk and if you take the car….”
‘Mistwood Park’ I flinched. Since my first day in this colony, I had heard many stories related to the park.
Some say it is haunted and some say only drug addicts go there, so, it should be better avoided. I could ask him how and where he met his friend for the first time but did not. If I raised any suspicion, the boy might be alert.
It was a Saturday evening. I choose to walk instead of driving. Alex asked me to follow him though I knew the park’s location but followed him silently. We crossed the residential area and reached the peripheral part of the suburb. I saw an arch-shaped gate with a huge stone slab with the words Mistwood written in clear English. The stone slab looked ancient; it might be centuries old. Thick layers of dust had partially covered its letters.
We stopped before the gate. The huge Iron Gate had no lock. It could be opened from outside. We entered and found ourselves in an ill-maintained garden full of weeds and shrubs. Very soon I realized that the park was the front portion of an abandoned cemetery. I saw a few tombstones projecting outwards from shrubs and bushes.
“Alex,” I nervously said, “He must be joking.”
“No, papa, we first time met here. I was coming late from the school, after a cricket session. I was riding and was about to turn left when my peripheral vision caught a glimpse of something black in the bush. I felt a brief movement in the bush. I slammed on both front and back brakes, causing my bike to skid to an abrupt, out of control stop. I jumped off my bike and let it fall to the ground. I headed back and approached cautiously, but found nothing. Later I realized that my bike required repairing.
I was looking here and there helplessly for assistance, and then I saw him. He was a boy of my age, probably a year younger. He came out from the park and fixed the problem. We exchanged a few words if gratitude.” He paused.
Alex’s words were sounding lie to me. No one lives here, not even a vagabond. A boy of ten years or less could not repair bikes unless and until he had proper training.
“He asked me to meet again,” Alex said, “We went inside the park and he showed me a place, which had historical importance.” Alex raised his finger.
I saw a rectangular stone slab in the middle of the grassland. We stepped forward and realized that it was an empty pedestal. There was something written on it, but in the darkness, I could not read. I brought out my mobile, tried to switch on its flashlight and realized that its battery got exhausted, but…but… how? It had a full charge.
A cold wave went down my spine. I had a feeling someone was watching me, I turned. I noticed a shadow slipped through the trees and watched me as I walked away from the empty pedestal. I was sure that someone was well hidden amongst the trees.
“John, John, where are you?” I gathered courage and asked loudly.
A small boy of ten years or slightly younger came out from the trees. Alex cheerfully said, “He is my friend John. John, meet my papa.” The boy nervously walked towards me.
I stretched my hand towards him. He touched my hand. His hand was as cold as a corpse.
“I am John Mist, Mr….”
“Phillip Barkley,” I replied. “Do you live here?”
The boy raised his hand and pointed towards the cemetery. I assumed he lived on the other side of the park. Suddenly, I noticed his clothes. His clothes were odd looking. He was wearing breeches and tunic like a medieval noble boy. He was looking like a participant in a fancy dress competition. However, I did not offend him.
“Errr, well I had heard much about you from Alexander. I wanted to meet you. You are an excellent craftsman as well as a good teacher. You taught Alex of making dolls from timber. However….” Before finishing my words, the boy smiled and brought out three dolls from his pocket.
“These are for you, keep them safe.” John gave me those wooden dolls. I stared at them, just amazed to see its curving and finishing. In the dim light of moon and stars, I assumed that those three dolls were looking like a couple and a small boy.
“Thanks, but…” I stared up and found no one except Alex.
“Where is your friend?” Perhaps Alex noticed a look of total disbelief on my face. He replied calmly, “he has gone, papa, let’s go home.”
There was a strange stirring in the darkness like a chilly wind blowing across my face; a shiver went down my spine.
Saturday night’s incident was enough for me. I spent almost a sleepless night, which Clara noticed. She thought Martha’s sudden death had wrecked me badly, so, suggested a family outing on Sunday. I accepted, we all required a break, especially Alex. I had to divert his mind from his mysterious friend.
We planned a day-off in an amusement park. No doubt Alex enjoyed the day out and finally, the time came for us to pack up and move on. I did not know; whether it was our bad luck or just a coincidence that our car stopped with a big jolt near the Mistwood Park.
“What’s happened?” Clara asked.
“Technical problem,” I replied and got down from my Black Honda. I tried to figure out what exactly happened to the car, but could not understand.
“Clara, Alex; this place is not too far from our house. Why don’t you two walk a little bit?” I suggested. Clara looked at me like I was crazy.
“I cannot leave you here, the place is not good,” Clara replied stubbornly. I knew the place was not right, that was why asking you two to leave, I thought.
“My friend John lives nearby, mom; he may help us.” I flinched, but Clara’s face brightened,
“Really? Where does he live? I mean, in which apartment? Please call him,” she suggested.
“No, no need of that….” I tried to say. Clara looked at me curiously, “Why?” She looked at her son and asked, “Call him please.”
“I am here Mrs. Barkley,” I felt a cold shiver in my spine when I heard his voice. John was standing in front of me. He was in same old breeches and tunics. Clara too looked at him crossly. The boy had an unusual appearance.
“John,” Clara uttered his name hesitantly, “thanks for coming here, our car is not working….”
“The same problem, I faced months ago near this park,” Alex added.
“Do you know any mechanic, boy?” Clara asked.
John smiled, “I can fix your car, relax,” he looked at us and said, “Mr. Barkley, I hope you liked my gifts?”
I really forgot all about those wooden dolls. They were still in the car. John perhaps read my mind and looked at the windscreen. Three little dolls were hanging on the windshield. I turned back and found those dolls were swinging violently as they were exposed to the storm.
“So, it is your gift,” Clara said unpleasantly, “It means you have already met the boy.”
“Yes, He is John, who teaches Alex doll crafting,” I said.
“He also teaches our son many odd things,” she sounded cautious.
“Mrs. Barkley,” John said, “If you don’t mind, you may come to my home. I’ll show you how many similarities you and Mr. Barkley share with my parents. I know, it is already dark, and you may like to go back home, but without a mechanic, no one can repair your car.”
I looked at him carefully; the boy too had vague similarity with Alex that I did not notice earlier. We headed for the park. The Iron Gate opened with a loud cranking noise. We entered. Clara raised her eyebrows to see such an ill-maintained park.
“It must be full of insects and pests,” Clara said disapprovingly, “boy, where is your home?”
“Switch on the flashlight in your phones, Mrs. Barkley,” he ignored her question, “Its dark inside.”
He was not wrong. It was already dark, I switched on my mobile and saw, and it was quarter past nine in the evening. We walked further into the park and appeared before the empty pedestal, where something was written on it. I tried to read, but John did not stop.
We followed him silently and realized that we traveled a long way. We continued walking until we found the edge of the park, where three tombstones were located. I shrieked when I read the names on the stone. Phillip and Clara Mistwood, they were husband and wife. They died on 17th August 1702, three centuries ago. Now I noticed the third tombstone; it contained a name John Alexander Mistwood, born in 1692 and died eight years later on the same date.
Clara’s yelling broke my contemplation; she shrieked loudly, “Phillip, I told you, there is something wrong with this place.”
“Alex,” I suddenly realized my son was no more near the tombstones. We were standing alone in the darkness; our mobiles were not working again. Dim moonlight through tree leaves was the only source of lighting.
“Alex, my son, where are you?” Clara shouted.
“We cannot waste our time here,” I said, “We have to look for Alex,” I knew it was the real challenge.
Clara sobbed, “We should be careful after Martha’s death and Robert’s accident. Those dolls were voodoo dolls. I told you.” She continued, “Do you know, I have read in a book that those dolls resemble real human beings and contain their souls. If those images or idols are tampered, then the particular persons feel pain, even die…..”
“The dolls,” I shouted, “You are right Clara,” I said, “They are in the car, our voodoo dolls. If I keep them secure, no one can harm us. Let’s go.” We ran towards the Iron Gate. As we approached near the gate, it closed automatically.
We raised our eyebrows to see John near the car. The boy was holding three dolls in his hand and laughing loudly. We heard Alex’s yelling, “Papa, mom, watch out.” However, we could not see him anywhere near the car.
We found ourselves trapped inside the park. We were desperately looking for an alternative door but could not. Suddenly Clara suggested, “I think, the empty pedestal has some mystery. Why don’t we look there?”
I would run towards the pedestal, but could not move quickly because of the creepers and wild grasses. With great difficulty, we came close to the place. Clara touched it; I found a star-shaped symbol engraved on marble. The other side of the pedestal had something written on it, which we failed to decipher in darkness.
“The place has a strong association with black magic,” Clara said. As she finished her words, the pedestal set aside leaving a tunnel door wide open beneath my feet. I felt a downward movement and touched the damp soil within minutes.
“Arrgg…” I yelled in pain. The door above my head closed automatically leaving Clara alone in the park.
My eyes flickered open to see nothing in the darkness. I tossed a little on the damp soil as I had a feeling of uneasiness. I could not tell how long I was there. I felt the presence of three shadows near me, one of them made a shrill noise, “When are we going to sacrifice him?”
“Let John come with the woman and her son.” A cold male voice said.
I tried to move but could not. I felt pain in my limbs.
“He should not escape,” The shrill voice said.
“He cannot; I have the doll.” I could not understand what he was talking about. Someone invisible dragged my body into a chamber and placed it on a star-shaped symbol surrounded with candles. To my surprise, I found the candles were floating in the midair.
The man tightened his grip over the doll, and I felt suffocation. “Don’t do it, if he dies before the ritual, we cannot enter into their bodies.” The woman said, “Keep it here and let’s look for the woman and the boy.”
“John is stronger now,” the man replied, “keep these dolls here, let’s see outside.”
“Why are not you using these dolls to control them?” The woman asked.
“They should not be used unnecessarily, Clara. Remember, the family resembles us; they bear the same first names and facial similarities. If somehow they own those dolls, they will grab all of our power, and if they throw them in the fire, we cannot get back our physical body in the near future.”
“Well, I request you not to discuss our secrets here,” the woman insisted him to leave. I heard slamming of a door and tried to examine the place where I was imprisoned.
Ignoring aching and exhaustion, I got up. I looked around and understood that it was not a cave, but an underground vault. I walked closer to the dolls and took it. Now they could no longer harm me. They probably did not realize that I knew the significance of the doll in their ritual. Now I have to look for my wife and son.
A wooden staircase caught my attention, “So, planning to escape?” A cold vice spoiled my plan. I looked around and found a hooded figure standing behind me. He removed his hood and revealed his skull like face, he laughed and said, “Three centuries ago my entire family died in a curse. Tonight I’ll lift it sacrificing you and your family.”
“Who are you?” I wanted to ask ‘what are you’ instead of ‘who.’
“A wizard, probably the most powerful wizard of my century,” he said, “I was banished from our community, because of some rivalry. We lived here in a secluded area and practiced our rituals secretly in this underground vault, but people around us noticed it. They wanted to oust us. We had to do something in defense; Clara conjured a fire, which stopped them coming here. She forgot that we were not allowed to conjure magic outside our community, her curse backfired, and our bodies turned into ashes.
Our neighbors suspected something odd; they abandoned this area. You must have seen an empty pedestal with a strange symbol and something written on it. They wrote on the marble that Mistwood family died here mysteriously in a fire outbreak. They buried us here and locked the area forever.
We were living here like phantoms for centuries and were waiting for reincarnation. Finally, we found you, three persons bearing the same first names and facial similarities. You three are our future reincarnations. If I sacrifice you the curse will be lifted forever.” he laughed and again said, “John had already transferred a bit of his abilities inside Alex.”
He raised an ax and swung aggressively, but missed narrowly. I did not flinch or move, “are not you afraid of death?” the cold voice asked.
“You cannot hurt me before the ritual man.” I laughed.
“Well,” he lowered his ax, “so, you overheard our conversation. I’ll teach you a good lesson.” An invisible force put pressure on me, but could not move me an inch.
“You cannot harm me,” I raised my hand and showed the doll which resembled me, “I have grabbed this doll, man.”
With deafening laughter, he conjured a spell, which created a Fire Altar just before me. He conjured another spell, which ignited the fire in it.
I was trapped in the place. I faced an invisible force on my hand, if I loosened my grip over the doll, it would fly into his hand. If he successfully sacrificed it in the fire, he would get full possession of my body. He was chanting undecipherable spells.
“Clara,” I wanted to distract him, “Alex, don’t move,” I shouted in a fearful voice. The wizard looked back, and I dropped the doll into the fire.
“No,” He shouted. Without thinking anything else, I dropped two more dolls in the fire altar. The man was shrieking in pain, he was laughing too, “foolish man, partially overheard our conversation.” He roared, “If one sacrifices the doll of his resemblance into the fire, he will get magical power, but if he destroys other dolls, he will actually kill those people. Now your wife and son will die, just like mine died centuries ago….Ha…live alone… forever and bear my curse…” the hooded figure gradually faded in thin air leaving me in an ablaze park.
Years passed after that event. I could not save my family from that magical catastrophe, but acquired special abilities to survive fire; I can conjure spells, but cannot revive dead from their graves. That night fire-fighters rescued me from the park. I was unharmed, which surprised all.
Police asked me again and again about the incident, but I could not explain anything. After spending almost a decade, I have been released from the asylum. Now I have to find out the way of lifting curse from my family. I have to find out a woman and a boy resembling Clara and Alex, just like the wizard did it a decade ago.
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