Mumbai, 2001.

The leaves in the garden rustled in the dark. The child tossed uneasily on the bed, his sleep restless from an upset tummy. The rustling grew urgent and insistent. The child woke up, and listened lazily from his bed. He wished his mother were here. His stomach hurt. Maybe he’d go to her room. The leaves were still rustling. And now, there was a slightly acrid smell wafting through his window. The child sat up in bed. Clutching at his throat in mock horror, he whispered his older sister’s name. Sneha, all of 10, was sleeping.on a separate bed across the room. 

“Sne,” whispered the boy urgently. But the girl kept on snoring gently.

The smell grew stronger. To the boy, it seemed as if the smell had taken on a physical presence that was now ominously enterning their room.

When the entity, or rather the nasty vapours of the stench, hit his nostrils much more urgently, almost as if grabbing at his nose, he couldn’t hold it in any longer. He doubled over. Trying to save his bedcovers from the mess, he hurled his dinner to the side of bed.

“Sneha!” he screamed, now clutching at his throat in ernest.

His sister sat up with a start.

“Rahul!” she rushed to him. “Hold on, are you sick? I’m going to get Mummy.”

“No Sne, wait!” he groaned, feeling frail all of a sudden. Like his life force were slowly being sucked out of him. But that wasn’t possible. Was it? “I think I’m dying.”

Sneha looked at him in terror. Normally, she’d have rolled her eyes and told her baby brother to stop being dramatic. But tonight, for a reason she couldn’t quite place a finger on, his words seem like a terrifying, cruel prophecy. She hugged him tightly, ignoring the smelly bits of vomit sticking to his pajamas. 

“No! I won’t let you! Nothing is happening to you today, or ever! C’mon, let’s go get Mummy.”

When he went limp in her arms, she screamed. The sound of the rushing footsteps of her parents hurrying to hers and Rahul’s room echoed in her ears. As she watched Rahul go fully limp and float out of her window as if summoned by an unseen, evil force, she slumped to the floor in a faint.