The old house on the hillock had always fascinated Rudra. It was away from hustle and bustle of the village, and had been deserted for many years.
One day he had told his mother Mira that he wanted to visit the house on the hill. Mira had heard various stories about the house, and she forbade her son to go up there.
"Promise me Rudra, you will never go up to that house ever" his mother warned him
"But why, Ma?"
"There is a witch living there who eats small children for lunch" Mira told him, trying to scare him away,"You must not go there"..
"Okay, Ma " he said obediently, giving her a smart salute.
Mira was amused over her son's antics. He was watching a lot of war movies lately, and had decided to become a soldier when he grew up. She knew it was a phase which would soon pass, until he found something more interesting.
He was only eight, but was very sharp for his age.
Usually, Rudra always did what his mother told him to do, but sometimes there were exceptions.
It was a hot afternoon. While his mother was enjoying her siesta, Rudra made up his mind to go up to the house.
He had a feeling his mother was 'fibbing' about the old witch as he climbed the hill . His small legs could feel the strain, and his muscles ached, but nothing would keep him away from visiting the house..
He inhaled the earthy fragrance of the wildflowers and trees as he went along the pathway, and loved the crunch of the twigs that cracked beneath his feet.
The dilapidated structure loomed menacingly before him. It was covered with wild creepers, that resembled coiled snakes. He wasn't sure if he wanted to go further, but 'soldiers' never turned their back and run away, he remembered. Since he had come all the way here, he might as well see what's in the house.
A portion of the house was burnt down and in ruins. The wooden doors were cracked and few window panes were broken, tall grass was grown all around the house.
He climbed the three steps, and tried to open the front doors, but they were stuck. He peeped through gaps in the windows, trying to adjust his eyes to the bright sun light which had filtered in through the broken panes, making golden stripes in the dark room.
It was a large hall room but was empty, and covered with mud and dust. He could see some shadows on the floor.
He looked closer, they were shadows of small children, in fact there were two, one looked like that of a boy and the other of a girl. He was surprised, as he thought it was an abandoned house, and no one lived here.
All of a sudden the shadows started moving, they were everywhere, on the wall,, on the ceilings, floor and windows.They were chasing each other, and playing games.
Rudra was mesmerized, rooted to the spot he got lost in the wonderful scene playing before his eyes. After some time the shadows vanished, and Rudra came out of his trance, All the way home, he couldn't forget what he had seen, and made up his mind to return to the house at the next possible opportunity.
After the visit to the 'house' , Rudra was restless, he was sure there were children living in the house and he wanted to meet them
One day Rudra was alone at home, and felt this was his best chance to go up to the house.
He walked through village, till he reached the pathway. This time it was an easy climb since he knew the way.
None of the villagers ever came up to this house, as they thought it was haunted and full of spirits and ghosts. However, they failed to scare Rudra.
He had heard that long ago, two small children had lived in the house along with their parents .
A fire broke out in the middle of night, and had burnt down the house along with its occupants. After that day no one came to live in it.
He was excited as he approached the house. The two shadows were already there playing with each other, when he peeped from the window. He watched enchanted by their every move, and he too wanted to play with them.
He pushed open the door with all his might and entered the house but, there was no one inside He looked everywhere ,the shadows had vanished.
He went around the house looking for the children, but he didn't find anyone. Disappointed he started his journey home.
When he reached home, he saw his mother anxiously waiting for him.
A neighbour had gone to the forest to collect wood, and had seen Rudra going up the hill.
Mira felt betrayed by her little son, in spite of repeated warnings, he paid no heed to it .This was one of the rare occasion when he had disobeyed her, and she felt let down.
Rudra had never seen his mother so dejected. He tried to talk to Mira, but she just ignored him which made him more depressed.
One day he came from school, and went straight up to his mother
"Ma, I know your upset with me , I promise you I will never visit that house again. Please give me one chance, It's a soldier's promise Ma" saying this, he saluted her.
Mira smiled through her tears, and gave her son a warm embrace, she couldn't remain angry anymore with her only son who was very precious to her.
Rudra never visited the house again
He, always wondered though, about those children in the house, though he was tempted many times, to go up to the house. He had promised his mother and wouldn't go back on his word.
Few days later, when Rudra returned home from school his body was burning with fever, his mother gave him medicines thinking it was a common fever which would subside soon, and there was nothing to worry about.
But his fever grew worse. His father admitted him to the local hospital,
but his condition deteriorated as days passed. Lying on the hospital bed, Rudra often thought of the house and the shadows, and wondered if they were still there, playing with each other.
His mother stayed with him constantly in the hospital, he often saw her crying when she thought he was sleeping and wanted to comfort her, but was too weak to do so.
Mira knew she was losing her only child, the doctors had given up all hopes, there was nothing they could do now, they said, She kept a brave face for her son, though her heart broke into million pieces every time she looked at him.
One night Rudra went to sleep, and never woke up again, leaving this world forever. His parents were devastated, after losing their only child. For Mira, it was as though her world had come to an end. Her darling son had gone away forever.
Every day was like a punishment for her, with great difficulty she would go through her daily tasks, crying and remembering her son every second.
His beautiful face was etched in her memory forever. His laughter, his mischief, his innocent talks, and his cute little salutes, she had lost her little soldier.
One morning, as she stood at her window thinking of her son she saw the house far up on the hill, and wondered why Rudra was so eager to go there, in spite of her warnings, maybe she should visit the house.
She made her way slowly up the hill, passing through the wild trees and shrubs which lined the pathway. As she reached the top , she saw the half burnt house laying in ruins, and wondered what had attracted Rudra to visit this place.The doors of the house were closed so she peeped through the windows, and saw only dust and cobwebs everywhere, rats and spiders were scurrying around in search of food.
She was about to turn back, when a sudden movement near the side wall caught her attention, startled she looked up, she saw shadows of small children huddled together,
Suddenly the shadows started moving, as though the children were doing a slow dance, they were everywhere on the walls ceilings and all over the place
Mira could see three shadows one was of a little girl with long hair, and other two were of boys.
She wondered who these kids were and, what were they doing inside the house? She had to go inside, and warn those kids about the dangers of being in the old haunted house.
She pushed open the door and went inside, and was surprised to see no one in the house.
The shadows on the wall vanished instantly, except one which stood still in one place. It was the shadow of a boy.
Mira slowly made her way towards the shadow not wanting to scare it off.
As she neared the wall she saw the shadow lift his right hand, touch his forehead in a salute, and vanish all of a sudden.
"Rudra!" she whispered as tears started flowing down her cheeks!