Desi Suspense Contemporary

“Are you sure it’s a great idea? Me accompanying you to the top of the mountain?” Smriti asked Neha, forcing her blue boots through the calf-length layer of snow.

“Of course!” Neha walked ahead of her. ”You know how much I love mountains. Plus, it’s an excellent opportunity for you to face your fear."

Smriti glared at her red overalls and her black bottom. Though Neha was her best friend, she hated her sometimes. Another lecture on facing the fear-nonsense. “Right now? On your honeymoon?”

She giggled. “So what? Wherever you go, I go. Remember our 5th rule of friendship?”

Smriti rested her hands on her hips. Though she was covered with three layers of woollen, yet an icy chill ran down her spine. For one, the outline of the mountains looked eerily similar to her recurring dreams. And for another, she didn’t want to tag along with her best friend and Jimit- Neha's husband and her ex-boyfriend. She didn’t want to be that hated bone in shawarma. 

This was really a bad idea. 

“You go, please,” Smriti said, glancing at Neha’s gloveless hands and the five-carat diamond ring that glittered under the sun. “I can’t…” Smriti stepped ahead, but her feet settled on the slippery rock and she fell on her back. Her head made contact with the cold snow underneath her, and she slipped. Again for the fourth time that day. 

Her breath stilled and her heart paused when she recalled rolling down the mountains- exactly like in her dream.

“Gotcha.” Jimit’s long arms caught her just in time. He pulled her up in one quick and made her stand on her feet. “God, you terrified me for a second of my life. Are you all right? Did you hurt yourself?”

Apart from a shoulder pull, I don’t think so. Smriti wanted to mutter those words, but she didn’t. She paused to the view of the cable car above her. The same car from her dream. Even the colour was the same- Red.

A shiver ran down her spine. Was that deja vu? If not, then she was definitely turning crazy.

Jimit’s grin disappeared, and he shook her shoulders gently, bringing her back to Earth. “Smriti?” 

“Don’t bother about her. She’s lost in her silly dreams. Oops!” Neha covered her over-sharing mouth with her hands. Her eyes darted between Jimit and then Smriti. It was a secret between them that wasn’t meant to be shared with the world. Including Jimit.

“What am I missing out on?” Jimit walked towards Neha, with Smriti’s hand clutched under his. Smriti thanked him before pulling out her hand, knowing Neha’s scrutinising gaze roamed all over her.

“Nothing.” Smriti forced a chuckle. “Nothing. Just a dream, in which I eat a lot of ice cream and I die with a blue tongue. Frostbite.” Smriti giggled again. “The snow all around me is giving me creeps.”

“It’s Gulmarg, the heaven on Earth.” Jimit tilted his head. “You just can’t miss this for anything in the world. And come on, I’ve bought us tickets to the top.”

“And anyway, we are not coming back,” Neha spoke with a serious face. “At least from this route.”

“Right.” Jimit grabbed Neha’s hand and rushed ahead. “Let’s catch this cable car.”

Smriti shifted on her feet. A sudden fear loomed in her mind. What if the dreams were telling her to face the fears and live life like a normal person? It was the fear that didn’t let her buy the refrigerator or have ice in her cold drinks. She never soothed her thirst with chilled water when the temperature rose to 45 degrees celsius. And yet she knew the pain of ice sticking to her tongue, making it hard and blue in few seconds. Smriti closed her eyes. Even after 28 years, she lived with this fear. She had to let it go, eventually.

Maybe this was the right time. Maybe Neha was right.

When Smriti opened her eyes, Jimit and Neha were leaning too close to each other. And she knew they would steal a kiss.

A second later, they did. But she averted her eyes and studied the kids who were enjoying building a snowman that resembled a scarecrow. How was snow romantic? She wondered to herself. 

They waited for the cable ride, and the rest of the trip was a blink for her. She stood next to the door, whereas Jimit and Neha took the corner spot. He covered her from behind with his hands wandering all over her, just like any other newlywed couple all around her.

She rolled her eyes and blew out a smokey condensation on the glass, wiping them with the gloved hands. It was a pleasant distraction. When she gazed out, watching a hexagonal building getting bigger and bigger, her heart pounded. The images from her dream flooded her mind. Except, they changed its quality from a grainy VHS tape to a perfect 2160p. 

Every specific detail matched. But how? She had never left Mumbai all her life. She always loved the beaches, the salty breeze on her skin, the tank tops and the hot pants. Not the layers of blue pashmina that covered her. She clutched the steel rails tight, letting the cold seep through her gloves. No, she wasn’t crazy. She had been here before. But when?

The doors opened and Smriti was the first to run from the overcrowded cable car, only to pause at the end of the trail. She studied the crosses that were planted there. The mountain air whipped around her as if it warned her. The steep valley below was covered with layers of snow and darkness.

If it wasn’t confirmed before, it was now. She hated the mountains. Period.

A stone rumbled next to her into the black hole and Smriti jumped back, accidentally slamming into the hard, muscular chest of Jimit.

“Hey, are you all right?”

Smriti stared at him, nodded. She really didn’t want to take a centre stage with her stupid dreams and ruin his honeymoon.

“No, I don’t think so.” Jimit lowered his head to meet Neha’s gaze. "Maybe we should take a break. Find something to eat?”

“Good idea.” Neha cheerfully replied. “You go ahead, I’ll walk with Smriti.”

Jimit nodded and advanced. 


Jimit paused at Smriti’s voice and glanced past his shoulders. 

“You are going in the wrong way. That side leads to the temple. The restaurant...It’s right here.” she pointed at the hexagonal building towards her left.

Both Jimit and Neha shot a quizzical glance at her. “Um, thanks?” Jimit led them. It wasn’t a long walk, but the altitude and the snow-covered slippery stairs slowed their movement.

“Geez, you look so pale,” Neha whispered. “But how did you know about the temple?”

Smriti shook her head. “I don’t know. I think I’m getting crazy.”

“No, you aren’t.” Neha squeezed her hand. “Tell me. Is it that dream?”

Smriti stilled and shook her head. 

“Nooo.” Neha blocked her path. “I have seen this face. I know there’s something bothering you.”

“No, I’m not.” Smriti lied and walked ahead, but paused and turned around to watch Neha eyeing her. After a few seconds of staring, she raised her hands in surrender. “Ok, you win. It’s the dream. They are true.”

Neha’s jaw dropped. Her throat column worked. Not a single word escaped her mouth. Taking that as a cue, Smriti continued. “I feel I’ve been here before. I know this restaurant is swamped with dusty plastic chairs, its colour matching the cable cars. The windows creak but show the perfect views of the Himalayas. And I’ve skied through them during an annual ski event here. ”

Neha swallowed after a moment of silence. “You never told me about this before.”

“Because that never mattered until now.” She stepped closer and looked into Neha’s eyes. “You know I am not lying, right?”

“Of course not.” Neha looked around her, maybe finding for Jimit. “But I don’t know know how do you know about all of this? Did you watch any documentary?”

“You know how I hate documentaries or the mountains. I am so sorry. I never wanted to tell you right now. Especially on your honeymoon.”

“Oh, come on.” Neha waved her hand. “Your health is important. Let’s find Jimit.”

Once they both entered the restaurant, both of their eyes widened at the layout. Red plastic chairs were scattered all around. The aroma of hot pakoras and tea made their mouths water. Neha’s eyes widened and Smriti gave her an I-told-you look. 

Jimit was sitting on the chair waving at them. Neha walked towards him, but Smriti sprinted to the other end of the room, towards the manager who ordered the servers. He was short but had the energy of a red bull.

“Hi!” Smriti leaned towards the counter. “Do you know if there’s a temple nearby?”

He gave a quizzical look. 

“The one with the red and orange triangular flag? It’s a small stone temple, somewhere over there?” she pointed towards the cable lift.

“Oh, that?” the old man rubbed his forehead. “Yes, there was one, but that was years ago. Maybe in the 1990s. But a landslide destroyed it. How do you—?”

 “Hey, I’ve already ordered the food for us…” Jimit appeared right next to her. Neha followed him a few moments later. 

“Thanks, Jimit, but I am not hungry.” Smriti turned to meet the old guy’s gaze. “Do you have an annual ski event here?” she pointed at the cable lift end.

“There was one, but it’s closed a long time ago, after an accident of Sven. He was one of the famous Swedish skiers.”

“What happened to him?” Neha asked him.

“Don’t know.” the old man shrugged. “A ski accident or a murder. The rumours made some rounds. Search operations went on, but then no one found him. You know these mountains. They are enormous and dangerous. Nobody can survive in the snow without food. That poor guy fell to death here.” he paused to look at Smriti. “All I know he had big blue eyes like yours.”

Smriti inhaled a deep breath, but she all of a sudden felt a shortage of air. She pushed the glass door and watched the mighty lofty peaks. People were skiing down the mountains, but she felt the adrenaline pumping through her veins. A vision of her eyes covered with ski goggles and racing against the snowy dirt startled her. Her hands clutched the poles tightly, making her feel the nails dig through her gloved palms. And then everything turned white. 

Neha’s hand squeezed her shoulder. “Should we talk?”

Smriti took a breath and nodded. They walked to the end of the cliff, trying to find the ruins of the temple, but couldn’t. “It was right here, where I took the blessings to win the competition.” Neha didn’t fail to notice a heavy accent that formed as she spoke. “I was dressed in my blue and white uniform, blew a kiss at my wife, who stood at the foot of the cable station. Then I glanced at Lars- my best friend who also took part with me. We had fun descending the zig-zag curves of the slope, until, I knocked off the stone. And then I tumbled down and smacked my head with a rock.” She turned to Neha. “Oh my god, I finally remember it. It was me! The Swedish skier was me. It was an accident.”

Neha stared at her and then chuckled. “Of course it’s not you. You are just overthinking.”

“Believe me,” Smriti held her hand. “The dreams were leading me to know how I died in my past life. You were right, Neha, you were so right. I had to face my fear.”

“No, no, no, no, no.” Neha shook her head. “It’s not that.” She stepped towards her, “your dreams were warning you.”

“Warning of what?”

“This!” Neha shoved her, making Smriti lose her balance and slid towards the edge. She managed to stand but slipped again. “What are you doing, Neha! I am scared.”

“Scared of what? Of destroying my honeymoon or remembering your past life?”

Smriti craned her neck to watch her.

“Uh-uh. Even after death, you are the great Sven. The budding skier who could beat the famous Ingemar Stenmark one day. And what was I? Just your buddy. Even the history didn’t remember me.”

Smriti watched her with bated breath.

“That time,” Neha continued. “That time you were just like this. Confused when I asked you, ‘why I’ll always be the second?’ I wanted to be first. And that’s why I knocked you over.”

“You killed me?”

“I was so glad to find your body was never recovered.” Neha gave a shrill laugh. “I comforted your wife in these arms. And look at us here again. History’s repeating itself. Your dreams were warning you not to trust me. But see this?” she flashed her ring clad finger. “This time, I have Jimit. And you have nothing. Nothing!”

Smriti squatted towards her right, her back was damp with sweat and one step to either side could be her death. “If you must know, I never loved Jimit. He was always yours.”

“Just like the way you didn’t love your wife in your previous life? But you know she loved you. And only you.” She twisted the ring on her finger. “I came to know how you convinced Jimit to marry me. How he had proposed to you first. But like a big sister, you sacrificed your love.”

Smriti’s eyes widened. “How did you—?”

“I’m always the second choice. Always. But I’ll change this. Jimit is now married to me. He’s mine.”

“I always considered you my best friend. I always loved you—.” Smriti tried to rise, braving the snow and the wind that swooshed behind her. But Neha shoved her hard this time, making her lose her balance and dive into the unending valley. Smriti’s hand reached for the scarf rolled around Neha’s neck, pulling her towards herself.

They scuffled, and a second later, Neha was now in the same position where Simran was. She glanced at the unending height of the mountains and screamed. “Help me!”

Smriti reached out her arms. “Take my hand. Let’s not repeat the same mistake. Please.” She screamed. “Jimit, please help us out.”

But before Jimit could intervene, Smriti's glove slipped out of her hand and into Neha's, who now swayed like a dead leaf in an autumn breeze. Her scream dimming with each passing second.

"Oh my God!" Smriti passed out but before she fell down the mountain to death, Jimit saved her. Again.

Neha could only see Smriti pulled into Jimit’s arms as his helpless eyes watched her. A few seconds later, she was saved by a long wooden branch that protruded out of the snow. Her scarf wound around the branch. She tested the weight by swaying. It was sturdy for now.

“Jimit? Help me!” she screamed at the top of her lungs. “I’m here.”

A loud screech made her believe there was someone nearby. She swung herself. “Anybody! I’m right here, below this cliff.”

She glanced up, but then there was something else that watched her. Another screech and a loud jolt made her scream. The branch moved and was bending under her pressure. Another jerk and the branch lowered, revealed itself as an extension of something. A part of an old ski.

Attached to the ski were the blue Nordica ski boots Neha recognised. A few seconds later, the frozen clothed body of Sven fell on top of her. The weight of his pinned her towards the icy trail of snow, and his cold blue eyes watched her as they barrelled down the slope.

Smriti was right about one thing. His lips and tongue were blue, like his entire body.

Neha screamed once more, and that’s when her voice echoed in the valley one last time.

July 22, 2021 22:44

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