“Serial Killer at 15?” the reporter on the television read out.

 

“In a series of mysterious deaths that hit the town, three people were brutally murdered in a span of five days. Police sources indicate a common killer since the modus operandi is the same in each case. The prime suspect is 15 year-old Akshay Sharma who, adding a twist to this bizarre tale, doesn’t even recollect being near the crime scenes.

 

“While the doctors indicate a case of split personality, the locals believe that the boy has been possessed by an aatma (spirit). Investigations are still pending.

 

“In another incident…”

 

Anil Sharma, Akshay’s father, switched off the television in exasperation. “What do we do, Anita?” he asked his wife. “It is true that Akshay has been acting weird lately. The doctors have also not been able to help him.”

 

“Have you thought about my brother-in-law’s suggestion?” Anita inquired.

 

“About going to see that witch-doctor?” Anil asked incredulously. “Anita, we’re educated people. Surely you can’t believe in all that mumbo jumbo!”

 

“We have tried almost everything. What is the harm in trying one more thing?” she replied.

 

“Alright. We’ll go see him,” Anil sighed.

 

 

*        *        *

 

 

“How many times do I have to tell you that I do not know anything?” Akshay said to the police officer interrogating him. “Except for that shopkeeper, when I went to buy some sugar a few days back, I don’t know any of those who got killed.”

 

“Listen, sonny boy, tell us what you know about the murders and we’ll let you go. All the evidence is pointing against your claims of ‘innocence’. We have other ways of extracting information too,” the Inspector Sanjay Talwar said with a hint of frustration in his voice. This case was not going as he had expected it to go when he had taken it up a few days back.

 

“Inspector Sa’ab. The boy’s father is back with a lawyer this time,” a constable said from behind Sanjay.

 

Sanjay, irritated by the interruption, nodded to the constable and turned back to Akshay. “I’m letting you go for now. But this is not over yet.”

 

 

*        *        *

 

 

It had all started a few months back when Akshay had gone for a trip to the nearby ruins with his friends. Ever since that trip, he had been acting strange. No one had given it a lot of thought, but after he was associated with the three murders, all hell had broken loose in the Sharma household.

 

Akshay had distanced himself from everyone; his friends, his parents and his teachers, all trying their best to break down the wall he had created around himself. Anil and Anita believed their son when he said that he had nothing to do with the murders, but it did nothing to quell their concern for their son. It baffled them how an outgoing boy like him could clam up all of a sudden.

 

When they tried talking to his friends about what had happened at the ruins, all they got in response was a fearful look in the children’s eyes, and they refused to tell anything. Finally giving in to Anita’s wishes, Anil had gone to visit the witch-doctor with her.

 

“Hmmm… I can see what the problem may be,” the witch-doctor had said to the couple. “I would need to see the boy before I can say anything.”

 

Even after the tantrik had visited Akshay, and had assured Anita that he would find a solution to their problem, there was no change in the boy’s demeanor. Tantrik baba had confirmed that Akshay was indeed possessed by a spirit and that it was responsible for all those murders. Why, he didn’t know, but he promised to find out soon.

 

 

*        *        *

 

 

Baba, please do something. There has been another death,” Anita said to the witch-doctor after a week.

 

“Where is the boy?” the tantrik asked her. “Take me to him.”

 

Anita escorted the tantrik to Akshay, who was rocking himself in a rocking chair; lost in deep thought.

 

“Make him lie down on the bed and hold his limbs tightly,” Baba said to Anita and Anil, as the latter entered the room behind them.

 

The tantrik took out a copper tumbler and started filling it with things unfamiliar to Akshay’s parents. He kept mumbling mantras under his breath while the couple held on to their son and awaited further instructions. The tantrik lit an incense stick and plunged it into the tumbler. Akshay immediately jerked up and struggled with his parents to let go. He started sweating profusely and his eyeballs rotated in their sockets.

 

“Leave me alone,” Akshay said in a voice that was not his.  The lights in the room started to flicker even as Anita and Anil tried their best to hold the struggling boy beneath them. “I said ‘LEAVE ME’!”

 

A wail escaped from the tantrik’s mouth and deep cuts appeared on his body. He fell to the floor but managed to keep the tumbler upright and continued to chant the mantras.

 

“Who are you? What do you want from my boy? Why are you killing those people?” a quivering Anita asked the spirit.

 

“Hold your tongue, Woman! I killed them because they were a disgrace to this society. They were not fit to live,” the spirit replied. He broke into maniacal laughter and continued, “Hence I killed them all! I killed them all!”

 

“But why?” sobbed Anita.

 

“I was killed by those scheming bastards because I was pure at heart. I chose not to do their bidding. They murdered me and dumped my body near the ruins, trapping me there forever, until your son came and rescued me. HUSH!” he said turning his attention to the tantrik who was continuing his chanting of the mantras. “Do you think you can force me to leave this body, you frail old man? This boy is as pure as I was when I was alive. I will not let him go.”

 

“I-I…I c-cm-mand y-you t-to leave t-t-his boy’s body a-a-nd m-m-ove on to t-t-he aft-terl-life,” the baba stuttered.

 

“You are not capable of banishing me!” roared the spirit.

 

Akshay broke free from his parents’ grasp and floated out of the room, leaving the confused parents to stare at the sputtering tantrik.

 

“I s-s-summon t-t-he p-powers that b-b-behold me. Hear m-me, my L-L-ords,” they heard him say and saw his wounds miraculously healed before their eyes. “Banish this spirit to where it rightfully belongs,” baba said, standing up and taking the copper tumbler in his hands. He rushed out into the living room behind the Akshay.

 

“Heaven and Hell, stake your claim on this unmarked soul. HEAR ME!!”

 

The spirit-Akshay stopped in the middle of the room, suspended a foot above the floor. He turned around in fury to look at the tantrik just as the latter emptied the contents of the tumbler on him.

 

“Nooooo!” screamed Akshay, as the white, ghostly shape of a man separated from his body. It circled the room a few times, and when it spotted the witch-doctor glaring at it, it flew towards him in a fit of rage. Before it could reach the baba, the latter took out an amulet from within his pocket and slipped it around the spirit’s neck as it approached. The ghost screeched in agony before disintegrating into the abyss.

 

Inspector Sanjay, walking in through the front door, stopped in amazement. “What in the name of…?”

 


 

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