THE HAUNTED HOUSE

Antara was extremely happy that day. Her pet mynah Chichi had given birth to a baby mynah a week back. She had lovingly named her Chuchu. As she saw Chuchu flying for the first time, she clapped and jumped in joy.

However, as night fell, her gaze suddenly fell on the eerie house with red and pink lights on the other side of the river. The house was very weird and the stories of a magician staying in that house would circulate now and then in the village. Everybody was afraid of the haunted house and nobody ever ventured in its vicinity. Whenever, Antara saw this house, she was afraid.

Although, Antara could clearly see the haunted house from her dear cottage, she had never seen any sign of life near it. The only activity visible was the switching on of the red and pink lights at six pm sharp. It was believed that the magician could take any form. Once a month, he would visit any house in Antara s village or the villages surrounding it and take a child away. The routine had been going on since ages. No one had ever heard what happened to those children.

It was also rumoured that the magician made a typical symbol of a needle and footsteps on the house from which he was going to take the child. Although Antara was a very brave girl, but the thought of the magician taking away some child was too spinechilling for her.

One day, as she was playing outside her house, she was shocked to see the symbols of needle and footsteps on her own house. Would the magician visit her house? She ran inside the house and hid herself. Her mother and brother had gone to her granny's house. She hoped that they come home soon. When they returned home, they were also afraid to see the symbols. As Antara peeped out of the house, she saw an old man approaching their house. She knew it was the magician.

Horrified, she ran and hid behind her mother. Just then, there was a knock at the house. All three of them shivered. They were alarmed and did not open the door. But the magician had taken the form of a black cat. A scary and dreadful black cat. He jumped inside the house from the window. Pointing towards Antara he said, "I shall be taking this girl."

He commanded her to sit on the wheel chair and he sat on her lap in the form of a cat. This way, Antara was bound to the chair. She could not escape.

Soon the wheel-chair started moving by itself. While they were moving ahead, Antara saw a bus passing on the road. For a moment, she was hopeful of someone coming and saving her. But with the magician perched on her as a cat, she knew that it was futile to expect.

Unknown to the magician as well as Antara, a boy by the name of Saif had seen them. He was a big boy of sixteen and was not afraid of anything. He had followed them silently. As they crossed the river, the magician came back to his original form. Suddenly, Saif confronted him and asked, "Uncle, you seem to be going on some adventurous expedition. Can I join you?" The magician was unprepared for this. He cackled, "No one can come to my house except on this magical wheel chair. There is no path which can lead to my house. Run away or I will kill this girl. Saif was brave and wanted to challenge him. But, he knew that it would be useless to do anything at that point of time, since the magician could harm the little girl. He went away silently.

The magician took Antara inside his creepy house. It was dark and dingy inside. Initially, she was scared. But she suddenly realized that she had to have courage if she wanted to escape. Soon, the magician started snoring and Antara began exploring his house. She could find a few dresses of children. She wondered where those children were. Suddenly she saw a few books in one of the dark almirahs. Those books were books of black magic.

She started reading those books. She was amazed to see a lot of numbers and symbols written in the books. There was not a single alphabet.

Meanwhile, Saif rushed home to inform his father about the incident. His father was also the village pradhan. He immediately summoned a meeting of all the village elders. Till then, everybody had heard tales of pretty children vanishing from the village; but nobody had actually seen these children being taken away.

With Saif having witnessed the incident, there was anger among the village elders. It was rumoured that if they were successful in building a path till the magician's house, his magic would vanish. Stories also floated that whenever the villagers actually tried to build the road, the magician would switch on those red and pink lights and the road would vanish.

Someone remarked, "We should all learn to accept that the magician will be here and he will keep taking children. We are too small to fight him. Why waste time?"

But Saif was annoyed on hearing this. He said, "If you all do not agree to build this road, I am going ahead with it. I cannot bear to see my friends being taken away like this." He started collecting the pebbles and stones for constructing the road. Seeing his willpower, determination and strength, others followed suit and slowly almost the whole village joined him.

Meanwhile, Antara, being an intelligent girl, had broken the code of the numbers in the book. She started translating them. Suddenly, she came across a strange chant in one of the books. She was overjoyed as she read the footnote below it, "If this chant is uttered while some one is having his food, the person will surely die." After having read this, she kept the books back in the proper place and slept peacefully. She had her plans ready. In the morning, the magician got up happily. Antara acted as if she was sleeping. The magician smiled. He took out some biscuits and some juice and began gulping it. Antara suddenly uttered the chant. The magician was shocked. He fell down almost instantaneously.

When he fell down, there was a thunderous noise. Saif and the other villagers who were busy constructing the road were shocked to hear the roar. With their grit and hard work, they had almost finished with the construction of the road. They rushed to the magician's house and were amazed to see that he had breathed his last.

Antara informed them about the incidents which had occurred since she had been caught. The villages were happy to know about her cleverness and presence of mind. They read his books as per the code deciphered by Antara. They realized that unless a path was made till the enchanted house, the magician could come back to life! Another chant was to be uttered to dispose off his body. They quickly uttered the chant and the magician's body burnt to ashes. As soon as the magician's body got converted into ashes, they could hear a lot of children's voices from a particular room. They went and opened the room and were amazed to see all the missing children.

The magician used to take one child every month and make him work like a slave. After that he would convert him into stone. It was said that if he accumulated one thousand such stones in one thousand months, he would be the ruler of the universe. He had already collected nine hundred and ninety nine children and Antara was the one thousandth one. Luckily, she was saved along with all the other children. They decided to move out of the haunted house immediately. While they were coming out, their was a thunderous noise again and the haunted house also vanished.

Antara s mother had given up all hopes of seeing her again. She cuddled her and hugged her as if to make sure that she had really come back. With so many children having been rescued, there was gaiety and merriment everywhere. All the villagers praised Antara and Saif because of whom it had been possible to get rid of the magician.