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by Shernaz Wadia

Boom! Boom! An ear-splitting firecracker. The boys who lit it scuttled off fast and hid. An old lady came out of her house, shouting and screaming, “You wretched boys. How often must I tell you not to burst these loud crackers near my house? I was so startled my heart is still throbbing … May you get hurt. May the crackers burn you…may your parents lock you up in the house…” She ranted on much to the delight of the boys who were ready with one more as soon as she went in. At the same time another old lady groaned aloud from another house on the street. “Oh, my. Oh God. These boys will give me a heart-attack. Oh, oh. Can’t anyone stop them?”

Dina and Alice sat in the verandah of their huge house smiling meanly. Scaring these old ladies was a sport they sometimes indulged in and today they had instigated the neighbors' boys to burst loud crackers in the street just for this purpose.

Basically they were good girls, did well in school and were otherwise helpful and well behaved. But once accidentally, they had scared an old aunt in their village by going up quietly behind her. From then on Alice thought up novel ways of startling these poor old ladies of the neighborhood. No punishment could deter her and Dina used to follow her willy-nilly. After all they came home only for these few days of vacation and they were going to have their fun. Didn’t the seniors in the boarding have a great time frightening them with ghost stories?

One evening, as their mother was settling down with a book after a busy day, she heard the old lady next door shouting out her name. When she went to the side entrance of the house, Alice who had gone to play next door was waiting outside.

“Katy, if your daughter doesn’t stop this I will have to punish her very severely. You know what happened today? She gave such a fright to my elder sister that the poor thing almost fell down the stairs. She is so shaken up she is lying in bed with a sedative.”

“Aunty, I have told you so often to punish her. When I scold her you side with her saying she is only a small girl. I am sorry and I will deal with this my way now,” she said in exasperation.

Alice stifles a smile as she entered her own house. She was also ready for a spanking. To her great surprise all her Mom said very sternly was, “Go upstairs to your room. You will come down only at dinner time”.

Rejoicing inwardly for getting away so easily Alice went up without a murmur. She wished Dina had not gone with Dad to the village. It was so lonely without her. Not knowing what to do, she began to plan some way to get back at the old lady for tattling on her.

After dinner too her mother was unusually quiet; nor did she complain to her father. Alice wondered uneasily about it. She was dying to go upstairs and talk about this to Dina. Every night after the lights were out, she was in the habit of praying before the picture of a deity. She always asked to be able to sleep well at night and not remember any of the chilling ghost stories she had heard in school. That was about the only thing that scared her. As she finished praying, she turned around and opening her eyes, let out a panic stricken scream. A white  figure with blood shot eyes stood grinning wickedly at her in the faint street light that came into the room.

Dina sprang out of her bed and switched on the light.

“What happened? Why did you scream so?”

Alice was ashen faced and couldn’t speak for a while, her teeth chattered and she trembled like a dry leaf in a gale. Her heart thumped loudly as she clung to her sister and began to cry. “A
g..g..ghost. I s. one, I s..s..s..swear,” she stammered between sobs.

Dina looked around the room but saw nothing unusual. She tried to comfort her younger sister. “Calm down Alice. I am here with you. You must have just imagined something.”

“No, I tell you. There was definitely a ghost here. It was standing right in the doorway and disappeared because you switched on the light,” she whispered. “I want to go down to Mom and Dad. Come with me.”

Just then their dad and mom came into the room. He had covered himself with a white sheet and only his face could be seen. He had held a torch under his nose, which emitted the red glow. This then was Alice’s ghost.

He looked at Alice and said kindly, “So now you know how it feels to be scared out of your wits.”

“That was a very mean thing to do dad. I will never talk to you,” sobbed Alice, hitting him on his chest with her fists. “You know I could have died from the shock of seeing a ghost?”

Dad gently pulled her to him and held her close to quieten her.

“Do you understand what you have been doing to the poor old ladies in our neighborhood? You didn’t like a taste of your own medicine, isn’t it? And there is another lesson for you in this. There are no ghosts.”

Alice realized the seriousness of what she had done. She was truly sorry and promised she would never again play such pranks on anyone. Next morning, a very subdued but wise Alice went to her neighbors and apologized. They were so sweet that they not only forgave her, but chided her parents for teaching her a ‘ghostly’ lesson. And the best part was she stopped being afraid of ghosts.   
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