The Whirlwind: Up in the Air!

Up in the air

What is better than a gripping ghost story during the night, eh? If you add hot bhajjias and chutney, piping hot tea, and a good monsoon shower to set the mood, even better! It’s fascinating that our ghost stories revolve around every part of our natural world-trees, waters, paddy fields, and more. In our story, the mystery revolves around a banyan tree.

In the first episode of The Whirlwind, the four cousins, Mani, Valli, Ramu, and Senthil, befriend Babu, a young boy from the village. The children are unnerved by eerie sights like the sinister Whirlwind and rusty nails on the banyan tree that erupt into dark fumes. Finally, Babu tells them a little bit about the mysterious occurrences in the village. That’s when Senthil realizes that the woman he saw might have been a ghost.

To make matters worse, the four cousins have a close encounter with the Whirlwind! Who is the mysterious, lonely woman, and why does she haunt the village? What does it have to do with the kids? Learn more in the second episode of The Whirlwind: Up in the Air!

Up in the Air!

“Senthil, Senthil! Wake up. Are you alright?” His bed creaked.

A shadow passed over Senthil’s face. “I don’t know, Babu. I have an eerie feeling that I’m being watched.” He spoke so softly that none of the others could hear. But that only made them more curious.

“Senthil, what’s the matter???” Valli crossed the room to stand by the bed. Mani and Ramu trailed behind her.

“If I tell them about last night, they’ll be afraid too. I better keep this between me and Babu,” Senthil thought. He decided to distract his cousin.

“Valli, is Paatti by herself? I don’t think she should find out about this. It’ll worry her too much. Why don’t you three see if she wants anything? If all of us gather here, she’s bound to get suspicious,” said Senthil. That did the trick. His cousins left the room, leaving Senthil and Babu alone. “Oookay! If you planned to make them leave this place deliberately, I should say that was well handled. What is going on, eh? What’s the matter with you?” Babu raised eyebrows.

“Babu, do you know what happened?” A cold weight pressed down on Senthil’s chest as he recalled the memory.

“Hey, chill! It’s not like you’ve seen a ghost, is it?” Babu’s eyes twinkled.

“But that’s just it, Babu! I think I HAVE seen the ghost!” Senthil sat up, his eyes sparkling feverishly.

“Cool boy, I never meant to harm you.”

“Just listen, will you? Remember you told me about the lonely woman with nine cats? I saw her by our window,” said Senthil, his voice trembling.

This was too much for Babu. “Ha! If you think you can play a prank on me, let me tell you, I’m not one to fall for these stories!” He crossed his hands across his chest in a challenge.

“I’m not making this up. You must help me. I saw the lonely woman! She wore a peculiar nose ring that flickered as if lit by the shooting flames of a fire. Aaaannd she had a long black stick with a brass cat handle. The eyes of the cat shone bright red, just like her nose ring,” Senthil was insistent.

Babu stood up and regarded him with narrowed eyes. Yes, the despair in Senthil’s voice was real. But that wasn’t the only reason for his reaction. He had heard this story many times—shared by the villagers who encountered the spirit of the lonely woman. Babu swallowed hard.

“Wait a minute! YOU…Have YOU seen her too? Have you seen her too?” Senthil shook Babu’s shoulder.

“Yes…, No! Pshaw! No, I haven’t seen her, but it’s just that…I can’t believe this happened to you. It would have been best if you hadn’t pulled that nail out,” said Babu. “She is a spirit who haunts people. Why didn’t you tell me when it happened?” He spread his hands out in desperation

“It was at night, da! And I truly thought she was a woman looking for her cats. I had no idea it was a ghost,” Senthil hugged himself to stop the trembling.

The room went silent. The boys were lost in their thoughts. “How do I safely bring Senthil and the others out of this challenge?” Babu racked his mind, only to draw a blank. Frustrated, he got up and marched out without a word.

When the other three walked into the room sometime later, they found Senthil hunched over, staring at his toes.

“Come on da, Senthil! Get off the bed. Let us go out and play,” Ramu insisted.

In a way, it was a good idea not to let Senthil mope. The four returned to their routine, playing cricket and badminton, and roaming the streets of Suzhalnagaram. As they played outside the house one evening, their neighbor, Pallavi aunty, called out to them.

“Hello, kids; I hope you are having the time of your life with your grandma,” she smiled.

“Yes, Aunty! We are enjoying ourselves. It is a nice change from the busy city,” Valli answered politely.

Ramu shook his head. “I like it here, but I still miss my city…the hustle and bustle of people, malls, play areas, food courts, and more.”

“Aunty, there’s some sort of mystery here, isn’t there? ” Mani blurted out.

Aunty threw a glance his way but didn’t respond to the probing. “That’s weird. She’s ignoring what I said. She looks uncomfortable. Did I say something wrong?” Mani wondered.

“Kiddos, where is Babu? He hasn’t been here for a few days now,” Aunty commented.

“Weeee…are not sure. I think he’s busy with some errands,” said Senthil.

“Do me a favor, will you? I made biryani. Can you drop some off at Babu’s place?”

“Yeah, we’d be happy to, but we’ve never been to his house,” replied Valli.

“My dear, this is a small village, not your big city. Just cross the bridge, and you’ll come to a house with a beautiful garden on the right. That is his home,” Aunty pointed to the stream.

It seemed like everyone in the village was fond of Babu. Funny! He never spoke about his family. Even Paatti didn’t share much about him.

“Sure, we’ll take the biryani over,” Mani nodded.

Soon, the four of them were on their way, the biryani box tucked under Ramu’s arm.

Senthil felt peaky. He said, “Let’s go through the fields to the bridge, da!”

“Oh! Don’t tell me! If we go this way, we will come to that blasted banyan tree, right?” Ramu grumbled. “We’ve been out playing all day long. I’m just tired. My legs will give away soon.”

It was their bad luck that even the roundabout route through the fields led them near the tree. Senthil didn’t want to look at it, but he could feel the tree’s gaze pulling him. It seemed to tower over all the trees as far as his eye could see.

The madness began slowly, with a stillness in the air. Then the wind picked up.

“A dust storm! It’s coming this way. Pull together; Hold hands, and DON’T LET GO!” Mani screamed.

The four children huddled together, hoping the wind would slow down. Senthil squinted over his shoulder. A faint tendril of smoke swirled around the tree. It was too late to run and find cover.

“My feet! I can’t feel the ground,” someone screamed.

If they said anything else, the words were swallowed up by the wind. The tree’s roots grew into unearthly forms. The children were pulled apart, their bodies thrown at each other, twisting this way and that. Finally, the whirlwind slowed down, and countless hands brought them down. One by one, they landed on their bottom. Where were they?

UNDER THE BANYAN TREE! NOT AGAIN!

“How on earth did we get here?” asked Valli’s nails dug into Ramu’s arm.

“Hush. We don’t know what’s listening,” he whispered.

“There’s no one here. Not even the old man who chased us that day!” Mani sounded braver than he felt.

“Or the old woman.” Senthil muttered.

“What old woman?” asked Mani.

“Just someone from my dream,” replied Senthil, concealing his growing fears from the others.

“Ada! There are more nails on the tree,” Valli stood on her tiptoes to touch one.

Senthil pulled her hand away. “Stop, Valli! I SAID STOP! There’s something wrong. Why do we keep coming back to this cursed place? Let’s get out of here!” But his legs buckled, and he fell.

The others looked dazed. He was right! There was something strange going on here. They’d been lifted from the path to the bridge and brought here. But why?

“Get away! Get away!” a shrill voice whistled. “I will hold the whirlwind. Get away!”

The cousins didn’t have to be told again. They picked up their feet and ran.

At home, Paatti was in bed. They slipped quietly under the sheets too. Eyes heavy, they were asleep in no time. All except Senthil! He brooded over the events of the day. Then he, too, fell asleep.

It was the sound of clanging vessels that woke Senthil. Grandma was shouting at the top of her voice.

“I don’t like pets. I loathe them. How did these animals get here?” Paatti’s voice was raised.

Senthil peeled his eyes open, but the others slept through the din. He decided to leave them be.

“What’s wrong, Paatti? Why are you upset early morning?” asked Senthil.

“Who brought the animal inside? Don’t you know I am allergic to fur? You can’t have pets here,” Paatti poked at him with a bony finger.

“Pet? what pet?”

“A CAT! I saw the cat under the blanket by your side. Get it out of here before I start sneezing,” paatti turned her back on him.

Senthil hurried to his cot and pulled the blanket away. Two long cat whiskers stared back at him.

More in this series:

The Whirlwind

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