Dinnertime was different today, it was quiet almost somber. Shobbi wondered if someone died or something, then it hit her. Her normally chatty sister, Lakshmi was not filling the silence with her chatter. Even if Shobbi was uninterested in the subjects her sister brought up, the conversations brightened up the dining room.
Shobbi eyed her parents carefully, they knew something wasn't right. They kept glancing at each other to see who would break the silence. That didn't happen, Lakshmi finished eating and slunk off to her room. Shobbi finished the last bits of tandoori chicken on her plate then she stood up. Her mother gave her a nod. Shobbi left the table to talk to her sister.
Except for the open closet doors, the sisters' rooms were totally different. Lakshmi had colorful posters of boybands on her walls while Shobbi was OK with her plain walls. A look of fear crossed Lakshmi's face as she closed her closet door when Shobbi stood in the doorway.
"Are you OK, Laki?" Shobbi asked with concern in her voice as she stepped into the room.
"Yeah, I just feel a little tired," Lakshmi said while fearfully glancing at the closet door. She sat on her bed while her brown eyes kept the door under constant scrutiny. Shobbi sighed, she really didn't want to talk about her dreams.
"Laki, do you, um, have dreams about something in the closet?" Shobbi said.
"Dreams about a closet? No way," Lakshmi replied too quickly, but the fear in her brown eyes as she glanced at the closet door again said yes.
Lakshmi's eyes told most of the story, but Shobbi wondered if she should push her sister to open up about her dreams or not. The idea of forcing her sister to face something that Shobbi was reluctant to face was repugnant.
"Well, Laki if you ever need to talk, I'm here," Shobbi offered.
For a brief second, the life returned to her sister's face. "Thanks."
Shobbi returned to her room and saw that the closet door was open. For a second, instead of fear, anger filled her heart. She slammed the door closed. Shobbi could feel that time was running out.
Jerida County Police Station
For a police station in a large city, Shobbi was expecting more chaos, but it was just like a big office with no air conditioning. Large silvery fans thrummed in the background pushing hot air around. The hum of conversations filled the air. Posters of wanted criminals lined the blue walls. Shobbi managed to stifle a yawn as she sat behind a large man near Constable Paranamurana's desk.
"Constable Paranamurana, we really should discuss my findings!" The heavyset man said. The chair creaked as he shifted his weight. Shobbi did not want to eavesdrop, but the conversation was interesting and sitting around waiting for Constable Paranamurana was not.
Constable Raki Paranamurana shook a handful of folders in the man's face. "I'm sorry but I have a lot of work to do and I don't have the time for this. You can leave your info on my desk and I promise to get back to you."
"No no no, there is very little time left. If you do not listen to me, there could be serious consequences!" The man said.
Raki placed the folders on her untidy desk. Stacks of papers threatened to fall all over the place, but somehow they didn't. "Who are you again?" She asked.
The man's eyes widened in surprise. "You have forgotten my name already? Fine. My name is Akanksha Bhalla. I was the assistant architect responsible for building the Agarwal Houses. The head architect, his name is poison to me, made some very strange adjustments to the design of Building One," Akanksha said. Shobbi leaned in closer to hear what Akanksha had to say.
A look of fear crossed Raki's face. She remembered that terrible night in which she chased a wounded rapist through dark hallways smelling of piss and futile hopes. Raki wondered how the man was able to get away with several bullets in him. The houses were in better shape now, but she still would not visit.
"I can see by the look on your face, you remember that night. Time is growing short and I fear something terrible is going to happen. You must listen to me!" Akanksha said.
Raki sighed. "Okay, what do you know about that night?"
"I only know what I read in the papers, but I do know that the blueprints for several apartments that were filed are wrong. I have the original blueprints." Akanksha said while he dug through his paperwork. At that moment Raki's eyes met Shobbi's.
Raki's eyes narrowed. "Excuse me miss, but this is a private conversation!"
Shobbi ignored Raki and focused on Akanksha. "Excuse me but do you have a list of apartments with the modifications?"
He answered with a nod. "Give me a second. Oh, here it is. 6J, 5J, 4J, its all of the J apartments leading down to the basement."
The news that Shobbi's apartment was one of the changed apartments did not come as a surprise, deep down she was expecting it. "I live in apartment 5J."
Akanksha frowned. "I wish you well, and hope this can be dealt with soon. There is a passage that leads down beyond the basement to a section of an ancient ruin. I wish I could tell you more, but my cursed predecessor's notes are an illegible mess."
"Maybe we can-" Raki started but a glance at Akanksha stopped her.
"He no longer speaks or accepts visitors at the sanitarium," Akanksha said.
Raki looked at Shobbi and Akanksha then she looked up. A second later she looked back at them. "Mr. Bhalla, can I have the blueprints and the apartment list? Also I can use the notes too."
"No, I will not give you the originals, but you can make as many copies as you wish." Akanksha said. Raki gestured at a secretary. She walked up to Raki.
While Raki was giving the secretary instructions on copying the documents from Akanksha, Shobbi decided to find out why he was so emphatic about showing Raki the blueprints.
"Mr. Akanksha, why is it so important that you show Raki the blueprints now?" Shobbi said.
A look of fear crossed Akanksha's face and he looked away. "Sorry but I won't discuss it." For some reason the jade amulet felt warm against Shobbi's skin. She just knew that Akanksha was having nightmares.
"Was it the nightmares?" Shobbi said.
Akanksha looked back at Shobbi with wide brown eyes. He whispered,"They're awful. Please stop it. Stop them."
Raki caught a bit of the exchange. "Stop what, Mr. Bhalla?"
Akanksha just shook his head. He faced away from Raki and Shobbi until the original documents returned. His hands shook as the documents were put back in their folders. He gave Raki and Shobbi a deep bow. "G-good Luck." Akanksha left them as fast as his feet would allow. Seeing the frightened man rush away made a chill rush down Shobbi's back.
"Well, there goes a frightened man. So miss? I didn't catch your name," Raki said.
Shobbi turned and faced Raki. "My name is Shobha Srikanth, my friends call me Shobbi." Raki nodded.
"What are we going to do?" Shobbi said.
"We? I am a trained Constable. I will deal with this problem. Since you live in one of the modified apartments, I might have to have you placed in a safe house with another constable for your protection. The list of modified apartments matches the apartments where there were incidents," Raki said.
"I don't want to seem ungrateful, but what makes you think that you can deal with..." Shobbi said.
Raki's eyes narrowed. "I almost had him, I won't fail again." Again Shobbi felt the warmth of the amulet. She really didn't want to argue with Raki, but then again if she fails...
"You were alone the last time and he got away. It might happen again if you are alone," Shobbi said.
Raki's mind went back to the stinking hallway and the tense chase. She was out of breath, and it seemed that the rapist had escaped her. A quick glance around just showed filthy yellow walls covered with obscene scrawls of graffiti. Raki took some steps down the trash strewn corridor before she came to an intersection.
Left, right or forward, those were her choices. Raki knew that if she picked the wrong one she wouldn't be able to catch the rapist, and get justice for the victims and their families. All of the choices were lit by fitfully blinking lights. Despair filled Raki's heart, but then she felt like she was being watched.
Raki looked to her left, and there was an old lady wearing a house dress standing next to her. It seemed very strange that the woman would just appear. Raki was sure she didn't hear her approach then she focused on the task at hand.
"Grandmother, did you see a large man? Maybe he is bleeding from some wounds?" Raki asked while wondering where the woman came from. Something about that made Raki feel uneasy. The old woman smiled and thrust out a bony arm toward the left corridor. Something about the almost toothless smile managed to reduce the despair in Raki's heart. Raki ran down the left corridor when she reached the end, she took one hurried glance back. The old woman was gone.
"Ms. Paranamurana, are you OK?" Shobbi's voice brought Raki back to the packed noisy police station.
Raki knew deep down that she had help. After a few more doors, she found blood smeared on the walls. Also there was a lot on the floor. So much, Raki began to doubt that her quarry would be alive much longer. Considering what he did to his victims, death would be a fitting punishment. Unfortunately, Raki and several teams of detectives couldn't find his body.
Shobbi took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Now she was going to tell a stranger something she wouldn't tell her mother. "Ms. Paranamurana something in my closet is going to get me. It has even started to mess with my sister. I need your help to get rid of this thing."
"I don't know what I can do, I am just a constable. If your "something" is flesh and blood, I can help. If it's something else..." Raki said while looking away from Shobbi. Shobbi could hear fear in Raki's voice, she was scared and just wanted to not deal with this problem.
"You and I together can stop this thing. Don't do this by yourself or ignore it. Imagine what Mr. Bhalla must have gone through to come here and warn you," Shobbi said as she tried to convince Raki.
Raki thought about saying no, but she remembered the nightmares filled with cold mocking laughter. The nights she would awake covered with sweat while an impotent anger was in her heart.
"Alright, Shobbi, I will help you. I will take the lead on this. You will listen to me and not do anything without my say so. Do you understand?" Raki said. Shobbi nodded.
"Please take a seat while I make arrangements for our little outing," Raki said with a flippant tone. Shobbi looked around and wondered about what was going to happen next. Raki's tone was not fooling her, they both were scared.
Riding in the back of a police car was a new experience for Shobbi, but after driving through streets and seeing people give her nasty looks, she couldn't wait to get out of the car. It seemed like some folks thought that she was a criminal.
For a second, Shobbi imagined being public enemy number one then she remembered why she was in the back of the car. Raki managed to get another constable to help her, Nirav Ahuja. He was an attractive man, but Shobbi sensed a degree of coldness about him. It didn't help that Raki and Nirav started arguing about having Shobbi help out. Shobbi had never heard the word civilian spoken with such disdain. Raki barely won the argument.
Now, they were in Building One's parking lot. The sun was going down in a blaze of orange. Nirav suggested doing a sound check with their walkie's. Raki agreed. Then Raki led the way with Nirav following and Shobbi bringing up the rear. Shobbi wondered what her mother would say when she saw her daughter with two constables. That question was going to be answered real soon as Shobbi unlocked the door and walked into her apartment with the two cops.
Her mother came in from the living room and saw the constables. "Shobha, what have you done?"
Raki smiled. "Your daughter is helping us with an investigation."
Nirav turned to Shobbi. "Shobha, please show us your room."
Shobbi grimaced, it was bad enough that her mother used her full name when she thought Shobbi was in trouble. Nirav didn't want to use her nickname either.
"It's this way," Shobbi said as she pointed down the hallway.
As usual, the closet door was ajar, but this time Shobbi was not afraid. She was not sure why though. Nirav eyed Shobbi's room with thinly veiled disgust while Raki was noncommittal.
"Shobbi, can you remove your clothes please?" Raki asked.
Shobbi looked at the closet and nodded. It took her a few minutes to take out her clothing and place it on the bed. Nirav stood behind Raki as she rapped on the wall. As Shobbi expected, there were no hollow spots.
"Well, Raki, now what?" Nirav asked with a bored tone of voice.
An image of a gaping hole in the closet floor filled Shobbi's mind. "Maybe the floor has a loose board or something?"
Raki looked at the boxes and shoes. She looked at Shobbi. Shobbi rushed over and grabbed the shoes and boxes. Soon the area around her bed looked like she was moving out. Shobbi had a thought that maybe she would have to move again if they fail to stop whatever was coming for her. Raki hit the floor and smiled. She fumbled around a bit until she was able to pull up a black wooden floorboard. The smell of old decaying blood arose from the hole.
Reva stuck her head in the doorway. "What is that terrible smell?"
Nirav wrinkled his nose. "It seems that your daughter has found something interesting."
Reva fixed her gaze on Shobbi. "We will talk later, daughter."
Shobbi looked away from her mother to watch Raki's progress. She had been able to pull up enough boards to create a hole large enough for anyone to fit in. Then she took out her flashlight and shone it down the hole.
"There is a ladder leading down to the next apartment. Nirav, can you go downstairs and get the people there to clear their closet?"
"Yes, Raki. Call me when you're ready," Nirav said as he left the room.
Shobbi noticed that his coldness was replaced by excitement.
Raki turned to Shobbi. "I'm not comfortable with letting you help us, but I have a feeling that you might be helpful. Please listen to me and stay close."
Reva stepped into the room. "Be careful Shobbi."
Raki climbed into the hole. Shobbi waited for her signal to climb in.
"Carefully grab the first rung and let's get this done," Raki said, she seemed annoyed. When Shobbi touched the cold metallic ladder, it felt slimy. It was really dry, but Shobbi wanted to wipe her hands on something clean. The old blood stink was more intense too.
For a few seconds, Shobbi's courage failed. She thought about all of the awful things that could happen to her, but then the voice of the creature in the laundromat came to her. No, I will do this, Shobbi resolved. With a deep breath, she swung her legs into the hole and started down.
It was mostly dark except for Raki's flashlight. Shobbi just focused on climbing down the ladder. There was not much to see except for dusty red bricks when Raki shone the flashlight up the ladder.
After what seemed to be hours of climbing down a ladder in the dark, she arrived at apartment 4J. Several curious people waved at her as she climbed down. These people seem nice, maybe I can visit them later, she thought.
3J on the other hand was just some old guy's apartment, he just peered at Raki and Shobbi as they climbed down.
2J was owned by a fighter, he glared at them. "You will pay for all of the damage?"
Nirav's angry voice sounded out behind the guy. "Yes yes, the police department will pay."
"Raki, wait while I go down to 1J and warn them," he said while placating the guy on 2J. Shobbi could not see anything while she stayed on the ladder.
"Are you okay Shobbi?" Raki said.
"I am fine," Shobbi replied.
After what seemed like hours on the ladder, Raki said they could continue. Shobbi just climbed down and wished that it would be over soon. Nirav climbed down ahead of Raki then Shobbi climbed down past apartment 1J. Shobbi didn't like climbing down past 1J, the ladder felt more slimy. A feeling that she was in great danger rose up in her heart. She started to say something when a dark wind smelling of old blood surrounded her. Shobbi tried to hold onto the ladder, but her hands were numb and powerless. The last word she heard before darkness took her was "Soon!"