She turned to run, dragging her children with her, and bumped against something hard. A pillar... She grabbed her children, pressed her body against the pillar and pulled the children close to her. She saw the form bending and flailing, as if looking for them. She used the cover of the pillars and the darkness in the parking lot – for she realised this is what it was – to stealthily make it to their car at the entrance.
The car stood with the bonnet closed. Standing on its own, with no Udit in sight. Where was he! She looked here and there and went around the car. But there was no sign of him. Worried, she turned back to look at the building. She saw the giant forms looming large, but the original one seemed shrunk in size. In fact, it was shrinking fast! Her heart beat raced. What if the shrunk form came running towards them? Where was Udit when you needed him!
Had he run away? Had he come looking for them? She looked towards the building, her heart sinking. She could find no clue and the dark made it difficult to make out anything. She took her mobile phone out and dialled his number. She heard the phone ringing, and the sound seemed to be coming from inside the car. She looked at the complex again, wondering where he was. She felt certain that he had gone into the complex but the two had missed each other.
Now what should she do? She decided to wait, hoping he would come back. The monsters were still swaying, but she realised that the shrinking one had not followed her. Had that caught Udit?
As the seconds dragged to minutes, it seemed like hours to her. If she were alone, the question would have been easier to answer. With two preteens on her hand, her dilemma deepened. Obviously leaving them behind was out of the question. Not looing for Udit was out of the question. What was she waiting for? She turned to her children and said softly, “Your papa is in. We have to go back and look for him. You have to come with me… Be quiet, okay?”
The children nodded gravely.
She turned to face the colony gate and braced herself for the worst. She could still see the monsters swaying. It sent a shiver down her spine. They looked eerie. She determinedly ignored them and hoped they would ignore her too.
She glanced around and could find no trace of any movement. Where should she look for Udit?
There seemed to be at least 70 apartments in the complex. She ran a quick eye and noted that there were 8 blocks; each block had three floors; each floor seemed to have three houses, though it was hard to be sure of that.
Was he climbing up and down each block looking for them? But they all seemed abandoned and dark. Even the prospect of meeting him in one of the blocks could not motivate her to step into any of them. She decided to wait. He was bound to come down.
She was exposed, in case someone was watching. But that also meant Udit would be able to spot them from any of the floors if he cared to peep out. Only, there seemed no chance of that.
It was eerie and she felt scared, she reluctantly admitted to herself. But she didn’t let it show, for the sake of her children. “What are we waiting for?” Manya whispered.
“Where do you think daddy is?” she whispered back.
“Shall we split and search?” Param, the devourer of detective novels, asked.
Sulekha shook her head firmly.
She glanced behind her. It was dark and impenetrable. The complex was at least visible to her in starlight, and the monsters etched obviously against the dark sky – darker than the sky.
She observed them, to see which direction they would move in. It dawned on her that they were rooted to one place. They bent forward, backward, swung their arms… But they did not move from the spot they stood in. Even the one that had shrunk had not budged an inch.
She frowned, wondering if she was overreacting. Maybe they were harmless. But why were they there? She moved forward slowly, egged on by curiosity, forgetting Udit for a second. Forgetting even her fears. She ducked into the shadows, forgetting to be visible when Udit came down. She entered the parking space, glad that it was at ground level and not underground. The cover of the apartments above protected her from the prying eyes of the monsters. But what else lurked in this place, who could tell?
She looked at the stairway entrances on this side. Something whizzed suddenly, brushing against her, and she squealed before she could stop herself. She turned and was relieved to see it was just a bat. Just a bat, she thought and smiled wryly at the irony. Once upon a time, that would have freaked her out. She kept an eye open for more bats when she thought she heard a humming sound.
The bat hovered around her and the sound was coming from the bat. Her heart stopped. She stared at it. Bats tend to circle, she knew. But this one hovered above her. She did not know much about bats, except that there was a vampire bat that sucked blood. She wished she had paid closer attention to the photographs. Right now, in this darkness, she couldn’t make much out.
She reached out for her children and told them to keep an eye on the bat. Gingerly she sought for some weapon to chase the bat away.
It was then that she realised that though the bike was mostly empty, there was one truck standing near the compound wall, outside the parking area.
She started moving towards that but stopped because the bat seemed to follow. She turned to look at it squarely. She remembered Udit, and that he had not come down yet. She realised the monsters were still swishing but had made no move.