The vibrance of the streets of Shillong can be overwhelming, especially on a crowded public holiday, or even just rush hour on weekdays when the colleges are at their peaks of attendance levels. A few steps away from the bustling centers however, and you are transported to a different world, where houses snuggle together in the dying sun and lanes disappear and reappear on the curves of hills. Then the houses trickle out and disappear as the woods start, the noises of humanity replaced by rustling pines and shaking bamboo. At dusk these trees start changing shape, appended by shadows and the trick of fading light, and eventually when the lights are reduced to just blinking windows in the distance, the forest, or rather the ghost of a forest long gone envelops the town in its frigid and beautiful embrace.
The quaint broken cottage where no one stays, or the large old estate stuck in the tides of legality suddenly aggravate your imagination. The quiet streets behind the institutions of education and religion now belong to the night, and the things we cannot see start leaning heavily on the back of your neck. These are those cold moments when you realise that the short cut you take will now be the longest walk ever.
The street lights above you go off in a linear pattern, as you walk under them like the cariacature of a broken hearted man stepping into the black. Corners seem larger and seconds tick slower. A rat (probably) scurries across some dead leaves whilst a cat watches with that green predatory stare. The quaint little cottage, dilapidated for lack of inhabitants now resembles a face in the distance behind a veil of gentle winter mist. This face watches you from the left, away from the path you must take, away from the safety of your lights.
This face is malevolent, its locked doors a gaping mouth and its boarded windows are bleeding eyes, cut by broken glass. The face pulls despite your attempt not to look at it, and even as you look straight you feel the chill on the side of your head, that spot where those broken eyes fall on you. The moon is suddenly obscured by a conniving cloud and our primal fear of the dark never felt so relevant. The stage now seems set, for you to never reach home. The road stretches longer and the breeze feels like a gentle caress pushing you back to where you do not want to go. A deformed tree to your right catches your attention, a giant hand of wood clutching the air above like that of a man who struggled to his last muddy breath while being buried alive in the damp earth. A bamboo grove near what used to be a stream whispers at you, stories of the others who shared our world, angry spirits uprooted from their lands and imprisoned in our stories, now homeless, now hateful.
The road you take continues, having added more miles since the sun had set. The voices of the afternoon are dead, replaced by featureless faces behind the broken windows, hiding in the bushes and swinging behind the tree trunks, hungry and asking you in silence to join them in the games they play. The quaint old cottage is now a ravenous mansion waiting to swallow you, immovable yet inching closer. The dead tree is now a corpse’s hand waiting to drag you down with it.
And the night, is so beautiful and calm. The clouds are dispelled by cold blue moonlight as further beyond you the warm glow of your destination awaits. But the road stretches still as the hands of your watch rotate deeper into the night. You know she watches, growing stronger and stronger. You wonder more, if you will survive the twists of the path that lies ahead. You also wonder, if you should turn around and walk into the darkness.