Urban legends are scary. What if they were just around the corner?
It doesn’t take a first-hand encounter with ghosts to be terrified of them. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks so. I mean, movies will do the trick, amirite? So will a good ghost story. But for me, it’s ghosts on screen that scare the bejeezuz out of me. If there’s a suggestion of a ghostly presence in an eerie video, and the video isn’t from continents away but actually not very far from where you live, then that’s way worse in my book. Way, way worse.
I prefer videos when they’re like reality TV, though of course I KNOW, sometimes they’re just staged to seem candid. Scary reality videos are so powerful because they threaten to spill out of the screen and into your life, just like the loopy video in the film The Ring. Or the found-footage, chill-thrills of a Ragini MMS (the first movie, not the crappy sequel).
I watch scary videos all the time, on the telly, on the Internet. And one day, it happened. I finally watched a video that left me with the heebie-jeebies forever.
I often eat dinner in and around St. Mark’s Road in the centre of Bangalore, an area with loads of young people and buzzing with social activity. One day my pals and I went to eat at Egg Factory, which lies at a small turning off the main road. Nobody who goes to Egg Factory can fail to notice the house opposite. I suppose sometimes when we call a house haunted, we only mean that it’s been abandoned.
But we definitely noticed how this one was a completely unruly, unkempt decaying house with a garden, taking up prime real estate. Also, you couldn’t miss the car. An old ambassador that was grey-blue with large cheetah-patches of rust parked near the entrance. For half a second I considered the possibility that someone lived in that house.
The second time I passed the house and asked about it, I was told that there were lots of stories about it. One version was that two sisters had lived here, obviously from a well-off family. They never married, and one is supposed to have killed the other in a bloody fight. The surviving sister had generally been a quick-tempered character and died without any relatives or friends to inherit the property. Thus, the house was left to decay. And the troubled and unhappy souls of both women continue to haunt the house, garden and car.
My uncle added that apparently there had also been a legal case – he was fuzzy about the details. But newspapers continue to report on this family, house and plot. It’s just too central to fall out of the imagination of the city.
The more I kept passing the place, the more urban legends I heard. Some predictable: one of the sisters had a boyfriend and the other stole him. Hence, the crumbling (literally) equation. Some not-so-predictable: both sisters were murdered by the would-be, land-grabbers and their ghosts remain on that land to ensure no new owner ever gets the house.
And until 2013, no new owner did.
So who are these ghosts? This is the question I couldn’t quite answer. I would walk past and occasionally feel a chill, but I suppose I’m what you call a rationalist.
One night, I couldn’t sleep. At 3 am I felt restless. The city is not to be trusted that late, so I didn’t leave my house. But, strangely, I went online and eventually ended up watching a YouTube video of someone walking around this same house… at night. It was chilling. It’s one thing to hear stories, but completely another to watch a Blair Witch-like recreation of the place.
Horror movies aren’t so scary when they happen in faraway places. But this one was literally happening in a backyard close by!
In the video, someone walked around for 10 minutes with an unsteady cam. Every brushing sound made me jump (and almost pee my pants, eek!). There were many sounds. First, the hall of the house with decrepit furniture. Then the bedrooms with termite-eaten bed frames with plants growing out of them. The kitchen (was it even the kitchen?) had garbage that had probably been dumped a long time ago. I swear I spotted some stray belongings of the two sisters. Or at least I thought I did. Of course my mind instantly noted that I too shared a house with my sister! We were two sisters just like them!
Then the garden: lots of flashing, eerie, diffused moonlight and breaking twig sounds. This was the Blair Witch part – a seemingly endless outdoors where nature can get the better of you. I couldn’t believe this ill-lit, unruly horror-show was the same house I used to see from the outside.
Nothing actually happened in the video, but it was nerve wracking to watch. I cursed the person who put it up. Obviously I would never have gone exploring myself, but somehow, this was worse. I didn’t sleep all night. I was being haunted by proxy!
When you can’t really see the ghost but are scared anyway – what is that?!! I think the power of suggestion is all the more terrifying because it relies on your mind to fill the gaps. What could be worse than your own private fears projected on a screen right in front of you?
Soon after that when I went past the house – in broad daylight – I saw signs that the house had been “grabbed”. The walls had been bulldozed and construction materials had entered the premises. In two short months, an ugly rectangular hotel erected itself there, half-encroaching on the plot.
'St. Mark’s Hotel' now coexists uneasily with the two sisters. Every time I pass it, I feel afraid for the hotel.
By Minu Malik
Photo Credit: Walt Stoneburner