As the morning rays from the mountains poured in through the window, little Geet sat on the floor dressed up for school as her mother braided her hair, and she ran her hands through her doll’s hair.
“So… no one goes there?” she began with her usual questioning routine.
“In the cave? No,” her mother answered.
“But you haven’t actually seen the demon, have you?”
“No, I haven’t. But-“
“Your Ma told you there’s a demon. And her Ma told her that.”
“Why do you believe it? Maybe it was just someone crafting tales?”
Her mother smiled. She had seen this before.
“Do you really think there is a demon in the cave? Maybe it was just a tale,” little Chutki would say.
“It’s been passed down through generations. No one’s ever questioned it,” her mother would then say, very sweetly.
“It’s a folk tale, been going around for generations,” answered Geet’s mother.
“You don’t question folk tales,” she said.
“Maybe they were too scared to ask questions. Or too dumb. I’m neither,” Chutki would say.
“Whoever said that, was either really dumb or a coward.”
“And you are neither?”
Her mother would laugh. “I know. But there are some things you shouldn’t mess with.”
“Well, some things are just not to be messed with.”
The room went silent then as Geet braided the last few strands of her doll’s hair, and hurried out of the room for school.
“I hope you’re not cooking any plans in your head,” Chutki’s mother had said that day, a little sternly.
“You aren’t thinking of actually going there, are you?,” her mother asked as she buckled up her shoes.
“No, of course not,” said Geet.
“No, of course not,” said Chutki.
The sky had started to turn pink, but there were no signs of Geet in the house.
Chutki, too, had taken longer than usual to come home that day.
“Have you seen Geet? She isn’t home yet,” her mother asked the girls playing outside.
“She was with me when school ended,” one of them said. “Then she left for Golu’s shop, I think.”
More time passed than would have taken her to return from the shop.
Chutki’s best friend had betrayed her that day. She had entrusted her with all her secrets. How difficult would it have been to keep it from her mother?
There was just one person then who would’ve known Geet’s whereabouts.
“Sh-she l-left for the m-m-mountain, I think,” said Palli.
Geet’s mother took a lantern and left for the crooked road that led to the mountain. It was a chilly evening, but she was sweating.
Chutki had never seen her mother so worried. She had been sweating, despite the cold air that blew through the mountains. She had carried a lantern, whose glow had washed Chutki in relief.
She was halfway up the mountain when she saw a tiny figure running towards her.
“Geet? Is that you?”
She increased her pace and looked searchingly at the figure with the lantern. It was indeed Geet.
“Ma!” Chutki had said and had leapt into her mother’s arms. She had sobbed and sobbed and her mother had said nothing but calmed her.
She hugged Geet the tightest she ever had.
“They had g-guns. A-and knives.” Chutki had said when she had finally stopped crying.
“Did they hurt you?” her mother said as she scanned through her body for a possible wound.
“Ouch, Ma! It hurts!”
“Where? Where did they hurt you?”
“What? No one hurt me. It’s your hug!”
“Oh,” she said and quickly let go of Geet.
“You know, I went into the cave! And do you know what I saw there?” she said excitedly.
Chutki could never forget what she had seen that day.
“You don’t have to tell me,” Geet’s mother said suddenly. She caught hold of Geet’s hand and started descending the mountain.
“But Ma! There weren’t any demons in the cave!” Geet said, while struggling to keep up with her mother’s pace.
Chutki didn’t see any demons that day. They were humans, but much worse than the demons she could imagine. They were huge, with scary faces. And with hundreds of weapons.
“That’s enough. Let me get you home first.”
But that wasn’t what had scared Chutki. It was what she had seen.
“But Ma! You won’t believe what I saw there! It was such a different place, and it had lots of-“
“Enough, I said,” her mother said, a little sternly this time.
Skeletons. Many more than she could have counted. She was lucky, just escaping in the nick of time, and being passed as a rat.
“But I even brought something for you!”
Geet’s mother froze in her tracks.
“Look here,” she said to Geet, kneeling down and grabbing her by the shoulders. “I believe you, alright? There is no demon in the cave.”
“It’s ok. You don’t have to tell me anything. Whatever you have brought, just leave it here.”
“I know what you must have been through, and it’s all my fault…”
“… I should’ve just answered your questions. Poor girl, you must be so scared…”
“No, I’m not-“
“… but don’t worry, you’re safe now ok?” And she gave Geet a calming hug, but it felt more like she was trying to calm herself.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about Ma, but-“
“We can talk when we get home. Just throw those things away and let’s go.”
“No buts. please. We can talk when we get home.”
“But I brought these flowers-“
“Throw them I said!” she shouted. “I’m telling you throw them and- wait. What?”
“F-flowers. I brought these flowers for you,” Geet said, pulling out handfuls of bright little sparkling things from her pocket.
Her mother stared at her in disbelief.
“Flowers?” she said in a blank shaky voice.
“Yeah. There were lots of flowers in the cave. I picked some for you.”
“Yeah. No demons.”
She broke into tears and laughter at the same time. She dropped to her knees and hugged Geet once more.
“What is it, Ma?”
“Nothing,” she said, as she sighed in relief – as Chutki, sighed in relief.
This was my first story for the 2022 Short Story Challenge by Katie! (It ought to have been out in January, but a little late is better than never.) This year’s theme is ‘Folklore’ – very exciting and you’re always welcome to join in the fun!