The months from August to December were always the most testing months in Rhea’s life every year. They managed to make her nervous, irritated, upset and downright afraid. It was not because she had any bad memories associated with events that happened in those months. No, it was because she was frightened of one of the most common things people found enjoyable. She was afraid of what even children would enjoy. Rhea always felt her life would have been much better if she didn’t have the curious phobia. Whoever has heard of Ombrophobia – The fear of rains?
The doctors called it common anxiety disorder. They stressed on ‘common’, she heard only ‘disorder’. Her whole life was consumed by fear, sometimes of the most common things. She couldn’t shake off the feeling that disaster was just around the corner, always ready on its hind legs to pounce on the next unsuspecting victim. She could not understand how some people could see past the bleak, grey clouds and imagine the beautiful blue of the sky beyond. Some people called it an advanced form of depression and wallowing in sadness. Some others called her fear a manifestation of her 3 failed relationships. Rhea didn’t even bother to explain that the fear had been with her since she was a toddler, and her first relationship had been when she was 18.
No matter what anyone said, Rhea knew one thing for certain. Her fear was not commonplace. All around her people seemed to be actually enjoying the rain. Whenever she saw little children playing with their faces upturned towards the rain, their mothers calling out to them desperately, she wanted to rush to them and pull them to the safety of the nearest shelter. But before she could don her rain protective gear, and protect herself with boots, umbrella and a proper jerkin, the mothers themselves had pulled the children inside.
Rhea had not been entirely inept either. When everyone’s advice seemed to make no sense, she turned to the internet. Hours of research only reinforced the lies the people around her told. She had only been wiser to the etymology of ‘Ombrophobia’. As to whether or not ‘Ombros’ meant ‘storm of rain’ in Greek, it did little to soothe her anxiety – which was very much present and threatening. As a final resort, she heeded the advice of her best friend and colleague, Varsha, and associated herself with people who seemed to actually love rain – more than the usual limits. Varsha had assured her that it would teach her to see the beauty of rain instead of fearing it. She succeeded in this endeavour – not of shedding the fear, but of finding someone who loved rain wholeheartedly. It was how she had found Rohan, who was now her fiancé. In an ironical sense, rain was what brought them together. And it was rain that had first made them lay eyes on each other.
She had been extremely anxious that morning. It was raining and she was nervous. Frustrated, she tried to walk on the muddy and slippery platform without damaging herself too much. Intent on her track and footing, she had not noticed the man standing in front of her and bumped straight into him. Looking up in shock to apologise, she stood stock still, astonished. Unlike other humans who had rushed to cover themselves with an umbrella or ran under some shelter, he was looking skywards, letting the raindrops drench his face. Rhea forgot her apologies and stood staring at him. He looked down at her suddenly, embarrassed that he had stood in her way. He apologised profusely but all Rhea saw was his face.
While she detested the very concept of rain, he obviously loved it. While she covered herself as much as she can from rain, he drenched himself. While she stuttered and stammered at new people and almost fainted if she had to talk to unknown people, he seemed perfectly at ease. He apologised softly and moved aside, to let her pass. But Rhea had not walked away that day. She had stood rooted to the same spot so long that he had had to shake her slightly. Rhea didn’t notice the rain that had now gotten inside her jerkin. He had led her to a sheltered place, afraid that she was in shock. One thing had led to another and soon, Rhea learned the name of this unique human who was everything she was not. Rohan.
Rhea’s irrational phobia of the rain hadn’t changed, but the rain had given her the gift of a lifetime. She got acquainted to him, and slowly their relationship had blossomed into the engagement stage. He reminded her often, whenever she refused point blank to step out into the rain, that it was the rain that brought them together. Somehow she couldn’t shake the feeling that it would be the very same rain that would one day separate them, cruelly take him away from her. She sighed. Now she just had one more thing to fear about rain.
On the night this story begins, Rhea was travelling, for the first time in her life, without a bus ticket. She had forgotten her purse in her office and had walked out. By the time she realised it and rushed back, the security resolutely refused to let her in. Armed with only her phone and cursing herself for not storing petty cash in her phone case, Rhea had spent the entire bus journey tensed and upset. She decided to get down at Rohan’s office so he could drop her home – lessening the time of her ticketless journey. She called him up and he sounded more than eager for the job. Yes, he assured her, he had a meeting but he was cutting it short and coming out presently. He would wait for her at his stop at 9PM sharp.
The bus stop came into view – with no Rohan in sight. She got down from the bright comfort of the bus into that deserted street with mild trepidation. He was never late, and the office was a few hundred metres away. He could have made it well on time – if he had started when he told her he would. But nine PM came and had become ten minutes past, fifteen, then twenty minutes past but still there was no sign. Rhea debated repeatedly pelting him with calls (the two she had done had been unanswered) but didn’t want to become the ‘pissed off girlfriend’ in front of his colleagues if, by an off chance, he was still in the meeting.
Rhea chided herself for believing that he would arrive on time. How could a man in an official meeting just drop his commitments halfway through and arrive at the bus stop to pick her up, that too on such short notice? Minutes ticked by, and Rhea started feeling uneasy. She noted with disdain that since the bus that had dropped her off, there had not been even a single bus in the stop. Dogs had started howling, and she was sure there was that humid, oppressing tang in the air that meant a heavy downpour was on its way.
Sheltering herself safely in the brightly lit cheery reception of his office building, Rhea tried calling Rohan’s number one last time. It went unanswered. The lone receptionist, (who had been looking bored while clocking and admitting the graveyard shift of employees), now started looking at Rhea with mild interest. Rhea liked to assume that it was because she had nothing else to do, but her instinct told her that the woman somehow recognised her. Mustering up the courage to talk to this stranger, Rhea found her legs walking of their own accord to the reception table. She cleared her throat and the woman looked at her fully, finally having a legitimate excuse to stare. Rhea licked her lips nervously and said, “Excuse me, I am here to meet one Mr. Rohan Kumar, he is working in R and D, 4th floor.”
“Oh, you are Rohan’s friend?” the receptionist questioned with eager eyes.
Rhea felt a stab of irritation. “Yes, I am his fiancée, now if you will please tell me how to reach Rohan here, I need to get home.”
“What do you mean how to reach Rohan? Have you tried his mobile?” The woman asked dubiously.
“I have tried calling him many times and he hasn’t attended because he is in some meeting. I want to have a word with him so I thought I could ask you if there was some other mode of communication within this office to reach him?”
The receptionist looked genuinely confused for a moment. When Rhea raised her eyebrows impatiently, she said in an uncertain tone, “But… there is no official meeting scheduled here today. And last I checked, Rohan had already checked out of office…”
Before Rhea could respond, Rohan’s team leader Varun, a guy Rhea knew, thankfully, came out of a side room and greeted her profusely. Varun had been present at their engagement and she liked the talkative, caring man.
“Hey, Rhea… so nice to meet you, what are you doing here? What a surprise! Did Rohan forget to take something and had to drag you all the way back here?”
“Hello, nice to meet you too… And no, I have come here in search of Rohan…”
“What?” the balding, middle-aged man frowned in confusion.
“Sir, I have come to meet Rohan. He said he would pick me up from the bus stop around the street and he didn’t turn up, so I came here in search of him…”
Varun looked flummoxed. “Rhea wait, I guess there has been some confusion. Rohan left more than half an hour ago telling me he had to pick you up. We were having an impromptu meeting for a project and he left rather hurriedly because he said you would practically incinerate him if he were late. Did you try his mobile?”
Rhea felt a strange sense of foreboding. Her stomach seemed to have vanished on vacation and she felt light headed. The thunderclaps outside brought her back to her senses and in desperation, she looked out the window that showed the deserted road illuminated by sudden, continuous bursts of lightning. It was not like Rohan to be careless, thoughtless or unpunctual. He had sounded so normal on the phone. He had assured her he would be waiting for her when her bus arrived. She should have sensed something was amiss when he didn’t turn up.
Feeling suddenly claustrophobic, she turned her attention to the genial older man who was now trying Rohan’s number with his face taut with tension. Apparently, there was no response and he was growing agitated. The heavy rains outside did nothing to help her mood. It suddenly seemed ominous. The poor man looked even more harried now and said, “Rohan left on his bike thirty five minutes ago, Rhea. He should have been there by nine pm. I don’t know what kept him.”
“Okay, sir. There might be a logical reason for this… I guess I should go my way, then!”
“No, I will drop you home. We will anyhow cross the bus stop on our way back and maybe Rohan is there right now, waiting for you… come, let us go… I have my car, Rohan has told me about your fear of rain, and you can be sure I won’t leave you alone in this downpour. Just come.”
Rhea felt awkward. “Uh, no sir, it is okay, I will find an auto and reach home. Thanks anyway, sir.”
“Rhea, NO. No arguments. Even if it were not raining, I wouldn’t leave you alone in this dark night. And I also want to know what happened to Rohan. So wait here while I get my bag and we’ll leave.”
Rhea looked thankfully at the man’s retreating back, when her mind registered the colour of the shirt he was wearing. Purple. The colour of flower blossoms, people called it. But to Rhea it had always been the colour of doom, yet another one of her unnamed phobias. She also noted a weird brown stain of what was probably coffee on his back. Her idle mind wondered how one could have coffee stain the back of his shirt unless someone else poured it on him, either intentionally or accidentally. Before she could let her superstitions or overactive imagination take over, she turned away and within minutes, joined him in his car.
The car lurched its way out of the parking lot and was soon inching slowly in the sometimes knee deep waters of the potholed road. Rhea kept her eyes peeled for any sign of Rohan. The street was strangely deserted, with not another soul in sight. It was not uncommon for roads to be empty during the rains, but Rhea’s mind conjured up various scenarios as to why the whole world suddenly seemed to consist of only herself and her companion in the car. When they neared the street corner, her sharp eyes noted Rohan’s bike, parked haphazardly near the trunk of the huge banyan tree that bordered the bus stop.
She quickly pointed this out to Varun and he looked at the bike hard for a moment before confirming it as Rohan’s. The momentary lapse in concentration had made him lose track of the road and when he turned back to it, he noted a huge obstacle, what seemed to be the carcass of a dead calf or some huge dog hit the front bumper of the car. Cursing loudly, he swerved, and the car lurched to a stop near the banyan tree, the front end dipping into a ditch. Rhea felt her stomach knot once again. Assuring herself it was just a minor glitch, she debated whether or not to get down and look around the bike for some sign of Rohan.
Varun meanwhile got down from the car after strictly instructing Rhea to stay in and went check the damage. The lurch had been really bad and he prayed he would not have any serious problems with the car, not when he had a woman he had to take home safely. Rhea watched him disappear under the hood with a strange desperation. Her eyes were glued to the lone bike standing haphazardly on its side stand, and it only increased her anxiety because she knew Rohan hated parking his vehicle like that, even if it were for a few minutes. Trying to avert her eyes from the bike, she turned to her right, where she saw the huge carcass floating around the car. She stifled a gasp and wished the old man would hurry up. She assured herself that she was safe as long as she didn’t get drenched in the rain.
Nothing but serious love for Rohan could have made her attempt the stupid action she did next. Her overactive brain perceived a flash of blue amidst all the blackness. She remembered that very well, it was from Rohan’s bag, a unique periwinkle blue that she had gifted him for his last birthday. There was no way on earth Rohan would leave his laptop bag, a gift from her, unattended in the rain. She almost got out but then remembered Varun’s instructions. Unfortunately, hearing a mild thud of something heavy falling to the ground that seemed to come from the front end of the car was all she needed to forget her irrational phobia and get out in the rain.
Rhea used her hands to shield her eyes from the rain and ran to the front of the car, forgetting Rohan’s bike and the bag. The sight in front of her eyes stopped her dead in her tracks. Lying face down on the road in ankle deep water was the inanimate body of Varun. Rhea then screamed – a scream of terror. Her mind instructed her to run away, but her legs refused to cooperate. With shaking hands, she bent down and touched the man lying prone on the road. Not even her wildest phobias or most insane dreams could have prepared her for the sight that met her eyes.
Clothed in the same stained purple shirt Varun had been wearing, his face unnaturally bloated, clearly dead – was not Varun. Rhea blinked again. Her eyes fell upon the oddly contorted face of the only man she had ever loved enough to marry – the face of the man who loved rain, the man who taught her to curb her fear of it – the man whose corpse now lay drenched in the rain – Rohan.
For the next part, please follow the supremely talented Kishor LN @ Blind Man’s Bluff!
REQUESTS FOR MY SUCCESSOR(S):
- We are trying to form this into a cohesive series of chapters that should be related to one another and form a complete story.
- There are no fixed rules. The story I have begun can be twisted to any genre. But try to limit it to paranormal or psychological thriller probably. Strictly avoid fantasy and parallel dimensions. Let us bring this beginning to a good end.
- Please keep the main characters intact – and don’t make any completely improbable changes that will alter the story beyond recognition or logic and make our readers forget where it all began.
- Kindly adhere to the word count – around 2700 – 3000 words for uniform chapter length. I really did try reducing, but this was the best I could do.
- Thank you for taking this up, and feel free to give your own touches to the story, developing it into something your successors would feel easy to follow.