It was Friday the 13th. The moon was high in the sky, its light was dazzling over the bonnet of my white Ford Echo sportz. I was travelling to Alappahuza in Kerala, My hometown, I was born and brought up there. My name is Romesh Thomas, I am 27 years old, not thought of getting married yet. For the last 6years, I have been working with an advertising company in Bengaluru. I do pretty well with the salary I get. I live in a rented apartment in J.P. Nagar. It's been 1 year since I had last visited Kerala.
I started my ride at 7 p.m. from Bengaluru and it's almost half-past ten. I covered around 193km, entered the state of Tamil Nadu at Germalam, a forest check post and a small village located at the Karnataka -Tamil Nadu border.
From there I headed towards northeast, turning right I passed ‘Mariyamman Temple' after completing 23km. There I stopped at a dingy Indian oil petrol pump in Talamalai.R.F, it was my first fuel stop at National Highway 948 that connects Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu to Bengaluru in Karnataka. I filled the tank, as I was about to enter into Sathyamangalam Reserve Forest and there is no fuel stop in the next 60-70 km. As I started the engine, there was a knock on the glass window. I lowered the glass and a Tamil guy in his late twenties appeared.
‘I need a lift to Ajanar'. He said. ‘it’s very late and I don’t think there will be any government transport' he continued.
‘Very well! come in’ I said. He came in and we entered the forest. The lights were getting faded behind as we were driving deep into the forest. Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve is a protected area and tiger reserve in the Western Ghats in the Erode District of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
‘Where are you going?’ he asked.
‘To my home, Alleppey' I said. ‘By the way! I am Romesh and You?’ I asked.
‘John...Rodrigruez' he said. He told me that he worked at a firm in Ajanar. ‘As I get a weekend holiday, I travel to Talamalai to meet my fiance once in a month'. He said.
Soon the conversation was in full flow, twisting and turning around various topics. He told me that his parents had left him as he is having an affair with a girl of another cast.
Suddenly, with another sharp twist in the road, my headlight fell on a shabbily dressed man, standing about a hundred meters down the road, waving wildly for a lift. I had almost applied the brakes.
‘Dude, what are you doing!’ he said ‘Didn't you hear the news? Keep going. Do not stop' he continued.
Something in his voice made me hit the gas pedal instead of the brakes. I saw the silhouette of the hitchhiker whirring past us, as I sped full throttle. Soon, he was nothing but a distant shadow in the rear view mirror. The moment I felt something uneasy, like someone was trying to hold me, my mind.
‘He is gone! You can slow down now' he said. My grip on the steering relaxed a bit. I turned towards John; his face was still white, his expression ghastly.
‘Relax! And what fucking news are you talking about?' I asked. He was very frightened, his hands were trembling, he didn’t said anything for sometime and then asked ‘don’t you know, who used live here, in these woods'. I don’t know what he was talking about, but then a name whispered into my mind.
‘Veerappan?’ I said slowly.
He looked at me and gently nodded. Chillness went down through my physique. Veerappan was a bandit turned domestic terrorist who was charged with kidnapping and smuggling sandalwood and ivory in forests in the states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala.
'But he is dead' I said.
‘That's what world knows, we never know the truth' he said. ‘some says he is dead, while others say he ran away before police could catch him. We don’t know whether he is alive or not' he continued.
‘What about the news' I asked.
‘I just read it today. This forest stretch that we are on right now is very infamous for a serial killer who lurks hereafter dark' he said. ‘There have been 3 murders in the past couple of months. The reports say that he pretends to be a hitchhiker and signals passing cars for lift. If they are stupid enough to stop and let him in, ...’ he let his words hang. Then, he pulled out his cell, googled something, and then shoved it in my face.
A few pics, one of a girl, her head smashed in with what could only have been a crowbar, her neck bent at a very strange angle, another one of a couple, both stabbed multiple times in the heart and again, their necks broken, blood splattered everywhere, the corpses still left in the car to rot. As I scrolled through the pictures, the realization now hit me with full force. I already had a hitchhiker in the car!
I looked up from the phone. John was staring at me. His expression had changed. His ghastly expression were gone. There was a sudden gleam in his eyes, a gleam that only comes from knowledge of how the future is about to unfold.
I uttered, slowly – ‘But why hasn't police been able to catch him, this killer? He’s been doing it for a couple of months now. He has a pretty obvious modus operandi. Pretending to be a hitchhiker, flagging down cars, and gutting their owners. He must live somewhere close'.
‘Don’t know' John replied, his tone was neutral and dangerously so. I had to act fast said my inner voice.
I looked directly into his eyes and said ‘I have theory. Would you like to hear?’
By the time we were heading towards 13 hairpin bends, the 13 curves down to the mountain.
He stared back at me. By now, we both knew that this was just wordplay. Soon it would end and then, the real horror would begin. We both realized that there was no escape from it. And we both had made peace with it. I knew I had.
‘Sure!... Go ahead' he smiled.
‘Maybe the reason police haven't been able to catch this serial killer is because they have got it all wrong. Maybe, the killer is not the hitchhiker. Maybe he is the driver! The killer steals a car and drives along this road. When he sees anyone stranded on the roadside, he offers them lift. And once they get into the car, ...’.
In one swift motion, I took out the dagger hidden carefully besides my seat and plunged it right into his heart. His scream broke the silence of the jungle. His eyes were wide in shock.
‘Why?...Why Romesh?’ he asserted. His white shirt was now covered with red Blood.
‘I am not Romesh' I said my voice changed, ‘I am your end...,I am the ruler of these woods...,I am Veerappan' I said. ‘As soon as you passed me behind, I possessed this body and now, I will slowly-slowly cut you into pieces. The way I had mutilated the half dead bodies of that girl, and that married couple. The power that made me God, the destroyer.
I already knew he had understood who I was. Pretty intuitive, eh! But somehow, that made it even more fun - to play with him, before gutting him. Poor John. Trapped like a rat who knows the cat is just playing with it before going for the kill! I slowed down the car and parked it on the roadside. It was pitch black. I got out and carefully shifted John's, now lifeless body to the driver's side. Then I wrapped my ice cold fingers around his limp neck. As my hand jerked, I heard a crunching sound.
It was the sound of a neck snapping.
And that sound was music...
It was a symphony...
It was the trumpet of the Gods...