The Parking Lot - Prologue

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If Vidyut Shastri were a superstitious man, he wouldn’t have gone to the mall that day.
He woke up at around seven, over two hours later than usual.
Malavika Shastri walked into the bedroom and saw her husband lying awake in bed. ‘I tried to wake you, but you seemed like you were in a coma.’
Vidyut pushed off his blanket, rubbed his eyes. ‘Just a bad dream.’
‘That’s new,’ Malavika walked over to the windows and drew the curtains. Warm sunlight streamed in and gave the room a yellowish-white glow. ‘You hardly have dreams, let alone bad ones.’
‘Never mind. Do you need any help in the kitchen?’
‘Yes, please,’ she said. ‘But get washed up first. Let’s have some coffee.’

Vidyut couldn’t stop thinking about his dream. Malavika and Abhishek were dead. They were on their way to Shivamogga, Malavika’s parents’ place. The bus driver had tried to avoid a dog, hit the barrier of the bridge, and tumbled over into the river, killing all the passengers.
‘What’s taking you so long?’ Malavika called from the kitchen.
Malavika and Abhishek were leaving for Shivamogga today. Vidyut thought of asking them to skip it, but then thought otherwise. It would have been silly of him to consider nightmares seriously.
‘Coming!’ He got off the bed and scurried towards the bathroom.

‘I wish I could have come too,’ Vidyut said.
‘Oh, that’s all right,’ Malavika said. ‘You will get bored there. I know how much you hate weddings. We’ll be back by tomorrow morning, anyway.’
‘Wonder how you managed to convince him to go with you though.’
‘I had to bribe him, of course. If he accompanies me today, he can go on that trip with his friends next week.’
Abhishek came into the living room and joined them. ‘What’s funny?’
Although the dream still lingered somewhere in the back of his head, Vidyut forgot all about it when he saw his son. The boy was growing up fast. The moustache was quite prominent on his face now and his new hairstyle looked abysmal.
‘What are you looking at, appa?’ Abhishek said. ‘Don’t tell me that my hairstyle is bad again. You’ve said it a million times already.’
‘It’s the worst hairstyle I’ve ever seen in my life,’ Vidyut said and Malavika laughed delightfully. ‘But anyway, tell me about this trip you are going …’

It wasn’t until his coffee break in the evening that Vidyut thought about going to the mall. His colleagues were talking about the new Telugu movie, which was a massive hit. It was playing in IMAX, too. He remembered his son talking about it over dinner. ‘The screen size is four times bigger than the normal screen size, appa. It’s amazing to watch a movie there.’ He had conveniently changed the subject when Vidyut asked him what the ticket price was. ‘So appa, I was thinking of taking engineering after my plus two –’
‘Smiling to yourself, Shastri,’ a colleague of his broke his stream of thoughts. ‘What is it?’
‘Nothing,’ Vidyut said. ‘What is this new movie about?’
He wasn’t a fan of Telugu films. Or for that matter, any language films. His sources of entertainment were plays and classical music concerts. But he was curious about watching a movie on a big screen that his son had babbled on. His wife and son wouldn’t be back until tomorrow morning, so why not go to the mall? Dinner and movie. The idea of having some alone-time didn’t seem bad.
He left office at seven and rode to Horizon Mall.

His son was right about the screen size. It was enormous. His colleagues, however, were not so right about the film. It was entertaining in bits and pieces, but nothing to brag about. Either way, the overall experience wasn’t a disaster. If there was anything that he regretted, it was the food. Never ever eat anything in the mall, he vowed.
Had he not eaten anything in the mall, it would have turned out be all right. He would have gone home and slept nicely. But butter roti and matar paneer had messed up his stomach. While other people went out the mall, Vidyut Shastri went to the loo.
He came out after straining his stomach for over twenty minutes.
It was nearly two and the mall seemed empty. For a man who had made it a habit to hit the bed at ten-thirty every night, being awake till two was not a comfortable feeling. He hurried across the floor towards the lift.

When he came into the basement parking lot it was exactly 2 a.m. Except for his scooter, a black Honda Activa, there wasn’t any other vehicle nearby. He surmised he was the last one to leave the mall. Even the guards were nowhere to be seen. He rushed towards his scooter.
The parking lot was hot and dusty. The white tube lights burned brightly against the columns and the floor. The smell of smoke and dust stung his nostrils and he sneezed. The faint buzz of tube lights made him aware how silent it was in the basement. He quickened his pace.
Seconds later he stopped in his tracks when he felt a shadow move somewhere behind him. He turned around. It wasn’t a shadow. The light had gone out at the farther side of the parking lot. He turned and walked back.
He reached his scooter and all the lights in the parking lot went out at once. He jumped a little. He waited a few seconds for the generator to kick in. It seemed quite unusual to him. Malls like these were equipped with high-functioning power generators. Doesn’t matter, he thought. He didn’t need the lights in the parking lot to start his scooter. He would be out of the mall in ten seconds.
He reached into his pocket to fish out the keys when the lights came back on again.
He looked up and around at the vast spread of light in the empty parking lot. It somehow seemed smaller now. It was as though the darkness had squeezed the parking lot in. He turned to his scooter – or perhaps to where his scooter had been before the lights went out.
It took him a few moments to get his head straight. He was standing right in front of his Honda Activa before the lights went out. No question about it. Did the parking lot gobble up his vehicle in the dark? Surely, his mind was playing tricks. His stomach was messed up, sure. Not his head. Or maybe a messed up stomach shakes something in the brain? He almost laughed at his thoughts and shook his head. There must be some explanation to this.
The explanation, although not a perfect one, was staring at him from another corner of the parking lot. He stared back at his vehicle. A bug fluttered and buzzed around the tube light above him. He looked up. The bug buzzed for another second around the light and then, as though being shot, it dropped to the floor near his feet. The tube light above him went out.
Vidyut stared ahead at his vehicle. He couldn’t be sure of what he was seeing. He took out his glasses, wore them, and saw again. Air seemed to go out of his lungs at that instant. The humidity in the parking lot rose and he started sweating profusely. He wiped the sweat from his forehead with his shirt sleeve. His scooter was still where it was before, but now, its kickstand had come off and held itself steady, its handle straight.
Vidyut took a step forward and the scooter responded with kindness. It moved a bit towards him. Before he could comprehend what was happening, hot wind blew into the parking lot with a terrific force and the dust boiled up to his face. He felt as though someone had gathered all the dust and cobwebs in the parking lot and doused on him. He sneezed, coughed, spat.
He wiped his face with his handkerchief, spat on the ground again, and looked up. The wind stopped blowing, the dust settled down. His scooter was moving towards him with a comfortable ease of an old friend coming to shake hands. At first, Vidyut stayed put, not knowing what to do. All his life he had been an atheist; neither did he believe in supernatural elements. He believed that there were answers to everything in life. The only reality he was being offered was a challenge to fight for his beliefs.
The scooter was still moving towards him quietly. Vidyut took a few steps back as the scooter’s headlights came on. He took a few more steps back – or tried to. No matter how many steps he took backwards, he was still where he was. It was like turning around on a treadmill and walking backwards. He dropped his eyes a little and … the tires! Oh, dear god.
The scooter wasn’t moving. Its tires weren’t rolling. When he had tried to walk back, he hadn’t been able to. Earlier when he had felt the parking lot had squeezed in – it wasn’t just a feeling. It had squeezed in. Now it was happening again. The parking lot was closing in, squeezing itself. And whatever was stuck in it was being crushed, like a pair of gigantic hands holding the two corners of the parking lot and squeezing, squeezing, squeezing.
The black Honda Activa was closing in on him. He slid on the floor towards the vehicle, his arms swaying sideways in a futile attempt to gain balance. He felt as though he was on a skateboard. An amateur skater who had never tried skateboarding before, but somehow managed not to fall off.
When Vidyut and the scooter were about twenty feet away, they stopped. They were stopped. Maybe for some pre-fight instructions? No clean fight, no protecting yourself at all costs, low blows, blows to your kidneys, blows to your head and face, blows to all parts of your body, understood? Good. Now back to your corner and get ready for a losing battle.
Vidyut looked around one last time, for a saving grace, for an answer, for an explanation, for anything, something. The parking lot had become smaller, had squeezed in a lot more than he thought.
He turned back to the vehicle, his face dripping with sweat, his heart beating hard against his chest. There was no escaping from this, the thought hit him before anything else.
The scooter held itself steady.
Its headlight went out and the parking lot embraced the darkness once again.
Moments later Vidyut Shastri screamed with all his might. 

Copyright © Karthik Kotresh 2017

Comments (2)

Wow...is the book out yet? Congratulations!!

No, not yet. Will upload it today or tomorrow. It will be an e-book, by the way. Self-publishing on amazon.in.
Thank you. :)

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