Vikram wandered the corridors of the fort unattended. He was already bored of the constant droning of their guide and had decided to move on from the group. He already regretted coming to this small obsecure fort. All he had constantly heard was a long list of local kings who had uneventfully succeeded each other. No battles, no glory, no conquests. Especially no lascivious accounts of lecherous rulers who abducted princesses or subjugated maids in the palace. Ofcourse he would never voice his fascination for such tales loudly, but the gloomy corridors and dimly lit passages of this fort were giving wings to his most inner desires.
He imagined how in a different era he would have chased Nikita in these corridors, and forced her to do his bidding. She was to blame ofcourse. He had only tried to kiss her, as was his right as her boyfriend. Weren’t couples who were committed to each other supposed to indulge in frolicking. She had slapped him in midst of the party in front of everyone. She was apparently disgusted, that he did not take her consent and assumed she was ok with it. ‘Consent’ was such an abused word these days he scowled. Had she not already given her consent, when they agreed to be a couple three weeks ago. The slap still stung, and more than the slap was the humiliation. He would have to teach her a lesson.
‘STOP’ echoed a voice behind him, “Go no further”. Vikram engrossed in his musings, had not being paying attention. His wanderings had brought him to another one of these dimly lit corridors, except this one had reddish hues to it, as if lot of blood had spiller into the soft lighting. His morbid imagination was already at play.
The voice was closer this time. “You are stepping on hallowed ground. Go no further. Men are not allowed beyond this point”. Vikram turned. The voice was of a sprightly old woman of his grandmother’s age. His interest was mildly piqued. He asked haughtily “Why aren’t men allowed further? What part of the fort am I in”.
The woman squinted at him. “This corridor leads to the Sanctum Sanctorum of the Devi” she put it simply. “Males cannot proceed beyond this point”. Vikram was irritated. “You are repeating yourself budhia. I asked why?”.
“This was not always so. The temple was open to all till 300 years ago. But it was defiled in the 500 years ago in the 17th century. The crown prince, fell in love with a local courtesan. He wooed her, but she did not feel the same for him. She explained that she did not desire him. The prince could not stomach this rejection and he chased her through the fort even as she pleaded him to let her be. The courtesan finally, took refuge in this temple assuming that the sanctity of the place would shame the prince into not following through with his plan of forcing himself on her. But to no avail. The prince raped her in the Sanctum itself right below the altar of the goddess Durga, ignoring the pleas and sobs of the courtesan. Having satisfied his lust, he hung her by the temple bell, as an example to other women who refused his advances.
It is said that the Murti of the Devi shed tears of blood that night, and it does so every night since then. The prince died the next day in tremendous agony. The story goes that he had gone hunting tigers in the forest. When he did not return, his companions abandoned the hunt and began a search for him. He was found sprawled on the forest floor, his gut torn apart by a tiger, eyes gouged and the tounge bitten off by a crow. Since then all men who entered the temple, died the next day under mysterious circumstances. So it has been our family’s obligation to warn wandering males if and when they reach this part of the fort”
“Old wives tales don’t scare me budhia. If it were so dangerous, the management would have blocked this place up. A simple minded old woman would not be there to warn people”
The woman gave a toothy grin,” to believe or not what I said is up to you. Enter at your own peril”. Vikram brushed her aside and entered the corridor. The silence seemed to deepen as he went further. He could see an arch in the distance. It was pitch black ad if it seemed to drink up all the surrounding light.
He entered the arch, and into the Sanctum proper. He could see it was round in shape and in the centre was the altar. It was sufficiently eerie to even make him look around his shoulders for a while. It was when he paid attention to the Devi’s Murti, that his attention was truly arrested. Hadn’t the hag said that the Murti was of goddess Durga. On closer inspection, he realised it was, but in a very twisted way. The color of the skin had turned pitch black. The eyes were red and there were definitely carved markings of tears on the cheeks.
The red saree seemed as if bathed in colour of blood. Even the tiger’s mouth was shown chewing on red meat, with blood dripping down its chin. The trishul was not pointed upwards as was the customary position, but pointed straight at the visitors once they entered the statue’s presence. It was blood red in colour. Interestingly the place of Mahisasur at her feet was empty. The Devi was neither Kali nor the benign Gowri, nor was she the warrior Durga. She was something that Vikarm had never seen.
He was truly intrigued by the story and now the quite different statue of the goddess. An interesting day, finally he thought. A splendid story and a gruesome ending. Ofcourse it was embellished, but quite a tale. Maybe he would bring Nikita, here in some pretext and they would have a nice roleplay of the prince and the courtesan. Ofcourse he had no intention of forcing himself on her, but a slight dose of fear would do good and make her toe the line.
He returned through the passage. The woman was no where to be found. He did not give it a second thought. He rapidly descended the fort and reached the town. He began to search for an auto, to take him to the station. As he waited for one to approach, he leaned on the lighting pole for support.
“Zap” the electricity hissed, even as Vikram’s back arched and a soundless scream escaped his mouth. The locals rushed to push him away from the pole, but the damage was already done. Vikram suffered an untold amount of agony. His eyes had burst due to the electric discharge and he had bitten his tongue in half in the aftermath of the pain. His skin off his extrmeties was already peeling off. The locals rushed him to the hospital, where doctors managed to save his life. But it would be a life which would be worse than death.
Far away in the sanctum of the Devi, the bells tolled, the tears of blood again flowed, but these were of happines not of sorrow of old. A daughter had been saved today. A thin smile carved itself on the Devi’s otherwise frozen face. She had learnt to adapt to the newer times, slowly but surely. The old woman outside the sanctum heard the tolling of the bells and her voice cackled ” may the Devi’s will be done. Tathastu” even as she remembered the prince who had brutally raped and murdered her ancestor from an era gone by.