It was Riya’s third school in the last three years, but she was used to the constant moving by now. Having a plant biologist for a father whose research was funded by multiple universities throughout the country meant constant travelling and frequent moving to new towns.
August marked the fifth month in this quaint Dehradunian school and she was yet to befriend anyone. Today was Friendship’s Day and it was evidenced by the multiple colourful and spangled bracelets sported by her fellow classmates who milled about in the playground. She looked down and glared at her bare wrists, as if wishing hard enough could tempt the fates to give her a friend. She rolled her eyes and thought viciously, the fates had been entirely unforthcoming so far. As the bell rang with a flourish, she grabs her bag and makes her way home forlornly. Home.
For now home meant the dilapidated old townhouse rented by the university for her father. It had been empty for almost thirty years after a tragic fire accident caused the death of the daughter of the owner. The family moved away to the US and it was the last anyone heard of them.
Her way home stretches far as she slowly ambles down the road. The dark woods stood sentinel at the edge of the path, opposite to the sun slowly slinking down the horizon. Her thoughts were scrambled by the acute loneliness she felt. She wanted a friend. A soulmate. A kindred spirit to fill the void of her absentee father who was too consumed by his life’s work to notice his daughter growing up silently by his side. So she prayed hard to any and every god to answer her prayers. Her eyes are shut so she doesn’t notice the sun disappearing, misses the shadows enveloping the nearby trees, the darkness cloaking her shoulders. The school had fallen far behind and now she stands in front of the iron wrought gates of her house. A voice whispers back to her. The crooning is a sweet, eerie melody that fills her ears. Her name echoing in the wind.
Riya opens her eyes and there, standing by the low swing in the middle of her garden is a girl about her own age. She is ghostly pale, with lanky hair floating around her shoulders even though there is no wind. Her eyes are empty yet full of hunger as she gazes at Riya. Her clothes look burnt. The smell of smoke and fire seems to waft in the dead air around her. Her hands are raised in a phantom greeting and Riya freezes as she notices the friendship bands hanging limply from the bony fingers. The girl tilts her face and smiles. Her grin is vicious and teeth razor sharp.