The fire was cracking up on the winter freezed logs. It was making the noise like of breaking the knuckle then and now in low murmuring voice. The gathering around the bonfire could only hear it, and startling often thinking someone was coming up, and then laughing at each other for this.
Though I used the word gathering but actually it is a group of four boys—two had hardly crossed the age of ten while other two were in their early teen—fourteen and fifteen. In the limited fire light similarity on their faces could be deciphered; they were brothers. They had don’t came up here to the cave to plan something nuisance or to play; but they came up with the old storyteller whom all the people of the Town—from just-started-speaking child to the few-days-left old man—call Galpo Dadu or Grandfather Storyteller.
The old man was there sitting on the other side of the fire. His old wrinkled face was veiled up with white beards. He was smoking on self-made hookah, the smoke of which creating the illusion of a long beard from under his chin. His hair was golden white and wavy and still full at this age. In the bonfire light his eyes were shining like a cat eyes shine in the dark—they were once big ones but now they were small hidden under white bushy brows and age old eyelids.
Nobody remembered how he came into the Town and took shelter in this cave. Even the old eighty-year old Mr. Bakshi gets surprised when he couldn’t reply to questions regarding the Storyteller; he was a private detective in his young age to few years back. His memory is a matter of proud to others because he remembers everything in the minuest details. People came up to him, thus, when they need a date like that of birth or death or marriage or anything important in their life. Bakshi though remember them but still he maintains journals, twenty-five in number while the twenty-sixth was getting filled up, and it was kept at the Town library.
Even Guruji failed when he tried to calculate his age through some complicated lunar charted procedure to determine someone age if his or her date of birth was not known. The result was he was older than this Town.
Nobody, thus, know much of the old storyteller’s life or age but they knew of his ability of telling story, ranging from the bedtime fairy tale to much more bigger and epic story. No one gets tired listening to him even if he repeated or retell a story, and that was the magic of the Galpo Dadu and his tone ranging at different octave according to the need of the story, and his ability to change the voices according to each individual character.
Every morning after eight he would come down on his foot leaning a little in the front, and sat down in the shade of the century old banyan tree of the Town. Few years ago the open around the tree had been enclosed forming a park with the tree in its center. The mothers of the toddlers left their child under his care while they perform their morning household choirs; at noon it was the old man and lady who had retired from their occupation. From late noon it was the children, the adolescent and all. At the holidays there was no specific time to divide the listener according to their age.
As the sun started setting he would got up and walked up the mountain to his cave with two or three young boys following him with the offerings in form of foods from his listeners. Today, it was these four boys who followed him, and got struck as the snow had started falling heavily.
“Are you not going to tell a story…” the little of the four asked.
“No…” old man replied surprising them—he never deny.
He smiled, his moustache moved up creating a shadow on his old cheek under the eyes, “today I’ll listen from you…”, he pointed to the little boy, “come on…tell us a story…”
The eldest one laugh out and said, “yes…he is always scribbling something whenever he gets a blank page or copy…today he was punished for writing on the border of the math copy…but he never let anyone to read them…he either tear the paper out…or scribble it so that no one can read…”
“Actually…there are no plots at all…” the little boy said scratching his head in shy.
“Let us hear…to it then…still the snow stops…” Galpo Dadu says while introducing few more woods into the fire and poking the woods to get burn properly.
The little boy cleared his voice and started saying, “Horseman, a story by A Roy.”
“You are not reading before a class…and are you going to make it up now…” his second eldest brother teases him.
Galpo Dadu again smiled and said, “all story are made up…at first there would not be no plot then they will take shape…now let’s hear to it…hush…no more noise Roy brothers…come on A start you story telling…”
A again clear his voice and then, “over the land beyond the boundary of the Town at the foothills there is a swamp. Everyone call it a swamp, but, to me it’s a lake.
“One new moon it happened. No one, those who lives at the boundary, sees it but hear it. A neigh, a galloping sound it was. Every night it could be heard. On third night old apple farmer Bhuvan remain awake late at night to catch a glimpse—no one was interested to find out who the horseman was or for what purpose he was visiting. They consider it as a trader or someone mysterious person being who visits Bakshi the detective on a case keeping the identity under the blanket.
“So this old Bhuvan remain awake to see who was it. The third night crescent moon was high on the spring night. The gentle cold mountainous breeze was entering his house through his open windows at the kitchen. The house was dark. A single lamp was though lighted but it was covered by a dark colored cloth. He had dozed off a little when his light sleep was broken by a soft low neigh. He woke up and went up to the window, from there the lake can be seen. He was surprised to find no one, but, the sound could be heard. And the sound of galloping seems to him flying away over his hut.
“For next eleven nights the same occurred; Bhuvan couldn’t see anything. At last on the full moon in the crystal white light when he could not see anything he decided to investigate it by himself. On fifteenth night, he sat down beside a large rock in the ford. From there the lake could be seen in all around view. When the Town tower clock struck two, he heard it and saw a strange thing.
“There were no one—not a horse or rider; but, there were a flock of birds who had come down to the lake. Their chirping sounds together like the neigh. They were size of a crow, colored shining white and gray or sometimes both. They bath, it sounded like the hooves, and when they fly away it sounded like the hooves of galloping horses.
“Next morning he ran to Bakshi and told him what he had seen. Bakshi accepts the fact of hearing the neigh and galloping hooves but he denied that these were composed by some unknown birds’ chirps and flapping of wings. He though accepted the invitation of Bhuvan to accompany him to the ford that night.
“That night and next few nights they remain hiding here and there but surprisingly the birds never returned. The story of Bhuvan spread through the town and everyone tried to look at the birds but not one succeeded.
“Soon it fizzled out. The story became lore; in many name it was started to be titled—the famous one was Bhuvan’s Horsemen. The birds though return but it was decade or so later, the week Bhuvan was dying. His family and few more town people tried to catch a glimpse but they never succeeded. The Horsemen visited the Town for the last time on the night when Bhuvan died in his sleep.
“That’s it. It was my story.”
Galpo Dadu and his three brothers were silent for awhile. The pregnant silence was broken by Galpo Dadu when he says, “you have thought of the story very well…I know of this Horsemen story…but, I had never told it…the old men of the Town knew of this story but they have forgotten…wherefrom did you heard it…”
“Bhuvan’s great grandson is my friend…we sat down on the bank of the lake, the swamp from the tale, and he listen to my stories…he couldn’t walk far due to this cripple in his legs…so he uses a carriage…I also tell him your story…”
“That boy…he sometimes come to me…and listens to my stories with big eyes…but he has died before you are born…”
Everyone looks around and at each other. They know the swamp had a reputation of being haunted. There was a specific large cottage that was abandoned long ago. And no one dare to visit that or the bank of the lake at late evening. That who lives there speaks of eerie noises and sounds like someone screaming at the mid of the night or sound of hooves. In past few years many have moved away from the border leaving behind abandoned cottages. Few who couldn’t afford to move away stays back there.
“The snow has stopped…and from now I am going to keep an eye on you…” the eldest Roy brother declared with a shaky voice.
Old storyteller chose to remain silent. He eyes was gauzing the third Roy brother, the young storyteller. He leaves a deep breath, and in under the breath says “time has come…a few bit left…”