The trees had thinned out and the forest floor was beginning to look like a carpet of green moss. Madhavan made his way into the clearing and sat down on the mossy grass. A bird flitted from tree to tree and Madhavan glanced up. He could no longer hear any sound of his lanky companion. The forest floor looked sunny and Madhavan stretched out flat and looked up at the canopy of trees. He had to decide his next move. Now that even his friend – the transluscent creature -had disappeared Madhavan had no idea what to do or where to go.
As he lay idly looking up at the blue blotched sky through the patterned green leaves, Madhavan’s eye caught something moving between the trees some distance away. He sat up at once , alert and all his senses tingling. Something moved again, but all Madhavan could see was the movement of a few tall grasses and plants as they swayed. Yet he could swear he had heard a rustle of some sort that sounded uncannily like footsteps. Getting up on his hunches, Madhavan looked warily around and then turned sharply to his left. His blood curled in fear as he suddenly saw the shape of a man – straggly and unkempt loping towards him. The sight of the man with his intense eyes and a shaggy mass of hair on his forehead scared Madhavan more than the creature with the transluscent belly had. He now wished that his friend of the night before were here with him. Anything would be better than having to face this creature alone. The man suddenly bared his teeth and revealed a set of broken yellow teeth like dirty fangs. Madhavan sprang up and sped . Glancing back for a moment, he saw that the gangly man was loping towards him with long ungainly strides, his face wearing a fearfully wretched grin . Madhavan burst forth like a rocket launched by terror and ran as fast as he could.
The grass was long and it brushed against Madhavan’s face and arms. He thought of his friend and where he had disappeared , but his thoughts were abruptly interrupted by a sudden sensation of plunging down into the depths of some soft squishy mud. The ground turned spongy and then soggy and Madhavan stumbled through trying to run as fast as he could. He dared not look behind but slogged awkwardly through the marshy reeds and muck. His clothes were splattered with mud and his face and hair were matted with mire and grass. Madhavan realized that he had reached some kind of swamp and hoped that he would soon reach the open water. If only he could reach water, he knew he would be able to swim to safety.
Madhavan looked up and almost fell forward gasping in terrified shock as he saw the creature looming above him from the low branch of an old teak tree. The leering look had returned and Madhavan abruptly felt nauseous as he looked at the yellow fangs of the dirty old man.
Lurching forward, trying to escape from the nearness of this vile creature, Madhavan lunged and fell straight into a bog. The reeds which had covered the bog seemed to separate and Madhavan was being slowly engulfed in the bubbling , frothy , dirty black mud. Fear clutched at the boy’s heart and his grandmother’s face flashed before him. How many times had she warned him not to go into the forest. Why oh why had he disobeyed her so? Why had he not had sense enough to listen to her words of wisdom. He wished he was close to her now ; he wished he could feel her old leathery skin and that particular scent that belonged only to Thankamma.
Madhavan shrugged and pulled himself. It was useless to cry over spilt milk . What’s done is done he said to himself. ‘Now I must figure out a way to get out of this infernal mess.”
Looking back at the trees from where he had emerged Madhavan found the old man still standing near the bog staring at him curiously. Madhavan attempted to run again, but his legs refused to move. Instead he found himself being pulled down by the bog. It was a strange kind of feeling . As if the swamp was clutching on to his knees and was loath to let him go. His attempt to flee had planted him firmly in knee high quagmire. He tried to push himself against the mucky bottom while pulling his arms through the water, but he was having trouble kicking his legs. In fact, to his horror, Madhavan found that he was getting stuck fast in the mud. In desperation he tried waving out to the creature that was still watching him intently as he sat swinging his legs lazily from the branch. A sudden rage overtook Madhavan. How dare he just sit and watch while Madhavan struggled desperately to save his life. He waved out to the man asking him for help, but the man only stared- oblivious to Madhvan’s pleas. In desperation Madhavan wrestled frantically to free himself and to his astonishment and sudden fear, he realized he was sinking deeper. He could scarcely bend his knees any longer. Filled with horror, Madhavan looked up with despair at the old man .
The minutes ticked slowly by in his mind and his eyes took on a look of the hopeless doomed to his fate. Sick with terror and exhaustion, Madhavan just let himself go limp in the bog. His body relaxed and he hung his head in silent desperation, all hope of freedom slowly diminishing . His companion stood watching him with an expressionless face, seemingly insensible of the boy’s plight. With one last ounce of strength he tried to lift his leg up from the bog, but slumped as he felt himself being pulled lower again .
Giving up at last, Madhavan closed his eyes and rested his head on his chest. He recalled his grandmother’s words, “ When in trouble try and if you don’t succeed , die trying.” What had she meant by that- “ die trying” ? Madhavan’s ten year old mind could think no longer….
Daylight was slowly being swallowed up and dusk descended on the forest. Madhavan stood limply in the bog, his head hung low, all thought of escape now a far away dream. The man with the straggly hair and yellow teeth still sat atop the branch watching the boy. He made no move to rescue or go away.