When Sumitra woke up early one morning she heard a strange noise coming from downstairs. What could it be? She glanced over at her alarm clock. Only five past six. Everyone would be asleep for ages. She looked around her room; she could just make out her collection of dolls on top of the wardrobe. Some wore dainty little dresses, while others were clad in brightly coloured baby grows. Sumitra stared at them for a while. Which one was her favourite? The dolls just stared back at Sumitra. “Choose me, choose me,” they hissed with their false smiles.
Her thoughts were interrupted by another noise downstairs. This time she sat up in her bed. What should she do? Should she hide under the duvet? “Don’t be such a scaredy cat” said a voice which came out of nowhere. This wasn’t unusual for Sumitra. Occasionally, she heard voices, but didn’t tell anyone.
Her teachers referred to her as a child ‘who needs to join in’. Sumitra had tried to join in during classroom discussions once or twice in the very beginning, but the rest of the children would give each other strange looks. One time the teacher asked the class to write a poem titled ‘What frightens me’.
When it was her turn, Sumitra read her poem about the ‘toilet monster’. This was a monster who lived in the pipes of the toilet and who would snatch little children who wanted to go to the loo in the night, while their mummies and daddies were fast asleep…
“The noise of the flush would drown the cry and no one would ever know why…” Sumitra’s voice trailed off when she glanced up from her exercise book. The whole class was silent. Everyone was looking at her. The teacher was staring at her concerned, like she wanted to say something but couldn’t find the right words.
“How strange…”, she said at last, ‘thank-you for that … ‘very different’ poem Sumitra”.
At the end of the day when Sumitra was leaving the classroom, she saw the teacher showing her work to another adult. Sumitra overheard the words ‘issues’ and ‘problems’.
Sumitra couldn’t understand it, why were teachers always telling children to use their ‘imagination’ and to put their ‘thinking caps’ on, when they didn’t like what came out? Sumitra thought it was because teachers and in fact all the adults around her wanted to get inside her head and find a meaning for everything.
Her grandmother would sigh, when Sumitra would volunteer to help her in the kitchen. ‘This girl has got her head in the clouds,’ she would mutter, as she sliced and chopped and fried vegetables in big steel pots. Sometimes Sumitra would watch her old grandmother in both fear and delight, afraid that she too might end up chopped and sliced and thrown into the heavy steel pot and would be fed to all her relatives!
Sumitra could imagine it, a big family feast with all her Uncles, and Aunties and her dreadful cousins, all seated around the dinner table licking their fingers in relish, piling their plates up with seconds and burping her out when they had finished.
Would anyone notice that she wasn’t there?
So Sumitra stopped sharing the things that came into her head, and instead spent most of the time listening to the voices and imagining what everyday life would be like if things were different…
Sumitra jumped out of her skin! Quickly she pulled the covers over her head.
“Hide!” said the voices.“Don’t make a sound!” they whispered.
Trembling, Sumitra hid and waited under the heavy warm darkness of the duvet.
“Count to a hundred,” said the voices. So Sumitra began to count…. one two three four and so on. It was when she had reached 56 that she heard a creaking noise coming up followed by a soft padding sound. Someone or something was moving very slowly up to the landing outside Sumitra’s bedroom.
Sumitra let out a sudden gasp. What was it? Sumitra lay frozen in her bed for what seemed like an eternity. “Play dead!” whispered the voices. Sumitra had always wondered why people on TV who were trapped by monsters didn’t pretend to play dead.
Creak… creak… one...two...three…four…
The footsteps became louder and louder. Sumitra tried to ignore the sound of her heart banging against her ribcage. ‘Don’t move! Lie still!’ said the voices in her head.
So, Sumitra lay trembling quietly underneath her flowery duvet and waited. And she waited. Not one sound or peep was heard. At first Sumitra thought that she had imagined it all, was it a bad dream? She asked herself. Was her imagination getting her into strange situations like her teachers had written in her school report? Were the voices in her head playing silly tricks on her?
Then she heard it. A breathing sound that was not an entirely human. It sounded like Mrs. Moby’s dog that lived two doors down. Sumitra could imagine it outside her door, salivating around the mouth and making heavy wheezing noises. Sumitra could have sworn it had spoken to her once when she had accidentally dropped an empty packet of crisps outside Mrs Moby’s front garden…The sound was now growing fainter and fainter until Sumitra heard a door being clicked shut. Sumitra wanted to relax but she couldn’t.
“Go and see!” said the voices sounding like her mum when she wanted Sumitra to join in with the other children. So Sumitra twisted the doorknob and opened the door and what did she find? Nothing. Not a sound or a peep, and there was no Mrs Moby’s dog either.
She stood on the upstairs landing in her pyjamas, wondering what to do next. Going back to sleep was out of the question. Waking her mother and father up at six twenty on a Saturday morning to tell them about a heavy breathing sound would not impress them.
Quietly, Sumitra tiptoed down the stairs until she reached the creaky fourth step and peered over the bannister where she could see the dark gloomy shadows of the cloakroom.
When she got to the last step of the staircase Sumitra had a good look around her. Her heart was beating like a drum and she could feel the hairs prickle at the back of her neck. She wanted to run past the cloakroom like she always did, but the voices in her head stopped her, “Check behind the coat, check behind the coat” they chanted, “just in case, you never know what’s lurking behind the coat’ they cautioned.
The black coat.
There it hung all on its own away from the lighter raincoats and jackets, with a peg all to itself. A misfit with no friends. Its monk-like hood was shaped to fit a large disfigured head masking a grotesque face. From the corner of her eye Sumitra was sure she could see it peering right at her. When she turned to look again it had the face had gone, all she could see was a big woolly hood.
Its dark heavy outline made gruesome shadows on the wall and when no one was looking it would suck Sumitra under its dense mass, and fasten her up inside so that her cries for help would be muffled into a distant echo.
So, Sumitra looked over her shoulder, and shaking with fear, she lifted up one sleeve, and then other and then the whole coat. Sumitra must have looked over her shoulder a thousand times, just in case she was grabbed from behind.
“You’ve been watching too many scary films,” scolded the voices in her head. She swung the coat this way and that way making sure that nothing was lurking underneath.
Feeling a little more at ease now, Sumitra crept towards the kitchen, her cold feet pattering over the sticky lino.
What she saw when she opened the kitchen door made her gasp in disbelief.
What lay before her eyes was a table cluttered with food that would feed the entire street.
Whoever it was that was making all the noise was making breakfast.
Sumitra looked across the table in awe. Her stomach was already growling with hunger and so without a moment of hesitation, she grabbed a plate and began piling it greedily.
Sumitra stopped after a second or so and frowned. Everything was cold. The baked beans were congealed and stuck to the bottom of the saucepan, the burnt toast was covered with hard lumps of butter, the soft boiled eggs looked grey and sickly and still had bits of shell stuck to them. Everything was either overdone or undercooked. Sumitra now understood how Goldilocks felt.
Sumitra stood there with her hands on her hips looking very cross.
I’m going back to bed,” she said. And off she went, slamming the kitchen door behind her, stomping back through the cloakroom and up the creaky step, and into her room where the dolls sat on top of the wardrobe smirking at her as she jumped back into her bed and pulled the covers over and fell back asleep.
When Sumitra woke up the second time that morning, things were a bit different. Firstly she could hear sounds of voices that belonged to her family, and secondly, there was a smell of cooking coming from downstairs.
Sleepily, Sumitra climbed out of bed and yawned. She opened the door and went downstairs to the kitchen. This time the cloakroom didn’t scare her, she walked past the black coat with the scary hood and the shadowy face.
The kitchen was alive with activity, there were pots bubbling and boiling with delicious recipes, and different kinds of vegetables chopped sliced and diced and thrown into saucepans of spitting hot oil. The radio blared in the background muffling the sound of the grinder that was being used to turn spices into different coloured powders.
In the steamy kitchen stood Sumitra’s grandmother and mother. Now, Sumitra didn’t have any brothers or sisters to play with so she spent most of the time staring at the clouds (just like her grandmother said) and picking up the ends of adult conversations.
“Is that the time? Oh no! They’ll be here soon”, said her mother anxiously.
Sumitra had her gaze fixed on her Grandmother’s old hands with their blue veins sticking out. Her Grandmother had always lived with them ever since she had been a baby. Sumitra didn’t know exactly how old her grandmother was, only that she had always been old as long as she had known her. While Sumitra had grown in size and was now able to reach the tap in the kitchen sink, her grandmother had always been the same height.
Her candyfloss hair had always been white, and her hands had always been wrinkly, and as for teeth, Sumitra didn’t ever remembering her Grandmother ever having any! So while Sumitra was growing up into a teenager and then an adult, her grandmother’s appearance remained the same. The only thing that had changed about Sumitra’s grandmother while she was alive was her spectacles. They had got thicker and thicker until they now looked like the bottoms of jam jars making her eyes magnify into huge flying saucers.
Now there was one thing that Sumitra found odd about her Grandmother and that was the soft furry line above her mouth. Sumitra would catch herself staring at. Her mother had scolded her for this and told her that ‘it was all part of getting old’ and that Sumitra would also have one when she grew old. Sumitra wasn’t looking forward to having a moustache, the children at school teased her about her skinny legs already, and that was enough.
Sumitra had read descriptions of Grandmothers in storybooks. They sounded nothing like hers. In fact, Sumitra had read descriptions of funny old witches that fitted her Grandmother’s description. Sumitra could imagine her throwing in herbs and spices into a hot bubbling cauldron, making a feast for Halloween…
“Is that you Sumitra?” said her Grandmother peering at her from her over big glasses that had steamed up in the hot kitchen.
“Come along now child, chop, chop, no time for daydreaming”, said her grandmother busily.
“It’s Saturday, and we’ve got guests coming, so we’ve got too hurry”, prompted Sumitra’s mother. “Now go and wake your dad, tell him it’s time to get up”, she said, raising her eyebrows at Sumitra’s grandmother. Sumitra hated how adults tried to use eye contact as a secret code to keep children out.
When Sumitra got to the top of the creaky staircase, she stopped and stood still.
“Listen”, whispered the voices. Sumitra listened and there it was again, the wheezing sound that didn’t sound entirely human.
It was mid morning now, and Sumitra was sure that monsters didn’t come out in broad daylight. Her mother and Grandmother were downstairs and Sumitra was convinced that they would be able to hear her screams. Whenever her grandmother asked her to go upstairs and fetch something, Sumitra would force herself to hold a dialogue for the top of the stairs. “I can’t find it… Oh yes…Here it is…found it!” she would shout down to her Grandmother. “Gran! I found it, I’m coming downstairs now!” she would bellow at the top of her voice, and then when she got to the last few steps she would jump, just in case she was grabbed by the dark shadows behind her.
When Sumitra opened the door to her bedroom, she quickly scanned the room. Her duvet cover had tumbled on to the floor, but apart from that everything seemed the same.
Like most little children, Sumitra was frightened of particular places in her bedroom.
So, first of all she checked behind her door, and then she checked in her wardrobe, and then she checked underneath the bed. Sumitra often searched these places after she had seen a scary film on television. And when one of the characters, usually a young girl, was going to caught by the monster, Sumitra would shout out,
“Check behind the door, under the bed, in the wardrobe!”
Sumitra’s grandmother would shake her head in disapproval and say, “See what happens, if you go out alone.” Sumitra’s grandmother would continue to say this even when she had grown up into an adult. “But Gran it’s only a film!” Sumitra would say convincingly. But later on when it was time to go to bed and that last light in the hallway was switched off and the house was quiet, Sumitra would lie there in the still darkness trembling with fear and paranoia.
Sumitra tiptoed back out of the room and listened again. She inched closer and closer until she stopped outside her father’s bedroom. Sumitra's parents didn't sleep in the same bed or even in the same room anymore. Her mother said it was because her dad snored so loud. So, now she slept in the spare room.
When Sumitra opened the door, did she see anything unusual? No.
There was her father sound asleep, dead to the world, snoring and wheezing so loudly that one might think it was a something else, something not entirely human…
Then it all made sense. Sumitra thought back to earlier on that morning when she was awoken to the heavy breathing, coming from the stairs. It had been him!
“Boo!” said Sumitra, interrupting the noisy snores and pulling of the covers that hid her father’s face.
There was something strikingly odd about him this morning, thought Sumitra. For a start, he was sleeping the wrong way round with his feet facing the wooden headboard.
Sumitra glanced around the room. The curtains were drawn and everything hung in semi-darkness. When Sumitra went to draw the curtains her father cried out as if he was in pain.
Sumitra looked around the room. The fitted wardrobe dominated the room with her mother’s trinkets, photographs and perfumes all neatly arranged in the centre of the dressing table. What lay inside the wardrobe was far more intriguing than its veneer. The wardrobe consisted of delights that would make “Narnia” seem dull. Sometimes when her parents were downstairs entertaining friends and relatives, Sumitra would roam in and stealthily look at her mother’s beautiful sarees, that were kept locked up in the wardrobe. One by one, she would stroke the rich fabrics, organzas, brocades and tissue silk sarees, in an array of different colours, fuchsias, ruby reds, jades and blues, the velvety material cool against the palms of her hand.
Sumitra would struggle with the long pieces of slippery silk and tuck and pleat, and drape it around her little body, just like her mother and grandmother did in a matter of seconds every day, making it look so easy.
When Sumitra put on a sari, there was always so much left over, where did her mother and grandmother put that extra material? Sumitra would then drag the extra loose bundle, all scrunched up in her hand across the room, being careful not to trip up and tear the delicate material, and she would stare at herself admiringly in the long mirror. However, folding up the sarees was a mission impossible. How could she fold lengths of fabric that were longer than her arms? No matter how hard she tried, Sumitra never managed to fold them up and put them back so that they looked untouched. Every time she attempted to fold the lengths of soft silk, it would slip out of her little hands and tumble on to the carpet. And every time her mother would find out she scream at the top of her lungs. Now and again, Sumitra would find bottles of pungent smelling liquid labelled 'Bells Whisky' or 'Captain Morgan’s Rum'. In fact this was not the only place these bottles would appear. Sometimes they would hidden behind the sofa and in the bread bin or even in the large pocket of the big black coat in the cloakroom.
Sumitra scanned the hand painted jewellery box that her Grandmother had brought back from India dripping with thick gold bangles, heavy choker necklaces and a myriad of different earrings. Sumitra always wondered why her mother had so much jewellery that she never wore.
“I’m buying it for your future young lady”, her mother would reason as she picked up a pair of gold studs in the jewellers, while Sumitra sulked over the shiny new roller-boots that she had so desperately wanted.
Future was another word for growing up and getting married. Sumitra didn’t understand it, why would she care about her future when there was so much to think about now? Why were grown-ups always thinking ahead when today was passing before their very eyes? Like now for instance, thought Sumitra, no one had mentioned the surprise in the kitchen or the noises on the stairs because they were too busy preparing a banquet for her greedy cousins.
Sometimes Sumitra would watch the baby toddlers in their prams, engrossed in a piece of lego or a sticky sweet. They didn’t care about the future. They didn’t think about what they would be when they grew up or who the prime minister would be in five years time or what they would have for their tea even! They were just fascinated by every precious moment of the now.
Sumitra’s father pulled off the covers and forced himself to sit up. Sumitra looked at his pale, ashen face and the grey stubble that looked longer that usual. The tufts of grey hair at the back of his head were sticking up revealing his tiny bald patch that was looking bigger today. His eyes were bloodshot and with huge dark rings around them.
She noticed his hand shaking as he drank from the little yellow bottle. He rubbed his tired face and then got up slowly, steadying his composure and made his way to the bathroom. So Sumitra went back to her bedroom, and do you want to know what she did next? She pulled out her overdue copy of 'Everything you've wanted to Know' and went straight to the index. She fingered down the page until she found V.
A Vampire lurks around in the night when it leaves its territory to suck blood from living people. During the daytime it becomes pale and weak.
That would explain her dad’s lifeless complexion and his overgrown stubble. Was he waking up in the middle of the night to suck the blood out of the neighbours? Sumitra's Grandmother was just the other day saying that she hadn't seen poor old Mrs Moby for a while. Sumitra pondered for a moment, and then carried on reading.
Signs of a Vampire
Vampires sleep through the day
Sunlight can kill Vampires
A Vampire must have a constant supply of blood otherwise they lose strength become weak and die…
It was at that point that Sumitra stopped reading. The information was all there, right in front of her very eyes. Her father was a vampire who wandered around in the middle of the night looking for his next victim….
When Sumitra was safely tucked under her floral duvet sound asleep, out would creep her father breathing and wheezing heavily. 'It would certainly explain the clattering in the morning and the mess in the kitchen,' thought Sumitra.
Sumitra wasn't entirely sure whether Vampires existed. The grown-up part of her thought that ghost and vampires were just found in stories, however in the darkness of her room with the shadows making ghoulish shapes on her wallpaper, she knew that something existed that wasn't entirely human. Something was out to get her, a fear that would go on breeding even when she turned into an adult. Sometimes she would panic in the darkness and switch on her lamp and wait for daybreak, and then she would drift off to sleep in the secure haven of daylight.
A doorbell rang interrupting her thoughts. Her dreadful relatives had arrived and her dad still hadn't got his act together because he had joined the land of dead! How would she explain that to her mother?
The afternoon was spent eating and drinking then washing up and then eating and drinking some more. Sumitra had decided to keep a close eye on her father. She watched his every move, taking in every little detail. But nothing seemed abnormal. Only that he looked a little tired around the eyes. So Sumitra had decided that it was her 'over-active imagination' again taking over her real world.
The next day Sumitra woke up very early. It was Sunday and raining outside. Sumitra decided to stay in bed and read more on the subject of Vampires. It intrigued her that these people of the night would be so alive with energy when the rest of the world was sleeping.
Sumitra crept quietly into her father’s room. How can a person sleep so much, she thought. Her dad lay there still. Not a sound or a noise could be heard. That makes a change, thought Sumitra and off she tiptoed back to her room and got into her warm bed and drifted off back to sleep.
Sumitra’s father slept all day and the day after that, and the day after that. Sumitra’s father would sleep forever. The next few weeks seemed like a dream. A darkness came to stay. Nobody explained to Sumitra where exactly her father had gone.
After the funeral, her slimy relatives piled back into her house to eat and drink some more and her Grandmother went back to grinding more spices in the kitchen, leaving Sumitra to her fears and her voices. For the rest of her life Sumitra would be afraid of that darkness that had come to stay.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bindu works and lives in London and knows it’s not easy. In her twenties, she can still remember stuff and sure makes a good cup of tea. Sometimes she hears things. Once she’s married to Doc Anil, she’s going to swim out a bit. Her fave cats are Stephen, Anna and Rachel because they make her laugh and doo-bop-a-wop.