Fear gripped me, rendering me motionless, as my feet seemed to be glued to the ground. I struggled to find my voice, but it remained lodged in my throat. The woman, the churail, the intruder in my house, sensing my return, stopped chanting and got up from her spot in front of the skull. I watched her through the window as she walked towards me, wearing a soft smile that carried an air of knowingness.

Moments later, she opened the door slowly as though she owned the house and I was a mere guest. Now that the soft morning light filled the air between us, I felt a sudden surge of courage.

“You’re a witch!” I blurted out, my voice laced with both accusation and disbelief.

Her smile remained unflustered as she gracefully acknowledged, “Yes, indeed. I am a witch.”

Surprised by her calm response, I felt a mixture of apprehension and curiosity. “What do you want?” I asked, my voice trembling. She reached out, her hand gesturing for me to calm myself. “There’s no need to be alarmed,” she reassured me in her soothing tone. “I did not come here to harm you.”

My skepticism flared up, fueling my anger. “Then why the hell are you here?” I retorted. “You invade my home, and now you claim to be innocent?”

Her composure remained intact as she met my gaze. “I understand your confusion,” she responded, her voice measured and serene. “But I assure you, I am only here to help you.”

I frowned, the lines on my forehead deepening. Why would a witch want to help me? What did I need help with? Had I somehow subconsciously summoned her?

With a gentle nod, she continued, “I am a witch, yes, but my role is that of a guide. I am here to help wandering spirits find their way.”

I resisted the urge to scoff at her cliched words. “Wandering spirits?” I questioned, my voice laden with intrigue. “And my house happens to be infected with these wandering spirits?”

She regarded me with understanding eyes. “You see, dear Sumit, I’m not the intruder. You are. Not just in this house but also in this realm,”

“Your time as a human has reached its end, and it is now time for you to transition to the spirit realm, guided by the light that awaits you.” She added as I watched her in amusement. Somehow she no longer felt like a threat.

“So you’re here to kill me and send me to the spirit realm?” I asked, wondering if she is a con artist or perhaps a mad woman. A beautiful one though.

“No, Sumit. You are already dead and I’m here to help you remember that” I looked at her brown eyes that appeared lighter in the sunlight. For a long minute, I waited for her to laugh and tell me this was all a prank but something in her eyes told me she was serious.

“You are insane!” I exclaimed, my anger returning. “Stop this nonsense and leave my house at once!”

Undeterred by my outburst, she maintained her serene smile, her conviction unyielding. “My work is to find wandering spirits and guide them. I sensed your return from the mountaintop, and so I took residence in this house. My intention was not to intrude or cause you any pain”

I stood there confused, wondering how to deal with her. Seconds later, I watched her long pale hand reach out to me. She gently placed it on my forehead. Moments later, I was engulfed in darkness.

The first thing I saw when I gained consciousness was the little purple wildflower blooming from a crack between the boulders covered in snow.  The throbbing pain in my head had come alive again. A few seconds later, I realized I was lying flat on the ground and the snow around my face was covered in blood.

Cautiously, I stood up and sensed the pain in my head subsiding. I took a few steps and realizing I felt no pain, I began to walk. After walking for a few minutes, a strange feeling crept into my mind as the glowing snow-capped peak of Swargarohini – the mountain known as and literally translates to ‘The Path to Heaven’. I stood there awestruck for several minutes and then an ominous sense of déjà vu flooded my mind.

In an instant, my vision shifted, and I found myself witnessing a horrifying scene—I saw myself climbing, my worn-out snow boots losing their grip, falling off a snowy cliff, my fellow trekkers screaming, and then… darkness.

When I opened my eyes, I was back in front of my house facing the mysterious woman.  She was still smiling. But her smile no longer irked me. A whirlwind of emotions swept through me, a mixture of gratitude for the truth she had revealed and uncertainty about what lay ahead.

“Go back to the mountains and wait for the guiding light,” she said and this time I had nothing to say in return. I walked past her into the house and for a moment stood in the living room and looked around the humble abode that I had called home for the last six months. I hoped this house would serve another young traveler someday.

Walking into my room, I dropped my bag on my bed and smiled as memories came flooding into my mind. I took one last look at all my meager belongings and hoped that the neighbours would find some use for them. Closing the door behind me, I walked out of the house holding the pinecones, and with one last look at the mysterious woman, I began my climb up the snowclad mountains where I belonged.

That brings us to the end of my first episodic story. Did you enjoy reading it? Tell me in the comments below. Also, if you liked this story you might like my books as well.

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