The Replacement Chapter 1 “8pm is the rule! If you want to live, get into the house before then,” Mr. Ayushman’s words never rested from drumming in my ears. Ayushman – I snorted at the irony considering his name and his present state. “Thank you,” I said to the driver who didn’t care about my sense of gratitude. I stepped down the bus and watched it closing the doors, lifting itself up and move slowly away from me. The daylight is losing its vigour indicating my last few golden minutes before I have to go to the house. I strolled to the park, sat on a wooden bench and kept my office bag next to me. Stretching my legs, I relaxed my shoulders and watched a boy playing throw-catch with his dog. Every now and then a cyclist or a runner went past me. Eventually the man announced that it was late and the boy carefully tied the dog on leash. I watched them leaving the park deserted. ‘Good night,’ the boy shouted to me. The unexpected greeting startled me and I yearned for them to stay for some more time. There was 20 minutes to 8pm. “8pm is the rule! If you want to live…”. I picked up my bag and started to walk. Night was still young to some people, I envy them. I walked on the high street, through the glass windows glanced at the people having dinner in nice restaurants. My stomach grumbled at the smell of the spices. ‘Tomorrow I had to come few minutes early to get some food from here,’ I said to myself as the angry-looking sandwich from a local gas station tried hard to move from my throat. I took a left, and walked into a quiet side street that’s tucked away from the happenings of the high street. The number of buildings reduced, rarely one or two local shops that were closed. “Would you mind?” a voice startled me as there were hardly any human being seen around this place at this hour of the evening. I turned to look a medium-built man trying to pull down the shutter of his petty store. Putting the bag down, I held the shutter the other side and followed his instructions shaking to release it from whatever it was stuck on, and with heavy grunt we pulled the shutter down, and with a thud it closed shut. “Thanks man, “he said. I replied, “Thank you…. Thank you…. “and looked at his face expecting for more appreciation. “I haven’t seen you before, have I?”, he asked. “I don’t think so” “You live around? Do you need a ride?” My heart fluttered on the opportunity to get someone into the house, and running away a free man. The idea of getting someone to the street the house was in, itself was a huge task then. “That would be really helpful”, I said not thinking of the consequences. “Where do you live?” I hesitated a bit before saying, “Nomoonday drive” “You serious?”, his face darkened and under the street light I could see lots of fine wrinkles appear as he thought deeply. I didn’t answer but my hope faded as quickly as it bloomed seeing his blank stare. “No human in his right mind goes to that street! How long were you living there?”, he got the key, glanced quickly at the white van near him, ready and moved a tiny step backwards. “It is ok,” I rushed my words before giving them a thought, “It is getting cold, why don’t you come home, I will make nice cup of hot chocolate”, the desperation in my voice thickened the tension in the air. “Don’t know who or what you are. Look after yourself Dude”, he was already on the road. “Please”, I shouted behind him. But he jumped in his white van and waved at me before driving into the traffic. I stood there watching the van until it disappears from my sight. A well-dressed lady smiled at me when she walked past me. “Hello,” I called after her, but she either didn’t hear me, or decided to do better things than starting a chat with a stranger on the street. I kept my palm on the shutter and felt the strong metal that I moved. The proudness tied me to the moment and it lasted deliciously until my eyes fell on my bag reminding me that my time is running out. Looking back at the shutter a few times, I kept on walking. After couple of turns I reached the street that’s dimly lit and deadly silent. A half-eroded street sign board read “*** drive”. The letters of the road name eroded fully, so nobody knew what road it was. But people call it as “Nomoonday drive” as it’s always dark. Google maps doesn’t have this street marked either, my repeated failed attempts on ordering take-aways were due to that. But not with Lauren. I can feel the smile on my face on thinking about the one soul that helps to go through my ordeal looking forward to the next day. Lauren brings food, and hope. The night life creatures chose to be quiet but one or two screamed their complain. The street has no houses, except the one I spend my nights in. Rest are empty lands on either side of the road with fully grown weeds as tall as a house would be. Nobody dared to enter this road to dump their electronic goods or garden wastes. There was no garbage like plastic wrappers, takeaway boxes or pizza boxes in sight. As I reached the small wooden fence of the house , I closed my eyes and prayed for the strength to survive the night. The entrance door is almost hidden behind the weeds in the front yard, but I have been here long enough to find the door, which was never locked. The moment I pushed the door open, I already missed the smell of the fresh air that has the promise of freedom and peace. The stench of the musty old carpet, and the rotten food waste hit my face hard when I entered the house. I closed the door behind me. (to be continued...) Hello Readers, Thank you for reading this chapter. This is my first attempt in writing horror story. Hoping to receive your love and support. See you soon.