“But Papa, what would have happened if the thirsty crow wouldn’t have spotted any stones close by?”

Mithi’s Papa looked at his adorable four-year-old; all wrapped up in her Winnie the Pooh bed cover up to her chin. Only her tiny hands were visible that had clenched the bed cover with all the strength that they could muster. But it was her question that stumped him. How on earth did she start thinking about the “Thirsty Crow” story while he read her the “Three little pigs” story from her handsome, fully illustrated, sparkly fairy tale book? He garnered all the patience that he had since this was the tenth time she had interrupted his flow of words by her unrelated innocent questions. It suddenly worried him whether, his daughter, whom he had thought of being unusually imaginative and smart was having trouble focussing on the activity at hand. But he dispelled the baseless thought away when he looked  at the probing eyes waiting for his answer. He knew he had to invent one like the countless others he had before. But this time he decided to give her some logic to test whether she understood reason or not.

“Errr, baby, had the crow not found the stones to put in the pot, the story wouldn’t have existed in the first place!”

This answer seemed to please Mithi and she quickly indicated that he should continue with the rest of his story about the “The Three Little Pigs”.  By the time, he had reached the middle of the story, the tiny eyes had closed. Mithi’s Papa, got up slowly and placed her favourite dolly, Lola next to her and caressed her forehead before turning out the light in the pretty pink room. He closed the door after him and called it a day.

Mithi had an active imagination. So active that she enacted her imagination to see if it could come true. Most of all, she wanted to see if all the stories that Papa told her were actually true or not. She had asked him innumerable times whether these were only stories or was there really any ounce of truth. Each time, her father confirmed and assured her that these were true tales. She constantly endeavoured to put his hypothesis to test. She dressed up most of the times to be the part in question and enacted the whole story the way she understood it to be. She requested her Papa that she wanted to be the “Red Riding Hood” who out-smarted the wicked wolf. Her Papa, on the very same day, on his way back from his work, stopped at the General Stores in the local market and picked what had the closest resemblance to Red Riding Hood’s attire  – A bright red raincoat. For the next few days, Mithi was seen strutting her red raincoat and talking to herself in front of the mirror, being the best Red Riding Hood, her Papa had ever seen. Mithi even buried a few beans in their backyard, to see if they were magical and turned into a giant creeper like that  in the Fairy Tale “Jack and the bean stalk”. She watered it every day and turned the spot into a muddy puddle and patiently waited for the creeper to grow. When nothing happened, she was disappointed but not for long as she would have found some other story to test. She even placed a pot of water near the Gulmohar tree  in her front yard. She strategically placed a few stones around the pot for any crow who was thirsty to drink out of the shallow pot. Crows did come around but flew away when they realized there was nothing of importance in the pot. After a few days, a silly crow managed to push the pot down to break it into many pieces.

Mithi’s belief that her Papa would only tell her the truth, made her stubborn when none of her ploys seemed to take effect. As a part of her afternoon play time, she and her dolly, Lola, put pieces of bread to form a trail so that “Hansel and Gretel” could find their way to her home and into her room. She waited for hours in her room playing with her doll house but Hansel and Gretel did not turn up. She then decided, it might be because they would have thought she was the wicked witch and wouldn’t want to make the same mistake again.  So she dressed up as a Princess with her tiara and got about playing the next story.

Mithi’s Papa watched her closely after he came back from work and worried that she was getting bored. Soon she might say that the stories were all untrue. What would he do then to put her to sleep. Surely, he couldn’t sing her to sleep. She might never let him into her room if he tried singing, he thought and chuckled to himself. He realized that Mithi did not have any companion apart from her dolly, Lola. The place where they lived did not have many children around and so did not have any community playground. Mithi had to be content playing by herself in the garden, in front of their house.  He made a note to himself that he needed to look for another neighbourhood where Mithi could play with other children.  Anyways, in a couple of months she was going to start school so things would fall in place. He felt much better after that thought. That night he told her the story of ” Goldilocks and the Three bears”. This time she did not ask any questions but he could sense that she was actually visualizing the whole story in front her eyes. He wouldn’t be surprised if she asked for three teddy bears or for that matter a blonde wig to play Goldilocks. He only dreaded that she might try to paint her hair to look the part. Before that he needed to make sure she had the wig and the three teddy bears!

On one such night he had tucked her and retired to his room. He switched on the television to catch up on some World News. After sometime he felt weary and drifted off to sleep. It would have been little after midnight that he woke up with a start. He realized he had forgotten to switch off the lights in his bedroom. But before he did that, he had a strong urge to check up on Mithi. He strode to her room as silently as he could and crossed the hallway to reach the lavender painted door.

He was taken aback to see a faint glow coming from underneath the door. He recalled having switched off the lights before stepping out but the faint glow did not look like the one from the lights. He slowly opened the door and then he stopped on his tracks.

He felt his knees go weak and felt paralysed. The sight in front of him made his face go white with fear. He tried to enter the room but felt like a force was pulling him back. He called out to her but felt as if she couldn’t hear him at all.

He saw her hoisted in the air and bobbing up and down. He could see that she was still asleep and had no cognition of what was happening to her. That eery glow was coming off the space around her and it was as if she was in a bubble. His trepidation filled eyes observed that a long and almost endless creeper had broken the window glass panes entered her room to surround it from all sides. He felt he was going mad when he noticed three tiny pigs dressed up in a suit and prancing about on their hind legs. Just when he thought that the tiny black flying things were flies, one of them just flapped their wings right in front on him. To his dismay he realized what it was. It was a crow from his stories. The crow flapped a few more times and flew close to Mithi’s floating body. He screamed and screamed for her to wake up and run to the safety of his arms. It was then he saw two shadows in the darkest corner of the room. He saw a cloaked figure that he instantly recognized from the faint red silhouette as Red Riding Hood only that she was faceless. The hood was hollow and only darkness seeped out of it. He didn’t have to think twice before he understood whom the gleaming green mean looking eyes belonged to.

Meanwhile the one of the miniature crows came back flapping its wings wildly.  It screamed the most blood curling screech which made the hair at the back of his neck stand. Suddenly he felt a cold wave wash his face and he woke up in cold sweat.

He immediately realized that he was dreaming. But his heart felt like lead and it hammered inside dangerously. He was unable to move for several minutes and sat upright in his bed thinking of the bizarre dream. He decided he wouldn’t be reading any mean bedtime stories to Mithi anymore since they had started to even affect him now. He felt he needed to check on her after the nightmare to make sure she was tucked in well. He silently made his way to her room and open the door. He saw her sleeping peacefully on one side holding Lola snugly. Quickly he made a survey of her room and felt silly about his nightmare. He took one more look at her and felt a deep wave of love engulf him. Not wanting to disturb her, he closed her door and walked towards his.

While he switched off the lights to his room and snuggled under this bedcover he felt he had missed seeing something. But he again pushed that thought behind and closed his eyes. It must be his nightmare, he decided. Certainly there was nothing in her room that he should worry himself with. With this he drifted off to another fitful sleep.

Back in Mithi’s room, as she slept soundly with Lola in one hand, she was unaware of the presence in her room. In the darkest corner, there sat a hooded faceless figure and a pair of gleaming green eyes keeping a watchful eye on their protégée.