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  • Sulogna Mehta

Those footsteps

As the rain gained momentum, Ronnie scampered for shelter in the portico of the old church. But to his utter bewilderment and horror, he could still hear the sound of those footsteps – heavy, hurried, shoe-clad feet.

Worse, the sounds are not behind him anymore but seemed by his side though he could not spot anyone in the dark, drizzly night.

It had been around an hour that Ronnie was outside. He wanted to stroll outside the hotel their travel group had checked in that evening. The tour escort had informed him that the beautiful city of Innsbruck is safe enough for a solo outing late at night. While dining, Ronnie spotted a faint daylight even at 9 pm that July eve and decided to check the cityscape and click a few photos for his travel blog. Their tour group comprised mostly elderly people and families and Ronnie was left by himself. He didn’t mind it either.

Ronnie enjoyed tranquility and solitude – or so he thought till that night. He had barely walked for 10 minutes when it started drizzling. Darkness has descended by then. The street lamps created a mysterious aura, somehow accentuating rather than dispelling the darkness. He spotted some residential buildings cloaked in darkness on either side of the wide roads. Lights flickered from the hotels. Occasionally, a car or two would zoom past. As he walked, he heard church bells in the distance indicating it was 10 pm.

Ronnie gazed ahead and spotted a giant cathedral-type structure silhouetted against the darkness. The mighty Alps too stood in the backdrop. Ronnie, a history and archaeology enthusiast, started walking towards it. “The bell chimes must be coming from that direction. It seems like an interesting Gothic architecture out there.” Ronnie took out his cell phone from his jacket’s pocket and tried composing a shot.

He slowed down to click a few snaps and tried making a low-light video of the light rain pervading the street lights, of the silhouettes of the Alps and the buildings of the deserted road ahead. “Such a chilly, rainy night lets me soak in the city in all its serenity and solitude. Quite aptly, this Austrian city, a haven for skiing and winter sports, is called the ‘Second Switzerland.’ I am sure I will get some of my best photographs here,” he mused while keeping back the phone in his pocket and commenced walking towards the cathedral.

By then the passing cars became even less frequent, the night intensified and the chilliness in the surroundings too. Ronnie felt a cold air around and shoved his palms deep in his pockets as he shivered a little. For an instant, he visualized himself seated in his cozy hotel room sipping hot chocolate after dinner. Instead, he had chosen to take a stroll down the city street. It was then that he heard the footsteps for the first time. Clip Clop…clip clop…clip clop…loud and clear breaking the silence of the summer night.

“Should I turn back or walk faster?” He tried to look over his shoulder expecting a stalker but the streets were completely deserted. Ronnie increased his walking speed and then almost started running. The sound of footsteps seemed to diminish a bit. As he slowed down, he again heard the distinct clip clop, clip clop…a man’s shoed feet…an invisible man rather.

Ronnie started perspiring despite the chilliness. Out of panic, he initially did not realize that the pitter-patter had changed to pouring rain. “It is better I go back to the hotel but visibility is so poor in this rain. Let it come down first. I would rather wait in the church and check it out in the meantime.” Ronnie ran towards the direction of the cathedral, trying to block the thoughts of footsteps, which in reality seemed to have somewhat drowned in the sound of the rain. As he entered the porch of the closed and dark cathedral through a garden, he again heard the footsteps, horrified. There was not a soul in sight whom he could summon. The eerie light of the lamps hanging from poles above the garden sent a chill down his spine. “It’s a graveyard! Those white crosses are tombstones!” Gasped Ronnie, as he felt some mysterious force had dragged him to the last place he wanted to be at that moment.

“Am I over a kilometre from the hotel?” Ronnie thought as he remembered the tour escort’s advice not to venture too far from the hotel.

Despite the sound of the rain, Ronnie could hear the footsteps very close to him, the same ‘clip clop.’ He panicked again realizing that he couldn’t recall the name of his hotel. “God! Where am I? Who should I ask for directions? What’s the name of my hotel or the street or this church? There’s no Wifi or internet here. I can’t even find a board bearing the name of this Gothic building! Damn it,” muttered Ronnie.

The sound of the incessant footsteps was becoming unbearable, as if it was competing with the sound of his pounding heartbeat. “Is it an apparition or is it a criminal that wants to get at me?” Ronnie decided to try the last option of calling his tour escort. With trembling hands, he took out the phone from his jacket’s pocket.

As he was going to browse his contact list, Ronnie stared at the mobile screen. A video was playing…but it was all dark and through the darkness came the sound of footsteps…the video was playing on auto loop, again and again the same minute-long clip was being replayed… ‘clip clop.’

In a flash, Ronnie realized that after taking the photos and videos that night, he might accidentally have pressed some keys while placing the phone back in his pocket and that had led to the loop mode. He had been listening to the sound of his own footsteps all this while.

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