Ketaki Apte

Horrorscope: A horror short story

“I hope you booked the tickets for the December trip”.

“Uh huh” replied Rakesh distractedly. He had been poring over the newspaper all morning. It was a Sunday and that meant, he spent at least half an hour reading his favourite section, the horoscope.

“You know, my sister and her family already booked their flight. It is my father’s 75th birthday celebration. It will be quite a shame if we are not able to go”, Neeta insisted.

“Yes, I know but my horoscope tells me that I should avoid making any large expenses before 3 pm on Wednesday”

He only heard clanging of utensils as a sign of her exasperation. He knew how annoying she found all these ideas and beliefs, but this is what made of major part of who he was.

“You missed out on that job interview which would have paid you twice as much salary, only because you refused to travel on any vehicle on that day and walked instead. Only if I had known about this idiosyncrasies, I would have never agreed to marry you”

Rakesh continued to read the newspaper and making notes to plan the rest of his week. Neeta had long accepted Rakesh’s dependence on the horoscope. She made sure that none of this affected her or the children.

Neeta and Rakesh had an arranged marriage and as a part of it, their horoscopes were matched. Neeta was a science graduate and didn’t care even the smallest bit about it and looked at it as a typical Indian ritual. However, it was after the wedding, she realised Rakesh’s obsession. He was a decent and kind man who cared for his family and loved her a lot. After several years of marriage, she came to terms with the other side of him and decided that this would never affect the children.

Neeta bought the tickets before Wednesday, she was determined not the be at the receiving end of all jokes in her family. Everyone teased them ruthlessly every time they heard of Rakesh’s antics. She decided that she wouldn’t tell Rakesh the truth about when she bought the tickets. He didn’t need to know. But as her luck would have it, Rakesh happened to notice that the tickets were bought much before Wednesday. He was furious and walked out of the house and swore never to come back. Just like the few hundred times he had threatened to do so. Neeta knew he would come back after his temper cooled down a little.

As Diwali got over and December was getting closer, Rakesh had this sinking feeling that they had defied the horoscope, nothing good could come out of such actions. Rakesh often went for a walk in the garden near his house when he was able to find some time and being with nature calmed him. Neeta and Rakesh had been on tenterhooks since the day the tickets were booked. As he left the park, a little calmer, he saw the regular ‘wadapav’ shop that they all liked. Rakesh remembered how much Neeta loved ‘wadapav’ and decided to get one for her. That would definitely smooth things a little. He took the newspaper wrapped packet from the man and headed home. Neeta had a very long day at her work and was lying down on the couch when Rakesh got home. He offered to plate up the ‘wadapav’ and headed to the kitchen. Rakesh gave a cursory glance to that wrapping paper and as soon as he saw February 19 – March 2, he almost dropped the plate of food. He quickly handed the food to Neeta and didn’t even wait for her reaction. Neeta was almost expecting this, it was very typical of Rakesh. She smiled at him but he had already walked away.

“Avoid any travel unless absolutely necessary in the month of December”. Rakesh was shocked. He was right, this was not the same newspaper and yet it had a similar words of caution. “Your decision-making skills will be tested and therefore try not to make any significant commitment. Furthermore, Mars retrogrades from December 10 to January 04. Therefore, refrain from taking any major decision regarding occupation and finance in this period. The planetary positioning at the beginning of the next year..“ That’s all that the paper had.

Rakesh felt his palms sweat. He knew there was no way out of the trip to his wife’s parents’ place but the writing was on the wall, or the newspaper in this case.

The more time passed, Rakesh’s fear started to grow. He refused to let Neeta buy gifts for her family. He refused to leave the house, other than going to work and back. Neeta was exasperated with his behaviour. Rakesh wouldn’t let his children go for classes or birthday parties. He tried his best to make his wife stay back at home as well, but Neeta was undeterred. She had a house to manage and a family to feed. Every time she stepped out, Rakesh would ask several times if it was absolutely necessary. He would follow her to the door and wait till she came back home. As the travel date got closer, Rakesh refused to participate in the excitement. He had an ominous sinking feeling. He had saved the piece of paper and read it at least a few times in the day. This time, even the children noticed this strange behaviour.

Neeta just couldn’t take it any more. She had tried to be as supportive as possible, but this was beyond her patience. She grabbed both the kids and the suitcase that had been packed and walked out of the house. Rakesh tried to stop her, but he knew this time she was not going to.

As he sat in the empty house, he kept on reading the clipping of newspaper that had dominated this life for the past few weeks. He kept on flipping in anxiety. Suddenly, he noticed the back of the paper, there was one line that caught this eye. ‘Last week Tom Cruise’s latest movie, Mission Impossible Fallout released in the USA. Fans of Cruise have been waiting for this instalment of the movie ..’

Rakesh quickly looked up the movie release date and it was July 2018! So this horoscope was not for this year but the previous year! He collapsed to the ground and started thanking God for the miracle. He has been paranoid for no reason. He got up to get his phone as he couldn’t wait to call Neeta. He had to apologise. Just then, the landline phone rang. Annoyed, he picked up the phone and the voice on the other end said “Is this Mr Rakesh?”.

Rakesh just muttered something, he was waiting to call Neeta.

“Is Mrs Neeta your wife?”, the man asked.

“Yes, and if you are selling any cellphone plan, mutual fund or insurance, let me tell you, we are not interested. We are all just fine.” As he was about to keep the phone down, he heard the man “Mr Rakesh, we are sorry to inform you that there has been an accident and your wife and kids, sorry but they are no more”

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