The Frozen Ghost

The Frozen Ghost

‘A sad tale’s best for winter,’ declares Prince Mamillius in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. The one he has in mind about ‘sprites and goblins’ and a man who ‘dwelt by a churchyard’ remains untold, but it would probably have been more scary than sad. Unlike the young prince, I believe that horror stories belong to all seasons. Mine were related in the month of May.

During our childhood, my brother and I used to spend our summer holidays in Madras (not Chennai then), at the home of our maternal grandparents. There, we were joined by our cousins, who would clamour for my fearsome fables. As the eldest, it was my delightful duty to meet their expectations.

My nocturnal narratives were as eagerly awaited as those of the fictional Scheherazade but, unlike that renowned raconteur, I did not conjure up countless concoctions. I had a restricted repertoire and repeated time-tested favourites. Among them was my inimitable invention, The Frozen Ghost. True to its title, it produced a chilling effect.

This had to do with the ambience in which it was heard. We were out in the garden, in near-complete darkness. Besides, lest familiarity with the plot breed contempt, whenever The Frozen Ghost was on the midnight menu, I would garnish it with innovative ingredients. I also enhanced it with spooky gestures. Sound effects were subdued, as we had no wish to awaken the adults indoors. They disapproved of our supernatural sessions and were utterly unappreciative of The Frozen Ghost.

My macabre masterpiece concerned an extraordinary event and its calamitous consequences. A boy crept into a refrigerator, could not creep out and came to a cold culmination. Surmounting this setback, he assumed the abnormal avatar of the Frozen Ghost. Unaccountably immune to defrosting, he wandered the world, liquidating, as it were, everyone he encountered. I impressed upon my gaping group of youngsters that, unconstrained by climatic conditions, he might strike us down in the sweltering city where we were assembled.

Why anyone would get into a refrigerator in the first place was a doubt I discouraged. I expected Coleridge’s ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ on the part of my listeners, who dutifully gave my glacial ghoul their unquestioning acceptance. Accustomed as I was to their absolute absorption in the spectral saga, I was surprised when, on one occasion, I lost the attention of my audience.

“The Frozen Ghost resembled an animated icicle,” I announced, but my words lacked impact. My brother and cousins were staring, transfixed, at a point behind me. Their glassy expressions reminded me of my classic creation, whose exploits I was recounting. Turning round slowly, I was thinking (as we all were) that we would rather face bizarre beings, frozen or fried, than the alarming apparition bearing down on us — our grimly glaring grandfather.