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We’d been on holiday at the Shoon Sea only three days when the incident occurred. Dr. Gar had been staying there a few months for medical research and had urged me and my friend Shooshooey to visit. The first three days had passed enjoyably, and the holiday was a blessing for the two of us after a year of toil. We’d been busy as bees and were fatigued: I from writing books, and she from reading and teaching philosophy. We felt tightly wound and were intent on unwinding during the few days of leisure fate had given us. We loved sitting by the tall ocean-facing windows and reciting poetry, taking turns with bait-baazi couplets, or singing ghazals. Or we’d sit down to a game of chess, although I tend to be restless, so I couldn’t manage more than an hour or so. Suddenly, I ‘d stand up, leaving the game unfinished. Then the two of us would don aprons, enter the kitchen, and stand about in front of the stove making a show of turning our hands at something practical. Throughout it all we engaged in a continuous stream of conversation.

After sunset, Dr. Gar’s busy schedule would come to an end. Then the three of us would sit down together to revel in our leisure. Of course, you must know what a wonderful storyteller Dr. Gar is. He regaled us with tales of astonishing medical details and bizarre experiences, or offered his amusing commentary on international politics. Shooshooey and I laughed heartily throughout the evenings. 

But it was not until the third night that the incident occurred, and this I shall relate to you now. 

We had dined early that evening. This was because Shooshooey had come up with a new recipe: fried ocean fish with lemon juice; and also because Dr. Gar was going to tell us an exciting new story which we were eager to hear. 

But this did not come to pass!

I have long made it a habit to stay informed of each new change in the weather by staring out the window. So, there I was, staring out the window as usual, whilst Shooshooey hummed a melodious tune to herself. Dr. Gar was seated on a sofa cleaning his teeth with a toothpick after thoroughly enjoying Shooshooey’s delicious fried fish. Suddenly Shooshooey shrieked, ‘Oh, oh, oh, what are you doing? You’ll fall right out into the ocean, Roohi! Don’t lean out so far!’

I steadied myself at her scolding but remarked, as I continued to gaze out the window, ‘A peculiar small black cloud is forming between the sea and the sky.’

Shooshooey burst out laughing. ‘You always make such terrifying predictions about the weather, Roohi. Close the window and come sit over here. Today Dr. Gar is going to tell us a fascinating tale.’

‘Of course,’ I replied, still anxious about that little black cloud. 

By now Dr. Gar had now lit his cigar. 

‘This is a story taken straight from life, Roohi, my dear,’ he began. ‘Enough of your clouds, come sit over here.’

Before closing the window, I resolved to cast one final glance at the land and sky, just to make sure, and so I peered out again. 

‘Oh my, oh my!’ cried Shooshooey. ‘It seems this will be the day you stare out the window so hard you fall into the sea!’ 

I drew my head inside. ‘No, Shoo, I’ll stop now. But the cloud that’s forming seems a bit unusual to me… it could bear a storm!’

‘How would you know?’ snapped Shooshooey.

Dr. Gar burst out laughing. ‘Roohi, dear, you should have become a meteorologist instead of a writer.’

‘Well, I have no faith in that profession,’ responded Shooshooey, irritably. ‘Those people are always making inaccurate predictions of doom and gloom.’

‘But surely their inaccuracy is our good fortune,’ laughed Dr. Gar. ‘Roohi, close the window now and come sit here. I’m about to start a story. Both of you sit down. I won’t countenance any objections. Just have a seat and listen to what happened to me on a certain occasion.’

‘Yes, tell us!’ cried Shooshooey, all ears. 

‘Now don’t tarry, Dr. Gar,’ I said. ‘Set your cigar down in the ashtray and tell us your tale. But tell it in the classical style—with pure storytelling! Not symbolic language that makes use of bloodthirsty animals to illustrate human calamities.’

Dr Gar picked up his cigar again. ‘I’m hardly the timid sort of soul that needs to illustrate my feelings with the help of such aids,’ he said. ‘All right, now listen: let me tell you what happened to me once upon a time.’

But just as he was just about to begin, the telephone rang.

‘No, no!’ shrieked Shooshooey. ‘Don’t pick it up! Then you’ll never start the story.’

‘But what if it’s a patient calling?’ asked Dr. Gar anxiously. He picked up the receiver. ‘This is Dr. Gar speaking,’ he said. ‘…Is he still exhibiting symptoms, or has the attack passed? …Ah, then I’ll come right away.’

He put down the receiver and rushed to the front door without another word. He took his long coat from the peg and leaned over to pick up his medical bag.

‘My dears, I’ll be gone an hour. This person has had a heart attack,’ he explained.

The two of us felt terribly disappointed. 

‘But how can you go out in this weather?’ asked Shooshooey, crestfallen.

‘What do you mean?’ asked Dr. Gar with surprise. ‘What’s wrong with the weather? It’s perfectly fine.’

‘Roohi said a storm was brewing,’ Shooshooey reminded him.

‘That’s her imaginary storm, which is always on its way,’ said Dr. Gar, smiling at me.

‘Why don’t the two of us come with you?’ I proposed.

Not long after, Dr. Gar was swiftly driving his car into the night as the two of us sat quietly in the back. It is usually the case that human predictions of the weather turn out to be completely wrong. But that night! We drove out of the city, leaving the streetlights far behind. We were intrepid travelers—like Iqbal’s soldiers galloping through the oceans—as we searched and searched for the patient’s home in the darkness. Dr. Gar made several turnings, this way and that. He had to reach the patient’s home as soon as possible, and already half an hour had passed. He was starting to feel a bit lost when he noticed a petrol pump by the side of the road. 

‘In a deserted hell such as this, a petrol pump is a boon,’ he cried. ‘I can ask for directions to the patient’s home here, and also phone ahead and check on his condition.’

He hurried off to make the phone call but returned soon after and got back in the car. 

‘The patient has already died,’ he informed us. ‘It seems the heart attack was severe. Let’s go back now.’

But just then, the storm broke. The little black cloud I’d glimpsed through the window over the lower garden and predicted it could bring a storm was now brewing up a powerful gale. I felt a bit embarrassed, and anxious that Dr. Gar and Shooshooey might believe I’d somehow been conspiring with the cloud. The winds were sharp and fierce. There was deep darkness, with no flashes of lightning but plenty of thunder. The road was rough and unfamiliar. Things went from bad to worse, and the raindrops were now joined by hail, which we feared might damage the car windows. I felt ridiculously guilty, fearing that I had somehow caused the storm by my excessive window-gazing. 

Just then, a huge hailstone hit the windshield. 

‘Let’s pull the car over for a while, Dr. Gar!’ I cried.

‘Yes, I will have to,’ replied Dr. Gar, scanning the road ahead. ‘But where? I can barely see the road. There’s no sign of life here. We’re quite far from the city now.’

‘Roohi was right when she said a storm was brewing,’ moaned Shooshooey. 

I started guiltily when I heard my name.

A little while later the hail had stopped. But the storm had grown fiercer. We began to drive about looking for a better place to pull over. A gale arose, just as it does in classical tales. Just then we spied the lights of a building in the distance, an oasis in the stormy gloom.

‘How has a building appeared in this wasteland?’ asked Dr. Gar when he spotted the lights. ‘I’m actually a stranger to the city of Shoon, so I’m still not completely familiar with all the roads.’

As our car lurched to a stop, we could see through the brightly lit windows that the building was bustling with activity.

‘There appears to be some sort of festive occasion taking place,’ observed Shooshooey. 

‘This is wonderful!’ cried Dr. Gar, dropping the car key into his pocket.

‘But there are no vehicles for the guests outside,’ I pointed out. ‘If there are lots of people inside, where are their vehicles?’

‘Maybe everyone came on bicycles, and then brought them inside due to the storm,’ suggested Shooshooey.

I burst out laughing, ‘On bicycles! How is that even possible, Shoo? You say the strangest things.’

This whole time, Dr. Gar had been peering inside. ‘It seems to be a grand affair,’ he observed. ‘And we have no invitations. How can we go in?’

‘But there’s such a crowd,’ argued Shooshooey. ‘Who will recognize whether or not we’re guests?’

After a brief period of indecision, Dr. Gar knocked on the front door. It opened immediately and a lady came forward and greeted us. 

‘Come in, come in, when did you arrive?’

‘Just now,’ we replied.

‘Just now? Was it plague or typhoid?’

Dr. Gar was confused. ‘What do you mean?’ he asked.

‘For me it was plague,’ said the woman. ‘Oh my lord, the suffering! Fever, unconsciousness, tumors.’

‘Yes, indeed, those are the symptoms of plague…’ allowed Dr. Gar.

But suddenly the lady rushed off and disappeared among the other guests.

‘That woman seemed mad to me,’ declared Shooshooey. 

‘Seemed? She was absolutely mad!’ retorted Dr. Gar.

‘Thankfully she’s gone away,’ I said. ‘I do feel sympathy for lunatics, but I feel rather frightened right now.’

The three of us looked all about, a trio of refugees, before making our way into the next room, where a wedding seemed to be taking place. A cushion of honor was spread out on a small platform where a bride and groom lounged against bolsters in resplendent attire. 

‘This appears to be a wedding celebration,’ remarked Dr. Gar.

‘So will we have to give them money as a wedding gift?’ I wondered.

‘Of course!’ said Shooshooey.

‘You two would know better,’ said Dr. Gar. ‘I have no interest in such customs.’

I opened my purse, took out a one hundred rupee note to give as salaami, and approached the bride and groom. ‘Your salaami,’ I said meekly, placing the note before them. 

The groom looked up at me and Shooshooey. 

‘When did you arrive?’ he asked.

‘Just now….’ 

‘You just got here? Lightning struck?’

‘No? Struck what?’ I asked anxiously. 

‘During storms,’ said the groom, ‘lightning strikes and burns things to a crisp.’

‘But did this happen to somebody?’ I asked fearfully. ‘No lightning has struck as of yet…but yes, there is a storm raging outside.’

‘Actually, it was this very storm that brought us here,’ remarked Dr. Gar genially. 

‘Well then,’ remarked the groom, ‘lightning must have struck, and everyone must have been burnt to a crisp.’ 

‘No, sir,’ cried Dr. Gar, astonished, ‘no lightning has struck, no one has been burnt to a crisp. Did such a thing happen to someone?’

‘See that door behind you?’ asked the groom. ‘The two of us were standing right there. Suddenly there was a bright flash and we were struck by a bolt of lightning.’

‘Our wedding was taking place at the time’ added the bride.

‘When did this incident occur?’ asked Dr. Gar with alarm.

‘Fifty years ago,’ replied the groom.

This news filled me with terror. My blood ran cold.

‘I swear this place is a mad house,’ whispered Shooshooey.

‘What are you talking about, sir?’ asked Dr. Gar. ‘Neither of you looks older than twenty.’

All three of us were flabbergasted at our hosts’ ludicrous ramblings. Just then, a young man drew near.

‘When did you get here?’ he asked Shooshooey. ‘Did you drown in the ocean?’

Shooshooey stopped in her tracks and retorted, ‘This is obviously a madhouse. We must get out of here, or we’ll go mad too!’

The young man was quiet for a moment. Then he elaborated: ‘Did you drown in the ocean before coming here?’

‘What do you mean?’ cried Shooshooey. ‘I’m standing right here, right now. If I’d drowned in the ocean, how could I be here?’

‘You could only be here if you had drowned in the ocean,’ replied the young man flatly.

‘All of you seem like dangerous lunatics to me,’ retorted Shoooshooey with annoyance. ‘Who’s even talking about the ocean here? Who drowned?’ 

‘It was a vacation day,’ said the young man. ‘I was swimming in the ocean.’

‘And then?’ she snapped.

‘I drowned,’ he said. He walked away and joined the other guests.

Now Shooshooey was deeply terrified. Dr. Gar also looked rattled by the young man’s absurd statement.

‘Absolutely everyone here seems fishy,’ I said.

‘I don’t understand what’s going on!’ exclaimed Dr. Gar. ‘Are these people lunatics? Thieves? Bandits? Smugglers?’

‘Maybe they’ve drunk some type of poisonous substance? It seems absolutely no one here is in their right mind,’ declared Shooshooey.

‘Well there’s no point in wasting our time on speculation,’ I said wearily. ‘Let’s just leave the same way we came in.’

And so we went in search of the door through which we had entered. But our efforts were in vain. Either the door had disappeared, or we’d forgotten the way. Try as we might, we couldn’t find it. We felt discouraged and were returning to the party when we encountered a distinguished-looking gentleman.

‘Excuse me, Sir, can you direct us to the front door through which we entered?’ asked Dr. Gar politely.

The distinguished gentleman stopped and cast a glance at the three of us. 

‘All three of you—at once?’ he asked.

The doctor smiled apologetically. ‘There was a storm outside, Sir,’ he explained, ‘so we were forced to come inside.’

‘You had a car accident, or…?’ he asked.


‘Then…? You arrived without accident?’

‘Must one have an accident to get here?’ asked Dr. Gar.

‘Three months ago,’ explained the man, ‘I was driving towards the city when my car ran into a tree and was demolished. And I along with it!’

The three of us stared at the man in shock. 

‘But you seem fine now?’ ventured Dr. Gar.

‘Yes, of course. I had thought a car accident was what had brought the three of you here,’ replied the distinguished gentleman. Then he too disappeared into the crowd. After this conversation there could be no doubt that he was mad as well.

The three of us again set out to search for the front door feeling very perplexed indeed. During the course of our search, our eyes suddenly fell upon a chamber filled with innumerable tables laid with tablecloths, silver plates, and goblets. It seemed a banquet was in the offing!

Dr. Gar always felt hungry when he was anxious. ‘Wait, wait, my dears,’ he exclaimed upon seeing the banquet. ‘Let’s partake of some refreshments before leaving. The company of these lunatics has rendered me half dead. Come, let’s have a little something to eat.’

As we entered the banquet hall, Dr. Gar immediately picked up a plate and a spoon and leaned over a large steaming bowl. 

‘But what’s this!’ he cried. ‘There’s nothing but steam! The serving dishes are empty!’

At this, we rushed away from the banquet hall. We were forced to accept the fact that everyone here was highly suspect. But now we wondered how the food had disappeared. If there had been no food to begin with, how was it that steam rose from the bowls? Was this the mischief of some Jinn, or the magic of science?

After surmounting a thousand obstacles, we did finally manage to escape the building. We rushed out and jumped in the car, too dumbstruck to comment on the bizarre occurrences we had just witnessed. Our minds blank, our tongues tied, we drove home as silent as three corpses. As we drove, the dawn light began to spread out across the sky. After about an hour, we finally reached the city. 

‘I want to submit a report at the police station,’ declared Dr. Gar. ‘It seems necessary to inform the police regarding what happened to us and what we saw last night.’

And yet, we found that every time we mentioned the building to someone, they would stare at us in amazement. ‘There is no such building there,’ they’d say. Or if we told someone about the events of that evening, they’d gaze at us suspiciously, or just smile, and quickly set off in the opposite direction. We felt decidedly discombobulated by the unbelievable events of that night. But what remedy existed for us if there was no one with whom to share our woes? Oh, fangèd night, how truly didst thou wound us!


Hijab Imtiaz Ali (1908-1999) was known as the Queen of Romanticism in twentieth century Urdu literary circles. She was born in Hyderabad, India and moved to Lahore (which later became a part of Pakistan) after her marriage. In her seven-decade-long writing career, she wrote several short stories, novels, and plays. Her horror stories play with genre conventions, and can perhaps be best described as tongue-in-cheek gothic, with characters seemingly more concerned with the breaches of etiquette caused by supernatural phenomena, rather than their own fear. Throughout her life, Hijab populated all her writings - whether a romance novel or a terrifying short story - with a similar cast of characters, all of whom inhabit an imaginary universe of her own creation; a subtly feminist world that culturally resembles an amalgam of the Middle East and South Asia.