Young Laiba sat quietly in a corner of the spacious kitchen, observing his mother as she prepared dinner. They usually ate long after nightfall, but after the event of yesterday his mother seemed determined not to let the kitchen fire break out in the ominous dark of the night.

“Laiba, come. Bring in your bowl,” his mother said with a gentle smile, looking satisfied with whatever she had prepared.

“Mother, it’s been a day already. When will father and the villagers come back?”

“Soon dear, very soon,” she answered confidently, but Laiba could sense an undertone of despair. He could easily sense these things – despair, hopelessness, loneliness and the wave of panic that had been wafting through the breeze for the past few weeks. There was a sinister affair at wake.

“Love, come over. Dinner is going to be so good. Waahh! The smell,” she sing-songed as she fanned the steam from her earthen pot and sniffed excitedly, making Laiba giggle as he walked up to her with his bowl. The food was good, as always: the fresh fish, tender and the vegetable stew, thick with seasonings. He always loved the way his mother prepared the best dish out of any ingredients. They both cleaned the vessels in no time, leaving them all shiny and spotless. Laiba walked out towards the backyard pond to wash his hands. The sun was already squeezed between the hills, burning red with heavy clouds that blazed.

He dipped his hands into the cold water and gazed at their sugarcane field that extended endlessly towards the southern forest. His father and a few of the villagers had gone through the field yesterday, chasing a menacing creature that had attacked a family on a full moon night. Laiba thought about the previous night again. He was lying by his mother when he woke up, screaming terribly in a piercing tone that didn’t sound like his own voice. His mother embraced him tightly and his father came running to their room, terrified.

“Laiba! Laiba! What happened? Did you have a bad dream again?” his father asked him, patting his bald head.

“Dear, are you alright?” His mother looked at him with concern.

“I am fine, but not them. Father, the house by the brook is in danger. I just saw a creature with long hands walking up towards their house. It said it will take away all the children inside,” Laiba spoke calmly. He was not at all afraid or disturbed by the vision in his dream, but both his parents looked at each other in horror. He felt glad that they were not the ones who saw the vision or they might have fainted at the gruesomeness.

Laiba, though just nine years old, didn’t feel anxious about the dream. Nightmares were regular. He had grown up dealing with such displeasures ever since he could remember. He was different, and for that, his village found it hard to accept him. However, as Laiba grew up, he realised that it was not just his excessively pale skin and eyes that were unique but his whole self, more sensitive to unknown energy. He knew if it was going to rain or if someone was going to die or if someone was corrupted in mind. He could tell just by looking at a person. Apart from this, he could also sense an unusual dark aura that lingered in the depth of the forest at the far corner. No villagers would ever visit the forest as they believed that evil creatures dwelled within, but he knew what they merely believed were, in fact, very much real. He could sense ravenous, desperate and despicable creatures lurking in the darkness, doomed to scavenge on filth and decaying matter, as they were shielded, magically, away from the protected realm.

Laiba did not know why, this time in his dream, he saw a creature, an utterly disgusting one, with long greasy mane, sallow boggy eyes, huge brownish teeth or tusks and, most distinguishably, the front limbs that resembled human hands, only extensively long, and which seemed to grow as desired. Laiba saw in his dream, this creature extending its lengthy arms towards branches and hurling its body forward with greed and desire to haunt the first human it could find, and Laiba, instinctually, had a feeling that the creature was heading towards the house by the brook, their neighbour.

“Do you think it is what I am thinking?” His mother whispered to his father.

“Yes, I think we need to warn them.” His father grumbled, rubbing his thin face, which was half-covered with thick dark beard. “Laiba, in your dream, is the creature on his way right now?”

“Yes, it’s dark where it was moving. Father, please tell them to be prepared,” Laiba said, worried that his father would have to go out in the dark.

“Fine. I will go, but you both should stay inside the house, no matter what. I will return soon.” His father patted Laiba’s head again and dashed out of the house, carrying his axe with him.

Laiba and his mother waited anxiously and it was almost dawn when they heard a shrieking cry right outside their field. Laiba jumped out of his bed and ran out, followed by his mother who cried, “Laiba! No! Come back!”

But Laiba was already at the back door. He pushed the wooden flap open and saw the horrible creature from his dream running up with only one arm, and the other, severed and bleeding profusely. The creature ran towards their sugarcane field, followed by a group of villagers with their axes and knives. Laiba saw his father leading the men with his blood-stained axe high up in the air. The creature managed to disappear within the dense sugarcane field, followed by his father and the other men, who chased after it without pause. Since then, none of them had come back!

Excerpted with permission from Wayel Kati: The Quest Of The Seven Guardians, Linthoi Chanu, Niyogi Books.