Bhrigu was unusually quiet during the ride back home. He couldn’t get the old man and his strange contraption out of his head. What did that thing do? Did it have magical powers?

It was dark now and the traffic was sparse, and Damodar continued to drive in silence. He knew that sooner rather than later, Bhrigu was bound to burst out with what was bothering him.

Sure enough, Bhrigu started, “Dad, do you know what happened today? There was this funny-looking old man who had this really cool thing with mirrors. And he called it Mephis-something. It was a bunch of mirrors actually…”

“Okay, wait, slow down! What old man?”

Suddenly, they heard a flutter.

“What was that?” Bhrigu asked.

“It must be something outside,” Damodar said after a moment. “So you were saying – an old man…”

The fluttering sound came back, but this time it was much louder and clearer. Damodar slowed down and parked on the side of the highway. They both stepped out, and Damodar raised the rear door of the car.

There was a crow under one of the seats.

“How in the world did it get trapped here?” Bhrigu asked, his stomach lurching slightly.

Damodar was shocked too, but he recovered quickly. “I think I know. When we were at the location, I asked someone to get a few things from the car. He must have left the door open for a while, and the crow must have flown in and got trapped.”

Bhrigu and The Palace Of Mirrors, written and illustrated by Soumitra Ranade.

There was a long pause as they both considered this possibility. Finally, Damodar said, “Well, it’s the only explanation I can think of right now.”

“But Dad, we’ve been on the road for more than an hour, and we just heard the sound. What was the crow doing quietly in the car for so long?” Bhrigu said.

“Okay, well, maybe, after we started, it was trying to figure out what was happening, hoping that the door would open for it and it would fly out. It must have got scared and given up on that possibility, and then got desperate…which is why it started fluttering…”

They both looked at the crow, which was now showing no sign of wanting to go anywhere.

“It’s scared of us. That’s why it’s not flying away; we are in its way,” said Damodar.

They stepped aside and waited. Minutes passed, but there was no movement from the crow.

“What do we do now?” Bhrigu whispered.

Suddenly, the bird started inching towards the opening. Perched very close to the door, it looked at them for a moment and just like that, it took off.

“That was creepy!” Bhrigu exclaimed as they got back into the car.

Bhrigu and The Palace Of Mirrors, written and illustrated by Soumitra Ranade.

“Hmmm, stranger things have happened.” Damodar laughed, turning on the ignition. There was complete silence for a few kilometres.

Finally Damodar turned to Bhrigu and said, “So what about the old man you were telling me about?”

“Oh yeah! So, he had this thing, okay? These mirrors, he called it Mephis-something…I don’t know! He used some big word, and he said – ” He stopped as he noticed his father staring at something on the road ahead.

A fair distance from their car, they saw a crow flapping its wings desperately. Lit up by the headlights, the bird looked ghastly as it cawed, like it was in pain. Eventually it fell on to the road right in front of them. Damodar managed to brake just in time, and the car halted with a screech only a few feet away.

They got out of the car again. Bhrigu bent over to look at it closely, and his heart skipped a beat. “Dad…it’s the same crow.”

“Don’t be silly! We left it behind miles away – that’s not possible!”

“No, Dad, really! See the little white patch on its neck? It is the same crow! I am sure of it.”

Damodar peered at the bird with the light from his mobile phone. Could his son be right?

He turned to Bhrigu. “Anyway…let’s go. There’s nothing we can do here, and we are getting late.”

Just then, the crow feebly flapped one of its wings.

“It’s alive, Dad! Did you see?”

“Yes, I did. We must pick it up and leave it away from the road. Otherwise someone might just run over the poor fellow.”

They gathered a few large leaves and Damodar gently picked up the crow. “So what’s going to happen to it now?” Bhrigu asked.

“Don’t worry. One night’s rest and it’ll be flying by morning.”

Neither of them spoke for the rest of the way. All that was audible was the soft whirring of the air conditioner and an occasional horn of a truck zipping past. By the time they got home, they were very tired and the incident with the crow was left behind on the highway.

Excerpted with permission from Bhrigu and The Palace Of Mirrors, written and illustrated by Soumitra Ranade, Hachette India.