“Come in, Amara.” He gestured for me to step inside. The man did not look like a servant, but he wasn’t the owner either.

I nodded my thanks, grateful that there was finally a house generous enough to give shelter to a stranger.

The century-old house reminded me of the historical romances I read as a teenager. It had a grand staircase, antique showpieces, large portraits and plush carpets.

“I’m Mr. Sébastien’s manager. The corner room is reserved for guests.” He opened the door to reveal a rose-colored room.

“Thank you very much, Mr…”

“Luc.” He murmured and walked away.

I shrugged and went for a quick shower in the fully modernized bathroom. The four-poster bed was inviting. Driving all night drained my energy. I would have been home if it wasn’t for the wrong turn and a car breakdown in a strange town.

*******

I had no idea what woke me up; my rumbling stomach, the rolling thunder, or the cry of a beast.

The power supply was down due to the blackout. Using the candles from the drawer was the only option.

It was eerily silent except for the thunderstorm outside. Where was everybody?

And, most importantly, where the heck was the kitchen? It was two in the middle of the night. I was famished.

“Amara?”

I almost dropped the candlestick. “Luc? Thank god you’re here. I am searching for the kitchen. Hope Mr. Sébastien doesn’t mind.”

He gestured to follow him. “It’s okay. You must have been tired. The staff is on leave, by the way.”

Luc rummaged the fridge and offered me a glass of milk along with some bread and raspberry jam. I wasn’t sure I could find my room without help. The house was a maze.

“Why does the town have no place for visitors?” I gobbled up the food.

Luc shrugged. “They are old-fashioned. It’s been seven years since I came here. I’m still a stranger to them.”

“So what’s this blackout?” The milk was sweet and cold.

“A ritual for the townsfolk. They akin thunderstorms to the wrath of gods.” Luc replied.

“You can always leave.” I pointed out.

“Don’t ever do that, Amara,” Luc warned. We walked back through the winding passages and unlit corridors.

“Why? I’d be gone before they could blink.”

Luc turned me to face him. “Amara, do not step out until it’s over. Please. You are safe inside.”

He looked desperate. I tugged my hand wearily.

“Why?”

“I can’t tell you, Amara. Believe me, you wouldn’t be able to cross the town alive. Good night.” Luc closed the door on my face. Suppressing a yawn, I walked to the bed.

*******

Whoa! It was ten O’ clock, the next night when I woke up again. Never before did I sleep for long hours without moving a muscle. My mind was numb. Groping around in the dark, I managed to light the candle without burning my fingers.

The thunderstorm was still in full force. Stepping into the corridor, I went on a tour of the house.

Where was Luc?

A loud roar resonated in the house. Frantically, I caught hold of the banister. Or I’d have tumbled down the stairs. A thunderbolt struck a nearby tree. The house shook. Shadows danced around me. The beast roared again. The echo hurt my ears. I slumped on to the step, hugging myself.

“Amara? Are you okay?” It was Luc.

I stared at his hard profile. The candle was breathing its last.

“What was that?” My heart was thudding like a racing rabbit.

“I’m not sure how you’ll react.” Luc said, at last.

“It’s better than not knowing.” I followed him into a shadowy corridor to reach a window.

Pushing aside the heavy curtain, I saw half-humans danced naked in the lashing rain. Lightning illuminated their scarred, ugly bodies. Blood dripped from the wounds as they playfully scratched each other. Some creatures pulled out chunks of flesh from their own bodies and savored them like a steak.

Before I could react, Luc opened the door to a room.

“That’s Mr. Sébastien. He is one of them.”.

“This is not possible!” I sagged against the wall. A horrific beast was locked in a cage. It roared, trying to break free as Luc closed the door. I trembled in fear.

“The town was cursed. The residents turn into monsters during a thunderstorm. They try to prevent damage by locking themselves inside, but some escape and create a ruckus. The visitors are not encouraged for the same reason.” He gave me a glass of water. “It’s not drugged.”

“Why is he locked?” My hands shook.

“He is the head of the town. His life cannot be risked.” How could Luc be calm?

“You knew before?”

Luc shook his head. “Not until I saw it happen. Try to sleep, Amara. You can leave tomorrow morning.”

“They…” I gestured.

“They’ll be normal when the sun comes out.” He replied and went to bring me food.

He forced me to eat a cookie or two. I spent the rest of the night curled into a ball in the middle of the bed.

The rain stopped a few hours later. As Luc predicted, the creatures limped away. Sun peeked out from the horizon as my eyelids drooped.

I woke up to the sun shining high in the sky. The town looked ordinary from the window. People were back at work with bandages.

I was at the main door when a voice stopped me.

“I heard you had a scare, Miss Amara. It was unfortunate to meet you this way. Your car has been taken care off as a token of apology.” Mr. Sébastien was dressed in a black suit. He looked striking with a pair of green eyes and chestnut hair.

“Thank you,” I croaked glad he did not offer to shake hands. Luc was nowhere to be seen. It was probably for the best.

I floored the gas until the town was out of sight.

Srivalli Rekha

Written by Srivalli Rekha

Srivalli Rekha is a blogger, writer, nature lover, passionate cook, an amateur photographer who cannot live without reading books and good music. Her stories are featured in Sweek Flash Fiction Book(2018), Tales From the CLiff anthology (2018).