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7

Suddenly I felt two tear drops fall from above on my forehead. Dark clouds had converged over the Arali Hills on that day. The dark forests and Shusta's waters stood absolutely still as a precursor to some impending disaster. Water, land, and sky suddenly shuddered; and a storm, like a maniac who had broken his chains, unexpectedly swept through the woods howling. The doors of the large empty rooms of the palace thrashed wildly and wailed in agony.

All the servants were still in the office; there was no one to light the lamps. On that dark new moon night I clearly felt that a maiden was lying on the carpet on the floor beneath the bed and tearing at her hair; blood freely trickled along her brows. Sometimes she broke into a wild laughter and sometimes she sobbed and beat her chest in despair. The wind blew into the room from the open windows and the relentless rains drenched her.

The rains and the wailing continued throughout the night. I continued to pace the rooms; there was no one. Whom could I console? Who was expressing such immense sorrow? From where was this inconsolable grief emerging?

The mad man called out, "Stay away, stay away. Everything is false."

I saw that it was already dawn, and Meher Ali, even on this terrible wet day, had not abandoned his usual activity of going round the palace and shouting out his favourite refrain. It suddenly occurred to me that Meher Ali too might have at one time resided in this palace and had turned mad. This stony demon continued to draw him to it; the attraction was so intense that he had to come every morning to go round the palace!

I ran out in the rain and asked him, "Meher Ali, why do you say everything is false?" He however gave me no answer but pushing me aside continued with his circumambulation while screaming "Stay away, stay away. Everything is false." It was like the scream of a bird that had been mesmerised by the sight of a snake and found itself unable to fly away; although unable to tear himself away from the palace Meher Ali was cautioning himself to stay away, that everything was false.

I rushed to the office and confronted Karim Khan. "What is the meaning of all this?" I demanded to know from him.

This is what the old man told me: "Once upon a time the palace was witness to many unfulfilled desires and flames of delirious affairs. The curse of those unfulfilled desires has fallen on every stone of the palace and they have become hungry and thirsty; they fall upon a living person like a greedy ghoul. Among those who have spent three consecutive nights in that place, only Meher Ali has escaped their clutches but has turned insane; no one else has been able to escape them."

"Is there no way I can escape their clutches?" I asked Karim Khan.

"There is only one way; it is very difficult," the old man said, "I will tell you. But before that I have to tell you the history of a Persian slave girl. You may not have heard of a stranger and more heart-rending tale".

Just then the coolies arrived and informed that our train was approaching. So soon? Even as we were hurrying to gather our things, the train arrived. An Englishman in a first class compartment had thrust his head out of the window in order to read the name of the station. When he saw our fellow-passenger, he hailed him and took him into his own compartment. My relative and I got into a second class coach. We could not discover who our fellow-passenger was, nor did we hear the end of the story.

"The man took us for fools, and dished out a tale just for amusement. The whole story is a figment of his imagination," I told my relative. This argument however did not find favour with my theosophist relative, and it has caused a life-long rift between us.

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