The mountain dogs were probably fighting for space to take shelter from the rain. The pet canines at various camps would somehow find us whenever we got closer to the campsites.
I assumed those to be the mountain dogs and stopped reliving my fear. The night continued with the monotone of the rain that drifted me to sleep.
The Previous Day
11,000 feet, Beskeri Camp,
It was blurry at first, then I heard somebody call out my name. There was an unusual disconnect that happens when one wakes up from a deep sleep.
"Sheeba! Sheeba! There is something outside our tent!", Yashaswini whispered panickily, her flashlight faced downward, leaving the tent in dim, ghostly light.
"We heard a growl. There is some animal outside the tent.", said Pooja.
"It is okay, it won't do anything, neither will it come inside-the tent door is tied well (it was a thread lock, not a zip lock tent) and there are too many people here."
"We heard somebody scream in pain-what if someone from our group is outside and in trouble."
The two girls were wide awake and looking at me, holding a bamboo stick in one hand and a torch in other. Their faces had turned white with fear.
Suddenly, it dawned upon me that I was the group leader. I had to do something and the first thing I did was disbelieve.
"It must be some animal. There are cattle around and animals do hunt at night"
"That cry seems to be moving. Wait for it until you hear it."
- - 5 minutes passed away in sheer silence and I was ready to doze off- -
All of a sudden, a piercing ghostly shrill, a terrible cry of pain-as if it was getting ripped into pieces-shattered the silence of the night.
Chills randown my spine as I sat aghast, wide-eyed and in complete shock. The two girls stared at me as if they had forgotten how to breathe; as if the time had stopped ticking for them. The three of us sat frozen in our places.
"Hold up your sticks. If you hear the growl again, bang them against the iron rod", I pointed towards the centre of the tent, "It will scare the thing away."
"But, what if somebody from our group is outside! Someone may have gone to the toilet, the sound came from the direction where the boy's toilet is."
The fear struck me in the face, but I didn't want to imagine things or visualize it. Something had to be done. First, we woke up seven other girls in the tent and told them everything.
"We will wake up the people in the next tent by shouting their names and asking them to check if anyone is missing.", I said.
We started shouting out the names of people who were sleeping in the adjacent tent. After a few minutes, the guys woke up and confirmed that they were all there.
By the time the message was passed onto the last tent we, all our tent mates heard another inhuman, shrill scream of a unfamiliar creature -this time the sound was more distant and seemed to be dying away.
My heart raced as my brain almost painted the picture of an attack with blood dripping from the poor creature as it ran for its life.
I immediately called out to others to wake up the camp leader.
"On the count of 2..!" and we all shouted his name at the top of our voices. We shouted for a good 5 minutes before I noticed light beams dancing outside our tent.
I peeped out of my tent and shouted at the silhouettes in the dark.
"Get in! There is something here!"
"What happened?" "There is nothing here. It must be some animal on a hunt. Don't worry."
Unfortunately, most of them were in slumber when we heard that high-pitched cry the last time. Nobody, not even the camp leader believed us-he claimed that there were no bears, no animals in those forests, which I thought was absolute foolishness to believe in, in a dense mountain forest like that.