Book House The Lead

“That Night”: A dark, twisted tale of friendship and betrayal in this psychological thriller novel

Author Nidhi Upadhyay
  • “That Night” is a captivating thriller novel written by Nidhi Upadhyay.

  • Natasha, Riya, Anjali and Katherine were best friends in college until that night, which began with a bottle of whisky and a game of Ouija but ended with the death of Sania, their unlikeable hostel mate. The friends vowed never to discuss that fateful night, until 20 years later, someone threatens to reveal the truth that only Sania knew. Is it a hacker playing on their guilt or has Sania’s ghost really returned to avenge her death?

  • As the faceless enemy closes in on them, the friends come together once again to recount what really happened that night. But when the story is retold by each of them, the pieces don’t fit. Because none of them is telling the whole truth.

  • Read an excerpt from the book below.

Katherine D’Souza

38 City Apartments, New York

Katherine turned around and found a long-haired girl in a tattered white dress in her kitchen.

‘I am Sadako from The Ring. Cool, no?’ Janice, her teenage daughter, asked through a layer of white makeup.

Katherine swallowed back the swear word that had almost escaped her lips. She flashed a faint smile and asked, ‘Where’s your brother?’

From the doorstep, twelve-year-old Aaron waved a plastic knife. He was waiting patiently, wearing a black T-shirt and dark jeans. Besides the knife, his only prop was a ‘Scream’ mask. It was where Aaron’s imagination began and came to an end, year after year.

‘You could be a little more creative, Aaron. It won’t hurt,’ Janice said.

Katherine ignored the bickering of her teen–tween kids, checked her phone once again and set out to drive them to the party. She was not a Halloween enthusiast, yet she had picked a short, red lace dress for herself. Janice insisted on adding a devil’s headband with red horns—a bit over the top, but it was Katherine’s only ticket to exit the party without annoying her daughter, a project that required more effort every week.

She parked the car and gave herself a quick glance in the rear-view mirror. Out of habit, she tugged the hem of her dress towards her knees. A tidal wave of underconfidence always hit her when she approached an unfamiliar social gathering.

She flashed a fake smile at Janice and rang the doorbell. A lady dressed in a witch costume answered the door. Katherine thanked the host and handed her a box of homemade witch-finger cookies. This year, Janice had made them look more realistic by staining the almond nails with raspberry syrup.

‘Sorry, I have a work call. I will be back in a couple of hours to pick them up. Hope it’s okay?’ she asked the host and caught Janice rolling her eyes. Of course, Janice knew it was just her mom chickening out again, but tonight Katherine had not bothered to be polite about her exit. She had kept up the pretence of normality for hours; anything more was not possible.

The WhatsApp group created by Natasha this morning had turned her mind into a sauna room. A gnawing sense of trepidation fogging the windows, making every movement and sound blurry with fear.

Katherine parked the car and entered the coffeehouse, which was as festive as her outfit. She resisted the fancy Halloween cookies, ordered a black coffee and unlocked her phone. There was no traction on the WhatsApp group. She vacillated between initiating the conversation or quitting the group, but neither was an easy decision to make. She dumped the phone into her bag much before her mind could turn into a basket of thorns, making thinking painful.

The envelope in her bag served an easy distraction: an offer letter.

A full-time position with her fastest-growing client was hard to resist. So was the money. But she knew what Samir would say—or rather, not say. If you want to run the show on your own, you can do whatever you want. Samir was neither a hands-on dad nor did he have any plans to be one. He earned double the money made by his peers, so that in his free time he could follow sports or news. Loading the dishes in the dishwasher or monitoring the kids was not how he liked to spend his evenings, so he left everything to her.

However, Samir had never quite stopped Katherine from taking up a job—it was fine by him if she could outsource all the housework or could train herself to live with a bag full of dirty laundry and a messy countertop in the kitchen.

An assignment-based freelance job worked for her. If she planned her day well, she had time to scrub the bathroom floor, be a helicopter mom to her kids and still get her creative juices flowing. She always had a steady list of clients and enough work to keep her days filled. But occasionally, an offer like this made her regret her decision to not work full time.

With a huff of annoyance, she pushed the offer back into her bag. She wasn’t ready yet.

I will never be.

She wished she were cut from the same cloth as her college friends. Anjali was already a partner in one of the fastest-growing consulting firms in London, Natasha was heading the Asia Pacific sales team for a multinational corporation and Riya had beaten the other two to fame with her stellar writing.

I am the only underperformer.

A new text message pushed away her unruly, dark thoughts. It was from Aaron.

‘Mom, please pick me up. This party is no fun.’

She replied, ‘Okay, honey. Wait outside.’ She wanted to ask him why he had insisted on going in the first place. Why did he always pretend to be someone he wasn’t?

Her questions felt like an epiphany. Suddenly, she wasn’t feeling that bad about putting away the offer letter. It would haunt her later, but not in the most unpleasant way. A sweet regret.

An hour later, Janice texted Katherine: ‘Mom, almost done!!! You can start now. We are in Emma’s backyard, playing the last game of the evening. Bring Scaredy-Aaron along for the final game at least!!!’

She knew Aaron wouldn’t want to go. He was already in his pyjamas.

‘Going to get your sis. See you in a bit,’ she shouted over her shoulder and locked the house.

When the doorbell at Emma’s wasn’t answered, Katherine walked around the side of the house. It led her to the pitch-dark backyard. She could barely put one foot in front of another, and the eerie silence wasn’t helping either. Was anyone actually here? And why were the lights out? She spotted a tiny halo of a candle and geared herself for a round of a spooky game.

Before she could orient herself to what she was seeing, voices in unison broke the deafening silence hanging in the air.

‘If any holy spirits are passing by, please announce your presence.’

This can’t be happening.

Katherine walked towards the game of Ouija, a buzz of fear rushing through her.

As she drew near the intoning voices, she spotted Janice’s hand settled on the Ouija. Katherine almost jumped out of her skin.

‘Janice, let’s go,’ she said, her voice inflected with mild panic.

Several irritated-looking teens rounded on her, the boring adult.

‘One more attempt, Mom.’ Janice pleaded.

‘Aaron is alone. Shall we?’ she said through gritted teeth. With a tug on Janice’s shoulder, she drew her daughter away from the game. Janice’s friends groaned in disappointment.

Katherine could have handled their exit better. But fear had warped her thinking—or was it guilt, or the formation of the WhatsApp group? It was fortunate that she had stopped Janice from playing the game of Ouija tonight; she wished she herself had done the same twenty years ago.

As they walked away, Janice swearing to never speak to her again, Katherine felt something zip down her spine. Fear.

Excerpted with permission from That Night, Nidhi Upadhyay, Penguin India. Read more about the book here and buy it here.


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