Welcome to OBSCURUS, your weekly dose of paranormal fiction. Every Wednesday OBSCURUS features new short stories and serialized novels written by novelist, screenwriter, and voice-over artist Biswajit Banerjee. The realm of the paranormal stretches far beyond the usual horror story. So, while you will get to listen to lots of ghost stories on this podcast, there will also be many tales of lesser known paranormal themes. To get us started, here's your host Biswajit Banerjee.
HOST TALK (00:00:47)
Hello, and welcome to OBSCURUS. My name is Biswajit Banerjee, your host for this show. I am so glad to be back with you for another story of the paranormal. In case you missed the inaugural episode, please do catch up with that one as well. Also, I would be delighted if you could take some time and visit biswajitbanerjee.com. You will find plenty of information about my books, movies, voice-over projects, as well as other areas of my work. From time to time, I post interesting articles and videos that I hope will be entertaining to my followers. Also, you could visit obscurus.buzzsprout.com, my dedicated website for this podcast, where you will find all the OBSCURUS episodes, their transcripts, and chapter markers.
Okay, so now tell me how you would feel if circumstances forced you to spend a night in a haunted room. Well, the protagonist of today’s story certainly was unhappy with the prospect of sharing a room with a ghost, but he had little choice. Let’s find out what happened …
STORY - EYES (00:02:13)
Written and performed by Biswajit Banerjee
"I need a room."
"Sorry, no rooms are available."
"What! No rooms?"
"All are occupied tonight."
"Any other hotel in this area?" Shyam said.
"Well, just a far off guest house."
The boy thought for a while. "Well, not less than a hundred miles and the road is terrible. It is bumpy, and the rains must have made things worse."
"Look, you must make some arrangements for me. A small room will also do."
The desk trembled before the boy could make a response. Within seconds, a cat, gray and ugly, jumped up on the counter. Somewhat startled, Shyam took a few steps back.
"Sorry, Sir, Jack is very naughty."
"Can you help me?" Shyam asked, ignoring his comment on the cat.
"Sir, I want to help you, but ..."
The desk shook again as the cat jumped on to the floor and rushed up the wooden spiral staircase.
"Wicked, he is so wicked," the boy said.
Shyam's eyes fell on the old-fashioned clock on the wall behind the desk. Around 12.30 a.m –by agreeing to his business partner's proposal, he made a big mistake. Well, a blunder, to be precise. Brindapur was no township. Dibakar had no clues he was sending his partner to what could, at the most, be called a moderately developed village.
Shyam's presence helped to strike a deal with the supposed township's local self-governance unit. However, any of their agents could accomplish the same. For what strange reasons, Dibakar suggested that Shyam meet the officeholders in person and for what stranger reasons he agreed were beyond his grasp. The absence of train connectivity to this place was a sufficient clue for him to gauge its backwardness.
A tiring four-hour drive from Delhi had drained him. The lengthy meeting in the evening, though a successful one, had sucked out most of his remaining energy. And now -- he found himself stranded in the middle of the night under the most unexpected circumstances.
Finding accommodation was such a challenge in Brindapur. After a good deal of search, he did locate this one -- an inn called 'Ghanshyam Das Guest House.' It was an old and discolored building with blackish-red bricks visible in places where wall plaster had disintegrated. But what stroke of fate! Even this lousy inn had no place for him. It was strange that so many people visited this rather remote and uninteresting village that night to fill up the building to its capacity.
The roads were indeed bad, just as the boy said, and driving would be too risky. All he needed now was a bed to drown himself in.
"You said you want to help me," Shyam said.
The boy nodded, "Yes, Sir."
"How? By making some makeshift arrangement in this lobby?"
"No, Sir, no common space in this building is big enough for a cot. In any case, no spare bed is available."
"So, you mean you can't help me?"
"Sir, I can if ..."
"If you choose to stay in Mr. Ghanshyam's room."
"So, I must share a room with Mr. Ghanshyam?"
"No, the room is unoccupied, Sir. Years ago, when Mr. Ghanshyam and his family used this building as their residence, Mr. Ghanshyam chose that room for himself."
"So, there's a vacant room, after all."
"Yes, Sir, that room is vacant."
"Why didn't you tell me before?"
"Because ... nobody wants to stay in that room, guests have had experiences."
"Is the room haunted?"
"Yes, Sir. Mr. Ghanshyam's spirit hovers in that room, but rest assured -- he can't harm you. The ghost is really harmless. He hardly appears before the guests. There's a ninety-nine percent chance that you will feel nothing."
The thought of staying in a supposedly haunted room was an uncomfortable one. Although Shyam was a pure rationalist and never believed in God, ghosts, or, for that matter, in supposed paranormal phenomena, sharing a room with a phantom was a horrible plan, to say the least.
"What did those guests complain about?"
"Most of them reported seeing a misty figure in the room. Some reported strange sounds, and some sensed an invisible entity pacing the room."
Things didn't sound encouraging at all. To take the room or not take it -- he had to make a choice. With his rationality disoriented, the decision was a bit difficult to make.
"Sir, trust me, the room will be safe for you. I've stayed in that room myself more than a dozen times and nothing happened."
"Nothing at all?"
"Once strange creaking noises woke me up. Those could also be from the old beams supporting the building, I am not sure if the ghost caused the noises."
"You mind staying in that room with me tonight?"
"Sir, no one will be at the desk if I stay with you. I have strict orders to be at the desk when the occupancy is high. But you are getting frightened without any reason. The spirit will not harm you."
"If you are so sure about the room being safe, why don't you give it to visitors?"
"Because of the one percent chance, the ghost would make its presence felt. Although his presence is quite innocuous, the guests might be afraid of him. So the management decided not to give the room to anyone. We haven't offered the room to any guest for the past four years. I wouldn't have even mentioned it to you if you weren't in such trouble."
"All right, give the room to me." Finally, Shyam gathered his guts.
The boy entered Shyam's name and address in a register and took his signatures. Then he picked up Shyam's bag and said, "Follow me, Sir."
They walked up the rickety wooden staircase leading to the upper level of the building. There were rooms only on one side, and the space between the rooms and the wall was a little over a foot. Altogether, five rooms lined up in sequence in the upper level. Perhaps the lower level had no living rooms or bedrooms. From the look of it, the lower level consisted of the kitchen and the washrooms. Did the rooms in this level have attached toilets, Shyam wondered.
"Are there toilets in these rooms?" he asked.
"Yes, Sir, before turning this building into an inn, the management, which consists of Mr. Ghanshyam's family members, refurbished the rooms and built toilets in each room."
The supposed haunted room was in one extreme. The boy unlocked the door and walked in. After he put on the lights, Shyam too moved in. Though shoddy by the standards of an average hotel room in Delhi, it looked like a luxury in the given circumstances. What a delight the room would be to Shyam's eyes if no weird thoughts played in the back of his mind. Why did the boy tell him about the ghost if he was so sure of its innocuous nature, he would do a great service to him if he hadn't told him about the phantom. Anyway, it was time to regain his rational self and give his mind and body some rest.
"What's your name?" Shyam asked.
"Ankur, Sir," he said with a smile.
The bed at the center of the room was properly organized. Two sets of head pillows and bolster pillows were neatly arranged on the shiny yellow bed sheet. A wooden console table and an old-fashioned color television atop it stood a little ahead of the bed. Purdahs covered the windows on the other side of the room. Ankur kept Shyam's luggage on a suitcase rack.
"Do me another favor, get me some tea."
"I am afraid, Sir, the kitchen stops working at nine. Otherwise, I would have offered you dinner and beverages."
"Never mind, thank you."
"Our kitchen starts quite early, though; I could bring you bed tea around six-thirty if you want."
"Please do, that will help." Shyam smiled. "Wait, what if I need something, "Can I talk to you from here -- any intercom facility?"
"No, Sir, no intercom."
"O yes, I knew it."
"Sorry for the inconvenience, Sir."
"Well, you did your best."
As Ankur walked towards the door, the power failed. "Oh, what luck," Shyam whispered to himself.
"Load shedding, Sir," Ankur said, walking back to him.
"Is there a generator?"
"When will the power be restored?"
"No idea, Sir, sometimes it comes back in minutes and sometimes ..."
"What? It takes hours?"
"Yes, Sir, but I will bring you a torch, a powerful one."
"Do what you can," Shyam said with frustration.
Sleep eluded Shyam despite the fatigue. By now, his pupils had adjusted to the semi-dark conditions. Slowly he moved his fingers next to the pillow to feel the torch to make sure it was there. Though he had drawn the curtains from over the windows, letting some light into the room, it was still pretty dark, and under the circumstances, the torch felt like great support. In case something weird happened, he would need the light to run out of the harm's way -- oh negative thoughts again ... he decided not to feed such frightening ideas.
Nothing eerie was going to happen, and he would be just fine -- Shyam made some positive mental suggestions. Then, however, the sequence of events since the time he arrived at the inn ran through his mind causing new reasons for anxiety. Ankur's suggestion that all rooms were occupied, then his offer of the supposed haunted space, the power failure -- was a criminal plot under execution?
Fear gripped him as he got up with the torch in his hand. The light of the torch helped him reach the door, and he checked the latches. The door was locked.
Then he walked to the window side to check. All were bolted. Was there some secret entrance to the room? He flashed the torch all over the walls -- no, nothing. He could have been making too much of a simple thing. Perhaps he should now shun all anxiety and get some sleep.
Before long, he was sleeping, but the anxieties kept his subconscious levels active. Every now and then, his slumber broke as his cautious eyes opened up to ensure everything was fine. Then the weird thing happened. While he was half-asleep, he noticed some pressure on the bed's mattress. Someone, it appeared, was sitting on one corner of the bed. When the realization dawned on his conscious mind, he opened his eyes and got up with a start. Whoever it was had moved from the bed by now.
"Who's it?" Shyam said in a voice choked by fear.
All he heard in response was some rustling in some distance. Someone was standing close to the console table ahead of the bed.
"Whooo ... who?"
The rustling got more prominent, he quickly grabbed the torch and flashed it in the direction of the movements, but the torch slipped from his hand and rolled over to the floor. In the fraction of a second during which the torchlight lit up the area ahead, all Shyam saw was a hairy face with red eyes like cinders burning with rage.
With his heart in his mouth, Shyam got up from the bed. Whoever or whatever it was made a sharp movement from the console table. The footsteps didn't sound like those of a man. The intruder must have been some astral entity ... a ghost ... o yes, a ghost, the spirit of Mr. Ghanshyam Das. Spending another second in that room could be dangerous, he rushed towards the door with the torch in his hand. As he started unlocking it, he heard the same rustling movements from outside, followed by a loud mew. In the next second, he knew what had happened.
The door opened inwards as Shyam pulled the knob. Jack, the cat, moved away from Shyam, and within seconds he was running down the creaking spiral staircase. A smile appeared on Shyam's lips.
Sharp at six-thirty in the morning, Ankur brought tea and snacks. The morning rays through the window seemed to have washed away all the room's gloom and heaviness.
"Good morning," Ankur said with a smile.
"Good morning, Ankur."
"Did you sleep well, Sir?"
"Slept a bit, yes."
"You mean if the phantom caused any troubles?"
Ankur nodded as he smiled even more.
"No, but I got a shock of my life," Shyam said.
"What happened, Sir?"
As he sipped the hot tea and chewed the fried snacks, Shyam narrated the incident of glowing eyes and how he found Jack to be the intruder.
Ankur had a hearty laugh. "Jack can be naughty, Sir, I think he entered your room through the ventilator of the washroom."
"I too guessed so."
"Sorry for what Jack did, Sir."
"O come on, he's just a cat. By the way, I will check out in an hour; please prepare the bill."
"Fine Sir," Ankur said, arranging the flask, the empty cup, and the dish on his tray, "a couple of attendants will be here in some time, I will send one of them to pick your luggage up after an hour."
"Right," Shyam responded, "and thanks for everything."
Later in the evening, when the partners met to celebrate the deal with a toast in a popular bar at Delhi's heart, Shyam narrated the night's adventure to Dibakar.
"Be sure, your reasons go for a toss at the prospect of confronting a ghost," Shyam said, concluding his story, "thankfully, the ghost was Jack, the cat."
"Well, some animals such as cats have a special reflective layer at the back of their retinas. It's called tapetum lucidum. This layer increases the quantity of light taken in by the photoreceptors in their eyes which is the main reason that causes their eyes to glow in low light conditions."
"Wow, quite a piece of information, Dibakar."
"Don't forget, I majored in zoology."
"O yes, indeed. Jack's tapetum lucidum gave me jitters for some time."
"But Shyam, you spotted red eyes, right?"
"Are you sure about that?"
"Yes, I am one hundred percent sure, but why are you asking?"
"I see one problem with your narrative."
"Be clear, Dibakar."
"The tapetum lucidum of a cat does not reflect red light. Its eyes cannot appear red in the darkness or when light is flashed on it."
"Well, go on," Shyam said.
"If you saw red eyes, it couldn't have been a cat; if it were a cat, the glow would have been yellowish. Besides, you would see its glowing eyes even in the darkness. A cat's eyes do not need torchlight for glowing."
"What are you driving at?"
"Sometimes, in photographs, people appear with red eyes. Photographers call this phenomenon the red-eye effect."
"Yes, it happens often."
"Do you know what causes the red eyes to appear on the photos?"
"No, I am not quite sure."
"When light from a camera flash enters a human eye, sometimes the pupil doesn't contract fast enough to stop the rays from reflecting off the blood vessels of a tissue called the choroid. In the resulting picture, you see people having red eyes."
"You think the night's experience had to do something with the red-eye effect?"
"The red-eye effect gets captured on a photograph. I am not sure if a human eye could experience such phenomenon when light is flashed on a man or something like a man in front of it."
"You mean ..."
Shyam didn't finish the sentence, for he knew what Dibakar meant.
Thanks for listening to OBSCURUS. If you like what you heard, please subscribe and visit biswajitbanerjee.com for more information about Biswajit's books, movies, documentaries, and other creative pursuits. We shall see you next Wednesday with another episode of OBSCURUS. Till then, take care!