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. I am Biswajit Banerjee, your host for this show. This episode happens to be a special one. Did I hear you say 'why?' Well, it is the podcast's twenty-fifth episode. My wonderful friends and readers, the success and popularity of OBSCURUS are all because of you! Your love and words of encouragement keep pouring in, and those are the sources of my strength and motivation. Please continue your invaluable support to this show.
As always, I would urge you to visit biswajitbanerjee.com, my website. Apart from information on my books and other creatives, you will find all the OBSCURUS episodes and their transcripts on the website.
Please also visit obscurus.buzzsprout.com, my dedicated website for this podcast. You will find all the episodes, transcripts, and chapter markers on this dedicated website.
OBSCURUS also wishes its readers and listeners the world over Happy Navratras. May limitless success and happiness come your way.
Now, it's time for the story. A special episode must feature a special story. Don't you think so? Well, I am fond of this tale, and I hope you like it too. Sridhar visits a bookshop that publishes and sells non-fiction books on paranormal subjects. In a while, he learns the ghastly truth about the store. Come, let's find out what's happening at the bookstore.
Written and performed by Biswajit Banerjee
As usual, his girlfriend Shraddha was late. In not more than twenty minutes, the movie would start. Sridhar dialed her number on his mobile.
"How long will it take you? The movie is about to start."
"It's a horrible traffic jam; I don't think I can make it by the time the film starts. And you know I hate catching movies from the middle."
"So, what do you want me to do?"
"Sell the tickets off. We can catch the next show."
"But Shraddha, the next show is at 7 p.m. Won't you be late for home?"
"Well, I believe I can still reach home by 11 p.m. if the roads are clear, of course."
"What if you get fixed in another traffic jam late in the evening?"
"Umm ... I will take a chance today. Sell the tickets and make bookings for the next show."
"By what time do I expect you?"
"Not less than an hour."
"Oh no, this is going to be a long wait for me."
"Come on, use up the time, Sridhar. Move around; there are lots of things for you to see in the Central Glitterati Mall."
"So, you want me to do some window-shopping now."
"Why only do window-shopping? Go ahead and explore the place - you might find a thing or two of your interest."
"Okay, I will do something for sure." 00:04:36
After hanging up the phone, when Sridhar looked to his side, he found a beaming girl - Jyotsna, one of the team members from the publicity department of the company in which Sridhar and Shraddha were working.
"Hi Sridhar, what a pleasant surprise."
"Hi, how are you?"
"Fine, and you?"
Sridhar nodded with a smile, "I am fine too."
"Do you come to this mall often?"
"Not quite, do you?"
"Oh yes, I love the book store on the ninth floor." Jyotsna said, showing a polybag of books in her hands," a huge shop it is — Bookimension — have you ever been to it?"
"No, Jyotsna. These days I don't read physical books anymore. Digital books are more convenient, I believe."
"But you will never get the books Bookimension sells in digital format."
"Why? Are they special books?"
"Absolutely! They are rare books — all on paranormal phenomena and unexplained events. Bookimension is not just a bookshop but also a publisher. The store only sells books published by it. Trust me, they are wonderful books."
"Isn't it a little strange that all books in the store should be on paranormal activities?"
"Why do you find that strange?"
"A book shop is supposed to keep books of all kinds, don't you think so?"
"Not at all. Rather, a bookshop should cater to specific areas. Don't you think such bookshops will be of great help to scholars? Imagine looking for books in your sphere of specialization in a bookshop with all kinds of books. The chance of getting a book that covers the particular areas of your interest will be low. Unfortunately, book stores like Bookimension are rare. Though you will find some shops just dedicated to medical, engineering, and law books, there are very few that, for instance, will keep only horror books, or romance books, or books on some other specific genre for that purpose."
"You appear to be a fan of horror fiction."
"Oh yes, I love horror fiction."
"No doubt, Bookimension that only sells horror fiction is a paradise for you."
"But Bookimension doesn't sell horror fiction?"
"Then what? Non-fiction books on the paranormal?"
"Yes. And the books are interesting."
"Who are the authors? Are they ghost hunters?"
"Not necessarily. There are books written by all kinds of authors."
"Don't you like reading about paranormal phenomena?"
"Some books on the paranormal are interesting; I read a few. But I am not a fan of fiction and non-fiction works on the paranormal."
"Umm-hmm, so what is your favorite genre?"
"Detective books and thrillers are great to read."
"And who's your favorite author?"
"Oh, I love Sir Arthur Conan Doyle."
"So, you are a Sherlock Holmes fan?"
"May I ask what are you doing here alone in the mall, Sridhar? You are surely not waiting for Sherlock Holmes or Dr. Watson, are you?"
"Well, I am ..."
"Okay, understood, you must be waiting for your girlfriend."
"We had planned to watch a movie, but ..."
"Let me guess, she got late, isn't it?"
"Right, but how did you ..."
"Come on, Sridhar, that was an easy guess — Shraddha is a habitual latecomer. Check up her records in the office. Our top bosses are too kind; that's why they have still not served a notice on her."
"But she's a brilliant sales executive. Agreed, she comes late, but her performance is exceptional."
A smile crossed Jyotsna's lips, "You get so defensive when someone even says a word against Shraddha. Indeed, she's a lucky girl."
"The truth is I am a lucky man; Shraddha is a wonderful person."
"Relax, you don't need to be her advocate all the time." Jyotsna laughed.
Sridhar, too laughed in response.
"Okay, take care, bye, Sridhar."
"Bye, Jyotsna, and you take care too." 00:09:17
Somehow, he had to spend an hour. What would be the best thing for Sridhar to do? Spend the time in a cafeteria brooding over his promotional prospects in the company while raising the caffeine levels in his body? Move around witnessing the hollow mall culture? Call up some old friends to renew contacts? Read a book on his mobile app that stored thousands of digital books? Well, none of these felt like a good idea.
Then it occurred to him — Bookimension — oh, yes, the book store on the ninth floor that sold only non-fiction books on paranormal subjects. Well, under the given circumstances visiting the bookstore appeared to be the best possible pastime. But before Sridhar visited the bookshop, he had to sell the tickets and reserve two seats for the next show. It didn't take him long to do that. Now, he was on his way to the store.
The ninth floor was not visitor-friendly by any stretch of the imagination. It was still under construction. All the floor offered now were a few shops scattered over its egg-shaped perimeter. Two heaps of building materials lay close to the lift door. For whatever reasons, the ninth floor also didn't have an escalator connection. Even the railing, intended to be ovoid in shape, was far from being complete with a large space separating its present extremes. Although the builders had used some ropes and red ribbons to cover up the void, the railing offered little safety. A playful child or a careless adult, for instance, might just trip over the ropes to enter God's eternal abode.
How could the administrators open up this unfinished part of the building — Sridhar had little ideas. Well, commercial interests reign supreme these days. There couldn't have been any other reason behind such a lackadaisical step.
The shops on the floor, except for Bookimension, it seemed, hadn't quite started their business. They were still setting themselves up for regular commerce.
Colorful lights lit up the name Bookimension on the board at the top of the store's frontal wall. On one side of this translucent wall was the entrance to the shop. A guard in a skeleton costume opened the door for Sridhar.
The shop owners had worked hard on the interiors. Replicas of Spider webs, models of ugly-looking reptiles and bats, male and female Dracula mannequins, paintings of haunted houses and creepy figures, and many other items representing paranormal themes of varied nature filled the shop.
The walls were fitted with several rows of shelves, all full of books. An old man and a young woman, working as store attendants, were dressed in Dracula costumes. The woman appeared elegant in her black hooded cape and shining silvery corset that combined majestically with her long flowing black skirt. And, of course, her knee-high boots added to her Gothic Dracula appearance.
As the pretty woman walked close to him, Sridhar realized he was the only visitor in Bookimension at that time.
"Welcome to Bookimension. Can I help you choose your books?"
"Well, I ..."
"What kind of books are you looking for, Sir?"
"To tell the truth ... I ..."
"Perhaps you can't decide till you know what books are available with us. Can I give you a guided tour?"
"Sure, but I may not make a purchase if I don't like the books."
"That goes without saying, Sir," the old attendant said with a smile.
When the old attendant's mouth opened, Sridhar noticed the stains of red on his plastic vampire teeth.
"Sir, my duty is to give you a guided tour of the store. Whether you buy or not is totally up to you."
Even the woman was wearing the plastic vampire teeth. But her cuspids were smaller than those in the mouth of the man. How did they manage to speak so naturally with the plastic cuspids? Perhaps they had enough practice of talking with that stuff in their mouths.
"Isn't it difficult to talk with those teeth in your mouth?" Sridhar couldn't help asking the woman.
"We are used to it, Sir."
"Oh yes, I thought so."
"Can we start the guided tour?"
"You might have wondered as to what does the name Bookimension mean."
"Is it a combination of the words Book and Dimension?"
"Correct. Books open up several dimensions of knowledge for the readers. Some of these dimensions are beyond the human intellect. It is the pursuit of such knowledge that leads to the meaningful evolution of the human consciousness. That's the concept behind the name Bookimension."
"For how much time will you be here. Sir?"
"Why are you asking?"
"If I know how long you will be here, I can plan the guided tour accordingly."
"Okay ... half-an-hour or so."
"Given the little time available, I guess you may just look through our bestsellers."
"Sounds good to me."
"Come with me."
The woman walked up to a section of the racks behind a monster's model, followed by Sridhar. She pulled out a thick book and gave it to Sridhar.
"Take a look at this."
The title of the book was First Few Ethereal Minutes After Death. As Sridhar skimmed through the book, the woman briefed him about it.
"This book by Professor Robert Dickinson explains what happens immediately after death. The descriptions are vivid — a true treat for readers of creative non-fiction books on paranormal subjects."
"The book appears to be interesting. These diagrams ..."
"They are very instructive diagrams, Sir. Professor Dickinson drew them. Come, I will show you the other bestsellers."
The young woman picked up another book and passed it on to Sridhar.
"Sir, this book is another magnum opus."
The title of this book read What Causes the Combustion?
"Demand for this book is on a constant rise. The author Anant Mahajan gives deep insights into the phenomena classified as spontaneous human combustion."
"Spontaneous combustion — does this book describe the chemical process of how things burn?"
"Not spontaneous combustion, Sir, but spontaneous human combustion. Take a look at the pictures in the book."
Every picture of the book depicted a common theme — human organs engulfed in fire.
"This is very strange — it shows human body parts burning."
"Indeed. Strange phenomena abound in the world. Spontaneous human combustion is one such set of phenomena. Sometimes a human body simply begins to burn without an apparent cause. Hundreds of such cases have been reported from all over the world. And these happenings are not just modern-day events. Some reports are more than three hundred years old. Although many researchers have offered explanations, none is good enough to explain these occurrences. However, Anant Mahajan has brilliantly explained the phenomena. Now, we know for sure as to what are the causal forces behind these events."
"What are the causal forces?"
"Well, I guess you should read this book to know the answer."
"Would you like to buy these books, Sir?"
"Well, I will decide later. Why don't you show me some more bestsellers?"
Sridhar followed the woman to another section of Bookimension's collection.
"Here's another lovely book, Sir," the woman said, placing a book named Truths about Reincarnation authored by Suzanne Adams on Sridhar's hands.
"So, this one is on reincarnation?"
"Yes, Sir. The book registered record sales over the last fortnight."
After skimming through its pages, Sridhar said, "The author believes reincarnation or rebirth to be a reality."
"Reincarnation has always been a reality, Sir. The process is too complicated for science to explain."
"Well, that is one way of seeing things."
"Perhaps you do not believe in reincarnation."
"Well, I need some proof, some tangible scientific evidence to believe in a phenomenon."
"But this book gives you proof of reincarnation being one of the biggest truths of the world. Why don't you buy it?"
"Maybe I will skim through some more bestsellers before deciding which ones to buy."
The lady kept the three books she had shown Sridhar thus far on a table and walked to another part of the store. Sridhar watched her long polished nails move over the books in that section. She pulled out one and gave it to Sridhar. Vampires: Whats, Whys, Wherefores, and Hows — the title read.
"Okay, so, this is on bloodsuckers."
"Do bloodsuckers really exist?" Sridhar asked, looking through the pages of the book.
"Without a trace of doubt."
"Do they dress like you folks?" He smiled.
"Not always, the world is full of vampires, but it is difficult to identify them. They look like any other human."
"Interesting — sounds like a Hollywood movie."
"Fact is always stranger than fiction, Sir. This book is a wonderful read. The author Christina Taylor tells you all about vampires. Would you like to buy it?"
"Maybe you should show me some other books."
"Sure, I would love to show you more bestsellers. But you said you would be here for half an hour or so."
"Well," Sridhar said, looking at his wristwatch, "perhaps there's time to check one more book."
"Okay, come along."
Then she strode diagonally across the store to the section behind the male attendant. Sridhar followed her. The name of the book the woman now placed on Sridhar's hand was The Substance Spirits are Made of.
"This one is selling like hot cake. The book, amongst other things, explains how and when spirits get the power to touch material objects. Please appreciate, when evil spirits acquire such powers, they often disturb humans. It is a brilliant book by Jyotsna Barua."
"Who's the author?"
"The name is written on the cover, Sir. This is her first book — her name is Jyotsna Barua."
"I know one Jyotsna Barua. I wonder if she is the author. She met me a while back in the mall and told me about your store."
"Sir, you could check up her picture in the About the Author section of the book. Go to the last but one page."
Oh, yes, Jyotsna was the author of this book. The same photo that figured in her company I-card was printed in the About the Author section.
"She's the one — Jyotsna Barua — my colleague. We work in the same company. But Jyotsna never told me she writes."
"Maybe because she has just started writing."
"Well, she could have at least told me that Bookimension also published a book written by her when she met me a while back."
"I am not sure why she didn't tell you, Sir."
"Never mind, pack up all these five books."
"Thank you so much, Sir."
"Tomorrow, I will get The Substance Spirits are Made of signed by the author — my colleague Jyotsna Barua."
"But Sir, spirits don't sign books."
"What? What do you mean?"
"Sir, Bookimension only publishes books written by the dead."
"Are you kidding me?"
"Not at all, Sir. All these books you see on our shelves have been written by spirits. The authors are all dead — Professor Robert Dickinson, Anant Mahajan, Suzanne Adams, Christina Taylor, and Jyotsna Barua — now exist as disembodied souls."
"Oh, shut up, this trick will not work on me; I met Jyotsna just about forty-five minutes ago."
"You probably met the material manifestation of her spirit."
"This is sickening! Is this the usual way you deal with your customers?
"Sorry if my words hurt you, Sir. What about these five books? Won't you buy them now?"
"Well, I will still buy them, but I didn't like the foolish trick you tried to play on me."
"I will pack the books for you."
"Take this and deduct the total amount." Sridhar kept his credit card on what looked like the billing desk."
"Well, we have no use of it."
"So, you take only cash payments."
"No, we just take blood payments."
"All you need to do is to let me suck a little of your blood. You will die in the process. But then, you can read these books only after you die. After all, Bookimension books are by the dead for the dead."
"Another sick joke! I should have walked out of your store the moment you tried playing your first trick. Now, keep the books with you. I am leaving."
"Sir, the bill is ready."
"To hell with your bill; you guys are sick." 00:26:04
As Sridhar turned around with the intent of walking out of the store, he found his legs frozen. And then he heard the footsteps of the woman behind him.
"This won't pain much, don't worry."
Soon Sridhar felt her fangs on his neck. Although the numbness of his limbs was on the rise, he banked on his willpower, a mental resource that had always served him well in life, and jerked his body forward moments before the fangs could sink into his flesh. The jerk brought his senses back, and Sridhar rushed toward the door and pushed it open, and then ran with all the momentum at his disposal. But he could not go too far. Sridhar stumbled over an assortment of building materials and fell with a thump, his head hitting the ground hard. He closed his eyes as consciousness escaped his body.
When Sridhar opened his eyes again, he found himself surrounded by Shraddha, a couple of guards, and some construction workers.
"Oh, I am so relieved to see you open your eyes," Shraddha said.
"Why did you come to this place, Sir?" One of the guards asked.
Sridhar sat down with Shraddha’s support and said, "I came here to visit Bookimension."
"Bookimension! What is that, Sir?" The other guard said.
"The bookshop on this floor."
"O come on, Sridhar, there is no bookshop here. And, this is not a floor; it's the terrace." Shraddha explained.
Sridhar looked around him. Indeed, it was the terrace of the mall. Some building materials were scattered around, but there were no shops.
"What brought you here, Sir?" A construction worker inquired.
"Well, I am not sure."
Memories of the fangs touching his neck ran through his mind.
"Do you see two closely placed spots of blood on my neck," Sridhar said to Shraddha.
"You are speaking as though a vampire attacked you," Shraddha said as she examined his neck.
"What if I say a vampire actually attacked me?"
Peals of laughter filled the air as Shraddha looked at him with puzzled eyes.
"What kind of things are you saying, Sridhar?"
"Are there ..."
"No, there are no marks of blood. Come on, Sridhar."
"But the vampires in Bookimension on the ninth floor of the mall ..."
"Listen, I know this mall inside out. It only has eight floors, and there is no bookshop on any of its floors. And in any case, bookshops aren't supposed to be on a mall's terrace, don't you think so? All the stuff — the bookstore by the name of Bookimension and the vampires inside it — don't exist. Those must have been things in your dream."
"You mean I have been dreaming?"
"But how could I come to the terrace?"
"God knows, I can't explain it."
Shraddha's mobile phone rang in her bag.
"Hello," she said after accepting the call, "what? No, this can't be ... are you sure ... can't believe this news ... oh, no, poor girl."
"What happened?" Sridhar asked after Shraddha finished talking on the phone.
"Shocking news! That girl called Jyotsna Barua in the publicity department died last night!"
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!