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, I am Biswajit Banerjee, and it is such a pleasure to welcome you to another episode of OBSCURUS. If you find this show interesting or entertaining, please subscribe and visit my website, biswajitbanerjee.com, for more information on my books, movies, voice-over projects, and this podcast itself. All OBSCURUS episodes and their transcripts are also available on the blog of the website. Please do join my mailing list by signing up on biswajitbanerjee.com. From time to time, I post educational and entertaining articles and videos that I think my readers and listeners will enjoy. I would also like to invite you to obscurus.buzzsprout.com, my dedicated website for this podcast. Other than all the OBSCURUS episodes and their transcripts, you will also find the chapter markers for every episode.
It’s time for the story now. An elderly gentleman is fond of taking strolls after dinner. It’s a habit he has lived with all his life. And now, even at the age of ninety, he doesn’t miss a single night walk. Tonight, he is taking a night walk again despite the cold and misty conditions. Let’s find out what happens…
NIGHT WALK 00:02:28
Written and performed by Biswajit Banerjee
Walking after dinner through the cold mists had been a long habit of Nick Wilson. He was ninety but fitter than most men and women in their fifties and sixties in the township. No greater pleasure existed for him than venturing into the nights at the hill district of Shwetkheda in the Himalayan foothills. He had spent all his life in those hills. And he never wanted to stay away from them. When he left Shwetkheda to be with his sons in Bombay or to meet relatives in other parts of the country, he missed the hills so much that he would often cut short his visits and return to the mountains. "Daddy loves the hills more than his children and grandchildren," his daughters-in-law would often jest. The statement, for sure, had some truth. Staying away from the hills distanced him from his true self.
Nick lost his wife more than two decades ago, and since then, his housekeeper Mrs. Helena Graff had been taking care of him. Although younger by more than thirty years, she acted no less than a mother. She managed everything about his life - in a way, even his night walks. Mrs. Graff knew when Nick would eat his dinner and what clothing and tools he needed for the walks. A thick overcoat, two pairs of glasses, a thick British hat, a powerful torch, shoes with sturdy soles, a stick, and a bar of chocolate - she kept everything arranged. Changing the flashlight batteries from time to time and looking for possible damages to the shoe soles so that a fresh pair was taken out when needed constituted the most important parts of her duties.
Another night ... another walk. Negotiating the snaky curves of the hilly roads that demanded careful walking, especially in the dark, had become second nature to Nick. He stood for a while, admiring the sight of the distant lights through the misty blankets ahead. It was one sight that never stopped exciting him. The lights somehow made him feel the power and the expanse of the unknown that enveloped the material world. The infinite and the infinitesimal came together to form a singularity that defied the world of forms. A faint smile surfaced as he thought of the foolish world of humans craving for small material gains oblivious to the realms of uncertainty and the unknown.
His feet pressed with just the right force as he traversed the unfriendliest parts of the track. A walk of another kilometer led him to the gravel footway adjoining the cemetery. Decades back, he would often see the watchman taking rounds close to the gate of the cemetery. He was an ugly man. The burns all over his body, particularly those over his face, gave him a near-demon look. The watchman died around the time Nick lost his wife. Flashes of his deceased wife's face crossed his mind. He wondered what was left of her now in her grave. Nick hadn't buried her in this cemetery. On his sons' insistence, the burial was done in another cemetery in the district plains, a graveyard meant for the elite. Humans looked for status even in death - the thought widened the grin on his mouth.
As he crossed the gate, his peripheral vision caught a swiftly moving figure. Nothing unusual came into view when he looked in that direction through the rusty iron gate. For a rational man like him, the fear of ghosts was entirely out of the question. Yet a chill ran through his spine. The vision was too strong to be ignored. With risen curiosity levels, Nick walked up to the gate for a closer look.
What he had seen was not a trick of the vision. There was indeed a figure - a woman in a spotless white sleeveless dress. Sleeveless in this weather?
Her hair fell over the back as she stood facing what appeared like a newly laid tombstone. Who could she be? A ghost? O no, surely not, but then what? A real woman? But what could she be doing in the middle of a cemetery now? It was well past midnight. The gate opened with a creaking sound as Nick pushed at it. The noise didn't seem to attract the woman's attention.
The cemetery conditions were colder, or perhaps the temperature had fallen further due to the deepening night. The icy breeze also carried the somberness of the place. As Nick walked in small steps toward the woman crossing several rows of graves, the winds' chillness grew sharper. Phantom icicles appeared to have penetrated his body. Never did he shiver like that. Suddenly age seemed to have caught up with him. That, however, didn't concern him now. All that mattered at that moment was to find out who she was.
The ground under his feet felt softer as he closed in on the young woman.
"Excuse me," he said, "who are you?"
Nick's words didn't appear to have fallen into her ears. Covered in the mist, she held her position, unmoved and unconcerned. Within moments Nick was no further than a cubit away from her.
"Excuse me, Ma'am," he said after clearing his throat.
No response followed still. With trepidation building in Nick's heart, he walked up to her and gazed at her face. Oh, beautiful! Beautiful indeed! She had done her hair, a spread of brown over black, into a bit of a bun over the forehead. The thin brows, the meditative character about her closed eyes, the sharp angelic nose, the divinely shaped lips, and the luminous quality of her snowy white skin - she defined charm! Who was she? A sorceress? A demon in her most delightful disposition? A fairy condemned to the earth? An embodiment of magic?
"Do you hear me? Who are you?" Nick stepped closer.
Her eyes opened, and Nick beheld their fathomless blue as she turned to face him. The traces of moisture under her eyes shone in the dim light offered by the light posts towards the periphery of the complex. Could she be a spirit standing by her grave and mourning her death?
"I have never seen you before," Nick said.
"I haven't been here before," the young woman said in her musical voice.
"But who are you?"
"Why are you interested to know?"
"I am curious."
"My name is Sofia, Sofia Coutinho."
"What are you doing here this late?"
"I am tired of closed spaces and wanted some fresh air."
'Closed spaces' - what did she mean by 'closed spaces?' Did she talk about her coffin?
The cold now bit into Nick's skin. He couldn't tell if the chill resulted from his proximity to a specter, or the temperature had dipped further.
"Are you talking about ..."
"I had always loved openness ... and I loved my freedom. In here, I have neither openness nor freedom."
"I am not sure I understand you."
A period of silence passed before the girl smiled. "Perhaps you don't want to understand."
"You aren't... I mean ... are you not ...?"
"No, I am not alive."
"But ..." Nick took a step backward as he struggled to speak.
"There are no 'ifs' and 'buts,' Sir. I am dead, and that's the truth. The problem is habits don't die, and they don't leave you even after you are gone."
"I better get going."
"As I said, I loved free space. So, you can imagine how I might be feeling now being confined to a closed space in a dark and damp cemetery."
"I beg your leave. I need to go." He moved further back and then turned around.
"But where will you go now, Mr. Wilson?"
In a swift movement, Nick turned again to face the girl. "How do you know my name?"
"I also know that you are obsessed with your night walks."
"Hey, who are you," Nick said, "is this some joke?"
"Just the way I can't do without openness, you can't do without night walks. Both of us carried our habits to our graves."
"The only difference between us is that I am conscious of being a disembodied soul, but you aren't—Mr. Wilson, today in the morning, your sons and another lady whom they called 'Mrs. Graff' buried you in this cemetery just next to me. You slipped out of your grave without realizing it wasn't another usual night for you."
"Shut up, shut up."
The woman smiled and walked away. There was a floating quality about her movements. Now, Nick clearly saw the freshly laid tombstone and its inscription. 'Rest in Peace, Nick Wilson (1883 - 1973)' - the luster of the inlaid words was unmistakable.
OUTRO 00:15:38 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!