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 your host Biswajit Banerjee. Today's story is about a mirror. Before I take you through our protagonist's extraordinary journey, I would encourage you to visit my website biswajitbanerjee.com and become a member of the site. Also, I would be grateful if you joined my mailing list. All the episodes of this podcast and their transcripts are available on the website and on obscurus.buzzsprout.com, my dedicated website for this podcast. The dedicated website also provides you with chapter markers for all episodes, giving you easy navigation.
Now, let's start the story. A screenwriter lives in a cottage during an international assignment, but senses something unusual about a mirror there. By the time he understands the truth, he is staring death in the face. Come, let's join him on this bizarre journey.
Written and performed by Biswajit Banerjee
How wonderful it felt to look in the mirror. Don't get me wrong, I’m not talking about any random mirror. The large wall mirror I used during my stay in Brisbane, that's the one I’m on about. Many stories have been weaved around mirrors, many of them dealing with abstract themes including the supernatural. However, my story is very different – it changed my life. I will try and narrate it exactly the way it happened.
In September 2009, a film company with headquarters in Brisbane invited me to become a part of the screenwriting team for one of their upcoming projects. By the way, I’m a Calcutta-based Indian screenwriter. The company hired my services because a large part of the film dealt with Bengalis, and I had earned quite a name in India for my international award-winning screenplays for Bengali films.
The Australian film project was a prestigious one, and I got the opportunity of meeting several important figures from the American, French, and Australian movie industries. Incidentally, I was the only Indian involved in the project. The film's scripting team consisted of two American, two French, and three Australian screenwriters, as well as myself. In the true spirit of professionalism, we worked together as a single organic whole. The results that followed were very encouraging, and the producers were pleased beyond words.
One of the team members was Evelyn Turner, a renowned Australian screenwriter. In fact, she missed the Academy Award by a whisker a couple of years back. Evelyn and I became good friends. Despite her huge accomplishments, she was firmly grounded and never let her fame and celebrity-status come between us. Although I learned a great deal from each of the screenwriting team members, I picked up the most practical methods of plotting and structuring fiction movie scripts from Evelyn.
The large advance that the company had transferred to my bank account was more than double what I usually earned writing one Bengali script.
There were even more reasons to be happy. The company had arranged excellent accommodation for me. My cottage had a spacious living room and a cozy bedroom – the facilities were far better than those offered by the best of seven-star hotels in the city. Large windows, velvety curtains, chesterfield sofas, stylish glass-top tables, comfortable beds – I couldn't have asked for more.
Let me get to the main point now – the living room in the cottage had a mirror. It occupied more than half the wall and practically reflected the entire room. I couldn't tell why, but it was different from all mirrors or purposeful reflecting surfaces I had ever seen thus far. Its perfect polish resulting in the clear reflections was certainly not what made it unique. So what? The shape? No, there was nothing extraordinary about the shape either. There was some exceptionality about the mirror that I simply couldn't spot.
Anyway, the production company had a lovely cafeteria. One of its walls was entirely made of glass and offered a rare panoramic view of the city. After finishing a day's work, Evelyn and I often spent time together there. Our discussions over coffee spanned from petty gossip to the intricate details of film grammar and screenwriting. One evening the mirror in my cottage came up in conversation.
"What do you mean by the mirror being unusual?"
"Well, I can't explain it."
"Come on Prabhat, you are a screenwriter; I am sure you can explain. At least try."
"Okay, the mirror … is … you know …"
I simply couldn't explain. How could I? I had no idea what was so unique about the mirror.
About fifteen days later, one evening after returning to the cottage from work, I found myself looking quite differently when I saw my reflection in the mirror. The image was a much more handsome version of my usual self. It was as though somebody had applied the most effective beautification filters of a photo editing software to the image. The cut on my chin appeared less pronounced, and my receding hairline past the temples didn't look too bad. My body looked muscular, and for whatever strange reason my potbelly appeared to have shrunk in size.
If only I could be like the image in the mirror! Over the next half an hour or so, I posed like the popular superheroes before the mirror and watched my image strike the same poses. It was quite the amusement! Watching the image follow my dance steps was also great fun. Then I suddenly realized what a foolish frenzy I had gotten into. Instead of being worried about how the image looked different from me, I had begun to revel in the strangeness of what I witnessed.
Over the next few minutes, I tried to look for reasons behind the strange phenomenon. However, despite my best efforts to rationalize the experience, nothing struck me. Anyway, I wasn't afraid even one bit. Though there was no rational explanation for the handsome mirror image, I didn't believe it to be paranormal activity.
Evelyn asked me about the mirror the next evening at the cafeteria, but I chose not to share my experience with her.
"Is there something you aren't telling me, Prabhat?"
"What makes you say that?"
"I’m just asking you."
"No, I’m not hiding anything from you."
"Do you still find the mirror strange?"
"Actually, no, the apparent strangeness of the mirror I mentioned to you the other day might have been a construct of my mind and nothing more."
"Are you sure?"
"Somehow, your words seem to lack conviction."
"Come on, you are such a good friend; I have no reason to be telling you lies."
I had little doubt Evelyn knew I was lying. She surely felt bad, but I had no other choice. Somehow, over the last few days, I had developed what you may call a fiduciary bond with the mirror. 'Fiduciary', in simple terms, would mean something to do with trust. By telling her the truth, I would betray the mirror's trust – that was the emotion that was running through my mind. In all honesty, it wouldn't be incorrect to say that I had begun to love the mirror. It opened up a new dimension of hope and happiness for me.
After another week, I believed I understood why the mirror was so different from other reflecting surfaces. It wasn't an inanimate object. The mirror was alive and breathing like us! And it loved me. That was the reason why my image in it was so handsome. The mirror, I reasoned, wanted to make me happy.
Over the next two days my image got even better-looking, and it was replicating my poses and actions with great elegance and style. No matter how strange or childish you might find it, watching the image repeat my steps with such smartness was a great delight. Indeed, I found a loving friend in the mirror.
My growing bond with the mirror didn't affect my work as a screenwriter. In fact, I found myself composing scenes much better than before. Some of the scenes were pretty complicated, but I pulled them off in record time. The experienced screenwriters of our team were surprised at the promptness and accuracy of my work. In some dialogs, English and Bengali had to be mixed up in ways so as to make them universally comprehensible. This was no easy job. Perhaps I would have taken days, if not weeks, to accomplish such tasks before. However, I finished them in just over four hours. The producers were thrilled.
"You are doing pretty well these days," Evelyn said, sipping coffee.
"Thanks. I have to leave," I responded, looking out the glass wall. Tiny lights had begun to appear as dusk settled over Brisbane.
"Why so soon?"
"I need some rest."
"You don't talk about the mirror anymore, Prabhat."
"Mirror! Why do you want me to talk about the mirror? I thought we were already done with that subject. There's nothing unusual about the mirror. Forget what I told you about it."
A part of my mind resented my rude response as I walked out of the cafeteria, but I paid little heed to such stray thoughts. All that mattered to me now was the mirror. To watch my handsome image replicate my actions had become an obsession. I was convinced the mirror was trying to do me good. By making me happy, the mirror was helping me realize my upmost potential. Happiness could do wonders! The reason I was working so well was that I was happy, very happy. All my self-doubt and negative thoughts had withered away. One of the French team members said my screenwriting methods reminded him of the greats like Ingmar Bergman and Robert Bolt. What music those words were to my ears. And all this was happening because of the mirror!
Shortly, I was standing before the mirror striking poses. The image, which I had now named 'Replicator,' did whatever I did with greater poise and my eyes took pleasure in its elegant postures. Oh, by the way, I had also given myself a new name – Originator. The Originator and its Replicator – wow, what an incredible combination! To tell the truth, the Replicator made me complete … thus far, I had been leading such a meaningless life. Thank goodness they called upon me for this project, otherwise I could never have become complete. I was just half of myself; the Replicator was the other half. It was true that I could exist on my own, and the Replicator would spring to existence only when I stood before the magic mirror. Yet, the Replicator was no less important than I.
My reverie would have continued if it were not for the sharp ring of my mobile phone. The screen flashed the name of Evelyn.
"Why now?' I whispered.
For a moment, I thought of declining the call, but that wouldn't help; I knew she would call again. So, I accepted it.
"Where are you, Prabhat?"
"In my cottage, where else would I be?"
"Are you angry for any reason?"
"No, but tell me, why have you called?"
"These Frenchmen want me to take them around the city now. Brisbane has a great night life. Why don't you join us?"
"Thanks for the offer Evelyn, but I don't wish to go."
"It will be great fun, I promise you."
"Please, Evelyn, I just said I am not interested; you guys go ahead."
I hung up. Yet again, a part of my mind wasn't in agreement with my rude conduct. But I was more interested in watching my image do beautiful things … or should I say replicate things more beautifully.
A few days later, before writing the climax scenes, we discussed the possibilities of straying from the approved plot points recorded in our beat sheets. Half of the people thought that plot changes may have to be explored to cut down any monotony in the visual sequences. What boring talks! It was, after all, going to be the first draft script. A script usually goes through several revisions. So, I found it quite pointless to be discussing possible variations in the script at this early stage. Besides, as screenwriters, we were supposed to write things in conformity with the approved plot points. To make changes to the plot without the approval of the producers made little sense.
One of the French screenwriters, Lucas Bisset, sensed my displeasure.
"Hey, you don't look happy Prabhat."
"Of course I’m not happy."
"Why, my friend?" Lucas said.
"Don't you think it's foolhardy to be talking about variations without the producers' consent?"
"But the producers know what we are doing," Benjamin Jones, the senior-most American screenwriter, said.
"Yes, the producers know about it," the other Frenchman, Andre Danton, said, "I have had a word with them. They actually want us to change the climax."
"Then you guys should have said that right at the beginning. Couldn't one of you have briefed me before this discussion?"
"Well sorry, don't be so annoyed Prabhat," Benjamin said, tenderly touching my hand.
"Cool down, brother," Lucas said, "we would have told you anyway."
"Enough of this hide and seek game, I’m leaving," I got up and started walking out of the hall apportioned to our team of writers.
"Hey listen, Prabhat," Lucas spoke from behind me, "no hide and seek game is happening. This is not such a big issue, please calm down my friend."
"Listen, listen …" Evelyn said.
I strode out of the room with Evelyn closely following me.
"What are you doing, Prabhat," she asked, holding my arm and turning me around, "all the respect you have earned here will go down the drain. Every team member has so much affection for you. How could you behave so rudely?"
"Mind your own business, Evelyn. You guys are a bunch of jokers."
"This can't be you, Prabhat, this can't be you."
"Leave me alone, will you?"
In less than half an hour, I was standing before the mirror. Yet again, I struck more than a dozen poses and loved the sight of Replicator striking the same poses with greater elegance and gravity.
Nothing is more important than watching you, Replicator. You are all I want to be. If only I could be like you, exactly like you. Given a chance I shall abandon my real self and become my reflection in the mirror.
The mirror and the Replicator were all I had in my mind.
Replicator, you are so much better than I, your Originator. I feel so proud to be your Originator. Although I am not as good as you, your existence can be traced back to me. That in itself is a great quality about my being, don't you think?
It was as if Evelyn was contract-bound to disturb me. Once again, my mobile phone flashed her name.
"Not again," I shouted as I declined the call.
Within seconds I got another buzz. Maybe switching off the phone would have been the best thing to do. But not quite, because this girl might then have come to the cottage. There was no other choice – I had to take the call.
"Hello," I said down the phone.
"Listen Prabhat, there's something vital that you must know." She sounded very disturbed.
"Look, I am not interested in knowing what the team members think of me."
"Oh yes, I know what you will say – I have lost their respect for my misconduct at the meeting, is that it?"
"Be quiet and hear me out, Prabhat," she now shouted.
I then heard her pant with nervousness as a few seconds of silence passed.
"Why aren't you speaking now?" I questioned.
"Yes, give me a moment," she said, "Prabhat, listen to me carefully, just leave that cottage right away."
"What the hell are you saying?"
"I have spoken to the producers. They will give you a better cottage to stay in."
"Have you gone crazy, Evelyn? Did I ask you to speak to the producers? Now listen – I am not going to change accommodation, no matter what."
"Try to understand, Prabhat, that cottage isn't a good place. I believe there's some evil force there."
"Really! Now I know why the Hollywooders trust you so much to write horror movies."
"This is no joke Prabhat, change your cottage. Do you understand? Change your cottage … if possible, do it today."
"Enough of this rubbish, Evelyn."
"There are reasons for me to believe something is wrong with that cottage."
"And what may those be?" I enquired with a wry smile.
"Two earlier occupants of that cottage committed suicide. Each sliced a dagger through their throat."
"So what? How did you conclude that the cottage had something to do with the suicides?"
"Leave that cottage Prabhat, I beg of you."
"I wonder how all your rational sense has dried up. Use your grey matter, Evelyn, and leave me alone."
After hanging up, I switched off the phone and positioned myself before the mirror again. I smiled, the Replicator smiled too; I threw a flying kiss, so did the Replicator.
"Did you see what I did, Replicator? I shut her out. And trust me, I will shut out anyone who tries to come between you and me. But what will happen after the project finishes? Well … maybe I have a solution for that problem. The money I will earn in completion of the project will be enough to buy this cottage. Once this cottage becomes mine, no one can separate us." I whispered to my mirror image.
Then I started striking poses again. The Replicator, as before, threw the poses back at me with much greater panache.
With a big smile, I proclaimed, "Hey Replicator, you are the epitome of style; I am so proud to be your Originator."
As I saw the mirror image replicate my mouth movements, a chilling wave of horror crossed my mind. It dawned on me that the mirror image wasn't replicating my mouth movements. Those movements were its own. Rather I was replicating its actions!
Another shock gripped me when I realized that it had been the reflection making the original movements all along. I had only been replicating the mirror image's movements.
Now I knew what was so different about the mirror. It generated images that stole the control of movements from the ones who stood before it and hypnotized them into banishing everything else from their lives. It forced them to fill their minds only with thoughts of the mirror and the images formed in it.
So, the image was the Originator, and I was the Replicator!
My realization came too late. By now, I was entirely under the spell cast by the mirror. All I could do now was to repeat the actions of my own image.
The reflection rushed to the wall cupboard of the mirror-world and opened it. I, too, did the same in the real world. It took out a large dagger from the topmost shelf of the cupboard. And I followed suit. Then it turned, so did I – we now faced each other. The image moved the dagger close to his throat. And yes, I replicated his actions again.
Somebody knocked at the door.
"Open the door, Prabhat," Evelyn called out.
There was nothing I could do now. All of my motor activity was under the image's control.
"Come on, open the door."
Meanwhile, the image had started pressing the dagger's tip against its throat; I did the same. As I felt a stream of blood emerging and flowing down my body, the door flung open. Evelyn had broken in. She first looked at the mirror and then at me.
"Take the dagger off your throat, Prabhat."
There was no way I could remove the dagger. My movements were bound to those of the image. When I was just about to slice through my throat, Evelyn picked up a chair and slammed it against the mirror. The impact damaged the polished glass, but it still held together. She struck the mirror again, and this time it came crashing down.
As the glass splinters scattered across the floor, I regained control of my limbs. Evelyn rushed towards me and snatched the dagger from my hands. After throwing it away with disdain, she looked at me with all the compassion in the world.
"You idiot," she said, and took me in her warm embrace.
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!