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, and I am your host for this show. Can characters of a story spring to life? In today’s story, we find a novelist interacting with his characters. Is he hallucinating? Well, we will find out shortly.
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And now, let’s start the story. The characters penned by a novelist come to life, or so the novelist believes. His psychiatrist thinks he is hallucinating. The novelist’s wife also thinks her husband has some mental issues. What’s the truth? Let’s find out …
THE CREATOR 00:02:35
Written and performed by Biswajit Banerjee
"Why can't you give me a more dignified position in the overall scheme of things?" The old man asked, scratching his chin.
"It is my job to decide who's doing what in the plot," Dhruv replied.
"You should at least be kinder to your protagonist, don't you think so? The readers will think of me as a fickle-minded idiot after reading your story," the young girl said, adjusting her locks, "you practically made me a brainless beauty."
"How many times need I explain characters do not get to decide how the story will move. Don't forget, as the writer, it is my prerogative to decide who does what." Dhruv said in a raised voice.
"What you said in the last television interview gave us hope that you would let us decide the course of events," the old man said.
"Indeed," the Nigerian said in his husky-voice, "you did say you don't plan or plot your novels. You let your spontaneity take charge, which allows your characters to decide the course of your story."
"All that stuff you say is for the world, I guess." The Mexican dancer gave Dhruv a gaze.
"Listen now," Dhruv retorted, "I can't take this stupid talk anymore. No other writer gives his or her characters the kind of freedom to vent their minds as I do. Do not forget — you live because I penned you down. Without me, none of you would exist.
"What a skewed logic. Only because we are your characters doesn't mean you will play havoc with our lives," the skinny Spanish girl opined.
"The fact that you created us makes you our parent. Parents are expected to be gentle and sweet to their children. The country's law does not permit the parents to trouble their children." The Londoner observed.
"No, I am not your parent. I am a writer, and you guys are my characters, not children. Let this be clear — you will do as I desire. Stop these complaints. Otherwise, each one of you will die. Is that understood? Go back to where you belong ..."
Before Dhruv could complete the sentence, the door of his study opened with a bang.
"Who were you talking to?" Amrita, his wife, said as she walked into the room and looked around the place.
Dhruv followed his wife's gaze - none of the characters was visible anymore.
"It is well past midnight. Why haven't you slept, honey?" Dhruv asked.
"A woman with a crazy novelist as her husband cannot sleep easy, can she?"
"So, a bestselling author is no more than a crazy novelist for you."
"Sorry to show you the mirror, but you are no longer a bestselling author. Those days are gone. Four flop books on the trot don't make a good record."
"Only because they were flops doesn't mean they were bad stories."
"Nobody likes to read the unintelligible philosophical stories you write these days."
"These are meaningful novels."
"I tried reading a couple of them, couldn't go beyond ten pages."
"No doubt, I quite understand, Amrita."
"By mocking me, you are not going to be a successful author. The truth is you write bad stuff these days."
"What do I say? Thank you so much for your very gentle and encouraging words."
"Now, answer the question."
"Who were you talking to?"
"That is none of your concerns, Amrita. Go to sleep."
"Well, I know who you were talking to. Your characters had come out of the word processor, isn't it?"
"Why are you asking if you know?"
"I don't deserve this, Dhruv. Don't I deserve some peace?"
"You mean I am killing your peace."
"Your crazy ways are killing my peace. Listen now, you will see Dr. Manan Kaul during the day."
"No, sorry. I don't like Dr. Kaul."
"He asks stupid questions."
"No, he asks the most pertinent questions, Dhruv. He is the best psychiatrist in the town. It's a shame you didn't take the medicines he prescribed regularly."
"Those were tranquilizers."
"So? The Doctor prescribed them to help you."
"If I had followed his prescriptions, I would have been sleeping all the time."
"But you need sleep, Dhruv."
"What about my books?"
"Once you recover, you can start writing again."
"Recover from what, Amrita? I am hale and hearty."
"No, you are not. I don’t wish to say this, but you are forcing me to — Dhruv, you are showing definite signs of insanity. The illness has aggravated because you didn't follow the Doctor's instructions."
"Oh, come on, I am not mad."
"Nobody's calling you mad, dear. At the same time, let's not deny that there's a minor mental issue — let's not be in the denial mode. Dhruv, I implore you, please visit Dr. Kaul and follow his instructions. Trust me, you will be a bestselling author again. All you need is a break from writing and proper treatment."
"Okay, if you insist," he said after some thought."
"Thank you, Dhruv, thank you so much." Amrita smiled as tears glistened in her eyes.
Driving through the mad traffic was quite a pain. What a waste of time! By now, Dhruv would have added another one thousand words to the manuscript of his novel in progress if he hadn't had to see Dr. Kaul. There was nothing new Dr. Kaul would tell him. You must give your mind good rest; your characters do not spring out of your book. They are hallucinations — Dr. Kaul said the same damn stuff every time Dhruv visited him.
"This is too cruel on your part, Darling; you aren't even looking at me." Amanda, the blonde American sitting next to him, passed a naughty smile.
"Oh, when did you emerge," Dhruv said.
"Just now. Your heroine was bothering me."
"My protagonist, you mean."
"Call her anything you like — but she is such a brainless bitch."
"Mind your language."
"Why are you so unkind to me? I am far better than that heroine of yours, and yet you chose not to make me the protagonist."
"Well, your role is quite important in the story, don't you think so?"
"Depends on how you see it; I am just facilitating your heroine to achieve her goal."
"Indeed, and that makes your role significant."
"Please don't do this — you can't make me play second fiddle to her. Look at me — am I not beautiful, am I not a wise, am I ..."
"Stop it now, go back to the pages."
"This is too much of a punishment, Dhruv. The stupid heroine of yours drives me crazy with her stupidity. Another thing — she stinks of the leather industry she works in. Why are you torturing me so much?"
"How dare you say that?" A girl spoke from behind.
Dhruv checked the rear-view mirror. The young girl, the protagonist of his novel in progress, was sitting in the rear seat.
"So, you are here too," Dhruv remarked.
"This is too big an injustice. Even fellow characters like this filthy American girl is calling me a 'brainless bitch.'"
"Who are you calling filthy, you stupid woman?" The blonde asked.
"Check that, she again called me 'stupid.' In case you don't do anything to shut her mouth up, I will kill her someday."
"Oh really!" Dhruv responded. "Why do you forget you don't have the freedom to act on your own?"
"This is criminal," the protagonist protested, "you made me an object of ridicule."
"Can't you make me the protagonist instead?" A naughty smile crossed through the blonde's lips.
"Now, shut up, you both. I have reached my destination. Go back to the pages."
Quite an effort it took him to park the vehicle in the limited space the parking lot offered. Then he moved into the tall building and got on the lift. The Doctor's chamber was on the eleventh floor.
When he pressed the round switch with the numeral '11,' he heard some movements behind him. On looking back, he found the old man."
"Can't you guys allow me some rest? Even in the lift, I cannot be alone."
"The old-age ailments are so painful. This is cruel on your part. I can't even stand straight."
"Go back to the pages, will you?"
"It is so easy for you to write. You don't realize the trouble you cause to your characters as you type your sentences on that word processor."
"Don't expect sympathy from him," There was another voice in the lift.
The Nigerian was standing inches away from Dhruv. With eyes full of anger and hopelessness, he spoke again.
"This man is cruel. He derives sadistic pleasure by making us suffer."
"Oh, yes, I knew you would emerge too. You are such a creep," Dhruv said to the Nigerian.
"Look who's talking — Mr. Author, you are a much bigger creep than he." The Mexican dancer made an appearance between the old man and the Nigerian.
"Indeed, I completely endorse that idea." The Londoner flashed into view, covering whatever little space was left in the lift.
"Now get the hell out of here. You fellows are getting on my nerves," Dhruv reacted.
"Only you reserve the right to be angry, it seems," the Mexican spoke again, "we are only made to follow your whims."
"Yes, indeed — do not forget I am the author. As characters, you cannot tell me what I must do. Let that be clear in your heads and now leave me alone. Do you hear me? Get lost now."
The lift door had opened by the time Dhruv finished speaking. Before stepping onto the eleventh floor, he did catch the looks of wonder and puzzlement of the people waiting to use the lift. Oh, what embarrassment! These characters were making his life miserable.
After careful scrutiny of Dhruv's recent medical reports, Dr. Kaul looked at him and smiled. Oh, Dhruv hated that smile. It must have been one of his professional tactics to make the patients comfortable. Only if he knew how much the grin irritated Dhruv. It had precisely the opposite effect of the desired result. No patient could derive comfort from that sickening turning up of the Doctor's thick lips. Why the hell did he do that, Dhruv wondered.
"What are you thinking, Mr. Sood?"
"Nothing, in particular, Doctor."
"These reports don't show anything abnormal. But your wife believes you still have those hallucinations."
"Those are not hallucinations, Doctor."
"I knew you would say that, Mr. Sood. Being a learned man, you should use more of your sense of reason. Don't you think so?"
"The stories I write have their own dimensions, Doctor. For example, the novel I am presently working on is a world teeming with its own men, women, animals and plants - all breathing and alive."
"Do you really believe that?"
"Yes, I do."
A minute of silence passed before Dr. Kaul spoke again.
"Did you take my medicines regularly?"
"Well, I missed a few, but ..."
"No, that will not do. If you miss medicines, how will you get cured?"
"Cured of what?"
"Don't be agitated, Mr. Sood. By the expression 'cured,' I meant getting rid of the visions caused by a tired mind."
"So, you think my characters are unreal!
"Well, I just said they are images generated by your tired mind. Look, you don't sleep well. You also don't take my medicines on a regular basis. And you work pretty hard on your research and writing. All these factors put together cause plenty of fatigue in your mind. A tired mind is incapable of logical thinking."
"Sorry, I don't quite accept that analysis."
"Trust my forty years of experience as a medical practitioner."
"That experience cannot give you my perspective."
"Every patient thinks his or her side of the story is true. This is because the patient lacks the understanding of the Doctor. Please place your trust in my treatment. You will be fine, Mr. Sood."
"I am already fine."
"No, you are not."
"What kind of Doctor are you? Don't you realize your words are so uninspiring to me? You make me feel sick."
"Mr. Sood, my job is to identify and treat an ailment."
"But it is wrong to spot an ailment when there is none."
"You mean your characters spring out of your word processor?"
"Can you prove it to me?"
Before Dhruv could reply, the Mexican girl flashed into his view. Slowly she positioned herself behind the Doctor.
"Hey, go away. I don't want you here," Dhruv said.
"What? You want me to go away," the Doctor muttered with puzzled eyes.
"Sorry, Doctor, I didn't say that to you."
"But you just said you don't want me here."
"No, no, those words were not meant for you."
"Who else is there in the room, Mr. Sood?"
"You won't believe it if I tell you."
"Maybe you should still tell me."
"Well, doctor, one of my characters is standing behind you."
"Trust me, she's there."
"Okay, so, this is your way of proving your characters are alive."
"The Mexican is closely watching your head."
"The character, I mean."
"Now, listen, Mr. Sood. What you are doing now isn't impressive at all."
"The problem is when I tell the truth, people like you do not believe."
"Okay, I will believe you if you can make that character ... that Mexican talk to me. Can you do that?"
"I can try, Doctor."
"Go ahead, make the Mexican talk to me. Or you may ask the girl to slap my head."
"Now, Dhruv, don't ask me to slap this man's head. He has put too much oil on his hair. I won't touch his head." The Mexican girl said.
Dhruv laughed. "No problem. Maybe you can revolve his chair a bit to prove me correct."
"So Dhruv, you want me to team with you to prove your point."
"You are right."
"If I help you, will you help me in return?"
"I will certainly consider that."
"Are you talking to the Mexican girl," the Doctor said.
"What's she saying? Will she talk to me or slap my head?"
"Well," Dhruv said with spurts of laughter, "she is not willing to touch your hair because it is too oily. And I am not sure if she wants to talk to you. But I have asked her to revolve your chair."
"Okay, let's see if she can do that." Dr. Kaul stiffened his posture so as to prevent any possible movements of his swivel chair.
Upon reaching the point of his narration where Dr. Kaul made his body rigid to prevent his chair's movements, Dhruv had a hearty laugh. Sitting next to him on the bed, Amrita watched him cackle with wonder.
"What happened then? Did your Mexican girl revolve his chair?"
Dhruv continued to laugh.
"Tell me what happened after that? Did you prove the existence of the Mexican girl?"
"What do you think," Dhruv said.
"Don't tell me your imaginary character revolved the Doctor's chair."
"Well, that's just what happened. The Mexican girl is strong. She gave the Doctor's chair a good turn. The Doctor almost fell down."
"You expect me to believe that?"
"Of course, I am telling the truth. And then the Mexican girl also slapped the Doctor's head just as he had suggested. The Doctor made such a funny face at that moment. Do you know what he said? 'Ghost, some ghost is in the room,' those were his words."
"What? This actually happened?"
"Absolutely. And I have more to tell you. After slapping the Doctor's head, the Mexican girl whispered the words, 'Hello Doctor, how are you?' into his ears."
"Shut up, Dhruv. So, now, you are trying to use your storytelling skills on me. I wonder why I married you."
"But Amrita, I spoke the truth. Why don't you believe me?"
"Wait a minute," Amrita said and picked up her mobile phone.
She dialed Dr. Kaul’s number several times, but the response she got was — This number does not exist. Please check the number you dialed.
"What the hell has happened to his number. Has he changed it?"
"The truth is he is gone," Dhruv said.
"Now, what is that supposed to mean?"
"It is easy to understand, Darling. Dr. Manan Kaul is also a character from one of my books. Only because he hung around for long, he began to think of himself as someone real."
"What the hell? You think I will believe this crap?"
"Why not? You are my wife."
"What a tragedy for me — I am your wife."
"But I am speaking the truth, Darling — Dr. Manan Kaul went back to the final manuscript of the book from where he emerged. When Dr. Kaul realized he too was a character, he graciously accepted the truth and went back to where he belonged.
"Shut up, shut up."
"Oh, please, darling, don't shout, or I will ..."
"Or you will do what?"
"Noise is disgusting. If you keep generating noise, I will be forced to tell you another hard truth."
"You want me to speak it?"
"Okay, then listen — you too are a character from one of my earlier novels. Like the Doctor, you have also mistakenly reckoned yourself as someone real."
"Will you shut up? You are a lunatic."
"Sorry, Darling, but I can't let the characters I have allowed staying out for long insult me. Go back, Amrita. I don't want you to hang around me anymore. Go back to the pages of the novel from where you emerged."
In the next moment, Amrita flashed out of Dhruv's view.
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!