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. This episode features the first part of a two-part short story. Before I start the tale, as always, I would urge you to visit my website biswajitbanerjee.com for information on my work. Please also visit my dedicated website for this podcast: obscurus.buzzsprout.com. Here you will find all the OBSCURUS episodes, their transcripts, and chapter markers for easy navigation.
And now, let’s plunge into the story. A schoolboy has good reason to believe his English teacher is a monster. Although very popular with the students, this English teacher seems responsible for the depleting sheep population of the countryside where the school is located. What’s the truth? Let’s find out.
THE CREATURE PART 1 00:02:10
Written and Performed by Biswajit Banerjee
Nobody would believe me, so I didn't tell anyone. The truth about one of our teachers stayed hidden from one and all. Good looks and more than sweet behavior served as solid covers for the monster. Oh yes, you heard me, the teacher I am talking about was a monster. Well, a real monster, I mean, and not one in the figurative sense. Okay, let's start from the beginning ...
Way back in the late eighties, Mr. Brian Miller, an American, joined our school a month after the first term examinations, as a middle and senior school English teacher. Although a reputed convent institution, our school was located towards the countryside bordering a city of north-eastern India. Two villages, known for their wool production, were within a kilometer radius of the school. Within days of Mr. Miller's joining the school, the sheep stock of the villages started declining. Villagers would often come to the fields and grasslands adjoining the school, looking for the animals. Instead, all they found were their remains. It wasn't rare to find half-eaten carcasses, crushed bones, bloodstains, and rotting flesh strewn around the area.
The police and district administration authorities ascribed the killings to some wild animal which might have moved into the countryside from the dense woods several miles away from our school. Many people disputed this theory as it was unlikely that a wild animal would come so far in search of food and remain undiscovered for so long. And why would it come anyway? There was no dearth of food in the evergreen forest, which received frequent rainfall.
Some special investigation teams also visited the countryside but couldn't reach any conclusive results. The killings continued.
Meanwhile, Mr. Miller had emerged as the most popular teacher of the school. As an eighth-grade student, even I had begun to like him. Before he took over as our English teacher, grammar, especially clauses, gave me nightmares. He taught us English grammar through stories, possibly the best method of teaching the subject. My grades improved within weeks of his taking over.
Other than being an excellent teacher, Mr. Miller was so sweet to every one of us. He treated us like friends, like his equals. We boarders enjoyed the greatest share of his company. Often, Mr. Miller would sit surrounded by girls and boys, all boarders of course, outside of school hours in his T-Shirt which read 'I AM AN AMERICAN FREE BIRD.' He would tell us mystery stories with magical twists at the end. He was touching forty but was still a bachelor. One day, a chubby girl called Pinky asked him why he chose not to marry. With a wide smile, he said, "Because Pinky chose to be born in a different epoch." We laughed like hell, and Pinky took it as a huge compliment. Mr. Miller could be that sweet, that friendly!
Apart from the students, Mr. Miller found another huge fan in Miss Agnes D'Silva, our biology teacher. We often spotted them together -- in the corridors, in the library, in the school canteen and sometimes in the park meant for the primary school children. "These guys are going to hook up,” the curly-haired Prabhjot Singh would often say. You would be surprised at how much Pinky hated him for saying that. Once, they just stopped short of fisticuffs.
"How dare you say something so sick about our teachers," Pinky said, grabbing his shirt collar.
"Leave me alone, you stupid pumpkin. Did you take Mr. Miller's words seriously the other day? What do you want to do, marry him someday? He must be thirty years older than you, foolish girl."
Things of all nature -- good and evil, sweet and sour -- continued in the school, but in the backdrop of the withering sheep population.
The villagers got more vigilant. Many would go out to the pastures in groups to prevent their sheep from straying away to distant terrains. Some built concrete enclosures for their sheep so that they might not be stolen at night. The district authorities deployed half a dozen guards to keep a vigil.
However, despite all the preventive measures, the killings continued. So, the police authorities fitted spy television cameras at key points.
For a brief period, the animal massacre dropped. But it picked back up again. Now, the villagers were finding more animal carcasses close to their homes rather than in distant fields and bushy lands. What’s more, the cameras malfunctioned every time a sheep got slaughtered. Consequently, the police grew suspicious of some human hand in the matter. However, in the want of clues, they couldn't draw substantive inferences.
In the meantime, Mr. Miller's popularity grew even more. I had become one of his biggest fans, so much so that I decided to become an English teacher like him...and also a bachelor like him! My interest in English literature rose by leaps and bounds. I devoured all the novels and short stories that Mr. Miller recommended to his students. Before he started teaching us, I couldn't have imagined myself reading such thick books. Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, George Orwell, and Virginia Woolf -- I read and re-read their books. Some of these, you might think, would be difficult for a thirteen-year-old to grasp. However, I faced no difficulties. I was in love with classical English writers. Reading books had another positive side -- it gave me grounds to enter into lengthy discussions with Mr. Miller. And he would retell each of the stories in his own unique ways. Whatever he explained was a treat to my ears! I wanted more and more of this man -- he was a genius, and I was fast becoming a genius in his company.
If only things had continued that way! But then came the day where my world turned upside down. One day, early in the evening after re-reading Bram Stoker's 'Dracula,' I went to see Mr. Miller in the school library. Under the instructions of the Principal, our school library used to function deep into the evening. And we would often find Mr. Miller seated on a corner bench of the library next to a large window, reading some book or writing some study notes for his students. Without a doubt, that man prepared hard for his classes -- the sign of a great teacher.
But that evening I didn't find him in the library. With the hope of seeing him, I waited on the same bench. Minutes ticked by, but he didn't turn up. I was dying to discuss the Transylvania terrains with him. As an ardent traveler and adventurer, he might have been there. What was the degree of resemblance of the high lands described in the novel 'Dracula' to the real Transylvania mountains? I longed to know. Mr. Miller would surely be able to tell, even if he had never been to those places himself. He was, after all, a moving encyclopedia.
The clock behind the librarian's desk showed ten minutes to six. Now there was little hope of his coming. As I got up from the desk and started walking, I picked up on a movement from the corner of my eye in the distant, bushy fields visible through the window. Something seemed familiar about what I saw; I looked out of the window. Indeed, something moved sluggishly over a distant meadow -- what was it? A bear? Not quite. The creature appeared different from every living land creature that I knew of.
"Sir, something is out in the fields," I said to the librarian Mr. Jitendra Saxena.
"What?" He said from his desk.
"I don't know, Sir. Can you come down here to check?"
"Well, okay, my boy, if you insist."
When Mr. Saxena came over, I pointed in the direction I spotted the movement. Well, nothing was in the meadows anymore!
"I can't see a thing, my boy."
"But Sir, I am sure I saw something."
He smiled. "Perhaps I know what's happening."
"Well, my boy, I know what kind of stories you are reading these days. These Gothic ghost stories will do you no good. What you saw outside, I can tell you for sure, is the result of what you have been reading. Read better stuff -- comedies, family dramas, self-help books, and of course, world history. Why are you so obsessed with the spooky stuff?"
"Sir, what I observed is not connected to what I read."
"Listen, dear, I am fifty-nine. I have seen so much of life; I know what kind of things can happen to kids like you. Do you understand that? Take my advice, stop reading all the spooky and gory stuff."
While I respected Mr. Saxena for his friendly nature, I disliked his 'I-know-all' attitude. For whatever stupid reason, some people think wisdom comes with age. Well, it doesn't. Kids are much better than many elders when it comes to judging situations in life. In any case, taking the matter further with Mr. Saxena wouldn't help.
Without a moment's delay, I walked out of the library and rushed to the meadow, where I spotted the creature. Though cognizant of the risks of venturing alone into the fields at that hour, I had no choice but to learn the truth. Without satisfying my curiosity, I wouldn't get any sleep.
The meadow I thought I had seen the movements in was almost in the center of a cluster of mounds. From one of the summits, I took a good look at the entire area. I did not spot anything. Soon after, I decided to give up the search and turned around. The sounds of dull thumping footsteps behind me froze my nerves. What I witnessed upon turning around was the ghastliest sight one could imagine. A creature stood there -- I can best describe it as a giant, green lizard that walked on two feet. Close to nine feet in height, the reptile had a massive build. The tennis-ball-sized dark eyes on the two sides of its face moved erratically, sometimes moving together to the frontal part of the face giving the impression of a human-lizard. Well, I have no better expression to describe that look. Foam formed all around its black nostrils and mouth. The froth was reddish-white, and I soon knew why. The reptile held a sheep carcass with what can only be described as its hands. Bumps of various shapes and sizes dominated its skin, and the area around the neck and face was full of moving scales. Disgusting!
The creature was strange, but the fact that it was wearing a red T-shirt that had gotten stretched to its limit because of the beast’s massive size was stranger. You might have guessed it -- the message on the T-shirt read 'I AM AN AMERICAN FREE-BIRD.' From its movements, I realized the creature would jump at me. In the next moment, I turned and ran at a speed that would vanquish the combined prowess of ten leopards. The sounds of the quick thumping footsteps behind were indicative of the lizard following me. Well, the sounds got louder and louder, which meant the gap between us narrowed. And then, there was a heavy thump! Evidently, the creature had tripped over. I ran my way back into the school compound and then into the main school building. I didn't halt; I kept running till I crashed against someone.
"What the hell ...", the person I crashed into shouted as we fell down.
I turned around -- a foot away from me lay the plump figure of Mr. Vinod Patel, the school Principal. Miss D'Silva, standing at some distance, rushed to our assistance. As she helped me and Mr. Patel get up, I heard soft footsteps behind me. I turned around, knowing full well whom I would see. Indeed, it was Mr. Brian Miller.
"Kartik, you should be careful, son," Mr. Patel said.
"Oh, I am really sorry, Sir."
"But why were you running like mad?"
"Sir, something, I mean ... someone was chasing me."
"Chasing you!" Miss D'Silva said, "Who was chasing you, Kartik?"
"Someone ..." I said, sensing Mr. Miller just behind me.
"What, some ghost? Some creature?" Mr. Miller said with a vicious smile on his lips.
"Sir, some ... someone ...".
"Don't hesitate, son, tell us what happened," Mr. Patel said.
"Sir, a monster is lurking in the meadows. It is a very tall, walking reptile, and it is the one eating the animals. Since I spotted it, it wanted to kill me too."
The Principal took a while to absorb what I said and then came forward and placed a hand on my shoulder.
"So, the monstrous reptile was following you?"
"Son, are you missing home, your parents and sister? You want me to call them up tomorrow?"
"But Sir, I am fine here."
"Then you are not getting enough sleep."
"I am sleeping well, Sir; I am absolutely fine."
"Son, when a bright student like you says he was being chased by a monstrous walking reptile, there can only be two reasons. First, he is depressed for some reason, perhaps homesick, or second, he is sleep-deprived. Sleep deficiency can cause hallucinations."
"Trust me, Sir, I am hale and hearty and well-prepared for my half-yearly examinations."
"I suggest you go and get some rest now."
As I walked towards the boys' hostel, I spotted Mr. Miller grinning, as if telling me -- You won't be hanging around for long, boy, you will soon be dead meat.
Needless to say, my studies took a downswing, and I performed really bad in the examinations. Frightened to the core, I never spent an extra second in the school complex after classes. I would rush back to my room the moment I heard the bell of the last period ring. The chance of Mr. Miller coming to my room was low. Usually, the teachers didn't visit the hostel. The upkeep of both the hostel and the boarders' welfare were the Chief Warden's responsibilities; he was assisted in his job by two Deputy Wardens and four Assistant Wardens. If Mr. Miller visited the hostel with some malicious intent, he would clearly not do so without escaping the notice of the strong team of wardens and other hostel attendants. So, if he harmed me in the hostel, people would easily know about it; the hostel afforded the greatest safety.
The flamboyance in Mr. Miller's teaching was the same. But I could hardly absorb a word he spoke in class. Despite all efforts to avoid exchanging looks, when our eyes did accidentally meet, his glance would convey one and one message only - wait till I can land my hands on you.
Around that time, the district and police authorities beefed up the security measures to stop the animal killings. The police fixed more cameras and quadrupled the number of security personnel and guards in the area. Their actions worked -- the killings stopped altogether.
Mr. Miller appeared quite restive those days and soon seemed to be sick. Well, I knew the reason -- he now found the police measures insurmountable and therefore wasn't getting any food. Then, one day, we learned Mr. Miller had quit his job. A pall of gloom descended upon the students. The boarders were shattered. What hurt them most was the sudden disappearance of the teacher. He didn't even meet with them before leaving. Although Mr. Patel explained that he had some extreme emergency to attend to back in his country, the students weren't satisfied. "It wouldn't hurt him any more to say a 'goodbye' before leaving, would it?” Pinky said with tears in her eyes. The Principal also made clear Mr. Miller wouldn't return, since he now needed to be constantly present in Wisconsin with his loved ones.
Oh, what a relief! I guessed Mr. Miller went to some other place in a new avatar -- maybe as a doctor or as a priest -- where he could continue to butcher animals and eat his fill. Perhaps that's how he operated: the creature would visit a place where food was available in some avatar, making himself look important and useful to the locals. And when food supplies ran short, or people got suspicious to the point where he might get caught, he simply changed location. Did he also eat humans? Regardless of my conjectures being true or not, the only truth that mattered now was that he was gone! To the best of my knowledge, no more animal carcasses were discovered over the next few months. With the monster gone, the sheep were now safe.
It was time to redeem myself. My grades had fallen far below what I was capable of achieving. In biology, the subject that had once been my forte, I scored around only forty percent ... my worst ever performance.
Well, dear readers and listeners, that’s all I have for today. Catch up with the second and concluding part of the story to find out what happens next in Kartik’s life …
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!