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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. How would it feel to be in the company of a proven genius who, some people believe, is responsible for the disappearance of more than two dozen girls? Are these stories true or mere gossip? Today, I will present the first part of a three-part short story.
Before we plunge into the story, I would like to request my dear readers and listeners to visit my website biswajitbanerjee.com for information about my creative endeavors. Don’t forget to become a member of this site and to join my mailing list.
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Let’s start the story now. A young student Scarlet is deeply impressed with her physics professor Richard Walters. Some people believe Walters had a hand in the disappearance of more than two dozen girls who visited his place supposedly for studying and discussing physics. One day Walters invites Scarlet to visit his bungalow in a rather unfrequented place of the town. Being an ardent fan of the professor, Scarlet agrees to visit the professor’s bungalow. Come, let’s find out more.
THE EQUIVALENCE PART 1 00:03:53
Written and performed by Biswajit Banerjee
After slowly walking over to the table, Professor Richard Walters picked up the marker and moved to the whiteboard. The fifty-nine-plus years didn't show in his face or body. With youthfulness in his movements and looks of supreme intelligence, the old (or maybe we should call him young) professor was more attractive than smart young men half his age. Richard often wore a crisp white shirt, slacks, and shiny leather shoes. The women swooned over his brilliant white hair and clear speech — his words were no less than music. Young girls deemed whatever he said as essentials of life and learning. If he talked about a book, then the book would become a must-read book. When he spoke about his idols from the spheres of arts, literature, and science, you would find young students, again mostly girls, undertaking serious research into the lives and works of Richard's idols.
As Richard wrote 'Mass-Energy' equivalence on the whiteboard, nineteen-year-old Scarlet Portman, another of his students who had lost her mind over him, watched Richard in awe. Scarlet's interest in the physics professor didn't escape the eyes of James Sandler, who was sitting next to him.
"This is a mistake, Scarlet," James said.
"Mind your own business, James," Scarlet whispered her reply.
"Believe it or not — this old man is a criminal."
"We will talk during the break. For now, just shut up, will you?"
James placed a tray with two cups of tea and a dish with two vegetarian burgers on the left corner table of the self-service college canteen.
"Thanks," Scarlet said.
Then James pulled a chair to the table and sat down.
"Some old newspapers suggest the old professor harms women."
"I am not here to listen to such rubbish, James."
"Why don't you understand?"
"Professor Walters has become an eyesore for you., and I understand why?
"Look, I don't doubt his wisdom, but he is not a nice man."
"Why? Because women are crazy about him?"
"I don't care what other women think about Professor Walters. My concern is your interest in that old man."
"What the hell! How are you concerned about what I think about him?"
"Come on, Scarlet; you should know the reasons for my concern."
"No, I don't understand why? Are you my Dad?"
"What a sick thing to ask."
"Surely, I am not your Dad, Scarlet."
"Then who? My brother?"
"Have you gone crazy?"
"Tell me who you are."
"So, now your boyfriend needs to tell you who he is."
"Who's my boyfriend? You?"
"Why? Do you have any doubts?"
"Who on earth spread the idea that you are my boyfriend?"
"Then who else am I?"
"A friend, a classmate — nothing more than that."
"You are insulting me, Scarlet."
"Since when did you begin to think you are my boyfriend? And what made you feel you are my boyfriend?"
"People around are listening. Can't you at least lower your voice a little?"
"Only because we exchange notes and drink tea in this canteen sometimes does not make us girlfriend and boyfriend. Do you understand that?"
"I am leaving, James, the next class of the professor will start soon. Oh, I just love listening to him."
"But your tea."
"No, I don't feel like having it anymore. See you in the class."
"The concept of 'Mass-Energy Equivalence' changed our very conception of the world. From the formula, you can understand that the amount of energy owned by an object equals the product of the body's mass and the square of light's speed. This essentially means a body's energy can be converted to mass, or its mass can be changed into energy. The greatest physicist who walked the earth Sir Albert Einstein referred to mass-energy equivalence as the most important outcome of the special theory of relativity. Over the last several decades, thousands of papers have been written on this concept. However, I guess we are still trying to figure out the deeper implications of this formula. Please appreciate, you will understand this concept better when you start solving the numerical problems," the professor explained.
"Sir," Scarlet said, "even your papers on 'Mass-Energy Equivalence' are quite popular in the physics fraternity. Could you tell us about them?"
"If my memory serves me right, your name is Scarlet Portman. Is that correct?"
"Absolutely, Sir. We introduced ourselves on the opening day of the academic year, and you still remember my name. Amazing!"
"Sir, do you remember every student's name or just the names of some students you are interested in," James asked. He was now sitting on a bench two rows behind Scarlet.
"Well, dear James Charnock," Richard replied with a smile, "I am good with names; I usually do not forget them. Just in case you want a demonstration of how good I am with names, here I go from left to right — Pratibha Malhotra, Alex Jones, Gurpreet Kaur, Dennis Randall ...
Richard gave the names and surnames of about fifty-odd students in the class with extreme ease. The students, as you would expect, were stunned.
"Sir, you are such a genius," Scarlet said with her eyes full of admiration. Then she looked at James with scorn as if telling him — Your attack backfired, didn't it? Do not try to act tough with this genius. Else, you will fall flat on the ground, as you just did."
"Now, coming back to Scarlet's question — well, yes, I have written some papers on the mass-energy equivalence. But I can't tell if they are popular in the physics fraternity. In fact, one of those papers was dismissed as a complete misinterpretation of the concept."
"Well, Sir, their criticism of your paper reflects their inability to understand the depth of your ideas, I am sure. The General Theory of Relativity propounded by Sir Albert Einstein met criticism from many in the scientific community. But his ideas, though difficult to understand, were proved in 1919, and to date, we know it to be true."
"Thank you so much, dear Scarlet, for comparing me to Sir Albert Einstein. I do not regard myself as a great scientist. But I am on an unending quest for knowledge — to try to understand the things happening around me is the biggest goal of my life. Thanks again for your sweet words."
In the remaining time, the professor solved some numerical problems based on the concept of mass-energy equivalence.
Before leaving the class, he said, "Read my notes on the concept; they are all available on my blog. Tomorrow, we will solve some more problems on the concept."
Scarlet followed the professor out of the classroom. "Sir, Sir ..." She said from behind the old professor.
Richard turned around and smiled, "Yes, Scarlet, what is it?"
"Well, Sir, I would like to learn more about your papers on mass-energy equivalence."
"According to many in the scientific community, those papers deal with ideas that do not fall within the ambit of the concept of mass-energy equivalence. You might get confused if I discuss them."
"What those scientists say about your papers do not interest me in the least. I am rather interested in what you think about the concept."
"Yet again, a big 'thanks' to you for showing such respect to my works."
"For me, you are the ultimate word in physics."
"Why don't you come over to my place this weekend, Scarlet? I will tell you about my ideas on mass-energy equivalence and how I used the concept in an inter-disciplinary way to build a device that could help us understand the very essence of life."
"Sir, I would love to come to your place, but at the same time, I don't wish to disturb your family."
"Don't worry about that, Scarlet; I am an old bachelor and live alone."
"Okay, I will come, Sir. Oh, it would be such an honor to be talking to you one-to-one."
"The pleasure is all mine, dear."
After Richard left, Scarlet sensed someone standing behind her. She turned with a start to find James.
"So, it's you. Listen now — you dare not sneak up on me again, do you understand?"
"This man is dangerous, Scarlet. Please stay away from him."
"Did I ask for your sickening advice?"
"I have scanned through newspapers of the last ten years. More than two dozen girls who went to his house for supposed discussions on his ideas on various theories of physics went missing. In each of the police investigations that followed, the man said that the girl in question left his mansion after discussions and that he had no idea where she was now. To date, the police have no clues what happened to those girls."
"Tell me, did the police ever catch him committing some act of criminality?"
"No, but those girls were never found."
"Regardless of where those girls went, there is no evidence to suggest the professor harmed those girls — right or wrong?"
"I am sure he harmed those girls."
"Oh, that is your sick opinion. Has anyone ever found any evidence that suggests the professor was responsible for the disappearance of those girls?"
"That says it all, James. People are jealous of Professor Richard Walters. Don't tell me such cock-and-bull stories."
"So, you will go to see the professor."
"One hundred percent."
"I wish to come with you, Scarlet."
"Never, and now get lost; you are such an irritant."
The professor's house was in an unfrequented part of the city. If Scarlet had not seen the façade of the house for herself, she would have thought there was no house at all. The mansion was surrounded by a thick forest, and the entrance was half-hidden by climbers and other forms of vegetation.
After grasping the brass lion mouth door knocker, Scarlet pressed it several times against the wooden door. A minute later, Richard opened it and said, "Come, my dear."
Scarlet walked in.
The living room was huge. It had vast windows that overlooked the dense forest. A large wooden table stood in the center. Oil paintings, a majority of them being portraits of people known and unknown, adorned the walls. Scarlet's eyes fell on the picture of a woman who looked a lot like Richard, yet her face was calm and serene. It didn't have the intense look of the scientist.
"Is that your ..."
"Yes, my mother. Sadly, I didn't get to know her well. She died in my infancy."
"Oh, so sad; I am sorry, Sir."
"You can call me Richard."
"Of course, you can't address me by my name in the college, but here I would be glad to hear you call me Richard."
"Okay, Richard, as you prefer."
"Pull a chair," Richard said, pointing to one of the chairs in front of the massive wooden table.
The Gothic atmosphere of the room seemed to fit the professor perfectly.
"I will prepare some soup for you."
"No, Richard, that won't be necessary."
"Oh, I prepare soup for all my guests. It is my specialty, I assure you."
Richard smiled walked out of the room.
As Scarlet looked around with curiosity, the sharp ring of her mobile phone jarred her attention. The screen flashed the name of 'James.'
"Idiot is this a time for calling," she said to herself and accepted the call.
"Thank goodness you took the call," James spoke from the other side, "I thought you wouldn't talk to me now."
"If I didn't take the call, you would ring me again — you are that shameless. That's why I took the call. Now listen to me — you will not call me again; I am hanging up."
"Hey, hold on, hold on ... this professor is a dubious man, I tell you. Do you know what? I have discovered some strange powdery substances in the woods surrounding his mansion."
"So, you are around the bungalow now, you mean."
"You followed me to the professor's house?"
"Listen, I've got the powdery substance in my hands. This appears to be a strange thing — I am sure the professor is up to something, Scarlet. Better come out right now; I will wait for you outside the gate."
"Go to hell, you moron. I am not coming out."
"But this powdery substance."
"To hell with you and that powdery substance. Don't call me again, James."
"This substance is yellowish. But it is not sulfur ... this is a strange salt."
"Shut up, shut up."
Richard returned with a tray containing two bowls of soup.
"This is Professor Walters special soup."
"Thank you, Richard. What an honor it is for me."
After Richard set the tray on the table, Scarlet took a spoonful of the soup and tasted it.
"Oh, this is delicious, Richard."
"I told you this is my specialty."
Well, that brings us to the end of this part of the tale. We will catch up with you in the next episode to find out what follows next in the story.
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!