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 I am glad to welcome you to another episode of OBSCURUS. I keep saying 'paranormal' is not just about ghosts and hauntings. There is much more to the genre. Some of the best scientific minds have observed that an electron can exist in two places simultaneously. Now, you may say the subatomic dimensions do exude some strange phenomena. But the question is, what exactly are the subatomic dimensions. Aren't sizes relative? We could be sharing the same dimensional relationship with colossal objects as electrons share with us. Would that mean we exude weird phenomena relative to such colossal things? Can we also attach the tag of 'paranormal' to what we call the world of sub-atomic particles? Think about it. And if you get time, please visit biswajitbanerjee.com and get into my mailing list. You may be aware that obscurus.buzzsprout.com is my dedicated website for this podcast. You could catch up with all the episodes, read their transcripts, and use the chapter markers for easy navigation through the episodes.
Okay, I will be back with you soon …
SEASON’S GREETINGS 00:02:34
OBSCURUS and Biswajit Banerjee wish all the listeners, readers and followers Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and a jubilant new year. As your friends and well-wishers, we are committed to your reading and listening pleasure!
HOST TALK CONTINUED 00:02:53
And now, let's get down to the story. Today we have another short tale that touches both the realms of paranormal fiction and magic realism. Reportedly, now and then, a face emerges on the ceiling of a room that eats its occupants. Again reportedly, the face resembles the face of Ajit, the protagonist of this story. Can all this be true? Come, let's dive into the story.
THE FACE ON THE CEILING 00:03:44
Written and performed by Biswajit Banerjee
The expression of fear and unease on his face ran counter to his tough personality. They knew something was bothering him deep inside, but he wouldn't share his lot with anyone. Forced smiles were all he had to offer when his colleagues asked him what the matter was. It was common knowledge in the official circles that Mr. Naveen Malhotra and his family had moved to a mansion toward the south of the city. He was lucky to purchase the beautiful house at the price of peanuts, but it seemed things weren't right in the new home. The grapevine of the house being haunted grew in strength with each passing day. Tired of Mr. Malhotra's attempts to hide the truth, Nishtha and I decided to deal with him firmly one morning.
"Tell us the truth, Mr. Malhotra. We can sense something is wrong with the new house," Nishtha said.
"What makes you think so?" Another of Mr. Malhotra's fake smiles surfaced.
"Enough is enough," I said in a rather raised voice, "if you don't want to tell us, that's another thing. But you don't have to lie about everything being okay."
With his gaze down, Mr. Malhotra spent the next few seconds seemingly organizing his thoughts. "It's a strange place." He finally spoke about the mansion.
Nishtha got straight to the point. "Is the place haunted?"
"Not the entire house, but ..."
"Some rooms in the property, you mean?" I said.
"Just one room, Ajit, one of the side rooms on the top floor."
Meanwhile, many others pulled their chairs and gathered around us. Hiding the truth wouldn't help in any way, Mr. Malhotra seemed to realize. He looked ready to speak his mind.
"What's going on in that room?" Ms. Veena Shekharan, one of our new project directors, asked.
"A face is up there on the ceiling."
Like others, I too couldn't make much sense of his words. "You mean a painting?"
"No," Mr. Malhotra said, moving his head, "not a painting. A large face bulges out, covering almost the entire area of the ceiling. It is as though a giant is pressing his face into a thin cloth."
One of our senior colleagues reacted by twisting his lips. "Weird."
"What does the face do," Nishtha said.
"It just bulges forward until the whole face becomes visible. After bulging fully, the face is in touching distance with the bed kept in the room." Mr. Malhotra appeared to relive terrible experiences in his mind.
"So, it might touch the person lying on that bed," I said.
"Yes, my wife and son ...
"What about them?" Ms. Shekharan said.
Deep sadness hung like a pall over his eyes. "The face..."
Tears rolled down his cheeks.
Nishtha moved her chair close to his, and tenderly touched his hand. "Have a hold of yourself, Mr. Malhotra."
I was careful not to sound insensitive. "Did the face harm your family?"
"The face ate them up."
None of us could be sure we heard him correctly.
"The face ate up your wife and child?" I pressed for a confirmation.
He nodded. "The police didn't believe me and registered a case under the clause of missing persons. Some of them suspect I harmed them. I don't blame the police because not even my wife and son believed me when I told them about the face. They thought I was kidding, but when I stressed on my words being true, they went to check the ceiling. Minutes later, they shrieked. I rushed into the room and found the face chewing them. Within seconds my family was gone, just like that! Chewed and swallowed right before my eyes!
Mr. Malhotra sobbed uncontrollably.
Nishtha pressed his shoulder. "Please, you got to keep balance. We will try to help you out."
"Help! In what way can you help me? Haven't you understood, Nishtha? My family is dead and gone."
"Your account is ..." I said, wondering what to say.
"You think I am telling lies?"
"What you said ... you know ... sounds impossible."
"There's something more about the face that will sound still more impossible. You want me to say it?"
My words had enraged him. "What is it?" I asked.
"The face that bulges out of the ceiling looks like your face. It is as though you are pressing your face against a soft piece of cloth."
I watched him in stunned silence as whispers took rounds in the room.
With a worried expression crossing her features, Nishtha sought clarity. "What are you saying, Mr. Malhotra? Are you suggesting Ajit has a hand in whatever happened in your new house?"
"I didn't say that," he said, moving his head, "but the thing on the ceiling does look like Ajit's face."
"I wish to see it," I said, sensing a wave of insult gripping me.
"You may not be able to see it," Mr. Malhotra said after some thought, "the face doesn't appear all the time."
"What you said feels like a criminal charge; you must let me inspect the ceiling."
"Come if you want, but there is no guarantee it will come into sight."
We never shared a good relationship. My seniority owing to higher professional qualifications despite being much younger than Mr. Malhotra never went well with him. A year or so later, I would work in the capacity of a Deputy General Manager. Then he would report to me directly. Everyone knew he was uncomfortable with this truth.
He would often project me in poor light by way of indirect references, but I didn't attach too much importance to such moves. However, the suggestion that the supposed face on the ceiling looked like my face was quite an affront. Anyone could deduce the silent message you ate up my family from his account. He indirectly said that I am losing out on promotional avenues and monetary benefits because of your being unjustly senior. So, you are no less than a murderer of the comforts that are rightly due to me and my family.
Notwithstanding the problematic professional bond, I felt so bad to see him suffer after moving to the new house. All the while, I had thought his suffering was real. Now I knew he had just feigned the distress to show me down.
Like me, many others had little doubts about the face being a bluff. But talking about his family's supposed consumption by the face with such flow of tears that could beat any Hollywood performance was more than simply being a part of the bluff. It was a grotesque and unpardonable act that surprised everyone. How could he be so insensate to vividly describe the imaginary killings of his wife and son? Showing me down was his top priority, even if it meant playacting for days together to build the opportunity to present a gory narrative about his family. What a loathsome man!
"So, will you go to check the ceiling?" Nishtha asked as she got down from my bike. I dropped her home that evening.
"I will go but not to check the ceiling."
"To land a slap on his face, I have had enough."
"That doesn't sound like a good idea, Ajit."
"He has asked for it, I would slap him in the office itself if I could, but that would invite disciplinary proceedings. So, I will give him a smack at his new den, which I am sure he is very proud of."
After watching her walk the way leading to her apartment, I headed for the liar's mansion.
My appearance at the mansion made a thunderbolt of a surprise for him. To find Mr. Malhotra stammer in nervousness when I told him I wished to examine the weird ceiling was pleasurable. When his attempts to talk me out of what I wanted didn't work, he walked me to the supposedly haunted room. Though I had little doubts about the face being a lie, the apparent absence of his wife and son appeared uncanny.
"Where's your family?"
"You told such a sick lie in the office today to show me down; shame on you."
"I ... I ... am ... sorry, my words hurt you."
"I thought of slapping you hard on your face, but now I realize a sick man like you is not worthy of my ire."
Then the impossible happened -- the ceiling dipped. A face it was! It bulged swiftly down and opened its mouth. A white tongue stuck out and pulled Mr. Malhotra in with a flash!
With the sounds of crushing bones and screams filling the air, I quickly found my way out of the room. Soon, I was out in the open. I hated to admit to myself -- the face did look like mine! And I hated, even more, to admit that despite being out of the mansion, I was inside the haunted room crunching Mr. Malhotra's bones. The face was nothing but the face of my rage, an isolated piece of my consciousness!
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!