Dear Readers and Listeners, in today's story a man learns that the flat adjoining the one he has rented is haunted. A paranormal investigator advises him to move to some other accommodation. Read on or listen (or do immersion reading - that is read and listen together) to know what happens next in the story, cheers.
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. This episode features the story of a man who lives next to a haunted apartment. You will find some chills in the story, I am sure. But before we start the story, I request you to visit biswajitbanerjee.com for information on my books, films, voice-over projects, and other creative pursuits.
OBSCURUS has a dedicated website – obscurus.buzzsprout.com. All OBSCURUS episodes, their transcripts, and chapter markers are available over here. In addition, the links to the major directories where OBSCURUS is available for listening are also listed on this website.
Now, let’s dive into the story. Siddhartha learns that his next-door apartment is haunted. A paranormal investigator advises him to look for alternative accommodation as the spirit in the adjoining flat could fatally harm him. What will Siddhartha do? Come, let’s find out.
THE HAUNTED APARTMENT 00:02:20
Written and performed by Biswajit Banerjee
The temperature had dipped under two degrees. The lift doors opened, and Siddhartha walked into the common space of the floor. Gusts of cold wind brushed past his cheeks. Damn, how can wind blow inside the complex? The moving shutters of the semi-open ventilators high up on the walls provided the answers. With vapors constantly escaping his breaths, Siddhartha fiddled with the things in his inner coat pocket. The touch of his apartment keys was reassuring — he could already see himself slipping under the quilt for a restful sleep.
"Excuse me, could you spare some time, please?" A voice called out from behind.
Startled, Siddhartha turned back to find a frail elderly lady standing in the space between the half-open wooden door and its frame of the next-door apartment. Her clothing didn't give the slightest clues of her being in any discomfort due to the piercing cold. She was wearing a thin gown that left parts of her arms and neck uncovered. Her face carried a distinct expression of anxiety. The most puzzling element about her presence, however, was the presence itself. This apartment had no occupant till the morning that day, and there were no signs of someone shifting over to it.
More than six months had passed since Siddhartha's moving over to the current residence. The only other apartment in that level, at the doorway of which the lady stood, had never been rented or bought. In a Residents' Welfare Association meeting, someone called it a permanently vacant apartment. The President of the Association, who also worked as an estate agent, observed that the flat had not been built well — there were too many structural defects. From where did the woman emerge then? Did she rent the defective apartment?
"Sorry to be disturbing you like this, but can we talk?" The woman opened the door wider, letting a fuzzy column of light cross the common space.
"This apartment was ... have you rented this apartment?"
"Please come in; I will tell you all," she said and opened the door.
The watch on his wrist showed minutes away from midnight. "Well," he said, "it's late. Could we talk tomorrow?"
"Surely it is late but what I want to talk about is important, trust me. Why don't you come in for a cup of coffee? From now on, we shall be neighbors after all."
The prospect of a hot cup of coffee was too enticing to refuse. The lady moved from the door, and Siddhartha walked into the supposedly defective apartment. But it looked perfect. Some of the woman's stuff were scattered on the floor and on a dining table, but by and large, things looked neat — too decent an arrangement for a single day's efforts. The woman motioned to a sofa for Siddhartha to sit.
"Wait a minute, I will prepare some coffee," she said and walked the narrow corridor to the kitchen.
Everything about the house — ceilings, floors, walls, windows, doors, and electrical connections — appeared just fine. In what way was the house defective? Light poured into the living room from the light posts outside through a window right in front of him. Perhaps he had rented the wrong apartment; this one looked better.
The elderly woman returned with a tray carrying a coffee pot, two cups, and biscuits. After placing the tray on the table, she sat across Siddhartha and poured coffee into the cups.
"The coffee should warm you up. I guess you are returning from the office."
"Yes, I got late today," Siddhartha said, sipping coffee and nodding. The warmth of the coffee was truly refreshing.
"My apologies again for calling you at this odd hour."
"No problem, I am sure it must be something urgent."
The old woman nodded in response.
"You shifted the things and arranged them pretty quickly, I must say — the arrangement, in particular, appears too good for a single day's efforts," Siddhartha said.
"Not really. I have been shifting and arranging my things over the past week. Since I managed everything while you were away for work, you didn't know about it. As for moving in, yes, that I did today in the morning."
"Okay. By the way, my name is Siddhartha, Siddhartha Awasthi."
"Nice to meet you, Mr. Awasthi. My name is Pratima Rath."
"You just moved in, Ms. Rath; I should have been the one inviting you for coffee, instead ..."
"O, come on, I understand you lead a busy life."
"So, what is the issue?"
"Do you have any idea why this apartment had always been vacant? I guess no one ever shifted to this place?"
"I heard some people say this house has structural defects."
"Is that all, Mr. Awasthi?"
"Well, I have no further information."
"The estate agents told me about the construction anomalies," she said, "but the structural defects would be of little consequence to me, Mr. Awasthi. The openness of this apartment complex and its roomy apartments attracted me, and I didn't bother about the supposed structural defects of this house. But what I witnessed today in this apartment gives me the impression ..."
"I think this house is haunted, Mr. Awasthi. The estate agents and other stakeholders will never say it, but I am sure it is spooky. It was wrong on my part to settle the deal with the estate agents without making proper inquiries."
"Haunted? Are you sure?"
"Well, I am almost sure. According to the deal papers, my advance rent of six months will not be returned. For an old pensioner like me, that is a lot of money. Yet, I shall move out of this apartment at the earliest."
"But what happened, Ms. Rath?"
"Every now and then, I can see someone moving around the house — a figure in white — a girl."
"Yes, and there's more happening — the wooden cover of the wall closet of the second bedroom keeps moving in erratic ways. Also, I heard someone breathing and clearing her throat inside it. I guess it is the same girl who walks the passages in this house."
Ghost stories and horror movies always tingled his senses, and he enjoyed them. But to be in a possible situation where a real ghost was moving around him was spine-chilling, to say the least. Already the air felt heavier.
Before Siddhartha could respond, his peripheral vision caught a swiftly moving white figure in the dark passage to his right. He turned with a start, but there was nothing!
"Did you see something, Mr. Awasthi?"
"Perhaps ... a white figure floating across the dark space on that side."
"Exactly, that shows I am not hallucinating."
The cup trembled in his hands as he finished sipping the coffee and placed it on the table. "Why did you call me now, Ms. Rath? Just to find out if this apartment is haunted?"
"Yes, one reason was to find out the truth."
"And what else?"
"I want you to open that closet in which the figure lives."
"Why would you want me to indulge in such misadventure?"
"That will not be a misadventure, Mr. Awasthi. Please understand that by being frightened of the spooky conditions, we shall only be fueling the spirit. Many paranormal experts suggest the disembodied souls feed on the fear of the humans."
"But you will be leaving this apartment soon, you said, didn't you? Where is the need then of combating the spirit?"
"I am not going to stay here; that's another matter ... but I will at least need to spend the night in this apartment. And who can tell? Circumstances may force me to spend a few more days over here as making arrangements for another accommodation can take time. So, I wish to fight this disembodied spirit head-on."
"Well, Ms. Rath," Siddhartha said, "I really don't think it's a bright idea meddling with the spirit world. Thanks for the coffee; I would like to leave now."
"As a neighbor, you ought to help, Mr. Awasthi. Paranormal disturbances may not stay confined to my apartment alone."
The very fact there was a ghost in this apartment complex and that too in the adjoining flat was enough reason for him to contemplate moving out to some other complex. No, he wouldn't bother about the advance rent he paid to the apartment owner. Siddhartha would move out of the complex at the earliest — he made up his mind.
"I am afraid I can't help you, Ms. Rath; I am leaving."
"Will you leave your old neighbor helpless like this?"
"There is no choice for me, Ms. Rath," he said and got up, "in any case, I am not responsible for this mess."
"Don't leave me like this, Mr. Awasthi." She, too, got up. "If you are not willing to open the closet, you could at least let me stay in your apartment for the night."
This didn't sound acceptable at all. The old woman herself was pretty eerie, who knew what other trouble she could cause to him.
"Sorry, sorry," he said and moved close to the door.
"Stop, you just can't walk out like this, you idiot," the firm voice of the old woman flowed in from behind.
Siddhartha turned around. With rage in her eyes, the woman stood holding a gun pointed at him. Beads of sweat formed on Siddhartha's forehead despite the mercury dipping further.
"Either open that closet or let me stay in your apartment." The old woman shouted.
Letting the woman into his apartment was the last thing he would do, so the only choice left was to open the closet.
"Okay, put the gun down," Siddhartha said, "take me to your bedroom."
The bedroom was in a complete mess. There was hardly any space to move.
"The ghost is inside," the old woman pointed at the closet.
Indeed, someone was breathing inside the closet. The wooden doors moved — the one inside was moving. Why the hell did he fall for the coffee — Siddhartha cursed himself as he moved close to the closet. When he was in touching distance, the breaths inside got heavier.
"Open it, open it," the old woman spoke behind him.
With a swift movement, he pulled the doors. A girl was sitting on the middle shelf. A deep scar ran diagonally over her dead-white face. The sunken eyes bulged as she let out a blood-curdling scream. A thunderbolt darted across Siddhartha's spine as he moved back in shock and terror. And then it was all darkness.
Siddhartha opened his eyes in a hospital.
A young lady doctor checked his pulse, "Hello, Mr. Awasthi; I am happy you have regained consciousness."
A pain spiraled in his head, neck, and shoulders when he tried to move, "Doctor, the pain ..."
"Yes, I know, the pain will be there for a few days, but you will be fine soon."
"But how did I get here?"
"You had a bad fall and injured the back of your head. If she had not brought you on time, saving your life would become a challenge ... she is the one who saved your life."
His eyes fell on the girl sitting on the attendant's seat — she was the same damn girl, the demon he encountered in the closet.
"Eh...eh..." Some muffled noises escaped his mouth.
"Please relax," the girl said with apologetic eyes, "My name is Vidisha. I am not a ghost but a human."
"And I am Dr. Sandhya Mukherjee, and I completely endorse what she said," the doctor said with a wide grin.
"First, you get well. I will explain everything." The concern in Vidisha's eyes was clear.
The pain subsided in a little over a week; he could now sit on the hospital bed with the support of the headboard. No doubt, Dr. Mukherjee's treatment worked wonders, but credit was also due to Vidisha's constant support and care.
"Are you better today," Vidisha said, adjusting a blanket over his feet.
"Much better, thanks."
But for the ugly scar, she was a beautiful girl. Her exceptional fairness and shiny skin would mortify the best of models and Bollywood divas.
"Please tell me now, Vidisha."
"Yes, I think I can tell you now. And I hope you forgive me after you hear me out."
"Don't embarrass me by saying such things, Vidisha. I am alive today because of you."
"Well, that may be true, but it is equally true you got into trouble because of me."
"Why don't you tell me clearly?"
"Okay, then listen — I am a parapsychologist and a paranormal investigator. What I do might not strike a chord with rationalists like Dr. Mukherjee, but I believe you will see substance in my work after what you experienced in your next-door apartment. That apartment is indeed haunted; the estate agents never rent it to anyone because they know what the consequences of letting it out could be. They tell lies that the apartment was never occupied. Ms. Pratima Rath was the first to buy a flat in the complex and one of its earliest residents. She died within days of moving into the new apartment, but her spirit never left it. After all, she had invested her life savings in it, and an earthbound spirit is often tied to its cherished possessions."
"Oh, Ms. Rath is a ghost!"
"Yes, she is."
After a couple of minutes that Siddhartha needed to digest what he just heard, he said, "These estate agents are such liars."
"Yes, they are. Anyway, moving on with the account — although the issue of the haunted apartment was hushed up by the estate agents and the apartment owners, such things don't escape the eyes of sharp paranormal investigators and ghost hunters. After my profound research on Ms. Rath, I wished to spend a few days in that apartment to get a first-hand experience of the ghost. Despite my constant persuasions, the agents wouldn't let me stay in that apartment. Then I offered them a lot of money, and they agreed."
"And you moved in the day I had encountered the ghost of Ms. Rath."
"Correct. Obviously, the disembodied spirit of Ms. Rath didn't like my presence. To drive me out, she did everything she could — threw her things at me, tried to push me down the balcony, abused me, and even tried to stab me. Though I resisted her attacks, I knew sooner or later she would get the better of me. But I also knew from my research work that she hated closed and narrow places such as cupboards and closets. For that reason, I would very often take refuge in the wall closet of her bedroom."
"Umm-hmm." Siddhartha squinted his eyes and nodded.
"Upon failing to throw me out of the house, she thought of engaging a third agency. And that third agency was you."
"Okay, I get the picture."
"The rest of the story should be clear to you."
"Of course, I fell down and hurt my head, and you brought me to the hospital."
"Yes, I dragged you out of the apartment and called up two of my ghost hunter friends for help. Within minutes, they arrived with an ambulance, and then we shifted you to this hospital."
"Did the ghost of Ms. Rath trouble you when you were dragging me out of the apartment?"
"Yes, she tried all tricks. She threw cups and dishes at me. But I guess she was happy to see me leave — after all, she wants the apartment all to herself."
"Now, Ms. Rath must be happy."
"No, she is not. I went back to the apartment. My investigations are not over."
"Oh, you are a gutsy girl."
"Learning about the afterlife and spirits is my passion. Traditional science and materially driven sociopolitical systems would have us believe that there are no spirits. But the truth about spirits is evident from the scar on my face."
"Did a spirit cause the scar?"
"Yes, Siddhartha. A spirit as powerful as Ms. Rath."
"So, how many more days will you spend in that apartment?"
"As many days as I need to study the conduct of Ms. Rath's spirit."
"But can't she harm you?"
"Of course, she can, but I am not afraid of her or what she can do to me. Every ghost hunting expedition entails risks."
The wound in Siddhartha's head healed in another four days, and Dr. Mukherjee decided to discharge him.
"Don't miss the medicines I prescribed in the discharge sheet," Dr. Mukherjee said, "in another two days, you could join the office, I guess."
"Thank you so much, Doctor."
Vidisha walked into the hospital room with a smile.
"So, you will be out of the hospital today."
Siddhartha smiled in response.
Dr. Mukherjee looked at Vidisha and then at Siddhartha.
"Okay, I will be back in a while." Dr. Mukherjee patted Siddhartha's back and left the room.
"How are you feeling," Vidisha asked.
"Great, but I am not sure where to go after I leave the hospital. I do not wish to spend another night in a house next to a haunted apartment."
"Even I would advise you to move out of that apartment immediately. If you can arrange to stay in some other place — maybe in the house of a friend or colleague — then please do it. In case you can't, please find different accommodation for yourself as soon as you can."
"Till such time I find a different accommodation, I will stay in my office guesthouse. Although the rooms in the guesthouse are small and even the food they provide is not to my taste, I guess staying in the guesthouse is still better than spending nights in the vicinity of a haunted area."
"Correct decision. Staying close to Ms. Rath's spirit is a bad idea."
"And yet you are staying with her."
"Well, my job finished last night."
"Oh, so your investigations are over."
"Yes, you can say so."
"So, how would you describe the conduct of Ms. Rath's spirit in your final analysis?"
"Can she kill people?"
"Of course, she can."
Moments of silence followed as some thoughts crossed Siddhartha's mind.
"What are you thinking?" Vidisha asked.
"For several months, I stayed close to a ghost — what a disturbing truth!"
"Yes, it's a disturbing truth, yet a life-saving one. The knowledge of the truth has made you decide to leave the apartment complex. And the best part is you are still unharmed. Who could tell — if you continued living in the complex oblivious to the danger lurking in the vicinity, the spirit might harm you badly; it might even kill you."
"Umm-hmm, you are right, Vidisha."
"So, be happy you are safe, and I wish you stay healthy and happy always."
"Thank you, Vidisha. If you didn't choose to conduct your investigations in the haunted apartment, I would never learn the truth, and the spirit someday might find its way into my apartment and turn me into dead meat. And of course, the other day, if you had not rushed me to the hospital, I would die."
"You are welcome, Siddhartha. Good luck, and take care. I will leave now."
"Are we meeting again, Vidisha?"
"No, Siddhartha, this is our last meeting."
A blunt 'no' was unexpected and uncharacteristic of Vidisha. And Siddhartha also found it insulting.
"Why do you want this to be our last meeting?"
"I am leaving, Siddhartha."
"First, answer my question — why did you say this meeting would be the last one? Is there a problem meeting me?"
Without replying, Vidisha turned around and walked toward the door. The half-buried dagger on her back with blood all around it paralyzed Siddhartha’s body. Before moving out of the room, Vidisha half-turned her face and said, "Now, you know why this is the last meeting, don't you? The evil spirit did this. But the world is not ready to learn the truth, and you must not tell the world more than it can digest — Remember that."
Within a minute of Vidisha's leaving the room, Dr. Mukherjee barged in with a somber expression on her face.
"There's some bad news for you, Siddhartha. The girl who saved your life is dead — Vidisha, I mean. Her body was found in the staircase of the apartment complex with a dagger buried deep in her back. The police got information that she had been visiting the hospital every day and thus called us for any possible clues to the murder."
After a quiet period, when sense returned to Siddhartha's nerves, he said, "The evil spirit killed her."
"What are you saying, Siddhartha?"
"Vidisha herself told me a while ago. I even saw the dagger and the fatal wound it caused."
"You don't seem to be in the right frame of mind."
"Doctor, you too saw her, didn't you? Vidisha entered this room in your presence."
"No, Siddhartha. I didn't spot her coming."
"Vidisha stood close to the bed, and you even exchanged a look with her."
"Come on, Siddhartha, no such thing happened. Nobody entered the room while I was here last. It seems you imagined things. Anyhow, the police will come here in a while for some inquiries. They may ask us a few questions about how we knew Vidisha. Please keep your mind under control — don't say things such as an evil spirit killed her. Do you understand?"
Siddhartha nodded. What I do might not strike a chord with rationalists like Dr. Mukherjee, but I believe you will see substance in my work after what you experienced in your next-door apartment — Vidisha's words crossed his mind.
"Don't worry, Dr. Mukherjee, I won't say such stupid things to the police."
"Good," Dr. Mukherjee said with a caring hand on his back, "maybe I misjudged your health condition. The visions you had are clear pointers to a stressed mind. Though the wound has healed, the psychological impact of the injury is high. Do you mind if I keep you in the hospital for another two or three days? During that time, our psychologists will also be able to help you."
"Doctor, you are the best judge; I will go by your advice."
"Thanks for placing so much trust in me, Siddhartha; you will be fine soon. Try taking your mind away from what happened to Vidisha. Ugly things happen in the world which are beyond our control — this is a sad truth. Do you agree?"
"Yes, I do, Doctor."
"And one more thing — there are no such things as evil spirits. Okay?"
Siddhartha nodded again. Dr. Mukherjee patted him on the back and left the room.
But the world is not ready to learn the truth, and you must not tell the world more than it can digest — Remember that - the echoes of what Vidisha said went past his psyche again.
"Indeed, I will tell them only what they can digest," Siddhartha whispered, "not a word more than that."
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!