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 so glad to welcome you to another episode of OBSCURUS. If you enjoy OBSCURUS, please subscribe and visit my website, biswajitbanerjee.com, for more information on my books, movies, voice-over projects, and this podcast itself. From time to time, I post educational and entertaining articles and videos that I believe my listeners will enjoy. All OBSCURUS episodes and their transcripts are also available on the blog of the website.
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Today we have a terse tale – our protagonist Vijeta is an anthropologist by profession. Driven by a strong scientific temper, she dismisses all ideas that have no footing in science. That's why she is upset to find Prasun, her colleague and a renowned anthropologist, place his trust in the legend of the headless ghost. Let's dive into the story.
THE HEADLESS GHOST 00:02:51
Written and performed by Biswajit Banerjee
The legend of the headless ghost was more than a thousand years old. An old king got his Prime Minister by the name of Veerbhadra executed for allegedly striking a deal with an enemy kingdom. Despite all his attempts to refute the charge, he was found guilty. The ruler had him beheaded publicly to send a strong message - cheating the king would invite capital punishment regardless of the culprit's social status and position. Eventually, some royal men unearthed evidence that clearly proved Veerbhadra's innocence, but the royals hushed it up. The legend also has it that Veerbhadra returned to avenge the injustice as a headless ghost. His vengeance unleashed not only on those responsible for the wrongdoing. A little after midnight, the specter would appear in the ramparts of the castle and behead whoever came his way. Many men and women of reckoning lost their heads to the ghost's rage. The new Prime Minister, the Commander-in-Chief, the Intelligence Chief, the security officers, the butlers crossing his way, and of course, the old king himself - all fell to his sword.
To this day, the headless ghost can be seen walking the hallways of the castle with his bloodstained sword, always ready to swing it at the one coming his way, or so the legend goes.
That Prasun Aggarwal should lend credence to the story came as a surprise. When Vijeta first heard him talk about the possible truth in the story, she couldn't believe Prasun spoke those words.
"You actually think the legend is true?" She asked.
"All I'm trying to say is that this is a case worth investigating," Prasun responded.
"Investigations into what?" Whether or not the headless ghost walks the castle ways?"
"The entire affair - starting from the allegations, the trial, the arguments of the defense, the execution, and the possible return of the slain minister."
Those were the early days of their association. Vijeta didn't wish to spoil the growing bond by pressing her arguments beyond a point. But she was plainly unhappy to find Prasun, a reputed anthropologist, place his trust in a silly tale. She later discovered that he was also a paranormal investigator, a piece of information that didn't please her in the least. Despite these blots of irrationality in his personality, Vijeta admired him for his command over cultural studies on the North Indian States, especially Rajasthan. And of course, he made an excellent colleague. Without his constant inputs, Vijeta's research papers on Bhairo Mahal, the supposedly haunted castle, wouldn't be possible.
Although she distanced herself from all his paranormal investigations in the castle, she readily teamed up with Prasun in scientific research projects. After having worked together for nearly four years, they had become good friends. Now she didn't hesitate to criticize his leanings toward the paranormal. She would often tell him that he ought to spend his time and resources more prudently and that investigating into the Veerbhadra affair was foolish, to say the least.
They often met at Café Hot Point, just a kilometer away from their field office in Jodhpur, to discuss projects and research papers. Its traditional Rajasthani ambience and excellent service would beat even the best of restaurants in the city. They often sat for hours together, working on their documents with a constant coffee and snack supply to fuel their minds.
Lately, however, Vijeta had been unhappy with her colleague's shifting priorities. Prasun was spending too much time on his supposed paranormal research, so much so that he would sometimes miss out on crucial professional commitments. They couldn't meet the deadlines for submitting two vital reports to the State Government because of slack in Prasun's involvement. Talks on falling effectiveness of Prasun's team, of which Vijeta was a prominent member, often took rounds in the office corridors.
One wintry evening, she was waiting for Prasun at the café. The large wall clock belled the hour signal – it was seven. With a bundle of papers to discuss, she wondered why Prasun hadn't arrived. Perhaps his so-called paranormal investigations kept him off. Failing to submit the report on time again would be strongly viewed by the authorities. Yet he didn't seem to be much concerned. Anxious about the possible dent to her reputation as an anthropologist, Vijeta made up her mind - if Prasun failed to deliver a third time, she would change her team.
He finally arrived thirty minutes later, around seven-thirty.
"You can't be doing this, Prasun? I have been waiting for close to an hour now."
"Sorry, I got late working on last night's data." He pulled a chair and sat across her.
"The data I collected last night from Bhairo Mahal."
"From your paranormal investigations, you mean?"
"Have you gone bonkers, Prasun? Have you lost it all?" She literally shouted.
"Aren't you aware how the State Anthropological Department is going to react if we don't submit the report on time again?"
"Please appreciate what I am doing other than preparing this report is also important."
"All of us will suffer because of your negligence."
"You are calling my paranormal research 'negligence?' That's not a good thing to say, Vijeta, given the fact that I now have clear proof of the ghost's existence."
"Oh, come on."
"I really have irrefutable proof."
"You are speaking as though you took a video of the headless ghost."
"What if I say my evidence is stronger than that?" A confident smile crossed Prasun's lips.
"Oh, please, Prasun, you have made similar claims earlier."
"But this one is a solid piece of proof," He said with still greater force.
"Show it to me."
"Yes, I will, but first I must tell you what happened last night."
"Umm Hmm, go on," Vijeta said.
"I ventured alone into Bhairo Mahal since none of my fellow paranormal researchers were in the city. They are ..."
"I know ... they are attending a conference in Calcutta."
"Yes, a conference on modern paranormal research."
"So, what happened in the castle?"
"I moved around with my ghost hunting gadgetry. I had carried quite a few instruments."
"Many of these strange instruments are quite heavy, aren't they?"
"Yes, they are, but I had to visit the castle last night. It was after all a new moon night, what you call 'Amavasya' in many Indian languages."
"I know. I guess 'Amavasya' nights are most conducive to ghost appearances." She smiled.
"You think all this is a joke?"
"Never mind what I think, Prasun, continue with your story."
Prasun resumed after a brief spell of silence. "Between two and three, some strange noises came from the southern side of the central hallway. I swiftly moved to that part of the castle to check ... believe me, he was there!"
"The headless ghost?"
"Indeed, the headless ghost. Draped in royal clothes, Veerbhadra rushed toward me. Blood covered his robes, and I could see some of it spilling over the floor. Amid stains of blood, the massive sword in his hand shone." Suddenly his eyes filled with terror, and he struggled for breath.
"Hey, are you all right, Prasun?"
"Won't you like to know what happened next?"
"Well ... yes," she said with some unease.
"The headless ghost swung his sword at me." A frozen look gripped his eyes.
"Prasun ..." Vijeta held his hand and gave him a jerk.
His head bent forward and then fell off his shoulders. It bumped on the table, scattering blood and bits of flesh all around before ending up toward her side of the table with the stump of the throat touching her breasts. As the horror gripped her in the next fraction of the moment, she shrieked despite choking in the throat.
Shortly, she found herself being comforted by a couple of waiters. The manager of Hot Point also walked up to her.
"Are you okay, Ma'am? What's wrong?" The manager said anxiously.
There was now no detached head, no blood, no bits of flesh, and no Prasun! She dreamed the stuff, did she? No way, she had been awake all this while. What happened then? Hallucination, huh?
The sharp ring of her mobile phone brought her out of the ruminations. The screen flashed the name of Archana, one of her team members.
"Hello," she said in a voice still under the impact of the shock.
"Hello, Vijeta," Archana said in a raised pitch, "where are you?"
"I am at the Hot Point."
"Come right away. Prasun's body has been discovered in the main hallway of Bhairo Mahal ... the head is missing."
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!