Hello Dear Readers and Listeners, can objects move by themselves in paintings? Maybe you haven't seen such things happening, but the protagonist of today's story, a professional painter, spots a man moving in a painting done by him! Interested to know what follows? Sure, you are. Go ahead - read and listen to this 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. I am Biswajit Banerjee, your host for the show.
Before starting the story, I would request my valued readers and listeners to visit my website biswajitbanerjee.com and become a member. Also, do join my mailing list. All OBSCURUS episodes and their transcripts are available on the website.
You might be aware I have another website obscurus.buzzsprout.com which is devoted to this podcast. Apart from all OBSCURUS episodes and their transcripts, you will also find chapter markers for easy navigation.
And now a disclaimer – all OBSCURUS stories are pieces of fiction. Any resemblance whatsoever to people and circumstances is purely coincidental and unintentional.
Let’s now jump into the story. A painter spots a strange phenomenon in a picture he has drawn. An object in his painting is moving. Is it an optical illusion, or can things move on their own in paintings? Come, let’s find out.
THE PAINTING 00:02:22
Written and performed by Biswajit Banerjee
After about five months, Neeraj entered his studio. He had been paying the rent of the room but not using it. The room had no problem, though. The problem was with the painting he started working on around seven months back. It was a simple painting — that of a man visible through a window of a building from outside. An ordinary building with a window and a man standing at some distance from the window — that's all there was to the painting. Conditions of the room visible through the window were rather humble.
The problem? The man visible through the window was moving! Yes, he was moving! The movement was slow but definite. Neeraj had sensed the distance between the man and the window reducing. One needed to have sharp eyes to detect such small movements. Well, Neeraj did have sharp eyes! Although he never believed in the supernatural or what some people referred to as unexplained phenomena, Neeraj could not lie to himself. Indeed, the unshaven character he had created was moving towards the window. The size of the man grew as he walked closer and closer to the rectangular window.
This was such a disturbing phenomenon that Neeraj stopped visiting the studio! So, he missed out on at least a dozen deadlines for finishing his artworks, causing dissatisfaction to many of his clients. In India, it is not easy to survive as a painter! Few actually work as full-time painters. Brilliant skills and years of perseverance enabled Neeraj to live his dream career — that of a full-time painter! But this painting upset the rhythm of his life and career!
For months, he struggled to deal with the truth! Like a vulture, he looked for possible information related to the phenomenon on the web. The web did offer some information, but it didn't really help him. Some paintings in the world did behave erratically, just as the case had been with his artwork! The object positions changed on their own in these paintings, but much information wasn't available as to why such changes happened and what did the painters of those pictures or the ones in possession of those paintings do when they witnessed such weird things happening.
He wrote letters to some museums which kept such paintings requesting more information. But none replied.
Neeraj hadn't told anyone about the painting for a long time. His girlfriend Sandhya, also a professional painter like him, had asked him several times what bothered him. But he didn't tell her. Finally, he conceded last week.
"Will you tell me or not?" Sandhya asked.
"You won't believe it if I tell you."
"Well, I am doing a painting ordered by a cooperative society for their lobby. It is half-done."
"So, what about it?"
"There's a man in the painting who's moving!"
"Moving! What do you mean?"
"I mean exactly what I said. The man in the painting is changing his position."
"I did say you wouldn't believe me."
Later in the evening, Sandhya called Neeraj up on the mobile.
"Listen, I spoke to Professor Narasimhan," she said, "he believes he can explain what is happening."
Professor Narasimhan was one of their teachers in the Art School. That Sandhya would talk to him was totally unexpected.
"You spoke to him?"
"Yes, I did. The Professor wants to see us."
"Are you suggesting he knows what is happening inside the painting?"
"Indeed, he says he can explain the phenomenon."
"Okay, then we will visit him."
So, they visited Professor Narasimhan, and discussed the matter over coffee.
"Years back, I had witnessed a similar problem in one of my paintings." The Professor said.
"Yes, Neeraj. It was a painting of a sunrise. Towards the right top corner, I drew a bird against white clouds. When I was half-done with the painting, I noticed the bird had moved to the left of the painting. Stunned and shocked to the core, I stopped working on it."
"This sounds quite similar to what's happening to you, Neeraj," Sandhya observed.
"So, you left the painting unfinished?" Neeraj asked.
"Not quite. I convinced myself I drew incorrect inferences, and the painting was fine. So, I started working on it again. After a few days, when I had a careful look at the bird, I realized though its spatial position had not changed, its wings appeared different. Putting it plain and simple — it appeared the bird had flapped its wings!"
"O my goodness, it's unbelievable," Sandhya said.
"Sounds similar to what's happening in my painting, Sir."
"Yes, Neeraj, I am sure you must be as shocked as I was when I spotted those changes in the painting."
"I am curious to know what followed, Sir," Sandhya said.
"To find out what was happening, I researched into the possible phenomenon. I went to several libraries and read books on the paranormal. In some of them, I read about strange paintings. Many authors had referred to them as spooky paintings. The object positions changed by themselves in these paintings. After noting down the places where such paintings were displayed — of course, all of them were on display in museums outside India — I wrote to the people in charge of those places, the museums and art galleries, I mean."
"Oh, you went my way, Sir. Even I did similar research and wrote to several museums outside India. But nobody replied."
"Well, I did receive a reply from a museum in London. I kept the reply carefully and would want you to see it."
The Professor got up and went to the nearby wooden cabinet. After opening a drawer, he pulled out a paper and brought it to them.
"Why don't you read it for us, Sandhya," the Professor passed on the letter to her.
"Dear Mr. Narsimhan," she read the letter, "with reference to your letter requesting for information about the paintings displayed by us wherein reportedly objects change positions, we would like to inform you that such reports are false. All our paintings are normal and do not demonstrate the supposed ghostly phenomena many journals and magazines reported as happening in our paintings. We would like to clarify our records do not suggest any of our paintings ever showed any such supposed paranormal phenomena. Also, we deem it our solemn duty to inform you that similar reports of objects changing their positions in paintings housed in other museums and galleries are also false. There is no substance in such reports. We understand some journals and magazines reporting such activities happening in paintings are quite reputed and known for their objective reporting. Yet, we insist all these reports are false. On behalf of the museum authorities, we thank you for your letter and hope we have been able to clear your doubts. With warm regards, yours sincerely — Richard Burton, Head, London Museum of Art, dated February 19, 1973."
"So, they said such things don't happen."
"Indeed, and trust me, they are spot on, Neeraj." The Professor responded.
"What? You mean the objects don't change positions in paintings?"
"No, they don't."
"But the bird in your painting — it didn't move?"
"No, Neeraj, the bird didn't move. My mind deluded itself into believing the bird moved. What I witnessed was at best an optical illusion, nothing more."
"So, you mean even I deceived myself into believing the man in the painting is moving!"
"Human mind is fertile, Neeraj. It can play strange tricks on itself! After receiving the reply from London, I cleared my mind of all biases and took a fresh look at the picture. Every day I made efforts to spot any possible changes in the bird's position. Well, I spotted nothing! And after some time, I realized my ideas about the birds' movements were all tricks of the mind."
"Think rationally, Neeraj — how can an object change position in a painting? This is simply impossible." Sandhya said with a smile.
"She's right, Neeraj. What you witnessed is an optical illusion. The man in the painting is not moving. Your mind thinks he is moving. Rest assured, nothing paranormal is happening. With an open mind, go back to your studio and finish working on the painting."
Though not entirely convinced with what Professor Narsimhan said, Neeraj made quite an effort to believe everything about the painting was perfect, and nothing spooky was happening. So, now he was back in the studio with the intent of resuming work on the picture.
When he removed the cloth from over the painting, he found the man standing more or less at the same distance from the window when he last saw the painting. Neeraj picked up his brush and palette for mixing the paints.
"I will finish you soon, and you will then be in the lobby of the client," he whispered to the painting.
Before he could touch the brush with the canvass, his mobile phone rang. An unknown number flashed on the screen — possibly, an international number.
"Hello," Neeraj said, accepting the call."
"Am I talking to Mr. Neeraj Pandit?"
"Hi Mr. Pandit, my name is Benjamin Virtanen. I am the Head of Helsinki Royal Museum of Arts."
"Hello, Mr. Virtanen. I am so glad you called."
"This is about the letter you sent to us."
"Yes, I know. Can you tell me about the strange paintings in your collection?"
"Well, I will explain, but please understand I am not calling you in an official capacity. Our organization decided not to send an official reply to your letter. However, working as a restoration specialist in the museum, I thought I should be talking to you in a personal capacity. The reasons — the issues you raised in the letter are substantive. And some of the people who know such things happen will never acknowledge them. They don’t wish to be seen as irrational and tend to be correct from the social and scientific perspectives. As for commoners, their observation powers are too weak to spot changes in paintings."
"Thank you so much. I am grateful you chose to call me."
"You don't need to thank me, Mr. Pandit. It was important to share my thoughts on the subject. But please don't record this call or quote me in any official forum. I repeat — I am speaking to you in a personal capacity."
"Rest assured, Mr. Virtanen — I will treat this as an informal talk."
"Right, now, let me come to the point straight. These supposed spooky paintings are not normal. Strange things do happen in them."
"Are you suggesting the objects change position in the paintings?"
"Yes, they do."
"Did you too witness such things, Mr. Virtanen?"
"Mr. Pandit, I am a restoration artist. My life is all about restoring paintings. Yes, I have witnessed such things happen. In my career spanning more than thirty years, I have seen weird things happening in paintings. Objects changing positions in the paintings is a small phenomenon. So many other things happen — shadows of objects appearing, pictures behaving like motion pictures with the settings and characters changing constantly, colors and shades changing, texts appearing on paintings, sunrises happening in pictures, voices emanating from the sketches, and even characters in paintings talking."
"Oh, sounds impossible."
"But it is true. From what you wrote in the letter, I could sense you, too, witnessed something weird in a painting. Didn't you?"
"Yes, I did. Things happened in my own painting."
"What did you witness — some object moving in the painting?"
"Yes, Mr. Virtanen. A man in the painting is moving."
"Well, don't be afraid. Such phenomena do happen, but they don't hurt."
"But can this be explained?"
"If you are looking for a typical scientific explanation, I can't offer you one. But I can tell you why I think these things happen."
"Please tell me, Mr. Virtanen."
"Well, countless sets of dimensions exist in the universe. We humans are aware of just a few sets of dimensions. Every set of dimensions is a world in its own right. So, when you are painting a picture, you are giving rise to a set of dimensions or what you may call a new world. This new world also has its inhabitants, and those inhabitants are conscious beings."
"What? Can that be true?"
"From my experiences, I can tell you, nothing could be truer. Yes, every painting is a world with its own settings and populations. In the world of a painting, the inhabitants live their lives the way we live our lives in our own set of dimensions."
"But Mr. Virtanen ..."
"Oh, yes, I know — it is difficult for you to digest this truth. Understand this — in one sense, every painting is spooky because every painting has its own world teeming with people. But if you see deep, it is normal for a painting to be a world."
"So, the movements ..."
"Mr. Pandit, movements happen in every painting. Since in most paintings, they happen very slowly, we don't take note of them. In some paintings, when the movements happen rather rapidly, our sense faculties register them. Every world has its own rate of movements — in some worlds, movements happen sluggishly, while in others, they are quick. Every world has its own set of characteristics — I am sure you will appreciate that. Well, there's nothing more to say, goodbye, Mr. Pandit."
And Mr. Virtanen hung up the phone.
For some time after Mr. Virtanen disconnected the call, Neeraj wondered if his words carried any truth. Probably, the man was crazy.
Every painting is a world in its own right — could it be? It sounded ridiculous. Perhaps it was time he completely banished thoughts of possible movements in paintings from his mind.
"Benjamin Virtanen cannot be believed," Neeraj said softly, "he is a mad man. I must place trust in Professor Narasimhan. Well, yes, he was right — movements do not happen in paintings. All those phenomena are optical illusions — tricks the human mind plays on itself."
And then his eyes fell on the painting — the one where he noted the movements. Did some changes happen in the position of the man? Yes! This was no trick of the mind! Without a trace of doubt, the man had moved closer to the window. In fact, a large part of his body was no longer visible. The size of his face was larger now, and the facial details were more prominently visible!
No, he had no reasons to distrust his eyes! Soon after, Neeraj was left with absolutely no reason whatsoever to deny the truth. Just the way characters moved in a movie, the man in the painting moved!
The character got closer to the window, then still closer. Within seconds, the man jumped over the window sill. Neeraj wanted to run away but found his reflexes frozen! But his sense perceptions were active enough to make sense of the happenings. The unshaven man, Neeraj's creation, then jumped out of the painting right into his studio!
Now, Neeraj gained back his reflexes.
"No, don't do anything to me," Neeraj said.
The man stood up and shortly started walking toward Neeraj.
"Stop, don't come any closer."
At that moment, it occurred to Neeraj a window was right behind him. The quickest way he could be out of the studio was to jump out of the window.
After gathering all the momentum in his command, Neeraj turned around and got on top of the window's frame. Then, he jumped out of the studio!
"No, don't do anything to me," someone said.
Neeraj now found himself in another room! The window of the studio should have led him out to the street outside. How could he have jumped into another room?
"Please don't harm me, please don't," a panic-stricken man standing at some distance from Neeraj said.
Neeraj stood up and looked behind. There was a canvass with a window drawn on it. And there was no trace of the window from where he jumped!
After turning around as Neeraj stepped towards the man, he said, "No, don't come towards me, I am warning you."
And then the man turned around — probably looking for a window to escape his studio! Escape Neeraj!
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!