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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. My name is Biswajit Banerjee, and I am your host for this show. In today’s story, the protagonist finds signs of an invisible visitor in her apartment. Well, we will soon know what happened when we start the tale.
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Okay, then, it’s time now to plunge into the story. There are definite signs that someone visited Amanda’s apartment in her absence. Possibly, the intruder is still around her. Is Amanda in danger? Come, let’s find out.
THE TRICK 00:03:15
Written and Performed by Biswajit Banerjee
"Somebody must have been here. How else can the door be dirty" Amanda whispered as she stepped inside her apartment after a long day at work. The air inside was heavier than usual. She sensed the hair on the back of her neck stand as she reached for the light switch and flipped it on. Amanda's eyes adjusted to the sudden brightness before scanning around to see if anything was out of place. It didn't take long until she found something that was certainly not normal — a trail of muddy footsteps leading from the entrance towards her closet. With each step she took, caring not to walk on the trail, Amanda's heart pounded louder, and adrenaline pumped through every muscle, making them tense with anticipation. When she opened the closet door, she had her heart in her mouth as she found all the clothes pushed aside.
A little distance away was the door that led to her bedroom.
"Who's there?" Amanda called out as she moved towards the door. Something shuffled around in the living room before coming to an abrupt halt. Alarmed, she retracted, and her back hit the closet. And now someone sneezed. An intruder in the bedroom? No, the apartment wasn't safe to be in. The entrance door was still open. Amanda rushed out of the apartment and locked the door. Then she swiftly walked down the staircase and was soon out of the building.
The evening light was fading, and, for whatever reasons, the common outer area of the apartment complex also didn't feel safe. Was someone watching Amanda? Maybe somebody from a window of the adjoining residential complex. Regardless of whether she was presently under watch, her apartment certainly had a visitor in her absence, and there was a good possibility he was still in it. The guard at the large gate of the complex might have some information. She hurried to the gate.
"Who visited my apartment in my absence?"
The guard looked at her and replied, "Nobody."
"Impossible; you could see a trail of muddy footprints from the entrance towards the closet in my living room. I'm sure somebody entered my apartment."
An expression of bewilderment flashed across his face. "Madam, you can check my logbook. Apart from the residents, no one entered the building complex today."
"I need to call the police at once."
"The trail only moves from the entrance to the closet." Inspector Richard Smith observed, "It seems the one who got here put off the shoes after reaching the closet and then walked bare feet."
"Ms. Amis," Constable Brian Adams said, whoever visited this place had duplicate keys to unlock the entrance. Did you give your keys to anyone ... a friend ... or a relative.”?
"No, only I have the keys, I guess."
"Then how could someone enter the apartment without breaking the door? And I see no evidence of the visitor entering through a window. All windows are locked from inside." Inspector Smith scratched his beardy cheeks as he spoke those words.
"I can't tell what happened, Inspector."
"What about the shuffling movement you felt in the living room?"
"Well, again, I have no clues what caused the movement. The lights were on, but I didn't spot a thing."
"Okay, and Ms. Amis ... did you check the bedroom after you heard a sneeze coming from there?"
"No, Inspector. After I heard the sneeze, I was too afraid to spend another second in the apartment; so, I rushed out of here."
"The guard said other than the residents, no one entered the complex today till the time you spoke to him about the intruder."
"And he also believes the CCTV footage will prove his point," Constable Adams remarked.
"What do I do now?"
"There is no evidence that suggests your life or property to be at risk, Ms. Amis," Inspector Smith opined.
"So, you think I am safe here?"
"Apparently, yes. Right now, there is no intruder in your apartment. Going by the law of the land, we can't provide you with police protection under the given circumstances. But, as a measure of abundant caution, I could ask one of my trusted private security professionals to provide you with a guard. He will sit outside your apartment. You would be in touch with him through a long-range wireless heavy-duty bell. Whenever you need to see him, you just need to press the switch of the bell kit component you will be carrying with you. The services are quite reasonably priced. So, what do you say? Should I get a private guard deployed at your door?"
"I think I should feel safer at the knowledge that a private security professional is outside my door."
"Okay, I will arrange for a private security guard for you."
The private security guard arranged by Inspector Smith was a tall and tough man. He sat on a wooden chair placed in the entrance lobby of her apartment. Armed with a pistol, the guard looked ready to take on all threats head-on and protect Amanda in the event of an attack.
Feeling much safer, Amanda switched off the bedroom lights around 11.30 p.m. and went to bed.
A loud crash awoke Amanda. "Huh ... huh ... who's there?"
No response followed.
"Speak up now, who's there," Amanda spoke in a shaky voice as she moved out of the bed and headed towards the wall switchboard.
"Don't put on the lights, Amanda," a voice from behind her said in a calm tone. As a chill moved up her spine, she turned and saw the silhouette of a man standing behind the semi-transparent curtain of the window wall.
She screamed. The shrieks pierced through the midnight silence, and when they died out, all Amanda could hear was the thudding of her heart.
Now, the man stepped out of the curtain and moved in her direction. Amanda retracted and was about to scream again but found a hand clapped on her mouth. "Shhh ... Shhh ... it's just me — Mike," the man murmured, releasing his grip from her mouth.
After a few moments of silence, Amanda regained some command over herself. "Goodness gracious, Mike, is that really you?"
"But what are you doing here; you were in the countryside for shooting a documentary film, were you not?"
"Oh, we had to stop shooting the film."
"Why? What happened?"
"Certain issues stalled the project. Let's not talk about the film now. Instead, let's make this night memorable."
"Wait for a second, so you left the mud stains on the floor?"
"Yes, it was me, sorry."
"But how did you get in? You didn't have the keys."
"I had a master key; it usually works on all doors."
Amanda laughed. "So, you keep a master key. Are you a thief or what?"
"Well, Darling, sometimes I need the master key to open vaults and doors of abandoned buildings while making investigative documentary films."
"And why did you hang around stealthily in the apartment? Even the police couldn't find you."
"I am a smart man, Amanda."
"What you did scared the wits out of me; you call that being smart?"
"Okay, sorry about that. But now I am here, let's make the best use of all the time we can spend together."
"What about the guard outside?"
"What about him? Let him sit outside the apartment. In the morning, you can ask him to leave."
"But he might come in if he hears any sounds."
"Doubtful; he didn't come in when you screamed. How can you expect him to respond to our romance?"
With a smile on her lips, she placed her arms around him. They kissed and soon melted into each other.
When she woke up, it was around seven in the morning. Rays of the sun had poured in through the window. Amanda looked to her side and found no trace of Mike.
No one responded to her call. After putting on the gown, she moved out of the bed and checked up the entire apartment. No, Mike wasn’t there!
"Mike, is this again some sick joke of yours?"
Again, no response.
With some hurried steps, she reached the entrance door and flung it open. The security guard was standing a little distance away from the chair.
"Did you see someone leave the house?"
"Sorry, Madam, I don't quite understand. Was someone inside the apartment."
"Huh ... well, no ... never mind ..."
"Is there some problem? You look disturbed."
"No, everything is okay. Your duty is over, I guess."
"It will be over at eight. Another security guard will come here in the evening when your return from work."
"Perhaps you can leave now, and I don't need the security anymore."
"Are you sure, Madam?"
"Yes, thank you so much for your services."
"Please do call the General Manager and tell him your decision of discontinuing the service."
"Don't worry about that; I will talk to Inspector Smith, and he will communicate my decision to your General Manager."
"Okay, Madam, I shall leave now."
After speaking to Inspector Smith, she went to the bedroom to arrange the sheets. Another shock followed. The bedsheet was full of dried mud.
"What the hell is happening," she whispered as she changed the sheet.
Later while taking a shower, Amanda realized even she was full of dirt. "Oh, now I know. This is all because of Mike. He is dirty like his games; I need to sort this out with him."
After finishing the shower while she was dressing up, the doorbell rang. "Who is it now? Is it Mike?"
She quickly checked the door and found Adrian, Mike's friend, standing outside.
"Hi, Adrian. So, you are in this game with your friend."
"Game? What are you talking about, Amanda?"
"Don't pretend you don't know about it."
"What are you referring to?"
"Well, I am referring to the game Mike started yesterday."
"Have you gone crazy?"
The disturbed look on Adrian's face was genuine. No, this didn't look like a game. Something, for sure, was wrong.
"Won't you come in, Adrian?"
"No, we got to hurry, Amanda."
"Is there a problem?"
"Big problem, Amanda. Yesterday, the vehicle carrying Mike and his crew members skidded into a deep muddy ditch. Though all survived, some of them got very badly injured. And ... Mike ... Mike's condition is most critical. He got into a coma since last evening."
"What, are you serious?" Amanda said with her mouth agape with disbelief."
"Yes, Amanda, I am telling the truth."
The expression 'deep muddy ditch' echoed in her mind. It didn't take her long to relate the trail of muddy footsteps, dried mud on the bed, and the layer of dirt on her body to the 'deep muddy ditch' Adrian mentioned. So, who came to visit her? Mike's spirit? Who or what else could it be?
"That means Mike is dead."
"No, Mike is not dead; he is in a coma. The Associate Director from his team Ankit Garg called me up a while back. He informed me that most team members are admitted to a hospital in the township nearest to the village where they were shooting the film."
"The Associate Director didn't tell the truth; Mike is no more."
"Why are you saying that, Amanda?"
"Oh, maybe I can tell you why in the vehicle. Can we get going," Amanda said with tears rolling down her cheeks.
"Yes, of course, please get a hold of yourself."
"Are you sure it was not a dream?" Adrian asked as he drove over the road leading to the countryside.
"Oh, come on, Adrian, I know the difference between a dream and reality."
"So, Mike's spirit visited you?"
"Isn't it the only logical conclusion?"
"If Mike is dead, why did Ankit tell me he is in a coma?"
"The reasons are clear — he didn't want to give you a sudden shock. Ankit thought he would disclose the truth when we reached the hospital."
"No, I don't think Ankit lied to me."
"So, you think he is in a coma?"
"At least he was in a coma when Ankit called me."
"And what about my experience, Adrian? Do you think I am lying?"
"Of course not."
"But you think I dreamed the entire thing, don't you?"
"No, Amanda, I don't think that either."
"Then what is running in your mind?"
"It is difficult to explain things with clarity, but possibly your experience and Mike's being in a coma are connected."
"Can't you be clear?"
"No, I can't be any clearer than this at the moment; I am still forming my ideas. Maybe we can talk about it at some other time."
The Associate Director of the project, Ankit, had not hidden any truth from Adrian — Mike was indeed in a coma. When Amanda asked the senior doctor in charge of the intensive critical care unit about Mike's survival chances, he said, "All I can say is he is marginally better. But the condition can deteriorate at any time. We can tell you about his condition with greater certainty after another seventy-two hours."
Anxious times move at a snail's pace — the next seventy-two hours equaled seventy-two days. When the senior doctor came out of the intensive critical care unit and said, 'Now he’s out of danger,' tears still rolled down Amanda's cheeks — tears of joy, of course.
A week later, when Mike was much better and able to move his limbs and slowly whisper words in response to what people said to him, he was shifted to a patients' ward. Now, visitors could see him.
"Thank goodness, you are okay, Darling," Amanda said, pressing Mike's hand.
"Why do you have teary eyes? Everything is fine now."
"Alright, I won't cry. But Mike, you must get back on your feet soon."
After another fifteen days, Mike was discharged from the hospital. A day later, the crew members and Mike's friends assembled in his house to celebrate the miraculous escape of the project team from death.
"Before I lost consciousness in the mangled vehicle caught up in the sticky mud, I thought only about one person — Amanda," Mike put a loving arm around her.
A lump of emotions formed in Amanda's throat as she snuggled close to him.
"And now let me tell you all something strange that happened while I was unconscious. I am not sure if it was a dream. At some instant of time, I found myself sitting on the bed. There stood before me a man in a black robe. Only his face was visible — it was snowy white. Behind him were shadowy human-shaped figures. Many of those shaky figures frequently lost and regained their shapes. Some of them also overlapped with one another."
"Oh, that sounds like a paranormal movie," Ankit said, "what happened after that?"
"Then I realized I too was like one of those shadowy human-shaped figures. What followed was a telepathic communication — the robed figure asked me to join him. 'No, I won't come,' I communicated to him.
"'Sorry, I can't help you — your time has come,' he replied.
"After I pleaded with him to spare me, he said, 'Is there anyone you love ...'
"I said, 'Yes, of course, I have so many loved ones in my life — my parents, my siblings, my nephews, and nieces.'
"He said, 'You didn't listen to the whole of my question. Is there anyone you love who's not related to you by blood?
"The only one who flashed in my mind was Amanda. 'Amanda,' I said.
"'Does she love you too?' he queried.
"'Of course,' I answered.
"'But love in the material plane is nothing more than fleeting attachment. Are you sure she loves you?' The robed man wished to know.
"'I am positive,' I rejoined.
"He smiled and said, 'Prove it ' if she can interact with your subtle body, that is, the body you possess now, I will know her love is a little over temporary, fleeting attachment that is given the name of love in the material world, and you will have the chance to live. After all, the truer one’s love is, the better is one’s receptivity to the presence of the loved one in question. But remember, you will not tell her that it is your subtle body that is interacting with her.'
"I said, 'Agreed, Can I go?'
"The robed man nodded with a strange smile. Then my astral body or subtle body, whatever you call it, flashed out of the hospital, and in the next moment, I was inside Amanda's apartment. What happened next only exists as random images in my mind. But of course, I remember Amanda being able to interact with me. After meeting her, my subtle body got back to the hospital bed."
"And what did the robed figure do after you returned?" Ankit asked.
"Simple ending – since I proved Amanda's love for me was more than a fleeting attachment, the robed figure let me go."
"What a strange dream you had while you were unconscious, Mike," Ankit commented.
"No, Ankit, Mike's experience was not a dream," Adrian said.
"How can you be so sure, Adrian?" Mike squinted his eyes.
"Go ahead, Amanda, narrate your experience in full detail."
Amanda described the events as well as she could.
After she recounted her experience, Mike said, "Incredible! So, what I saw really happened."
"Yes," Amanda nodded.
"Amanda, do you remember while we were on our way to the hospital, I did say that it seemed your experience and Mike's being in a coma were connected.
"Of course, I fully remember."
"This is what I meant – the subtle body of Mike visited you, and you being receptive to sublime substances Mike’s inner self is made of for your love for him or whatever other reasons, perceived his presence. But an important thing we must note is that Mike's subtle body had an intense presence. The presence was so strong that you found trails of mud in the apartment. I have read several books on subtle bodies. If anyone over here doesn't understand what a subtle body is, let me explain it - a subtle body, broadly speaking, may be deemed a soul or a spirit that escapes the physical body after death or after one gets into a deep level of unconsciousness. A highly intense subtle body sometimes shows signs or hints of the material things the physical body had to deal with at the time of death or when the person fell unconscious. In this case, Mike's body was full of mud when he fell unconscious. Since his subtle body had high intensity, it brought signs of mud with it, which manifested in the form of muddy trails and layers of dust in Amanda's apartment."
"Oh, what an explanation," Ankit said, "all this sounds like a piece of paranormal fiction."
"But all this happened in reality," Amanda responded.
Suddenly, Adrian's forehead wrinkled with doubt.
"What happened, Adrian; what are you thinking?" Mike asked.
"Tell me, Mike," Adrian said, "was the entire exchange with the robed figure, the messenger of Death, telepathic in nature? Or did he actually speak some words?"
"Why are you asking?"
"Many of the books I read suggest that the messenger of death is a trickster. He tricks subtle bodies into establishing dirty contracts with him. But he can do so only by speaking words according to the Book of Death and the Dead ... the contract cannot happen through a telepathic exchange."
"Well, Adrian, I think ... the robed figure ..."
"Try to recall, Mike. Did he speak any words?"
"Yes, I think so; he did say one sentence when I returned after meeting Amanda."
"What did he say?"
"It was a language I didn't understand."
"Oh no, that's terrible, Mike, the messenger of death played a trick on you. Many occultists and experts on the afterlife have talked about these tricks."
"Hey, what are you saying?"
"Listen now, Mike, did the robed figure say something like this – Nunc, si vis, mulier erit, mori pro te?"
"Indeed, now I remember, that's exactly what he said."
"Did you smile or nod when he said that?"
"Yes, I guess so."
"Then let's rush Amanda to the hospital immediately."
"Why? What the hell are you saying?"
"Mike, those are Latin words which roughly mean 'Now, if you wish, the woman will die for you. Or these words may also be interpreted to mean 'Now if you wish, the woman will die instead of you. By nodding or smiling, you agreed to allow Amanda to die in your place."
"Absolute nonsense," Mike said.
"Just believe me, Mike, you have been tricked."
A sudden chest pain gripped Amanda, and she started gasping for breath. Before Mike could give her support, she fell to the ground.
"Amanda! Oh, no, Amanda," Mike shouted.
"Amanda, are you okay?" Ankit placed a hand close to her nose.
"Let's take her to the hospital," Adrian said.
But Amanda got up and wondered why the people around her were looking at her with great concern. She was all fine. Then Amanda understood they were not looking at her; they had their eyes on her body lying on the floor. Before long, she also noticed a robed figure standing close to the door. Behind him were shadowy and shaky human-shaped figures that constantly lost and regained their shapes. And Amanda also realized she too was now a shadowy and wobbly human-shaped figure!
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!