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THE VISITOR





INTRO 00:00:00

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 your host Biswajit Banerjee. Today’s episode is about the possible appearance of the personification of death. Before I start the story, I would like to invite you to my website biswajitbanerjee.com. All OBSCURUS episodes and their transcripts are available there. If you have been following this podcast, then you might be aware of obscurus.buzzsprout.com, my dedicated website for this podcast. Apart from all the OBSCURUS episodes and their transcripts, you will also find chapter markers there for easy navigation.

Let’s now begin the story. A girl spots a strange figure in her hostel room. She believes it to be the personification of death and thinks she will soon die. What’s the truth?

THE VISITOR 00:02:13

Written and performed by Biswajit Banerjee

The Robed Figure

"Ah, not again," Akansha whispered as the pain reappeared in her lower abdomen. With only a couple of weeks left before the examination of the last semester, she couldn't afford to lose any more time. Her studies had already suffered a great deal because of the medical treatment. Just when she ought to have attended classes regularly and focused harder on exam preparations, the pain got unbearable. Akansha was forced to miss college for about three weeks for medical procedures.

A plethora of tests were performed. The doctors ruled out possibilities such as dysmenorrhea, fibroids, ovarian cysts, and endometriosis. Finally, they ascribed the pain to possible inflammation caused by lack of sleep.

"Look, you work too hard, Akansha," Dr. Abhay Gupta had said, "getting high scores at the cost of your health is not a good idea. So, I suggest you get yourself some good sleep. No less than eight hours every night, under any circumstances – remember that."

Going against the doctor's advice, she had been sleeping less again for the last few nights. With so much ground to cover, following a strict sleep regimen wasn't easy.

With notes scattered across the table, she leaned back in her chair with a hand on her stomach. The pain was growing. She looked up at the ceiling with her neck on the top slat of the chair and closed her eyes. Waves of agony moved upwards as a grunt escaped her mouth. There was little choice – she had to take another painkiller. Although Dr. Gupta had advised her not to take painkillers indiscriminately, the unending suffering had forced her to consume scores of pills over the last week or so.

When did she take the last analgesic tablet? She tried to remember the exact time. Around 10 p.m., it was. So not even three hours had passed since she last took medicine. Ideally, she should wait for another three hours before taking the next pill. But the pain was getting worse. Another five minutes of wait would be the right thing to do, she reasoned.

The rustling of papers on the table drew her attention away from the pain for a moment. Why were her notes moving? The window of the hostel room was too far away, and no draft through it could possibly be so strong so as to move the papers. Alarmed, she opened her eyes and, after straightening her back, looked forward. What stood across the table sent her heartbeat into a frenzy.

Wrapped in a black robe stood a man with only a part of his face and head visible. White, the man was completely white. Even the entirety of his eyeballs and tongue were white. And it was no ordinary white; the intensity and luster of his complexion would beat gleaming snow by miles. Who was he? No, he couldn't have been a human by any stretch of the imagination—some ethereal entity, perhaps. Maybe the devil himself! Maybe the personification of death!

A part of his robe brushed against her notes, causing the ruffle. In the next minute, Akansha found most of her body paralyzed. There was no way she could move a limb.

"Spirit, I have come for the spirit," the entity said, making more of his white mouth visible.

In her twenty years of life, Akansha had never heard a voice like it. The breathy words seemed to come from an unearthly dimension.

If she had had to deal with the ghastly entity for even a little longer, her heart would have stopped. In the next moment, however, the robed man turned translucent and then vanished into thin air.

Minutes passed by as she struggled with the numbness of her body. When she felt a little better, she tried to wake up Spriha, her roommate, a Ph.D. student enrolled at the same university.

"Sprr…ea…aaaa," Akansha said.

What she uttered was like a mumble, too feeble to awaken her friend. She tried several times, but all she managed to do was let out some inaudible whispers. Strength returned to her limbs in some time. The pain in her stomach had subsided, but her body felt stiff and heavy. With a lot of difficulty, she stood up and strode over to Spriha’s bed. Akansha failed to keep her balance when she tried leaning over the bed and fell on her sleeping friend, who got up with a start.

***

"Eat it, Akansha," Spriha said, placing a bowl of cornflakes on the dining table.

"I don't want to have anything."

"Stop behaving like a toddler. No food, no sleep, you won't last long like this."

"That's already common knowledge. What's so new about it?"

"What are you talking about?"

"I am not sure how long I will last anyway, Spriha. How can you tell – I could die in the next moment."

"Oh, come on, nothing has happened to you. All your reports are normal. The best of doctors said the abdominal pain is a result of lack of rest. But, of course, if you decide not to eat or sleep then you could be in trouble."

"No, it's not that simple. Can't you understand what the appearance of the personification of death means?"

"Don't talk like a child."

"The entity was standing right there, across the table, just a few hours back. It is here to take my spirit away. Don't you believe me, Spriha?"

"Yes, I believe you saw something. But I also know what you saw was nothing more than a construct of your mind."

"A hallucination, you mean?"

"Right, it was a hallucination caused by lack of sleep. What can be expected if you maltreat your body like this?"

"Well, it is easy for you to trivialize my experience."

"Listen, I will call up Dr. Abhay Gupta in a while. Let's see what a professional has to say."

"But how will I study if I begin revisiting the doctors?"

"In any case, you are in no position to study, Akansha. The ghosts of your head will not let you."

***

Later in the day, the two girls visited Dr. Satish Dixit, one of the best psychiatrists in the city, on Dr. Gupta's recommendation.

"Why do you think the figure you saw was death personified?" Dr. Dixit asked.

"Well, it looked like him, Doctor," Akansha replied.

"Huh." Spriha reacted.

Dr. Dixit smiled as his gaze drifted from Spriha to Akansha.

"Akansha, you are speaking as though you know how death looks," Dr. Dixit said.

"Doctor, I have what … you may call a general idea …"

"Well, you mean you have a general idea of how he looks."

"You could say that, Doctor."

"And from where did you pick up this general idea? What is the source? Is it your imagination?"

"The figure looked like the personification of death from the movie The Seventh Seal."

"Umm-hmm, The Seventh Seal by Ingmar Bergman, the great Swedish filmmaker."

"Yes, but to tell the truth, the figure I saw appeared even more horrific than death personified in the movie."

“Do you like Ingmar Bergman’s films, Akansha?”

"Absolutely, I am a huge fan of Bergman. Someday I may do a Ph.D. on his films."

"Good to know about your plans. How many times have you watched The Seventh Seal?"

"Five or six times."

"Okay, so you have practically internalized the image of the personification of death from the movie."

"I am not sure of that, Doctor."

"That's exactly what has happened, Akansha. Before the two of you came to see me, Dr. Gupta had sent your reports to me. Do you know how unkind you have been to your body? Sleep deprivation can kill."

"But …"

"Hear me out. What you witnessed last night was nothing more than a projection of your mind. As you say, the pain in your lower abdomen had reappeared for the third time during the day, and naturally, you were quite upset. From what you said, I can make out that deep down in your mind, you believe that the doctors who checked you over were all wrong. The pain, you think, is due to some affliction the doctors couldn't detect. Unfortunately, your subconscious mind has also begun to believe that the pain is an indication of imminent death. Now you can connect the dots – the pain recurred, and your mind immediately linked it with death. That's why it projected a symbol of death before you. Your mind hasn't been too original about the projection, though. What your psyche did was to pick a likeness of the personification of death you had stored in your memory resources from the movie."

"Doctor, the figure also spoke."

"Yes, indeed – you mentioned that earlier. The figure said it had come to take your spirit away, isn't that right?"

Akansha nodded.

"Look, hallucinations are not always visual in nature. Just like false visions, there can be false hearing. In medical parlance, we call them auditory hallucinations."

"So, you are suggesting what I heard the figure say was an auditory hallucination."

"Indeed, your mind sourced both the false picture and the sound. The personification of death and his words were nothing but visual and auditory hallucinations."

"Thank you so much for explaining it so well," Spriha said with a big smile, "I have been trying to explain the same things to her since this morning in a layman's language."

"She is blessed to have a roommate like you, Spriha," Dr. Dixit said, "but it is good you thought to seek professional help. I hope what I have explained will help you, Akansha."

"Yes, Doctor, your words are very comforting indeed," Akansha said.

"Are you sure?"

"I am." Akansha nodded again.

***

As advised by Dr. Dixit, Akansha took a good amount of rest over the next two days. Now, with a limited time to study, she only brushed through some of the important topics. Spriha took good care of her friend and ensured she didn't miss any medication.

Akansha didn't perform well. The paper on 'History of Cinematic Arts’, in particular, went very badly. She only hoped to get the bare minimum she needed to pass the test.

In the evening of the day the exams finished, Akansha's parents visited the college hostel.

"Look, you did your best under the circumstances," her father, Mr. Prabhu, said.

"If I don't get seventy percent marks, I will not get admission into the Masters' program, Dad. What will I do then?"

"There's no way you are going to secure less than seventy percent, my dear," Mrs. Prabhu said, "don't be so pessimistic."

"Mom, I have made a realistic assessment. The paper on 'History of Cinematic Arts' will bring my percentage down."

"Even a score of sixty percent will get you admission into the post-graduate program," Mr. Prabhu explained, "you have no reason to be so upset."

"Not in this University, Dad. Are you suggesting that I should join some stupid private University?"

"Excuse me for intruding your talks," Spriha said as she set a tray down on a table and offered tea and snacks to Mr. and Mrs. Prabhu, "you must not be unreasonable, Akansha. There are many other universities you can barge into even with sixty percent marks. Many of them are reputable ones, and remember, not all private universities are bad."

"Thank you, dear," Mrs. Prabhu said with a smile as Spriha passed on a steaming cup of tea to her, "I wish your friend was more reasonable like you."

"What are you trying to say, Mom?" Akansha protested, "That I am a dud or something?"

"No, I didn't mean that."

"You two are in the habit of making such demeaning comments about me."

"That's no way to talk, Akansha," Spriha reacted as she pulled a chair over and sat down, "I am sure Mrs. Prabhu didn't intend to demean you."

"Let's wait for the results," Mr. Prabhu said, sipping tea, "let's not get into a spree of speculations. We will cross the bridge when we get to it. What do you say, Spriha?"

"Absolutely, you are spot-on, Mr. Prabhu."

"Did you see that thing again, dear?" Mrs. Prabhu asked.

"What?" Akansha responded.

"That robed figure."

"Don't treat me like a five-year-old, Mom. Over-concern on your part is so irritating."

"Have you gone crazy, Akansha? Don’t be so rude," Spriha observed.

"We are only trying to help you." Mr. Prabhu smiled.

"Such questions don't help, Dad. They make me feel low. Let me deal with my own issues."

"All your Mom asked was if you saw that figure again. What is so offensive about that question?"

"Oh, come on, Dad. Can't you sense how a question like that makes you feel stupid?"

"But that hallucination did disturb you, didn't it?"

"Yes, Dad, it did, but raising that matter again and again doesn't help me in the slightest. Every time Mom calls me, she asks if I saw the figure. Even if I try to put the ugly thing behind me, she will not allow it."

"Well, your words don't surprise me, dear," Mrs. Prabhu said, "you wouldn’t understand a parent's concern."

"Okay, I guess we should leave now." Mr. Prabhu squeezed his daughter's hand. "Take care, and do not skip taking your medicine."

"Don't worry, Mr. Prabhu, I am taking care of that." Spriha gave a reassuring smile.

"We can't thank you enough, Spriha. You are such a darling." Mrs. Prabhu lovingly touched her head.

"Take care, girls. We should be on our way now. Otherwise, we will miss the train."

"Bye Dad, bye Mom, … and I am … I am sorry."

"Relax, my dear, everything will be fine."

***

After an anxious month of wait, the exam results came out. Akansha secured seventy-one percent, just about enough for getting admission to the Masters' program.

"Yes, Mom, it is seventy-one percent," she said to her mother on the phone.

"Congratulations, dear, I knew you would do well."

"This is not a very good score, Mom, but I am not too unhappy."

"There are no reasons to be unhappy, dear. Given your circumstances, you have done a wonderful job. Talk to your Dad."

"Hearty congratulations, my darling," Mr. Prabhu spoke from the other end.

"Thank you, Dad."

"Before you start your post-graduate program, pay us a visit in the countryside. Also, bring your friend along."

"Yes, Dad, I will."

***

Their party continued well beyond midnight. After having spent all their energies on wild dancing, it was time to indulge their gluttonous selves. The girls feasted on spinach and ricotta cannelloni, and fish fillets. Spriha had booked a table next to a large glass wall. The changing hues of night, visible through the glass, added more punch to the wonderful moments.

"So, are you happy now?" Spriha asked, munching fish fillets.

"Oh, I have never been this happy. After finishing my Master's degree program, I too will pursue my doctoral studies like you. Of course, my subject will be different. The films of Ingmar Bergmann …"

"For goodness sake, stop talking about studies, at the very least now. Enjoy the moment, my girl." Spriha laughed.

Akansha laughed too.

"Your parents must be delighted with the results."

"Yes, they are. My father wants us to visit our country house."

"That sounds like a good idea."

"I am sure you will love the countryside."

"Do you miss your native place?"

"Yes, Spriha, I do. It's quite a different world out there."

"Beautiful it must be, and peaceful too."

"Indeed."

"So, tell me – does the noise of the city bother you? The noise around must be quite a contrast to the peace at your native place."

"To tell you the truth, this noise is also not that bad. It has its own charm, don't you think so?"

"What did you just say?"

"The noise has its own charm."

"Impossible, you just sounded like one of my ex-boyfriends."

"Really?"

"Yes, he said the exact same words."

"But Spriha, did I hear it wrong or did you actually use the expression - one of my ex-boyfriends."

"Well, you didn't hear it wrong."

"Can I ask you …"

"You want to ask me how many boyfriends I have had?"

"Well, you don’t have to tell me if you don't want to."

"There's no secret about it – five, to be honest."

"Five!"

"Yes, you find that too many?"

Akansha laughed in response.

"Tell me, what is your count?"

"I haven't had a boyfriend so far."

"Oh, what a pity. But why? Aren't there good-looking boys in the countryside?"

"Well, there are for sure."

"Then why didn't you … Oh well, I know why you never had a boyfriend. All you must have been concerned with was your studies." Spriha laughed even louder this time.

"Relax, you are too loud."

"Don't mind my saying this, Akansha, but you are a funny girl. Tell me, what are your plans for the future – would you like to have a boyfriend or not?"

"Can't we talk about something else?"

"First, answer my question."

"Look, I would rather have one boy in my life …"

"Oh really, my paragon of virtues?"

"Hey, don't mock me like that, Spriha."

"Don't be a damn idealist. Relationships don't work that way. You know what – most boys are like cartoons. Only one thing plays on their minds – sex. Imagine spending your entire life with such a one-dimensional character."

"You are experienced, no doubt."

"Of course I am, and I take pride in it. Look at that boy, for example – do you see how he's staring at the bargirl? He just needs a chance to consume her."

Akansha looked in the pointed direction. Without a doubt, Spriha was right.

"And look at that pot-bellied middle-aged man. Don't you see how he is staring at the women around him? By the way, he cast his eyes on us a while back."

"You noted even that." Akansha laughed another hearty laugh.

"Now, check out that idiot standing close to the doorway. It appears as if he is about to take part in a fancy-dress competition. The foolish fellow thinks he looks smart in that costume."

What Akansha saw now virtually sucked the life out of her! The man Spriha had pointed at was the same figure Akansha had seen about a month and a half back in the hostel room – death personified!

"That, that …"

"Why do you look so alarmed?"

"That, that … is the … one … death … death personified." Akansha stammered.

"What! Who are you talking about?"

"The one you pointed at - that man in black robes at the door."

"Are you crazy? There's no robed man at the door. I pointed at that fatty – the one with a belly like a pitcher. He looks so funny in that red T-shirt and shorts."

Akansha looked at the door again. The robed man wasn't visible anymore.

"Believe … me … Spriha, that man … was here."

"Don't give me this crap again, shut up."

Before Akansha could respond, she sensed a movement behind Spriha. First the robe, then the head, and then the bulk of what she called the personification of death became visible.

"I am taking the spirit with me," he said.

As Akansha dealt with the numbness of her limbs, the figure disappeared.

Quite a few seconds passed before she could feel life in her fingers again. She touched herself to check if she was alive … yes, she was.

"That figure was just behind you, Spirha," she literally shouted, "trust me, he was there."

Spriha had her gaze fixed on her, and it wasn't long before Akansha realized that it was, in fact, a lifeless gaze.

OUTRO 00:31:37

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!

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