Hello Dear Readers and Listeners,
This episode of OBSCURUS deals with a rather unexplored paranormal theme. I hope you enjoy the episode. Please do become a part of this website and join my mailing list. Hearty thanks for all your support and encouragement. Read, listen, and enjoy ...
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 this show. Today’s story is about images captured in time! Are you wondering what that is? Well, you will soon know.
Before I start the story, I request my esteemed readers and listeners to visit biswajitbanerjee.com, my website, and become a member of the site. Please do also join my mailing list. All OBSCURUS episodes and their transcripts are available on the website.
And those who follow OBSCURUS regularly know that I have another website obscurus.buzzsprout.com, which is dedicated to the podcast. You will find all OBSCURUS episodes, transcripts, and chapter markers for easy navigation in the dedicated website.
Now, let’s jump into the story. A journalist gets a call from his old teacher. The teacher tells him that he is dealing with paranormal activity and requests the journalist to write a report on the problem in his magazine. What unknown phenomenon is plaguing the teacher? What are the journalist’s inferences? Come, let’s find out.
TRAPPED IN TIME! 00:02:29
Written and performed by Biswajit Banerjee
An unexpected name flashed on the mobile screen — Professor Aniket Aggarwal.
"Hello," Shyam said.
"Shyam, do you recognize me?"
"Of course, I recognize you, Sir. How are you?"
"Well, I am okay, Shyam. Are you still working as a journalist?"
"Yes, Sir, I am very much a journalist — I am working for the Odyssey."
"You write paranormal columns, don't you?"
"Sir, I write all kinds of columns — but yes, about a year back, I did write many reports on unexplained happenings."
"There's something I wish to discuss with you, Shyam. This is paranormal for sure! Maybe you can report it in the magazine."
"Paranormal! Are you experiencing paranormal phenomena?"
"I will divulge the details if you choose to meet me. Please come over — what I want to tell you is quite disturbing. You may be able to help me out. I have already messaged my address to you."
Professor Aggarwal hung up the phone. A call from the Professor was the last thing Shyam had expected. Although he had been writing articles on the paranormal, he never placed trust in supernatural happenings. All the reports and articles he had written in the Odyssey were either pure lies or bloated truths at best. The magazine was popular with a sizable part of the population, but the reality was many of the articles and essays it carried under the section The Unknown stood removed from all forms of reality. The editors made it clear — they had to feed the public with sensational things. It didn't matter even if the reports carried lies.
Memories of the University days when he was pursuing a Master of Science crossed Shyam's mind. Solid State Physics was what he specialized in — all because of the interest Professor Aggarwal generated in the subject. It was a pity after putting in all the hard work in Physics, he settled for a job as a journalist in The Odyssey. When The Odyssey offered the job to him, his parents and relatives thought he had little reason not to accept it. One of his cousins said the job would pay him much more in the long run than he could ever earn pursuing a career in physics. And the cousin was right. The Odyssey offered him a hefty package — he wouldn't make any amount close to it if he had pursued a career in physics! This is how life works! One often is forced to give up one's interests for the sake of financial security. And though pursuits in physics are far more important than writing lies for a magazine — Shyam had to strike a compromise in life as countless boys and girls from middle-class Indian families do.
As he sipped coffee in the canteen of The Odyssey headquarters, Shyam wondered what was bothering Professor Aggarwal. With his kind of scientific temperament, paranormal happenings shouldn't have been a cause of botheration. And there was no such thing as paranormal — movies and literature centered about paranormal themes had little meaning. All got driven by commercial motifs. When he was in charge of The Unknown section of The Odyssey, Shyam came across not a single case of substance. So, what could be bothering Professor Aggarwal? Perhaps, he was under some delusion. Maybe his age was having an effect after all.
"Shyam," one of his colleagues said, entering the café, "the Chairperson wants to see you."
"Sorry, no idea."
"Sir, you called me," Shyam said, entering the Chairperson's cabin.
"Yes, Shyam, please sit down."
Shyam pulled a chair and sat.
"Did you talk to the Managing Director about a possible hike in your salary?"
"Yes, Sir, I did. The quantum of work I am handling right now is quite high. And for the last one year, I haven't got a hike."
"We are willing to consider your request. You are one of our best reporters and writers."
"Thank you, Sir."
"And we would be willing to reduce the amount of your work."
"Okay," Shyam said with a smile, "less work and more pay, you mean."
"Yes, exactly that."
"So, what plans do you have for me?"
"You must be aware, The Unknown Section of The Odyssey is not doing well. The market research teams reported the section lost its popularity by a huge degree."
"Yes, Sir, I am aware of it."
"Shyam, under the circumstances, there are two choices — either we drop the section from the magazine or some competent person takes charge of it."
"So, what do you want me to do, Sir?"
"Shyam, at one point in time, The Unknown used to be the most popular component of the magazine. At that time, you had the sole charge of the section."
"Yes, Sir, I did try my bit."
"We would want you to take charge of that section again."
"But Sir, I wouldn't be interested. It is an open secret 'The Unknown' never carried true reports. I got sick and tired reporting lies."
"Oh, come on, Shyam, I believe we discussed this before while you held the charge of The Unknown. What matters is feeding the people — we are not here, to tell the truth, we are here to entertain the readers and earn money."
"I don't like to write lies, Sir."
"Depends on how you perceive it, Shyam — what you call lies might be reckoned as half-truths or possibilities."
"Do I have a choice to decide?"
"Yes, Shyam. However, your hike will depend upon your decision."
"What you are essentially saying is — if I take charge of The Unknown, I will get the hike."
"Indeed, this is business, Shyam."
"Oh, I get the point."
"So, what's your decision?"
After a brief spell of silence, Shyam nodded.
A sizeable monetary increment came his way after Shyam accepted the Chairperson's offer. "So, Professor Aggarwal, it seems your story will mark the beginning of my next stint with The Unknown," Shyam said as he prepared for his visit to Professor Aggarwal's residence. "I hope there will be some substance in your story."
Professor Aggarwal must have been around eight-five now. But his stout body defied his age.
"I am happy you decided to come, Shyam."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Professor Aggarwal."
"Would you like some tea?"
The Professor was very active. Soon, he got two cups of tea and snacks. For someone like him, age was just a number.
"You know," the Professor said, sipping tea, "I thought you would become a lecturer in Physics. But I guess you took the correct decision — what you are doing is far more glamorous than Physics."
"But, Sir, Physics has always been my first love. Only monetary compulsions led to my becoming a journalist."
"Oh, yes, I understand Shyam — life is crooked. Harsh realities of life force one to think about meeting one's ends before anything else. Look at me — an old bachelor. Although I just need to take care of myself, the pension I get from the government isn't enough. Yes, I can eat what I want and buy clothes ... but I cannot travel around the world, can I? I had always wished to be a traveler after retirement ... but my means are limited. Imagine how difficult things would be if I had a family to look after. So, don't feel about what you are doing. At least, people know you, and I am sure you must be making good money."
"Money hasn't been a problem in this job, Sir. But, the job does not give me any satisfaction."
"Do you think you would get satisfaction if you pursued Physics?"
"No, I don't think so. Scientists and researchers do not exercise much control over what they are supposed to do. Understand this — the bureaucrats, administrators, and politicians enjoy command over the public kitty. They are quite averse to sanctioning money for research projects. As a physicist, what did I achieve? Yes, I derived a lot of satisfaction by teaching students. But beyond that, I got nothing. None of my research projects got approved because of the sickening bureaucrats."
"Yes, Sir, I understand — scientists like you must be quite frustrated."
"Well, let's not talk of all that now. The reason I called you is different. Perhaps your experience as a paranormal reporter and writer will help me understand a strange phenomenon, I am experiencing these days."
"Sir, to tell the truth — my experience in the paranormal is rather limited. My reports and articles on the paranormal that you might have read in the Odyssey weren't true."
"You mean you wrote lies?"
"Yes, Sir. Some reports based on witness accounts carried some elements of truth, but even those were bereft of substance."
"Are you suggesting you have no paranormal experience?"
"Indeed, Sir, for all practical reasons, my paranormal experience is zero. The editors at The Odyssey wanted me to run this sensational section of the magazine. And I kept their wishes for the sake of money — both the magazine and I benefited from the lies. That's the hard truth."
"At least you possess the courage, to tell the truth, Shyam."
"After years of working in the Odyssey, I can tell you this loud and clear — there is no such thing as paranormal. An entire literary and movie industry has been set up around the paranormal so that some people could make money."
"Well, I beg to disagree on that with you, Shyam. You might not have had a brush with the paranormal. But that doesn't mean unexplained phenomena don't happen."
"Sir, I am a little surprised those words are coming from you."
"Rest assured, your surprise will change into perplexity when you witness an unexplained event unfold before your eyes."
"Do you mean this house is haunted?"
"No, Shyam, I am making no such suggestions."
"Then, what is the problem?"
"I will tell you. It's pretty amusing my case will be the first genuine report on the paranormal in The Odyssey.
"Go ahead, Sir, tell me."
"Before I tell you what's happening, I should explain the structure of the house. This house consists of three rooms — the living room, this middle room where we are sitting, and a bedroom next in the line. Do you understand the make of the house?"
"Yes, Sir, I do. We are roughly in the center of the house now. This is the middle room sandwiched by the living room and a bedroom that follows next."
"You are right. Did you wonder why I brought you to the middle room? I could make you sit in the living room, but I didn't do so."
"Maybe you find it more convenient out here."
"No, Shyam, it was important to bring you to the middle room to explain what paranormal event is bothering me."
"Couldn't you explain that to me in the living room?"
"Perhaps I couldn't have demonstrated the paranormal happening to you properly if I had asked you to sit in the living room."
"Okay, so what is the problem.?"
"A few months back, I engaged a housekeeper — Mrs. Prabha Dasmana — an excellent woman. Although she was quite old — seventy-five to be precise — she was active. Being a childless widow with little resources to fall back upon, she badly needed a job. And I, too, needed a good housekeeper. So, I hired her. Initially, everything was going well. But then I noticed a strange problem. On occasions, I spotted Mrs. Dasmana in more than one place at the same time!"
"What? Simultaneous existence in two different positions at the same time?"
"Yes, indeed. And not just in two different positions — in multiple positions."
"How's that possible, Sir?"
"No idea, Shyam. I am telling you what I witnessed."
"Did you ask her about it?"
"Yes, I did. Mrs. Dasmana had no idea she could exist in more than one position at the same time instant. In fact, Mrs. Dasmana didn't believe me."
"So, what did you do?"
"Nothing. Fate settled it all. Mrs. Dasmana died within two months of my hiring her. She had proceeded on a short vacation because she wished to attend a marriage ceremony in the nearby village. Mrs. Dasmana never returned. One morning, a boy from the village came over to inform she was dead."
"So, the story ends there."
"Not quite. The story doesn't end there, Shyam."
"You mean she returned as a ghost?"
"Well, she returned but not as a ghost."
"Sorry, I don't understand that, Sir."
"How do I explain it? Mrs. Dasmana returned as an image — as a conscious image."
"I am still not clear what you are trying to say."
"First, hear me out, Shyam — she returned as a conscious image, and she isn't alone — Mrs. Dasmana has my company."
"This is confusing, Sir."
"Well, it won't be confusing now. Follow me."
Professor Aniket Aggarwal got up and moved close to the door that led to the third room.
"Just observe," Professor Aggarwal said and turned the knob of the door.
The door opened and what Shyam witnessed was the most shocking sight of his life. Even in his wildest dreams, he never saw something so puzzling and disturbing. In the third room, there were two people — an elderly woman, who quite clearly was the housekeeper, Mrs. Prabha Dasmana, and Professor Aniket Aggarwal. Seated on a sofa, they were busy in talks.
"Do you see that, Shyam?"
"Yes, I can, but this is impossible. Is there a three-dimensional projector somewhere?"
"No, Shyam, there is no three-dimensional projector. What you see is the re-enactment of an event that happened about eight months back. Mrs. Dasmana and I were discussing household things — from where to buy the vegetables and fruits, how she planned to make a chart for me so that I didn't miss the medicines, at what times should I take my meals, how to ensure I got full sleep, and other similar things ..."
"But I can't hear the words."
"Yes, for some reason, the images are inaudible. But please understand — this is a re-enactment of something which happened in the past."
"Are those images conscious of our presence, Sir?"
"No, I don't think so. Those images are simply re-enacting what they had done earlier. They are trapped in their time frame. They are not aware of our presence."
"What will happen if we try to mingle with them?"
"Nothing will happen. The images will be oblivious to our presence."
Professor Aniket Aggarwal moved into the third room and sat next to his image. The images of the past continued to interact — indeed, they were completely unaware of the Professor's presence. After some time, the Professor got up from the sofa and came back to Shyam.
"What you are witnessing will also give you some insights into simultaneous existence. For instance, my presence right next to you marks the present moment. But my consciousness as it existed about eight months back can also be seen in the third room. So, in one sense, you can see me existing in two different places at the same time. Well, sure, you can argue the time frames are different. But the fact that my present self and eight-month-old self can be seen at the same time is also weird, to say the least."
"I find it unbelievable."
"Believe it, it is really happening."
"How long will this re-enactment continue, Sir?"
"It will continue endlessly. The re-enactment just goes on and on. What is a re-enactment after all? Images trapped in time."
"So even after the eight-month-old discussion gets over, it starts all over again."
"Yes, Shyam, whenever I look into this room, I find these images trapped in time."
The Professor shut the door, and they got back to the sofa of the second room.
"Professor, is this the only re-enactment that happens in this house? Or do other re-enactments also happen?"
"Well, sometimes, I got the hints of other re-enactments happening as well. But those are poor in visual intensity. The images aren't strong, and they don't happen continually."
"Unthinkable! I never imagined I would witness things so shocking! Indeed, what you have shown me has convinced me that paranormal does exist."
"But Shyam, I believe you need to see more things!"
"More things! You mean more images trapped in their respective frames of time."
"Yes, kind of. The story isn't complete yet. What you are going to write in The Odyssey will be complete and rich with information only if you witness the next part of the spectacle!"
"What are you going to show me next, Professor?"
"For watching that, we need to be in the living room. Come with me."
The Professor moved into the living room, and Shyam followed him closely.
After they sat on the sofa in the living room, the Professor said, "I am not sure if the next part of the spectacle will be visible. But I hope it is so that you can do a brilliant story and inform the public of what I am living through.
"What more is left to be seen, Sir?"
"Okay, come," the Professor said and moved close to the living room door leading to the middle room.
After a few deep breaths, the Professor turned the knob of the door and opened it. Oh! Now, what Shyam saw destroyed all his foundations of understanding. Through the opening of the door, the Professor and Shyam spotted themselves in the middle room. Professor Aniket Aggarwal and Shyam were on the sofa discussing things. They were inaudible, but their images had strong material quality.
"Do you see that, Shyam?"
"Yes, Sir, that's you and me!"
"Indeed, it's a re-enactment of what we did a few minutes back."
"So, even we are trapped in time."
"Of course, we are. Just think about it, Shyam — your present and past existing together. While your present has a corporeal existence, your past is existing as an image trapped in time. Who knows how many such images are trapped in time? Probably every animate exists as countless images in the universe. It is just that they are not always visible."
After a few minutes, the images of the Professor and Shyam disappeared from the middle room.
"The images are gone now, Sir."
"No, they are not gone, Shyam. They still exist, but their material quality isn't strong enough to make a physical manifestation."
What Shyam witnessed was too difficult to digest! For about a month, he was sick. But then, he did write the article — the first authentic account for The Unknown section in The Odyssey. And it was a super hit! The sales improved by an unprecedented degree. And he got another monetary increment!
Then one day, Shyam got a call from the Professor.
"How are you, dear Shyam?"
"I am fine, Sir. How are you doing?"
"Well, I am full of contentment right now."
"Contentment? Because the information about the paranormal events plaguing you have reached the masses?"
"No, my dear — because my story reached the masses."
"Your story? Sorry, I don't understand."
"My dear, please forgive me — I played a trick on you. The images you saw were generated by projectors I built. They are far more advanced than all three-dimensional projectors you can think of."
"Yes, you were spot on when you doubted if projectors were generating those images."
"So, those were all lies. Those were images projected by three-dimensional projectors."
"Yes, my dear boy. You are too young to understand how an old man feels. Think about me — no importance, no recognition, no friends, no travels — all that there is around me is obscurity. I felt a strong need to excite the masses with a story. A story which could bring me importance and recognition."
"Oh, so you tricked me, Sir."
"Don't feel bad about it, boy. Your teacher needed some fun ... you allowed him his share of fun. And I must say — you wrote a brilliant article. Your editors will thank me for doing this — I single-handedly changed the fortunes of The Odyssey."
"Please forgive your old teacher ... I had to make a statement to the world, I had to tell the world I am alive."
"No problem, Sir," Shyam said, "in any case, I have been writing lies. It hardly matters I wrote another lie. The difference is this time, I thought I was writing the truth."
"You would never know the truth if I didn't reveal the secret, Shyam."
"By the way, my housekeeper Mrs. Prabha Dasmana is saying hello to you."
"Oh, so she is..."
"Yes, my boy, she is very much alive and kicking."
The teacher and the student had a hearty laugh!
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!