Just before the day of October’s Ekadashi, the fragile body of Dr Sukumar Bannerjee stood loose with regret in front of a crematory near Alambagh area of Lucknow. The sky was slowly getting darker, the colour of the sunlight was getting duller as the regret grew on his face. The blurry vision due to the tears in his eyes along with the evening blue lessened the saturation of his brown shoes which brought his memory back to the root of it all. He could travel back in time to see the reason for his regret, he could see clearly what his naked eye couldn’t, the trigger to the tragedy, the initiator of a surprise that would change some fates forever.
The phone kept above the TV rack rang loud.
“Yes, everything is ready, By what time will you reach?” Sukumar, who knew it was Rishu as a result of the discussion in the afternoon, said on the phone while pushing his shoes away towards the main door where the whole family of three would leave their shoes after coming in.
“You are bringing Surbhi along right?” Sukumar asked.
“Fine then, see you in some time.” He kept the phone back.
He walked towards his study room to bring the chart paper consisting of alphabets arranged in a pattern similar to the sign of infinity. Below the patterns were numbers arranged serially and a ‘GoodBye’, ‘yes’ and ‘no’ text arranged linearly in the bottom.
In his medical profession, it was rare for a person like him to find like-minded people. A doctor who believes in paranormal, the equation doesn’t fit thus making the phrase sound weird among common masses. Similar was the case of his only friends Surbhi and Rishu who are still in touch after a year from graduation. All the other college friends eventually moved on, both in terms of contact and recreational activities they would do in their hostel.
Planchette, the act of summoning a spirit, was something that kept the three together. The day time during those good old MBBS days would have them sincerely looking after patients while the nighttime would involve summoning spirits of the deceased patients. Sukumar, Rishu and Surbhi were the most active ones at doing these stuff. Surbhi would often sleepover at Sukumar’s room while Rishu would lay his bedsheet on the floor after they had successfully finished investigating the reason for the patient’s demise about whether he/she was murdered or succumbed to the respective disease they had. The fellow students would often speculate theories about the three, the most common rumour being ‘They are in a triangular relationship, they do that threesome thing in the night’. No wonder the three the next morning would be greeted with a mocking smile from fellow students.
Alongside the handmade ouija board, Sukumar kept his notebook and pen where he would take notes about whatever the summoned spirit would spell.
Half an hour later the doorbell rang with the sound of a narrow beep repeated five times. Sukumar kept the candles on the chart while walking towards the door. The weather outside was dark and humid. The nighttime didn’t provide any coolness. The moon looked blue, but luminous light didn’t predict the presence of any cloud. It was 08:00 PM when Surbhi stepped into the living room while Rishu patiently sat alongside the chair near the door to untie his shoe.
“You’re wearing those again?” Sukumar looked at Rishu.
“Oh don’t worry, the socks are new and the shoes have been readily washed and kept in the sunlight for 3 days.” Rishu smiled and said.
“Okay Surbhi, photo” Sukumar looked at Surbhi.
“I couldn’t find any,” she said.
“What?” Sukumar said.
“Wait, What?” Rishu said while walking towards them barefoot.
“I couldn't find any, by the time I reached the hospital, the body was already taken away by the family,” she said.
“You know, without an image, we won’t be able to contact him?”
“That’s a myth, we haven’t ever tried doing this without an image in the first place. Keeping a photo is not necessary. Paranormal experts like Avishkar Choudhury and Umesh Dhandaniya in their interviews always claimed to never have used an image for planchet,” she said.
Sukumar looked at her with fury, sarcastically disguised in the form of a smile.
Rishu while staring at Sukumar poked him on the shoulder.
“Listen, maybe we can visit his place and get the photograph. Although it’s late now, we can go there tomorrow, first thing in the morning and then continue this. We can make up a reason, we can say…”
“Impossible,” Sukumar stopped Rishu by turning right to look at him. “Tomorrow they are taking the body to cremate it, first thing in the morning. Once that happens, it will be impossible.”
“So should we do it or not? What’s your call?” Surbhi snapped.
“Let's do it if we can contact it, well and good, if not, no problem. Just keep visualizing his image in mind,” Sukumar said as he walked towards his chair.
Rishu walked towards the board and looked at it.
“Nice, this one looks more appropriate than the last,” he said to Surbhi.
“You two had dinner?” Sukumar asked.
“Ya we are good,” Rishu and Surbhi said in unison. “Our words collided looks like someone is yet to come,” Rishu said.
“Yeah, me. I’ll come after dinner,” Sukumar said and walked towards the dining room after locking the two inside the drawing-room.
The two dragged the table towards the main door, folded the sofas to make more space, just like they did in previous planchette sessions. They carefully laid the sofa covers as rugs where they could sit in a triangular pattern.
At about 10:00 PM, Sukumar entered the room wearing easy clothes with some cigarettes and a flask.
“Help yourselves with these so that the sleep doesn’t hinder your concentration,” he announced.
“Coffee is nice but we had a smoke outside already,” Rishu said while looking at Surbhi lighting one “but okay, there’s no harm in another one”.
“Do we get to continue these after your marriage Sukumar?” Surbhi asked.
“We’ll see. Right now the priority is to know how Mangal died,” Sukumar looked back at her.
Rishu lit up the candles while smoking up the last puff of tobacco.
“Surbhi, turn off the lights and keep the night bulb on,” Sukumar ordered.
Surbhi did the same. Now they were left in the dark, windows open, the room lit up with four candles placed in a square pattern on the edges of the board, chirping of crickets to which the smokey rings of cigarettes were dancing in a non tuned way and sounds of bats coming from far off. The streetlamp outside Sukumar’s house was flickering from such a long period that Sukumar doesn’t even remember the last time it was in its full glow. The light was so dull that it rarely hindered the blue darkness inside the drawing-room. The flickering was like that black sheep in a friends group which hardly makes its presence felt hence too shy to be considered important.
Sukumar kept the notebook on his lap and held the pen in his pocket. The three connected themselves in the form of an enclosed chain by having their palms onto one another's.
"Close eyes gently when ready," Surbhi announced.
They concentrated upon the face of that person whose spirit they wanted to summon. After about two hours of uninterrupted meditation, they heard a movement.
Sukumar pressed Surbhi’s palm after which she pressed Rishu’s. This was their coded gesture to communicate with each other about when to open eyes gently.
“Mangal, is that you who moved the coin to ‘yes’?” Sukumar asked.
The coin was still.
“Do you have a physical body?” Surbhi asked.
The coin moved towards ‘No’.
“Are you Mangal?” Sukumar asked.
The coin moved towards ‘yes’ in a straight line pattern.
“Are you in a different world right now?” Rishu asked.
The coin moved towards ‘No.’
“Where are you right now?” Rishu asked.
The coin moved towards the letter ‘S’ seeing which Sukumar quickly opened his notebook. Since the old notebook was full with conversation records of previous spirits he had come into contact with, this was a new one.
Thank God this is new otherwise half of the sentence would have been over within the time invested in turning the pages.
The coin moved towards a few other letters to answer Rishu’s question. The combination formed as noted by Sukumar was
S O M E W H E R E I N B E T W E E N
Sukumar divided the letters into words forming the sentence
“No problem, you will be there by tomorrow,” Sukumar said.
The coin moved towards ‘Yes’.
“What is it like in where you are right now?” Rishu asked.
The coin moved to different letter forming the sentence as recorded by Sukumar as
‘I am missing one thing.’
“What is it? What are you missing?” Sukumar asked.
The board through the moving coin communicated:
‘The rare antique idol of an ancient God that I gave you.’
Sukumar had almost forgotten about that idol. A few months ago when the symptoms of Tuberculosis had just started to show, Mangal had been a regular visitor at his clinic. He had become close to him as well as eventually also formed a friendship with Surbhi and Rishu. When the symptoms reached an extent to which Mangal had to be hospitalized, he gave that idol to him and told him to keep it with care until he gets well and discharged from there. Sukumar had kept that white coloured sparkling idol which had a broken hand as a showpiece in his study room.
“Do you want me to bring it?” Sukumar asked.
The coin moved from letters to letters forming the sentence:
‘Yes, I want to see it.’
Sukumar got up and walked towards his study room silently to avoid disturbing his parents who were asleep.
After 2 minutes, he came back with the shining white Idol. The small idol had something special, the more it’s ancientness built up over time, the more aesthetic it has become to please your eyes; more than its look, it was the mesmerizing feel that gave you ecstasy on touching. The slippery white surface that wouldn’t slip out of your hands, the solid feeling that would feel equally companionable, displays a range of colours even more than VIBGYOR, made from a rare rock whose actual name is a mystery.
“Mangal’s death was natural, I asked him, that’s what he answered,” Surbhi said.
The centuries-old idol is kept a few inches away from the board.
“Here Mangal, have a good look. It’s your day,” Sukumar said facing towards the coin.
The coin moved between the letters to communicate.
Sukumar recorded it as
‘Thank you, kindly rotate the statue with its back facing me.’
Sukumar did as ordered.
The statue started to display a range of flickering colours not only on the surface but also on the handmade ouija board. The board suddenly rose and flipped itself at an angle of 90 degrees to face Sukumar. The coin moved among eight letters:
S U R P R I S E
The windows appeared to close themselves suddenly, leisurely latching themselves; the door latched itself from inside from its footer and the slow ceiling fan stopped all by itself.
“This has never happened, what’s going on?” Surbhi cried.
“Rishu, remove the idol from there,” Sukumar shouted.
“Wa...Why don’t you do it?” Rishu questioned back with a quivering voice.
Sukumar without bothering to say anything, rakishly extended his hand to grab it off from the mayhem that had formed on the table only to see the idol flipping itself to face him. The chaos intensified when the coin jumped off the chart paper and hit hard on his forehead giving him a black-out for a moment; he sat down on the floor to comfort the pain using his right hand.
“Aaaah,” shouted Rishu whose neck looked slashed in an untidy way, this did not look like a murder that would have been done by a professional killer or surgeon. The blood splattered on the ouija chart and the idol.
“Rishu” Sukumar cried. He was so indulged in rubbing his palm on the forehead that he didn’t bother to check what’s in his left hand. The summoned spirit took full advantage of my absent-mindedness or am I absent-minded because of the spirit? He thought after finding his ancestral knife in his hand which was covered with a thick layer of fresh dripping blood.
Out of the four candles, three extinguished themselves except the one that was the closest to the ouija board. The candle burnt the lower edge of the chart board by moving itself within a row thus burning the ‘Goodbye’ out of the chart paper.
Sukumar gets up to rush towards the window but fails after slipping and falling on the floor only to find it waterlogged. He observes the loud sound of a girl laughing uncontrollably. While he’s on the floor with his front portion of the body soaked in the bloodied water, he shifts his sight from the blood gushing out of the lifeless body of Rishu to the woman in a red blouse who just caught his attention while laughing.
“Surbhi..?” he said while being in a state of shock.
Surbhi while ignoring him continues to laugh, her sound of laughter increasing with every pulse of her heartbeat.
Sukumar looks towards the chart board.
“Stop it, who are you, I know you aren’t Mangal?” Sukumar cried.
The letters one by one burnt themselves to communicate:
I AM NOT
Sukumar’s wet notebook floated itself in the air the floor and squeezed itself out of the soaked blood. It led itself to cover Surbhi’s laughing face and coiled itself around it making her struggle to inhale while not able to stop her laugh resulting in snorting in between trying to catch her breath.
Sukumar, seeing her condition, forcefully lifts himself to hurry towards her. He catches hold of his notebook and applies all the strength to pull it off her face, as he is about to be successful in that attempt, an almirah alongside inlines itself to fall on them.
He woke up the next day in the morning to find the room without the floor waterlogged with diluted blood. The idol laid unattended on the floor, there was not a trace of the burnt chart paper on which he drew the Ouija. The room looked fine, all the furniture was at their place, the almirah was standing with the dust on its surface just like how it looked the day before. However, the ancestral vintage knife from last night was lying beside a dead body with blood coated around the edges.
As Sukumar got up trying to move towards the two bodies lying on the floor he saw a man, well built in his fifties with a plain sea green shirt picking up the knife with his gloved hand.
“Suman, send this to the forensics for fingerprint details,” he said.
Suman moved towards him, Sukumar observed them wearing thick plastic covering around their shoes also.
“Sir, he has woken up,” he said.
Inspector Rudra turned back
“Great, Dr Sukumar.”
Sukumar stood up.
“I am Inspector Rudra Deep.”
“I know you, sir, during a suspected murder case which turned out to be a careless accident of Suhel Reddy, you made us wait too long, I remember Dr Suyash having a hard time performing the surgery,” Sukumar said while extending his palm.
While Rudra’s men took his fingerprint Sukumar looked at the other body with Notebook coiled around the other dead body’s face. Rudra looked towards where Sukumar was looking.
“Take this notebook also to the forensics,” he said.
“I don't know how the knife landed in my arm and maybe I shouldn’t have tried to save Surbhi. This idol is alive and...”
“Better luck explaining in court about these conspiracy theories behind killing your parents, ” Rudra interrupted him while tying handcuffs around his arms.
“My parents? They were my friends, and my parents were asleep in their rooms. These are Surbhi and Rishu," Sukumar said.
“Surbhi and Rishu never showed up, we had questioned them also a few minutes ago, they said they received a call verifying that the patient whose spirits you were trying to call is still alive and will be discharged soon. Surbhi said she had called you several times but looks like you purposely kept the receiver...”
“Yes, I purposely did that to avoid any distraction while the spirit summoning session is going on,” he said while tears were rolling down his cheek.
“Oh please, upgrade yourself from these stupid…”
“These exist for real if you want I can show you a demo.”
“Someone, take him please, he’s insane, Doctor irony...” Rudra shouted.
Sukumar continued to cry about what happened the previous day. “The idol will kill you all, you all are gonna get in trouble,” the white piece of terror rolled by itself to face Sukumar who was being taken away.
Just before the day of October’s Ekadashi, the fragile body of Dr Sukumar Bannerjee stood loose with regret in front of the crematory near Alambagh area of Lucknow. The sky was slowly getting darker, the colour of the sunlight was getting duller as the regret grew on his face. The blurry vision due to the tears in his eyes along with the evening blue lessened the saturation of his brown shoes which brought his memory back to the root of it all. He could virtually travel back in time to see the reason for his regret, he could see clearly what his naked eye couldn’t, the trigger to the tragedy, the initiator of a surprise that would change some fates forever.
“It’s time Doctor,” the constable said.
Sukumar turned around to face an unidentified man holding a notepad and a pen in the rear end walking towards him. While in handcuffs Sukumar moved forward with the two constables.
“Dr Sukumar, do you still believe that practices like planchette and occult exist in society even today or are they just a ...”
“I think I have heard your voice somewhere, you sound very familiar,” Sukumar interrupted the stranger and said in a low voice and walked away after being directed by the constables.
The stranger looked at them getting inside the police van.
I never revealed the method I was using to summon the spirit, I just said I am summoning a spirit. How did he know I was talking about planchette in my defence? I thought it’s a very uncommon term. Sukumar thought while looking at the ant-sized journalist looking towards him from far.
After the car drive away, the man is approached by his companion,
“There’s a museum which is reported to be haunted as claimed by its guard after a new small idol had been kept there,” he said.
“I know,” the man said with a smile, still looking at the sight from where the van drove away.
“How?” his companion asked.
“S U R P R I S E,” the man said while widening his smile to an extent that his cheeks almost touched his ears.