(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
"Are you sure you want to do this?" I asked.
The Professor stretched
lazily and looked down at his tea. His thin lips curved into a smile under his
beard. "Why," he said, "donít tell me you believe in ghosts. Surely notyou?"
"I donít," I said
awkwardly. "But it seems kind of pointless to go crawling around a dirty old
house just because someone or other thinks itís haunted."
The Professor wasnít
really a professor, of course Ė itís just what everyone called him, because he
had such a professorial air. It came with his part time role as a hoax-buster
and anti-medium, scourge of charlatans and magicians of all stripes. He tilted
his head now so he could look at me down the length of his considerable nose.
"My dear fellow," he said,
"nothing is ever pointless. No effort is wasted, as long as you set out to
"So," I said, knowing I
was rising to the bait but unable to stop myself, "what exactly is this that
you think youíre about to achieve? A few uncomfortable hours spent in a damp
house when one could be doing something useful?"
"Like what?" he asked,
raising one eyebrow, something which always irritated me because I could never
do it. "What would you say is more useful?"
"Anything. Watching TV.
Reading, Sleeping. Just about anything I could name would be more interesting."
"Well then," he said,
innocently looking past my shoulder, "I think youíd better stay in this evening
and watch TV and then read yourself to sleep. Iíll just go on by myself and see
whatever Iíll see."
There was a long pause. I
looked at my hands, and tried to make the fingers stop twisting around each
"When do we have to go?" I
stay till midnight," the Professor said, fitting the key in the lock. "That
ought to be long enough."
"Long enough for what?" I
watched him twist the key in the lock. It hadnít been used in a while, and he
had to move it back and forth repeatedly. "Since thereís no ghost anyway, what
are we going to be able to prove?"
He didnít answer for a
moment, pushing the door open with his shoulder. It creaked, as though tired
with age, and so loudly that the noise seemed to echo through the house. Inside
it was already quite dark, though the sun hadnít even set yet. It looked dank
and unwelcoming, and I had no desire to enter.
"Well?" the Professor
asked. "Are you coming in or arenít you?"
To save myself from having
to answer, I stepped back and looked up at the building. It was a grey, angular
mass, its peaked roof outlined against the evening sky like the blade of an
axe. Tiny windows marked the upper storey, looking too small to be of much use.
"Itís old," I said.
The Professor snorted. "Of
course itís old. Itís almost a hundred Ė they donít make buildings like this
any longer. Nor will this one be up much longer Ė the ownerís eager to sell,
and of course anybody who buys will have it demolished and replaced by
"But nobody will buy?" I
asked, beginning to see the point of this expedition.
"No, because of this
ridiculous story of a ghost. Iím pretty sure the owner believes it too Ė thatís
why he wouldnít come with us." He looked at me impatiently. "If you arenít
coming, say so."
"Iím coming," I said,
unhappily. The floor of the hall, inside the front door, was thick with dust,
and it made me sneeze. "Whoís ever seen this ghost anyway? Whatís it supposed
to look like?"
The Professor laughed
shortly. "I have not the faintest idea," he said. "The more I heard about it
the less I knew. Some of them said, you know, that they saw a oval of light
with a hole for the face Ė the usual thing. Some others, a lovely naked woman
with a string of pearls round her neck." He cocked a sardonic eyebrow at me. "I
see that got your attention."
I felt myself blushing.
"Itís all rubbish anyway."
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