On The Other Side
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
On the outskirts of town, up where the north
road peters out at the margins of the forest, there is a strange old house,
tall and forbidding, with grey walls and grey roof and windows that hardly
allow within the light of the day. The town children say it is haunted, and
sometimes dare each other to enter its untidy and overgrown grounds. Their
nerve always fails at the last moment.
Nobody knows how old the house is, or when
it was built. It is owned now, as far as is known, by a strange wild-eyed
figure, who is seldom seen (recently he has been hardly seen at all) and is
commonly supposed to be a mad scientist or an absent-minded professor. It is
usually thought that he performs bizarre experiments up there in his house, and
that is why the lights are on all night.
It is not the truth.
Under another name, the wild-eyed figure is
known to people around the world, and millions daily love to be reduced to
quaking masses of terror at his words; for that wild-eyed person is no mad
scientist or crazy professor. He is simply the most famous writer of horror,
and of fantastic fiction, that the world has ever seen.
In order to protect his privacy, I shall
not refer to the writer by his real name. Nor, because of legal and copyright
issues, ought I to disclose his nom de plume, the pseudonym whose works make
hearts thrill to delicious terror in each country across the globe, with the
possible exception of North Korea. But since we have to call him something,
let’s find him a name. Because the name is about as far as we can get from his
own, and because it is about as far as one can get from his own ethnic group,
we could call him Diego.
Diego lived alone – as far as that term can
be interpreted for someone like him – in that old house near the forest, and
every week food and other necessities would be delivered by van, and the
payment and next week’s orders would be waiting in an envelope left for the
driver. It was the routine. Unless he had to, Diego didn’t mix with people. He
wasn’t a misogynist; he just preferred to be alone so that he could think of
what he was writing.
Now Diego had, apart from his writing, just
one great interest. This was a love of rare old things; not conventional
antiques, just old, old objects which he could buy relatively cheap from their
oblivious owners, neglected old things which he would clean and polish and gaze
at lovingly and fondle with his delicate long artist’s fingers. It was an
interest which consumed most of the time he had away from writing; he would go
far out of his way to visit small auctions and dismal old houses where he would
look for what he wanted. He was no collector in the conventional meaning of the
term. He didn’t, unlike that species, specialise in particular items or
periods, and would not obsessively hunt down furniture by a particular bygone
maker or porcelain figurines of some famous and rare design. What he wanted was
what appealed to him, and why it appealed to him might not be obvious to any
casual observer. In fact, if asked, he too might have found it difficult to
explain why he had ignored some beautiful carved chair, obviously going for a
fraction of its actual value, for a dowdy little vase of uncertain age and
dubious provenance. But that was what he had done so often that most of the
things that hung on the walls of his old house, or sat on its shelves, or stood
in the corners, would have been supposed to be of little or no intrinsic value.
Diego, himself, had never given a fig for
intrinsic value. He looked for things which spoke to him, in his own mind,
which whispered to him of their varied pasts and of the things that they had
seen. In his own mind he said that he wanted things that had a “soul”.
And that is how, one day not very long ago,
Diego found the mirror.
It was a grey and overcast winter day,
clammy and chilling to the bone; one of those winter days when the sky seems
darker than the land. Diego had driven far out of town to a decaying old
mansion where a mass of alleged antiques were to be auctioned off. Most of the
material turned out to be dross, not even conventional antiquities, let alone
what the writer was seeking, and he was about to leave in disgust when, in a
corner behind the door, he discerned a dim reflection. Peering into the
shadows, he saw something which set his pulse to racing.
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