Wednesday 18 October 2023

Write... Edit... Publish... October 2023 : The Phantom of the Opera



It's October and it's time to get back to Write...Edit...Publish... where the prompt is the iconic musical The Phantom of the Opera. It is also splat bang in the middle of the main festival season in India, I have family visiting from abroad as well as from other Indian cities, so...I'll be reading with a lag, please bear with me. 

This post continues the story of Shovan and Mukta, Sam and Janhobi that began last December. What's happened so far:

The MC finds a B/W profile picture on a social media platform intriguing. He writes on an impulse to the woman and finds that the picture is of her grandmother and was shot in a studio that once belonged to a relative, now dead. 

The MC goes back to his hometown and explores the derelict studio. He finally comes upon a series of nudes of a woman in different stages of life, the last of which he recognises as the grandmother.

He finds a letter that breaks the bombshell news that his Great Uncle Sam, the studio owner and the grandmother had an ongoing relationship in the past. 

He meets with the granddaughter in their common hometown and shares the findings...which naturally shocks the granddaughter. The MC assures her that the secret is safe with him and he will support her through this bombshell discovery. They say goodbye but he feels she will not want to see him again. 

The MC goes to Sam's ancestral house situated a little way away from the city and finds the furniture that's used as props in the Janhobi's portrait - the radio, the table etc. He also chances upon an old tree engraving that clearly indicates Sam and Janhobi spent time in the house. Mukta does not get in touch as he had feared.


Read on to find out what happens next...

Chiaroscuro VI :

It was pitch dark at the window.


My transition from dream to reality was so gradual, so seamless that at first I did not realise I was awake. The noise of the static crackled in my ear just as it had minutes ago in what I assumed was a dream, but now I was not so sure, was it?


Inside the room, the eye of the old radio flashed on and off, bathing the ceiling above in an eerie apple green. My cell phone matched it at every beat, the screen lighting up and going dark every odd second, emitting its own peculiar bluish glow. I bent and switched on the pedestal lamp someone had placed next to the bed. The light came on for a few seconds and then it too joined the strange, ongoing sound and light show. In this weird pulsing light, I could see the ceiling fan was turning one way for some seconds, coming to a stop and turning the opposite way for an equal time. I had never seen anything like it - I came bolt upright, the last traces of sleep wiped clean from my eyes.  This was no dream.




I had got back from the discovery of the tree engraving last evening and found that I had been given the room with the radio to sleep. The low divan had been made up with a formidable old three inch thick cotton mattress, spotless sheets, a pair of ruffled pillows and a traditional woven coverlet. I was quite pleased – as I wanted to have a nose around and see if any further evidence of Sam and Janhobi could be unearthed. Though why I bothered I don’t know. Mukta had not been in touch, she had probably gone back after her holiday in the old hometown.


I looked at the window again, it was dark still. The phone as it lit up showed the time, still some way to go till sunrise.  I swiveled around and put my feet on the floor, thrust my feet into my slippers. The wide verandah connecting the rooms on the floor was dark and quiet. No other room was pulsing and buzzing like mine. I paced up and down to make quite sure, there was not a single crackle of static, not a pinpoint of light anywhere.


There was no moon, no shadows, not even the friendly wink of a single star. The trees loomed against an amorphous sky on the far side of the courtyard – darker shapes in the darkness grading from a chiffony charcoal grey to indigo to pitch black. An owl hooted somewhere. Moth wings fluttered against my face for a second and ricocheted away, I felt the velvety movement on my skin but could not fathom their direction. Only my shut door was thinly outlined in a pulsing green glow – fainter, brighter, fainter, brighter, fainter, brighter – as if the beating of my own heart had been transformed from sound to light and projected into that room behind that closed door.


I groped for the switch of the verandah lights and yanked the heavy old Bakelite job on. Nothing happened, not one of the lights came on. I felt my way down one flight of stairs to the landing, where the large, multipaned window opened out on the street and peered outside, the streetlights were not on either. No joy there. I am not easily spooked, I do not give much credence to other worldly happenings – good for a fireside tale on a winter evening of course, but not much else. There must be some sort of electrical snafu, only I hadn’t come across radios switching on and off by themselves, cell phones and fans echoing them without missing a beat. Confined to one room too while the rest of the house was minus power. At least the fan inside would produce some sort of air circulation. It was muggy and hot out on the verandah and apart from a long wooden bench there was nowhere to park. I pushed the glowing doors open again.


The static from the radio had resolved into some sort of music – like a number being played at the wrong speed, slower than it should be, the words weirdly garbled, the bass too deep and way off the mark, interspersed with lucid intervals. In dreams he came…that voice which ca… do I dream again?  The fan…is there in sigh… your mind… The music went on, half unintelligible, half clear, the song just hovering on the edge of recognition.


The table on which the radio sat had two small drawers, one of them was glowing and pulsing the same way the door had, as if some light emitting source was trapped inside. I went to it and yanked it open. A bunch of pulsing pinpricks of light fluttered out and weaved across the room, finally settling on the ceiling. It took me a few seconds to figure out they were fireflies, not exactly some alien spirit beings from some other world. The sound suddenly cleared up fully and the music played out at the right pitch, the lyrics crystal clear and recognisable – the Phantom of the Opera is there inside your mind… The song drew to its end and the music faded out. A couple of crackles of static and then the green power indicator went dark, the radio switched off and fell silent. I tried the light switch – it worked this time, the lamp flooded the room with dazzling light. The fan was whirring normally again. Whatever weirdness or electrical fault it was, it seemed it had righted itself. I switched the light off, heaved a sigh of relief and went back to bed. The fireflies were still on the ceiling. I fell asleep watching them glowing on and off.


I woke past eight, the sun was up and hot. Last night felt unreal. Had I dreamt one of those hyper real dreams?


Only thing was the drawer below the radio was still open. I got out of bed and walked to it. A card lay on top of a pile of papers, the whole dusty and yellowed with age. I picked it up – it was one of those fancy invites, gilt borders and lettering…The President of the Cine Club cordially invites Jahnabi Roy to a special screening of the Phantom of the Opera...

My cell phone suddenly beeped, startling me. It was Mukta.

WC : 1077


Tagline : An old radio goes berserk in the middle of the night...

Read the other entries here:



  1. As always you had me engrossed, savouring every word and phrase. Greedily all I can say is more please.

  2. Such beautiful writing. I was there for each pulsating moment. And like Sue, yes, more, please! So Good!

  3. Hari OM
    Oh my word... a proper October offering! Interestingly, I am listening to Verdi's Requiem as I read and although entirely different, it gives me the chills (in a good way) an somehow that chimed perfectly with your piece today. YAM xx

  4. Your writing is spellbinding as well as beautiful. Do I really have to wait till December to find out more? Also, have you written it all already? If not, I would love to know how you come back to it every two months and pick up so perfectly from where you left off?

  5. Hi, I was wondering what Mukta would do. Would she get in touch with him again? I am glad she did. I like the way you built up the tension and then wrapped it around the theme, the Phantom of the Opera. Well done.
    Take care, and have a happy October.
    Shalom shalom

  6. Enthralling - I would not have been nearly as calm!

  7. I am glad that phone beeped. You create a spectacular atmosphere in your stories, Nilanjana. I love the descriptions and the way your story moves through them. Did I tell you that Jahnabi is a beautiful name. I presume it is a regional version of Jahanvi. The mystery in this part of your story is subtle yet consuming.

  8. What a wonderful story! You integrated Phantom of the Opera beautifully, and I loved the tension -- Would Mukta get in touch? The ending all delicious surprises, making me want to read even more. Enjoy this special holiday season and keep writing!

  9. An engaging and creative take on the prompt. Well done, Nila.

  10. Hi Nila. I hope your visitors are enthralling and you're having a great time. Thanks for finding the time to post this thrilling flash. It is superb as always and like others, has me hankering for more. (I'm only just beginning to read as it's been a long, exhausting road trip.)

  11. Hi Nila - it's is amazing how you draft the next episode for each WEP - I'm really enjoying the story and how you build the prompts into the story line. The Phantom is having his work cut out for him this month!! I love how you've brought in 21st century ways of life into their story ... green lights, paranormal activities ...and like the others I'm looking forward to the next instalment. Cheers Hilary

  12. I was enthralled by your story, Nilanjana. And that part about the fan turning both ways...oh my god, you created such an eerie atmosphere! Loved it!

  13. I could hear the haunting music and I felt a chill. Great writing

  14. What a great take on this prompt. Thanks for sharing it with the WEP.

  15. I love the setting details. They are so important to the atmosphere of this piece!
    Sorry to be so late in commenting. I was trying to finish my third try at a story for a charity anthology with a drop-dead submission date of November 1st, and I completely forgot to finish commenting on this month's story contributions. Also, I was beamed up by aliens and the dog ate my homework. ;-)
    The bit about the charity anthology is true.