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The Case of the Shape-shifting Cobra

A gigantic snake slithered towards Biswas, baring its deadly fangs. Biswas froze in fright at the sight of the serpent. As it closed the distance between them, it suddenly cackled in the ghastliest manner. Then it flicked it’s tongue in Biswas’ ear and whispered in a raspy voice, ‘You have already lost. Give up now or bear the consequences!’.

Biswas woke up sweaty and distraught from his slumber. The remnants of his nightmare lingered on his mind, making him uneasy. But the dream attested his theory that he was following the right lead.

Biswas was an undercover journalist. A few months ago, he had been tipped off about something bizarre that was happening at the St. Raoul’s Psychiatry Institute. Certain patients had claimed one of the new inmates was a shape-shifting snake. Two inmates had been found mysteriously dead, since then. The ward boy who was Biswas’s informant had stated that the cause of their death was snake bite.

As a kid Biswas had resided near the Nimtala ghat in Kolkata. These burial grounds were infamous for their black magic activities. Hence, he wasn’t a stranger to the supernatural. Biswas believed if he could crack this case, either he would prove that the paranormal existed or he would debunk the theory and expose the hospital authorities responsible for gross negligence.

On the pretext of suffering from a mental illness, Biswas urged his wife Mishti to admit him to the St. Raoul’s asylum. He discreetly started interrogating the inmates of the asylum for any information on the shape-shifting creature.

A week of inquiries proved quite fruitless for Biswas. One of the patients who had claimed to see the snake was undergoing treatment for psychotic disorder, a mental illness where the patient suffering from it can’t tell what is real from what is imagined. Biswas realised that he had to take the word of the asylum inmates with a pinch of salt. He was kind of losing hope, till on the eighth day, he hit the jackpot.

Twice in a week the inmates of the asylum were allowed to go out on the asylum ground for recreational purposes. On one such day Biswas heard a shriek from the wooded area located just outside the main hospital building. He ran like the wind and reached there as fast as possible.

To Biswas’ utter horror, he discovered the dead body of an asylum inmate behind a banyan tree. He was frothing at the mouth and his neck which had two puncture marks, was turning bluish grey.

The only person Biswas encountered beside the dead man was another patient who went by the name of Shivam. The moment Shivam noticed Biswas he ran towards him and jabbed his forefinger on Biswas’s chest.

‘You are nexxxxxxt!’, Shivam hissed like a snake and bounded off towards the asylum. There was no sign of a serpent in the vicinity. But the latest victim’s autopsy reports confirmed Biswas’s suspicions that his death had occurred due to snake bite. His only lead was Shivam, who had been present there when the accident had taken place. As discreetly as possible, Biswas started investigating Shivam’s activities.

While snooping Biswas made a peculiar discovery. Shivam had created a make-shift altar for the serpentine demigod called, Sheshanag* known as the king of serpents in the Hindu mythology. He had made offerings of dead rats at this self-styled altar.

Biswas changed his tact and befriended Shivam. He was convinced that Shivam would prove to be the missing piece of this weird puzzle.

Some days later while they were having lunch in the dining hall Biswas asked Shivam, ‘Why had you warned me the other day that I’m going to be next?’

Shivam stopped eating and looked pensive for around ten minutes. He then looked Biswas in the eye and finally started mumbling something in a very low voice. Biswas had to lean close to him to listen and what he heard sent a chill down his spine.

‘Everyone who discovers the Naga’s* secret must be destroyed. Go back to where you came from, or you are nexxxxxxt!’. Shivam repeated this statement over and over again and, in the end, dissolved into peals of laughter.

Unfortunately Biswas wasn’t finding any concrete evidence to prove his shape-shifter theory. He wasn’t even encountering any poisonous reptiles on the loose in the asylum. His boss Mr. Chakraborty would visit him at the asylum from time to time to get reports about his progress in the case. Biswas would discuss his doubts and theories with his boss. Mr. Chakraborty would often dismiss his claims, but since Biswas was one of his best undercover journalists, he supported him.

Gradually Biswas had started losing his grip on reality. For a sane person to be surrounded by deranged people and pretend that he was one of them, wasn’t easy. He would experience terrible nightmares, where he would frequently be the victim of a serpent attack. Despite all this he was determined to crack the case. He procured a knife for his protection from the ward boy who was his informant  and concealed it under one of the loose tiles in his cell.

His worst nightmare came true when the patients had been given access to the asylum ground on a foggy winter morning. Biswas couldn’t find Shivam in any of his usual spots. His hunt ended when he found Shivam writhing under a huge banyan tree in a remote spot near the back gates of the asylum. He was sweating profusely and held a huge, freshly shed snakeskin. It was literally as big as a blanket.

Biswas ran towards Shivam and frantically started checking him for snakebites. ‘Have you been attacked by the killer serpent Shivam? Answer me!’, he screamed desperately.

Shivam suddenly pounced on him and bit his neck. Biswas realised that he could get harmed in the pursuit of truth. He gathered all his strength and shoved Shivam away from himself and struck him several times across his face till his face was a bleeding mess.

Disengaging himself from the crazed man, Biswas sprinted away shouting for help. Soon he led the hospital authorities towards the spot where he had left Shivam. The latter was lying battered and unconscious. There wasn’t any sign of a discarded snakeskin though.

To the hospital staff Biswas appeared as the culprit who had attacked Shivam brutally. None of his bizarre theories were taken into consideration or believed. The more the psychiatrists showed scepticism towards his story, the more it irked Biswas. Each time he narrated his ordeal, he became more and more aggressive.

Doctor Verma who had attended to Biswas since he had gotten admitted at St. Raoul’s, tried his best to calm him down. But when matters got out of hand, Dr. Verma had to take a decision to sedate him and keep him in solitary confinement.

When Mishti visited the asylum with Mr. Chakraborty to check on Biswas, Dr. Verma explained his predicament to them.

‘I’m sorry that things have come down to this Mrs. Chatterjee’, Dr. Verma said to Mishti. ‘Biswas is suffering from acute Schizophrenia. It is a chronic mental disorder. The victim of this mental disease seems to indulge in a reality of his own which is far from real life.

At first his condition wasn’t severe. I had thought a few weeks of therapy would cure him, unfortunately a few days ago he witnessed the death of one of our inmates. This person died due to a snake bite. Since then, Biswas had been harbouring hallucinations and delusions pertaining to serpents. He had been experiencing intense nightmares and would constantly be worried that his life was endangered.’

‘Mr. Chakraborty, Biswas had started mistaking me for you’, Dr. Verma stated. ‘He used to discuss some shape-shifting snake case with me and however much I tried to persuade him that there was no such thing, it was to no avail.
“Boss, I’m very close to cracking the case now”, he would say every time I used to conduct a therapy session for him.

Biswas was particularly intrigued by another patient called Shivam. He was severely delusional and thought that this Shivam was a supernatural snake of some kind, who could transform into human form at will.

A scuffle took place between Shivam and Biswas recently and the latter beat him to a bloody pulp. When the hospital staff tried restraining him, Biswas got severely aggressive.

But that wasn’t the last straw. The same day when Shivam and Biswas had their fist fight, we found the dead body of one of our ward boys. He was brutally slashed to death by a knife. The murder weapon had Biswas’ fingerprints all over it. When we questioned Biswas about this whole mess, his demeanour became more violent. We have no clue how he got hold of the knife. Further investigation from the police will gradually solve that mystery.

Due to these circumstances we had to sedate him and relegate him to solitary confinement. He is now a danger to himself and others around him. But let me assure you that this illness is treatable, and we will try our best to cure Biswas. Please be patient and don’t lose hope.

After Mr. Chakraborty and Mishti left, Dr. Verma visited Shivam in his cell.

‘My Lord, thank you for gracing me with your presence’, Shivam said as he touched Dr. Verma’s feet reverently.

‘You have been my ardent devotee Shivam’, said Dr. Verma. ‘Your service is much appreciated, son. It is because of devotees like you, that I have been successful in hiding my identity. People consider us monsters, but aren’t they the actual monsters? They never let us live in peace.

I have been flitting from one asylum to another, since people would hardly believe mentally challenged patients when they claim that they have caught sight of a shape-shifting snake. Under the disguise of therapy it’s easier for me to convince a patient that they have been hallucinating.

Ever since Biswas got admitted to the asylum, he proved to be a threat to my existence. I already had to kill three inmates who had discovered my identity. If there would be any more deaths due to snakebites, the hospital authorities would start getting suspicious, since there weren’t any actual snakes in the vicinity.

The ward boy who had been helping Biswas was creating trouble too. My plan to dispose of both my foes with just one move was brilliant, even if I say so!

But it wouldn’t have been possible without your help, son. You and your family will be blessed and protected by the Nagas*.

If only Biswas had heeded to your warnings Shivam, he wouldn’t have had to go through his current predicament’, sighed Dr. Verma as he walked out of the cell with a malicious grin on his face.

****

Glossary:

*Sheshnag – A serpentine demigod. Also known as the king of serpents.

*Naga – A member of a semi-divine race, part human, part cobra in form, associated with mystical initiation.

****

Name: Journalist.

Place: Asylum.

Animal: Snake.

Thing: Knife.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Kiran

    Wonderful story. I couldn’t stop reading, and was waiting for the end. The twist in the story was excellent.

  2. Avatar
    Neepomanjaree

    Kudos to you for churning out a story from a weird set of prompts! Your naag reminded me of Sridevi’s Naagin movie Only if you had included a Nagin too! But then that would have been a common story. This was different and nice! well done!

  3. Avatar
    Jumi

    I didn’t expect the ending! Loved the plot, loved the ending. I strongly feel this story can shine even brighter with editting on the narration and the grammar. I found the prompts woven seamlessly into the plot. My heart goes out for Mr. Biswas.

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