A series of diary entries by Lopa Roy, as provided by Tamoha Sengupta
Art by Amanda Jones
14th April, 2016
Tomorrow, I will be going to live in Shiminpur village. I’m not sure for how long, but I won’t come back before I understand what is actually going on there. I can already feel curiosity burning within me. I would have gone there earlier, but investigating the hauntings in the local graveyard held me up.
As is the case with each of my investigations, I will maintain a record of all that I observe and conclude during my stay there. Sometimes, the notes are useful to connect missing dots.
Before I venture out, here are the points I know so far.
- Shiminpur is a village located in West Bengal, India. It is an island in the river Ganga, connected to the nearest village by a thin bridge of land that disappears when the river swells. It used to be a tiny village, comprising four huts and fifteen people. All male, except the wives. All female babies born were killed–most were drowned in the river Ganga, or buried near the forests that bordered north of the village.
- It is also famous for its soil, fertile for crops and wonderful for making any type of soil handicrafts. People of Shiminpur and the nearby villages used the soil for making lamps, small figures, etc. Handicrafts and farming was the main livelihood of Shiminpur. But it was not until recently that the soils of Shiminpur attained celebrity status.
- A year ago, a couple of farmers discovered a stone in their rice field. It was about two feet tall, with the words “Jai, Ma Durga” written across it. “Hail the Goddess Durga.” The discovery caused the entire media spotlight to fall on the village, and the villagers there saw a way to profit from this. They decided to sell the soil to people who made idols of the Goddess Durga for the Durga Puja festival. A few months before the festival, on 4th March, 2016, the soil was scheduled to be put up for sale in the monthly market the village had.
I remember what my friend said to me when he heard the news. “Ironic, isn’t it? The village murders the girls and decides to make money through the festival that worships a Goddess?” I must say that I mirror his disgust. How low can people stoop?
- On the day of the market, when people got there, the entire village population had disappeared.
- The few investigations conducted brought up no real clues. This is why I’ll be going to stay there. All the investigations only lasted a day, a night at most. They were covered extensively by media, while some were even broadcast live. I’ll conduct my search in silence, without anyone’s knowledge. Some things are best caught unawares.
15th April, 2016
The place is so quiet.
I arrived at 12:15 p.m. on a boat I rowed myself, armed with a month’s worth of supplies. If they run out, I’ll simply row over to the nearby village, two miles away, to replenish them. I made sure to anchor the boat tight and cover it with grass and weeds and leaves, so that it is not visible. I don’t want to draw attention.
I set up my tent behind some bushes, trying to stay as inconspicuous as possible. Inconspicuous from whom, I’m not sure yet.
For over an hour, I wandered through the abandoned village, passing home after empty home.
The fields were full of dead crops and empty patches, and in one of the fields, I saw it: the two-foot-high stone with the inscription. I knelt before it and touched it. It was warm, just as any other stone would be under the sun. Maybe someone had once built a temple here long ago, and it was destroyed and buried over time. Maybe too much farming had simply brought one of the stones to the surface. Nothing extraordinary. It was just a normal stone.
I wandered some more, trying to detect any unusual energy in the air. Nothing.
The sun was bright in the sky over me, the weather was dry, but below me, the soil was so wet in places that my shoes got stuck more than once. Clay. Too much clay.
No living thing in sight, except me, a few scurrying mice, and the birds screeching and flying high above. Overall, there was silence, silence except for the ominous quiet of a vanished civilization, silence except for the roar of the Ganga, incessantly flowing past the village.
17th April, 2016
Living here is strange. I’ve stayed in haunted houses before. I mean, this is part of my job.
But I’ve never before been the only inhabitant of an entire town, city, or village. Not that I’m complaining. I knew what I was heading into when I decided to investigate.
During the day, I roam about the empty village.
Sometimes, I think I hear cries. They seem muffled, as if trapped inside something. I don’t know if I’m imagining it, but they seem louder when I step through the clay-filled parts of the village. I don’t understand how the clay stays so wet, in spite of the dry weather. Yesterday, I knelt and picked some up in my hands. It was cold to the touch, and I was suddenly reminded of the cold of the corpse I’d found in a haunted house long ago. The thought made a shiver go through me. I washed my hands in the Ganga later, but the cold feeling hasn’t really gone away.
20th April, 2016
Are there ghosts here? I’m not really sure. I don’t rely on any equipment to find out–I can actually feel them shimmering in the air around me. And yet, here in the village of Shiminpur, the air is still, the days are normal. I have wandered so many times through the empty homes and found nothing. Nothing but the traces of half-lived lives. Traces which Mother Nature is obliterating slowly. There are folded clothes in the wardrobes still, signs of half-made beds and cobweb-filled pots on the stove. These signs of normality make me shiver. What could have happened here?
During the night, I watch the sky, studded with stars, sparkling in the infinite darkness around. There are no artificial lights here to shut them out, just my torch and a few scant candles. In the distance, the faint lights of the world glow.
24th April, 2016
The village is not completely abandoned. People sneak in sometimes to steal from houses here. The first time that I heard noise in the night, I jumped up, my torch ready in hand, thinking that at last I could find a clue.
But they were merely men from the nearby village, six miles away. I watched them yell and call out to each other in native Bengali as they escaped on boats, the tinkle of stolen utensils reminding me of bells tolling in a temple.
25th April, 2016
Something happened today. I’m not sure if it’s true. I must be hallucinating. I am still trembling as I write this.
Today, another pair of thieves came. I was inside one of the houses when I heard the whispers quite close by.
“We shouldn’t do this.” A man’s voice.
“We should.” Another man. “Can you imagine how good it will be for business when we make idols from the soil found here? And it’s not like we’re taking every inch of soil. Just a handful, to blend with our usual soil. Come on.”
Their arguments grew fainter, and I realized they were moving away from me. On an impulse, because I did not have anything concrete to do, I followed them, careful not to be seen. They wore lungis, and had baskets on their heads, and their brown bodies glistened in the sun as they walked. They led me right to the edge of the forest. I hid behind a tree and watched as they knelt. From their movements, they still seemed to be arguing. However, both put their baskets down on the ground beside them and scooped up a handful of the soil there. And then, before my eyes, it happened. They dissolved–I don’t have any other word for it.
Have you seen the idols get immersed in the river when the festivals are over? Have you seen how their clay bodies dissolve and scatter into the river? That is exactly what happened to them. They dissolved–they disintegrated like clay idols right before my eyes.
I screamed, my heart pounding. I had been near ghosts, but this was different, this was–
I went near where I’d seen them last, blinking all the while to make sure that the sun wasn’t creating a mirage.
But when I reached there, there was nothing except the two baskets, and the fact that my shoes were stuck in wet clay again. I thought I could hear cries. I don’t know what happened. I don’t–
2nd May, 2016
The same thing happened today. A group of five men and women snuck in to steal the soil and disintegrated again, before my very eyes. I did not notice them when they arrived, and by the time I did, I was too late. I called out to them, but they had already picked up some of the soil by then, and in an instant, they changed from humans to wet clay.
And here is my realization: the people of Shiminpur have not vanished. They are still here. They have all become wet clay.
7th May, 2016
This time, a woman came to steal the soil.
I almost ran over to her when I saw her kneeling on one of the fields. But she had already scooped up the soil, and she didn’t disintegrate. Instead, she turned and saw me, and screamed. “Bhoot! Bhoot!”
“Relax, I’m living. I’m not a ghost.” I tried to take a step toward her, but she screamed again, backing away in terror.
“I just wanted some good soil to make some diyas. Don’t kill me, don’t kill me.” Still screaming, she ran away.
I stood where I was, staring after her. Was that why she hadn’t disintegrated? Because she had not stolen the soil for making an idol of the Goddess, but for making a soil lamp?
15th May, 2016
All week long, I bided my time, gathering courage. I finally went to scoop up some soil. I had no intention of making any idols, but I wanted to experiment, I wanted to understand. A lump of Shiminpur soil weighs down the right pocket of my jeans as I write this, but here I am, still alive, still not turned into clay.
And here, I think, I have my deduction: Shiminpur won’t allow people to make idols by using its soil. Why? I wonder.
19th May, 2016
I think I know why. Today, as I walked at the edge of the forest, I came across some mounds. Raised bits of Earth, scattered everywhere. And I remembered: the murdered babies.
Shiminpur was a cruel place for girls, and no government or NGO-interference had been able to change that. I wondered whether these mounds held the bodies of senselessly murdered newborns, and as I knelt and put my trembling hands over one of them, I remembered what my friend had said about the irony.
Is it such a stretch to assume that the lands would refuse to let the people make profit from the idols of a feminine God, when the villagers here didn’t ever let the little feet of a girl touch the village land?
It isn’t. I’m sure of it. I’m sure that it is the land’s way of fighting back for the girls who were killed for no fault of theirs.
There will be many to scorn this reason, but not all truths are convenient. I will row away from the village of Shiminpur in a couple of days, to tell the world about my findings of this strange, mysterious land.
Lopa Roy was an investigator of strange happenings, renowned in India for her inconvenient and highly effective ways of uncovering unexplained mysteries. She was accidentally stabbed to death in Shiminpur on the night of 19th May, 2016, by a thief who mistook her for a ghost. Her body was recovered a week later, after the terrified thief confessed his crime. Her diary, containing these recorded entries, was discovered amidst her belongings in Shiminpur.
Tamoha Sengupta lives in India. Her fiction has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry, and elsewhere. She sometimes tweets @sengupta_tamoha.
Amanda Jones is an illustrator based in Seattle. She likes reading horror stories, binge watching seasons of her favourite sci-fi/fantasy shows, and everything Legend of Zelda. She focuses on digital portrait painting and co-creates the webcomic The Kinsey House. You can find more of her work on Tumblr under ‘thehauntedboy‘.
“Why the Village of Shiminpur is Empty” is © 2017 Tamoha Sengupta
Art accompanying story is © 2017 Amanda Jones