The rain pelted down and the clouds clapped repetitively. Drenched to the bones, all I could see was the empty countryside road stretching miles and miles ahead of me. As I kept my pace up, a thought entered my mind… ‘Had running away from the orphanage been a good decision?’ And as I looked upon the marks that covered the exposed parts of my body, the answer rang crystal clear in my ears. Even though the scars were fast fading, the terrorizing memories were eternally etched on my mind. If it hadn’t been for the kind, one-eyed watchman, I would have still been rotting in that sickening place.

My mind was so clouded with these thoughts, that I hadn’t realized how far I had walked. The sky looked somehow darker in this area and seemed to merge with the pitch black road some distance away. The thicket was denser than before and even the raindrops seemed loaded like by some means they had gained weight before hitting the ground.

Suddenly, a single blue bolt struck the land and, a few meters away; I saw an old mansion, standing tall and strong, enduring the storm. A wooden door, placed in between two ceiling to floor windows on either side of it, formed the anterior. The narrow windows stretched vertically into towers which merged with the sloping roof on the top. Looking at the enormity of it, something shifted inside of me… was it fear? Or something else, something which made me want to reach out and break the heavy looking silver lock on the inner side of the main gate. Even though it looked as if been deserted for living memory, it had a charm, energy radiating off it, as if inviting me inside. My fingers involuntarily reached out to the lock and it crumbled beneath them, like a leaf long fallen from a tree. That wasn’t supposed to happen, the lock wasn’t supposed to disintegrate under my fingers, unless…Unless it wasn’t from here. I pushed the creepy thought aside, assuring myself that there must be some logical and scientific explanation for this. Not fully convinced, I found myself rethinking whether or not to enter the mansion. But I didn’t have any other option, so I gathered up all the courage I had, pushed my anxiety and doubts aside and opened the gates.

The walkway leading up to the entrance was cracked, with weeds poking out of them. The grass beneath was damp, and every time I took a step, the mud squelched. The flickering lights from the nearby lamps cast ghoulish shadows on the walls. I walked up to the porch, took a long breath in to test the air and held it… I couldn’t smell anything putrid, which was a good sign. Nothing dead inside! I let out a sigh of relief and walked up the squeaky stairs to the main door. It was a single, plain teak wood door, with a black thin frame at its edges. I pushed it once, and to my surprise, it opened easily. The house was deadly silent except for the occasional creaks and moans. Black and brown patches dotted the ceiling in clusters, evidence of rain seeping through the roof. I quietly entered the dark living room and searched for switches. By mistake, I pushed a button by the door, and jumped when the fireplace in the left roared to life! In the newfound light, I could clearly see everything. In spite of the house looking so big from the outside, it was unexpectedly small and cozy from the inside. Grand chandeliers hung from the ceiling, displaying intricate patterns and fine craftsmanship. Plush velvet, maroon colored sofas were arranged forming a snug seating area at the right-hand side corner. Matching curtains with delicate floral patterns in gold covered the windows. A soft, circular black mat lay near the fireplace, around which small cushions in various shades of orange were arranged. The walls were a light shade of fuchsia. A grand bookcase stood beside the fireplace, in which were chronologically organized books. Books on the universe, history, astronomy, existence of our people, wars and whatnot.

But all these things didn’t bother me. What did was, there were three exits from the living room, probably leading to different parts of the mansion. Three different doors, two of which looked simple and identical, but one looked out of this world. It managed to look somehow bigger than the size of the room, but it still didn’t touch the ceiling. The door was bell-shaped and was made of steel and glass. The beautifully carved steel laid in front of the textured glass panels gave a rustic look to it. The glass wasn’t see-through, but I could sense a faint glow behind it. The twists and turns of the steel made a pattern, one which I couldn’t understand. In the center was a circle, with a few divisions inside it. The black hinges seemed brand new as if attached of late. Even the knob seemed unusual. It was like a green and blue colored ball, the blue parts seemed to move and the green parts were still.

Failing to comprehend its possibility, I decided to dwell on it once I had seen what was behind it. Anticipation built inside my stomach as I moved my hand towards the doorknob. I held it firmly, let out a shaky breath and turned my hand. The door begrudgingly creaked open and I stepped into the unknown. I realized one thing the moment I stepped on the other side. It was definitely not any other part of the mansion. I had left it far behind and had traveled to someplace no one else knew existed. I could feel the difference. It definitely wasn’t my planet. It wasn’t even my galaxy, because, our galaxy lay in perpetual twilight. Everything was bathed in a slight reddish glow and all we saw were the people, roads, plants, and buildings. No other form of life existed there. The only weather conditions we ever experienced were either chilling cold or damp rains.

But it was so different here. It was dark…but a different kind of dark, like the light, was about to break out and fill the sky completely with its obscene brightness. I could see an orange-ish ball far away, afloat near the horizon. ‘This thing must be the planet’s life source,’ I thought to myself. The whole sky was painted in pinks, yellows, reds, and orange… in my short life of 267 years, it was the first time I had witnessed such a vibrant display of colors. I could see flocks of winged creatures flying. A slight wind blew, gently caressing and tickling me. And as the ball raised further up into the sky, it turned yellow. I slowly closed my eyes and moved my hands in front of me to let the light touch them. I could feel every sensation, I could feel it chasing away the chill in my bones, reaching out to every nerve ending and warming every cell inside of me right to the nucleus. I could hear the tiny feathered creatures croon softly and the sound resonated in my heart, making it flutter with joy. I sniffed once and the sweet smell of the red, yellow, lavender and blue blooms drifted into my nostrils and as it traveled further down, I could practically taste the saccharine juices. This planet had somehow heightened all my senses, and I felt as if I had taken a new birth. I was practically glowing. My scars had vanished and I was filled with such deeply humming positive vibrations that I felt the land beneath my feet breathe life into my soul. I felt light, so light that I could almost fly. But all things good have to end sometime, and so did my ecstasy.

It was shattered by a screeching noise which penetrated my ears. Shocked, I opened my eyes to find an even more shocked creature standing right in front of me, with its mouth wide open. Unlike my three ochre eyes, it had only two dark- brown colored eyes which were turning black because of the quickly dilating pupils. There was a patch of something black on top of its head, a few strands of which brushed its forehead. Between the eyes and the black patch, there were two curvy lines of the same kind of strands, but shorter and raised quite high. The nose and lips were like mine, but the color of the lips was pinkish-reddish. Going downwards, I could see only two hands on either side of its body, jutting out from the shoulders. Only two? No waist-hands at all? Weird! Why was everything in pairs? Eyes, ears, hands, legs…aha! I found one more similarity between our forms. Five fingers at the end of each limb. So in all, it had twenty fingers, instead of thirty. Also, the skin color differed. On my planet, everyone had a creamy-golden kind of skin tone, right from the day we were discovered until our 1459th birthday. The color then started fading, and when it became a dull grey, we died. The organism in front of me was multi-colored. The face, limbs, and feet were the lighter versions of brown, the torso was sea green and the legs were black. Also, the texture of the skin didn’t look the same throughout the body. The torso seemed wrinkled, the legs smooth, and the light brown areas of the body seemed soft and supple. I blinked once and took a moment to process all this information.

Only five seconds had passed since I had heard the piercing sound emanating from the creature’s mouth, which by the way, still hung open. I was about to speak to it, when it bent down, picked up a stone and flung it at me. Whoa! That was sudden. My lower left hand caught it before it could hit me in the face. I tilted my head and blinked. Was this how they said hello here? I decided to respect the custom and threw the stone back at it. But, it had no lower arms to protect itself and the stone hit it square in the face. As the stone bounced of its forehead, its eyes went even wider like, they would pop-out of the sockets any moment. What it did next moment was way over my understanding… it turned around and ran screaming as loud as it could, shouting something unintelligible in a strange tongue, its two hands flailing behind it. ‘Weird two-eyed, two-handed people’ I thought to myself and decided it was time to get back to the mansion.

The portal was all mine now, I could come to visit this beautiful place filled with its peculiar inhabitants anytime I wished. This was my personal hide-out, way different from the orphanage I had grown up in. I smiled with satisfaction and stepped back to my own planet.

-Arpita Manek