Prequel now available as a standalone short story – The Cave in the Woods.
The dreamer that I am, a particular scenario keeps playing itself in mind – that of the existence of an other earth. The other earth is exactly like the one we live on, the same people, the same buildings, everything is the same. Then what is different about it? Read the story to find out.
There was a boy, let’s call him Seth. He was your average college student – a group of friends, a crush who did not know he exists, the struggle to make his pocket money last till the end of the month. Like every average student, he too burnt the midnight oil and was never satisfied with the scores he earned. He was pretty good in sports, but by no means the college star. Just an ordinary player in the team, nothing special. He wasn’t bad looking, but you got it – his looks were average, no Greek God to drool over, no horrible, patchy skin to be repulsed by. Just average. As for his height, again, neither too tall, nor too short – the average five feet seven or eight inches. Body shape – you got it – average. Now that you have a picture of him in your mind, let’s read his story, and why this earthling is so important on this other earth.
“You guys carry on,” Seth told his friends, one hand on the knob of washroom door, “My hands are dirty from helping the coach keep the equipment in storage. I’ll wash up and then join you in the cafeteria in ten minutes.” With a nod, his friends continued walking. Opening the door, Seth entered the washroom and began cleaning up, whistling off-key to himself. He had just finished drying his hands when the door swished open again, and he recognized the voices of Devin, the college sportstar, and Amir, the college topper. “Seth is a shoo-in for the next game. Coach wants him to open second,” Devin was saying. Amir seemed to be in agreement, “that guy fuels my competitive spirit. I come first, but only because I don’t want to lose to him.”
Seth was puzzled, were they talking about him? Or was there another Seth in college who he, somehow, had never seen or met?
The two boys rounded the wall and continued on their way. To Seth’s amazement, neither noticed him.
He left the washroom and headed to the cafeteria to meet his friends. The moment he joined the group, their twinkling eyes told him something was up. Noticing the way one of his friends kept looking at something behind him, Seth turned around, and felt his heart skip a beat as he noticed Aria coming towards them. “Hi,” her voice was as melodious as her beauty. He knew his own “hello” sounded gruff. “I need some help with my math homework and was wondering if you could help.” He was surprised, he was good at math, by no means a wiz, but it still was surprise that she’d seek him out for help when she could have asked any of the three math toppers. They agreed to meet in the nearby coffee shop after college, where he would help her with the subject.
Seth was confused with the way everyone around him was chatting and gossiping. We have testing week coming up! He wanted to remind them. We should be studying. Of course, he did not utter a word, for he’d realised that they wouldn’t hear him anyway over the din they were making. Aria stood a few feet away, chatting with some of the sportspersons. Her gaze slid his way before sliding back to the player as she nodded in agreement with whatever he seemed to be saying. What had gotten into her? He wondered, noticing her carefree attitude and relaxed stance. Aria was usually very shy and reserved, and rarely stood around to chat with anyone.
Later that evening, Seth was elated on his way home. His day had been good, better than good, considering he’d understood almost everything the teachers had taught. Now all he needed to do was revise it a bit to make sure it stayed in his brain. Aria had been a delight to teach, an eager student, and he was thrilled by how easily he’d been able to explain the math to her. They’d now set up a date, if it could be called that, for two days from now, and he would help her with some more math.
As he reached home, Seth was puzzled to see that the house was empty. He used his key to enter, and made himself a snack, for he was very hungry. The coffee shop he and Aria had studied in was quite expensive, and he had money only for a soda. Aria too had bought the same, so he assumed she too was low on funds at the moment, considering they were near the end of the month. He was halfway through his snack when the door opened and his mother entered, looking harrowed. This was new. Mother never looked anything less than perfect. She believed that a person should always take care with one’s appearance. She gave him a tired smile as she headed up the stairs towards her room.
The next day was much a repetition of the previous day, and Seth was happy to be able to help coach, a respectable person who took no nonsense from anyone, was confidant to almost everyone, and was loved by all. “Thank you Seth,” Coach said as they hoisted the last of the equipment into storage, “we got everything locked in, now the repairmen can rehaul the entire gym. We should have a far better gym in about a couple of months.” Seth smiled, “happy to help, Sir. Is there anything else I can help you with?” Coach shook his head, “we are finished here. It is Friday, son. Go on, have fun with your friends.” Seth was almost to the door of the gym when he heard coach remind him, “wash your hands.”
Seth entered the washroom, thinking to himself, “the doorknob gives too much static.” After cleaning his hands, he joined his friends, and gave a smile to Aria, surprised when she frowned at him and turned away. Puzzled, he walked up to her, “what’s wrong? Are you angry with me?” Now, her frown turned into a glare, “you should have refused to help if you didn’t want to. Why did you make me solve the problems incorrectly. No thanks to you, I got a zero on my homework!” Seth was puzzled, “that can’t be. We solved the same math a couple of weeks ago, and I know I taught you the correct way.” She threw the papers at him, and he took a look, stunned that she had done the complete opposite of what he’d taught her. But it wouldn’t be any use to talk to her just then, he realised, watching her storm off.
Once he reached back home, Seth was glad to see that his mother was home, a delicious snack just getting ready in the oven, and the beep on the alarm told him his father was on his way home from work too. His day had been good, except for Aria’s anger with him. “Thank you for being home for us, mother,” he hugged her. His mother raised an eyebrow in surprise, “why the sudden gratitude?” He shrugged, “just one day of you not being at home has taught me how much you do for us.” She frowned, “what one day? In the past five years since I left my job, I’ve been home at the time you guys come home every single day.” He was puzzled, “yesterday must have been an exception. You were so tired when you reached home. I even asked you if you want a snack, but you just disappeared into your bedroom.” His mother stared at him, “I was home all day yesterday, son. You were the one acting surprised to see me at home when you came back from college.”
“What?” Seth was confused, “I made a snack for myself and did not think to make one for you? Why would I? You were at home, and told me to go freshen up while you get the fresh scones out of the oven!” His mother stared at him, “fresh scones? Have you ever seen me put anything other than frozen pizza into the oven?”
Seth shook his head, trying to clear it. Yesterday, he thought, was a weird day. First, Devin and Amir talking about me, then Aria asking me for help, and to cap it all, mother being home and baking scones?
He tried to make sense of everything that had happened the previous day. Devin and Amir had looked through him, Aria had been unable to understand much of math, and as if none of those things were enough, mother saying she had been home while she hadn’t! Just what was going on? He had to get to the light of the matter. It was too weird to ignore.
Seth smiled as an idea struck, ‘The washroom doorknob!‘ The dullest, most ignored thing in the entire school building was where he needed to be to get his answers!
The next morning, Seth hurried to college, despite it being a Saturday and went into the washroom. With bated breath, he turned the knob, and entered. He took care to repeat the hand washing steps exactly as he’d done two days ago. When he stepped out of the washroom, he headed towards his classroom, excitement and anticipation warring with each other.
To his dismay, everything was as usual. This was not what he’d hoped for. He had hoped for things to be as they had been the day before. That would let him retrace his steps, find out exactly what had happened that day and why. He wanted answers. As the day drew to an end, Seth began to lose hope, and tried to convince himself that the incidents had simply been weird, maybe he had been dreaming.
On Sunday, he opened his eyes, surprised to see the sun already high up in the sky. A quick glance at the bedside clock showed it was almost noon. This is not okay! Seth jumped out of the bed in alarm. Even on holidays, he always woke up by seven, did his chores around the house, and liked spending the morning tending to the horses on his neighbor’s farm.
He was halfway to the farm when he heard sound of feet running up the street. “Seth! Wait up, please!” He turned around, surprised to see Aria. “What are you doing here?” he asked her, “you live at least eight blocks away from here.” She nodded, breathing hard. Once she had caught up with him, she replied, “I need your help. I want to go back home.” Avoiding the urge to roll his eyes, he offered, “I don’t have a car, but I can ask my father to drive you…”
He trailed off when Aria shook her head, “You know what I mean.” Crossing his arms over each other to try to control the erratic beating of his heart, he asked, “why would I know what you mean, when I don’t even know how or why you came here in the first place?” Aria met his gaze, “because you went there first.” He raised an eyebrow, “I went where first, Aria? Please stop talking in riddles.”
“You don’t remember, do you?” her face fell. Seth pursed his lips, “remember what?” She exhaled loudly, “you, Devin, Tina and Aria, the four of you were invited to spend a day on earth, one at a time, you were the first one to be sent.” He wanted to pull his hair apart in frustration, but that would only spoil his image, so all he did was wait patiently, hoping she’d explain. She asked, “Do you remember anything different about Thursday and Friday?” He cocked his head, “what if I do?” Her lips curved up a bit, “that was when you traveled to earth.”
Seth knew his mouth was open, his jaw hanging low, but at this point, neither one of them cared. “If I traveled to earth, then where are we just now?” Aria now grinned, “we are on earth, only, just now, we are on your earth. Mine is the one you went to on Thursday and returned from on Friday.” He shook his head, trying to clear it, “is this some kind of a joke? I am sure I would have remembered traveling through space, landing on another planet, not to mention spending an entire day, and night there.”
Aria was smiling despite his temper, “You don’t remember because you did not travel through space.” He stared at her, not sure how to react. “I mean, you did travel through space, but not exactly,” she faltered. “Aria,” his voice was quiet, “it might be better if you explain everything from the start.” She nodded, “scientists discovered that the universe follows the law of twos. Just like darkness and light, happiness and sorrow, black and white, sleep and wakefulness, good and bad, there are two of everything in this world, including earth, and the people on it. The more they studied it, they realised that traveling between the two earths is possible, just like one moves from night to day and good to bad, etc.”
The explanation made sense to him. “That still does not explain how we come into the picture,” he reminded her. She nodded, “the scientists discovered that youth, people of our age, who walk the line between success and failure, volatile emotions, would be the perfect travelers between the two earths because our minds face extremities on either side every day.”
Seth dared not say a word as Aria paused for breath. “They opened the portal when you were not thinking about anything, when your mind was almost blank.” He nodded, vaguely remembering how he’d been whistling to himself as he entered the washroom to wash his hands. “Why do you remember it while I don’t?” he asked, intrigued. “Because I’ve overstayed my time on this earth. The scientists developed a failsafe to make sure we don’t accidentally reveal the secrets of their discovery or of the other earth. We forget everything about the portal switch, about the discussion, so long as we make the trip to and back within twenty-four hours. I remembered everything a while ago because I overstayed.”
Pieces of the puzzle were now starting to fall into place. “That explains why things seemed to be near normal, but slightly off-kilter from Thursday afternoon to Friday.” He frowned, “so how can I be of help to you?” She swallowed visibly, “you’d have to come through the portal with me, and then come back.” He stared at her, “and what if I get stuck on your earth?” She shook her head, “you won’t. Seth… I mean Seth from my earth will hold it open for you, for he’ll be escorting Aria from your earth back here.”
It was a huge leap of faith, but Seth knew he did not really have a choice. The girl had provided him with answers, and she deserved to go back to her earth. “Do we have to go back to the washroom in college?” he asked, thinking about the doorknob. She made a face, “washroom? Ugghh!” Seth could not help chuckling at her expression. She tossed her head, flipped her hair over her shoulder, “I came to this earth via the door of the library” He burst out laughing even as they headed to the library she spoke of. Regardless of the earth she hailed from, trust Aria to find the best door to enter and exit worlds.
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