My dad and I had driven around two hours before we reached his office building in Florida. We took the elevator to the fifth floor then walked down a long grey hall until we finally came to a door. Inside was a grey room with grey concrete floors and a dull silver table with a matching chair.
“Wait here”, he said flipping a switch that turned on a dull fluorescent light that flickered on and off.
He motioned towards the chair where I sat down, facing the wall opposite the door.
“ I thought you said you just needed to pick something up.” I said, sitting down, turning my head to face him. Instead I was greeted by the slamming of the heavy door and the noise of footsteps running down the hall.
I turned my head back around and my heart skipped a beat as I stood up to face the three figures staring back at me. They were dressed from head to foot in black- two men and a girl. The girl had dark auburn hair cut to her shoulders with lipstick to match. The men had their heads shaved. They looked almost identical except one of them had two thin scratches that went from the bottom of his eye to his chin. I didn’t know who they were but I had a feeling that my dad didn’t know they were there.
“ Who are you?” I asked as I felt my heart beat faster, feeling nauseous.
There was no response. Instead they came around the table, towards me. I tried to scream but I felt like all the moisture had left my mouth leaving me with no voice. One of them came towards me and I took a step back, falling into my chair. I saw the girl had pulled out a transparent stone that gave off a golden beam. I strained to look at it as the three of them surrounded me, each putting a hand on the chair.
The girl held the stone to her lips and began to whisper into it. I heard loud voices and pounding footsteps coming down the hall as I strained my neck trying to look back at the door, but the faint whispers from the girl seemed to drown out their voices. I tried calling to the people in the hall, but one of the men covered my mouth with his hand which was about the size of my head. After a second or two it felt like the girl’s voice was the only thing I could hear, though I didn’t register any of the words she was saying.
I looked around the room, seeing that something was changing. The dull colors were fading, morphing into each other until everything turned to black for seconds...minutes...hours. I lost track of time in the vast nothingness.
Finally, I saw a light. A light from above. I thought I was dead at first, but the light slowly came into focus revealing it was the sun, and all other color came rushing back into my eyes. We were on a beach, same position we had left the room in- chair and all. To the left was what looked like a forest and to the right not too far away was the sea- or at least what I thought was the sea.
“ I told you it would take us to the wrong spot.” the man still covering my mouth said.
“ This is the right spot idiot,” said the girl putting the stone back into her shirt pocket, “ We just need to find an entrance.”
The man gave an exasperated sigh as the girl walked along the shoreline, looking around. Without thinking and still without seeing very clearly, I pushed the man covering my mouth back and almost tripped over him as I made a beeline to the forest. I didn’t know where I was or where I would go but I didn’t think about any of that- I just wanted to get off the beach.
Colors and shapes were still registering, which was probably why I had made it not ten steps when I ran right into a tree and fell flat on my back.
I had never had the wind knocked out of me before, but I knew it had happened as soon as I slammed onto the sand with a loud thud. I saw three hazy figures shouting at each other, then running over to me as I lay there, mouth ajar, trying to find air to take in. The man I had pushed to the ground picked me up by my arms and held them high above my head as air rushed back into my lungs.
I took deep, heavy breaths for a couple of seconds before I found my voice again.
“ Who are you?” I asked, “ Where are we?”
“ Don’t ask so many questions.” the man said.
“ It’s fine Aleyah,” the girl said, glaring at the man, “ everythings fine.”
“ Who are you? I asked again, “How do you know my name?”
“ I believe the words you’re looking for are thank you.” The other man said.
“ What are you talking about?” I asked.
The girl shook her head to herself, “The less you know the better i guess.”
I stood up and they walked past me into the forest. Though I wanted to know what they weren’t telling me, I wanted to get back to my dad’s building even more. I spun in circles, looking for somewhere- anywhere, to go. I took a step forward and noticed my legs felt funny, and the next thing I knew I was on the ground. The sound of my fall must have alerted the others because from the ground I saw that they had stopped and were coming back towards me.
“ Oh, i forgot,” The girl said, “ This is her first time, of course she’s going to feel faint- go help her.”
I tried to push myself back up, but my arms felt limp and I slammed back into the dirt. I heard the rustling of branches and the crunching of leaves, then felt a heavy hand on my shoulder and was picked up by one of the men who held my arm tightly as he began to walk forward.
“ Where are we going?” I asked.
“ You ask a lot of questions girl.” the man said, “ it’s a bad habit.”
My mind jumped to the worst possible conclusions and my plans to escape. I saw small plant growing two or three feet out the ground and decided to grab onto them and pull myself away.
We soon passed a plant and I grabbed it and pulled myself towards it. The man holding my arm wasn’t holding very tightly so when I reached for the plant my arm easily slid out of his hand. I was just about to make my get-away, but before I took a step he grabbed my foot, pulling off my shoe, and the girl grabbed one of my legs. I fell to the ground, still holding onto the plant. It took two of them pulling, but they somehow managed to uproot the plant.
The other man tossed me my shoe and while I sat on the ground, putting it on, they positioned themselves in a triangle around me and began walking when I stood up.
“ It’s fine.” I thought to myself, as I walked with them, “Obviously they need you, why would they willingly put up with you unless they needed you for something?”
After walking for a couple of minutes, we came to a tree in the middle of the clearing. The man who had been holding onto my arm before, walked in front of the tree, looking down on the roots that bulged out of the ground. I heard a cry from a tree and turned to see a bird flying to its nest. As I turned I felt a slow rumble and when I faced back towards the tree I saw that the roots of the tree had untangled, revealing stone steps that led down to a poorly lit tunnel.
“ What is this?” I asked.
“ Again with the questions.” The man called from down the steps.
The walls were stone with torches lining them. I knew I had to do something before we got to wherever this tunnel led to, so before we rounded a corner I began quietly snapping my fingers. I continued to do so until a small orange flame appeared on the tip of my thumb. I pressed my thumb into my palm and opened my palm and the flame grew bigger and brighter. I glanced up to see the girl turning to look back at me with a scared look on her face.
“ Her hands.” the girl screamed, “ didn’t i tell you to put water on them when we first got here?”
“ What?” I asked, “ how do you know-”
But before I had time to finish a short but strong gust of wind that knocked me to the ground. I got up in a daze to see the man with the scratch on his face standing a step ahead of the others, slowly bringing his hand back down to his side.
“ Wh-” I began.
“ Were like you.” The girl interrupted, “ I thought you would’ve realized that by now.”
They turned around and continued walking in silence as I followed in a daze, questions formulating in my mind, but for some reason I felt that I shouldn’t ask them.
I assessed the damage the fire had done on my hands and luckily the burns weren’t as bad as I thought.
“Hopefully i’ll never need to do that ever again.” I thought.
We finally got to a dead end- a dirt wall with a tangle of roots in front of it. The same man who revealed the tunnel in the beginning stepped forward and put his hand out. Sunlight poured into the tunnel as the vines untangled and the dirt fell to the ground, revealing a stairway going up to a grassy field.
To the right was a thin tree line with small houses connected in the treetops by dainty bridges; beyond the tree line the grass turned into sand with water from the sea lapping up on it. I followed them to a canopy opposite the tree line. Under the canopy was a wooden table with papers askew and two red couches beside it. There was also a worn leather chair opposite the table, slowly rocking.
I walked past the three people standing in front of the canopy and went to see what was rocking the chair. I found an old man with greying hair and small rounded glasses, reading a thick book with a red leather cover. The girl with the auburn hair cleared her throat and the man looked up from his book.
“Oh,” he said, “ I didn’t expect you so soon.”
“What do you mean expect me?” I asked, starting to get upset, “why am I here? What is this? Who are you?”
The man ignored my questions and walked over to the wooden table. He reached under the table and pulled out a large woven basket.
“Where am I.” I said in a loud voice, you can’t just ignore me.” my anger becoming more and more present in my voice.
But he did. As he did so he waved his hand over the basket back and forth until a small envelope on the other side of the desk picked itself up from the bottom of a pile of papers and sat itself in the basket.
“Yup. I’m hallucinating.” I thought.
He continued waving his hand and various items collect in the basket- slowly at first, then faster and faster.
“What is this?” I asked, “Why am I-”
“Read the letter.” the man said, “if you still have questions we can talk later.”
“I’m not ok with this,” I said to the man, “I’m not moving until you tell me what’s going on.”
“Like I said- read the letter. We will talk later”
Not feeling any better, I glared at him, though didn’t seem to notice my anger as he turned back around, facing the table.
He took a small grey box off the table. He threw it in the air and hit it back up with his hand twice. On the third time It came down he grabbed the box and held it to his mouth.
“Girl.” he said, loudly.
He then forcefully threw the box in my direction. I instinctively knelt down and covered my face with my arms. I stayed in that position for a second, two, three, but I didn’t feel any pain. I slowly brought my hands down to see the box floating in front of me.
“Don’t move yet” said the man. “It’s our rooming organizer. We’ve had it for as long as I can remember and i’ve been here for a while. I’m going to put the basket in front of you, when you pick it up it will go. Follow it. When you arrive- you will know when you are there- just touch it lightly and it will come back here.”
“ This is stupid,” I said, “ You can’t just keep me in suspense this whole time.”
“ Everything will soon become clear.” he said.
“ How is that supposed to make me feel better?”
“Go” he whispered.
Without a second thought I bent down and grabbed the basket- the box took off. I began chasing after it, with the basket bouncing up and down as I ran.
The box zigzagged through the tree line and stopped just before the water. I peered over the basket, down at the clear water and saw schools of colorful fish swimming and shells lining the water’s floor. I looked up, noticing the box was moving slowly to the right, waiting for me to follow it. I walked toward the box as it inched slowly along the shore until it came to a halt.
“ Is this it? Is it stopping there?”
Sure enough the box stopped in front of a big wooden bungalow on the water. The roof was made of coconut palms and a light colored wood made up the structure. Not taking my eyes off it, I waved my hand in the air until i hit the box hovering beside me and it retreated back into the trees.
I stepped onto the short walkway to the door which was made up of two satin curtains. I put the basket down and yanked the two curtains apart. For a minute i just stood at the entrance, staring inside. I took the basket and moved it inside the house, closing the two curtains on my way in.
Directly opposite the door was a patio, that would have been concealed by the two white curtains on either side of it had they not been billowing in the soft breeze. The patio overlooked the water and had two blue chairs that matched the color of the sky.
To the left of the doorway was a bed, already made, with a blue comforter and about a dozen pillows matching the colors of the room. In front of the bed was a small chest with a tissue box and gift basket sitting on top.
There was a desk with a swivel chair to the left of the bed and a couch on the opposite side. In front of the couch was a glass table and underneath was a clear floor where you could see the water. To the right was a door that led to a bathroom with a marble counter.
I set the basket on the table and brought the gift basket to her on the couch. After I ate about half the food in the basket, I leaned forward causing dozens of wrappers to fall on the floor and picked up the letter:
I know you must be confused, but I’m sure you are going to like it here. You are here to learn about your heritage and explore a world you never knew about but are very much part of. Everyone on this island is just like you Aleyah. Everyone has a unique gift that sets them apart from everyone else. Some have only just discovered theirs, like you. They are all new to this and know about as much as you do right now about why you are here. We have brought you here like so many others to learn more about while being surrounded with people like yourself. I would very much like to come over tomorrow, say 10? I have a couple of things I would like to brief you on.
Until then, E.
“E? whose E?”
I got up, causing about another couple of wrappers to fall to the ground. I reached for the basket, set it on the bed, and began to unpack. I took out a soft red and blue blanket along with a pillow which I set on the bed. I then took out shampoo followed by conditioner. Towels, then note books, pencils, and pens, shower mat, flip flops, there seemed to be no end.
When I had finished I looked out the door to the patio and saw that the day had quickly changed to night. I took the basket off the table, pulled the white curtains together and went into the bathroom. I saw that there was now a t- shirt and sweatpants for laying on the counter which I gladly put on. When I came out of the room I saw that everything I took out of the basket had been neatly put away in its appropriate place. I whipped my head around and opened the shower door to see the shampoo and conditioner on the shelf.
“Hello?” I asked, coming out of the bathroom.
My hands began to feel sweaty and her mouth felt dry as I looked around for someone to say something, not knowing what I would do if someone answered. I then came to the bed where a small card had been placed:
Courtesy of the Late Night Cleaning Crew
I relaxed. I didn’t know who anyone was here, but I somehow felt safe. Maybe I was just tired, maybe this was all just a dream. I climbed into bed pulling the blanket up to my chin and closed my eyes, forgetting about everything and allowed myself to dream myself away from this place.