This story was submitted as part of India Science Festival’s flagship science fiction writing competition, ‘Spin Your Science’.
I suppose, in the grand scheme of things, I turned up towards the end of the beginning.
I heard a call, I followed a path. Had I known it would lead me here, would I have done it?
To answer that question, we have to go back in time- to an entirely ordinary autumn evening in an
entirely ordinary sleepy small town.
Even in the verandah, the air was like soup. I stared at the book until the words turned blurry, but it
was no use. Despite the melodic mosquito orchestra in my ear, I could feel my eyelids drooping.
A voice came, as if from far away.
“You have a letter!”
I forced myself to my feet with all the grace of a comatose hippo.
“Yeah” I smiled at the elderly postman, who’d been delivering our mail for as long as I could
remember. “I’ll give it to Papa.”
“No, no, it’s addressed to you.” He pointed at the envelope.
That caught my attention. Who was writing me letters in the age of WhatsApp and Messenger?
I took it from him and sat down in the itchy wicker chair. As soon as I looked at the rain-splattered
sender’s address, I gave a whoop of joy. It was from Grandma!
Ever since she’d gone to that little village in the hills, we’d had almost no news of her. But then, that
was normal with Grandma.
“I’m like rain, dear. You can’t predict when I’ll arrive. All you can do is take an umbrella with you
everywhere.” She’d said with a twinkle in her bespectacled grey eyes when I’d begged her to stay for my birthday once. But then she’d turned up one hour before the party started, with her famed double-chocolate cookies.
I tore open the envelope in excitement. A neatly folded paper slid out.
I unfolded it, and my eyes yelled in protest. The small sheet was covered with her loopy, cramped
writing, with blatant disregard for lines and margins and even word spacing. With a world-weary sigh, I hunkered down to decipher it.
How are you? How are studies? Everything’s okay at school?
Actually, those were just niceties. I don’t have a lot of time right now.
I chuckled. She always said, “If people would just get to the point instead of useless floundering, the world wouldn’t be filled with such idiots.”
There’s something I have to do. Or rather, you have to do it for me. I suspect They know.
There’s another sheet in the envelope. Don’t worry, it wasn’t there before. You’ll need it very soon.
If you’re reading this, it won’t be much longer.
If I had a choice, I wouldn’t go. You know that. I feel horrible, leaving everything to you. But you’re
smart. You’ll figure it out.
Know this- whether you choose to follow through on this or not, I’m proud of you. Always will be.
One last thing- don’t tell your father. He’s as firmly rooted in the real world as a man could possibly
be, and your mother- well, she isn’t as rigid as him, but you can’t rely on her anymore if you do this.
I shook my head, still in a daze. Was I reading this correctly? Had I even woken up from my nap?
What was all that about “I suspect They know”? And where was she going?
I read the letter again. But the words hadn’t changed. If anything, they’d gotten more mystifying.
The door swung open. Ma hurried out, her cell phone in her hand. I opened my mouth to tell her about the letter, but she beat me to it.
“It’s from the village. Grandma, she…she died last night.”
After we’d travelled to the village, after I saw Papa’s shoulders shaking with suppressed tears when
they finally took Grandma for the cremation, after the hordes of relatives had left, after the dust had settled, after we came back.
After all that happened, I finally remembered the letter.
I got up from the dinner table, and left. My parents didn’t protest. Perhaps they subconsciously
realized something. Perhaps they, too, knew that the food wouldn’t stop tasting like glue for a very
I blinked, coming back to reality. These days, I did everything in a daze. In the middle of doing
homework, I’d find myself staring at the wall, the task already forgotten.
I picked up the letter. I stared at it. And then, I yelled and dropped it, because the words had started glowing.
Right before my eyes, they rearranged themselves into new lines.
I approached it as one would a wild animal, expecting it to start spitting and hissing. However, it
behaved exactly how paper should.
The title on the sheet was “INSTRUCTIONS”.
Of course, you understand that I won’t share them with you. I’m not so stupid as to do that.
After reading them thrice, I mechanically extracted the second sheet from the envelope. The one that I could swear hadn’t been there before.
When this one started glowing, I didn’t drop it. I just took a deep breath as the light died down,
revealing a square-ish metallic object.
It was platinum grey, with short spikes extending from one surface. Otherwise, it was as smooth and polished as a diamond. The spikes were blunt, and were apparently to be used for gripping.
There was something etched onto it, too. I brought it closer, peering at the strange word.
And then I fell, face forward, banging my head on the bed frame. Stars burst behind my eyes as I tried lifting my arm before promptly passing out.
In my dream, I was humming and walking.
Hey! I thought indignantly. That’s not how it’s supposed to happen. First I have to wake up, and
wonder where I am.
Then I realized that I was watching myself walk and hum. And that was weird enough that I got
distracted for a bit.
Almost too late, I realized that we’d stopped. And that the Other me had turned around and was
glaring at me.
This was beyond awkward. I raised my hand to wave at her, but she leaped towards me, tackling me to the ground.
I hit my head again, hard enough to see white and black spots in my vision.
“Jeez, what is it with you people and your desire to hand out concussions like free candy?” I
grumbled, shoving her off me.
She got to her feet too, dusting herself off. “Just making sure you’re real.”
“Real? Of course I’m real!”
She gave me a withering look, and motioned for me to follow her.
“What do you know about alternate universes?”
“Um… that they are universes that are…alternate?” My face burned with embarrassment as she
rolled her eyes and muttered something about stupid fifties.
“Look, all I know is that my Gran wrote me a letter with something about Sentries and responsibilities.”
“Silence, you fool!” she hissed.
She pushed me behind a nearby tree. “You and I are the only Dimensional-Transfers left in this wing
“Say what?” I was hallucinating. Please, please let me be hallucinating.
She huffed. “Kids who were born at the border between two dimensions. Kids who can go back and
forth. Kids who have been hunted like dogs since the coming of Saenadra.”
“Saenadra?” I frowned. “That was the word on that cube-thingy.”
“We are the Sentries. We guard the gates. But we’re the last ones left, because everyone else is
She turned her face away, but not before I caught a glimpse of the same look I’d seen in the mirror
since the day Grandma died.
“The point is that you’re here for your training. And your Gran,” she continued, as if having read my
thoughts, “was the one who took you for safeguarding. She’s dead now, so you have to return.”
“A deadly plague of the worlds. It turns our kind to monsters, sowing chaos and death.”
“I have to take your place in your world, until you complete training. And then, the two of us will have to defeat evil guys and do some crazy heroic stuff or die trying.”
I backed away slowly. But then I stopped.
I’m proud of you. Always will be.
My grieving parents, who needed me. My school. My friends. My entire life.
And the allure of the unknown.
I forced myself to nod.
The question persists- with foreknowledge of these events, would I have done it?
The answer is obvious. Yes, I would have. Without thinking, without hesitating.
Stories end. That’s in their nature. All we can do is fill the pages with so many colours, so much
wonder, that when we can’t see the light anymore, we can flip the pages and live again. And if you got the opportunity to do that, wouldn’t you take it?