AUTHOR SAYETH: WELL, THIS STORY IS QUITE SIMILAR TO FRINGE (SERIES), BUT ABSOLUTELY (I HOPE) DIFFERENT. THE SIMPLE FACT IS THE IDEA OF ALTERNATE REALITY CAME FROM THERE BUT THE REST IS CONSPIRACY THEORY, I WONDER IF I WILL BE ABLE TO PUT SOME LIFE TO THIS STORY, BUT AM GOING TO TRY. IT WILL BE A LONG OR MAY BE TOO LONG STORY, DISTRIBUTED IN PARTS, NEW EPISODES WILL MOST PROBABLY COME ONCE A WEEK.
She rubbed her palms together! It was freezing cold! She quickened her pace, the trees stood on both sides of the narrow road, hushed up, not a leave rustling, as if they too were frozen.
She was about to open the door to her cabin when the sudden flash illuminated the sky, it did not died totally, only got dimmed.
It seemed it was coming from the old mine a little distance away from her cabin. An old iron mine that was now out of minerals, so out of service.
She has been there quite a few times, to gather some stimulation for her upcoming novel. Its beautiful. Every time she went there she felt an irresistible urge to hole up in one of the quarters for a few days but had to resist that temptation.
The mine has been shut for more than a few decades, but she has seen signs of fresh activity, empty beer bottles, cigarette butts.
Her cabin was a small fortress, she has built it with this one purpose, to stay away from unwanted human company, to tempt her muse to come out and play.
Three of her best-sellers have taken birth in this cabin.
She stood on the verandah, for a while, then the freezing cold made her retreat.
Late at night she thought she heard a heavy vehicle passing by her cabin, towards the town, from the direction of the mine.
She once thought about getting up and checking but cancelled the idea, and hugged her blanket more tightly.
Morning came with bird songs, she came out to the verandah with her coffee thermos, cup and bowl of seed. She placed the seed bowl in the bird feeder and settled down on her easy chair, watching them gather around the bowl.
This was one of her favorite tasks here, to watch them as they feed. Their needs are so simple, a little seed, water, a shelter from cold, rain, storm or night and a mate.
She sometimes wondered whether she will be happy to be as simple hearted as them!
By the time she has finished her third cup she remembered the sound she thought she has heard last night and went up to the road to check, if there was any tyre marks on the dusty road.
There was, and its impact hinted that it was something heavy.
She drove her car towards the mine, wondering if there was some accident last night…
The mine looked as deserted as ever. She came out of the car and locked it. She had her small revolver and huge flashlight with her. In case…
She started to look around and within fifteen minutes noticed the sign of damage, the iron gate of one of the tunnels was gone, absolutely vanished, it seemed like someone has melted it because its remains were stil present on all three directions of the door, melted to the extreme, stuck like glue.
The tyre tracks started from there, she could not see the entering tracks though… only the tracks that left the mine.
she flashed her light inside the tunnel.
It looked like the bared mouth of a snake, a monster snake.
She inched closer… at first it was absolute silence, she could hear nothing but her heartbeat, then she heard the moan… a faint whimper… help…
“Any body in there?” she shouted and strained her ear.
“Help me… please… ”
She looked around her, the mine was as empty as a graveyard, absolutely silent barring the sounds from birds and trees.
What if … what if it is a trap….
She tried to call the town police station but her cellphone was not working, it simply did not even tried to dial the number.
“Somebody…. please….” the voice reached her ears again.
She cursed herself and started to walk down the tunnel.
It was really huge one, she could not see the ceiling, her flashlight made a circle of light, apart from that everything was dark, she could feel and hear the water trickling down the walls. Its moist fingers reached out in the darkness to touch her face.
She treaded carefully.
“Where are you?” she asked a little hesitantly, afraid that she might be ambushed by someone or more than one.
“Here… please…” the voice echoed, clearer but still far away.
She walked for another fifteen minutes to reach him.
He was lying on the wet ground, really wounded. One look hinted her that his leg was broken.
“What happened?” she asked.
“I fell…” he answered grimacing with extreme pain.
“Where did you came from?” she could not resist the bubbles of curiosity inside her.
He pointed his finger to the opposite direction of her path.
“That way?” she asked.
“Yes.” he answered, “My house is just outside the tunnel, will you please help me …”
“Will you be able to walk or will I go and get someone?” she asked.
“I can walk with a little support.” he answered.
He could, even though she could feel that every step jabbed him like knife but he managed to walk, holding her.
She could barely believe when the tunnel surfaced up in a cluster of trees, and after walking for another ten minutes they reached the outskirts of what appeared to be a small town.
“I did not knew there was a town here…” she gaped.
“There is not… in your world.” he answered.
“In my world?” she asked, for the first time feeling a little tingly about the sanity of her companion.
“Yes… in your world…” he answered coolly.
“Where is your house?” she asked. Feeling really desperate to get rid of him.
“There…” he pointed at a small, lovely bungalow, surrounded by a garden, well maintained.
They reached the verandah, he fished out the keys from his trouser pocket.
“Will I call a doctor?” she asked.
“Please….” he gave her the number, she dialed and gave him the phone.
“Will you like me to stay till they come up?” she asked.
“No… no… ” he answered with a tinge of agitation, then softening his tone he added, “They most probably will take me to hospital… so…rush back home!” he tried to smile. “Thank you for not letting me rot in that dark place.”
She smiled and turned back, started walking toward the cluster of trees that hid the tunnel.
CHAPTER NUMBER 3
She reached the place but there was no sign of that tunnel through which they reached this place. No sign at all. The way that hill looked it did not seemed that a single stone, rock has been moved from its place, forget about a landslide that wiped out the signs of that tunnel.
She searched a little, here and there, even though she was quite good an observer, still… it was not rational for a tunnel to vanish in thin air so she searched around the spot from where they have emerged but no luck.
At first she thought about climbing the hill, then she thought about going back and ask for help, may be, she did make a mistake.
She quickly went back to the house, hoping he was still there, well, he was, and from his expression she could feel that he knew she will be back.
“I can’t find the tunnel…” She said.
“Sit down.” He gestured.
“My friends will be worried…” She said, trying to convince him that she will have people searching for her on the other side of the tunnel.
“Please…” he repeated.
She sat down… any way her legs were hurting so…
He handed her a cup of tea.
“Your leg seems alright…” She was surprised.
“Yes… the doctor paid a visit and fixed it.” He answered casually.
“This quickly?” the suspicion started to rebuild in her heart.
“Medical science is far more improved here, there was only a little muscle damage, lucky me… accelerated healing fixed it. If there had been multiple break or fractures I might have to drag my leg around for a day or two!” he answered.
“Here?” she asked with a little tone of sarcasm. She was a bit annoyed and lot more scared and hoped that the tea was not drugged.
He turned and faced her, looked directly in her eyes and held her gaze.
“Do you believe in parallel universe?” He asked, there was no sign of humor in his voice. It was calm and normal.
“No.” She instantly answered.
“Do you have any idea what it is?” he asked.
“Seen too many movies on that topic…” She answered.
“Yet you don’t believe in them… right?” he asked.
“Well… for the non believer always awaits surprise… you are stuck in one…” He said, with a tinge of irony in his voice, “and I am really sorry for that….”
“In another universe?” she asked incredulously. “Okay… just show me the mouth of the tunnel…”
“It was not a tunnel… it was a passage created by the machine … it is closed now…”
“You are joking and I really am not enjoying your sense of humor. I have to go back home, I have things to do there…” She stood up angrily.
“Please… sit down! Whatever you do don’t draw attention…”
She turned to follow his gaze. People were slowly showing up in the deserted roads, one of them waved at her companion, he waved back.
She sat down again, heavily. What will she do… ask for help?
“If you go out asking for help you will end up dead. People from your side are brought over here for only one purpose- to be replaced…” he said as if he could read her mind.
CHAPTER NUMBER 4
“Please believe me!” He said, looking deeply in her eyes. For the first time she noticed that he was a really handsome man, and apart from good looks he had an honest face.
Her body relaxed a bit.
“I know it sounds too bizarre for you…. but it is true…. you are trapped in a parallel world. Not only that, in the worst possible place of that world.”
“This town was invented for only one purpose, to exploit your world. This town is absolutely barricaded from the rest of our world, no one goes out, no one comes in. Every movement is observed and every word uttered in most of the places are heard.”
“So they are listening to us now…” She asked. Trying to sound as indifferent as she could. All the while waiting for first confirmation of his insanity.
“No!” he answered.
“There are three types of people in this town-one who exploit your world, two those who refused to join, thus are reduced as their servants, nannies etc but are good people and those who are trying to stop this activity- like me. All this time we are talking they are watching us, but they are not hearing a word that we are saying, in place of that they are hearing recorded things that are synced with our lip movemements, autobots do the speaking, to confirm that they will have to visit here, and that moment the autobots will stop speaking and we will have to start chit chatting.”
“You guys have autobots that intelligent?” she asked.
“Far more intelligent than that… we can afford only mediocre ones.” He answered.
“The council- that is what we call the people who rule this town, monitors everything here and keep a strong surveillance on every possible prey in your world.”
“Every time a millionaire baby is born they try to make his/her clone here, if they succeed then good, or else they hunt for a look-alike with same voice too.”
“Then the training starts…”
“The newspaper, the books, the television channels, internet all are altered here, they are all lies, shams- they have only one target- to train these replacements.”
“From the very beginning every attempt is made to corrupt them, to prepare them to willingly become replacements, but you know… not every human being is interested in corrupt life, stolen wealth, when such complex creatures pop up they are punished severely, by forcing them to live a useless life in worldly sense. Sometimes they kill themselves, sometimes they go insane or else they spend their lives serving those who have pleased the council. I too work for council’s pets, to ward off suspicion, my work starts at eleven but I have been granted two days leave because of my leg.”
“How can I return to my world?” she asked.
He looked straight in her eyes and answered, “Chances are almost zero!”
“Why?” she asked without believing him an inch.
“When they open that tunnel, it is heavily guarded.” he answered, “Not only that, only the people of council know it, those who are being transported, they too are kept in dark. That is the reason I bought this house so close to that place, we had a suspicion that one of the openings is here, but I did not knew it was so close, and I still dont know why they left that portal open for so long….” He answered.
None of them knew that it was a freak incident, the man who was handling the machine was alone, and had a massive heart attack, his replacement closed the tunnel next morning, when he came to replace him.
“How did you get in there?” She asked.
“I luckily was right beside that tunnel, in a cave, when the truck went in, I followed it but slipped on the slippery floor, if it were not for you, I would have been a fossil by now!” he grinned. “Thanks. My name is Pavak.”
She smiled, “Mine is Swaha, hope you dont know that already.”
“No… to be honest I have not seen your duplicate yet… may be, she is still being trained, or is already working in your universe.”
“Already working in my universe…?” a chill went down her spine.
“Yes… if you are someone of minimum profit to them, and they can arrange to have someone who can replace you, they first train her here, watching your every move, listening to your every conversation… then she goes to your world and observes you, in stealth, and mingles in the crowd around you in flesh, of-course in disguise, but does it to feel your ways… tests the water by playing you when you are not around, to test if she will pass… and then when the time comes you are sucked into this universe and she takes your place. You are kept alive, in prison for sometime and when everything is fine … they kill the original.” pavak said.
“I can’t stay here…..” she whispered desperately.
“You will have to stay here… for a while at-least… I will tell everyone that I discovered you loitering in the wood, and you dont have any memory of who you are… can you play along?” He asked.
She nodded in consent.
“They will take you to interrogate, crack…” He answered, “May run medical tests… but brain is a tricky field… so if you play perfectly they wont catch you …. good luck!” he patted her hand. “I will go and report the officials about you now…”
He got up and called a number, she could hear him talking on a phone, “I found a woman… loitering in the woods… she cant tell who she is…”
He returned to her, “They will come in couple of minutes, cling to me like a small baby… give them their worst time to wrench you away from me, and while you are there throw all sorts of tantrum for me… tell that you are my wife….”
After a ruckus and tantrum that followed it for days the officials agreed to hand her over to Pavak till she gets well and recollects who she is.
She was handed over to him a fortnight later.
She waited for the men to leave them alone, he accompanied them to the gate. Her head was still dizzy because of grilling and the medicines she was fed, injected with.
She was about to open her mouth when he placed his fingers on his lips.
He went inside and gave her a glass of a liquid. She drank it down.
He handed her a piece of paper. “Keep the drama on, till tomorrow morning… wait for my note before giving it up.”
They had a quick dinner, all the while she kept talking with him, as if he was her husband.
She woke up with a splitting headache. There was a note on her bedside table, all clear… you can act normal.
She went downstairs, he was sitting outside, on a chair with a flask and two cups of tea.
“Sit down please…” he smiled. “Have the tea, then I will give you the pill for headache.”
“How did you …” she asked, she knew that he knew the question coming so leaving it incomplete was just saving a little toil.
“It is because of the drug I gave you, to liquefy the bug they have placed inside your body and replace it with a bug that will keep them confused. By babbling nonsense, after hours of silence… to bore them to death.”
“Bug…?” she asked absolutely aghast!
“When our councillors suspect someone they take the trouble of admitting him or her to their facilities and then insert a bug in that person, a microscopic machine that hears everthing that person says and gives out his/her location to the tracker. So… we have to get rid of that tracker, its a little painful, alwas gives headache, that sometimes lingers for a day or two but nothing that a good dose of pills cant kill- good and absolutely side-effect free. They will see you roaming around the garden mostly, but if you go outside the house, wear this watch…” He handed her over a lovely watch. “But be careful it will provide your exact location and communication to the tracker. Every step you take, every word you speak will reach them.”
“Then how will I go back home…” she asked. “To go back home I will have to go out of your house…”
“You will have to go out with me, during those attempts, I will take care of this problem then. Promise me you will trust me and let me help you… if you get caught they will kill me too.” He looked at her.
She gently clasped his hand and promised him she wont betray his trust.
“Thanks!” He smiled.
“You know that I have to go to office, if someone shows up, press this red switch on the clock… it will start working- sending every dirty details to the tracker… dont forget…. the dial will become red, so you wont miss it… when you are alone or with me press the white button it will turn off and the dial will become white…. ok?”
She nodded. Hoping and praying that she wont forget it…”Do keep testing me… if I have done it…please.”
“Dont you worry…” he laughed out loud.
She smiled back at him… his laughter was truly infectious.
He left for his office and she settled down on the porch, with a newspaper.
He certainly knew how to maintain a garden, his garden was quite large, without the torture of perfect trimming, the trees looked free, but not wild, so did the bushes and plants.
A huge lawn was dotted with small plots of flower plants. The path went through the middle. A brick path. No one owned a private car in the town, they were supposed to either take public transport or own a bicycle.
So that their movements could be monitored and easily intercepted. Authorities and council members of-course owned cars.
She saw him walking down the road, quickly stepped inside, locked the door and switched on the watch.
He smiled at him, she stared back.
“Hello!” he smiled again. “I am Dev Patel, Pabak’s friend, is he home?”
“No… my husband is not home..” she said. “he is in office, you can go there and meet him there…”
“Would you mind if I come in…” he asked.
“No…I cant open the door to anyone… Pabak has asked me to … I am not allowed to talk with anyone… any stranger…” she answered.
“I am not a stranger to him…” he smiled in a very charming manner.
“Sorry…” she shook her head. “Please meet him in the office, or come back after he is back…”
“Ok…” he shrugged, “But I will tell him that his wife did not allowed me to step inside the house…” he laughed with a little tinge of sarcasm.
“Sorry…” she repeated like an adamant child.
“Goodbye…” he walked away.
“The council must have sent him to check on you…” Pabak said, “I dont have any friend of that description. “You will meet them, quite regularly in all shapes and sizes, in various genders and age groups…play your role as best as you can.”
“I am so sorry to drag you in this mess….” he said after a brief pause. “I will do whatever I can to get you out … pray for me!”
“I will!” she smiled to ease his pain, “I assure you…”
“The sooner, the better…” he said, “We will have to go out… to pretend that you actually believe what you say… you know, every couple goes out for shopping, movie…park trips…”
“If someone comes up to you and talks to you, acting as if they know you… pretend that you dont remember them, no matter how much convinced they are. Just know one thing, the only person you know is me, the rest will have to build their relationships from scratch…”
“How about tomorrow?” He asked, “There is a nice movie playing, and I know a decent restaurant…plus you have to shop… for how much longer will you steal my Jeans and shirts?”
“So… we will leave after lunch, you will do your shopping, we will watch the movie and have dinner and return afterwards, is that alright?”
It was a neat and clean place, a very well maintained town. They preferred walking, the center of the town was not that far away, the population was not huge, there were not too many residents, for very logical reason of-course, to maintain the secret, and save the passage. The lesser number of people, the easier it is to monitor their every move.
That town, looked like a dream come true for most intelligent people, a perfect balance between nature and “the modern” technology.
She could see wild rabbits, deers and peacocks in gardens.
“This town is beautiful!” she said.
“Yes it is dear.” he answered.
“You dont remember anything of this town but you remember me…” he asked.
She played along and answered testily, “… and you dont remember our marriage…strange is not it? How could you Pabak… alll those years we spent together… how much we loved each other…”
He patted her arm. “Forget it… or else we will start fighting again and the movie will go down the drain. You will like it… but first you do the shopping and I will collect some stuffs from the supermarket.”
“Dont take too long hon…I will wait at the counter area after half an hour…” he parted at the gate of the mall.
She picked up the necessary item, this mall was meant for women only, everything a woman requires was here, and there were assistants to help those who were not that savvy.
He was waiting for her when she showed up.
“You are a miser…” he laughed. “I did not ask you to count every penny…” he walked away from her and whispered something to the girl who was assisting her.
She returned a little while later, with a packet.
They returned home after the movie.
“This is for you, just a small gift.” he handed her the packet.
“Thanks.” she smiled and fished out a packet in return, “This one is for you…”
“Thanks a lot!” he smiled happily, “Receiving gifts …well, I am out of that habit lately…”
She opened her packet. There were four dresses. Beautiful looking…
“How could you choose such amazing…” she asked.
“dress for ladies you mean? Oh I requested the girl to pick up four dresses she will select for you, without bothering about the pricetag.” he answered.
“Open fire…” he smiled. They were sitting out in the verandah, relaxing for a while before going to bed. The full moon was glowing in the sky, they could hear the calls of night creatures from the forest. The dark silhouette of trees were creating a scary but beautiful picture, like a painting.
“Why are there so many single men and women in this town? Dont the people get married here?” she asked. She had seen so many people in this town, ever since she has started living here that lived on their own, like hermits, without any relationship, forget about marriage.
“The answer is simple…” Pabak said, “I thought you have already guessed that…”
she nodded in disagreement.
“Once someone has seen the look-alikes, and the cunningness with which they are used, one will start to wonder if his or her lover is the person who walked out of door in the morning or it is the look-alike, the doppleganger…” Pabak said. “If you are casual about intimate relationships you may dare to take risk, but if you are old-fashioned like we Indians are supposed to be, you wont like the feelings that your intimate passions are getting wasted on a doppleganger…”
“You are right… I wont…” she answeres. “So how will I know that the man who returned home at evening is you not your doppleganger?”
“Ha!….” he chuckled. “That is why we keep the conversations off in our homes, we, the rebels, so that the dopplegangers never know the conversations that we hold at home, and if a doppleganger tries to invade he or she is caught within ten minutes, after that, we too pretend that he is not caught, then shoo him out of the house on one pretext or other… if your doppleganger shows up here, that means she has been rejected from that side, or her work has finished there, and I will have to make sure that you are not already dead and are in some safe place. If my doppleganger shows up… that will be never… that will mean that I have gone to the other side for counsil, and he is brought over here … he will stay here alive as long as the counsil wants…then they will kill him.”
“How long will they take before they slaughter me?” she asked.
“Well, I can see your doppleganger is working there, struggling…. it will depend … if she clears the red tape they will come for you but I wont be waiting for that…” He said. “We are keeping an eye on their activities, next time they open the passage you will go there… I may join you…. may be you can get me a job there…” Pabak laughed. “Sometimes some of us manage to escape there, I too was trying that night but luck had a joke in store.”
She smiled. “I have made enough money… if my doppleganger has not squandered it I may help you in your journey…”
“Thanks!” he smiled. “Now… let’s hit the beds…”
The next night Pabak woke her up, late.
“It’s time…” he said. “Once we are out be absolutely silent, and stick to me, no matter what.”
He handed her over a black legging and full sleeved tee.
They came out, she noticed that he took her through the backyard, through the hedge, there was an opening that was so well concealed that she has not even felt it when she walked by that hedge, or sat near it in broad daylight.
The woods started right behind it, that is, the place was filled with wild bushes that were high enough to conceal them.
He reached out and held her hand firmly. She could feel her blood reaching up and her cheeks getting warm. Her heart started to beat in a strange pleasant yet painful rhythm.
They reached near the cave in half an hour. She could see a flurry of movement. There were cars and small trucks.
He silently guided her taking cover behind the rocks that were scattered all over the place, then he entered a cave lying beside that one, there was a rock lying at the further end of the really deep cave. He pressed something and it swung aside without a sound, he gently guided her inside, the rock swung back.
there was phosphorus on the wall most probably because there was a dim light inside the tunnel, after a while they could see enough to move forth.
Soon she could hear the roar of tyres and they squished past wet ground.
They stood on the mouth of the tunnel that connected it to the passage and waited for the last truck to vanish in darkness and then started to walk cautiously but quickly towards its direction.
Fifteen minute or so later they were out, in the mine.
“I will rush back now…” Pabak said.
She did not let his hand go, “Please stay… let me help you get settled here. There is nothing there … its perfect hell!”
“Thanks.” he smiled, “A lot…”
They started walking towards her home, hand in hand. None of them tried to pull away their hand, that felt so in right place…and so very beautiful…perfect and divine.