The mysterious letter, the name scrawled in the return address, they cause your hands to shake. You snatch the envelope from the mailbox and trudge back into the single-story house. Grandma hasn’t contacted you since she moved and gave you the house nearly a year ago. Ripping open the envelope, you toss it on the kitchen table and examine the note.
Scrolled across the page in letters of varying sizes, run lines of gibberish. Why did Grandma send you this? Did she decide to play a prank? No, she may not be the most kind and social lady, but she’s never been the prankster type and her words always have meaning.
You scour the note for a secret message. The letters fluctuate between lowercase and uppercase letters. You know there has to be a pattern, but what?
.HeIrDDeEhNt uIoNy dTaHeEl BlAlSEiMEwNT BeEsNaEcArTiaHts TaHE TdOOnaL BeEdNoCcH eIhStA kScAaFrE.c .CeRfAaCsK TaHE si ChOcnDeEb lAoNoDt BeRhINtG hTtaHenEeb tCnOeNmTeEsNaTbS eThOt nMiY nHeOdUdSiE.h
Using a sheet of scrap paper, you write only the uppercase letters. The finished message reads:
HIDDEN IN THE BASEMENT BENEATH THE TOOL BENCH IS A SAFE. CRACK THE CODE AND BRING THE CONTENTS TO MY HOUSE.
You don’t have a basement. Why is Grandma asking you to do the impossible? Is the word ‘basement’ a code word for something else? You survey the encrypted note again. Maybe, the lowercase letters spell out another message. This time, you only jot the lowercase letters.
.ereht you dael lliw esacriats a dna edoc eht kcarc .efas a si hcneb loot eht htaeneb tnemesab eht ni neddih
The gibberish on the page does nothing except infuriate you. Did she only write the lowercase at random to disguise the uppercase? You take one last glance at the page. The period at the beginning sticks out. Is it possible the message is written inversely? You write the letters backward and another message takes shape.
the basement is located in my old room. flip a lever behind the bed and a staircase will lead you there.
Does this house have a secret basement? Curiosity drags you to the only bedroom in the house, Grandma’s old room and now yours. You thrust open the door, scanning the left wall where your bed rests. The nondescript wall stands where it always has, empty as ever, no lever in sight. What was Grandma talking about?
You muscle the bed away from the wall and peer behind it. A single panel the size of an outlet captures your attention. You reach for it, rearing back as a thrumming knock jolts you to your feet. You rarely have company. Jamming the bed back into position, you hurry to answer the door.
You yank open the door and see two brawny men on the other side. Bandanas curl around their faces like masks and thick kevlar vests protect their chests. The guy on the left, the one with a right sleeve of tattoos and a red bandana, pulls out a gun and shoulders his way into the room. The other one with the yellow bandana and black bag strapped over his shoulder, slams the door. Shaking uncontrollably, your legs fail and you drop to the floor.
“W-w-what do you want?”
“Where is it?” Red Bandana guy shakes his gun and places the muzzle against your forehead.
“You know what he’s talking about. Hand it over.” Yellow Bandana guy jerks you to your feet and slams you into the kitchen table. Your back pounds against the wood, the table shaking and toppling beneath your weight. The secret message along with its translation sits next to you on the collapsed table.
Scooping it up, you stuff it into your pocket before the attackers can see. Whatever Grandma wants you to find in the basement must be important. Red Bandana latches onto your collar and yanks you upright.
“Where is it?!” His face is dangerously close to yours, so close, his breath tickles your neck and tendrils of fear prickle your spine. When silence follows, the visible section of Red Bandana’s face scrunches and reddens almost to the shade of his bandana. If he were a cartoon character, steam would erupt from his ears and his head would explode, but this is no cartoon.
Ripping back his bandana, he growls, baring his teeth like an angry mutt. In fact, the contours of his face jut out oddly, his large nose and protruding mouth even stranger, almost inhuman.
“Stop staring,” he barks, wrapping the bandana around his face again.
“W-what’s going on?”
Yellow bandana snears. “Psh… of course you know what’s going on. We’re here for the treasure… and ain’t nobody gonna stop us.”
Treasure? Grandma hid treasure here in a secret basement? Why did she never tell you? Taking a deep breath, you compose yourself.
“I don’t know what you're talking about. Search the house if you have to, just don’t hurt me.”
Red Bandana shoves you into the chair next to the collapsed table and wraps your arms and legs in thick rope pulled from the black bag. He ties a gag around your mouth so you can’t yell for help. They split up and rummage through your belongings, overturning furniture and breaking a vase atop the living room coffee table. After destroying most of the valuables in your adjoining living room and kitchen, they move on to your bedroom, guest room, and bathroom.
Crashes echo from beyond the walls. The buff burglars return, growling with their hands clenched. Red Bandana saunters toward you, burly arms descending on your much smaller figure. You latch your eyes shut, every muscle constricting, preparing for the blow. A loud boom makes you flinch. Your eyes fly open, catching a glimpse of the door splintering and three dark blurs in the doorway.
The burglars shrink back, their bodies trembling like whimpering dogs. From the doorway, the blurry figures enter and reveal long khaki jackets reaching inches above their knees. Black hats tilt down over their eyes, obscuring their faces behind a wall of shadow. Each looks like a copy of one another, no obvious differences to distinguish. Three pairs of boots clank against the floor as they step forward.
“Step away hounds,” the figure in the middle says, voice enunciating every syllable. Red Bandana and Yellow Bandana growl, keeping their distance from the three figures.
“Who are you?” You watch the commotion.
“You will luurrrn soon enough,” the middle figure says.
The burglars side step the new visitors, dashing out the doorless opening. Standing there, the figures refuse to give chase. Instead, they untie you and bombard you with questions.
“Whuurrre is the device?” The middle one is the only one who speaks to you. The other two remain silent, surveying the damage done to the room.
Why do strangers keep bursting into your house asking you questions when they have more knowledge about this? Can you trust these new visitors? They did save you from the two burglars, but are they trying to take the treasure for themselves? They mentioned a device, but the burglars mentioned a treasure. Are they one and the same? What is this treasure device and what makes it so special?
“The device your Grandma hid here many yuurrrrs ago.”
“You want me to hand it over?”
“No, we're here to safely escort you to huurrrr house. She’ll explain everything there.”
“Fuurrrrst, you must find it and bring it with you. Go on, find it and we’ll leave.”
You hesitate. “Tell me everything first.”
“Huurrrry, we have no time to discuss now. The hounds aren't the only threat.”
You dart into your bedroom. The burglars upturned everything in the room except the bed. You shove the bed away from the wall and study the panel you noticed before. The panel feels cold against your fingers as you touch its metal surface. You gently push at the top. It slides up and back into the wall like a garage door.
Inside sits a lever like in the secret message. You flip it. A single straight line forms down the center of the wall and slowly the gap increases. You can see no scientific way this could be possible. The wall essentially slides into itself like pieces of the wall magically evaporate. As the gap widens, a dusty staircase fills your vision. Each step creaks under your weight. Beneath the stairs darkness is all you can see. Reaching the bottom of the steps, you survey your dark surroundings.
Light begins pouring into a circle around your body like a spotlight. Did the wall open farther as you descended? You glance up, your body shaking with a new revelation. The wall slid back into place. No gaps remain. Where is the light coming from? You glance up, searching the ceiling for a light. There are none.
With no hope of turning back, you have to go forward and find this mysterious treasure device. The note said it’s location is in a safe beneath a tool bench. As you carefully step forward, the ring of light around you moves like a spotlight, its circumference spanning a foot in every direction.
You walk in a circle, inspecting every corner of the basement. The tool bench rests against the far wall opposite of the stairs. You duck down on your hands and knees, staring at the small safe. The three-number combination lock stares back at you. Grandma told you to crack the code, but how? You try several combinations unsuccessfully.
The safe is so small it barely reaches to your knees. Maybe, you can take the entire safe to Grandma’s house and she can unlock it. You grab the sides and try to pull the safe out from under the bench. It doesn’t budge as if it’s bolted to the floor. Your right hand brushes against an engraving on the side. You stoop to inspect it. Carved into the metal are the words: Thieves, heroes, stolen.
Are the words a clue to the combination? What do “thieves”, “heroes”, and “stolen” have to do with numbers? What connection does Grandma have with thieves, heroes, and stolen items? It clicks, partially. Your mind reverts back to the three figures standing in the doorway. They saved your life and they mentioned your Grandma. Heroes equal three, you guess. Two thieves invaded your house. They stole nothing.
The combination might be 2-3-0. That leads into another question. If this combination works, how did Grandma know two thieves would show up, they wouldn’t steal anything, and three heroes would come to your rescue? You doubt the combination will work, but you try it anyway.
You enter the code, relief flooding in as it clicks and squeals open. Inside is a metal ball. You lift it out, turning it over in your hands. What is this and why is it so important? You walk up the stairs, hoping the wall will open up for you. It does.
Back in your room, the wall shuts and the panel is gone. Questions swarm your mind. You hurry into the living room where the three heroes stand in the corner talking among themselves. They stop as you enter, turning to you.
“We must leave now,” their leader says.
You follow them outside and into a silver minivan. Hesitation stops you from entering at first, but the curiosity nagging you wins and you climb inside. The ride lasts for thirty minutes before you pull into your Grandma’s driveway. You clamber out, holding the treasure with a clenching grip, afraid to drop it.
You dash up the front steps to her well-decorated house, ringing the doorbell. The other three stragglers come up behind you. Grandma swings open the door almost immediately, beckoning all of you inside.
“What’s going on?” You ask her.
“I know all of this must be confusing. I’m SO glad you got here in one piece.” She hugs you.
“What is this?” You hold up the sphere.
“Ah, yes.” She takes the orb from your hands and presses a button you didn’t notice before. Nothing happens until you turn around and notice your three companions are much different. They transform into cats, one a black cat with green eyes, the second a tabby cat, and the third a Siamese cat.
“Yes, I sent you three cats to assist you.”
“What… what’s go—”
“We have much to talk about. Sit down.” She motions to the couch facing the TV. You both sit. “Magic is real.”
If those words came on any other day, I would laugh, but today is different. After everything I saw, it’s the only explanation.
“What about the two men who attacked me. Who are they?”
“We call them the hounds. Just like my cats, they’re not human—they’re dogs.”
“I’m really confused.”
“There are two different realities. This one and a reverse reality. The five creatures you met are from the other reality, the reality we refer to as Opposite World. Everything there is backwards. People walk on ceilings instead of the floor, people age in reverse, etc.”
“So… dogs are afraid of cats?”
“How did the hounds and three cats get here?”
“This,” she points to the sphere, “was activated in the other reality. My three cats swapped places with their equals from Opposite World.”
“What do I have to do with any of this?”
“I am passing this down to you.” She hands you the device. “Protect it with your life. If someone from Opposite World brings it back to their reality and touches the two devices together, it will cause a chain reaction that will destroy both realities. This responsibility rests in your hands now. Don’t let me down.”
You stare off into space, contemplating your options. No, you don’t have any options. Grandma isn’t asking politely, she’s commanding you.
“I’ll do my best.”
“Oh, and Grandma, how did you know to write the clue on the safe?”
“The safe is magic. It generated the clue based on your situation. If an intruder tries to crack the code, no combination will work.”
You spin the device in your hand. “I still have lots of questions.”
“I’m sure, but for now, return the orb to the safe.”
“I can’t. The lever disappeared.”
“It will appear again when you need it. Now, go.”
You walk out the door, knowing many adventures will follow. As keeper of the magic orb, who knows what trouble you’ll encounter.
You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.