It was a cold dark evening. The wind howled around the little shack. A man- no older than sixty sat inside, pouring over a piece of paper.
If one looked at him, he would have seemed insane. His long-forgotten hair rested only behind his worn-out ears and his nose was crooked from an old break. His excited eyes danced happily behind the laboratory glasses he wore. He held a queer look as he worked, mesmerizing the viewer.
So, on this windy night he sat muttering to himself as he wrote. The more he wrote, the more excited he got.
The rhythm of the rain begun. The man got excited, his heartbeat matching the rhythm.
Then suddenly trapdoor opened from the floor.
The man did not flinch.
A small boy of twelve climbed out followed by his sister of ten.
Both had thick, black curly hair and emerald, green eyes. The girl carried a small basket in her arms. She cuddled it as if it were a priceless treasure.
“Papa Zurek?” The little boy called out “We brought you bread and soup. Mother says it would be best if you came back inside”
The man did not acknowledge.
“Papa Zurek!!” The boy said, considerably louder.
The man still did not look up.
The boy looked at the table to see a small and funny machine. He grabbed it and put it in his grandfather’s ear.
As if automatically the man turned to look at the two children.
“Zira and Xuro! My dear children! Is something wrong?” He asked in a rough old voice.
“Papa Zurek! You took your hearing aid out again! Mum will be frantic! If there had been a firing, we could have not been in time to get you…” The little boy Xuro lectured his grandfather.
Meanwhile little Zira poured her grandfather his soup in a mug and presented it to him.
The man let a grunt of satisfaction and drank it all in one gulp.
“That was lovely soup m ’dears! Now I must get back to work!” Papa Zurek said abruptly in the middle of Xuro’ s lecture.
“What are you working on Papa Zurek?” Little Zira asked.
“Ah! That I will tell only to you children! Only if you will promise to never tell” Papa Zurek told them silently.
“Oh! I won’t! I won’t tell! I promise!” Zira exclaimed excitedly.
Xuro made an irritated sound.
“Look at this” Papa Zurek said pointing at one of his blueprints “I am creating a machine which will help me travel to another universe!”
“Like where I can see fairies?” Zira asked excitedly.
“Zira, Fairies are not real! Papa Zurek is just teasing you!” Xuro replied irritably.
“Xuro is half right! I don’t think we can see fairies but there will be other wonders that we could never imagine” Papa Zurek chuckled.
“That’s it” Xuro exclaimed angrily “We have to go back! Otherwise, mother will be worried”
Zira sadly waved bye to her grandfather and followed Xuro down the trapdoor.
The old man watched the two children disappear and then removed his hearing aid and placed it on the table.
“Xuro?” Zira gently shook her brother awake.
“Zira! What time is it?? Go to bed!” Xuro groaned sleepily.
“Oh Xuro! I had the worst dream! You know the war is happening now, right?” Zira said trembling.
“Yes, there is a war happening!” Xuro said sitting next to his sister.
“I dreamt that they came and attacked Papa Zurek and stole his lovely machine” Zira said crying bitterly.
Xuro put an arm around Zira and comforted her- “Don’t worry that will never come true”
“What if… What if what happened to father happened to him?” Zira said sobbing harder.
“Well,” Xuro said remembering the horrible memory “Papa Zurek is a strong guy. It would take a lot more than a war to tear him down”
Zira was still crying but nodded.
“You know what?” Xuro said “Let’s go check on Papa Zurek? When we see he is fine we can go to bed”
“Yes! Let’s go! I want to go and see him” Zira exclaimed.
“But we have to be quiet. If mother finds out she will be worried sick” Xuro hushed Zira.
The two slowly put on their coats and shoes with an occasional sniff from Zira.
Then they quietly made for the kitchen, where the trapdoor leading to Papa Zurek’s study was.
Xuro opened the trapdoor for Zira before he went down himself.
The passage was dark, it went below the battlefield and straight to Papa Zurek’s study which was hidden over five miles away. They heard airplanes and Xuro felt Zira shudder.
It was in the battlefield above them that their father had died. It was the horrible place the children had to part with their beloved father and worst was they had to pass below it every time they visited their grandpa.
Xuro hated the war. It had taken from him the person truly loved with all his heart. The day his father died Xuro’ s life changed, the playful and airy character inside him locket itself up in the deepest and darkest corner of his memories. Now he unleashed the worst of him- anger, sorrow, hate and most of all the loss of his most special power- imagination. The world was dark now. Nothing could save them. Nothing could bring back the light to his eyes.
“We are here Xuro! We are here!” hiccoughed Zira.
They had reached the end of the passage.
Xuro stood on his toes and pushed the wooden trapdoor above them and looked out.
Zira stood on a rock and followed him.
Papa Zurek was asleep on his rocking chair. His usually tired face now relaxed and happy.
“See? He is safe. Now we can go back to bed” Xuro said turning to his sister. But Zira was not happy. Her face looked terrorized.
Zira pointed to one corner of the room where a huge silver ball was resting, leaning on the wall.
Xuro’ s mouth dropped. He had never seen anything like it. It was like the moon, but a lot smaller.
“Xuro? I think this is Papa Zurek’s machine” Zira mumbled.
Xuro for a moment though he would nod but reality dawned over him. This was something Papa Zurek was making for one side of the war.
He could not believe it. Papa Zurek who refused to take sides in the war was now helping a side.
“Zira!” Xuro said softly “Don’t go there. It is dangerous. Papa Zurek is dangerous”
“No!” replied Zira shrilly “he is the nicest person I ever knew and will ever know!”
Saying this she climbed up to the wooden floor of the shed and walked over to the silver ball. She ran her fingers over its smooth surface and place her cheek against it.
“Don’t! Touch it!” Xuro exclaimed loudly, still peering from the trapdoor.
Zira giggled and put her cheek against it once again.
“Who’s there!” A loud and deep voice grunted.
“It’s us Papa Zurek!” Zira cried from behind the orb.
“Zira?!” The old man exclaimed in a hurried sort of way.
“Yes, it’s me! And Xuro is hiding under the trapdoor” Zira laughed.
“What are you doing here child! It is not safe here!” Papa Zurek said.
“Yes! Not safe from you and your friends in the war” Xuro growled from below the trapdoor.
“What do you mean my boy? I am not helping anybody” Papa Zurek replied astonished.
Suddenly -BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! they heard footsteps and the voices of two people.
Papa Zurek looked left and right in a frantic way.
Zira was looking terrified.
They all knew who it was. Bloodthirsty and murderous soldiers who enjoyed seeing their victims struck down. They were here. They saw the lights and heard the voices.
“Get inside” whispered Papa Zurek.
Zira immediately followed his command and got inside the silvery orb. She got in and curled up into a ball, shivering in fright.
“Get in Xuro!” Cried Papa Zurek.
“I won’t! Let-t go of Zira” Xuro spluttered in fear. His heart was hammering against his chest, veins throbbing, his eyes popping and teeth chattering.
Papa Zurek opened the trapdoor and carried the now struggling Xuro. He lifted him up, put him into the orb and got inside himself with the bang of the door.
Xuro could see through the orb. Two men, dressed in military attire burst in. They carried weapons of the size of tree branches.
To Xuro’ s shock they could not see the orb. One even walked through it and appeared through the other side.
After a long process of checking, the two exchanges a few words in a language they did not know and walked out, leaving a huge mess behind...
“Now we can get out” Papa Zurek said sternly.
Xuro jumped out and stepped in front of his grandfather.
Papa Zurek stopped with a frown.
“Tell me what you are doing! Why are you doing it?” Xuro said crossly
Papa Zurek glared angrily but let out a tired sigh. He had no choice but to tell.
“My device takes you to another universe” He said placidly.
“You don’t have to humor Zira and her fairy lands, Papa Zurek and, tell me the truth” Xuro replied even colder than before.
“I am not lying Xuro. The year when the war started- 4892, and when your father died, I had to protect this family. I put my talents to use. I made this machine to take us somewhere safe for the rest of our lives. You heard, didn’t you? They make children fight now! I cannot imagine you and Zira hurt in that horrible place. I made this machine, this machine to get us out” Papa Zurek said letting slow tears slip out of his now tired eyes.
There was a pregnant pause.
Xuro walked up to his grandfather, threw his arms around him and hugged him. It was a pleasant feeling. The old self of Xuro peeped out eagerly, hoping.
They would face it together. No matter what. Together, together as a family.
The two broke apart. And watery tears filled Xuro’ s eyes.
“Now” Grunted Papa Zurek “Let’s take this old girl for a spin”.
“Like another world??” Zira said excitedly.
“No, Zira. Let’s take a look at our own world first”
The door of the Orb opened again as Zira approached it. She sat in one corner and beckoned Xuro to come in with. Xuro hesitated. Zira reached forward and held her hand out. Xuro took it and climbed in, smiling.
Papa Zurek smiled to himself silently as he followed Xuro.
“Buckle your seatbelts ladies and gentlemen, for we are off to explore the unknown” Papa Zurek exclaimed.
Zira clutched Xuro’ s hand nervously. He smiled at her, showering her with brotherly comfort.
The Orb gently lifted off the ground, giving them a pleasurable feeling. It zoomed right through the door of the shed.
Zira gasped. They were seeing the outside world after eight years of terror. But it was nothing that they remembered. All that was left of the green luscious fields of trees and plants were leafless, dead branches of trees and black smoke which filled the area obscuring the rest of the world from view.
“Papa Zurek?” Xuro asked softly “Did the war do this to our farm?”
“No Xuro. Even bigger forces come to play here. All this black smoke has been caused by burning of forests. The last time you went to school, you learnt about global warming, didn’t you? The heat from the sun burnt down the forests of the world and all we have is black smoke. The sun is almost dead now. Just a few years and it will burst and all of us will perish” Papa Zurek said gravely.
“That makes it more important for us to leave and go to this new world” Xuro finished.
They silently flew over the town, or now rather landfill.
“Now can we see the other world, Papa Zurek?” asked Zira softly.
“Read my mind Zira! We need to see if this place is good for us to live” He replied warmly, encouraging her eagerness.
Xuro nodded, pursing his lips, he was waiting for this miracle for a long time. It had to work. If not, the disappointment would do something horrible to him.
“In three, I will start. Is that okay with both of you?” Papa Zurek asked.
Papa Zurek took the silence for a yes and started pushing some of the buttons.
Zira’s grip tightened on Xuro and he, lost for words froze. It was happening. It would change lives forever. It would change his life forever.
“Hang tight, children”
And suddenly, his had felt dizzy and he slumped off to deep sleep like coma.
“Xuro! Xuro! Wake up we are here!!” He heard Zira shriek.
His eyes slowly adjusted to the strange lively light. He could see purple, lovely, fluffy, clouds which smelled like scented candles. They were bathed in warm, tender sunlight. This would be the perfect home for them. Away from all the terror of the war. So, they could be a whole family again.
“Can we go down! Can we go down!” Zira shrieked almost jumping up and down.
Papa Zurek had a small cut on his head, which he had wrapped around with his handkerchief. The wound would have hurt but he was too happy to worry. On his face was an unmistakable grin. A grin Xuro hadn’t seen in years. Even Papa Zurek felt young again. He remembered days of his youth and the warm sunlit days.
But Xuro felt a certain unhappiness inside of him. An empty space amidst joy. His conscience was not happy. He felt happy but that little thing in your head which always told you the right thing to do was quiet and not happy. He pondered over it for a few minutes and then understood. He had to do the right thing.
“We can’t land” Xuro said coldly.
There was an abrupt silence.
“What do you mean Xuro? Why can’t we?” Zira asked indignantly.
“We can’t because we ruined our world. We created wars, climate crises and many other horrible things. This world is so beautiful, so unknown of the dangers we go through. We are like locusts. We wreak havoc wherever we go! I can’t do this to this lovely world! I can’t! We have to go back! Destroy this machine and face what we created! We can’t escape forever.” Xuro sobbed.
“You are right my boy.” Papa Zurek said abruptly.
Xuro was surprised. He expected a fight. This was better.
Zira nodded in reply.
“Say goodbye my children” Papa Zurek said as they waved sad goodbyes.
“Thankyou Papa Zurek” Zira said “For trying so hard”
“Where we are with family. We can be happy Zira” Papa Zurek replied.
And with this they left. Left as wiser people. Searching for a better dawn.