Instructor: Lorraine Tzeng
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Mia stretched out her hand, feeling the light raindrops brush her palm. The evening sky stretched over her, obscured by dark clouds. Her other hand clutched her bike handlebars, trying not to lose her balance. A slight breeze blew around her. Mia tapped her foot impatiently, eager to propel herself into the misty evening.
"Fine, but come back before dark," called her mother's voice.
Mia turned slightly, glancing behind her at her house and yelled a quick response. She then launched down the driveway and turned to the sidewalk, pedaling into the drizzle. She smiled widely as the wind sent her brown locks flying, her heart beating faster as she sped down the sidewalk in the rain. She enjoyed the exhilarating feeling of danger, like the slippery wheel of the bike skidding in one of the many steadily growing puddles. Most of all, she loved the thrill of speed.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, she slowed to a stop, allowing her blurred surroundings to slow to shapes, though these silhouettes could be barely made out in the now pouring rain. Mia was instantly soaked and glanced up at the sky. The black clouds gave no hint as to how much time had passed, but Mia knew she better head home.
Her eyes felt heavy as she glanced around and took in the unfamiliar surroundings, realizing her predicament. It would be incredibly fortunate of her to somehow find her way home in the darkness. Her eyes found their way to the giant mansion looming above the town.
No one ever ventured close to the large mansion, but everyone knew how a wealthy family owned it but lived elsewhere, leaving it empty and uninhabited. Of course, this prompted intricate stories of ghosts, murders, and other far-fetched tales about why the mansion was abandoned. Mia had never believed them, but standing alone in front of the eerie structure with dark thunder rumbling above, she felt a tingle of nervousness as she took a step closer. She knew she could get in trouble for trespassing and that her mother was likely frantic, but right now, those concerns seemed insignificant compared to all the horror stories swirling around her head.
Mia shook her head to clear it and scatter the wet hair sticking to her cheeks. She was scared for no reason, she knew that. Determined, she marched through the twisted black gate, her boots making squelching sounds in the mud, the wheel of her bike dragging through the squishy dirt, excitement from the adventure chasing away any tiredness. Darkness enfolded her as she stepped closer to the crooked, derelict door, the rain pelting dark flecks on the brown surface. Her body tensed as her shaking fingers twisted the door handle, opening it with a creak.
Hesitantly, she stepped into the cavernous room on the other side, letting her bike fall with a clatter outside in the dreary rain. Her shivering body slowly stopped as her eyes adjusted to the dark, calmed both by the cessation of the frigid rain and the assurance that no paranormal being was in the room with her. Exhaustion engulfed her, and she probed tiredly in the dark until she reached the outline of a dusty sofa in the room. Finally, she allowed herself to collapse, letting go of her various fears, slipping into sleep, tiredly reasoning that she would be able to deal with her dilemma more efficiently in the morning.
Mia's eyes stretched open sleepily as she yawned and sat up. For a second, her half-asleep mind barely registered her unfamiliar surroundings, then the memories of the previous night came rushing back. Mia took in the two spiral staircases leading to the upper floors and the hallways leading to a corridor with doors on both sides, ending in darkness.
Mia suddenly remembered her mother's voice, instructing her to come home before dark. She shot toward the door, slamming into it in her hurry, then grabbed the doorknob and twisted it, but to no avail. Stepping back, she noticed the keyhole. Her mind immediately jumped to horror stories again although in the shining light of day streaming through the curtains, they seemed laughable. It was weird that the keyhole was facing inside, and a definite problem as it was locked; however, there was nothing to suggest anything supernatural.
No sooner had that thought calmed her racing heart before a strange sensation made her stumble backward. Her first thought was of an earthquake, but instead of shaking, the ground beneath her was darkening into a black shadow. In fact, all her surroundings were being consumed by darkness and before she could even come up with a rational explanation, her world was whisked away.
Opening her eyes, Mia struggled to push back the shadows. She felt as though she had been split apart and haphazardly stuck back together. The blurry world sharpened into focus as her eyes slowly adjusted to unfamiliar surroundings. She found herself in a depressing gray room with a single bed and limp curtains, covering the light. The only decoration was a grand painting of a dark ship sailing over the midnight-black ocean, looking out of place with its intricate, swirling frame. Mia clutched the drab cloth of the neatly folded blanket beneath her, willing herself to breathe in and out, her body slick with sweat, questions crowding her brain.
That was the first time it happened. She refused to believe it at first, but the pull of the darkness was undoubtedly real every time she experienced it. Just walking around the mansion triggered the mysterious rush of blackness. It happened frequently, and as far as she could make out, happened arbitrarily, mysteriously but thankfully resetting any hunger or sleep she might feel. The first couple of times, Mia stared up at the ceiling in disbelief, her mind trying to wrap around the petrifying experience.
Although at first the strange sensation was terrifying, Mia began to slightly get used to it. At the very least, she tried to shift her focus to thinking about escape. She tried every way she could think of to open the main door, but nothing worked. She opened door after door in the long corridors, stepped into stretching hallways, and explored every crevice, but there were no explanations or exits.
She desperately wanted to solve the mystery of the mansion, why it was there, and how it could transport her body through space, but fear and a need to escape as soon as possible stopped her. She knew that after she escaped, she could never come back here and that the mysteries surrounding the mansion would have to remain unsolved. As she explored, she tried not to get distracted by the pull of the mystery. It was tempting, but she had already made up her mind.
Mia trudged through the endless hallways, convinced she would never find anything and be stuck here forever. Although she doubted it had been very long, she felt as though her entire life consisted of opening doors, casting a glance around the usually empty rooms, and continuing into yet another.
Lost in these thoughts, she almost didn't notice the very large, rather noticeable gleaming silver box sitting in the middle of the otherwise unfurnished room. She had half closed the door before throwing it open again and rushing to what she immediately identified as a safe. The numbered circle and handle made that clear. Mia's excitement swelled inside of her. She knew this was the key she needed, and that she was finally leaving the mansion.
She spent around half a second beaming, not trying to stop the uncontrollable grin breaking across her face before she suddenly remembered how safes work. Her stomach sank as she realized she needed a combination.
And so she resumed her search, this time for a hint of a code that might peek out anywhere. Although tempted to tear through the mansion and finish the searching, Mia forced herself to slow down and notice every detail. Patiently, not wanting to miss anything like the safe that she almost missed, she carefully checked for any hint of a clue to the combination. The safe had to be the key to escaping.
Mia slowly tramped along one endless hallway after another, searching each room, refusing to let herself think that it might not be written somewhere in the mansion. It had to be.
As she sat despondently at the foot of the bed, however, staring absentmindedly at the painting of the ship, she succumbed to the idea that maybe she would never find the code. Maybe she would be stuck forever, unable to see her mother again or live her own life.
Mia peered up at the complex designs swirling around the painting, her eyes automatically resting on a blemish in the smooth carvings, almost imperceptible. Closely staring, she barely made out the numbers carved into the frame, but they were there. Heart quickening with excitement, Mia pushed her face into the frame, trying to discern the numbers but barely able to stand in her excitement. She was going home!
At the safe, Mia tested the numbers, shaking with happiness. Her trembling fingers slowly tapped each button. 3-8-7-1. She was going home. She would never disobey her mother again. She doubted she would be able to bike close to the mansion anymore. Would she tell what had happened? Would anyone believe her? She wouldn't believe it herself had she not experienced it. That didn't matter, though. She was finally escaping.
The safe made a beep sound, and Mia twisted the handles, grinning. It did not open, however. Mia stared at it and retyped the code. It had to work. A mounting sense of desperation rose in her. She sank to her knees, staring at the unopened safe. What did she have to do now? She had solved all the steps.
The now-familiar sense of darkness slowly consuming everything engulfed her. She launched herself out of bed just as soon she materialized in it, racing to the frame and running her hand over the numbers. As soon as she did, she realized her mistake. "3-6-7-1" she groaned. "Not 3-8-7-1." She rushed down the stairs until she came to the open door and rushed inside the room. 3-6-7-1. The numbers worked. Mia's face lit up as the door easily swung open. Inside rested a single, golden key.
Mia was out of the room and sprinting to the door with the key before the safe was fully opened. Her heart pounded, and she took a wrong turn a few times, but eventually managed to stumble into the main room. She held out the key as though the door could magically open fifteen feet away. Every moment she had spent in the mansion spiraled down to this one moment of escape. She would finally break free from the all-consuming darkness and return home. She would be more careful and never end up here again.
Suddenly, her vision of the door flickered, and a wisp of shadow curled across the screen. The tendril of blackness grew, shoving Mia backward. No, she was so close; the desperation made her stretch through her shadowed surroundings in a futile attempt to reach through to freedom.
Her body sat up on the bed. The hand that clenched the key was now empty. Mia sprang up and sprinted to the room with the safe. Thankfully, the key was there. She made it to the room with time to spare but paused as she reached the main entrance. She was finally leaving.
Glancing around, she realized she would never see this place again. Never figure out what made it work or why it was there. She stared at it one last time, the high ceiling, the grandeur of it all, the light and dark brown panels of wood. Finally, she forced herself to insert the key in the lock and twist it. The door unlocked with a sharp click, and Mia slowly opened it to the dark night. She could not see anything outside except darkness, but it was the outside. It was freedom. A breeze wafted across her softly smiling face. Despite the shadows that tried to prevent her from leaving, she was here.
Mia stepped into the darkness. It was time to escape. Her boots hit the soft dirt outside, and she stretched her hands for anything to guide her in the dark landscape. Instead, she was met with a familiar sensation. She realized what it was right before it happened. She was being pulled back. The darkening ground shook as it stretched over her surroundings and everything blended into blackness.
"No!" she shrieked. She had escaped the mansion, so why was it happening? Her eyes peeled open to face the same gray ceiling, the outline of the same limp curtains and twisting painting frame peeking into the corner of her vision.
She was trapped.