Warily, I crept down the dusty steps. The air smelt stale and beads of sweat fell from my forehead. It seemed like I was putting myself in mortal peril by taking such a risk, but a sense deep down in me told me I was heading in the right direction. I came to where the flight of endless stairs ended and a door lay shut. Taking a deep breath and mustering my courage I decided to turn the knob…
Just a few minutes ago, I was passing by the community graveyard after being rejected from the teams during the soccer match. I was welling up with anger at how I had been bullied when it came to the choosing of the teams. I was fed up of the orphanage and had decided to run away.
I never did know my parents since they had passed away when I was still very young. Since then, I had lived in an orphanage. No one cares about me there since there were many of us. Bullying is also common which was why on days when I was very frustrated, I would go away for some time to be by myself.
I decided to enter the graveyard and let off some steam and be alone for a while. The graveyard was one of the few places where I could rest undisturbed and catch a breath by myself.
It felt as though eternal silence there had created a somewhat serene atmosphere. If you tried hard enough, you could even feel their presence – hushed whispers or chuckles. You could nearly imagine them having a conversation talking about their lives. From every experience, there was something to learn.
That day, an engraving on the columbarium wall caught my attention. It was a beautiful and poignant epitaph. Then, I wondered whether this person’s grandchildren ever hugged her and said “I love you” before she died. Did she have a loving support in her old age? Did her own children ever say “goodbye” to her? How does she feel now?
As I pondered on these questions, the words suddenly started glowing and a door opened up. Despite the primal fear that gripped me, curiosity got the better of me and I took the hanging lantern which had mysteriously appeared. And I began to go down the steps…
Finally, I reached an ancient door. Despite the chill that went down my spine, I turned the knob and opened the door. Immediately, a ray of light shone out. I saw an impossibly dark and shapeless figure looming overhead. I felt a throbbing pain and I passed out.
When I finally awoke, I looked at myself and saw that I was in some sort of room with the lantern beside me. I could not see anybody, but I saw a floating bowl of soup. Immediately, I thought of ghosts and my blood ran cold. Just then, I turned on the lantern and I saw a woman carrying the soup. She came beside me and sat down.
“Thank you for the soup! May I know where I am?” I asked the woman who had handed me the bowl of soup.
She replied, “Welcome to The Village of Joy. You must be Nathaniel right?” I gawked at her in surprise. How did she know my name?
After breakfast, she showed me outside in the village. When I exited the small hut, I found myself in a sprawling village. Everyone was cheerful and chatting among themselves. She went up to a person walking past who was carrying a basket of biscuits warm from the oven and introduced me.
He seemed to be the village elder given that he had a long beard. Casting my fear aside, I approached him and asked about this place was.
He explained putting his hands on my shoulders, “This is the Village of Joy where we enjoy our afterlife. Here there is no pain or suffering and we are immortal. Here, everyone lives harmoniously and we share a strong Kampong spirit. Come, I’ll show you to my friends.”
Bidding the woman goodbye, I went with the man. Along the way, he told me more about himself. He was the Village Elder. Whoever we met told me about their life stories and their experiences. It seemed like everyone had something interesting to share.
They described their dreams, their funny moments in life and their sad experiences and I started copying everything down in my pocket notebook. When the people saw my writing they patted me on the back and told me that I had a knack for it. I was over the moon. This was one of the few moments when I heard words of praise.
For the first time, I felt something around me that filled the emptiness in my heart. It was some wholesome feeling I just could not explain. For the first time, it made me feel I was important and people cared about me.
That evening, the villagers gathered around a campfire for a music and storytelling session. Towards the end, I heard a man singing a beautiful song. It enchanted me and I could feel it lifted up my soul. The melancholy melody warmed my heart inside-out.
Afterward, I went up to him and asked why he was singing such a melodious song. He replied,” I used to sing to my wife every day at evening, but one day, we had a terrible argument and did not sing it to her. That was the day I died. From then on every day I sing her a song from here so that she might hear it. I still regret I could never say goodbye to her.” I felt deeply moved by the man’s words.
Later that day, the old man handed me a beautiful wooden mirror. It had metallic engravings that shone magnificently when I touched it.
The man explained,” Nathaniel, you were not here by accident, you are the chosen one. Remember the dark thing that attacked you today, that was a tormentor. The tormentors wish to destroy the peace we have made in the Village of Joy. Nathaniel, your parents actually used to destroy tormentors, but one day, they got killed by one. You are the one who can alleviate us from the tormentors by destroying their controller, a basilisk. This was your parents’ magic mirror which they used. It has their blood and all of our souls. Use it well Nathaniel.”
Receiving so much information in a short time span, my mind was whirring at breakneck speed. I looked at my watch and was speechless – it was very late. The orphanage would be worried. With a heavy heart, I bid goodbye to the village folk. They too seemed sad to see me go. Putting a glowing orb into the mirror, he told me,” Nathaniel, we are sad to see you go, but whenever you feel alone, always remember that all of us are with you. If you feel lonely, look at the mirror and you shall remember all of us. Also, do visit us another time, okay? Just remember to bring the lantern and you can enter.” He wiped the tears from his cheek.
Regaining his composure, he continued “You have a mission to fulfil and I wish you the best of luck. Goodbye Nathaniel…”
With leaden steps, I walked to the door. After a slight hesitation, I opened the door and crept outside into the walkway. I did not have to go long before I found the basilisk waiting for me with the tormentors. The master commanded his minions to prey on me.
The tormentors began sucking the happiness away from me and filling me with negative and fearful thoughts. I was on the verge of giving up when I remembered the Village. Immediately, happy thoughts flooded through and the tormentors turned to ash.
Infuriated, the basilisk began slithering towards me, but I knew I was ready. Closing my eyes, I concentrated on the strong feeling in the Village. The basilisk backed away and began to deteriorate. However, it redoubled its efforts to destroy me and eventually, it succeeded in cornering me. I closed my eyes and braced for the worst when I remembered the mirror. Sliding it out of my pocket, I turned on the lantern and angled the mirror just at that angle… There was a blinding glow and a deafening crash as the basilisk breathed its last.
I dashed as fast as my legs could carry me out of the staircase and when I reached the graveyard, I collapsed in an exhausted heap.
The next morning, I found myself back in the orphanage and thought everything was just a dream. However, when I took out my diary and found the lantern and mirror I was convinced the village was real. Peering into the mirror, I found the faces of all the villagers smiling at me. With renewed confidence, I walked outside to face the bullies. This time though, they had better be ready…