“Weird place for a door,” Andy thought. He spotted an unevenly-colored wall while organizing his grandfather’s basement. After moving several stacked boxes out of the way he found a white door. several shades brighter than the mother-of-pearl painted walls. Despite being a different shade, it blended in quite well with the wall. The only thing that gave it away as a door instead of a miscolored patch, was a red-brass knob with a number pad above it.
Andy glanced at the wall on both sides of the door. Both sides were decorated with high, backyard-facing windows.
“I don’t remember a back door on the other side,” Andy mumbled to himself. He stared at the number pad; white buttons with red numbers on it 1-9. He chuckled. “Alright, grandpa let’s see what the deal is.” He typed in his grandfather’s favorite password: 1-2-3-4-5. Andy encouraged his grandfather to be more creative with his passwords; he never was. All the numbers on the keypad blinked with a beep, then the door unlatched.
“What the hell?” The first thing he saw was a strip of soft, red light peeking through the cracked opening; he glanced at the windows. There was still a perfect blue, sunny day outside in the backyard. “Well, now I have to find out,” he mumbled to himself, grabbed the knob, and pulled. The door opened with ease and revealed a small black closet with a single red bulb in the ceiling as the only light.
“Huh?” Andy stepped into the phone-booth sized room to inspect it. The moment he was completely within the space, the door closed itself behind him and the red light went out. He was in complete darkness for a second before the red light came back; he didn’t even have time to panic. The light came on and a door in front of him opened; a crack of white light peeked through the new opening. He ignored it and turned around to push at the door he entered through, but it did not budge and there was no knob to turn.
“Grandpa, why the hell didn’t you ever change your password?” Andy sighed and turned back around to the white light. He took a deep breath and pushed the door open. He was greeted by a long hallway lined with sparkling white tiles. Windows lined the hallway on each side, but he could not make out anything in them. With a shrug of acceptance, Andy stepped out of the black booth and into the hallway. He peered into the first window he saw on his left. The window was small, about 3’x3′; his mouth fell open. On the other side of the window, a sparkling white unicorn grazed in a grassy habitat.
“No way…,” Andy took a step back; but, he jumped in surprise when a voice spoke up.
“You must be Andy,” a woman said. Andy’s head swiveled around left and right a couple of times before she spoke again. “Down here,” she said. A sleek black cat with a red patch of fur atop its head sat on its haunches at Andy’s feet. From his angle, red fur resembled a skull.
“Are you a talking cat?” Andy asked.
“Are you Andy?” she replied without answering his question. The answer seemed obvious.
“Yeah, who are you?” Once he realized he had someone to give him answers, more questions flowed. “What is this place? How do you know my name?”
“Follow me, and I’ll explain,” the cat said. “My name is Janet.” She bobbed her head in a polite nod, then turned around to lead Andy down the hall. “Your grandfather talked about you often, I was his supervisor.”
“He worked for a cat!?” Andy blurted.
“He worked for a corporation named Sharp Development, the same one I work for. He was assigned to my department, so yes. He worked for a cat,” Janet said. She led Andy past the next set of windows, and he peeked in again. A thick, tall tree sat in the center of the habitat. It grew taller than he could see and over a dozen colorful glowing hives hung from the branches he could see. A rainbow of specs buzzed around each hive, their glow matched the hive they hovered around. Greens, blues, reds, yellows and more filled the air on the other side of the window.
“Fairies,” Janet said. Once she had his attention she started walking forward again.
“Unicorn and Fairies?” Andy wondered what was behind the next window as they left the fairies behind.
“What did my grandfather do?” Andy asked. His grandfather was eccentric and never lacked money. He didn’t think the old man had any sort of scientific background that could be useful in research. Unfortunately, that was the only thing he could think of for a place like this.
“He was a caretaker,” Janet reached the next window; this time she paused to let Andy peek in. He did, but could not see much. The view wasn’t as clear as the others had been. At the exact moment he realized it was filled with water, a blonde woman floated into view. She smiled and winked a blue pearlescent eye at him, then turned around and swam away. Andy admired the rainbow scales on her tail as she did. Andy turned to Janet to see if she had any reaction; she started walking forward again. Andy took a moment to peek at the window across the hall. He realized he’d been ignoring the whole right side.
“They’re both mermaids,” Janet said. “We only put the same creatures across from each other. It helps avoid complications should the wrong species spot each other.” Andy shrugged and rushed to catch up to Janet.
“Caretaker…he took care of these creatures then?” Andy asked.
“He did, and he was quite adept at it. Sharp Development does a lot of testing, as humanely as possible. You could call these the graduates of our research program. We’ve learned everything we could from them. Unfortunately, they can’t be returned to the wild for various reasons; the best we can do is give them a peaceful life.” Andy noticed brilliant white light pouring out of the next set of windows.
“What’s in those?” Andy asked.
“Those aren’t creatures, that’s something else Ms. Sharp is working on. You can ignore those rooms, they won’t be here when you start your duties.” Andy stopped.
“Your grandfather hoped you’d find your way down here. Since you did, you’re eligible to take over his job if you like.”
“What? How in the hell did he expect me to find my way down here if he never mentioned it?” Andy asked.
“He never changed his password.”