Photo by Yael Gonzalez on Unsplash

“Grab the mason jars while you’re down there,” Jamie tells me, slicing up the peaches we’d bought at the farmer’s market that morning.

“Sure thing, baby,” I answer before trudging the rickety stairs down into our basement. The stairs need to be replaced (they’re at least 100 years old), but that requires money we don’t have right now.

I grab the crockpot we prefer to use for chili, then head over to the back wall. Our collection of fruit preserves sits waiting for the coming winter, likely to be one of the harshest New Jersey has ever seen. We’ve been storing food since moving onto the farm after Danny’s parents died a decade before.

I meander through the boxes of typical household items kept in one’s basement: seasonal decorations, house tools too big for upstairs storage, and clothes waiting to be donated to the nearest consignment shop.

Adjusting the crockpot beneath my right arm, I pull down three empty jars and dump them into the crockpot before heading back toward the stairs. A grating noise to my left makes me freeze between paces. When I move my left foot forward, the noise comes again, louder this time. A dusty white line appears at floor level, creeping up roughly a foot higher than my own six-feet-one, cuts to the right another foot, before finally dropping back down to the floor.

“Jamie… Can you get down here?” I call out, my voice shaky.

The door — as that’s clear what it is now — pushes out, then slides to the side, revealing a dusty tunnel. Wall sconces light up at regular intervals, leading into the tunnel’s depths to a narrow point. I call out once more for my husband, but a soft voice in my mind says, “Come home.”

The crockpot and jars crash to the ground, and I move toward the doorway as if being pulled by a magnetic force. When I cross the threshold, the door slides shut behind me immediately.

“Follow us, please.”

I let out a harsh breath, but I can’t stop myself from moving forward. The sconces show multiple entrances every so often, and I enter the first one I reach, desperate already to find a way out. The way the door had shut behind me let me know it would never appear again, either as entrance or exit.

The tunnel I’m in splits into its own three separate tunnels. I move to the right, place my right hand on the wall, and continue walking. If I stick to one direction, I should find an exit eventually, right? Right??

Time passes interminably. It’s only when I’m struggling for air that I finally must stop. I have no idea how long I’ve been down here, but there’s no reason the air should feel so thin or like I can’t get enough into my lungs.

“Follow us, please.”

The voice has been encouraging me the entire time, right when I feel like I’ll never get out of this place. I’m certain I’ve walked the length of the Great Wall of China.

“What happens if I don’t?” I rasp.

“Follow us, please.”

“Screw you. I’m not moving a single inch—”

Hands clamp down on my shoulders and start pushing me forward. I try to drag my feet. I even go completely limp. But those hands keep me upright, and I think I another two pairs wrap around my ankles. I felt like a string puppet, moved by forces other than my own willpower. Silent tears fall from my eyes, my despair and frustration an overwhelming force.

“I wanna go home. Please,” I beg.

“Almost there.”

Indeed, the same glow from before cuts a similar line into the space in front of us. Oh, thank Christ. I’m never coming to this basement again. I’m gonna bolt that door shut and brick it up and layer concrete over that and —

Bright light makes me squeeze my eyes shut, and I am eased through the doorway, carefully this time, almost reverently.

“Welcome home, King.”

When I open my eyes, I nearly faint. Before me is a four-story stone castle surrounded by a deep moat and only accessible by the bridge we are approaching. A figure exits the door and this time I do faint.

Jamie just walks out with his arms extended, a gleaming smile stretching across his beautiful face.

What the hell is my husband doing here?

Where the hell am I?

When the hell am I?!

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