Alice stared at the closed door. Stepping back, she raised the electric lantern and held it up to the door. It was sent into the fieldstone wall, the frame cut into the stones. The door itself was made of steel or something that looked like steel, but was covered in a fine script, etched or engraved, Alice couldn’t remember which word applied, covered the entire surface of the door. The engraving was filled with silver, giving a reflective character to the surface of the door, and Alice watched as the light glinted back and forth as she moved the lantern.
Midway up the door were three bands of metal, extending out across the fieldstone walls into the darkness on either side. Now that she was looking at them, she could see that the bands of metal wove together at the frame and were worked into the frame, going up and down, around the door, and then the weave coming apart against at the midway point on the other side. The bands were each bolted into the wall separately: one silver, one gold, and one iron. The iron band was flaked with rust, which gave the woven metal an ancient and disused character.
Alice limped along the wall, following the bands of metal until light from the lantern fell on the far wall. The basement of the house was immense, and Lally columns dotted the open space, seemingly at random.The wall turned, and Alice followed it until she found another door, much like the one at the base of the stairs.
This door was made of iron and coated in rust, in much the same way the band of metal was. Nevertheless, looking close, Alice she could see similar inscriptions engraved deeply into the metal.
The lettering meant nothing to Alice. It was definitely not English, though it seemed to use at least some of the same alphabet. There were symbols she didn’t recognize at all, but languages were never her strong area.
Alice put her hand against the rusty door, and felt the flaking rust under her fingers, felt the sharp edges to the cut letters. Something about the door drew her, and she began to wonder what would be on the other side of this door. Esther had told he not to open any of the doors down here, but she had understood her to mean that she shouldn’t leave the house. If the silver door had lead into the Dreamlands, where would the iron door take her? She could open it and just take a look. And then she could close it again and go upstairs.
Alice closed her hand on the iron handle, feeling the cold metal against her palm, and some odd notion tugged at the edge of her mind. She stepped away from the door, pulling her hand back. As she did, Alice could feel the urge to open the door fading, but still present. She swallowed and took another step back.
She swallowed and turned to look down the wall. The bands of metal led off into the darkness, and Alice walked along them, following the edge of the fieldstone foundation around the great basement, expecting to find another door against the wall behind the stairs, but was disappointed when one didn’t materialize.
Instead, as she walked along, she saw on the floor, roughly across from where the silver door stood, a few feet away from the wall, a stone slab set into the floor. A square, about three feet to a side, it was unassuming in the most threatening way possible.
Somewhere deep inside Alice’s primordial brain, in a part that predated the mastery of fire, a part civilization had not bred out of her, something screamed at her to stay away from this stone door, to quit this job and get out of Boston, to just drop what she was holding and run.
Alice realized she had already taken several steps backward. She took a deep breath and placed her hand against he wall to steady herself. She stepped forward, feeling the fear clutching at her heart, and forced herself to kneel down, holding the lantern up in her shaking hand. “It’s just a damn rock,” she said, failing to reassure herself.
The stone was set into the floor, with handholds carved into the sides, one in the center of each side. The top of the stone was unadorned, flat, with beveled edges, no carvings or images to mark the surface. To its side were distinct marks in the dirt from where it had to have been dragged sideways. Alice had no desire to know what was underneath it.
She reached out for it but couldn’t bring herself to touch it, and after a few seconds of holding her hand out toward the stone, she couldn’t help it but to pull it back and stand up. Just being close to this thing was making her sweaty and nauseous, and she thought maybe that was sign enough to leave it alone.
Alice stepped away from the stone, and immediately felt like she was making a good choice. Rather than walk past it and complete her circumnavigation of the basement right now, she crossed the center space of the basement and went straight to the stairs.
Bruce’s shotgun was lying where he had left it, barrel up, resting against the stairs. Alice picked it up and checked it; he had left it loaded and with the safety off. She breached the chamber and took out the shells, then put it back down. If something coming through these doors was dangerous enough that Bruce felt the need to be armed, Alice didn’t want to leave whatever it might be a loaded shotgun to work with.
Now standing in the light filtering down the stairs, Alice switched off the lantern and dragged her sorry ass up the steps. The stairs let her out in an alcove off the kitchen. Alice stepped straight to the fridge and pulled it open, looking for anything edible.