When I was growing up I used to be really active in my local church’s youth group. The one at our church was run mostly by guys and girls in their early twenties, and placed more of an emphasis on bonding and having fun than anything else.

Sure, there was still talk of scripture and a focus on God, but you can only retain a teenager’s attention for so long with that kind of talk. The youth group put on all kinds of events like pulling all-nighters at the church, attending concerts, geocaching among countless others and was far and away a better option than the regular church service; at least for me.

One event which eventually became recurring due to it’s popularity was something we called ‘the trade game’. The youth group would divide up into teams of five or six kids and one counselor. Each team would then be given a single #2 pencil and dispatched into the local neighborhoods.

The object of the game was simple: try and acquire the coolest item possible using only the pencil as trade collateral. Each team would go door to door to attempt and trade the pencil for an item of equal or greater value with the homeowner. Rinse and repeat for the allotted one-hour timeframe.

It was a simple premise, and on the surface, you may not expect it to yield anything too valuable, but you’d be wrong. Previous escapades of this game had yielded things like couches, go-carts, a slushy machine, a giant gumball dispenser, a 54-inch box television among many others. Most infamously was the occasion where a guy was on the brink of trading one team his Hummer H2 for a DVD player. Clearly the guy was loaded, but unfortunately for the team, the man’s wife stepped in and shut down the transaction.

The game was meant to be a simple exercise in negotiation and interaction with the local community, but more than anything it was meant to be fun and engaging for the players. At the end of the game, the youth group would gather and vote on which team acquired the coolest item. The winning team would be given candy, and the items collected would be used to decorate the youth group classroom so everyone could enjoy them. That 54-inch TV sat in the lounge with a Nintendo 64 surrounded by bean bags chairs and Lazy-Boy chairs. All of which had been acquired from the game at some point in time.

I had never been on the winning team, but I remember the night that changed. We split into groups as per the norm, and once again set off into the neighborhood to begin.

Not long after we arrived at the first house and one of the kids knocked on the door. A middle-aged man answered soon after, and one of the kids explained the rules of the game to him. The man chuckled.

“Oh yes, I’ve seen you guys come round before. Wadaya’ got to trade this time?” He asked. We showed him the pencil, and he appeared to ponder it a moment. He then smiled and excused himself back into his home before returning with something in hand.

“How bout this?” He asked, holding out a toaster in his hand. We jumped at the opportunity and accepted his offer right away. We thanked him, took the toaster and handed him the pencil. The team was buzzing as we knew we were off to a great start, but we hadn’t seen anything yet.

We repeated that same process probably a dozen times after that. We traded that toaster for a blender, the blender for a Leatherman multitool, the Leatherman for a lawnmower, and the lawnmower for our holy grail – a brand new original Xbox.

This was the early 2000’s, and our team of teenage boys thought an Xbox was pretty much the coolest item we could’ve possibly hoped for. Time was winding down by that point, and we were satisfied with our new treasure, but decided to hit one more house before returning to the church. I knocked on the old-wooden door, and our team waited in silence. A few moments later and a woman answered the door. She was an elderly lady, mid 70’s if I had to guess and greeted us with a warm smile.

We greeted her, and I explained the rules of the game to her. I then showed her the Xbox, and asked whether she wanted to participate and offer a trade. The woman pondered a moment, and smiled warmly.

“I have just the thing for you, one moment.” She shut the door and returned inside. We waited for a minute or two before the door opened once more. The old woman then stepped onto the porch, and we eagerly awaited what she had to offer.

“How about this?” She opened her wrinkled hand, to reveal a single silver key. It looked unusual, possessing no teeth marks of any kind. It just looked like a rough key before a key maker cut it to the right dimensions. There was a symbol on the hilt, but I didn’t recognize it.

“What’s it for?” One of the kids asked. The woman smiled.

“Everything.” Our team exchanged a few perturbed glances.

“So, you’re offering just the key to trade?” I asked, trying my best not to come off as rude. The woman nodded.

“Yes my child, but this isn’t just any ordinary key. This key can be used on anything.” We just stared at her a moment.

“Anything?” I asked. She nodded again, possessing an odd gleam in her eye.

“Any door, any lock – anything that needs a key can be opened or activated with this key.” I glanced at the team, but they didn’t appear convinced. I wondered if whether the woman was right in the head – not to be mean or anything, but her claim was quite extravagant. I’m no key expert, and certainly wasn’t at the time, but something like that is impossible right? A master key can’t exist.

The team was reluctant to part with our treasured Xbox, and in the end, we thanked the woman for her time and politely declined her proposal. The woman just smiled; in an odd look which is hard to describe. It was almost like someone bidding farewell to a loved one. The team turned to leave, and I turned to follow when the woman gently grabbed my arm. I looked back to her, now somewhat uncomfortable.

“I want you to take it.” She said. I glanced at the key in her other hand once more.

“Uh… thanks but that’s okay.” I replied trying to slither away. Her grip bolstered.

“I don’t want your gaming doohickey; goodness sakes, I wouldn’t know what to do with it anyways. But I want you to have this.” She offered the key again.

“Uh… that’s not really how the game works. I’d have to trade you something.” The woman then released her grip and thought a moment. By this point our counselor had paused on the street, wondering whether something was amiss.

“Well how ‘bout this? I don’t get many visitors nowadays. So let’s just say that you traded ‘your time’ for this key.” There was a subtle aura of sorrow in her eyes, and I didn’t know why. I also didn’t know why she was so insistent on me having the key either. After all if it did what she claimed, then why did she want to give it up so badly?

It may have been a loophole in the game, but I decided to accept her offer. She placed the key in the palm of my hand. It felt unusually cold, like it had just been taken out of the freezer.

“Oh, and one more thing…” The woman called from behind me as I was leaving; now bearing a stoic demeanor.

“Don’t ever use it on something you haven’t opened before.” The woman and I maintained eye contact for a moment, but in my mind, I was rolling my eyes. I thought for sure she was just some eccentric woman and didn’t place much weight on what she said. I agreed to her warning, thanked her again and rejoined the rest of my team down the block. I put the odd key in my pocket, and pretty much forgot about it after that.

The team was on cloud nine, and after all the teams had gathered in the main room, we all showed off the treasures we had acquired. The other teams had some good stuff, but after the votes had been tallied it was clear that our team’s Xbox was the coolest item. We won the game for the first time, but little did I know that the true prize was something I barely paid attention to.

Years went by after that, and I pretty much forgot about the odd little silver key. While writing this, I honestly can’t justify how exactly I managed to forget an item like that, but I guess my teenage mind was focused on other priorities. I was preparing to leave for college years later and clearing out my room for the big move. In the deepest crevice of my closet I stumbled upon something I had entirely forgotten about: the odd silver key.

It felt as cold to the touch as it did the day I had received it; like it had been kept in cryo-storage for all those years. The memories of my encounter with the woman suddenly all came flooding back.

I decided to test it, and went outside and locked the front door of my parent’s house. I then pulled the silver key and placed it in the slot; feeling a bit ridiculous that I actually was trying something like that. To my utter disbelief, it clicked. I turned the knob, and the door opened.

I could hardly believe it, but the old woman’s words appeared true. Still not entirely convinced I tried the same thing on my dad’s safe. I unlocked it using it’s original key, then relocked it again. After putting the silver key in the slot, I was met with the same result from before. The door opened. I knew I truly had something special then.

From that point on, I carried that key with me wherever I went. I must’ve used it thousands of times for hundreds of different purposes. It worked on my dorm room, all of my classroom doors that I tried and even turned on my crappy 98 Civic. In time it was clear that the odd silver key worked on every single thing I tried it on.

I still don’t know how to explain it, or whether there is even an explanation to it. More than once I thought about sharing it with someone to have it tested, but I was always worried it would end up being confiscated from me. After all, a master key that can literally open any lock would be absolutely priceless. Who knows what damage could be done if it were to fall into the wrong hands? I figured the safest place it could be was with me, so I kept it on me at all times, and kept my secret to myself.

During my college years I ended up getting a job as a nightshift janitor at a local building complex. It was one of those multi-use buildings with many different businesses operating out of separate rooms. The businesses there were a dentist, lawyer’s office, insurance firm, therapist clinic among a few others.

Since I was the janitor, I was given keys to all the rooms in the building. Of course, I really didn’t need all of them, but it’s not like I could tell anyone that. Once more, my little silver key proved to work on every single door in the building. Made my job a heck of a lot easier, but if anyone found out I’m sure they wouldn’t have exactly been thrilled.

I had just finished up cleaning for the night, and as the sun began to rise on the horizon, I went around to ensure all the doors were locked. Right as I was about to head home, I noticed something odd. In the main hallway of the building, I found a door I had never seen before.

It was a simple wooden door, but that’s what made it unusual. All the other doors in the building were metal. Not only that, but that door in particular also used to be metal. It was a utility closet, but I had never seen the wooden door there before.

I wondered if maybe the buildings landlord had replaced it for some reason, but I was usually informed whenever any renovations like that had occurred. I tried the key that was designated for that closet door, but it didn’t work. I tried all the keys I had on my chain, but none of them worked.

I’m sure you’ve already figured out where this is going, but before I could use the master key, the woman’s words from years ago suddenly flashed in my mind. After her claim about the key’s ability proved true, I knew it’d be wise to consider her warning. But then again, I had technically opened that door before, even if it was a different door that was mounted there. Plus, I had to open it, because it was my job to ensure all rooms were clean before I left.

I found myself chuckling as I slid the silver key into the lock, figuring there was nothing to be concerned about. I mean after all; it was just a closet door. But as I turned the key, heard the tumbler click and twisted the knob, my heart skipped a beat.

Instead of a bland utility closet, I was met with the sight of a far larger room than I remembered. The floor was entirely grey, appearing to be constructed of steel. All around the room was a collection of dozens of odd sculptures. Most looked like strange pieces of abstract art constructed of various geometric shapes in what I can only describe as a brutalist architecture aesthetic.

One in particular caught my eye that was just off to the right. It was in a sort of spiraling vortex design with six arms constructed of segmented blocks of diamond-shaped links. On top of the spiral was a small obelisk that looked somewhat like a rock-stacking sculpture, but fused together and pitch black. The thing had to have been at least ten feet tall.

Needless to say, I had never seen anything like it. I’d been in that utility closet dozens of times before. Not only was there never anything like those sculptures in it previously, but it didn’t even seem possible for them to be in there at all. The utility closet was wedged between two offices rented by separate tenants. That sculpture room was far too large in both width and height to have even fit in the building, and yet there it was, right before my eyes.

A cold chill swept down my spine as I realized I had no logical explanation for what I was seeing. I stared at the key in my palm, and it felt colder than ever before. I knew it was a bad idea, but I had to see what else was there.

I stepped through the doorway, and felt my foot clap against the cold grey floor. A scent of chemicals; like paint thinner and diesel lingered heavy in the cold air. My breath turned to visible vapor as it left my lips, and the cold air fell like an ice cream blanket onto my skin.

There were more odd sculptures of every shape and size you can imagine. There had to have been several dozen of them at least. Most were of the same vein as the first I described; consisting of odd geometric formations. There were a few that possessed a bit more ‘human’ qualities, but the resemblance was minimal.

The first I saw consisted of a large mound of hardened clay. Various appendages; like hooves, tentacles, pincers and claws sprouted from the bottom at varying intervals. The middle portion contained, eyes, mouths, ears, genitalia and other less-definable orifices.

On the top of the mound were two, semi-humanoid creatures facing one another on their knees. They both appeared to be female, and both had their faces pressed together, appearing as though they had been fused. The whole thing looked like Donatello took a massive dose of acid and tried sculpting something out of an HP Lovecraft story. It was deeply unsettling; but clearly whatever disturbed hands had carved it had done so with incredible skill and finesse.

There was another piece that caught my eye because it looked more human than the others. It was rather simplistic compared to the others; looking only like an incredibly lanky humanoid. No facial features, nor hands or feet, just a body elongated like it were made of black playdoh. It looked like gumby had some bastard lovechild with Mr. Fantastic, and I felt somehow deeply unnerved by it.

I felt inexplicably drawn into the macabre museum, and stared in wonder at the multiple iterations of twisted effigies. There was more there than I can describe in a reasonable amount of time, and they weren’t even the main oddity.

After sifting my way through the gallery for a minute or two, I spotted a window on the far wall. This window was massive; expanding tens of feet upward to the ceiling. It’s frame had these elaborate swirls like something from a Greek pantheon, but stained black.

As I stepped in front of the window, I felt all possible explanations disintegrate in my mind. The first thing I noticed was the green ring. Outside in the sky was a massive green ring that glowed like some enormous emerald halo. It’s hue bathed the landscape in it’s verdant light, and illuminated things I have yet to explain.

I was high up in elevation, no question about it. The landscape stretched on for miles, revealing mountains, forests, lakes and other less-describable things. From my vantage point I assumed I was in some sort of tower; one that had to have been several hundred feet tall.

There was no denying it anymore. Not only was I clearly not in my same work building anymore, I don’t even think I was on the same planet. Hell, for all I know, that wasn’t even the same universe anymore. I still don’t know how to explain what I saw.

I was torn in that moment between my desire to continue exploring and the instinctual dread that had been creeping up my spine. After gawking at the impossible landscape for a while, I finally decided to leave. I figured the silver key was my ticket to coming back, and I could do so at any time. I had to show someone what I had found.

I continued ogling the sculptures as I made my way back towards the door, marveling at their uncanny vestiges. As I was nearing the door though, something caught my eye. I wasn’t sure and so I turned back. That’s when my heart sunk like a lead weight. That odd, playdoh man sculpture wasn’t there anymore.

The hairs bristled on the back of my neck, and suddenly I felt very much in danger. I ran back towards the door, and heard something moving behind me. Once I got through the door I attempted to slam it shut, but something prevented me. In a split second some amorphous, obsidian thing wriggled it’s way from the other side of the door.

It was far too strong, and it knocked me flat on my back. I stared back in horror as the faceless thing from that sculpture lunged at me with a blinding speed. I screamed and tried to crawl away, but the thing outmatched me in every physical capacity. It flipped me onto my chest, and I felt it’s cold, almost squishy appendages curl around me.

Things turned into a flurry as I thrashed about to escape the grip of the vile fiend. I thought I was as good as dead, but the thing then suddenly stopped and released me. It then slinked away, holding something up to it’s eyeless face with a fingerless arm. It then darted down the hallway, crawling on all fours like some hideous fusion of spider and octopus; smooth yet clunky. It was gone before I could even get to my feet.

The only thing I could think to do at that point was run, so that’s what I did. I didn’t even bother putting my cleaning cart away, I just got the hell out of their as soon as possible. Once in the parking lot I was certain that thing was waiting to ambush me, but as I reached my car, I saw no sign of it. I fired it up, and gunned it out of there.

My heart was pumping furiously, and hands shaking like leaves in the wind. I thought I was going to have a heart attack, and even considered driving to the hospital. I think I was so petrified that I blacked out the entire drive home, because the next thing I really remember was cradling myself in my dorm bathroom.

I thought I was going crazy. I thought I was in the midst of a psychotic break or schizophrenic episode. I don’t know how those things work, and have never been diagnosed with any mental disorder like that, but it was my only explanation. I had to have hallucinated the whole thing. There’s just no way I actually had a key that opened a door to another dimension, right?

That was when I realized something even worse: I didn’t have the key anymore. I looked everywhere for it, but I couldn’t find it. I even thought about going back to work to look, but exhaustion and fear prevented me.

Questioning your own mental state is one of the scariest things I’ve ever been through, but now I think the truth may be even worse. For the rest of that day I only managed to keep my sanity intact by ironically convincing myself I was not in sound mind. I rationalized that the key I had used for years to open my dorm, start my car and just about every other usage imaginable was nothing more than an extraordinarily complex and persistent hallucination. I told myself I would check myself in to get the help I believed I needed as soon as possible.

By the time my heart finally stopped racing several hours later, I was struck with a wave of exhaustion like a club to the face. I fell asleep right there in the bathroom, and was woken up to the sounds of knocking several hours later. It was my roommate; Chris and he looked quite worried.

“Dude you alright? You’ve been in there all day.” I did my best to dissuade his concern, claiming I had been very hungover and fell asleep in the bathroom whilst between sessions of vomiting. He laughed at that.

“Oh, thank god man, I was worried you got caught up in that shit at your building.” I piqued an eyebrow at him.

“What are you talking about?” I asked, causing Chris to mirror my confusion.

“At the Zenith complex downtown, that’s where you work right? Did you work last night?” I nodded, replying yes to both questions.

“Did you hear what happened?” My heart sunk as Chris pulled out his phone. After a few seconds of typing he turned the phone to face me. On his screen was an article from a local news outlet.

“2 dead in horrific and bizarre attack late last night.” I grabbed the phone from him and furiously scanned the page with my eyes. The article revealed that two women were killed in a way that no one could fully explain.

They found one woman who was a secretary for the insurance firm cut in half, with her lower section solidified in some kind of stone material whilst her torso remained flesh. The other woman was a dental hygienist and had been decapitated, with her headless corpse sprawled in the hallway and a stone replica of her head laying a few feet away. Whether that stone was actually her head or not, I still don’t know; and I don’t think anyone does.

Paranoia and crippling guilt surged into my gut like never before, and it was so abrasive that I collapsed to my knees. Once again I questioned my own sanity. Was it me that did it? Did my mind simply concoct an illusion to convince me otherwise? I don’t know if that explanation would’ve been worse or better than the truth I now know, considering the attack happened well after I had already left.

I’ve been holed up in my apartment ever since that happened earlier today. I know it’s only a matter of time before the cops come to interview me, but what am I even supposed to say? I didn’t do it, I’m sure of that now, but I can’t explain what really happened. Either way they’ll haul me off to a loony bin for sure. No one will believe the truth.

The only person I could think to turn to for help, was the same person where this all began: the old woman who had traded me the key. I searched online, and after scouring through all sorts of eulogies, articles and census reports, I finally found her in the worst possible place. It was a police report, and it was even more worrying than I could’ve imagined.

Sandra Elmsworth; 83 had suddenly and inexplicably gone missing almost ten years ago. Police found no sign of a struggle in her home, and no indication she had left of her own volition. The woman suffered a myriad of physical ailments including an injured hip, and likely couldn’t have left her home unsupervised even if she wanted to. How does an elderly woman just vanish off the face of the earth like that?

Police suspect foul play, but after all this time they have yet to identify a witness, suspect, motive or even an explanation of what exactly happened. The only thing they noted being out of the ordinary was that her house seemed unusually cold for the August season when they conducted their investigation.

I don’t know what this all means, and I don’t know what I should do. That thing that attacked me; that thing that hid in that strange world beyond the door. I let it out, and now I think it has the key. I don’t think there’s any question that it, whatever ‘it’ is was responsible for the deaths of those two women.

Why didn’t it kill me? What even is it and what was that place it came from? How does the key work? After all this, it seems I’m left only with endless questions. Questions I may never get the answer to. There’s one which really worries me more than all the others though; how many other doors out there are there, and what if that thing starts opening them?

 

 

pencil-dark_52630-551