The door wasn’t supposed to go anywhere. Uncle Lowell said it was someone’s idea of a joke.
"Not a very good one," said Aunt Lou. Aunt Lou didn’t approve of jokes or humor. Her spirit was all vinegar and ice-water.
The door had been built into the far end of the basement wall, past the big freezer full of tinfoil bundles, past the old furnace Uncle Lowell was always threatening to replace.
The door wasn’t supposed to go anywhere, but Cory noticed light seeping underneath its frame one night as he was fetching something from the freezer. Curious, he went to the door and touched the black knob. It seemed to twitch under his fingertips, like a living thing. When Cory slid his hand around it, the doorknob was warm and soft, more like living flesh than inanimate metal.
"Cory! What’s taking you so long?"
Aunt Lou’s voice careened down the stairs, into the basement. Cory jerked and spun around, hollered back up the stairs.
"Coming, Aunt Lou!"
He turned and rushed up the stairs with the tinfoiled meat. His palm itched where he had gripped the doorknob.
"Land’s sake, child!" Aunt Lou glowered at him, from her place at the stove. "What took you so long?"
"I. . . ."
She shook her head, impatient as ever, and snatched the package from him. "Go on now. I don’t want you underfoot while I’m cooking."
He obliged, turning and slipping back down the steps, into the basement. Aunt Lou never noticed.
Back in the basement, in the cool, dusty dark, Cory edged toward the door. Light gleamed from beneath the door, thick and golden as honey. Heart pounding, Cory reached for the doorknob. It was warmer than before. And, was it his imagination, or did it feel like it was trembling?
He tightened his grip and turned. The bolt clicked and Cory pulled. Silently, the door swung open, spilling warm sunlight into the dark basement.
Through the door, Cory saw a field of lush, green grass. The sun rising above the horizon looked golden and young.
That’s not our sun, thought Cory.
At the edge of the green field, were tall, majestic trees, with leaves like green fire. Something moved between their umber trunks, an indistinct white shape that soon resolved into the figure of a unicorn. Upon its back rode a young woman in richly colored robes.
As they drew nearer, Cory realized the young woman was singing. It was a bittersweet song, a kind of lament that left a tender ache in the boy’s chest.
Compared to the woman’s voice, Aunt Lou’s was like a rain of hailstones.
There was a snap to Aunt Lou’s voice now. There’d be hell to pay if he kept her waiting, Cory knew. He drew a breath, inhaling the dusty smells of the basement, the scent of boiled beans drifting down the stairs.
I hate it here, realized Cory.
Without hesitation, he stepped across the threshold and pulled the door closed behind him.