I was possessed, compelled to accept the invitation, despite every instinct not to. I turned on the switch, giving light to the basement. My first inclination: look under the stairs. I checked through the spaces between the wooden steps. Nothing under there.

A slight film of perspiration appeared on my brow as I descended into the bowels of the house. Once in the basement I saw the half-completed figurines and pottery on the shelves, the plastic totes of junk.

The door leading to the small room, Sandy’s art studio, was open. I hadn’t left it that way—another invitation. After turning on the light to the studio and entering, I walked up to the table in the center, looking at the carved bald heads on the shelves behind it. The bags of clay and wooden utensils were spread sporadically among the heads on the shelf. Nothing changed.

What am I doing? I thought, resting my palm on my forehead. I turned around to leave. Just as I was about to walk out of the room, a soft breeze tickled the back of my neck. I stopped in my tracks, looking over my shoulder, but nothing was there.

I paused and felt another small gust. The wind, this time, blew gently across my face. There was a draft someplace in the room. The air continued to softly and silently blow, so I followed it to find its source. It came from the only bricked wall in the room, to the right of the wooden table.

I walked up to the brick wall. Sure enough I felt a current of air coming from between the hairline cracks among a small section of the bricks near the ceiling. A very slight, hollow sound emanated as I pounded my fist against the wall. There was an empty space on the other side.

Was this what the apparition wanted me to see? With both palms and as much strength as I could muster, I pushed against the wall with no effect.

I scanned every inch of every cemented brick. Nothing seemed out of place. My eyes went from the wall to the wooden beams of the ceiling above. There was something odd: the heads of many nails faced downward, embedded in the beams, were covered with rust, dirt, and cobwebs. But in one of the beams, where the brick wall met the ceiling, was an extremely large nail that wasn’t dirty at all. It was rusty but clean and much bigger than the others.

I reached up and tampered with the nailhead. I pushed it and nothing happened, but when I gave it a twist counterclockwise, it moved only for an interval. I heard a clicking sound in the wall, followed by the grinding noise of brick on brick.

The wall opened inward toward me about an inch. I pulled the brick door further toward me easily without a sound, leaving ample space to walk through. What a work of engineering, the perfect secret passage. I stared into the black darkness of the unknown and felt a slight cold breeze against my face that carried a damp, musty odor.

I stalled, not wanting to go in. I ran into the outer room and grabbed a flashlight. When I returned to the studio, I took one of the sharp utensils off the shelf that Sandy used to mold her clay. It was the nearest thing to a knife.

I entered the dark passage, carrying the pseudo-knife steadily in my right hand and the flashlight in the left. I walked slowly down the musty corridor, the beam of light in front of me. It was a tunnel, with rocky walls on either side. The passageway descended further in the earth like a long down-ramp.

Something brushed my feet as I walked. Pointing the beam of light at the ground, I saw them: a group of large gray-and-black rats with pink tails crawling over each other at the soles of my shoes. I kicked at them, and they scurried along the side of the tunnel, then made a sharp turn right ahead of me.

I followed the vermin and made the right turn. Continuing a few yards down, I entered a room, a large cavern with high ceilings and stalactites hanging down. The flashlight allowed me to see something in the darkness, something blocky.

In front of me was a large rectangular glass case standing upright. It stood on top of a wooden pedestal about a foot high. There was something inside. I flashed the light on the glass and saw something horrible.

She stood erect in the glass box, as her back side faced me. The flesh had not yet completely rotted off, but she was mostly a skeleton. I saw protruding pelvis bones and the bony vertebrae of her spine. Dark hair dangled from the remaining scalp down her back between her shoulder blades. It was the rotted corpse of a woman.

I stepped around the other side of the glass case to see the dead body from the front. Her breasts were rotted, and her ribcage hung. The eye sockets were empty, and there were visible rows of teeth in the skull.

I stepped backward, then turned around. Flashing the light in front of me, I noticed two more objects. To my left, about fifty yards ahead, was another glass case on a wooden pedestal. Inside the glass was another half-rotted female corpse, facing me. Her skull grinned at me, and her stringy auburn hair hung down to her bony shoulders and clavicles.

Moving the light to my right about another fifty yards made visible yet a third glass case on a pedestal and another woman’s corpse inside it. She stood upright like the others. Matted blonde hair like the fairy Tinkerbell hung from the scalp. She had the skeleton smile, rotted flesh fell from her dry bones, and her eye sockets were empty like the other two.

The three dead women were positioned in their glass prisons in the form of a triangle. Each corpse was in a corner of the triangle, and I was standing in the center of all three. These dead bodies had been under the house all this time. Why were they contained like prizes in their encasings on the floor, forming a triangle? I felt sick.

I stepped backward, then turned to rush through the tunnel back up to the cellar, but not before one more strong gust of wind blew against my face. The air caused a noise, the sound of papers rustling. I looked on the rocky floor and found the pages of an open book moving in the wind.