The Mysterious Key

I always loved the flea market in my city.

It wasn’t so much that I needed anything; it was just nice to go there with friends. We’d have a look around at all the things available, have some beers and enjoy the weather.

The best time to go was during summer. The place was always packed with people and merchants selling all sorts of things. You could find vintage LPs, old classical books, and a lot of strange memorabilia. It was a treasure trove.

Whenever I went there, I was always on the lookout for weird things, things with a certain character. I’d bought strange figurines, weird books, old postcards or photographs, and other similar things.

The last time I was there about a month ago and this visit should end up changing my life forever.

While my friend Martin, an avid collector, had a look at a stall that sold DVDs and CDs, I checked out the other stalls nearby. It wasn’t long before I noticed an old woman who’d propped up a little camping table. On it, she’d placed about two dozen keys.

How weird was that, someone selling keys? I walked up to have a look almost instantly.

Most of the keys for display were old and rusty, yet some were strangely ornate, made of gold or other more expensive materials.

While I studied them, my friend walked up to me. His eyes went to the table in front of me, and he laughed.

“Who the hell’s going to buy a random key?” he asked.

“Oh, they are not random. They are special keys for special places,” the woman behind the table answered.

“Yeah, sure, whatever,” he replied, shrugged, and wandered off.

“Where are they from? Like those over here, they look really old,” I asked, pointing at one of the more rusty ones.

The woman leaned forward and explained.

“Well, those you just pointed at are from old buildings, houses that are long gone. Those over there,” she pointed at the more ornate ones, “are from old castles and forts. They were used to opening certain, hidden doors.”

My interest was piqued instantly. I don’t know why, but owning a key that used to open a secret door at a castle sounded awesome.

For a while I had a look at all the old, ornate keys before I picked up one that seemed to be made of bronze. It was richly decorated, sprouting various little twirls.

“How much for this one?”

“Dude, why the hell are you buying a stupid old key? What do you want with it?”

I sighed. Martin was back to annoy me.

“I don’t know, it looks cool,” I said, shrugging.

The woman had lifted the key and was gazing at it.

“Now, young man, you’ve picked a very special one,” she said after a while.

I couldn’t help but sigh inwardly. I was sure she was going to tell me a long elaborate story about how it was the key to Ludwig XIV’s personal sex-dungeon in the depths of Versailles.

To my surprise, she told me no such story. No, she simply nodded.

“It’s yours for two euros,” she finally said

“He takes it for one!” Martin, who loved to barter cut in.

The woman eyed him for a moment before she nodded.

“Well, for one then.”

I handed her one euro, and she handed me the key.

“You see, man, that’s how you barter! You always have to barter at the flea market!”

I sighed once more. Martin could go a bit overboard with buying things at the flea market. More than once he’d gotten into an argument over a price or walked off when a merchant didn’t want to chaff of another Euro.

While he rambled on, I looked at the key once more. It sure looked special, with all the little twirls and embellishments.

We were at the flea market for another hour and had two more beers before we made our way home. It was barely two in the afternoon, but because of the heat, I felt quite drunk.

The moment I’d made it back to my apartment, I took a nap. I slept almost all afternoon, but when I got back up in the early evening, I thankfully didn’t feel drunk anymore.

The first thing I did was to go through my backpack and sort through my newest treasures.

I had gotten a strange old picture book depicting the works of M. C. Escher and other similar artists, a framed postcard depicting some sort of surreal motif and finally the ornate bronze key.

I eyed it for a bit and couldn’t help but laugh. You could find the weirdest things at the flea market.

I put away the book, hung up the framed postcard and eventually connected the key to a chain and let it dangle from a small nail in the wall.

I considered going out to meet some friends, but after spending a good part of the day at the flea market, I didn’t feel like it. Instead, I found myself a movie on Netflix and prepared myself for a slow, chilled evening.

When I returned from the toilet at one point, my eyes wandered back to the strange key I’d bought. That design. Why was it so strange? All those little twirls and embellishments, how’d this thing ever fit anywhere?

For a while I sat there, turning it over in my hands before I got an idea. I walked up to my small storage room and to my surprise, the key was an almost perfect fit for the lock.

“Huh, what do you know it actually fits,” I brought out in surprise.

Almost without thinking, I tried turning it and realized I could. The lock clicked, then clicked again before the door sprang open.

I got a hold of the handle to close it again, but when I stared through the crack, I didn’t see my storage room and the haphazardly stocked boxes. Instead, I was staring at an entirely different room. I pushed the door open a bit more and my eyes grew wide. What I saw in front of me was a much bigger, much wider room than my small storage room, or any other room in my apartment.

An icy shiver went down my spine, and I threw the door shut. When I opened it again, the world was normal again, and all I saw was a small storage room and boxes.

It had been nothing but the trick of an eye, an optical illusion. I laughed. Of course it was.

And yet, as I held the strange, twisted key in my hands, I couldn’t help but wonder what had just happened.

‘You’ve picked a very special one,’ the old saleswoman had said.

Almost in a trance, and with slightly shaking hands, I put the key back into the lock. Once more I turned and the lock clicked once, twice, and the door opened again.

This time, I didn’t throw it shut right away, but peeked inside carefully. What I saw was some sort of grand hall. As I looked inside, I saw a rich hardwood table surrounded by hardwood chairs. The walls were clade in fine wood and sprouted ornate paintings. A huge, expensive carpet covered the floor. From where I was, I could see various golden figurines positioned on a small cupboard that stood against one wall.

What the hell? How could there be a room like this here? This was supposed to be my storage room!

Then I thought back to what the old woman had said. Some of those keys used to open hidden rooms in old castles and forts.

So was this… some sort of hidden room in an old castle?

I couldn’t help but laugh. This was silly. No, this was insane.

And yet, the room was right here, right in front of me. I could almost step inside if I so wanted.

The moment this thought crossed my mind, a strange sense of curiosity came over me. Could I really just… enter?

My eyes wandered back to the golden figurines on the cupboard. Could I just take them?

For a few moments, I was unsure and wondered if this was some sort of trick. Maybe whatever this was, was trying to lure me in. I carefully took off one of my slippers, picked it up and pushed it forward, past the threshold of the doorframe.

I don’t know what I expected to happen, but nothing did.

With that, I dropped the slipper and put it back on before I reached out with my hand. Nothing happened. My hand continued on, touching nothing but air. There was no sensation or anything. This room was really here.

Once more my eyes wandered to the cupboard and the riches on top of it.

Leaving the door open, I got a hold of a chair from the living room. Then I propped it against the door to keep it from falling shut.

Excitement washed over me as I pushed my foot forward and brought it down on the rich carpet. Then I took another step.

My heart was beating hard in my chest, and I could feel my blood rushing through my veins. My eyes darted left and right, almost expecting a door to open or someone to storm at me. When nothing happened, I hurried over to the cupboard and picked up the first of the golden figurines, then another, and finally an ornate, golden candle holder as well.

A few seconds later, I was back in my apartment. My heart was still beating fast, and I was panting. I couldn’t believe any of this. For a moment, I stared back before I threw the door in fear of repercussions.

I turned the key twice more and was happy to see my old, dusty storage room again.

A sigh of relief escaped me and I quickly put the strange, multi-dimensional key back on its little nail.

For a moment I wondered if it all had been a dream, a silly flight of fancy conjured by reading too many fantasy novels. But when I turned from the door, I noticed the golden figurines and the golden candle holder.

Almost by instinct, I picked them up and took them with me to the living room.

For long minutes I studied them, tested their weight before I couldn’t help but grin. I had no clue what these things would be worth, but I knew they had to be worth something.

At first I didn’t know what to do with them. I couldn’t very well put them on eBay and I had no clue what any of them would be worth. No, I probably had to take them to some antique store.

For the next few evenings, I busied myself on the internet, reading up on historical figurines, their worth, and searched for a reputable store.

A few days later, I put the figurines and the candleholder in a box and went on my trip.

The owner was impressed. He said this stuff was centuries old, but not shoddy or cheaply made. When he asked me where I’d got it from, I told him an elaborate story about my grandfather having been a collector of old items. I came upon them by accident while cleaning his attic and thought they might be worth something.

The man eyed me for a moment and I could tell he wondered about the authenticity of my story. Soon enough, though, his own greed pushed these doubts aside. He was quick to make me an offer, one that was pretty damn good, but I’d also done my research.

I told him I’d looked at other stores online, and similar items went for much higher prices. The man held my gaze for a few moments before he pretended to give the figurines and the candleholder another look. Then he gave me another, higher offer.

I was sure he was still ripping me off, but the four figure numbers he gave me were too good to pass for someone like me. And so, I sold. Before I could leave, however, the man smiled at me and told me if I found any other valuables amongst my grandfather’s collection, I should pay him a visit. He’d be more than happy to have a look at them.

I told him I’ll see what I can find.

It is often said that money poisons people, and after my experiences those past weeks, I wholeheartedly agree. The moment I had sold those figurines and that candleholder, the moment I’d tasted riches, was the moment I knew I’d open that door again.

The instant I was back inside my apartment, the key was in my hands again. I turned once, then twice, and the moment the door sprang open, I pushed the little box I’d still been holding between door and doorframe and ventured inside. My eyes darted left and right, back and forth, in search of anything valuable.

There were paintings. There was some silver tableware and an ornate dagger I hadn’t noticed before.

In a swift motion I got a hold of the dagger and as much of the silverware I could carry and dumped them into my hallway. A few minutes later, I had taken down all the paintings. I stared back and for a moment I considered taking even the rich hardwood chairs. Then I told myself enough was enough for today. I’d have to sell all those items first, anyway.

During my search online, I soon found another reputable buyer. The silverware turned out to lend me a good price and so did two of the paintings. The dagger, however, was the most valuable of all items I’d plundered so far because it was jeweled with various stones of value.

I couldn’t help but grin on my entire drive back. This was crazy. I was freaking rich!

The third time I ventured into the room, however, I found little of value anymore. There were a few smaller silver items I hadn’t taken until now, and an ornate vase at the end of the hall, but that was about it.

Once I had closed the door again, I couldn’t help but frown at my measly yield. Maybe I could take some chairs after all at a later point.

It wasn’t long before I wondered what else the key could do. The more money you have, the easier it is to spend it. After making a few, as I told myself, necessary purchases, I knew I could use a bit more.

The first thing I tried was my kitchen door. The key fit perfectly and I turned it once, then twice. When it sprang open, I expected to find the same room. Instead, I was greeted by what I assumed to be a small study. I couldn’t help but grin at the various items I saw there. I saw golden candle holders, an ornate oil lamp, a globe, and various other richly decorated items.

It didn’t take me long to plunder the room for everything it was worth. After that, I tried the key at my bedroom door. This time, however, it led me to a musky, dark room, most likely a cellar or something.

I cursed in frustration and threw the door shut again. Even after two more tries, the door never led me to a different room.

I realized that I’d just learned a valuable piece of information. This key, it could open the doors to rooms in a different place and time, but a single door could only ever open to a single room.

Over the course of an evening, I tried all the doors in my small apartment. While some doors led me to other dark or empty rooms, I discovered that my bathroom door led to a dressing room stacked with rich jewelry.

And yet, even though my living room table was covered in rich antique items, I wanted more.

It wasn’t long before I resorted to using different doors. The first ones I opened were the doors in my apartment building’s basement. One night, at three in the morning, I descended and tried every single door I could find.

While some of these doors led me to more valuables, I also discovered different rooms, rooms similar to that old, musty cellar my bedroom door led to.

While some of them were nothing but old sheds or musty basements, others were stranger, creepy even.

One door opened up to nothing but oppressive darkness. It wafted outside in heavy, thick swaths. I froze when I saw the outlines of something stirring in the back. For the blink of an eye, before I threw the door shut again, my eyes met something else, something staring at me from the back of the room.

It should’ve been at this moment I called it quits and gave up, but of course I didn’t. After all, only a single door could ever open to a single room, right?

And so, a few days later, all signs of danger were forgotten and any repercussions for my actions were gone. No, I told myself, if I ever noticed something strange again, I could throw the door shut and that was it.

Before long, I increased the scale of my operations. It wasn’t so much in terms of sales, but in terms of doors. I couldn’t just go around and use random doors. Eventually someone would notice what I was doing and there was no telling what would happen.

At first, I went on Airbnb and rented out random apartments in my city, using their doors to check for rooms that contained riches.

Slowly but steadily my stock of values increased and before long I had boxes upon boxes of valuables in my small apartment. I was still careful in selling them. I never went to the same store twice, never sold more than a few select items and always came prepared with a story.

But even as I made more and more money, even as I filled box upon box of valuables, my greed increased tenfold. I wouldn’t stop or give up. No, I had plans, dreams, and ideas that I’d already mapped out in my mind.

Eventually, I found what I’d been looking for.

Here, in Eastern Germany, there are many old, abandoned industrial areas. Remnants of companies that went bankrupt after the unification that were left to rot. There were entire factory complexes and old office buildings like this in my city.

Sure, they had been stripped of most of their valuables, but those weren’t of interest to me. No, what I was looking for was doors, as many as I could find. While many of the old doors had been broken down, I still found as many that were still functioning.

That’s how I came to spend many days and nights traversing old, abandoned complexes, hunting for doors and the riches behind them.

However, not every door led me to a room filled with treasures and the more doors I tried and the greedier I got, the more often I encounter other rooms.

More than once I found musty basements, or old, rotten attics. At one point, I even found myself in what was, without a doubt, a torture chamber. The smell of blood and other body fluids hung heavy in the air. I retched audibly when I opened the door and as a result I could hear rattling chains and a quiet, broken shriek that made me throw the door in an instant.

At another time, I pushed open the door, only to be greeted by a small, otherworldly study. It was only lit by few bluish candles and the moment I peeked inside, I found myself face to face with a man sitting behind a desk. When he saw me, he smiled at me and bade me to enter and join him.

As I stared at him, there was something strange about him. He was wearing a pair of thick, heavy spectacles, but even in the low light of the room, it seemed there were no eyes behind them. When he opened his mouth, I saw thick, heavy teeth that differed from any I’d ever seen. His voice, too, was almost too human, too studied.

For a long second he simple sat there, smiling at me. Then he pushed himself off his chair, throwing his body forward in my direction. I screamed and in shock and terror, I threw the door shut and locked it.

I stumbled backward, shaken and scared. What the hell was that? That man or that… thing?

I told myself to let it all go. This was getting dangerous, and I’d gathered more than enough valuables, hadn’t I? What if I encountered something worse than this man?

And yet, I couldn’t.

My mind was too filled with money, tainted by it, and only a few days later, I made my way to yet another complex.

After I’d pocketed another few handfuls of what I assumed to be rich jewelry, I’d already forgotten about the strange man-thing I’d encountered.

It was the next door, however, that changed everything.

As so often, I found a door at the end of a hallway. I turned the key twice and waited for the door to unlock. Then I carefully pushed it open.

All I could see was oppressive darkness, a darkness so heavy it wafted outside in thick swaths. For a moment, the strangest sense of Déjà vu washed over me. Hadn’t I seen this before?

Before I could do anything, a face pushed itself from the darkness ahead and came to a rest mere inches in front of me. It was a female face, but it was all wrong and strangely elongated. The moment I saw it, I cringed back.

“My oh my, I’ve been wondering when you’d be back,” it brought out in a distorted, high-pitched voice.

Every fiber in my body screamed at me to run, to get away, but I rushed forward to close the door to pull it shut in front of whatever this thing was.

I clung to the rotten door, was about to pull it shut when two giant, ghastly hands pushed themselves between door and doorframe. With a single swift motion, the door was torn from my hands and then torn from the doorframe.

The face started giggling before it vanished again in darkness. And yet, I’d never seen a body. But as I stood there, when my eyes finally got used to the darkness, I realized why. That face, that head, it was connected to an elongated neck.

Behind it, in the darkness, loomed a terrible thing, a giant, twisted abomination. I saw more faces, more mouths, more eyes, all connected to a single bloated body sprouting hundreds of arms and legs.

To the side of the creature I noticed another door, and then another.

And as the giggling grew louder as I heard it from a multitude of mouths, I realized my mistake.

A single door can never open more than one specific door. But if a room has more than one door, then… Oh god, I’d had it all wrong. And this creature, this creature knew, and it had waited for me just to make this single mistake.

When the giant creature rose, when it pulled itself closer to the door, I stumbled backward. As I dashed away and rushed down the hallway in sheer and utter terror, I heard the doorframe giving way, heard as the creature was pulling itself through it.

I only turned back once, only once. I saw dozens of heads on elongated necks, saw a disgusting bloated body and watched as a multitude of hands and feet dragged it from whatever twisted dimension this creature had been trapped in.

Then I ran. I ran and fled from the industrial area as fast as I could.

The industrial area was on the news the next day. A building had collapsed for unknown reasons, causing massive destruction. Thankfully, the area had been abandoned years ago, and no one had been harmed.

At first I was relieved, thinking that the crumbling building must’ve crushed the creature.

Sometime later, however, the first of the many missing people reports were on the news. All around this abandoned industrial area, people had disappeared and ghastly remains had been found.

By now, more than a dozen people have gone missing. Not only there, but also in other areas of my city. I don’t know what that creature is, I don’t know how it’s able to stay hidden.

But I know a single thing. It’s only because of my greed that it was unleashed upon our world.