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She gripped the door handle, took a breath, and opened it…

Julie, the matron in the neighbourhood, was widely known and respected for her vast knowledge in art and science.  Before she retired, she worked as a professor at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, giving lectures on the history of various paintings and sculptures, and how they are intricately linked to science.  Now, she took up another interest in gardening besides arts, and everyone in the neighbourhood knew that too.

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It was a beautiful sunny day and her husband Jones had gone off to work. Julie had been tending the garden in her front yard; watering plants and removing dead leaves and branches.  Just as she was digging up the soil with her shovel, she scraped against something hard. Then she saw a glint of metal in the earth, something coppery and cylindrical.  She thought, “Perhaps it’s a pipe?”.  Jostling it again with the shovel, it moved easily, so she pulled it out of the ground.

On the kitchen counter, Julie examined the peculiar object.  It was about the size of a baseball bat, and was made of brass with fine etchings all around it.  The symbols on the tube were similar to the ancient scientific symbols Julie once saw in a book.  On one end, there was a latch with a tiny, delicate lock. A hammer made quick work of that, then the top was opened and a long roll of paper slid out.  As Julie unfold it, she saw a map – a map of the very house she was in.

Looking closely, Julie saw various labels for the rooms: a laboratory, a workshop and a few more.  As Julie followed along the alternate version of her home, she saw that next to her living room, was another room, a room that she knew didn’t exist. 

This room was labelled as the “Gallery”. Julie went to the middle of the living room and saw that this other room was about where her fireplace was, with the clandestine entrance on the floor.  Julie moved away the replica of Moses by Michelangelo and rolled up the carpet on the floor. Julie discovered one of the floorboards seem slightly higher than the other ones.  “No wonder I often trip over myself here” Julie thought.  Julie pull it up with all her strength and found a hatch. Enthusiastically, Julie opened the hatch and peered into the hole, only to discover a winding staircase. The stairs were made out of stones and there was moss growing in between the cracks. The walls on the sides of the staircase were also made out of stone and they had candelabras attached to them. She admonished herself that she should just put everything back in its place and forget about the staircase, but her curiosity got the better of her. Holding the map, Julie jumped up in excitement, she then grabbed the torch in the cabinet next to her, and entered the stairway.

Julie switched on the torch and slowly started making her way down the stairs. As she walked further down the hole, it got damper and hotter. Julie’s torch was also getting dimmer and dimmer. 

When Julie reached the end of the stairs, she already felt like she was locked up in a confined box.  She caught her breath and looked around.  There was only a solid concrete wall in front of her, no doors, nothing.  Julie’s heart sank. Just as she was turning around and leave, Julie’s flashlight shone on the wall and she saw a tiny bolt shimmering out of the corner of her eye.  Out of the blue, the torch went off.  The space turned into complete darkness. Julie started panicking.  She frantically groped for the tiny brass bolt on the wall, relieved to know that it was unlocked.  Julie then took a breath, and opened the hidden door.

Behind the door was a dim-lit hall.  The room was in the shape of a square and was lit by candles placed in the middle of the room, where there was a golden altar.  Julie was flabbergasted to see that the chamber was furnished like a palace, replete with the musty smell of old paper.  She paced around the room, examining unfinished works of art by unknown artists and the countless racks of books.  Julie went up to the shelves and ran her fingers along the spine of the books, discovering that all of the books were related to art and science.  Just as she was imagining herself sitting on the front porch of her house and completely steeped in these volumes, footsteps approached and Julie, startled, moved with alacrity to the door, only to find that it had been locked.  Upon spotting a silhouette in the corner of the room, Julie bristled with fear.

“Who are you?” Julie asked my voice quivering, her tremulous hands couldn’t hide her fear.

“We have been expecting you,” a man said with a deep low tone.

 

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