UNREAL ESTATE
Chapter 2
I stood before my basement door, holding my camera and feeling lightheaded. I knew I had to open it and go down and experience wherever was at the bottom.

But I was terrified. Whatever caused this, I had gone into its space and it had gotten into mine.
I opened the door. The stairs seemed familiar, with the bare handrail I did a bad job installing and never fixed. It shifted when I put weight on it, as I did now, stepping into the basement. It felt right, each step the same distance that I had memorized without realizing it.
There were no extra doors opening into the abyss. No creatures scuttling in the shadows. I checked between towers of plastic storage bins, sweeping through each corner, even peeking my head in the dryer in case Narnia was tucked away in there.
“Where is the rest of it?” I asked out loud. “Are you here?” My voice was muted, the way it always was in low-ceilinged basements like this. That made me angry, like I couldn’t scream loud enough for it to hear me, no matter how hard I tried.
“Where’s the REST?” I yelled, slapping my hands against the cement wall over and over again. “I know it’s here! Where is it? How do I get to it? WHERE ARE YOU?”

I screamed at the walls till I ran out of breath and my palms were red and stinging. But it was just a basement.
I opened the newest storage bin and flipped through the listing agreements and completed sales documents within. I couldn’t remember being contacted by a reality-warping, mind-controlling entity, but I had a set of keys to the house. Somebody must have handed them over.
Unless something crawling up from the basement and set them on my desk.

I hoped to god I hadn’t signed any paperwork with it.
I drove to hardware store and bought door guards, chains, padlocks. Thinking of Ariadne and the labyrinth, I got a lot of nylon rope. And, because it made me feel safer, I got an axe.
Installing the locks helped me relax. I knew they wouldn’t keep me out of my basement, but they might keep the basement out of me. Thinking of all the fairy tales my mom had read to me as a child, I got a box of salt from my pantry and drew a thick line across the threshold.
The next morning, my first step out of bed was gritty; some salt still clung to my foot from stepped up from the stairs. Salt was dashed all over my floor, but it didn’t look like there were any footprints but my own.
The locks were hanging open, and new images posted on the listing — but not rooms. There were four road signs, propped up in a utility closet: STOP, DANGER, then a blank sign dashed with paint splatter, and another that looked like a walnut being blown to pieces.
It reminded me of the mirror room: unusually directed, another warning. Danger. Splatter.
I didn’t think it could hear me, but maybe it had. Maybe something was trying to communicate. I decided on an experiment. Axe in hand, I went into the basement and asked one question. “What do you want from me?”
Then I spent the rest of the day worrying about the answer like a knot I couldn’t stop picking at.

The next morning when I checked the listing for images, I felt very stupid.
A single image, of some underground lawn. Jammed into the dirt, there was a familiar sign. The real house, the one the listing was for, had one just like it. It said “REAL ESTATE SERVICES BY YULI” and my phone number — only this version of the sign said SOLD across the front.
Who was going to buy this place? I was fairly certain this counted as a stigmatized property, but I couldn’t imagine how to disclose the truth. Could it be a selling point? “Deceptively large square footage”?
Of course, I had deleted most of the images that had been posted. I only left the ones I thought would attract a buyer: normal photos of a normal house.

But this isn’t a normal house.
I rested my head in my hands and resisted the urge to scream. I had deleted all the images that would attract the right kind of cursed buyer for an endless nightmare house.
For a third day, I spoke out loud to an empty basement. “I’m not sure what you’re doing to me, to get me to take these pictures. But I don’t want to be possessed any more. I will take pictures and I will sell this house if you let me do my work, my way.”
I paused, wondering if the next step might be going too far. “If not, I will continue to delete the images from the posting and we will be trapped in this cycle endlessly.”
There were no new photos in the morning. The locks were still in place. I undid them all and climbed down the stairs and the basement was, finally, different; there was a teal door with a white frame against a wall that I knew pressed against the solid earth of my backyard.
The door handle gleamed like metal, but yielded under the pressure of my hand like an overripe peach. It was cold enough to wake me up; I couldn’t just wander in. I was still in my pajamas, barefoot, and I did not have my axe.
I dressed and filled a backpack with anything I thought would be useful: flashlight, first aid kit. I tied one end of the rope around my bedframe and the other end around my waist, hoisting the rest on my shoulder so I could feed it as I walked.
The axe was cumbersome but I wasn’t willing to go without it. With my camera slung over my neck, I descend once more into the basement and from there, pulled open the new soft door.
For a moment I thought there was a curtain behind the door; the light in my basement was dim, but it should have reached further than it did. But there was no barrier, just a stiff drop in temperature as I stepped over the threshold. My rope, like a tail, grew long behind me.
At the other end, I could see the outline of another door. The hallway was so dark it glowed like neon. I reached out and came in contact with another pliant surface, so cold I flinched back. The wall was downy; running my fingers over it made me break out in goosebumps.
When I opened the door at the end of the hall, I thought I had tunneled into my neighbor’s basement. A slightly beaten-in couch faced a TV caught on a dead channel, emitting a diffuse glow. It smelled of old mold, from a long ago flood.
Carefully propping my axe against an empty but aspirational bar, I took the photos. Simple enough.
Another teal door was installed directly opposite the door I had come in through, with the same yielding texture when I pressed into the wood of the frame. Inside the hall, an outline of another door, glowing in the total dark like an afterimage.
The next room was a cave of a speckled fuchsia stone. The next had a half-sized stove in one corner and a manacles dangling from the ceiling, which I carefully avoided jangling. The room after was littered with clawfoot bathtubs that had been crushed flat like cars at a junkyard.
Each teal door was straight ahead.
In the next room, the walls, floor, and ceilings were mirrors, so it took me a moment to notice that the rococo dining table and chairs above me weren’t just reflections. All of the furniture had duplicates, stuck to the ceiling.
I felt uneasy walking in the space, being the only thing reflected and not duplicated. Then I saw that the door I came in and the door I’d leave through weren’t duplicated either; we three existed only as ourselves.
I took pictures in each room, from the best angles to show off the shine of the cave, how many more manacles you could attach without crowding, and trying but failing to take pictures without me reflected.
Just as I got the hang of feeding the rope and making sure the axe wasn’t visible in pictures, I opened the door to a familiar basement. Directly across, I could see the white-framed teal door I had first entered.
A rope draped down the staircase; the other end was attached to my waist. To make sure, I tugged the rope and I saw the rope in this room move. Each door had been directly across from the last, so I thought I had only been going forward — but actually I had looped back on myself.
I thought about pulling the rope back through the doors but decided not to risk it. At the top of the stairs I untied myself, and locked the basement up.

There were fewer images to upload than I expected: just eight rooms. I felt like I had been marching for ten hours.
I felt freshly vital in the morning. My camera had a full battery and empty SD card, my backpack had water and snacks, and I had a rope around my waist. I was ready to do some familiar work in an unfamiliar setting.
The previous day’s rope still trailed down the stairs, the other end sharply severed just outside the teal door.

The first room was different, as I had expected. There were dozens of little dollhouse-sized furniture sets, each marked out on the ground in squares of yellow tape.
Very delicately, I stepped between wee dining rooms detailed with chicken dinners and bedroom sets with tidy linens to snap the pictures. Again the next door had spawned directly across from the first; I carefully dragged my rope along a tape line to avoid knocking anything over.
The following room was a monotone of red. Freshly developed photos hung by clothespins along one wall. They were splotchy beyond recognition, like props I wasn’t meant to investigate further. So I didn’t.
As I stepped out of the cold hallway into the third room, I felt the slightest moment of resistance on the rope, so faint I thought I might have imagined it. I stood in the hallway, unable to see even a foot in front of my face, and listened. Had the rope caught on something?
I didn’t hear anything. The rope remained slack.
The next room had eight avocado-green toilets, fully installed, facing each other in pairs. The room after was a steep funnel-shaped valley, with a grate at the bottom and a ceiling so low I could brush my fingers against it. I had to fight not to slip down the slick grass.
The plush white carpet and immaculate sectional in the next room were covered with a thin staticky film. My best friend in middle school’s house had such a room; the furniture was covered in plastic and we weren’t allowed to enter. I set the axe and rope down and ate some jerky.
Just as I was curling up the wrapper to toss in my backpack, I saw the rope leading back into the hallway twitch, ever so slightly. Might have just been the rope settling. Might have been a trick of the light.

But it might not.
[that is ALL for today; I will continue posting tomorrow, rip my notifications]
Before I descended the third day, I returned to the hardware store; I didn’t want to leave my axe lying around any more. I bought a hammer holder that slipped onto a belt, and a cord reel so I didn’t have to have the rope slung over my shoulder the whole time.
I tried to move at a steady pace, but I kept thinking I could heard something. I stopped and listened, trying to pinpoint the location: above in one room, below in the next. I practiced quick-drawing my axe until I felt silly, like I was a weird cowboy or a weird lumberjack.
By the time I stepped into the backyard-styled room, I was back in the picture-taking flow. The playhouse was as cartoonish as a children’s toy, but finely crafted of wood and glass. I didn’t think I needed a picture inside, but I wasn’t sure. Why not a house within a cellar?
After I took the normal shots, I turned the small-scaled door handle and ducked inside, and immediately felt very silly. There was no reason to take pictures inside a toy, even if it had real carpeting and a miniature AC unit.

Then I felt a rumbling.
I thought it must be an earthquake — I was underground, maybe — but it got closer and closer, like a car with a heavy bass driving nearer. I was braced against the wall, wondering if the playhouse was up to code, when I saw the trunk-like legs of something humanoid walk past.
I shrunk to the floor, pure instinct to please god not be seen. It was massive, its body cloudy and pale. I lost sight as it rounded the corner of the playhouse and stepped into view of the rope that lead directly to me.
Thank god I was frozen in fear or I might have slammed the door shut and caught its attention.
I couldn’t see its head, if it had one, and I couldn’t tell if it saw the rope. But it didn’t stop, just crossed by, rounding the other side of the house and disappearing behind me. The rumbling grew fainter. I slid to the floor of the playhouse and trembled.
I thought about not wearing the rope the next day. I hadn’t gotten lost, hadn’t needed to backtrack. It felt like a liability now but I couldn’t quite bear to step into the alternate world of the teal door in the cellar without it. It made me feel grounded. Tethered, maybe.
The first room put me at ease: a standard quasi-finished basement. Two loveseats, concrete floor with a threadbare rug. The only light was a fish tank set on a cabinet in the corner. The strange lumpy goldfish swam in fitful circles.
I tried to open the cupboard to see if there was any fish food, but the doors wouldn’t open; it was one solid piece, carved to look functional. I decided to ignore the fish.
The next room had barren bookshelves, lined up like in a library. In the middle was a massive black circle made of soot. The air smelled acrid. The next was a workshop, with a tall table and bench, tools tidily organized on the wall. It seemed to be dedicated to papercrafting.
The next, a maze of newspaper towers. As I squeezed between two stacks, I staggered against one and sent it tumbling against the wall, issues sliding over the ground like ice spilt from a cup.

That’s when I felt it. The rope moved again, a light plucking.
Then it snapped tight, unraveling at a wild pace. I dropped the reel and grabbed the rope with both hands, managing to stop it for a scant second.
As I dug in with my heels, preparing for a tug-of-war, I was pulled from my feet entirely, landing hard on my stomach. I could see the rope disappearing down the hallway too fast, and just as I cleared the axe from its holster, all the slack was used up.
It dragged me feet-first back into the hallway.

I hit the doorframe hard with my shoulder as I was pulled into the dark, tossed onto my side. I reached out and dug into the malleable ground of the hallway as hard as I could.
My fingers sunk into the soft material up to the knuckle, stalling the drag. Whatever was pulling me tugged once, then twice, then really threw its weight; a full chunk of the hallway came away in my hand as I tumbled back, flung headfirst back into the workshop.
I grabbed ahold of the bench leg and swung myself around so I was moving feet-first, axe clutched to my chest. Bracing myself, I caught the doorframe with my feet and stopped, for a moment. I swung the axe down, wildly off the mark of the rope, chipping into the brick floor.
Another strong pull stood me nearly upright, and then once again head-over-heels into the hallway, too dense with darkness to see through.
Whatever was dragging me could be anywhere — in the first room I came through, or in this very next room. I lined myself up to brace against the door again but I couldn’t see how close I was in the darkness and landed hard, my feet sinking into the weird soft material.
Grabbing the head of the axe, I cut the rope where it was tied at my waist, slicing into my hip as I did. I heard the rope thwack against the doorframe while the sudden loss of tension dropped me on my back.
I scrambled away from the threshold, kicking out until I hit the door and then slamming it shut with my foot. Panicking, I crawled to the smothered light of the next door, tumbled into the workshop, and shut this door too.
I laid on the floor, breathing so hard I thought I might pass out, and hoped the creature didn’t come for me right then.
As I panted, I heard a massive wet sound like a pool being sucked down a wide drain. I tried to get on my hands and knees to crawl away but I was trembling too badly to turn over. It didn’t sound like the creature but if it was, it would kill me, and that was it.
It got closer and closer until it sounded like it was nearly on top of me, about to pull me into its whirlpool orbit. Then it stopped, just outside the closed teal door. The cellar was quiet, except for the sounds of my labored breathing.
[this is the END of chapter 2. I will start up a new twitter thread for chapter 3 tomorrow!]

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More from @thejenna

31 Mar
It’s not that there’s a normal number of photos to take - it depends on the house. How many rooms, the best angles to sell a space. Basically, whatever’s going to lure in buyers. It's just that I don't remember taking so many. 1/?
The first 20 images track through the entry and living room, shots from every corner of the methodically staged rooms. Then a photo looking down the basement stairs, the last steps disappearing into the darkness. I don’t remember taking this picture, or walking down those stairs.
Then there’s 250 images I can't account for.

And then photos of the master bedroom, master bathroom, spare bedroom, spare bathroom, and the kitchen. Enough photos to set up the online listing. Two stories, postage stamp yard, no garage. A small footprint, in terms of space.
Read 35 tweets

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