There we were driving down a long country road.
Flanked on either side of us was the tall grass of the countryside. In front of us stretched the vast dusty expanse of the road ahead.
It was summer and we were taking a group trip to make the most of the sunny months.
All of a sudden, from the rear-view mirror I spot one of our big red soccer balls exiting the car through the right-hand side window – one of the kids had accidentally slipped and the bright ball tumbled out of the moving car.
I pulled the car over slowly while tracking the ball’s movement across the road out of the corner of my eyes; it enters a neighboring paddock, coming to rest just beyond reach on this side of the gate.
Crossing the road I look around to see if there was anyone in the immediate area. Left. Right. No one. Approaching the gate, I spot the ball through the gaps in the wiring; perfectly in the center of the paddock. I start to climb it clumsily, hoping to not tear another hole in my new jeans, when I spot something else I didn’t see while driving over.
Just to the right of the gate was a warning sign:
DANGEROUS! DO NOT ENTER
I stayed there, stood halfway up the gate, and looked around the paddock. It looked quite ordinary and deserted to me, don’t know why it would be considered dangerous. So I decide – screw it, and keep climbing.
I clamor over the railing and land square on the other side of the gate. Looking ahead at the ball, I-
What just happened?
Before me now, instead of an empty paddock, stood a park of carnival-themed amusement rides. Everything you could think of, every roller-coaster ride from your childhood: every carnival game, every haunted house, every candy floss machine, they were all here. Right in front of me, an entire amusement park.
Except, it was abandoned.
I was the only person there. Apparently.
I wandered through the maze of theme rides looking around to see if anyone was operating any of the rides.
“I wonder why I couldn’t see all this before” I thought to myself.
I approached one of the rides to have a peek behind the curtain. Suddenly, the ride springs into life. It was such a bizarre and eerie thing to witness; a ride operating itself without anyone behind the controls.
I was starting to get goosebumps and a nasty feeling was brewing inside me, so I decided to leave the ride. As soon as I stepped off the ride platform, the ride came to a grinding halt. And just like that – all was still yet again.
I kept walking through, totally focused on just getting the kids’ ball and getting out.
Before long, I find the red ball lying between a candy floss machine and the haunted house attraction. I pick it up and breathe a sigh of relief; now we can just get on with our trip.
Hopping back over the gate I notice something stuck to the red ball.
It’s a brochure. It has a huge crystal castle on it, the most beautiful castle you’ve ever seen! It was pearly, sparkly, grand; everything you could ever want. The most grand of places to stay.
“That would be a great place to live, wouldn’t it?” I smile as I show everyone the brochure back in the car. Everyone excitedly agrees.
We continue on our journey down the long country road. Before long, I see a street sign with the following message:
VISIT THE CRYSTAL CASTLE
LIVE THERE FOR A DAY
I don’t remember there being any castles in the area; I’ve lived in the country for many years, if there was one I’d know about it. Surely if it was made of crystal I’d know, you don’t hear about castles made of crystal everyday.
I shrug the thought off and log the street sign’s message in my head as I keep driving, the next street sign I see is of the very castle that was in the brochure, and the words “NEXT RIGHT” sitting beneath the picture.
I look longingly to my left. She reassuringly rubs my shoulder sweetly and says: “no more detours, hun”.
Grunting at her response, I decided we should go anyway, and turn at the next right to head towards the Crystal Castle.
We approach a vast gate. It’s made of pearly crystals; perfectly chrome, and shining bright like a diamond. Next to it is another warning sign, oddly similar to the one I saw before entering the paddock:
DANGEROUS! DO NOT ENTER
I search for the electronic messaging system to let the tourism people know that we want to visit the house. Finding it, I give the button a good push. It beeps, and I begin talk about how I’d like to see the castle, but before I got a chance to finish the gate swung slowly open. “Excellent” I think to myself, and drive through.
A long stretch of road extends in front of us as we trundle along the now gravelly road. The Crystal Castle comes into view in the distance, and shines like a diamond on the land. By my estimation it would take another 15-20 minutes to reach the castle.
After driving for 25 minutes, we approach the final gate. Beyond which we can see the towering awe-inspiring Crystal Castle just out of reach. Annoyingly, there is another warning sign at the gate:
FINAL WARNING! NO TURNING BACK!
No sooner had I read it did the final gate start to slowly creak open. The Crystal Castle was there in front of me in all it’s glory. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from it; everything about it was perfect. The shine, the glint, the glare, the sculpting, the inscriptions, the right angles; it truly was a desirable sight to behold. ‘And lucky be the man who gets to live there’, I think to myself.
Disregarding the sign I drive straight in. It must be a mistake; the castle is there to be looked at and admired after all. These warning sign people don’t know anything.
Having cleared the entrance, I look around for a place to park when all of a sudden I hear a loud THUMP.
Behind me, the final gate seals shut with a hard slam; hardly the force that was used to open it, I might add.
‘That was odd’ I think to myself, my wife didn’t know what to make of it, and the kids behind me were just wondrously looking out the window.
I re-orientate myself to finding a park, there must be one around here somewh-
I stop the car in its tracks. I can feel the blood starting to drain from my face as I begin to feel nauseous. Before me, instead of the Crystal Castle, stood a dingy two-story house that seemed to be falling apart at the seams. It appears that I’m now driving through the front yard of an old country house, rather than that of a majestic castle.
It was fake. It was a mirage. There’s no Crystal Castle to be seen anywhere.
What’s worse, it seems that we’re trapped here. And, judging by the way that the gate shut so quickly when we entered, something tells me that someone wanted to lure us here to deliberately trap us, and, by the looks of things, we didn’t disappoint.
The top right window of the dingy house suddenly flies open, and out peers a demonic figure. At first sight I couldn’t really believe it, but taking into consideration all that had happened during the drive, I couldn’t really tell what to believe. As my eyes focus on the character, my skin starts to crawl.
Eyes red as blood, skin scaly and rough like that of alligator hide, small pincer-like claws for hands, and most terrifying of all, boils of every shape and size lining the face and its long, extended nose.
It was a goblin.
It started to yell in some language I had never heard of, continually glancing outside and back inside, it was as if it was telling someone off for some domestic issue.
As it continues to yell it keeps glancing out the window. The yelling suddenly stops, and when I look up at the window, the goblin was staring straight at me.
I can’t tell you what it was like to look into its eyes. It’s not like looking into the eyes of a human, it’s like…looking into the fiery eyes of the Satan himself.
The goblin smirks, then barks some orders inside.
The next thing I know I see its claw reaching outside the window, pointing towards the gate. It says something under its breath and with that its claw starts to glow. Soon this light grows into a massive energy ball, which explodes from the goblins claw and hits the gate I had just come through.
I hear a big locking noise, and look to see that the gate now has a gigantic lock on it, sealed right across the gate with huge chains.
Now we’re really trapped.
I pause, thinking to myself: ‘how I’m going to get myself out?’
Myself? What about the family??? Fuck. I have to make sure we all get out of here alive.
There must be somewhere we can go, we’ve got time before they get to us. I scan the surrounding area to look for a weak spot in the paddock gates that surround the property, only to find that they have turned into huge iron walls.
Now surrounding our car, all around us, are iron walls; we’re completely trapped in a cell made by some form of goblin magic. And we’re powerless.
My heart sinks. I look at the rest of my family with sorrowful eyes, shattered that I voluntarily got us all stuck in this mess. I could have turned back, but my stubbornness pressed me on. And now look where it’s gotten us.
I meekly put the car into park and shut off the engine, accepting that our fate now lies in the hands of these beings which – up until an hour ago – I would have thought were just the stuff of fairy tales. Now they are very real, and they have us trapped here in a dwelling of theirs against our will; they can’t have anything good planned for us.
I try to keep my mind off what they might possibly do to us. It’s hard to imagine, given that I don’t know the nature of the type of magic or mystical power that they wield. It can’t be good in any case I remorsefully think to myself.
I take my hands off the steering wheel. I’m now hunched; defeated.
A sudden chill encloses my wrists. I look down to see that my hands have now been chained together; I’m physically bound now too.
I look to my left; my wife is bound too. I look behind; so are the kids.
There’s a rapping on the car window on my right. I turn my head to come face to face with a real-life goblin, eyes of fire piercing through the window glass into my soul. It’s yelling something in their language, pointing aggressively towards the disheveled house which must be where they live. The door opens and I’m shoved onto the gravel road face down.
I feel the goblin’s pincers dig into my back as I’m yanked onto my feet. It gives my back a punch, and I’m forced to lurch forward. They’ve now got me and my family in a single file heading towards the entry way to the house.
We’re now walking towards our fate. Is it to enslavement? Is it to our deaths? Who knows; any semblance of a life that we have is now in the hands of these…these things.
We’re shown up a rickety staircase and brought to a room just on the right. In there we find 4 thin mats on the ground, a disposable couch pillow on each, and a woolen sheet. Two of them are adult-sized, two of them children-sized. We immediately know that these are our sleeping quarters.
So we’re not to die tonight. Safe. For now.
This room appears to be just for us, so there’s a suggestion there that we would have some form of privacy at times. Which, given the circumstances, is something to be celebrated.
We’re shoved into the room and the door is shut quickly behind us. The four of us are now alone in the room; our sleeping quarters. Our base camp for this horrific ordeal.
My wife looks shattered; the look on her face crushes me. Why was I so pig-headed?
She finally says: “I don’t think we should both be asleep at the same time. I think one of us should always be awake, and let the other sleep. We don’t know what those things want with us. We have to protect the kids and keep watch constantly”.
“I agree” I reply.
I stand there for a moment.
Walking over to the biggest sleeping mat and accompanying bedding, I roll it all up into a big ball and place this bundle under my left armpit.
“I’ll sleep outside the door”, I tell her.
She looks back at me, horrified. “No. You can’t do that. What if they take you away from us?”
“I got us into this mess. I’m the one responsible for bringing you all into this, I have to take care of you.”
“I’ll sleep outside the door and keep guard” I press.
She doesn’t say anything, just nods. I give her a meek peck on the cheek, and give the two kids a great big hug; nothing mattered more to me than making sure that they stayed safe. Even if it meant that this hug was the last that we’d share.
I savor the hug; it’s funny how it takes a such a drastic tragedy like this to put my head into perspective, to really see what is truly valuable in life. For me right now and always, what is valuable in life is what I’m hugging at this very moment.
I finally let go of them. I stand up tall, look at my family one last time, and open the door.
I take my position outside the room to await whatever comes.
TO BE CONTINUED…