From the one side, the ornately carved stone archway seemed ordinary, a valiant attempt at making a rather plain garden into a fantastical oasis. It echoed the mass-produced faux stone statues scattered around the thriving landscape. It was definitely nothing to write home about, though.
On a whim, he walked through, leaving his strolling companion behind. He laughed as he walked, puffing out his chest and high-stepping as he got closer to the archway. The girl laughed with him, encouraging his theatrical exaggeration.
But they both stopped laughing when he passed through the opening. Because to her, left behind in the mid-town garden, her friend had simply vanished.
For him, however, all thoughts of his companion fled his mind when he stepped across the threshold. The carved stone, on this side, was overgrown with twisted, hairy black vines. From the apex, a massive dark seed dripped a thick, cloying merlot liquid, which clung to his hair and slithered down his stark white collared shirt.
The landscape before him had changed, as well. Gone were the big-chain garden store pots and planters. No more same-faced statues oddly placed along a carefully tended cobblestone path. Instead, he stared into an overgrown jungle of exotic and strange flora. The brilliant white noon sun was absent in the sky.
A dim emerald glow emanated from somewhere above, barely illuminating the snaking vines that crept across the silvery gray pebbled pathway. Fuschia and puce flowers, with stamen that looked like wicked sharp teeth bloomed in explosions of color among the head-high greenery. Twisted black trees in the distance mimicked the towering skyscrapers of the mid-town horizon he’d just left.
Panicked, the man turned, intending to return to the heaven of the plain, everyday garden he’d laughed so long and hard about, just moments before. But the stone archway, under the wicked vines and viscous liquid led not to his longed-for destination, but instead to a maw of midnight, with a brilliantly white path disappearing down into the heretofore unseen mountain.
The terrified man clenched his eyes shut, praying silently and quickly that it was all his imagination, or maybe an extraordinarily elaborate joke.
The sudden jab to his ribs snapped his eyes open. The amethyst colored eyes, at his elbow, startled him yet again. But the dozens of pairs of eyes, blinking at him from within the flora, propelled him into action. His legs pumped furiously, throwing him headlong down the darkness of the tunnel, to an unknown fate.