The Builders

I wish I’d never seen the things.

I wish I’d never gotten into this business.

Now it’s too late.


“You ready for this?” Martin said. (I won’t use any last names. I can’t bring myself to rat out my friends.) He had his hand on the doorknob and he looked dead serious. “Once you go through, there’s not turning back. You can’t unsee this, or unknow it, either.”

What did I know? He hadn’t told me anything yet. Foolish, I nodded.

We went through the heavy oak door and into a room that reminded me of a Viking mead hall. Candlelit chandeliers hung from bare rafters and there was only one table. Our footsteps echoed off the stone floor. The hall extended in either direction so far that it disappeared into darkness.

Around the table were ten men, all looking like they’d come right off the construction site, same as me. Martin clapped his hand on my shoulder as we reached the table.

“Guys, this is Tom. The one I told you about.”

In stories, in this kind of situation, there’s always one guy, maybe two, who’re surly and you can tell they don’t want the newcomer. That wasn’t the case here. Each of them were warm, open and greeted me with a handshake and a smile. We chatted a bit – how long have you been building, where have you built, who’re your architects – those kinds of questions. A spread of food was laid out and Martin made sure I made it over there. He poured the beer himself. I’d never known Martin to be any kind of host even though I’d been to barbecues at his house three or four times. His wife always took care of his guests.

“We’d better get started,” he said at last.

Everyone took their places at the table and there was a space for me, but no chair.

“Tom.” This was Jack, the oldest of all the men here. “Take the space, please.”

He meant I should stand at the table. I did.

Jack’s voice was grave. As he intoned a longish passage that laid out that talked about how the homes we built were living things with bones and veins, arteries and muscle. It was something I’d never thought about before then but it made sense in the setting at the time. It’s the one thing that stays with me. Of course I can’t repeat it to you. You’ll have to trust me. You don’t want to know any more than what I’m telling you about all of this.

If you did, you’d never sleep again.

So there was a ceremony where I stood at the table. I remember the advice my pastor had given me when I got married: don’t lock your knees. It got me through.

A cart wheeled up behind me but I didn’t turn around. I stayed focused on the men around the table.

Martin nodded and smiled.

“You have earned a place in the room,” Jack said, “and you may take your place at the table when you’ve built your chair.” He pointed behind me.

There on the cart I saw the legs and planks I needed to build a chair. Wooden pegs had been laid out among the pieces, too. Without looking back at the table, I knelt down and put my mind to the task. There was no mention of a time limit but I felt I couldn’t take too long.

The pieces were pre-drilled like something you could buy at a discount store when the college students come back to town for  a new school year. I studied everything and saw that I could configure the pieces in a couple of different ways. I closed my eyes and envisioned Martin’s chair. That would be my model.


When I was done, I stood behind the chair. Jack rose, came around to my side and studied my work. He tested it for strength and sturdiness. His face was impassive and I dared not look at anyone else around the table. This was the preliminary test and I wanted to pass.

“Time,” Jack said.

“Twelve sixteen,” Bob said. He sat next to Jack.

A nod and a slight smile. “Good,” Jack said. “Well done.” He held out his hand and we shook.

“Welcome. Now you are a Builder,” he said.

I took my place at the table.

And that’s when I learned what the Great Houses really were. I learned what a Builder really does and why.

We were there all night. I was given a thick, leather bound book and told how to read it. I was charged with keeping it safe from the eyes of everyone else around me at work and at home. If somehow my book got into the public eye, I would be killed and so would my family and key people in my business. Bob assured me that this had happened once in recent memory and that was why there was a place for me.

Which I had earned by using excellent materials, working quickly and hiring good people who took great pride in their work. My reputation was excellent. I built quality homes.

I didn’t ask who had betrayed them. It wasn’t my business. Then again I didn’t know what I was getting into.

Jack told me.

“There are secret passages in every Great House,” he said. “Even in Lesser Houses. You’ve heard of Amityville, right?”

I nodded and frowned. What the hell?

“And others. Still, in the Great Houses, there’s a passage that leads not just into another part of the building,” Jack said, measuring each word for weight, “but those passages lead to Other Places. They allow certain people to move from one plane to another.”

My bewilderment must have shown.

“It’s all in the book,” Bob said. “You’ve got a lot of reading to do.”

“The Builder’s responsibility,” Jack went on, “is to ensure the Passages are solid and hidden from the inhabitants of the house. The travelers do not like to be disturbed when they’re in transit.”

“Who are the travelers?”

“It’s all in the book,” Jack said.


It was.

When my people built the first passage I was there every day, watching the progress, marveling at the strangeness of the construction and materials the architect called for. No one asked any questions, they did their jobs. When the passage was done, my people secured it and built over it and promptly forgot it.

But I didn’t.

When my first Great House was complete I walked through. The sun had just set and the owners had not arrived yet. My torch chased every shadow away as I made my way from one room to another. When I got to the passage, I paused.

A sound emanated from behind the wall. A scratching that could have been a far away shriek. I was chilled.

Then words came to me. Alien words that scratched my spine with every syllable. And I heard steps.

The wall in front of the passage glowed a sickly blue and a dark shape began to form. I knew I should run away, extinguish my torch and get out of the house.

But I didn’t.

And I saw something I wish I’d never seen.

I wish I’d done as my father had hoped and gone into a different line of work.

Now it’s too late.

I’ve built other Great Houses but I’ve never walked through them again. I don’t want to know any more about the Secret Passages or those that travel them from one place to another.

But you might.

Are you ready for this?

Jason Arnett is a storyteller living in Kansas and writing in the plains of the fantastic. Some of his work can be found at


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