If you’re ever walking deep in the woods in an old New England town, hope and pray you don’t come upon a gate to nowhere. But if you do, whatever you do, do NOT open it.
I wanted to, but was afraid. I’m always afraid. Poor ‘fraidy cat Freddy, that’s what they said. Before I did what I did. But that’s not to say that I am not afraid. Because I am.
Mikey and Scott went into the woods that day with me. They said they found an old Hustler, a half a cigarette and a spilled bottle of beer in the woods that some older kids must have left in there; good thing the dumbasses didn’t light the whole place on fire, the fucking ‘tards.
I went with them to their Hustler, and we bet that whoever got a boner first had to smoke the rest of the cigarette. I cursed and swatted at the gnats. Scotty held back a branch just long enough for it to hit me and laughed.
And then Mikey found something.
We were in the woods and we heard Mikey yelling and we ran after him, wondering if a wild coon got at him or something, maybe a bobcat or coyote. My heart was pounding as we crunched the leaves on the way to the clearing. Nope, not a coon: it was a gate. A gate in the woods.
Now, if you’re not from these parts, you have to understand something. You see, there are old walls running randomly through the woods. Back in the early days, they used to come through and farm these lands, and when they did, there were so many stones that they had to figure out what to do with them. So they built great stone walls around the farms with the stones they hauled out of the land as they tilled it up.
So it’s not unusual to see a stone wall in the woods.
Well, that’s not to say it’s not unusual to see what I seen there that day, that gate. This one was a couple of raised stone pillars to which were attached two iron gates. Closed. With a lock and key. The iron was laid in a pattern that looked like a bird’s wings, only fancier.
But the strange thing, you see, isn’t that this existed. It’s that there was just a high pillar/post thing and then that was it. No stone wall. Just a stone support on each side of the gate. And the gate was LOCKED. Now what in the hell would someone come out in the woods and do that for?
Mikey was grunting and sweating as he tried to jimmy it open but couldn’t get it. Scott tried hitting it with rocks, but it just sparked and echoed. Then Scott had an idea and came back with an old master skeleton key that his granddad gave him. It was a rusty old thing that was supposed to be a family symbol or some shit, I didn’t know, what’s the fucking difference?
Anyway, that key, it worked.
Scott put the key in, grabbed it with two hands, and unlocked it with a grunt. A crow took off from behind us and scared me; Scotty called me a wuss and punched my arm. We pushed open the gate and one side swung all the way out with a groan. It was quiet in the woods just then.
Mikey went through first and disappeared as he walked through the gate. We ran around the other side and he wasn’t there. We threw a rock at the opening and it disappeared without a sound.
Well, what else do boys do? We ran.
We got to talkin’ and didn’t know what to do. At first. So we told our folks, who told his folks. Then his folks and the cops were asking lots of questions and we didn’t know what to say; they’d think we were smoking some funny stuff up there in the woods, which ain’t to say that it was too far fetched, but we really hadn’t been and I don’t know what I could have said otherwise, so we told the truth.
Nobody believed us, of course, and they figured Mikey was hurt and we got scared and left him.
As the search teams got together, we went up ahead with them and then we branched off toward the gate. It was getting dark. We got brave. Or we got stupid, same difference.
Standing in front of the gate in the twilight, we shook on it. We decided to go through together.
With a flash of blue and a whooshing sound, Mikey fell back through the gates. Only it wasn’t Mikey. It was a ghost of Mikey. Scratch that, it wasn’t really a ghost, either, it was Mikey but he was laughing in a raged panic and his hair was bright white and he just thrashed on the ground for a while before we decided to hold on to him and get him to the search party.
Only they didn’t know what to do, either. So we told them about the gate again. Old man Hicks, he fell back, pissed his pants, and just sorta stared off into space.
“I seen it before,” he said and looked up at us with trembling eyes. “I seen it and I didn’t think it would come back. You boys don’t know what you did. You don’t know…”
I realized that Mikey had stopped laughing and was glaring at me. Sweat was running down his face and his left hand was clenched in a fist. We all turned and looked at him as he made his move. He was running back towards the gate.
“Let him go, ain’t no use,” Hicks was staring at the ground, talking to nobody. He was shaking and crying. “Ain’t no use!”
We got back to the gate just in time to see three tall, dark, crowned figures standing in front of the gate. One lifted a hand, pointed at Mikey, who just fell forward and landed face-first in the leaves.
“Mikey!” I shouted and ran towards him, but Scott caught my arm and pulled me down onto my ass. “Hey, what the-”
Scott was staring at the figures. A loud, rumbling sound was growing and pulsing against me. They turned towards us, their blue eyes had fog like dry ice wisping off of them.
“Choose,” the first figure said.
“What? Choose what?” I said, pushing myself up and brushing the dirt off my butt. When I looked back at them, they were right in front of me.
One time, I killed a rat with a bb gun and kept it in a box in a tree. After a couple of days, it smelled real bad. REAL bad. That’s the smell these ghosts had and it just about knocked me back on my ass.
I looked over at Mikey, face down in the dirt, then back at Scott, his face pale and fixed, and heard the rest of the group coming up behind us.
I looked at the ghost and chose.
I haven’t written any flash fiction for a while, but I wanted to get my 50,000 words this month for NaNoWriMo, so I went back to some of my story stubs, which are ideas that I save as drafts on my blog so I don’t forget about them. Some of them are pretty bad when I put some time between me and them, and others are okay, and some are stories that I’ve had in my head for a really long time.
This story is based on an older story of the first wormhole travel. I remember reading this story in the seventh grade, way back in the mid ’80s, but I don’t remember who wrote it. Maybe Bradbury? Seems like one of his. Anyway, the story is about the first travel via some sort of portal and you can travel safely as long as you don’t open your eyes, or you age hundreds of years in the instant between entering one side and exiting the other side.
I must have really liked the story because it stuck with me all these years. I wanted to do my own twist on it, an homage to one of my favorites, and so I had this stub of a story written out for about seven months now. It took me a while, but I finally got back to it. Life, it seems, has a tendency to get away from you at times. You’ve got to kick yourself in the ass and get back on the path before you end up wandering aimlessly down the Lost Path. Which is another story.
The story that inspired me was a Stephen King story in Skeleton Crew that I rediscovered while re-reading the book in early 2014.