Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Wall

For some reason, I made my way to the gate. It was then that I realized she was no longer by my side. Funny, I knew she was an illusion, a character I had made up to get me through this hellish landscape. However, now that she had winked out of my existence, I missed the company of my own insanity.

It was for the best. I had started here as barely a teen entering high school, and now, some thirty years later, I was a weathered old man who had seen and done too much for a hundred lifetimes. I don't remember much about my life before crossing into this blasted world, just fleeting images and the occasional dream that I had once been a human being living in uptown Manhattan with a mother, father, and two younger sisters. I held on for so very long to this aberration that I had a life before all of this. Every day slipped away, questioning myself and this new reality. I was a spoiled rich brat, but somehow I survived the first year here. I don't remember how, and I don't remember much at all from that first year. Swinging my trusty ax for decades, my mind, as much as my hands, had built calluses – a thick wall protecting my fragile brain from the horrors I had been through that first year.

I was surprised that I had retained my memories from before. Maybe those fleeting glimpses into my past, my childhood, were what had brought me this far. Or maybe it was her, the construct I had created to keep me company through my travels. She was a beautiful fairy who always appeared at my darkest moments, encouraging me to continue on. But then, as quickly as my mind had conjured this illusion, she was gone.

Then I heard about the gate – a myth, a legend, but something to keep me going. This gate was rumored to open to other worlds, other dimensions. I collected the three artifacts that would act as a key, and with the minuscule memories I still held on to, this would get me back to my world.

So why did every fiber of my being scream to turn away from that gate, to turn around and run in the opposite direction? This had to have been a trick, this world wanting to keep me here, to make me a part of it. I resisted this urge and trudged forward.

It felt as if I were moving through mud, each step more painful than the next. Every inch closer to the gate, the harder it became to move forward. I could not understand why I did not want this – to smell my mother's cooking, to hear the laughter of my sisters, the joy when my father returned from a day at the office. Maybe I had been here so long that I did not know any other way of life. Maybe I belonged here, I was a part of this place...


I picked up the first one, a squatting emerald monkey.  The figure was unassuming except for its tiny paws covered its eyes.  For a moment I was lost in the memory of snatching this idol from the F'zil demon.  I trapped it in a boulder as its hand that clasped the object jutted out.  I had to use my ax to free the monkey from the demon's claw.

A man's scream broke my trance, and I spun around to see who had yelled out. Then I realized it was me – yelling out against all my second-guessing, yelling out against the bond that held me to this realm. I shook it off and cleared the remaining few feet between me and the gate.

I lay on the ground before the large wrought iron monstrosity – a double gate that stood in the center of a dark field. I could see through the bars of the gate to the field that continued on through the other side. The gate was not affixed to any wall, it just hung there, sealed with what looked like a large medallion – one foot in diameter. Behind the grime, I could see that the metal was solid gold, with scratches along the edges, most likely from would-be thieves attempting to free the large coin-shaped object from the binds of the gate.

I surmised that without the three artifacts I now possessed, they were not successful and had moved on. I removed a cloth from my sack and proceeded to wipe away the years of caked-on grime. I cleaned off enough to reveal three oddly shaped holes. Then I dumped the contents of my sack onto the ground, along with my camping gear and various provisions. Three objects made from precious stones fell to the dirt.

Reverently, I placed it into the appropriate slot on the golden medallion, and the figure snapped into place as if it were magnetized.

I then sifted through my pile for the second object – a sapphire monkey, similar to its cousin, but this one's paws were clasping its ears. With my thumb, I wiped away imaginary drops of blood. Memories of Saneen surfaced – the night of passion we had, the only woman I had been with my entire life.

Ha! "Woman," she was a siren who had me entirely convinced we were in love until she brought me home for dinner. And by dinner, I was the main course. Before she could get the jump on me, I lopped off her head. So much blood. Despite her wanting to kill and eat me, I still had feelings for her, magic or not. Without her head, I easily retrieved the necklace with the sapphire figure, still drenched in her blood, and made my way out of there before her sisters arrived.

Noticing I was still trying to wipe the imaginary blood from the figure, I snapped back to "reality" and quickly affixed the object in its rightful place on the medallion. I then picked up the ruby monkey. This one clasped its mouth as if it had a secret to spill but held it back before revealing it. The object made me think of solidified blood. I held back the bile that threatened to spill from my gut with my other hand, clasping my own mouth as the monkey did, remembering where I had to pull this final piece from.

Now I understood why it was holding its mouth – not to keep a secret but to hold back a scream from the horrors it had witnessed. Pushing away the memories, I laid the final piece on the medallion and stepped back, expecting the gate to lash out and kill me.

Nothing happened.

Nothing happened for what seemed like an eternity as I stood and watched this immovable object.

Finally, I could no longer take it – over thirty years of suppressed rage lashed out all at once. I grabbed hold of the gate and shook the cold metal, yelling like a madman. I yelled until my throat was raw. The gate would not budge, it did not even rattle as locked gates do. It just stood there, mocking me.

Then I was done. I fell to my knees and wept. My face in my hands, I cried like a child who had scraped their knee. Then I stopped. I wiped my eyes with my forearm and proceeded to pick up my meager belongings and place them back into my sack. I didn't even attempt to retrieve the monkeys, despite the fact that they would set me up for life here, in my own kingdom.

I slung my sack over my shoulder, sheathed my ax, and turned to walk up the path I had approached from. Not ten feet into my journey, I heard a sharp CLINK. Swallowing hard, I froze, not daring to turn around. I was again presented with the urge to run, to run far away. I fought this feeling and slowly turned around.

Expecting to see nothing, to my surprise, the gate stood open. Both sides had swung inward. The medallion was neatly cut in half, and the semi-circles were on each gate. I dropped my sack. I didn't realize I was moving until I was standing right at the threshold of the gate. Beyond that still lay that dark field, continuing on to a cliff miles in the distance. However, I knew – I knew that once I breached that threshold, I would no longer be in that field.

I stepped into a dimly lit hall. A small marble staircase led to a foyer. Beyond that, a glass door was hard to see out of, due to the bright sunlight that contrasted my dim surroundings.

The first thing I noticed were the smells – baked goods. The smell of fresh bread invaded my senses, and my stomach let off a deep growl. Then the sounds came roaring in. At first, noise of traffic – TRAFFIC! Just beyond that sunlit door, I could hear cars moving about. Then the laughter of unseen girls giggling somewhere above me.

I moved toward the first step and placed my hand on the banister. Something about that struck me as odd. Then it hit me – my hand. It was no longer the aged, calloused hand of a fifty-year-old, but the hand of a boy who had yet to experience labor harder than washing the dishes.

The return of the laughter broke my trance, and I looked up. Between the rising staircase, I could see two sets of smiling eyes staring back at me. Laura! Ashley!

The moment I recognized my sisters, they came barreling down the stairs. They stopped at the top of the staircase in front of me. Ashley, nine years old, still smiling. Laura, 13, looked at me quizzically.

"What were you doing in the basement?" she asked.

The basement? I spun around to see that indeed, the door in the cellar stood open. Beyond that, I could see the laundry machines lining the opposite wall.

That's right, I thought to myself. I ducked into the basement to get away from them pestering me all day. I was upset that mom had made me keep them company while she went to the market.

How arbitrary that seemed now, so insignificant. I could not believe I had ever felt any resentment toward these two beautiful angels. I immediately closed the distance between us and hugged both of them in my arms, tears flowing down my cheeks and soaking their blouses.

Ashley quickly hugged me back, while Laura was resistant at first but gave in to the affection I was showing them. When we finally broke away, Laura looked me in the eyes and asked, "What's wrong with you?"

I laughed and replied, "Nothing, nothing at all." I took each of their hands and led them up the stairs to our apartment, grinning so hard it hurt my cheeks.

Was it a dream? The years I spent in that hellish world just a fleeting nightmare? Ashley broke me out of my thoughts, tugging on my shirt with her free hand. I looked at her and smiled.

"What is that?" she asked, pointing at my waist.

I looked down, and all the color drained from my face. Sheathed to my belt was the ax, every stain, every imperfection in the weapon a painful memory.