SHORT STORIES

The Gate in the Garden

It stood there as long as I could remember. The house with its white trim, red brick foundation, and torn shingles. It was always like that, though it'd aged since abandonment. The couple that lived there when I was a child had left, some issues with the banks or something. It remained vacant ever since, that house in the lot next to mine.

 

Across the street from the abandoned house lived Mr. Schutz, a kind old man who took pride in his garden, so much so he allowed the neighborhood to freely walk his yard and take any fresh vegetables they wanted. From time-to-time he’d walk over to the abandoned house, his hickory cane in one hand and a small bucket with tools in the other. He’d slowly tend to the wildflowers, trim the bushes, pull the odd weed or two. He would return to his own house, sit quietly on his front porch, and slowly rock back and forth, breeze blowing through his thinning white hair.

 

We’d exchange pleasantries when I’d walk by on my morning strolls with Oliver, my golden lab, but that was the extent of our relationship.

 

“Good morning, Rebecca!” He’d wave from the porch. “Lovely day, isn’t it?”

 

“Yes, Mr. Schutz!” I’d reply. “The roses are looking lovely this morning!”

 

He was the neighbor that had lived there forever, and it seems I can’t remember him any younger.

Living next to the abandoned house was never disconcerting. If anything, it was a bit annoying bringing friends over and making excuses for the dilapidation next door. However, it wasn’t the house that bothered me as much as it was the garden in the backyard. Despite the efforts of Mr. Schutz, the vegetation needing some TLC would’ve been an understatement. In fact, the heavily overgrown garden, with its ragged trees and unkempt bushes, left me with a feeling of dread, but also with curious wonder.

 

One cool summer night, when the grass blades sparkled with dew in the amber streetlight, Oliver had run off and I in my pajamas and robe called his name, shaking his baggie of dog snacks feverishly. He had become somewhat obsessed with the abandoned lot recently. He was in the backyard, standing close to a copse of two or three trees, each leaning over on each other forming a haphazard archway leading into the hedges behind it. He seemed to be looking through the trees. I assumed he’d chased a squirrel or rabbit back there.

 

“Oliver! Come!” I commanded.

Oliver ignored me and continued gazing attentively into the brush. Desperate and cold, I made my way into the old lot, though as soon as I crossed the property line, an alarm blared in my mind with the warning, “STOP!” Unsure if I had actually heard the voice or imagined it, I froze. It seemed as if every muscle in my body forbade me to continue. I stood there, waiting for something to happen, but unsure of what. It wasn’t until Oliver had returned to my side, lovingly licking my hand, that my mind returned to me. Turning back toward home, I noticed, sitting on his porch, Mr. Schutz rocking in his chair giving me a quick acknowledging wave. It was 11:45 at night.

After that night, I’d find myself staring into that garden, specifically that small copse of trees. The neighborhood was old, and the local trees were tall, lush, and green. These trees seemed older still. I imagined the old farmers that used to work this land ages ago must have rested underneath their shade while the others were still saplings. Sometimes looking through my kitchen window while washing dishes I’d find myself drawn to those trees. More than a time or two the sink would overflow, and I’d be covered in warm suds.

It was another cool night that I found myself standing in my backyard, peering through the light fog at the trees in the abandoned lot. The smell of rain still hung in the air from the showers earlier. I wasn’t out there because of Oliver; he was snuggled up with his worn blanket inside, same as I should have been. I was alone, outside, in the middle of the night, staring at a bunch of trees that appeared to hold each other in their ancient embrace. Tucking loose hair behind my ear, I entered.

There were no alarms this time, no warnings or instincts to stop. I made my way through the wet crabgrass and stood before the objects of my obsession. They were much more magnificent up close than I expected. Vines snaked in and out of the branches, knitting the trees together. Deep grooves and ruts streaked up and down the old brown bark. The veins within the leaves were so intricate it seemed to me a written language, one that had long since been forgotten. I was so enthralled that I didn’t notice I was no longer alone.

“It speaks to you, doesn’t it?”

The sound invaded the silence, brought me back to standing in the old garden. Startled, I turned toward the disturbance.

“Who’s there?” I called.

A gray figure, shrouded in mist, appeared to form before me. Silently it approached; I made no move to retreat. The phantom began to coalesce, taking on the familiar but unexpected form of Mr. Schutz.

“I didn’t mean to startle you, my dear,” he replied, words punctuated by wisps of mist escaping his lips.

“I-I shouldn’t be here. I-uh—” I stammered in return.

“It’s quite all right.” He smiled and turned his attention to the trees. “It does speak to you. Calls your name in way you don’t understand. It’s significant that you’re here.”

“Huh? What’re you talking about?”

“The Gate, of course.” He motioned toward the trees, as if to show the obviousness of what stood before me, leaning heavily on his hickory cane with his other hand.

“The gate?”

The Gate.”

My eyes followed his hand to the treed archway. Beyond it was nothing but more bushes, shrubs, and the fence to the neighbor behind. Mr. Schutz must have sensed my incredulity as he shuffled up to my side and continued:

“I know, it’s hard to imagine that there is any magic left in this day and age. But I assure you it’s out there, just hidden from view. This Gate here, it’s a doorway to a place that very few will ever see; it’s a portal to a world beyond our own. It has stood here since time immemorial, and so have I, as its guardian. I watch over it, tend to it, and make sure it remains undiscovered by the unworthy. And here you are Rebecca, drawn by the invisible forces that emanate from the other side.”

“Um, I…” I trailed off.

He laughed and I stood there. I didn’t know if my neighbor was speaking the truth, or maybe hadn’t taken his medication. He was right about one thing—I was drawn to that spot. I had dreams about those trees, and here I was, in the middle of the night, standing outside the Gate with my elderly neighbor, both of us clad in our pajamas and housecoats.

“It’s a gateway to another world?” I asked, still trying to grasp what he was saying.

“Would you like to see the other side?” he replied as he switched his cane to the other hand and offered me his arm. Wordlessly, I grabbed on, and we both slowly walked through the Gate.

***

I awoke the next morning in my bed. Oliver, curled up at my feet, raised his head and gave me a look as if to say, “Too early. More sleep.” I couldn’t. I lamented that it was all a dream, but I couldn’t help but feel a bizarre sense of satisfaction. To this day I still can’t quite put into words how it felt.

The days following were just as normal as they were before. I went to work, walked Oliver, even began working on my own garden. I would give Mr. Schutz a courteous wave when I walked by, and he would reply in kind.

“Good morning, Rebecca!” He’d wave from the porch. “Lovely day, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Mr. Schutz!” I’d reply. “The roses are looking lovely this morning!”

After the dream I was no longer drawn to the gate in the garden, and it no longer preoccupied my thoughts. However, every now and again, I would have other dreams. Dreams in which I stood bathed in warm sunlight. Before me, within a lush, snow-capped mountain vale, a colossal city, topped with golden domes and jutting towers, gleamed against a sparkling azure sea. At my side, I held the arm of a young, stalwart warrior, clad in glittering silver armor and a brilliant white robe, the edges hemmed with golden thread. He held neither weapon nor shield, just the hickory staff he leaned on as he led me forward to the city in another world.