The Gate in the Garden - Revised (2022)
It stood there for as long as I could remember. That house, with its white trim, red brick foundation, torn shingles, and overgrown gardens. Folks tell me it had always been that way. The couple that lived there had left ages prior— some issues with the banks or something. No one really knew. Since then, it has remained vacant and derelict. That house, which is next door to mine.
Across the street from the abandoned house lived Mr. Schutz. A kind old man who took pride in his gardens. So much so that he allowed the neighborhood to freely walk his yard and take any fresh vegetables they desired. From time to time he would walk over to the abandoned house—his hickory cane in one hand, and small bucket of tools in the other. He would methodically tend to the wild flowers, trim the bushes, and pull out the odd weed or two. When finished, he’d return home, sit quietly on his front porch, and slowly rock back and forth as the breeze gently blew through his thinning white hair. He was the neighbor that—as far as I could tell—had also lived in the neighborhood forever.
We exchanged pleasantries when I walked by on my morning strolls with Oliver—my golden lab—but that was the extent of our relationship.
“Good morning, Rebecca!” He’d wave to me from the porch. “Lovely day, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Mr. Schutz!” I’d reply, “the roses are looking lovely!”
Living next to an abandoned house was never disconcerting. If anything, it was a bit annoying bringing friends over and making excuses for the dilapidated eyesore. However, it wasn’t the house that bothered me as much as the overgrown gardens in the backyard. Despite the efforts of Mr. Schutz, saying the vegetation needed some T.L.C. was an understatement. In fact, the heavily overgrown gardens, with its ragged trees and unkempt bushes left me with a feeling of intangible dread.
On a cool summer night, when the dewy grass blades sparkled in the amber streetlights, Oliver had run off and—in my pajamas and robe—I called his name feverishly while shaking his baggie of dog snacks. After what felt like an hour of searching, I found him standing in the abandoned garden near a copse of three trees, each leaning over on each other forming a haphazard archway into the hedges beyond. He seemed to be looking through the trees. At the time, I assumed he had chased a squirrel or rabbit back there.
“Oliver! Come!” I commanded.
He ignored me and continued gazing attentively into the brush. Desperate and cold, I began to make my way into the old lot, though as soon as I crossed the property line, a powerful, unseen force stopped me like a brick wall. Every muscle in my body forbade me to continue. I stood there, waiting for something to happen, but unsure of what. It was then that I felt my mind pulled toward those trees, as if viny tendrils wrapped themselves around my consciousness and held me there transfixed. It wasn’t until Oliver had returned to my side, lovingly licking my hand, that my mind returned. Turning back toward home, I noticed Mr. Schutz sitting on his porch, rocking in his chair. He gave me a quick wave, then went inside.
It was 11:45 PM.
Since that night, I found 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 all the others were still saplings. Sometimes while washing dishes, I’d look through my kitchen window and find myself drawn to those trees, endlessly staring at them, resulting in the sink overflowing, and me covered in warm soap suds.
It became a distraction, one that began to weave its way into my daily life. Conversations with friends fell flat when questions asked of me were left unanswered. Work began to slip. Those twisted trees in the garden were all I could think about. At one point, I was so frustrated, I contacted city historians to see if anything of significance had happened there in years past. Their answer was short and to the point: “Nothing. Sorry.”
It was another cool night when I found myself standing in my backyard, peering through the light fog at the trees in the neighboring lot. The smell of rain still hung in the air from the showers earlier. I was not out there because of Oliver; he was snuggled up in bed with his worn blanket inside, exactly where I should’ve 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. Gently tucking an errant strand of hair behind my ear, I held my breath and entered the abandoned lot.
There was no paralysis this time; no tendrils invaded my mind. 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, weaving 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 did not notice that I was no longer alone.
“It speaks to you, doesn’t it?”
The sound invaded my silence, brought me back to standing within the old garden. Startled, I turned toward the disturbance. A grey figure, shrouded in mist, appeared to form before me. It moved silently, like an apparition. My curiosity overrode my fear such that I made no move to retreat.
“Who’s there?” I called.
As the figure approached, it began to take on the familiar, yet unexpected, form of Mr. Schutz.
“I didn’t mean to startle you, my dear,” he replied, thin wisps of breath punctuating his words.
“I—I shouldn’t be here, I…” I stammered in return.
“It’s quite all right,” he smiled and turned his attention to the trees.
“It does speak to you,” he said, “calls your name in ways you don’t understand. It is significant that you’re here.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The Gate, of course,” he motioned toward the trees—leaning heavily on his hickory cane with the other hand—as if to show the obviousness of what stood before me.
“The gate?” I asked.
“The Gate,” he replied.
I followed his hand toward the trees. Beyond them was nothing but more bushes, shrubs, and the fence to the neighbor behind. Mr. Schutz must have sensed my astonishment as he shuffled up to my side.
“I know it is hard to imagine that there is any magic left in the world, 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. The Gate 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 Gate.”
He laughed as I stood there grappling with the understanding the words he spoke. 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 again.
“Would you like to see the other side?” He replied as he switched his cane to the other hand and offered me his arm. There was only one choice. 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 to say “too early; more sleep.” I couldn’t help but feel a bizarre sense of satisfaction, even though I couldn’t recall anything after entering the Gate. Could it have all been some inexplicable dream? To this day I still can't quite put into words how it felt.
The days that followed were just as normal as they were before. I went to work, walked Oliver, and even began building my own gardens. I would give Mr. Schutz a courteous wave when I walked by, and he would reply in kind. I was too afraid to ask him if maybe that wasn’t a dream after all.
“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!”
I no longer was drawn to the gate in the garden, nor did it preoccupy my thoughts. Life was more or less back to normal. Though every now and then, I would have these dreams. Dreams so vivid they felt surely real. Dreams in which I stood bathed in warm, bright sunlight. Before me, within a lush snow-capped mountain vale, a colossal city, topped with golden glimmering domes and jutting towers tipped with fluttering white pennants, shone against a sparkling azure sea. The air was fresh, and filled with the sweet aroma of wild flowers. 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 no weapon nor shield, just a hickory staff he leaned on as he led me toward the city in another world.