Sunday, January 19, 2014
A haunting tale of hallows eve, where witches cast spells and banshees scream. On moon filled nights with scattered clouds, the thunder rumbles and lightening cracks. Beware all who venture out this night; you’ll doubt your touch and very sight. So listen now to my haunted tale. When we reach its end, who will prevail…
“Devil’s night: Five gates to hell”
“I’m going out, looking for goblins, ghouls and witches, see you later,.” I yell to my roommates as I close my door, they pay no attention; they’re engrossed in some horror film on the television,.
Walking out the front door of my home I feel a certain trepidation and yet also the buzz of excitement. I ‘m not sure how this evening will end, at least not till much later on.
All I know now is that my curiosity has caught up with me and I must go to the bridge. I must know once and for all if the legends and stories of this small and unusual town are real, or just a figment of the imaginations of those who came before us.
I live in a rural place, not far from where the original Salem witch trials were held. We don’t have streetlights that adorn the roads at every corner, nor do we have much in the way of traffic after dark here, especially on this night. Everyone locks their doors, pulls their blinds, and keeps inside.
It’s your typical small town, vanishing Americana. And I am your typical curious and seeker of truth, the town skeptic. What seemed to scare this entire place into hibernation on all hallows eve. I knew no one brave enough to venture out this night. Not one soul in this tiny town that would walk the streets with me after dark.
It was late in the evening and most of the trick or treat crowd had long gone home. They retire early on this auspicious evening; no one in town would have been caught dead out on this night (no pun intended of course). No one really knew that the fun started only after the very dark of the night had set in.
But I did. I knew that whatever kept them inside, was beckoning me out to see first hand what was real and what was fantasy. I wanted to know more, to see with my own eyes the demons of the night. Those that might prey upon my very soul called me fourth to reveal themselves.
Wandering the streets, hiding in the shadows, I wait to see what really happened on this night. Curious and just a bit ill at ease. Alone. In the dark. I wait under the full moon of a misty, cloud scattered sky.
The kind that reminded me of those old scary movies. The clouds roll over the moon then lightening fires off, radiantly etching the sky as the thunder roars overhead. Your typical setting for spirits of the undead. Of course, it didn’t help matters that I had to cross the 175-year-old cemetery. I swallow, thinking about crossing all five of the gates that lead you through town. As you pass each one, the areas become older, more remote leading to the unused parts of the cemetery. But it is the only way to get to the covered bridge, the oldest entry point that spans the deep cliffs surrounding this town.
That’s another really strange thing, no one in this town has ever been able explain, how the cliffs came to be. But they completely separate this town from the entire outside world on all sides, except for the five covered bridges that lay entry to it.
The oldest of the bridges, the point I am headed to, was supposedly the site of major hauntings on this very night. People have claimed that under this bridge on Halloween the undead and the damned, the spirits that still roamed this earth meet. Their province to enter the fifth gate of the underworld, passing through to the other side, ending their torment here. Of course, no one had really seen them, it was just an old urban legend, or was it? I wondered.
Have you ever walked a cemetery on Halloween night? Seen what lurks in the shadows? …I thought not, I was about to find out…
I was entering the first of the five gates that lead to the other side of town, putting my hand on that cold iron. My skin crawled, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention. I had this feeling of dread in the depths of my being, as an unearthly howl let lose from somewhere in the distance. The cemetery floor as I stepped through the gate seemed to come alive, tree roots looked as thought they were crawling. Their branches seemed to reach out in an effort to stop me from moving on. Yet I pushed forward, further into the darkness, into the unknown of the Devil’s night.
Walking through the cemetery, I had to traverse through hundred-year old graves, unattended mausoleums and family crypts. Their stone doors ajar, over grown with weeds and granite gargoyles watching me at every turn. Finally… I reach the second gate. Opening it, the iron creaked and groaned, as if in an attempt to warn the dead of my presence here.
Moving through the gate, I see one of the long standing, now unused chapels sitting atop a grassy knoll. My eyes playing tricks on me. It appears near the chapel. There are eyes glowing in the night …watching …waiting. I know not what they are searching for. But I knew I must not tarry here.
The cold wind howls through the branches of the cemeteries trees, masking other more subtle sounds in the night. Suddenly…behind me…there is the sound of crunching of leaves or twigs. Turning quickly, I see no one. My heart still racing in its attempt to keep blood flowing to my extremities, should the need for fast flight become a necessary.
Pulling out my cell phone, I see it’s still only eleven. I also note the battery is nearly dead. I have time to cross the other three gates. I need to do this quickly, and not linger here with the dead, for fear of becoming one of them.
A raven caws overhead as if on queue, flies across the full moon in a path towards the center of the cemetery. My palms now warm and moist even in this cold night air. I can feel the dead all around me, as I move toward the third gate that sits at the center of the cemetery.
I walk briskly this well-worn but recently unused path. Reaching for the latch I find it rusted, stuck in its position. Rattling the gate it finally gives way, but the noise is deafening in the cemetery’s eerie silence.
Momentarily it appears to me as though shadows are darting in and out of the trees and from behind the tall monument type headstones from centuries past. Am I being followed by the spirits trapped in this place? Or is it just my imagination playing with me? I’m still uncertain and continue to move forward toward the next gate. Pulling my jacket close around me, I try to still my nerves and warm my chilled flesh.
I am now deeply into cemetery, darkness is all that is with me. In the little light from the moon I see many old and rotting stone structures, unattended trees and shrubs overgrown from lack of care have gone back to their natural state, concealing most of what remains.
I see where grave robbers have taken whatever bounty was buried with the dead long ago. Open caskets lie strewn about, bones tossed to the winds. This part of the cemetery holds the eldest of this town, founding fathers from times past. A time when those who believed in magic spells, and witches, suffered greatly for their beliefs. It makes me wonder, if those that suffered such tragic ends might be here with me now, trying to bring retribution to those who took their lives and taunt their descendants.
The Fourth gate is still farther ahead, the path now difficult to make out. It is evident that no one has trod this way for sometime. The chill seeps to the bone here and the blanket of black night hides all things from view. The clouds are low and fog is setting in. Yet I must move onward, forward to the bridge. It is my curiosity and a voice calling to me that sends me further into the darkness. The need to know overwhelms me. What makes tonight different from all other nights of the year? Do the dead walk the earth this night? Would all that is good forsake me here?
Moving closer to the fourth gate, cold winds rise up from the ground; other worldly howls heard, this time a bit closer. Echoed voices filled the night, the witching hour nearly at hand. Finally the fourth gate looms in front of me. Through the low cloud cover fog it was not visible, appearing from nowhere, when I happened upon it.
Grasping the six-foot tall gothic gates and pressing with all my strength to make them yield to me, they do not. Rust and time have taken their toll here, I cannot wrench them apart. The ancient lock is also rusted and impassable there is some writing on it, an inscription.
Once again pulling my cell phone from my pocket for light I can see the words clearly enough of course they are in Latin. Lucky for me I have studied at Oxford. Latin’s a required course there still. I am at least able to render a passable translation.
Cave! Qui loqui aperire portas has, ne introeas vivis, mortuus est in hoc regno.
Beware! To those who speak the words, to open these gates, enter not the living, this realm belongs to the dead.
Praecipio tibi portas aperire, ad sextum et ultimum iter patere porta. Quo ego vado transire facile est videre quam in nocte omnes spiritus mortuorum.
I bid thee gates to open, allow me safe passage to the bridge the fifth and final gate. Where I go willingly to see the dead pass to the beyond on the night of all spirits.
OK a bit theatrical for me, but let’s see if they actually open; Summoning my voice and my courage, I say the words: “Praecipio tibi portas aperire, ad sextum et ultimum iter patere porta. Quo ego vado transire facile est videre quam in nocte omnes spiritus mortuorum.” And wait.
Hmmm, thought as much, nothing moving, I begin looking for an alternate entrance. Then …all of a sudden …the gates begin to sake, rocking the rusted lock. I quickly take a few steps back.
“Screeech, Screeech,” the rusted gates move. I hear the clanging sound of the lock as it falls to the ground …slowly opening before me. Their hinges creaking, I am momentarily incapacitated, in awe, paralyzed in fright. My mind and heart racing, wondering, should I heed the warning or continue on my curious journey? Is this an ill-advised Halloween trieste, or the call to my inner being, one I must obey?
Cautiously, I take a single step forward, not yet crossing the threshold of the gates. Searching around me in the blackness, it has become silent; my ears hear no sound at all, except for an echo in the far, far distance. Chanting or music, it’s difficult to make out it has a haunting repetitive lilt to it.
I take a second step forward one foot across the threshold; I turn and look back toward the lights of the town, now barely visible through the fog-covered night. Turning in the direction of the gate, I step forward holding my breath, stepping fully over the threshold. Nothing, a few more steps, I let out my breath, still nothing has happened. Relieved, I look back to the gates, only to see them loudly slamming shut, banging, with an air of finality to them, leaving me sealed inside this sacred ground of the dead. The earth rumbles beneath my feet. My breath catches in my chest.
Here the dead from a century or more gone by, this part of the cemetery the oldest and most forgotten or most feared. No one ventures here even in the light of day, there are so many stories of the demons that live here, and we are told these stories from birth in our little town. We listen. We believe and no one disturbs the dead here. Yet, I am here, on Halloween night, hoping the dead take no offence at my presence.
Going back seems to be no option now, the bridge is still quite far and I have but mere moments to reach it, before the hour of the witch draws it first breath from this night. I fear this is not a place I wish to be at that felicitous moment, when the worlds of the living and the dead collide.
I look about me for a sign of the path I have been following; I see none, looking up as if out of nowhere fireflies seem to light the way. I follow their faint glow and still look for the path beneath my feet, I find it, though barely there but still a bit of it can be seen through the over growth of vegetation.
With each step towards the bridge from here, there is a feeling of trepidation, part of me wishes I had stayed safely back home. But the greater part of me is called to the bridge, and all of what it may hold good and evil alike. I am inexplicably drawn to a seemingly predetermined fate.
The chanting and repetition of voices draw nearer, yet I see no one. The bridge is still far off in the distance I cannot yet make it out. I do not know if I’m lost in the tangled thickness of over grown weeds, moving in circles inside a labyrinth or am I moving forward? It is impossible to tell.
Looking overhead I see the lonely raven, wings outstretched under the full moon. His cawing sounds impatient as he flies low and passes me. I decide follow in his direction hoping it will lead me to the place I seek and not leaving me lost here in the night. I certainly do not wish to be lost on the edges of a cemetery when the clock strikes it’s midnight tone on all hallows eve.
The fog is now so thick and dense I am not able to see more than a couple of feet in any direction. My legs have grown weary from the long walk. I am cold and feel fatigue setting into my every cell. My feet feel as though they’re lined with lead each step becomes a burden, my breath is labored.
Up ahead I see the faintest glow of a fire; maybe I can stop there and warm my self, for just a moment. There is not much time left to reach my destination. Reaching into my pocket, I pull out my phone to check the time. The battery has finally given out the screen is black as this night. I have no idea how close midnight is now I must hurry.
It seems as though the closer to the fire I get, the further it moves away from me. Is it a mirage of the fog I am seeing? Or a reflection of light from some unknown place? I no longer recognize where I am. I seem to be moving, yet standing still, my senses fail me. My head is light and I feel faint. Grabbing for the nearest tree trunk, I steady myself.
Dare I trust my own sight and touch? This is no tree at all but a large reptile of some kind writhing beneath my hands. Jumping back from the cold lizard-like skin, I realize I am not alone here. There are dark shadows nearby, faceless hooded figures, chanting in a tongue I am not familiar with, I am still faint and dizzy, my body fatigued beyond movement. Have I reached the Bridge? Am I still in the cemetery? I can’t be sure.
One of the hooded figures comes close to me outstretching its bony and rag clad hand. Dare I take hold? My eyes are heavy lidded; I am not sure what I am seeing. When did I come to sit here with these creatures? Time seems of no consequence. Moment’s pass, I decide to take its hand.
Standing, I see the bridge now there are flames bursting up from the depths of the cliffs, surrounding the bridge. My senses appear to return, or have they? What I am witness to, here, in this place, is not possible, at least not in a mortal sense.
Disembodied Spirits floating over flames, faceless hooded figures wandering the edges of the cliffs searching reach out to grasp at invisible beings. A large reptilian creature coiled in front of the bridge like a cobra, silently waits for its prey to pass before it strikes. Maidens dance to unheard music around a giant bonfire, their chants calling fourth the creatures of the night, the undead and the damned. A playground for the devils own children. I now wonder what price will be asked of me for curiosity sake.
“What is this place?” I wonder aloud. The hooded figure that has brought me here stops. Releasing its grasp on me and points to the large boulder we’re standing before. It is hard to see but the flames continue to light the skies with each new burst. Closely, I look at the stones face I can see etched into the large boulder what appears to be a pentagram. At the center is a picture of our town, and instead of star points I see each of the five covered bridges that lead to our town over the cliffs. There is writing around it as well, but it is not in any hand I have ever seen before, (It is possibly Druid or some other ancient writings) and I am unable to comprehend its meaning.
There is a path in front of me, but looking at the faceless hooded creature before me I am uncertain as to what is expected of me. Am I to take this path and leave this place? Or will it lead me further into the depths of this demonic celebration? “What do you want of me?” I ask the creature; it simply stands there silent, faceless and unmoving. Pointing back to the stones face and the chiseled inscriptions upon it.
I turn back to observe the intricate goings on nearer the bridge. It appears I have many pieces to this puzzle; my mind is not able to make the connections.
Again I feel the fatigue in my bones and my head light and dizzy as if drugged or in a drunken stupor. My hooded friend that has been with me for the later part of this journey has disappeared from view; I need to sit, I know neither where the creature went nor when he departed me, time seems to mean nothing here. Finding a place on the grass leaning my head against the cool stone and its queer writings.
My dark hooded friend has reappeared, it seems he has brought me company a visitor, a woman. She sits near and the hooded figure observes us in deathly silence. Looking at her perfection and scantily clad stature, “Who are you? Why have you come to sit with me?” the woman stares at me for a long time before she speaks.
“I am Kyra, the master has sent me, I have come to bid thee welcome, and offer thee respite, food and drink. Your journey has been long, you’ve still far to go” Finally some one who speaks, even if it does sound like ghostly ethereal melodies. I am elated, yet feel a very real need for caution and firm control of my faculties.
“You want to welcome me, no one knew I was coming. What do you mean far to go? Where am I going?”
“Ahhh, the master knows all things, he knows all minds, did thee not journey to find the answers to the bridge?
“Who is this master you speak of, his name. What is his name?”
“He goes by many names and is centuries old, he is known to many and feared by all.” Her quiet and ghostly voice is unnerving, her beauty and the elegance in her demeanor are irresistible. I am not sure if she is here to help me or to bind me to her master. I sit staring, wondering, filled with a wanting, a desire not felt by me before, and for a woman I do not know.
“May I take you to rest and refreshment? You’ve nothing to fear from me. My only wish is to bring you comfort.” Kyra rises and extends her pale and silken hand to me. Our hooded friend appears to float slightly aside allowing me room to stand; it’s presence there with us is like a guard, silent and unwavering in his duty.
I steady myself using the boulder for support, my knees weak and my head still a bit fuzzy. I get to my feet and surprisingly feel unscathed. My innermost being warns me to caution in all things, but I venture fourth and follow Kyra.
Her graceful gate and flowing attire give her a surreal appearance, like watching an angel floating on air. Her presence is both comforting and disturbing. She stops at what appears to be a large tented structure, pulling back the cover to the entrance. Inclining her head toward the doorway, she motions for me to enter.
Guardedly, I poke my head in just a fraction to see what awaits me. To my surprise it is like an old sultans tent, rich in fabrics and color, pillows thrown about for seating, beautiful silks and brocades adorn the inside. I move toward the entrance. Our hooded friend waits outside as Kyra and I enter.
Across from me there is a table filled with food. Wines, meats, cheeses, and fruits of all variety. Realizing I am indeed hungry and thirsty, I take a seat on the pillows at the shallow table nearest the grand buffet laid out before me. Looking around me I see antique oil lamps casting shadows on the fabric walls, giving this place a romantic and relaxing glow.
Kyra fills a cup with wine and offers is to me, setting it on the table in front of me. I Watch her. Next she fills a plate and brings it to the table and offers me the food.
Smiling, Kyra speaks to me, “My master would like a word with you, when you have finished your nourishment and had ample time to rest.”
Picking up my glass and sipping my wine, my eyes never leaving hers. Such a beautiful woman, delicate and graceful. She is not from our town that is certain.
“Kyra, where are you from? How have you come here?”
“I am from the realm of your thoughts, a muse, an apparition, brought here to give you courage and comfort.”
“I doubt my imagination is this creative. I could not have dreamed you up, Kyra. Is this place all the makings of my imagination?”
“No, it is quite real this one night a year. Not many have had the courage to venture here over the centuries. My master finds you to be an unusual specimen among your kind. That is why he wishes to see you.”
Kyra’s hand brushes across mine as we both reach for some fruit. I feel a flutter within me. I reach for her. She moves close, grazing her moist lips near mine in the softest kiss I have ever felt, then she pulls away from my grasp.
“I must leave you now, please finish your refreshment and relax here. The master will be here soon. I hope he is pleased with your company. Good-Bye”
“Wait Kyra, don’t leave me here alone. Who is this master you keep speaking of? And why do you hope he is pleased with my company?” I reach out to grasp her hand, but she is out of my reach and headed toward the opening in the tent. She glances back at me from the entrance.
“My dear do not worry, all will be as it is meant to be.”
Then she vanishes just as mysteriously as she had appeared. What if he is not pleased with my company, what then?
The strange hooded figure appears briefly in the outer entrance; just long enough to let me know I need not try to leave he is still at his post. Trapped in this tent I feel very unsure of my mortal standing at this moment, but in all honesty my curiosity far outweighs my fear. So I wait, albeit impatiently for who or what ever it is I am to have a meeting with.
Outside the tent I hear the chanting and other ghostly sounds of restless spirits. Suddenly a burst of cold wind fills the tent, like a draft on a cold winters night. I immediately get the feeling I am not alone any longer. My eyes dart about the candle lit room. Out of the corner shadows an older distinguished gentleman walks. Well dressed, and bearing a commanding presence.
“Are you the master that Kyra spoke of that wanted to talk with me?” I ask in a nervous yet controlled tone.
“Yes, as a matter a fact I am. Does that surprise you young man?” he replied in a very friendly and congenial manner. “I was interested to meet someone of your courage and determination. It is not often I have been defied by any mortal man, yet here you are, attempting to gain access to my bridge on my one and only night of total freedom.” His demeanor immediately changed. His eyes narrowed and became filled with flames, as he bellowed at me “WHY! Have you come here?”
I tried to crawl backwards on the pillow where I was seated as he took several steps toward me. Fear quickly overtook my curiosity. Stammering. “ I…. I … I wanted to know the truth about this town .I mean no harm to you.”
“You have been told to lock your doors and keep inside on this night since you were a child, yet you ignored those years of warning!!!” again he bellowed loudly in my direction.
I assumed if this were to be my last stand, I had better have courage and stand my ground. I refused to cower and give into my fears. Standing up and squaring myself, I answered him.
“Yes, I had no way to know if what I was told was the truth or local urban legends from over active imaginations. I wanted to know the truth even if it meant I had to come alone to find it.”
“Hmmmm, curious human specimen, are you not afraid in my presence, Mortal?”
The deep and baritone resonance of his voice filled the tent. I now knew the legends were truth. But I was not so certain I would live to tell about it to anyone, and who would believe me if I tried? There has never been a living soul that has seen what I have and come back to the town. Thinking my options through again I answered him.
“Not so afraid as to cower to you, no. Do with me as you will for defying you, but I’ll not quiver and quake and beg you to spare me. I came of my free will, knowing there was always the chance I’d not return.”
He came quickly at me, grabbing me by my jacketed shoulders. His size would have sent many a man running for cover. I felt my breath leave me as he lifted me into the frigid night air, far above the tent. “Leave me human, never darken my door this night again.”
He threw me towards the cliffs. I felt myself falling helplessly towards the flames. Knowing that I had breached the gates of hell itself, still falling it seemed as though I would fall forever. A feeling of weightlessness and total vulnerably my constant companion. I closed my eyes hoping for it to stop; yet knowing it would not. All at once I landed, with a loud thud and pain shot through my body.
Opening my eyes I found myself not in eternal flames but at the bottom of my stairwell, clad in my pajamas. My head was pounding, and my leg twisted under me in a bazaar fashion. It had to be broken. The pain was excruciating.
My roommates picked me up, loaded me into the car, and took me to the hospital. They set my leg and gave me something for the concussion I had suffered falling down my own stairs.
I had vivid memories of the night. Must I believe it was all an imagined dream? Did I never leave the house? I got my crutches and we all went home. All I wanted to do was go to bed. I was tired; every inch of me was in pain. They helped me to my room, got me some fresh water, left my medications on the bed table and left me to my thoughts.
Just as I was letting the medication run its course and drifting of to sleep a gentleman appeared from the shadowy corner of my room. Was I dreaming again? Was this real? I could never be sure but his eyes flashed fire. His words were soft and elegant in a baritone voice,
“I’ll not be so charitable in the future human. I admired your courage and truth. DO NOT bother me again; heed the warnings of this town. Those who breach the fifth gate of hell rarely return.” Back into the shadows he disappeared in an instant.
I had attributed the pain on my arms to the fall down the stairs, but when I removed my shirt I found two small serpent tattoos permanently engraved in my forearms. …A reminder? …A warning? Possibly both…..
I got up from my bed and hobbled toward where he had just stood. There on the floor I found a paper with the symbol, the pentagram. The town was situated in the center along with the five covered bridges that lead us to the outside world on any given day, that is any day but Halloween.
There was also a note scribbled in a hand I could hardly make out:
“This town sits above the five gates of hell. Honor your ancestors’ bargain and the town will flourish. Tell the tales to future generations, and keep them safe… or see this town perish from existence… it is a choice. You will always have a choice.”