There was nothing special about that day. It was cold outside, not really winter anymore but not quite spring either. Just cold in that wet way that sticks to your bones. The walk to the old turret wall was a short one, made longer by Kim’s nostalgic silence. She’d been talking about days that I’d rather just forget--sleepovers at my old house with popcorn and root beer floats, and a mother that could tell the best stories. I’d never told Kim, but the reason my mother’s stories were so good, or scary, or real, was because to her they were true.
The turret wall was built in the eighteen hundreds, made to protect our city by the sea from invading ships. Now it was just an old crumbling structure along the nature walk. Smaller structures were scattered along the trail. Some were bunkers that held cannons in them hundreds of years ago. And then there was the death gate.
Nobody knew why the death gate was built. Nobody that I knew, anyway. I’m sure a historian somewhere knew why it was put there, but it didn’t matter. The legend was what we cared about. It was the kind of thing everybody knew, but nobody talked about. The dare that everyone claimed they’d take, but nobody ever did.
“Do you think it’s for real?” Kim asked as we stopped to stare at the gate. Someone had spray painted the wall next to it years before us. An eerie warning, though not at all subtle. Enter and you die.
“No.” I stuffed my fists into my jacket pockets and stared down through the bars. Inside was littered with trash—a broken red plastic cup, a slew of beer bottles, a candy wrapper. It wasn’t the sort of place you’d expect to carry such a reputation. It was just another littered bunker.
“What about that kid that died?” Kim climbed down the small slope to get a better look inside.
“He had a heart condition.” The words tasted like a lie. Tommy Diaz was an athlete with no prior history of any heart problems. He went inside one night on a dare, the red plastic cup could’ve been left there by him, and six months later Tommy was dead.
“I guess. Still, isn’t it fun to pretend? Like when we were little and we’d sneak into the cemetery and do the Bloody Mary thing.”
I shrugged. At least she wasn’t still talking about my mother.
“Oh, come on, Elizabeth. You’re no fun anymore.”
“Beth. Just Beth.” Elizabeth was my mother’s name. She’d died some years before and nobody had ever explained exactly how or why. She was too curious for her own good, my grandmother said. She was ill, was all my father could say. My mother was crazy. That much I knew. Cold-hearted as it seemed, it was easier to forget her completely. And in a town by the sea, where people tossed their problems into the waves like dead rats from a plagued ship, forgetting her was just something we did. Most of the time.
“And I am fun,” I mumbled. My skin prickled in that way it does when hidden eyes are watching. The wind didn’t blow colder, though I half expected it to, but still I could smell it—lilacs. My mother’s perfume smelled of lilacs. Whether it was to get away from her memory, or if something inside me was trying to find her again, I don’t know, but I said, “Move. I’m going inside.”
“What?” Kim jumped back from the gate like my words had made it come alive. “You’re fun, Beth. I was just messing with you.”
I slid down the small hill until my nose found its way between the bars. I could smell rotting leaves, and dirt, and maybe stale beer inside.
“C’mon, Beth. Let’s go.” Kim tugged at my sleeve. I pushed on the gate and it gave way. I took a breath, filled my lungs with the stench of lilac, and stepped inside.
That was when it started, about six months ago.
Come back on Wednesday for Part 2 by Valerie!
Photo by Lacey Boldyrev