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The Gate

Is this all there is to life? I entered the old library and waved to the couple of other staff already at work. Not even a desk of my own, and all I do is get stared at by creepy old men, and teach people how to use the internet.


I threw my jacket over my chair, knowing I’d likely want it later when the air conditioning gave out under the afternoon sun. Mark, the library director, walked into the conference-room-turned-work-space just as I pushed up my cardigan sleeves. His face was almost hidden behind the battered cardboard box he held in his hands. He plunked it down on the table, sending dust drifting into the air. 


“Good morning Heather. Would you mind sorting through these?” he asked, Missourian drawl lingering on each word. “I’ve got that meeting with the city about library grants at nine.” 


“Sure,” I said. “Where did it come from?” 


Mark shrugged, brushing dust off the creases in his sports jacket. “Donations from the community event yesterday. Guy who dropped these off said it’s from his dad who passed.” He flashed me a thumbs up before hiding in his office.


I shifted yesterday’s stack of new hardcovers and labels away from the grime and began to unpack. Working in a library wasn’t glamorous, but I loved it. At least, I used to. Lately the tedium made me feel like screaming, although little mysteries like this helped. Maybe there was something special buried here.


Of course – it’s all Patterson. I piled tattered paperbacks onto the table without looking inside the box again. Talk about obsession, I thought as I made a fourth stack. I reached for the next book; my fingertips brushed cold leather. What do we have here?


The handbound text was heavier than it looked, like the bibles my mother tried to give me. Seven overlapping circles, bisected by two lines, shimmed in gold inlay on the grainy taupe cover. No title or author. An inscription on the first page written in a scrawling hand read: “All is known below. Rise as others fall, answering the Call.” 


Someone called me, making me jump and drop the book onto the table. I looked over my shoulder but none of the staff stood in the doorway. Confused, I stuck my head out of the conference room and drew the attention of the head librarian. 


“Linda,” I called, “Did you need something?” 


Wisps of gray hair floated over the edge of the computer screen until her crumpled face appeared. “No, dear. I haven’t said a word.” Light glinted off the gems bedazzling her eyeglasses. 


I nodded as I chewed on a nail and returned to my task. The gold inlay glowed under fluorescent lights. 


Quality shows, I thought as I picked up the book once more. The same scrawling script filled the yellowed pages alongside sketches of symbols and indecipherable notes. Ramblings of a madman. I caught repeated phrases: root of life, beginning’s cradle, One is All. My heart raced as a shadow fell over the text.


“Anything good?” Mark asked, looming over my shoulder. 


Tremors laced my voice, “Jesus. You scared me.” Blood pulsed under my fingertips at my throat. 


“Sorry,” he chuckled. “Didn’t mean to sneak up on you.” 


“It’s fine.” I drew in a deep breath. Was his meeting done already? The small clock on the wall confirmed it was well past noon.


“Box is full of J.P. Who else?” I waved a hand at the stack of paperbacks and willed my beating heart to calm. “This is the only interesting one, seems to be a journal of some kind.” 


“Is it one we should put into the local history shelf?” Mark angled his head for a better look.


Irritation bubbled up my chest and I snapped the book shut. “I can’t tell yet.”


Mark nodded as he stepped back. “Let me know if it is. It would be great to add to that display.” The library director wandered back to the stacks of paperwork in his office, humming some classical song. 


I set the book aside, puzzled by my sudden change of emotions. Why do I care if he’s curious? We all shared and gossiped about what was donated. I set it aside along with my growing unease. The new releases needed labels – a nice, quiet, task.   


The golden symbol drew my gaze constantly from across the table. A few times I almost reached for the old book instead of the next hardcover. 


Pull yourself together, Heather. It’s just some crazy person’s prattle.


Whispers grazed my neck when I left the room to shelve the new books. 


I was alone. 


The book cart rattled as I pushed it over the rough carpet towards the Local Authors section. Ticking from the ancient clock filled the air. My back prickled as if I was being watched. The library was empty of patrons except for old Mrs. Getsby, quietly knitting near the faux fireplace. Mark‘s office door was shut for his next meeting, and Linda’s face was pure concentration as she glared at her computer.  


It’s all in my head, I told myself as I started working on the display. You just watched one too many ghost movies last night, that’s all.


I set new books on the display, removing last month’s featured writers, trying to ignore the pervasive murmurs. Every thought of mine was swept away into the constant hum. Frustration filled me, burning down to my hands as I looked at the full cart. Linda wasn’t paying any attention – likely browsing for the next hot romance. She wouldn’t notice if I skipped shelving these for today and just read the book. I shook my head. Where did that thought come from?


I abandoned the cart to approach the front desk. The head librarian’s face warmed with a motherly smile as she looked up at me, but… 


Why were her eyes so cold? 


Her mouth moved and gibberish tumbled out in a low hissing whisper. 



That’s not Linda.


I winced as my ears popped. Linda peered up at me, her smile faltering. 


“I’m sorry, could you repeat that?” I asked, pressing one hand against my aching temple. 


“I asked if you’re feeling alright? You’re pale as a ghost, dearie.” 


“Yes…” Sticky sweat cooled on my palms. “No. I don’t know.” 


“Go home, get some rest.” She smiled condescendingly at me. “We’ll see you tomorrow.” 


You don’t need me anymore, is that it?  


I almost protested but then pictured the book… that glorious book. “Yes… I’ll see you tomorrow.” 


No one saw me tuck it under my jacket on my way out. 


Unintelligible whispers filled my ears like buzzing insects the entire two mile walk. Lost in thought, I almost walked past my own house. I retraced my steps, scrutinizing every shadow, every sound for who was watching me. My skin crawled with their gaze; I knew they were out there. Watching from the empty trees across the road, or from a car in the street. I didn’t recognize the gray sedan in front of the Murphy’s. Did someone just peek out from the curtains in the abandoned yellow house? 


I bolted for my door.


The unease crawling up my spine didn’t settle once I was behind the safety of the locked deadbolt. No, there were too many people out there. Too many had seen me. Someone knew I had it. What if someone had seen the book? What if someone tried to take it?


I pulled my kitchen table into the narrow hallway to block the front door, piled bookcases in front of the windows, and shoved the couch against the back door.


Panting and soaked with sweat, I sat down in the safety of my empty living room. Just me and the book. A spider crawled over my shoe. I shuddered, but couldn’t bring myself to squish it like I normally would. It felt… wrong. I kicked it away and looked back to the relic in my hands.


With trembling hands I opened the first pages. Cold emanated from the cover; it hadn’t warmed from my grip. Reading it again in the peace and safety of my home I found the writing more legible, the curves of each letter clear. My fingers traced over the holy words. Whispers grew, drowning out all other sounds as I read each delicate page. Some nameless prophet wrote of the first Calling, the one true Great One. This predecessor had Seen and been Seen.


Damp breaths caressed my bare arms. 


The Path lay between these pages for the Called to follow. 


Is this what I’ve been hearing? How could I have mistaken it for some mere mortal?


I am Called. 


I must follow. It all makes sense - the symbols are beacons illuminating the Path. All is known below. Rise as others fall, answering the Call.


The Great One is calling me.


What would happen if I answer? Where is the Path?


The symbols revealed coordinates – the Path lay on the festival grounds just outside of town. 


What will happen if I don’t? My curiosity won out. Book in hand, I slipped past the table and out the front door. My neighbor Emilia parked her car on the street. Like usual, her keys were on the dash. I got in, the book heavy on my lap. She’d understand if I told her but I couldn’t wait. The need to know couldn’t wait.


Music blared as the car started, but the susurration was louder. Song vocals transformed into blurred words behind the constant call. Understanding settled like insects in the summer twilight. Yim…la…dhrosh, the whispers chanted in the rasp of wings and scuttling things. Yimladhrosh.


I sped out towards the festival grounds. The buzz swirled around my head, growing louder as I drew closer to the Path. 


Yimladhrosh. 


Words on the city limit sign blurred past.


Yimladhrosh.


Trees merged into walls of brown and green along the snaking black pavement.


Yimladhrosh.


Bars glowing with amber light from the dying sun blocked the driveway. A sliver of moon hung behind the Ferris wheel in the lilac sky, and the earthy scent of marigolds filled my lungs as I stepped out of the car. Coyotes howled in the distance. 

Book clutched to my chest, I went under the narrow gate. Within the empty grounds leaves skittered across dead earth trampled by many feet into submission. Old signs creaked in a gust of cloying air.


Yim-la-dhrosh, my heart beat in time to the call. Yim-la-dhrosh. Yim-la-dhrosh.


Fireflies flitted in front of me, beckoning, lighting the way. Worms and beetles crawled out of the damp earth and writhed along my path. Each step sacrificed small lives with wet squelchs more felt than heard. I followed the pull of the whispers towards the barren field. 


Midway through the field the fireflies encircled me, weaving chest-high drunkenly. Moths rose from the dead grasses to join them, another circle to the left barely overlapping with the blurring lights. Then rose flying beetles, dragonflies, wasps, and more until seven circles spun around me. 


Something crawled over my foot. I looked down to see spiders, worms, and centipedes boiling out of the ground beneath my feet to form lateral lines to my left and right. 

My back stung with the weight of someone’s gaze. Thick decay coated the back of my throat, forcing the rising bile down. 


Yimladrosh, sounded the crawling creatures. Yimladrosh, Yimladrosh. 


This was it. My heart beat louder with the chant filling my ears, giving me strength. I dropped to my knees and began to dig. The circles hummed around my head, countless legs slithering over my bare arms as I clawed at the dirt. More poured out as the opening widened. For each that I killed in my haste, a dozen more took its place. Fingers bleeding under broken nails, I dug until the hole was half a foot deep and nothing else crawled out of the earth. 


Red dripped from my fingertips to swirl around the sigil as I placed the book within the hollow. Not a drop spilled out. A breeze stirred, sweet and musky, smelling of earth after the rain when the worms return home.


Yimladrosh.


With the last chant everything fell silent. The droning circles dropped to the ground. Nothing stirred. Hissing erupted from the pit where the book lay as black fog poured from below the text. 


“Yimladrosh,” I whispered, reaching my hand towards the void. “Bring me home.” 


I stepped back, then back again as the hole grew, crumbling at the edges down into nothing. Two segmented beryl limbs slowly eased up until the pointed tips waved higher than the Ferris wheel. Beetle-green wisps like vibrissae brushed against the edges of the fissure; one skimmed my leg.


My blood pounded throughout my body. The fog swallowed everything, no bearings in the black. The whispering chant arose again and drummed through my bones. 


Yimladrosh. Yimladrosh. Yimladrosh.


I could feel the thing in the void watching me, waiting. Nerves ran up my feet, my back, as I stood upon the precipice. Like standing on the edge of a cliff, the weight of its gaze drew me in like gravity. 


All the answers lie below.


Blotchy red and gray tentacles snaked forward through the oily air. I licked my lips and tried to move as the limbs coiled around my legs, but couldn’t. 


This is what you wanted. Buzzing filled my head. Isn’t it? Was that my thought? 


The breeze swept into a gale sucking down into the void. Birds and rodents tumbled into the gnashing mandibles which erupted out of the gaping maw. 


Tentacles pulled me down.


Down, past the writhing mouths.


Down below the crumbling surface. 


Marigolds and rot suffocated each breath. 


Silence filled the space beneath the earth as I drifted in nothing. 


Yimladhrosh, we chanted.

Written by Del Hargraves

Photo by Tony Phan on Unsplash


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