The Other Side of the Gate
by Chelsea Thornton
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
He hadn’t planned on showing up to Professor Gates’s house that night; however, questions loomed unanswered in his mind in the same manner as the towering Victorian-style home loomed in front of him. After passing through the wrought iron gate with its brick archway, Jeremy headed up the hill toward the house, taking in the gloomy, gray exterior and the steeply pitched gable roof with its fish-scale shingles. Ionic columns lined the wraparound porch without blocking the view of the large bay windows. Elegant scrollwork hung above the balustrade of the second-floor balcony. The highest point of the house formed a witch’s-hat turret.
Who was this guy? Casually strolling up the steps to the porch, Jeremy took the open double doors as an invitation. Stepping across the threshold, the soft melody of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons reached his ears. The scent that greeted him in the foyer was frankincense and evoked an unsettling sense of nostalgia.
He stopped to look around. He didn’t recognize the paisley wallpaper or the intricate carvings etched within the wooden frames or the nineteenth-century crystal chandelier, and yet something about the place conjured a feeling of melancholic longing he could not comprehend.
“Mr. Reid!” Professor Gates spotted him from the parlor and approached, throwing his arm around his shoulders and dragging him out of the foyer. “I’m glad you could make it. Itching for the extra credit, are you?”
“Actually, Professor, I had a question about today’s lecture.”
The professor stopped in the middle of the parlor where they were surrounded by university museum staff, more of the university faculty, and only a handful of students. The professor raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”
“It’s about the quote you showed us. What do you think the author meant when he compared us to feathers?”
“I think it’s up to interpretation. It could be purely symbolic. Perhaps he was saying that we as humans aren’t fit to judge others. Or perhaps he was questioning the existence of a race of supernatural beings who perform the task of a god in that they actually do judge where a soul goes after a person dies.”
Jeremy’s brows furrowed; he stared as though he thought the professor had lost his mind.
Professor Gates expelled a deep, throaty laugh. “My imagination is running away with me again.”
“But you must have some idea who wrote it and why.”
The older man’s lips pressed tightly together as his good cheer faded. “The journal is centuries old. We may never know unless we were able to ask the author himself. Perhaps it is a riddle you are meant to solve.”
The professor spun around and waved his hand at another professor who had called for his attention. He turned back to Jeremy, placing a handle on his shoulder. “Please, enjoy the party, Mr. Reid. I’ll make sure to give you the extra credit.”
The touch of his professor’s hand on his shoulder sparked a pesky nagging in the farthest reaches of his mind, causing him to narrow his eyes at the man’s back when he turned away. He couldn’t help but feel there was something the professor wasn’t telling him, and he was now more driven than before to find out what it was.
Lingering a while, Jeremy watched as Henry Gates moved around the room to socialize with his colleagues. Jeremy then began inching his way toward the exit on the other side of the parlor. He nodded respectfully at those he passed by and smiled awkwardly at his fellow students.
After politely refusing hors d’oeuvres made with goat cheese and spinach, he managed to slip out of the room, apparently unnoticed. At the end of the first hallway, he made a left, a right, and then another right, his feet somehow guiding him toward his destination despite the fact he had no knowledge of this place.
Finding himself standing in front of a set of double doors, Jeremy swung them open. His jaw immediately went slack as he stepped inside. Another, stronger nagging tugged at the empty chasm inside him, pleading with him to remember. He allowed it to fan the flames of suspicion.
Thousands upon thousands of books were crammed into the library. Antique velvet armchairs sat in the center of the room. A mahogany desk was placed in the back, and a vintage grandfather clock stood in the corner.
While most of the artwork that hung on the walls in between soaring bookshelves appeared to be authentic Charles-Joseph Natoire paintings, there was one much older: a fifteenth-century piece by Rogier van der Weyden depicting the Archangel Michael using a set of scales to weigh souls. Jeremy had seen it before. He was sure of it. Still, he turned away. In the midst of such an impressive library and intimidating collection, only one book mattered to him.
Devout determination fueled his harefooted and wayward movements as he tramped across the ruby-colored carpet. He dashed from one end of the room to the other, removing books from their shelves and throwing them haphazardly onto the floor when they failed to satisfy the questions that burned so hot inside him.
With each step through the library, the more certain he became that there was something, something, unexplainable happening. It was as if he had scarcely woken from a dream. The memories were just out of his reach, and the more effort he gave into grasping hold of them, the more difficult they were to catch. Still, this did not dishearten his pursuit; instead, it spurred his resolve.
The wheels on the bottom of a ladder squeaked and wailed in protest as Jeremy rolled it across the floor. Climbing to the top, he reached the highest shelf and retrieved a thick novel with a leather cover. He opened it cautiously; it was at least a couple centuries old, like many other objects in the library, and he flipped through its delicate pages.
When that too proved to be in vain, he let the book slip through his fingers. It no longer held any interest to him; it wasn’t what he was searching for. As it fell from high above the ground, a few of its fragile pages tore away from the binding and floated gracefully down through the air like feathers.
Just as the ancient book hit the floor with a quiet thud, the heavy oak double doors of the library swung open and slammed loudly against the walls. The gentle melody of the music and quiet chitchat of the guests from the party down the hall trickled into the room. However, it was quickly drowned out by the resounding, furious voice of Henry Gates. “What the devil do you think you’re doing?!”
Jeremy froze, his eyes wide with trepidation. He peered over his shoulder at his professor who slammed the double doors shut with a deafening bang. The room quieted once again. The pounding of Jeremy’s racing heart and the rush of blood in his ears was all he could hear. As he began climbing down the ladder, he shouted, “I know who wrote it!”
“What are you talking about?”
Back on solid ground, Jeremy ignored the professor and continued his hunt. He scoured through history books, science books, poetry books, and many old British literature novels. His usual soft, youthful radiance was gone. Where there once was a carefree glow, there was now a suspicious scowl. Where there once was a playful glint in his eye, there was now nothing but a look of absolute conviction.
When Jeremy moved to search the next bookshelf, his professor stormed to the center of the room and stopped directly in front of him.
“Get out of my way,” Jeremy demanded.
The two men stared icily at each other as the seconds passed, marked by the incessant ticking of the grandfather clock in the corner of the room. Professor Gates’s disposition differed greatly from that of his student. He was quite a bit taller and quite a bit burlier. While Jeremy’s skin still radiated signs of boyhood, there were obvious years visible on Henry’s face. Lines stretched from the corners of his eyes and across his forehead. While their hair was both a shade of brown, gray strands peaked out on the top of the professor’s head. While both men had forest green eyes, there was more wisdom behind those of the eldest.
“You are grasping at straws, Mr. Reid,” Professor Gates said as Jeremy finally moved around him and marched instead to the antique desk at the back of the library. Somehow, his words sounded like a challenge.
And then Jeremy found it. After yanking open the top drawer, Jeremy picked up the aged book with the faded leather cover, worn spine, and feather charm. He opened it to the exact page that had been shared in class and stared down at the elegant script that was eerily similar to that of his professor’s. The journal was easily three centuries old. He flipped to the front of the journal and read the name scrawled on the inside of the front flap: Henry Gates.
“Am I?” Jeremy questioned as he returned to the middle of the room and shoved the book into the professor’s hands. “You wrote this, didn’t you?”
The room fell quiet and still. The only movement was that of the dust dancing in the rays of the setting sun that strayed in through the windowpanes. The only noise came from the grandfather clock. The single word that came out of the professor’s mouth resonated hauntingly out of place, like the sound of shattered glass breaking through the anxious lull.
The resounding confirmation echoed in Jeremy’s mind, drowning out the ticking of the clock. The power of the truth knocked the wind out of him. Henry Gates was centuries old.
Jeremy took a step back on shaky legs, his voice barely above a whisper when he next spoke. “But how?”
“You would know if you could remember,” Henry answered calmly, bereavement seeping through his words. He laid his journal down on the small table where an antique lamp once stood. “Your memory was taken from you ten years ago today. But it’s time to remember, Jerr. That’s why I showed you that quote in class. That’s why you’re here. You had to start to remember on your own.”
Jeremy’s eyes narrowed at the man’s use of “Jerr.” It was familiar. Everything was familiar. Little details struck him like electric shocks, the neurons in his brain shooting off electrical signals. And, yet, the man was crazy. “You’re lying. Who are you?”
“I’m a Gate. You are also a Gate. We are responsible for sending souls to their proper place once they have passed. We are the Gateways, Jeremy. The feathers of Maat. We have been entrusted to care for the souls of the deceased and give them passage to the afterlife, wherever we judge they should go. I am over five hundred years old, and you are just over two hundred.” He paused, sighing. “Your real name is Jeremy Gates, and you are my son.”
Shaking his head, Jeremy quickly turned for the double doors. Something — the ghost of a memory perhaps — told him he didn’t want to remember. “You’re mad!”
Henry grabbed Jeremy by the arm and spun him back around to face him. He placed his palm over Jeremy’s forehead. There was a sudden gust of wind as though a window had been thrust open in the middle of a storm. The mystical force threw Jeremy backward, landing him in one of the plush, velvet armchairs. He screamed as he grabbed his head, clawing at his skull, wishing to rip the pain away.
Whatever barrier had been blocking his memories broke like a dam. They all came flooding back in an instant, crashing over him like a wave. He was drowning until one memory shone like a light through the pressing darkness.
Shiny, blonde hair cascaded down the girl’s back in loose curls. The true color was somewhere between gold and silver. Silver. Her summer dress was a baby blue with ruffles on the collar. Jeremy kissed her and told her he loved her.
Then the scene swirled back into the dark as another surfaced. Rain splattered on a car windshield, the wipers doing little to clear his vision of the foggy road ahead. A song by the Beatles blasted from the speakers, drowning out the sound of the rain pounding on the car. The girl was in the passenger seat beside him, her fingers intertwined with his. He lifted her hand to brush his lips against it. The water rising on the road soon became too much for the tread on the tires. Jeremy lost control. The car swerved off the road and crashed.
When the tears hit his cheeks, Jeremy thought it was raining again. He looked up into his father’s eyes that reflected the wetness in his own. He remembered everything. His father, this room, their home. As he peered around the library, his blurry gaze was drawn to the mahogany desk. Another memory hit him as painfully as the rest.
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Copyright © 2020 by Chelsea Thornton