Gabe knelt down before a towering gate of iron with a cold bar clinched in each fist. Locked! He was kneeling at the center of the gate, where the two wings were bound together by a lock on which there was, of course, a key hole etched dead center into an iron circle, the gate’s nexus.
There was only a small trace of light left in the sky when he arrived, and now it was gone. Nighttime was underway, and there was plenty left before sunrise. Luckily, there were two torches burning lazily nearly ten feet above and on either side of him forming beneath him a dancing yellow moon. “Hello,” he shouted into the darkness past the glow. No one answered, not even his echo. “Hello.” Still, no one answered. Discouraged, he quit kneeling and sat with his back against the bars and his head against the key whole etched circle, which gave an illusion of a lifeless aura around his skull. He was comfortable, much more so now than when kneeling, and would stay out there the rest of the night—the only soul atop the yellow moon.
No stars, nor moon, nor Heaven, were above him, only darkness.
The two torch flames intensified sounding off a quick burst which startled him awake. He looked around and noticed that he could see more around him, that everything was now a little brighter. He looked again past the gate and squinted, hoping that there was something there now that there hadn’t been that he might be able to see in this new light, but there was not. He sat back down and started to go back to sleep, when he noticed a few paces away that there was something on the pavement that he hadn’t seen, something written that he wasn’t able to read from where he was. He stepped lightly toward it and bent down, adjusting his position to keep his body from casting a shadow over the word. It was a single word written beneath an imperfect square drawn with blue chalk. The handwriting looked as if it was that of a child’s, and the word written was: Hopscotch. Gabe smiled a little thinking of children and the innocence of youth that the game of which the game reminded him.
He stood up and was about to make his way back to the gate when, out of the darkness, came padding a litter of small puppies. The cute little things passed him heading straight for the gate paying him no mind. There were six he believed. He watched them all clumsily climb the bottom bar of the gate and then scurry on into the darkness on the other side. He then swelled with envy at this scene, for he could not pass through the gate, and felt as if the puppies’ sole purpose of existence was to come and mock him by succeeding so easily where he had thus far failed. This feeling passed once he saw that there was one puppy left of his side of the gate struggling to climb over the bar and whimpering. By the time he made it over to the puppy, it had given up. It looked up at him with the most sorrowful eyes. You and me both, friend, he thought.
“Hey little guy,” He said, “Don’t be sad.” He picked the puppy up and set it on his lap. It didn’t resist. “How about this: You stay with me tonight and keep me company, and tomorrow when someone comes to open the gate, we’ll both go in. That sound okay?” The puppy barked in agreement. “I thought you’d like that idea. Now, let’s see what you are.” He lifted the dog to check its sex. It was a boy. “Looks like you’re a fellah, and well endowed I might add. No wonder you couldn’t climb over. You’re huge.” He laughed, but didn’t find it funny. “What are we going to call you?” He began thinking of any TV dog that he could name his new companion after. Lassie came to mind and so did Ren Ten Ten, but he thought neither suited the pup. Then he remembered a cartoon movie from his childhood that he always loved, but he couldn’t remember the title of the picture or much of what it was about. All he could remember was the lead character was a German Shepard, voiced over by Burt Reynolds, and his companion was a Datson. The name of the German Shepard wouldn’t come to him, but he knew that it would make a perfect name for his friend, who had curled up on his lap and had fallen asleep. He searched through his memory for the dog’s name and every time it seemed it would surface a line from the movie kept him from reaching it, like the gate kept him on his side with the puppy and the single squared hopscotch board. He would think of only one syllable and then the line would interrupt. Chu- “You can never come back!” Cha- “You can never come back!” It was maddening, and for some reason figuring out this name became extremely important, like it was the password that might unlock the gate. Che- “You can never come back, Char…!”
“Charlie!” He shouted triumphantly, waking the pup. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you.” He gave a quick look around feeling embarrassed for having let that outburst slip, but, of course, there was no one there to hear him. He looked at the gate. Still locked, not that he expected otherwise. “…Well at least we have a name for you, Charlie. Do you like it?” But Charlie had already gone back to sleep. “An excellent idea, Charlie.” Gabe pet Charlie’s warm coat, and sang lowly, “I knew a lady who came from Deluth, got bit by a dog with a rabbit tooth…” His voice faded, and in a few moments he fell asleep.
He woke and Charlie was gone. He called for Charlie, and listened carefully. He heard a tune coming from a radio somewhere too low to recognize. Thank God, finally someone came. He turned, but there was still no one there on the other side of the gate. “Where the hell is that music comin…” Then he saw something that silenced his muttering and pushed his thoughts away. A beam of light shown through the key hole, and he knew now that that was undoubtedly where the music was coming from. He marveled for a second before his curiosity quickened him. He peered through the key hole and there he saw something that couldn’t possibly be there. He checked the other side of the gate looking between the bars instead through the key hole to verify if what he saw through the key hole was actually a narrow view of what was beyond the gate. It wasn’t. Then from the keyhole came a sound blaring and urgent of a horn being rung again and again. He returned his eye to the keyhole as quickly as he possible could and once settled there, he heard the deafening screech of tires desperately grasping asphalt for control and saw two headlights large enough to belong to a semi quickly expanding in size and growing farther apart as they raced directly towards him. The moment he thought whatever it was would mangle him into a twisted corpse, he recoiled and crawled backward with quickness that he didn’t realize he was capable. He collapsed then covered his head with his arms as he heard a scream followed by a violent clash of metal against metal.
Smoke began seeping from the keyhole like the end of a gun barrel after a bullet fires from it.
It had all been a dream. He wiped rivers of cold sweat from his brow and was relieved to feel Charlie’s warmth on his lap.
He wondered how long he’d been asleep, but there was no way of knowing. All he knew was that he was sick of waiting. “I’ll climb.” He told Charlie. “I can’t see the top, but it can’t be that high. Can it?”
Charlie jumped from Gabe’s lap and barked. He seemed excited. “That’s the spirit. And don’t worry. I’ll pull you through once I’m on the other side.”
He began to climb a single bar hand over hand. His pace was quick and effortless. There was something about this place that enabled him to climb like he this. He was sure of it. His strength was otherworldly, and he hadn’t felt the slightest hint of fatigue yet. He was adamant, stopping and looking back thus far only once, when he’d made his way above the torch light and thought the gate couldn’t be much higher. He had looked down and saw Charlie staring up at him wagging his tale. Enjoying the super human strength he somehow came to possess, he quickened his speed and as gracefully as ever scaled the gate, relishing the ease of his ascent and his endurance. Though, after a while, his strength, something he thought he might never use up, began to diminish, yet he still hadn’t reached the top.
He stopped and caught his breath. He felt that his right side would soon rip if he were to continue, but he’d come so far. The top couldn’t possibly be much farther. He ventured a second look down, and judging by the distance between him and the ground, his progress had been immense! He’d never been so disheartened looking down at the yellow moon which now appeared the size of a dinner plate and Charlie was nothing but an uneaten pea. How can it be! He thought. He pulled himself up and felt agony overcome his muscles, and all at once his strength and his will were sapped out of him and he could climb no more.
Defeated, he loosened his grip and let himself slide (sink) down back towards the yellow moon.
Once he finally reached the ground a feeling of hopelessness swelled within him making him sick to his stomach and ashamed, he settled on all fours and sulked. Charlie eased near him. A fit of rage consumed him, and he belted out a scream as loud as he could from deep within his soul which had become filled with hatred for this cursed gate and whatever lies on the other side. He took a bar in each hand and tried jarring the gate back and forth, but it seemed he would have had a better chance at pushing the world off its axis than budging the gate. He gave up. Forsake me will you, a voice snarled inside his head, a voice not his own nor one he’d recognized. The fierce yawp sounded as if it were bellowed out from within an enormous throat where gigantic beasts roar in unison to produce the voice. The voice sounded evil, but could just as easily have been the voice of God for all that he knew. All that mattered was that the voice had not persisted, and he was able to calm down.
Charlie’s toenails clacking against the ground as he was walking alarmed Gabe, because the sound came from the other side of the gate. He’d startled poor Charlie so badly that out of fear he mustered up the strength to finally climb over the lowest bar of the gate, and now he regretted throwing a tantrum. “Charlie, wait!” He said quickly. At the edge of darkness, Charlie paused and looked at Gabe. “Charlie, come here,” he called with a high playful voice and whistled and kissed at him, and snapped his fingers as well, but Charlie ignored him and went on.
Gabe only new Charlie for a short time, but the pup leaving him was crushing, especially when added to his exhaustion and hysteria. He lay by the gate and hoped that Charlie would come back to him, and a couple times he thought he heard the pup padding back to him but it had only been his imagination, he supposed. After he’d given up hope of Charlie’s return, he fell asleep—once again the only soul atop the yellow moon.
The two torches went out. Day was just off the horizon.
Gabriel woke, stood, and brushed off his clothes with his hands. He saw that it was a little passed dawn and felt glad to say good riddance to one of the worst nights that he’d ever weathered. He walked away from the gate in clumsy fashion as if some parts of him were still asleep. He wiped the lingering sleep from his eyes and they slowly focused on the hopscotch board which he hadn’t been able to see in its entirety the previous night. He followed the board to its end, and there he saw an edge which led nowhere, as if everything from beyond that hopscotch board had been completely blotted out by black ink, as if existence stopped dead in its track. Where am I? On his side of the gate, all that he was able to see in the light of the torches was, in actuality, all there was to see. I couldn’t bare to look any longer, and turned looking up at the sky which was lit by a light source that he could not find. The light was simply there, and it was painstaking for him to look at. He shielded it from his eyes, and tried to look at times but it was absolutely unbearable. All that he saw was the gate, taller than any skyscraper he’d ever seen, but trying to look beyond that was agony.
The pain that came when he looked at the light was not felt by his eyes, but by his soul. The intensity of the light itself was mild at best. He understood that he was unworthy of looking and turned his back towards it all and crouched in shame and covered his face. The humiliation burned him deeply in his hollow innards, and when he opened his eyes to wipe tears from them, he knew that he must distance himself from the light or he would surely suffer, and saw the answer written in front of him: Hopscotch.
He walked to the end of the hopscotch board, and stared into the oblivion below easing his anguish slightly.
He faced the light and the gate one last time for as long as he could stand it, to the point where he wanted to gouge his eyes from their sockets and tear his heart from his chest. He leapt, and in that moment the light brightened and concentrated on the gate, and the gate flashed revealing its true physiognomy. Gabriel on saw its true beauty for no longer than a second before falling too far to see it longer.
He plummeted through the abyss for what he thought must have been hours, if not days. Not that he’d been trying to keep track. As a matter of fact the beginning of his fall through darkness was so terrifying that he couldn’t think of anything at all. The moment he became numb to the terror of free falling through what he now fancied calling “The Endless Nothing,” he had still been able to see the light over the cliff from which he’d jumped. That light disappeared long ago and plunging through the endless nothing felt as arbitrary to him as breathing. All that he had left now was weightlessness, oblivion, and his thoughts, and now since he had this opportunity to think, he began to ponder about something that had been bugging him. The moment before he jumped from the cliff, he saw something strange happen to the gate, something that made him want to hesitate but by the time he saw it, it was already too late. Something changed, he thought. I know it. But what was it?
He replayed that moment in his head, over and over and over. The gate that Gabriel mistook for black iron had completely transformed once that celestial light which he could barely stand to look at reflected off the gate’s surface, turning it from black to an unimaginably beautiful shimmering white. It was the most beautiful thing he’d ever laid eyes on.
“What was that gate made of to shimmer so beautifully the way it did?” Gabriel asked himself.
The answer Gabriel wanted still hasn’t come to him, but he needn’t worry. He has eternity to figure out that the gate was made of pearl.