When I was walking home today, I noticed that the gate was open - which was odd, because I had never seen a gate there before. Although it was spring, the late night air was still laced with winter's chill, so I wore a scarf tied in a tight knot to stave off the cold. My apartment sits at the end of a street lined with restaurants and clothing stores: During the day it overflows with life, but at night it settles into a empty quiet. I often come home late, so I'm accustomed to the stroll past the darkened coffee shop, the sandwich place, the store with clothing I could never afford, and the small Indian grocery where I pick up a seventy-five cent samosa every morning. I enjoyed the quiet. I liked the flickering streetlamp and the dim glow of the walk signal as my only guides. It made the empty street seem almost sacred. As if it were a secret place that only I knew about.
I was striding quickly along, eager to return to a warm building, when something caught my eye. It was the gate. Right there, between the coffee shop and the sandwich place. It was open. It was made of twisted iron, like a massive spiderweb. In the middle of the gate was a dragon's head, glaring at me with a smirk on his metal face. Twisting vines radiated from his smirk, as if he were peering out at me from a vineyard. The gate seemed wholely out of place among the weathered wooden buildings that stood to either side of it. I paused for a moment to check my surroundings. I had walked down this street hundreds of times, but I could not recall ever seeing this gate before. And yet here it was, hanging open in front of me, the dragon's eyes meeting mine. I pushed the gate slowly, and it moved without a sound. With a deep breath, I peered into the passageway that it lead into. I saw a narrow hallway lit by a single fading lamp. The floor was simple packed dirt with a few dried leaves. The walls were made of red brick that had been faded by the years. I ran my hand along the gate, looking for a latch or a lock, fearful that I would be trapped if I dared to enter. Nothing. With a deep breath, I stepped into the passageway. It was a mere ten feet long. At the end, I saw a dead end blocked with a wooden trellis. I carefully adjusted the knot in my scarf as if doing so would grant me extra courage before I entered in. With my first step, I heard the crunch of a whithered leaf underneath my foot. I took another step in, expecting the gate to slam behind me at any minute. I walked slowly down that passage, trying not to breathe as I did. Halfway there, I stopped and turned around. The gate was still open. I didn't wish to try my luck. As stealthily as I could, I made my way back to the street, shutting the gate silently behind me.
I didn't look behind me the entire trek back to my apartment, but as I shut the door to my room, I felt a sudden wave of discontent. Something didn't feel complete. I closed my eyes, trying to erase that darkened passage from my mind, but all I could think of was grasping that iron gate in my hands and pulling it open. In my mind's eye, I once again walked along that dirt floor until I finally touched the wooden trellis. I stood in my apartment, door shut tight behind me, staring straight ahead. Finally, I realized I would never be satisfied until returned to that place. With a new determination, I returned to the gate.
It stood there, unchanged from our previous meeting. The dragon eyed me with a bit of a sneer, as if he knew I'd be back for him. I pulled at the gate, and it opened silently. I took my first step into the dimly lit passage. Yet another. My steps were more confident than they were before, but I was still cautious. I checked the high ceiling, and made sure that no strange things crossed my feet. Finally, I reached the end. A journey of ten feet, but for me it seemed almost like a pilgrimage. I touched the trellis and gave it a tentative push. Nothing happened. Of course. With a deep breath, I spoke into the silence "I'm here. What do you want?" Suddenly the sound of a powerful wind echoed through the passage. In my mind, I told myself it was merely a delivery truck passing by on the street, but I couldn't quite convince myself that a large truck was driving down a one way street in the middle of the night. As the sound died down, I saw glint of light on the trellis. It was a simple metal handle, hidden in the shadows. I glanced at the other edge of the trellis' frame and saw hinges. The trellis I had thought to be a dead end was actually a door. I wrapped my fingers slowly around the handle and gave the trellis a gentle tug.
It opened easily.
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