My (Probably) Magic Gate
A short story by M.A. Dosser.
“Still hasn’t opened?” Wanda asked as she walked onto her front porch, proffering me a mug of hot chocolate.
“Not yet,” I said for what felt like for the thousandth time.
You see, in my neighborhood, tucked away in the outskirts of Pittsburgh, there is a magic gate. At least, I assume it’s a magic gate. It has all the qualities of one, aside from any displays of actual magic. It is one, though. I just know it. And when it opens, I’ll be there.
Okay, to be honest, it might not have all the qualities of a magic gate. For one, it’s outside, which doesn’t rule anything out in itself. It’s just that you typically hear of kids – and it’s always kids, isn’t it? – crawling into wardrobes or other furniture and finding themselves in another world. When they make a wardrobe a 29-year-old can comfortably hide in, that is also affordable for a 29-year-old, I’ll be first in line. The other mark against the gate is that it’s out in the open. I don’t have to push my way through bushes and briar patches to get to it. No. It’s just a flat stretch of land. But that’s not normal, at least not here.
My neighborhood is nothing but hills. Just going to the mailbox and back once a day for a month turns your calves to steel – appropriate for Pittsburgh, right? The house to the left of the gate has a yard that slopes only slightly less dramatically than a waterfall. On the other side, thorny brambles reach out from impenetrable, uneven depths. But the gate, that’s on an open, empty stretch about as wide as a trailer and as flat as a decarbonated soda.
The trees are what give the magic away though. Set back about ten feet from the road stand two permanently leafless mimosa trees. They’re mirror images of each other, not only their branches but their positions. Fifteen feet of grass separate them and there’s about nine on either side before the land slopes into a fjord to the left and is overtaken by the forest of thorns from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty to the right. At the base of each tree rest piles of stone sheets. They are arranged in such a way that the cracks between them are nearly invisible. It feels purposeful, but I don’t understand the reasoning of anyone in the neighborhood doing it. It leaves me one conclusion.
I’ve always loved fantasy stories, and I’ve wanted to be a part of one since I could remember. If this gate is my ticket in, then I’m going to be there when it opens. Unfortunately, the gate isn’t near my house. And that brings me to Wanda.
Wanda’s house is across the street from the gate. Not directly across, but it has an unobstructed view. Because the gate was so far from home, I took up walking. And since there was no telling when it would open – fantasy novels are wildly inconsistent with what time of day their characters’ lives are turned upside down – I started walking a lot. Like a lot a lot. I was out there nearly every hour; I didn’t want to seem suspicious, so I tried to look like a productive citizen. Sometimes I carried a trash bag and pretended to pick up litter. Other times, I’d bring a dog – my dogs who pee on everything. Except the gate. They would stop to look at the flat stretch of land but always kept walking.
Another point for magic.
Wanda, however, wasn’t fooled. One day when I was pretending to take a break from what I hoped looked like a long run, she called out, “Have they moved?”
Startled, I jerked around. There she stood, a woman probably in her early seventies. Her styled hair had extraordinary volume and hung over her ears, nearly covering her dangling gold earrings. She wore an off-white cardigan, a dotted white blouse, khaki pants, and a mischievous grin.
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“The trees,” she said casually. “You’re always watching them, so I was wondering if they had moved.”
“Oh, well, no. Not yet, at least,” I said.
“Not yet? Why, I quite like that. I’m Wanda.”
“Brenna,” I said. There was a brief pause, then my phone buzzed its distinctive four vibration blasts. Emails from the boss. Time to head home. “It was nice to meet you, Wanda, but I’ve gotta get back to work.” My work was definitely suffering, which was not good, because my wedding dress was not going to pay for itself. Thank goodness for telecommuting. My entire day was essentially checking on the gate, running home, plowing through any assigned tasks as quickly as possible, rushing back here, and repeat.
“Do you work from home?” Wanda asked. “If so, I don’t mind you using my internet. I know that sounds odd, but I see you out here a lot, and it might make keeping an eye on the trees easier.” She flashed a smile that might as well have been a wink. “Plus, I’ll enjoy the company.”
I’d like to say I thought about it and pondered if she knew anything about the gate, being so close, but I didn’t. I said yes immediately. My poor blistered feet needed a rest. And if they were resting there, I’d be nearby whenever whatever was going to happen happened.
From then on, I carried my laptop to Wanda’s house every morning, sat on her front porch, and watched the gate. I had an abundance of free time on my hands, so Wanda decided to fill it with conversation – conversation about our families, our work, her art, my wedding, you name it. I didn’t have many people to talk to since moving here, so it was nice. I liked her.
“Luke always watched the door too. He was a lot like you,” she told me later. Luke was her husband of forty-two years. He had passed a few years before. Cancer. “He’s actually why we bought this house. We used to live just around the bend. On Regency.”
“Yes, yes. He said there was magic here.”
“Did you believe him?” I asked, maybe too excitedly.
I hadn’t said it out loud to anyone. Not even my fiancé. I didn’t want him to think I was crazy or poke holes in the theory. But to Wanda, I said, “Yes,” then explained.
Wanda just smiled. “Luke thought the same thing, though he called it the door.”
“Bit wide for a door,” I said.
“Better for Luke. He was a bit wide as well.” She laughed. I did too. I wondered what they had figured out about the gate in all those years. Even if it was nothing, I was happy to spend time with Wanda. She liked the company, and so did I.
I lost track of the days I spent with Wanda. Weeks passed, then months. I gave her my number in case anything happened while I was at home, but I was there so much, it wasn’t necessary. Every morning, after I plopped down on her front porch, she’d bring me a hot chocolate. We’d chat and watch the gate/door until evening, then I’d head home. Each hot chocolate was accompanied with her morning refrain, “Still hasn’t opened?”
Then, one day, just a couple hours after telling Wanda “not yet” for what felt like the thousandth time, it did.
Storm clouds darker than night rolled in at astonishing speeds, blacking out the sun. Two bolts of lightning tore through the air. The thunder cracks deafened the world. From the silence that followed came sounds of huffing and puffing. It was three kids – and it’s always kids, isn’t it? Two boys and a girl pedaled their bikes as hard as they could. Two were almost teenagers. The slowest was smaller, probably someone’s little brother. They beelined straight for the gate.
The lightning had struck the two trees, and they glowed from the energy. A shimmering wall of white stretched between them – the only source of light in the darkness. The gate was finally open.
“Now’s your chance,” Wanda said, taking a sip from her mug. Her voice was steady, but emotions warred in her eyes.
I glanced back to the gate, then, with a dismissive wave, I said, “I’ll get the next one. Now, tell me more about why you and Luke chose this house. The one next door’s driveway nearly runs into the gate.”
With a beaming smile she said, “Two words: Air conditioning.” We laughed, and I sipped from my mug as the rolling thunder faded, the clouds cleared, and the gate closed around the young adventurers.
M.A. Dosser is a PhD student at the University of Pittsburgh. When he isn’t researching speculative fiction communities, music communication, or animated media, he’s writing about heroic blueberries, raven knights, and long voyages in outer space. He is the editor of Flash Point SF (flashpointsf.com and @flashpointsf) and his previous short fiction has appeared in Daily Science Fiction.