by Cassie Kat
When Jeih crosses the gate, what will she find on the other side? (excerpt)
|Athour's Note: This piece is just an excerpt, a sample, from a much larger work. If you are interested in reading more, then click here!
“Come on! Hurry up!” I heard them call.
“Give me a minute,” I shouted back, watching the large group of girls disappear into the dark, “I'll be there in a bit.” I sighed, slumping against the back of a building and putting out my cigarette. Being the coolest girl in school can be so exhausting sometimes; everybody wants to be your best friend. I glanced down at my cell to check the time (after ignoring my 25 unread text messages), and was disappointed to see that it was only 11:30 PM. Although the night was still young, I could already tell where it was heading.
As I reluctantly began to return to the rest of the group, I felt a cold, gentle breeze behind me, caressing my back, shoulders, and neck and making me shiver. That's weird, I thought, the weather's been warm all day. Why the sudden chill? Eager to prolong returning to the group (and also very curious about this bizarre wind), I decided to find out where the cool air was coming from.
Almost trance-like, I followed the soft wind up the street and for a few blocks to the edge of town. The farther I went, the stronger and colder the wind became (why hadn't I worn a jacket?) until, suddenly, it stopped. Confused, I glanced around the edge of the woods until a rather peculiar sight caught my eye.
It was a gate that was wedged between two large trees adorned with blood-red leaves. Chills passed through me as I began to sense that there was something unnatural about this gate (aside from the obvious fact that it didn't belong there in the first place). I checked to make sure that I wasn't being followed before approaching the gate to get a better look at it.
The black, iron bars were cold and stiff to the touch, and I couldn't help but worry that there was something...sinister about them. But there couldn't be, could there? Glancing between the bars, I could clearly see through it to the other side. It was just a gate, a stupid, pointless gate.
Ignoring all things sensible (because, as a teenager, that's what I do best), I pushed open the gate and walked through to the other side. There was nothing unusual to see. That's when I should have just accepted the gate for what it was and moved on. But no, I just had to venture further into the forest; to see what might lie beyond the gate. Looking back, I guess there must have been some “internal force” that was trying to coax me into walking deeper into those woods, and if there was, then it was doing a damn good job of persuading me.
I could tell by the trees how far into the woods I had gone; I knew that I had reached the heart of the forest by the sheer number of trees I had to stumble around. And they were strange trees, no less; their massive trunks were black as coal and their branches decorated with brightly colored hues of orange, red, and yellow leaves. But once I had passed through the forest's densest part, the trees began to thin away until there was only one lonely tree left.
This particular tree was, in my personal opinion, the most beautiful one of them all. It too had a dark, thick trunk, and its bright yellow leaves seemed more vibrant in contrast. Interestingly enough, the tree seemed to be gesturing towards the ground, where a small dirt path had appeared. All right tree, I thought to myself, I'll follow your little path if you insist.
The chill was finally gone and the air was beginning to warm up again. While I walked, my thoughts wandered back to the rest of the group, who probably hadn't even realized that I was still missing. Because I was distracted, I didn't notice the creepy old woman walking towards me until I bumped into her.
“Watch were yer goin'!” She growled. Her voice was crackled and rough, like a dried up corn husk's might be if it could speak.
“Sorry,” I said softly. When I'd bumped her, I hadn't really felt it because she seemed so light. It was the element of surprise that had thrown me off guard. As she continued down the path, I began to wonder where she had come from. It was not until the path turned to cobblestone that I figured it out. I'd just walked into a town that looked like something out of a dark children's tale. Crowds of people were pushing and shoving to navigate their way up and down the stone streets. Dazed, I meandered my way through the dark and crowded walkways, letting myself be pushed and shoved by those who passed me. It was a morbid yet lively little town; vendors lined the streets and at every turn a person or two was crammed into the smallest of spaces. I felt as though I were trapped among sardines, which I might as well have been once my nose adjusted to the revolting smell. It was a foul and musty odor; the familiarly revolting aroma quickly grew unbearable. The smell, it soon occurred to me, was coming from the surrounding townspeople. In addition to their stench, I was also starting to be overcome by the sensation that there was something else rotten about these people. They gave off the impression of being…inhuman, for lack of a better word.
Suddenly my bright yellow, $30 t-shirt seemed more like a liability than a treasure; everyone around me was dressed in black robes and cloaks. I must have seemed ridiculous in comparison. Fearing for my safety, I snatched a dark-colored cape off of a nearby vendor’s display and pulled the hood up over my head and continued to weave my way unnoticed through the hustle-bustle of this “main street” illusion.
It was at the very heart of the town that I reunited with my sense of purpose for having passed through the Godforsaken gate in the first place. The streets opened up and widened into a large, circular courtyard (also composed of cobblestone), and at the very center stood a massive fountain guarded by a large, elaborate sculpture. The “water” of the fountain was a dark, murky color (it simply had to be unsafe to drink!) and flowed through little “tunnels” throughout the statue. As my eyes scanned the large, marble piece, I determined it to be a gigantic spider, spinning a web of “water” back down into the base of the fountain.
I shuddered. I hate spiders. They have too many legs and behave like vampire wannabes, what with their tendency to suck the life out of their prey. Though they spin the most beautiful webs, spiders themselves are repulsive creatures.
I was so distracted by my nauseated thoughts, that I almost did not notice the dark shadow lurking over me. Upon realizing its presence, I began to slowly turn my head to see what was hovering behind me. To my shock and horror, I found myself face-to-face with a massive spider!
I could have easily mashed that spider into ten million pieces; I had the strength to do so. Or I could have fallen back on my skills as a martial artist, easily snapping the spider in half. I am very good at one-on-one combat; I rarely ever lose in a fight or brawl. But this, this hideous…spider…almost left me paralyzed with fear.
And yet, my legs hadn't forgotten how to run (as I had feared they might); the second the silk shot out of that spider, I was already running as fast as I could go. It didn't even phase me, as it usually did, when the ground groaned beneath my feet with every heavy step I took. I ran through the streets, pushing my way past the townspeople, who seemed completely unaware that a giant spider was hot on my heels!
The chase led me though what appeared to be a park; it was decorated with more of those odd, black, and misshaped trees with the brightly-colored leaves, along with a few places to sit. But there was no time for sight-seeing; the spider was still in pursuit, its long, hairy legs caressing every surface they touched.
I should have known that, sooner or later, my heavy steps would come back to haunt me. The spider had sent me into such a panic that it took me by surprise when the ground beneath me suddenly gave way. I gasped, free-falling into the darkness below. The second my body hit the ground, the spider was momentarily forgotten. Disoriented, I managed to stand once I was certain that I was unharmed. Luckily I had fallen into what was probably dirt, though as I felt my way through the dark I concluded that the surrounding “walls” were comprised of stone.
I knew that I couldn't go back the way I had come, and proceeded to use the wall as a guide and slowly began to search for a way out. Just as I began to think I'd never escape, I saw a faint light off in the distance. Reunited with a sense of purpose again, I headed towards the source of the light. Drawing closer, I could see that the light was being emitted by a small torch.
Glancing behind me to make sure that I'd lost the spider, I took the torch along with me, using it to dimly light the rest of my walk down the narrow and straight-forward hall.
Honestly, I found it amusing that there was an entire underground system of tunnels directly below the bustling streets of the town. Spooky though it was, I preferred the silence of the passageway to the noise above. Most people don't know that about me, as I rarely go out without being surrounded by large groups of people. But being with other people helps me to hide, to disappear and become as close to being alone as possible without actual solitude.
I became so lost in my thoughts that I almost walked right into something. With help from the flame, I could see that I had come face to face with a massive stone door with a skull-shaped handle. Running my fingers along the face of the door (which was decorated with a carved relief of a rib cage), I felt an eerie chill pass through my fingertips. For the first time since encountering the gate, I actually debated whether or not to press on. Fearful that the spider might return, I decided that it might be safer to venture through to the other side.
I had entered a large, dimly-lit room. My guess was that it was a study; as there were plenty of tables, chairs, and bookshelves, and every flat surface was covered with books and papers. I picked up one of the books off of a nearby table and opened it to a random page. It was a text on human anatomy, littered with large, scientific words which, as a high school student, meant nothing to me. Having lost interest, I tossed it aside. In fact, most of the books were either about human anatomy or biology, and those that weren't comprised of other scientific or mathematical texts.
Still curious, I began to read some of the stray papers. They were hand-written notes that I struggled to decipher. Although the writing itself was legible, its contents would randomly switch between English and French without warning. This was obviously written by a native French speaker; I had been taking French in school since sixth grade and could barely understand what this said due to the complexity of the grammatical structure. Not surprisingly, the notes kept with the common theme; one page was a theory of some sort about bone mass, and another was a detailed description of human musculature. Placing the papers back where I had found them, I continued to explore the room. Climbing around all the clutter, I began to wonder what sort of person might own this study…and if they were even a person at all.
Towards the farthest end of the space, there was an open doorway that led to an even darker room. A few feet in stood something that caught my attention. It was a long, glass, column-shaped structure filled with a foggy, greenish-gray liquid. As I got closer, I could see the silhouette of a person inside. Closer still, I could now see that it was a woman. In fact, she looked injured—no, worse. She was dead!
Now face to face with the woman in the column, I could see that she had that unearthly stillness about her that is characteristic only to the dead. Her eyes were shut and all the color appeared to be lost from her face and skin (though the hazy liquid made it hard to say for certain). She was loosely wrapped in a cloth, and some parts of her were bandaged up. She’d definitely been beaten to death; the bruises and battered limbs made that apparent. Somebody had put this dead woman in a tube for a reason, but that reason was beyond me. Wanting a closer look, I slowly began to reach out and try to touch the glass barrier that divided us.
I was literally an inch away when I heard a shuffling sound coming from the study. Panicking, I turned around and gasped as the spider toppled over a table and chair with one of its long, hairy legs. Its hideous eyes were locked onto me, and I was once again frozen with fear. As it prepared to strike, I braced myself, covering my face with my hands and closing my eyes. I was finished; this was the end. I was going to die alone in this freaky, alternate dimension, at the hands of the most vile creature in the universe.
But the spider never attacked. Instead, it shrieked as if it were in pain. Opening my eyes, I saw that the spider was being crushed underneath a dark shape. Its disgusting legs were being twisted about in unnatural directions. The shape, which I had discerned was a person, began twisting two of the legs as if tying a fancy knot with some rope. With one smooth, fluid movement, she (as I could now clearly see) thrust the spider’s tangled legs upward. She’d tied them up into a cross, and I watched as the legs began to form a faint, white aura around them. The spider screeched in agony as its whole body began to glow, and I heard the woman also shout in pain. At the last second she jumped backward off the spider. Landing on her hands and feet, she watched along with me as the spider exploded into a violent cloud of dust.
The woman remained crouched for a few moments, panting and gasping for breath. Her hands, I noticed, looked as though they’d been burned, possibly by the aura emitted by the spider.
“Damn,” she said suddenly. She had a loud voice. “I should have thought to put my gloves on first…Provided, of course, I could have found them in this mess!”
She stood upright and began to gingerly dust off her long, blood-stained lab coat. She gently ran her fingers through her short black hair, then removed her glasses and began to wipe the thin layer of dust off of them. When I caught a glimpse of her eyes, I couldn’t help but shudder. They were white with a faint blue hue.
“That spider must have come in from that bloody hole!” she said while cleaning herself off. I realized by this point that, although I was in plain sight, she couldn’t see me without her glasses on. She had a strange accent; it didn’t sound at all French (as I had hoped), but rather, it sounded like a mix between British and Western American. Perhaps that’s where she’d learned English. But if that was the case, then to be able to drop her French accent altogether was simply incredible!
“Hey!” She shouted abruptly, snapping me out of my thoughts. My heart started racing. She had her glasses back on and had made direct eye contact with me. “Who the Hell are you and how did you get here?!”
She began to come towards me, taking smooth, wide strides. Unlike the spider, I wasn’t afraid of her, and I started to brace myself. But then I noticed something.
“Wait…that’s you, isn’t it?” She stopped mid-stride, frowning. I gestured behind me. “The one preserved in this liquid is you, right?”
She started to ask what I was talking about, when those creepy eyes of her glanced behind me at the column. The color vanished from her already pale face and a look of recognition came over her features.
“This is for my eyes only, you putrid little human,” she growled. Judging by the pitch of her voice, it sounded like she was trying to hide how angry she was. “How dare you break into my lair and invade my space?!” Almost without warning, she swung her fist, but I was ready for her. Raising my wrist up over my face, I deflected her blow. She was more powerful than I had anticipated, but I knew that I was still stronger. Not yet ready to take the offensive, I walked past my stunned opponent and headed back into the “study.”
The woman remained where she was for a moment, glancing back down at the burns on her palms. Although making a fist must have aggravated the skin, her expression revealed that she was actually thrown off-guard by my ability to defend myself.
“Okay human,” she said, “Is this how you wanna play?” She grinned, flashing me a wild and wicked smile. “Which is fine by me; the last time I sparred with another living creature, I wasn’t allowed to kill it!”
“We’ll see about that, now won’t we?” I was suddenly feeling confident that I could beat her.
It immediately became apparent that she was as fast as she was light on her feet. As I had predicted it might be, fighting her was a lot like sparring with my older sister, LaRena. LaRena had quick reflexes and could easily dodge most of my heavy blows. But LaRena also knows of my weaknesses, and this woman would have to learn them fast if she expected to kill me.
The major thing that set her and LaRena appart, however, was the woman’s flexibility. My guess is that she was a contortionist or something; she’d bend and twist around when trying to dodge my blows, and swing at awkward angles when taking up the offensive. She was certainly a worthy opponent.
But it did not take me long to grow frustrated. Aside from being able to dodge most of my attacks with ease, whenever I did manage to hit her (and hard, too, mind you), she’d get right back up again and keep going. It was as though her body was able to repair itself after minor injuries. After a good few minutes of this, the whole “invincibility” routine was starting to grow old…
“Tired yet, human?” She sneered, sensing my distress.
“No, just incredibly pissed.” I growled, slugging her in the face. I had missed her glasses by an inch, but, no matter; it was still nice to watch as she tumbled backward a few feet and crashed into a bookshelf. By this point I had lost my temper with her and decided to hit her while she was down. Without thinking I grabbed a nearby table and raised it high above my head. I was about to throw it at her too, when she stopped me.
“Hey, whoa now, wait just a second!” Was she begging me for mercy? “What are you?”
I was taken aback by the question, momentarily confused.
“You look and smell like a human,” she went on, “and I could tell just from the power of your punches that you’re strong…but damn! I had no idea you were that strong!”
I frowned, and then realized what she was babbling on about. I let the table drop down to the stone floor. It landed with a crash, making the woman jump. Lately I’ve been very good at concealing my true strength, but one can only hold back for so long…
“Are you a hybrid, maybe? No, because then I’d be able to smell you’re other half. Well?” She stared up at me intently, smirking. She had a big mouth, though it may have been exaggerated by the roundness of her head and face.
“What about you?” I blurted out in response. Who gave her the right to throw ten-thousand questions at me? “You don’t look or act like a human either, you know.”
The smirk widened into a long, toothy grin and she started to snicker.
“You’d be right to say so, human.”
It seemed obvious enough. She was invincible…no, immortal, maybe. I narrowed my already small eyes, forcing myself to grin back at her. “Then what are you?”
“No, no!” She said, standing. “If I’m not mistaken, I do believe that I asked first. Fair’s fair after all. You see, I’m very curious ab-” She stopped abruptly, and I worried that the spider had reappeared.
“What? What’s wrong?”
“You’re eyes…” She replied softly. She began to walk towards me, those white eyes meeting with mine and really seeing them for the first time.
My eyes are the most vibrant and intense shade of yellow-gold imaginable. Everybody always notices them and has something to say (usually they “ohh” and “awe” in jealousy!). I usually consider them a treasure worth bragging about, only now I felt oddly uncomfortable as this nut job of a woman literally stood an inch away from my face.
“Now I see,” She whispered. Something had “clicked” inside that strange brain of hers. “You’re one of those mediator-type humans. Fascinating…”
She began to walk circles around me. Suddenly I was in awe of the situation in which I had just found myself in. Judging by all of the biology and anatomy books, this freak of a woman was probably intrigued by me.
“Yes...” I said slowly, choosing my words, “My sister calls them 'ghost powers'; they sometimes accompany the ability to see spirits and other superna--”
“I know what it is, Fool!” She hissed. I growled, angry that she had no only cut me off, but dared to call me a fool! “I've studied the subject for quite some time, but I've never actually met one of these 'special' humans before.” Her expression rapidly changed yet again. It became difficult to keep up with her constantly changing mood swings.
“What now?” I grumbled. I was growing weary.
“I just got to thinking.” She paused, collecting her thoughts. “How did you get in?”
“Um, well, the door was unlocked, so...” I shook my head, sounding more like a thief caught in the act than an accidental trespasser.
“No, no,” She shook her head. “I don't mean my lair. How did you get into this realm, to be precise?”
“Hold on a minute,” I said with a smirk, “I do believe it's my turn to ask you questions.” She scowled, but didn't object.
“Yes,” I continued, “You were right. I am completely human. But what sort of creature are you? And why is your human body being preserved? And why-”
“No, no,” The woman shook her index finger at me, “Only one question at a time.” I frowned; it had been worth a try. “I am one of the demonic, undead creatures that reside here in this realm.” What a useless and convoluted answer. “Next question: what do you call yourself, human?”
“You want to know my name?” What an awkward way of phrasing it.
She nodded. “Unless you’d rather I just keep calling you human, of course.”
“It’s Jeih Chung,” I said proudly, “And if you know anything about ‘mediator-humans’, then my name should be familiar to you.”
I watched as she scratched her head thoughtfully.
“It is unfamiliar to me.”
I was surprised. Sure, our popularity had dwindled some, but still, she couldn’t know that much about spirit powers if she didn’t know about us.
“We are the most famous ‘mediators’, to use your word, in all of China!” I decided it would be wise to keep it to myself that we no longer lived in China.
“I still do not understand.”
Oh well, I thought with a sigh. It’s probably best to just move on. After all, it was my turn again.
“Since I have revealed to you my name, I want to ask you for yours.”
She scowled, obviously dreading the question. I couldn’t help but smile.
“It is unimportant; besides, I abandoned it years ago.”
“Then why ask for my name if you had no intention of sharing yours?” I was angered by her cowardice. “Or should I just refer to you as ‘She’, ‘Woman,’ or, better still, ‘Demon?’”
“I see you want to play it that way, eh human Jeih? Fine. Call me ‘Doctor,’ or even ‘The Doctor,’ will suffice.”
I frowned. She refused to give in and reveal to me her true name. “All right then, Doctor, How about one last round of questions?” This was growing tiresome.
“Fair enough. My last question will be one I already asked: How did you get here?”
“I’ll only tell you if you tell me where here is.”
That wicked and psychopathic grin of hers returned. “Jeih,” she said, her arms outstretched, “Welcome to the Underworld, home to those who have been damned for eternity!”
My jaw fell open. For the first time since she’d confronted me, I found myself at a loss for words. The Underworld? Like, as in Hell? What sense did that make?!
The Doctor’s already big grin grew even wider. She obviously enjoyed my surprise. “Deny it all you want, but it’s the truth!” She mused. “Pity that you’re still alive.”
“I believe you,” I said, “My father had told me all about alternate spirit realms…I just didn’t think that they’d be quite like this.” And yet, it made sense. The town had been crowded with suspicious characters and hideous creatures; the scum of the spiritual word had to wind up somewhere...
“…Was it the hole?”
“Huh?” I had zoned out for a moment and stopped listening. “What hole?”
“Somewhere in this pigsty is a hole, a gap. It’s one of the many ‘illegal’ passages between my realm and yours.”
“Oh,” I said, now convinced she was crazy. “I didn’t come through any holes.”
“Hmm…” She scratched her head thoughtfully. “I know there’s another big portal down by what you humans call ‘grand central,’, but human geography doesn’t equate with ours, so for all I know you could be from the Province of Kansas instead of the New York.”
“State, you mean. It’s called the State of Kansas. Canada is made up of prov-”
“Well, whatever!” The Doctor shook her head; she seemed irritated that I had corrected her. “There are a number of gaps and holes that you could have crawled--”
“What about gates?” I interrupted. The Doctor’s incessant chatter was starting to grate on my nerves.
“Gates?” She raised an eyebrow. “What gates are you referring to?” She stood, now scratching her chin. I’ve come to the conclusion that this doctor spends far too much time alone with only her thoughts to keep her company.
“Unless…” She thought aloud. I waited, watching as her white eyes began studying something far away. “Could it be the gate?”
“Well,” I began, knowing that it was a rhetorical question but still feeling inclined to answer, “it was this massive iron gate, just on the edge of the woods, and…” I trailed off, watching The Doctor’s expression soften.
“Most humans,” she mumbled, half to herself, “unless, that is, they’re already dead, stumble upon this place by accident. They slip and fall into a hole or curiosity gets the better of them and they crawl in. But rarely do the Gates of Hell emerge from their depths to summon a human. Either something isn’t right, or you are one very unusual human indeed, Jeih Chung.” Her expression darkened, but her familiar smile returned.
Was it possible that I had been summoned here? If that were the case, then for what reason? Maybe she was wrong; what if I really was dead. But then, who can say for sure? I felt the same as I had before crossing over the gate. But The Doctor, whose human body was obviously dead, appeared to be living; I could see her, hear her, and, most importantly, feel her. She was as alive as I was. And yet, she wasn't actually human.
“Doctor,” I said. I had just remembered something. “You never did tell me why that body over there is being preserved in--”
Suddenly I was interrupted by a loud crashing sound as the massive door to the lair was thrust open. Taking a step back in alarm, I immediately felt a sharp chill enter the room. The doctor began to demand who dared to enter, but stopped short, as if something had startled her. Looking out into the hall I saw only darkness. That's when I became aware that the shadows had crept in.