Beyond the Gates by Tara Lynn Marta

The ominous sky did little to deter me from setting out on my daily run. Although I belonged to a state of the art gym, I wasn’t in the mood for an indoor workout surrounded by noisy equipment and weightlifters who felt compelled to vocally illustrate how strenuous their regimen was. The weatherman had promised heavy downpours; looking upward, it was easy to tell that his prediction would be confirmed within the next several hours.

Since my time was limited, I quickly dressed by slipping into a pair of blue jogging pants, a matching shirt, and a runner’s hat. I then put on my favorite new running shoes, grabbed my keys, a half-filled bottle of Evian, and out the door I went. As I scanned the view, I knew the neighborhood simply wouldn’t do for today’s run, so I opted instead to head over to the local cemetery – a place most people tended to avoid. There was a definite fear about this particular cemetery, and the townspeople vowed never to enter it. Rumors had been swirling for years that it was not only haunted, but once you crossed its cast-iron gates, you never returned. I couldn’t care less what others thought and refused to adhere to their foolish superstitions.

Old man Haggerty, a ninety-year-old with neither kith nor kin, was believed to have been the last person buried in the dreaded cemetery. In life Haggerty was an odious, calculating man whom nobody wanted to know; upon death, the only people present at his burial were the priest and the gravedigger. Shortly after Haggerty was laid to rest, neighbors and passersby swore they heard loud screams, along with cries for help coming from beyond the gates. After that, nobody wanted their loved ones placed in a cemetery with such a tarnished reputation.

Upon arrival I began to think about those who insisted that what lived beyond the gates wasn’t human. I laughed at the thought of such paranoia, feeling secure and competent enough to know that ghosts simply do not exist, and that the only time fear could take control of a person is if they are ridiculous enough to succumb to it.

The upkeep of the cemetery dissipated years ago; the grass had grown over nearly every footstone within eyeshot; headstones that had once stood tall were pushed over, some had been shattered. The intimate mausoleums where families were enclosed bore cracks in the stained-glass windows. It was clear that the entire cemetery had been desecrated.

As I reached to open one of the gates, I took notice of the securely fastened latch. “Wonderful,” I thought. “Now how do I get in?” With no other signs of entry, I had to improvise. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and I wasn’t above using my athletic abilities to jump the fence, so I grabbed hold of the robust gates and hoisted myself up and over, tearing the skin on my leg. Some droplets of blood fell upon the ground leaving a small trail. As I stopped and tended to my wound, I silently prayed that none of the neighbors would take notice; I wanted to eschew any questions that would undoubtedly follow should a spectator catch sight of me in the cemetery from hell.

“This place is rather eerie,” I mumbled to myself as I extended my right leg onto a tree stump and began to stretch. The day’s dismal appearance certainly didn’t help matters, and the threat of rain still loomed overhead causing darkness where light should have been. I began my run nonetheless trying to ignore the melancholy ambiance that surrounded me. The silence was deafening; the only audible sound was that of my heartbeat racing to keep up with me as I sprinted along the gravel road.

I was depleted of breath after only fifteen minutes, so I stopped to rest allowing the air to replenish my lungs. I took a sip of my Evian and noticed the dates etched on the gravestones in front and in back of me; some dated as far back as the nineteenth century. I read the names of the deceased, quietly ruminating the lives each one had lived. Every individual has a personal narrative, each differing in context but akin in terms of how much goes into a life. Death is a funny thing when you truly think about it. We go through years of trials and tribulations, accomplishments and disappointments, relationships filled with love and hate. We spend countless hours trying to leave a thumbprint, and in the end, none of it even matters. The world presses on while our physicality rots beneath the earthly soil, and the only remnants of our existence become reduced to a name and date carved on a cold slab of stone.

I threw my empty water bottle into a nearby garbage bin and resumed my run. It was then that I heard it – the faint sound of a moan coming from some unknown place. I spun myself around like a dog chasing its tail, trying to determine the direction the sound was coming from, but it was no use; the noise was impossible to place, so I chose to ignore it. Just as I started to pick up speed, I heard it again – only this time louder – and instead of being a faint moan, it became a haunting shrill. I don’t scare easily, yet I could feel the hairs on my arm beginning to stand on end. I was frozen in the moment; my feet were like lead, immobile just when I needed them most.

I started to run, and as I rounded a corner nearly missing a head-on collision with an oak tree, I tripped. When I finally got my bearings, I felt a grip on my sneaker; something was pulling at me. “This isn’t happening,” I told myself. The ravens, occupying a branch in the tree above, began to cackle – laughing at the simpleton panicking below. I was becoming paranoid in thought, so I screamed. “Somebody help me!”

“Are you okay?” In all the chaos, I failed to notice anyone approaching me, yet there she stood. I lifted my head and saw a woman reaching to help me to my feet. I grabbed hold of her hand, which was cold and clammy to the touch, and was finally able to stand again. “Your foot was caught in a sinkhole,” the woman informed me. “I hope you weren’t too frightened?”  Forget frightened, I was humiliated by my childish behavior and promptly apologized for the scene I had caused.

I glanced at this unknown stranger, whose altruistic gestures were most welcomed during my unfortunate confusion. I suddenly noticed her physical attributes: She was tall in stature, at least 5 ft 8; her long jet black hair fell upon her shoulders; her eyes were deep and dark, almost hidden within their sockets, and at times she had a seemingly distant glare as if her attention was needed elsewhere. Her skin was pure ivory, matching the dress she had on. I was lost in thought staring at this unusual creature. She broke my concentration by asking if I was okay.

“I’m fine,” I answered, completely unaware of my trance. “If you don’t mind me asking, what are you doing walking around the cemetery?”

She paused briefly before answering. “I was on my way to an anniversary.” I had a smirk on my face and she took notice at once. “What’s funny?” she asked.

“Oh, nothing – everything. The whole town is convinced that this place is haunted, and there are rumors that no living soul dares to stir on such unholy grounds.” I began to chuckle, slightly.

The woman seemed unimpressed by my outburst of humor. “Yet here you are,” she said in a monotone voice. “Why do you come if you were warned to evade such a place?”

I became abashed by my lack of respect, as it was obvious this lady, whoever she may be, felt slighted by my remarks. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I hope I didn’t sound insulting. Do you have loved ones buried here?”

The woman smiled. “Yes, my family is here. We all are.”

She began walking at once, and I followed not far behind. I hadn’t realized what she said until that very moment. She said ‘we’ when referring to her family being buried here. I couldn’t make heads or tails of her comment, so I encouraged her to explain, to which she held up her hand signaling me not to press the issue. I unwillingly abided – for the time being.

Why I felt it necessary to trail her every move, I did not know. Yet there I was following her around the cemetery as if being guided by some unexplained force. Neither of us spoke; we strolled around the headstones and carefully avoided the footstones. When I could no longer endure the quietude, I asked: “Didn’t you say you were on your way to an anniversary?”

“Yes,” she answered. “The anniversary is today, April 29th. My, how time does take flight.”

Once again I was baffled by her statement. I could not construe a single word of what she said, and I no longer cared to try. The entire situation started to bring me discomfort, so I informed the woman that it was getting late and I really should be getting home.

She stopped in her tracks, looked straight into my eyes with an assuming glare and said, “You are home.”

Her stunning declaration left me speechless. I studied her expression, my eyes questioning her audacious remark. “What are you talking about?” I responded. “This isn’t a joke; I really have to get home.”

At that moment, the woman began to laugh uncontrollably, which only added to her already strange demeanor. “Did you know a young girl died in this cemetery many years ago?”

I didn’t know nor care; I had no interest in hearing anything this lady had to say. I just wanted to get safely back to my apartment and put this whole episode behind me. Yet the woman persisted in sharing her story with me, as if I were somehow obliged to listen.

“It happened on this very day in 1935. Her boyfriend insisted that she follow him here; however hesitant she may have been, she was docile and dutifully obeyed. He said they were just going for a walk, but once they arrived, his mercurial temperament gave the impression that something wasn’t right; he wasn’t right. Without warning he lunged at her throat, dragging her to the ground and strangling her lifeless.”

I was in shock; what a horrible way for anyone to die. The story only added to the creepiness of the cemetery. “What happened to him? Was he ever caught?”

Her mood became dejected. “Nobody believed him capable of committing such a horrendous act. He was devoted to her, as far as anyone else was concerned. He even had an alibi, a friend who was willing to lie about his whereabouts. She died in this horrible place frightened and alone. Her family buried her over by that oak tree.”

“There’s no justice in this world,” I muttered.

“Oh, there’s a certain justice which cannot be codified by law. He got what he deserved many years later after he returned seeking gratification for his deplorable act, showing no compunction for what he had done. Like her, he never left this cemetery again. Oh, he ran, trying desperately to find an escape, but there was no way out. He screamed for help, but no one heard; no one cared because by that time, everyone knew that anyone who entered this place would spend eternity here.”

I shouldn’t have felt the slightest sliver of fear; she looked harmless enough, yet I couldn’t be completely convinced that she was as innocent as she seemed. The smile on her face turned to an icy grin, and there was a glimmer in her eyes that cautioned me to run. I started to back away slowly. She reached out her hand cautioning me not to be afraid.

“Stay,” she whispered. “Don’t leave me here alone. It’s not safe for a girl to be left in a cemetery all alone.”

“I’m sorry,” I replied, but as I already told you, I need to get home.”

“And as I told you, you are home. There is no escape once you go beyond the gates.”

I didn’t wait to hear anything further before running expeditiously, gasping for breaths in the process. And just when I thought I was in the clear, my foot hit another blasted sinkhole, sending me to my knees, and cleaving my arm as it brushed against the edge of a gravestone. As I lifted myself off the ground, I could see the woman walking towards me, pointing at the stone where fresh blood now lay.

“You see,” she began. “I never left this place, nor shall you.”

That’s when I realized that the grave I was standing over was hers. Her physical body now took the form of a shadowy light, an outlined silhouette surrounded by what looked to be fog. I turned suddenly, placing my hand over my mouth in utter disbelief. “My God,” I said. “It was you; you’re the girl who was murdered by her boyfriend.”

“Indeed,” she responded. “But rest easy, my dear. He got what he had coming to him. I waited patiently for his return. I knew one day he’d come back. His old, withered body finally found its way to the place he would never again leave. He may have been loved in his younger years, but that was not so once he grew into an old, cantankerous man whom nobody wished to associate.”

I gasped – Old man Haggerty. He was the boyfriend who took the life of this girl so many years before. It was his screams and moans heard throughout this cemetery, carried away by the wind, echoing through the trees forevermore.

I was terrified to the extent where I could no longer move. It became obvious that I was destined to remain a part of this perpetual horror. It was the revenge of a woman who never made peace with the fact that her life ended before its time, and she wouldn’t allow anyone else to leave her side ever again. I had been warned not to come to this cemetery, a warning I chose to disregard. And now I, too, would be nothing more than a shadowy figure, a voice crying in the still of night for someone to rescue me, but knowing all too well that none ever would because no one dared go beyond the gates.

 

Tara Lynn Marta, originally from Brooklyn, New York, moved to Pennsylvania at the age of nine and currently resides in Scranton.  She is a recent graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and holds a B.A. in English.  She will be attending Wilkes University in June for the graduate program in Creative Writing. Although her main genre of writing is fiction, she enjoys working on essays as well.  She also has an avid interest in journalism and wrote for the campus newspaper while in college.

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