The gate of Everwood

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Layla wakes up after a long night’s sleep, to look over at an empty bed. Her brother Henry has disappeared, leading her to run everywhere to try and find him. In the end what she was looking for was not completely what she found.

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1. short story

It’s been a week since I moved here and everything has already gone wrong. I can only imagine what my neighbors think of me at this very moment. A young girl running around like a mad person, hyperventilating and spinning in circles trying to find my 11 year old brother. My father gave me one job, to take Henry to school in the morning for 8am. Well, I failed. I am going to go home empty handed and he is going to kill me. Literally. I can feel my head pounding as my heart rate increased and the sun takes all of the energy I have left. I try to tell myself I have to keep going. I have to find Henry before anything bad happens to him. He is my whole life. But, with that, I know that once I hit the soft grass beneath me, every thought I have slowly fades away and everything around me goes black.

“Hey Layla, hey, can you hear me!”

I can barely make out the voice calling to me. It sounds like it’s a thousand miles away, but it gets closer as he keeps repeating himself. The sun stings my eyes as I open them to see his silhouette leaning over my body. A sigh of relief washes over him as his shoulders loosen up and he sits back on his heels. Everything is still fuzzy, and I can’t remember much.

“I’m so glad you are alive! I was just walking to school when I saw you under the tree, lying on the ground. You are alright, right?”

My hand goes to my sore head, rubbing it, trying to recover from whatever just happened to me. I feel like I just ran a marathon with no training and no water with the sun beating down on me at 90 degrees.

“I..I think I’m ok. Do I know you? What happened to me?”

“That’s what I would like to know. Do you remember anything?”

I still can’t see his face, but his smile burns right through me. I know that smile from somewhere. One that I have seen multiple times and causes me to smile back every time.

“I remember getting out of bed this morning, thinking about everything I had to do after school. Oh shoot! I have to go!”

Yeah, that’s what I was doing. A burst of energy helps me get to my feet and fades away very quickly, sending me falling into this boy's arms. I look up to finally see who my doctor is. With his big green eyes and curly brown hair, I immediately regret doing so. Thomas. Thomas Miller.

“Hold your horses. I need to get you water and into a cool room. I’m afraid you are suffering from heat exhaustion. My house is right around the corner.”

His hand feels soft and sends chills up my arm, as he places my arm around his neck, guiding me towards his house. A home surrounded with flower beds in the front and a porch swing next to a sign on the door that reads, “Be the reason someone smiles today.” I feel ten times lighter once I hit his air conditioned home as a breeze washes over me, sitting down on his couch. He disappears behind the staircase, leaving me alone in the living room, surrounded by motivational quotes on every corner. “Be who you are, you are the only you we have,” “be the light in someone’s darkness,” “One kind word or action can change someone’s day.” Makes me think of my mom. Someone who saw the good in everyone, including my father. She tried to do at least one kind thing everyday just to make someone smile. One day I came home from a soccer game crying because another girl on the team called me an awful player and how I didn’t deserve to be on the team. I buried myself under the sheets on my bed and my mom was the only one to make me smile on days like that. She told me that I am passionate about what I do and that’s all that mattered. She said that the only way to get my teammate back is by being kind to her, and to beat her at her own game. I have never forgotten that day.

“Ok, I got you a glass of water with ice and an ice pack if you need it. Are you feeling any better?”

I gladly take the water from his hand and watch him sit down on the couch opposite of mine. He stares at me as I sip my water with full concern about how I am.

“I’m feeling much better. Thanks, but I really have to get going.” I try to get up, but he springs up to grab my arm with the lightest hold.

“Please. Is there anything I can help you with? I don’t want to find you passed out again.”

He releases my arm and we sit down on the couch and I tell him everything that happened this morning before I passed out.

“Wow. that’s awful. I can help you find him though. I will help you and we will find him. Lets go.”

Thomas springs out of his seat again, grabs my hand and pulls me out the door. It takes me a few seconds to process what just happened, but as we wander the streets, I can’t figure out why he is so passionate about helping me out. I mean we don’t even know each other that well. He sits behind me in math class and english class. I'm surprised he knows my name since he is always hanging out with his football crew and his super cute girlfriend who gets all the lead roles in all the school plays. He is always so kind to everyone, holding doors for people, student tutor and in his free time he plays basketball with middle school students.

“So Layla, tell me about you. What’s your mojo.”

“My..what?”

“You know. Who are you. What’s your story. Tell me something.”

“Umm… I’m a senior, like you, and I’m looking for Henry, my brother, who decided leaving me was a brilliant idea.”

The silence was deafening, but it beats talking about myself to Thomas Miller. I check my watch which reads 9:00, meaning that we have officially missed our first class. The only thing that matters to me right now is finding Henry and I can miss a day of classes for that.

“Whoa, where are you going?” I ask him as I place my arm in front of his body.

“We have checked everywhere else. This is the last place he could have gone.”

“Yeah, but… but it’s the Everwood Forest.”

He stares right through me, curious to see the real me for once.

“Come on. It’s not that scary in there. I go through it all the time. I’ll be right next to you the whole time.”

He smiles and moves forward as I roll my eyes at him. The sun fades away as we go deeper and deeper into the woods, surrounded by nothing but trees. The leafs crinkle under our feet as we move forward and the sound of all society has completely vanished. Thomas is so calm, knowing the exact way to go as he keeps his eyes open for any sign of movement. We have been walking for five minutes and something doesn’t seem right. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I see Thomas’ shoulders tense up a little and I know he feels it too. Our pace slows down and the leaves under our feet is the only thing we can hear. He comes to a complete stop and whispers something to me over his shoulder, That I couldn’t hear at all. Something is about to happen and I don’t know what it is. My heart quickens under my sweatshirt and the ground below us starts to shake very lightly. Thomas turns around to face me and the fear in his face is the last thing I see before we both fall into a sinkhole forming beneath us. Dirt covers my whole body and nothing is visible as I fall deeper and deeper into the earth. Struggling did nothing and the sight of brown dirt specks passing by my eyes turned to total darkness.

The feeling of freedom has taken over my body once I come two. I can move my arms and legs without being squished by dirt, having those last thoughts of my life flashing before my eyes. I open my eyes to see this metal gate, maybe 30 feet tall and 20 feet wide standing right in front of me. Thomas is lying next to me, taking a huge inhale as he sits up from his near death experience. His expression is the same as mine, staring up at that huge metal gate.

“What the heck just happened to us. Are we dead? Is this what Heaven is? I expected maybe a gold gate with light shining from behind it. This is just sad. Unless we didn’t make it to heaven. Maybe this is the gate to hell! I thought it would have been red, with fire behind it. More scarier than this. Maybe...”

“Thomas!”

His quick rambling and pacing back and forth is not helping our case of what we are doing here or what this place is. Thomas rambles to himself asking many questions as I walk towards the gate to try and figure something out. The ground feels lighter underneath me and I realize that there still is dirt on our clothes, so we did go through the ground to somewhere. The gate has a lock on it and it looks like there is nothing on the other side. A ten foot wall on both sides goes on for miles and there is nothing around that I can see.

“Layla I think I figured it out. This is a test of judgement to finding your brother. We need to pass somehow to reach him.”

He has completely lost it, but his eyes says differently. Over his shoulder I see a shadow of someone small. Maybe it’s Henry! I push Thomas aside and sprint towards the shadow. I can feel Thomas on my heels following my, but my eyes are on that shadow as they get closer and closer. I can just about touch it, reaching with everything I have, it just disappears before I can reach it. I could just feel Henry slipping through my fingers as I fall to the ground crying.

Last year I came home from school crying over a boy who pushed me down in the hall sending all my papers flying everywhere. He called me a nobody that nobody will ever care about and people were laughing at me. I ran straight home and cried into my pillow. I felt a small hand on my back and I turn around to see Henry with a plate of cookies and milk. My mom always told me that milk and cookies can fix anything and that is what I taught Henry. I gave him a big hug and we shared stories all night long.

I feel that same hand on my back, but this time it’s Thomas. He gives me a smile that makes anyone feel warm inside. His eyes wander past mine and his gaze leads to a table with an arrow over it. I’m at that point where I don’t know whether to be terrified that a random table showed up out of nowhere or to be happy for some possible answers. Thomas grabs my hand to help me up and we walk to the table, farther away from the huge gate. A piece of paper lies on the table folded. The top has this fancy writing saying “the Gate of Everwood.” THomas picks it up and reads the letter.

“To Thomas and Layla,

To get to Henry is a challenge you both have to face together and you must pass to be released. A lesson must be learned along the way and you must pass it to be released.”

The sound of Thomas’ voice was overpowered by obstacles forming all around us. Gray figures at every challenge playing games and acting as people. A full carnival appeared in less than ten seconds. An actual man appeared in front of us holding a white envelope. He said nothing, but once we took the envelope he just vanished. Thomas and I look at each other not fully knowing how to absorb everything that just happened. He stands in utter shock, looking at everything around us from roller coasters to ziplines. I open the envelope and in big letters it reads “#3”

“What does that mean?” Thomas asks.

“Maybe we have to go find the #3 around the…”

Everything starts spinning and a huge stage appeared with music blasting out of every spearer in the room. People are screaming with joy and loud music is blasting in the background. We walk into a room of thousands of people dancing in strobe lights and a disco ball covers half of the dance floor. The DJ comes over the mic once we walk in.

“This next song goes out to all those lovers in the room, so grab your partner or anyone for that matter and bring them on the dance floor.”

The music changes to a slower song and the yelling and screaming die down. I look over to Thomas who already has his hand reaching for mine with that big smile covering his face. I take his hand and let him lead me to the dance floor. I don’t know if it’s the lighting or if I’m sinking in his green eyes, but I don't remember actually seeing any people in the room, only silhouettes of people. The only thing I really notice is the way Thomas’ hands feel and the way he looks at me. The one on my waist sends a warm shock through me and he is staring at me like I'm the only one in the room.

“I don’t know if you feel the same way, but I could care less that we both changed clothes without actually changing clothes.” he says.

He looks down at himself as I do to myself, and we both noticed that our clothes are clean, and he wears a button down shirt and tie as I wear a red strapless dress. The shock on his face was priceless as we both laugh at how oblivious we were.

“Well, besides how nerve racking that was for me, you look beautiful.”

“So do you.”

I look deep into his eyes as he does mine and I actually think he might kiss me. He leans closer and then the music stopped. A bright light came over our eyes and I have been blinded.

“May the lovely couple please join us on stage,” says the DJ.

I really hope he doesn’t mean us. He is not talking to me. Right? Thomas grabs my hand and we walk towards the stage. I have no recollection of walking up the stairs to the stage, but I stand in front of many people, or people’s silhouettes, unable to breathe. Maybe I’ll pass out of lack of oxygen, wake up and everything that happened was a dream. Please, oh please be a dream. I look over to see Thomas smiling and waving like he just won an award. Can he not see that I am freaking out!

“Maybe the lovely couple will sing us a song?”

I look over to the DJ who is thankfully a person and scold him for bringing me into this. The crowd starts to chant for us to sing something or do anything. Thomas finally looks at me and realizes that I’m having a panic attack. He stands right in front of me blocking the light from my eyes and I can see the concern on his face.

“Layla, are you OK? What’s wrong?”

“I know we just started talking and everything, but I never really got to mention how much I hate to be the center of attention. I can’t sing to save my life and I can’t sing in front of people to save my life, so please just get me out of here like now.”

“Ok, ok, it’s going to be alright. I'll talk to the DJ.”

THomas brushes my arms to get me to calm down and goes to talk to the DJ. when he leaves I just stare at the crowd, then turn my back to catch my breath as I stare at the curtains. He comes back with a concerned look on his face as he pulls two microphones from behind his back.

“We have to sing. It’s the only way out apparently. What I want you to do is look at me the whole time and think about Henry. In order to rescue him, you have to sing. Are you going to be OK?”

He hands me the microphone, and my hand was shaking as I take it from him. It’s to save Henry. I have to do this to get us all out of here. I grab his hand and look right into his eyes.

“I will only be thinking of you.”

Our smiles remind me that there is only us in the room and that it’s just two friends having a conversation in song form. The music starts playing and he starts off the song. Every word he sings hits the note perfectly, digging deeper into me than anything ever has. My turn comes up and I only look at him. I hear myself through the stereo and I sound absolutely awful, I can see him trying to hide a laugh and that only makes me sing louder and creates a bigger smile on both of us. As soon as the song was over, our hands were still together and the crowd starts to cheer. He turns me around and we bow. On our way up the room vanishes back to the original carnival setting, but we are still in our formal clothes.

“That was incredible! I have never done anything like that before!”

Thomas looks at me like I am a completely changed person and I hope that smile never goes away. A young acrobat comes to give us another envelope, this time handing it to Thomas. He starts to open it up and his smile slowly fades away. That look is back into his eyes and I know now that it is fear. I have never seen him afraid of anything before and whatever is on that card, is his. I grab the card from his hand to read it and this time it doesn’t say a number, but the actual activity.

“Zip Lining.”

The room around us disappears and we are placed into the trees. 30 feet above the ground. I look over our small platform as Thomas practically hugs the tree in fright.

“Hey, come on Thomas. You can’t possibly be afraid of heights. You are perfect in everything.”

I immediately regretted saying that once it left my mouth. I could see the sly smile forming on Thomas’ face.

“You really think I’m perfect in everything?”

“No, I mean yes, I mean you are good at anything you set your mind to. You’re nice to everyone, you’re smart in every subject, you’re great with little kids, and you are amazing at playing football.”

I can feel my cheeks burn to a red, the longer he stares at me with that slick smile and his arms crossed as he leans against the tree. He almost forgot that he is 30 feet above the ground in a harness attached to a rope hanging from tree to tree.

“I think you’re great too Layla. What do you say we climb down this tree and forget about this thing.”

Before he went anywhere, not that he could, I grab his waist and pull him around the tree and push him off the ledge, sending him flying through the trees to the next platform. I felt a little guilty hearing his screams fade away as he got farther, but he needed that push. I jumped off swinging through the trees feeling so free. I get the the other platform to see Thomas petrified, still clinging to his buckle with white knuckles.

“That wasn’t so bad was it?”

I taunt him as his face grows red from embarrassment. I’m assuming that I’m the first to see any flaws to this man and I am glad to be the one to help him overcome it. I walk closer to him and his scared face turns into an idea and before I can fully take in his smile, I feel his hands on my waist as he pushes me backwards down to the next platform. Before I turn around his smile and crossed arms ells me that we are even. I feel like I’m soaring to the life I always wanted. The freedom of the wild fully overtakes my body. I am one with the trees. My feet hit the platform,but it takes forever for Thomas to show up. Once he hits the platform, we are back at the gate.

“Hey, Layla. Thanks for pushing me. I never would have done that if it weren't for you. It was actually really fun.”

“Same here.”

We just stand there, staring at each other. I really don’t know what’s supposed to happen next, but when Thomas comes closer to me I think I know. I can feel my breath leave my body and my heart skip a beat as he is inches away. Our hands meet and intertwine with one another, making us feel like one person. He leans in closer and the gates finally open. A loud mechanic chain rolling in its circuit as a small boy appears on the other side. I nearly started crying as I can see Henry’s face beyond that gate. He comes running towards us as I collapse to my knees to give him the biggest hug I could ever give him.

“Henry, you don’t know how much I missed you. Are you OK?” what happened to you?” why did you run off? You nearly gave me a heart attack. I’m just glad you’re ok.”

I nearly squeezed him to death as he gives me a hug in return. Thomas just stands over me, watching us be reunited. He puts his hand on my shoulder and the ground starts shaking again. I have Henry in my arm and with my other hand I grab Thomas’ hand looking into his eyes as I say goodbye.

The school day is finally over and on my way out to pick up Henry I see Thomas hanging out with his football squad. He is laughing along with whatever one of the other guys said and he makes eye contact with me.That smile I thought I knew so well faded away as he pretended to be friends with those guys. I thought I knew the real Thomas, but I guess not. Walking away is the hardest thing I had to do because I can feel him still looking at me. I run home crying, no longer able to take the humiliation from his people and him doing nothing about it. My pillow is the only thing that comforts me and when I hear a knock on my door I really hope it’s him. I want it to be him coming to apologize and kiss me like he wanted to. I want him to make everything better. It’s not him. It’s Henry, holding a plate of cookies and two glasses of milk. My tears fade away, finally knowing who my best friend is. I pull him close to me, never letting him go as we eat our cookies and milk, telling never ending stories about anything and everything.

The end word count: 4,018

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