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Past the Gatekeepers – by Stephanie
“Stop pulling Bosco!” I snapped. My goldendoodle heaved a concussive bark in complaint as I dragged him behind me. There was an old wooden gate dredged up against a group of soggy bushes that begged to the reworked into a vintage sign. The flood waters from the creek behind my house always deposited cast offs I could re-purpose in my workshop.
Bosco yanked again pulling me off balance when a rabbit darted from its disturbed nest. With a yelp, I slipped on the slick ground and banged into a tree. Eighty-five pounds of dog yanked on my arm, pulling me over and into a puddle of mud.
“I said no,” I growled along with an angry pull back on the leash that was burning into my fingers.
His prey long gone, Bosco looked back at me and sat, his tail wagging in the mud puddle.
“Great,” I muttered, adding dog bath to my to do list. “Now will you behave so that I can grab this gate?
Bosco gave the front of my soggy shirt an apologetic slurp as I carefully stood.
“Are you alright?” a concerned man’s voice called from the trail.
“Only a scraped elbow and wounded pride,” I answered back, lowering my voice as a nice looking man in jogging clothes walked into view.
He glanced me over with a bemused smile while I pointed accusingly at Bosco. “He wanted to chase a rabbit.”
The man snorted a laugh and appraised my tongue lolling dog. Bosco woofed a friendly greeting and nestled his giant head under the man’s outstretched hand.
“Such a great guard dog,” I muttered.
“If he was able to pull you this far off of the trail, maybe you should take him to obedience classes,” the man offered.
The silly image of skiing through the mud behind Bosco popped into my head and tried to hide a smile. “No, there’s a wooden gate in the bushes back here that I want to drag home.”
“Ah, so the rabbit incident happened on the way to the gate?” he said, his eyes dancing with merriment as Bosco nudged closer and was rewarded with a chin scratch.
“Oh no, you’ve done it now. Once you’ve scratched his chin you’re his friend for life,” I said with a mournful tone.
The man laughed then said in my same tone, “It would seem that I’m doomed.”
We shared a grin and the moment became awkward when I found myself staring at the handsome tilt of his jaw when he smiled. Get a grip Donna, you see handsome men all the time.
“Well, I better grab the gate and get home before the neighbors see me. The rumor mills will have a mud covered vagabond skulking in the woods by the end of the day.”
“Do you live nearby?” he asked, spiking my nerves. Alone in the woods with a stranger, no matter how good looking wasn’t always the best scenario.
He seemed to pick up on my worry. “I’m sorry. My name is Vance Chambers. I just moved into the red brick house on Woodbury.”
“Ah my new neighbor, I live two doors down in the white house.”
“I was wondering who lived there, you’ve got quite a quirky front yard,” he teased offering me his hand.
Quirky was a nice description, most of my neighbors called it a monstrosity but I loved it. In the sparse grass under the tress of my front yard was a wandering stone path. Off of the path was an entire gnome village with varying homes I had created out of re-purposed doll and bird houses.
I shook his hand. “My name is Donna Gibbings and you are much nicer about my yard than most.”
“You village is amazing. I spent almost an hour there last night enjoying all of the different homes. Did you make them all?”
I nodded and said, “My parents are artists and taught me how to sculpt when I was young. I sculpt now for a living but the gnome village is my guilty pleasure when I’m low on orders or mentally blocked on a project.”
“By the looks of it you’re low or blocked a lot,” he teased.
“Nah, I’ve lived here over fifteens years. The village did not go up over night but I’m running out of room. I would run a path into the backyard but Bosco would destroy any homes I put in the back yard.”
Vance barked a laugh. “Gnome carnage. Maybe turn the backyard into a gnome war zone. Little siege engines and gnome armies.”
“I like your sense of whimsy sir. Perhaps you could explain my backyard project to Benny Barnes over on Northside, he’s started a petition against me.”
“Some people have nothing better to do,” Vance scoffed. “How big is your gate? Do you need a hand?”
Looking back at the bushes where the gate rested, I realized that it was much larger than I originally figured.
“Probably so, it didn’t seem that big back from the trail.”
Bosco started barking as we walked closer.
“What’s the matter boy, it’s just an old piece of wood,” Vance said as he reached up and gave the gate a tug. It didn’t move.
Bosco’s pitch changed and he added a howl at the end of his complaints.
“Bosco, sit!” I said with a firm voice. He sat but continued to bark as I reached up and helped Vance pull. This time the gate moved but barely.
“I wonder what it’s stuck on,” he said as he walked around the bushes looking.
“Do you see anything?”
He peeked around the bush with a puzzled frown and shrugged.
“Maybe if you push and I pull?” I suggested.
We reached together and counted to three. The gate moved a bit and Bosco’s bark became frenzied. With my hands still on the gate, I turned to shush him but he shot past me and bit down on the wood and began pulling as well.
This time the gate began to give way, not down to the ground but swinging open on its hinges.
I glanced beyond the opening expecting to see Vance on the other side. Alll I could see was trees. “Where did you go?” I called.
Looking around the frame of the gate I could see his ducked head and arms outstretched as he pushed. Staring back into the gate opening, his head was gone again so I stood on my toes and looked down. How bizarre, Vance was gone and the trees showing through the gate rippled like the surface of water.
“Weird, Vance come look at this.” He pushed through the bushes while Bosco dropped the gate and began barking again.
“What?” he asked, staring at the opening then back at me.
“Put your hand behind the opening,” I said.
He placed his hand behind the gate’s frame then gave me an incredulous look when it wasn’t visible. “What the heck? Is it some kind of portal? Are you pulling a prank on me gnome lady?”
The surface rippled again and without thinking I reached out and lightly touched it. It did not feel like water. I played my fingers across the opening and they slowly sunk into the ripple. I didn’t mind at first until the gate began to suck on my hand. Then it resisted when I tried to pull my hand away.
I started to struggle free and shared a frightened look with Vance.
“What do we do, it’s sucking me through?”
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