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Estimated reading time — 26 minutes
Have you ever heard of the seven gates of hell? Its a hugely popular paranormal site in rural Pennsylvania, surrounded by urban legend and horror stories. I always took it for granted how popular that site was, growing up only 15 miles down the road, but apparently its a nation wide phenomenon that some people travel hundreds of miles to visit. Now I’ve never been one to believe in the paranormal, and not just ghosts and the like, anything that didn’t have concrete evidence that I could see or feel was hard for me. I was just a logically based person, I’m sure you know the type.
My friends however, were all in that phase of young adulthood that involved needing to find proof of some kind of ghost, demon, or otherworldly entity. We were all sophomores in high school, and our evenings consisted of all sorts of ghost hunting adventures such as going out into the woods behind Madi’s house and using a pendulum to try to speak with a spirit, using a Ouija board, and even trying to create a makeshift summoning portal out of kitchen supplies. None of it ever really worked, sure the pendulum swung but it was windy, and everyone knows that Ouija boards are just controlled by whoever is touching it wanting to make a spooky scene. I was always there, playing along and having fun, but never truly believing anything.
That is why when Kenny brought up going to the seven gates of hell I was all for it. Aside from the fact that the thing was dripping in paranormal lore, there was an actual story behind it as well. In the early 1800s there was an Asylum in Hellam, Pennsylvania, this was back in the days where those that were admitted were not… treated great. I don’t need to tell you the things that happened to those admitted into asylums before 1900. One evening, that asylum caught fire and started a blaze for the centuries. Due to its location in the middle of the woods, it took fire response teams well over 20 minutes to get to the scene, and by that point, well, there was no point. Most of the occupants of Hellam Asylum were burnt alive, and while a few escaped into the forest, many were found dead later in the surrounding area due to smoke inhalation, starvation, or ripped apart by animals. All quite gruesome deaths. I wanted to see the remnants of the asylum that were allegedly still there past the sixth gate.
It was a Friday night when we went, leaving our home at 10 PM, so that we could try to be at the asylum by 3 AM, the witching hour. There were five of us, Kenny, Madi, Andrew, Lauren, and myself. All piled in to Kenny’s single-row pickup truck.
“So what are you guys hoping to find out there” I ask, I know there were supposedly the ghosts of the asylum inmates, but other then that I didn’t know too much about the lore.
“You know, the usual. Ghosts, demons, whatever wants to show itself to us” Kenny state matter-of-factly. At first, Madi and Lauren actually seemed a little tense, which was strange. This was the kind of thing we did all the time. It was Lauren that spoke next,
“Well, it depends on how deep into the woods we get. I heard Anders and Lawrence went by themselves last week and couldn’t even get past the third gate. Said that they started hearing voices and seeing eyes in the woods. Spooked ’em real good.”
I suppressed a laugh, Anders and Lawrence were basically the class clowns of our high school, and taking anything they said seriously was almost as much of a joke as whatever it was they had said.
“Yeah, and I’ve heard that if you can make it past the seventh gate then you get sent directly to hell, never to return.” Madi said, her eyes scanning the woods to our right.
“Assuming that hell is real, that is.” I chime in, achieving a punch to the arm from Andrew. After about a 45 minute drive we arrive at the broken down street sign that says Toad Road, the alleged beacon of where the gates are to start.
“Okay everyone shut up, you all have your flashlights, and knives?” Kenny asked. We had been instructed to bring flashlights for obvious reasons, and knives I guess to feel more safe from the ghosts? I know I brought one in case of a coyote which were more popular in the area then I would like to remember. An actual threat. We all nodded in his direction signaling our two items.
“Great. So about an eighth of a mile in the forest here, should be a rusted gate. That is the first gate, and once we cross it we will be in the devils territory.” Kenny said with a smirk on his face. “I hope he’s ready.”
I rolled my eyes and shot a smile at Madi who was looking a little bit nervous still. I put my arm around her and whispered to her that everything was going to be alright, and maybe they would finally find something of substance so we can put this dumb paranormal stuff behind us and move on to the next fad.
Kenny would soon turn around and lead us into the woods. It took us about 5 minutes to reach the gate that he had spoken of. I honestly didn’t see what the big deal was, it was a little bit strange for the rusted iron gate to be sitting in the middle of the woods, not attached to anything and being overgrown with vines and weeds, but scrap metal is found everywhere, there wasn’t a huge significance. The others seemed a mixture of elated and nervous at the same time.
“So what is supposed to happen after we cross?” I ask, preparing myself for the made-up shenanigans I will be experiencing soon.
“The first gate isn’t much. According to legend since we are the furthest away from the asylum, there are the least amount of spirits here. They will likely try to push you around so you may feel a bit of pressure but that’s about it. Oh also, our phones will probably go out here. Electronics don’t work in the gates. So please stay close, and if you get separated from the group just go back to the car so you don’t get hopelessly lost. I left it unlocked since we are in the middle of nowhere.” Kenny banged his flashlight twice on the metal bars of the gate, causing bits of rust to spark into the air around it, then with a theatrical performance he stepped to the other side of the gate.
I was next to follow, and then the rest of the group, and unsurprisingly, I felt no different. We walked for a few more minutes and I went to check my phone. It had shut off, which was strange because the battery life had been at almost 80% when we left the car. I guess cell service just doesn’t work this far out in the country.
“So all of your phones are actually off, then?” I ask, making sure I’m not the only one. One by one they check, and one by one they agree with me. I’m more concerned about us getting pulled apart from each other then the fact that maybe this could be a paranormal interaction. Madi is particularly freaked out by this.
“Guys I don’t know, this feels a little bit too real for me.” Madi said nervously, looking back towards the way we came, probably judging whether the social repercussions of going and waiting in the car and being called a baby inevitably by the rest of the group was worth it.
“Oh, stop, it’s fine. Worst comes to worst we all die in a poltergeist extravaganza!” Kenny said, not helping.
We continued walking. The next gate was about a mile deeper, and we weren’t moving super quickly.
“So Kenny, what is supposed to happ- OUCH!” Andrew stopped himself mid-sentence and glanced down at his leg. He pulled up his jeans to mid calf and revealed a large cut spanning about four inches of the back side of his lower leg.
“What happened?” I asked, looking around with the flashlight, attempting to find any thorn bushes or other culprit. I felt a light tapping on my shoulder, and turned around to see who it was, only to find no one was there. Madi, Lauren and Kenny were all standing next to Andrew, and I was alone where I stood. Okay. Weird. I’ll admit.
“I don’t know, I was just walking and it.. hurt.. then this,” Andrew said, motioning towards his leg. “I mean it’s not that bad, just unexpected is all.. lets keep going.”
We made it to the next gate a few minutes later. Only Madi complaining of feeling like she was getting shoved to the side, she compared it to when you’re walking next to someone who is leaning in to you. She was scared though, and placebo is a strong thing, especially in the paranormal, so I chose to ignore that.
“Alright, gate two is right here. On the other side of this gate, according to legend, you start feeling as if you are being followed, the pushing continues, only stronger, oh and there is a cult that guards the third gate at the end. So ya know, watch out for them.” Kenny, who had apparently not felt any presences during the first gate and was obviously feeling a little more lighthearted then the rest of the group pressed on without question.
It was about halfway through the second gate that we encountered out first problem. Madi’s flashlight died. She swore up and down that she had fresh batteries in it, but none the less, we were short one. Madi huddled close to me and used the light from mine as we continued down the imaginary path that Kenny was leading for us.
About a quarter of a mile past the second gate we heard a scream. I whipped around and saw Lauren on the ground, a wild look in her eyes as she looked back and forth so quickly I was afraid she might break her neck. We all looked at her inquisitively.
“I… I don’t know what happened, it felt like someone just speared me!” Lauren shouted, panic growing in her voice. I walked over to her and offered her a hand to get up. “I’m serious guys! It felt like I got tackled! I didn’t just dive onto the ground and scream for no reason!” Lauren shook off my hand and pushed herself up rejoining us, shock in her face, and Andrews. Kenny clearly didn’t believe her, and Madi looked like she was on the verge of tears.
As we walked, I got the increasing sensation that I was being stalked. I began looking around for the signs of a coyote, attributing the sensation to that, but I couldn’t see anything that would alert me to the presence of wildlife. In fact, now that I was thinking about it, there was a surprising lack of wildlife all together.
“Guys, hold up for a second, be quiet.” I asked everyone, and they all were happy to oblige, not that anyone was really talking that much anyway. As everyone stopped, I felt a pit in my stomach start to grow. There wasn’t a single noise being made. No crickets, no wind, no leafs cracking in the distance. Complete silence. “That’s strange, isn’t it? The lack of sound?” I stated my concerns aloud.
“I really think we should turn back. That feeling of being shoved down? That was enough for me. I.. I don’t want to mess with this stuff anymore, I’m serious.” Lauren shivered as she spoke, despite the relatively warm night.
“Honestly, I’m down to turn around too, it’s getting pretty late.” Andrew spoke next. His eyes, not necessarily frightened, but definitely on edge.
“Are you all being serious right now? Come on, we drove all the way here we are not turning back now,” Kenny said, his voice dejected. He threw his hands in the air in a fit.
“No I think we should keep going, I just thought it was weird is all,” I threw back. I felt it again, after I said that. The tapping on my shoulder, as if someone was trying to get my attention but didn’t want to speak. I turned my head, knowing there would be nothing there, and not being surprised when there wasn’t. “How much further to the third gate?”
“It should be right around here, lets go.” Kenny swung his flashlight around and started walking again, not giving anyone else the chance to disagree.
After another two or three minutes we landed back on a road that appeared seemingly out of nowhere. There was no sound of traffic, obviously, and there was no paint on the road, it just seemed like concrete in the wilderness. The feeling of being watched was almost overwhelming now, and I have to admit, it has started freaking my out a little bit at this point.
I could see in the distance another gate sitting at the end of the road. This one felt different though, maybe it was because it was decidedly less rusted and antique looking or maybe it was because it was in a place that actually made sense for a gate to go instead of being in the middle of the forest. Somehow it just felt.. strange.
When we were about 10 yards away from the gate, I heard Madi start to sob. I turned to ask her what was wrong and I saw utter terror in her eyes. I will never forget that look. I asked what was wrong, and she couldn’t even speak. She just pointed to the sides of the roads.
In the darkness where the road dropped off into more grass and trees, sitting just along the edge of our vision were bright green eyes. Hundreds of them.
It took all of five seconds for the rest of our small group to see what Madi did. Those green eyes, unnaturally bright in the darkness of the forest surrounding them. Lauren let out a shriek, and Andrew just about jumped out of his skin despite not actually making a scream. I swear Kenny actually smiled, as if he was happy to finally have something to talk about. His smile doesn’t last, I know he wants to see something metaphysical more then any of the rest of us, but even for him, this felt like more then we bargained for.
One by one, what felt like thousands of men stepped out of the shrubbery on either side of the road, each holding some sort of weapon. My heart dropped. Madi is clinging on to me, her face shoved into my chest, sobbing. Andrew looks distant, like his brain wouldn’t allow him to process the situation. Lauren was also crying silent tears, and Kenny had an awful grimace that came from trying to look like he wasn’t scared to preserve his social status, and actually shitting his pants.
The figures were silent as they approach, they were humanoid in shape, but something about them was distinctly wrong. Maybe it was the way they appeared darker then they should have, even as they got closer and our flashlights could reach them. Maybe it was the way they seemed to float instead of walk as they moved, or maybe it was the noise that emitted from them. It was subtle, a small static like white noise, but its amazing how loud things sound when you haven’t heard noise at all in the last 45 minutes.
Three of the figures maneuvered themselves between us and the third gate, their gaze never breaking from our own. One stepped forward, his hands wrapped around what appeared to be a shotgun, the other two clutching giant clubs made of wood and scrap metal.
“You will turn around. Now.” The voice didn’t come from the man with the shotgun, but rather boomed through the air, as if the world itself were speaking to us.
Of course, my initial reaction was to turn around and get right the fuck out of there, as was everyone that was sane in our group. Kenny, however, stared forward with more purpose and drive then I’ve ever seen. He had finally done it, he had contacted and seen with his own two eyes something from another world. We all had. However unlike the rest of us, it hadn’t frightened Kenny, it had made him want to know more.
“No, no we are going to keep going. This is public land, you can’t stop us. I don’t believe that you will pull that trigger.” Kenny spoke back to the creatures with a calm precision. He really meant what he was saying, and I couldn’t understand how. I fought every urge in my body to turn around and bolt, and I walked forward to put my hand on Kennys shoulder.
“We need to go, man. I don’t think these guys are fucking around. We need to go.” I put emphasis at the end of the sentence, hoping that my good friend was just in some kind of shock induced state of overconfidence. I turned him around to look at the rest of us, instead of them. “Look at Madi, and Lauren,” I pointed at the two girls, the former’s head in her hands trying to avoid her surroundings, and the latter sitting down next to Madi, trying to put on a tough face and hardly succeeding.
“What, do you want to chicken out, just like Anders? This is all just meant to scare us okay, Daniel? Nothing is going to happ-“
A crack once again pierced the night, and I knew instantly that the shotgun had been fired. I didn’t even have time to scream before Kenny was gone. I don’t mean gone, as in dead, I mean gone. Ceased to be around. There was no trace of him, one moment he was talking to me, and the next my hand was no longer on the shoulder of my childhood best friend, but rather floating through the air back to my side. The figures were gone too.
“Kenny? Kenny!” I shouted into the nothingness. The sound was gone again, along with the creatures, so my voice felt like it would travel miles, but nothing came back. I turned back to everyone else, and they looked as petrified as I was.
“Where is he, Daniel? He was just right there! You had your damn hand on his shoulder, Daniel! Where is he!” Andrew was now in front of me, jabbing his finger into my chest as if somehow I was the one that caused this.
“I don’t..” I started
“That is bullshit!” Andrew shoved me hard enough that I stumbled backwards and almost fell over. “People don’t just disappear!” His rage quickly dissipated into worry as he walked over to where Kenny was just a few moments before and dropped to his knees. “We have to leave now, tell the police what happened, I don’t know.”
“We can’t just abandon him out here Andrew, we have to keep going.” It was Lauren that spoke this. The steely look on her face much different then the one she was wearing only a minute ago.
She was right. If we left right now, Kenny might as well be dead. He still might be dead, but if we keep going, maybe we can find those creatures again and try to strike a deal. There was nothing I wanted more then to leave this forest and never come back, but at this point, we didn’t have a choice.
Madi looked up for the first time since the dark men arrived, her entire face red, and tears staining her cheeks. When she spoke, her voice cracked and she sniffed to try to stop her nose from running to no avail.
“I don’t want to, I just want to go home.” She was defeated, and I didn’t blame her, however unless she wanted to walk back through the woods alone, she was going to have to get through it. Kenny needed us.
“I’m sorry, Madi, I know you’re scared. We all are. But we have to do this right now, we have to. We have to.” I repeated it twice, once for Madi, and once for myself. She looked back at me like a little kid being told she was going to be spanked, but she nodded her head, and let out another burst of tears before eventually standing on her own.
Without giving myself anymore time to think about it, I walked up to the third gate, put my hand on it, and walked around to the other side. The others followed me, if hesitantly.
The road that we had been walking on disappeared directly on the other side of the third gate, strangely enough, so we were back to walking through wooded terrain and keeping out eyes out to whatever may lurk in the trees. I had taken point in Kenny’s absence, Madi staying constantly at my side, followed by Andrew and Lauren. We walked in a tight square forward.
It was odd, but for some reason I just knew where to go. It was as if I was being guided, but by a force that was unseen or unfelt. I found myself making turns around certain trees, and crossing over a small stream at one point that would have been much easier to just walk along side. The tapping that I had been feeling on my shoulder previously was also getting stronger, and harder to ignore. It was persistent now, and the taps were becoming harder and more painful.
I could tell that the others were feeling something similar. Even though nothing was being said between them, all three of my companions would occasionally grimace, and hold a section of their body, or spin their head to look in a direction that had no calling to it. To their credit, especially poor Madi, no one said a word.
We ventured in silence for about 15 more minutes before we heard a scream. It was off in the distance, maybe fifty yards away I would guess. But with the lack of other sound, it was really hard to tell. Andrew and Lauren started running towards the sound call for help, and I was soon to follow. They were slightly ahead of us, and when we passed into a clearing the two in front of us stopped on a dime, nearly causing Madi and I to run straight into their backs. Andrews hand clapped over his mouth and Lauren turned away to vomit. I looked passed them, and saw my own mother being stabbed repeatedly by what I can only describe as a monster. It was pitch black like a shadow, with curled blades for hands and lanky canine looking legs, bent in directions that didn’t make any sense.
“Mom!” I screamed, mine almost as bloodcurdling as hers. I rushed forward and tried to tackle the creature attacking my mother, but right as I was about to lay into it, it too disappeared right in front of my eyes. I turned to find my mother, but she had been replaced with the face of another. An old man, with blood running down his lips, looking at me with a devilish smile. He licked his lips as he stared at me, and then vanished himself.
It took me a minute before I could move again. I had no idea what was real. Was this all a hallucination? It couldn’t be, because clearly everyone else saw the same thing as I did. I had no answers, nor any semblance of a clue what to make of the events that had happened. I fought back the urge to scream and vomit and walked back to our group.
“What are we even going to do, ya know, if we find him.” Andrew said, his eyes still trained on the ground where we had just seen two more beings disappear.
“We are going to fucking kill whoever took him.” Lauren spoke up, everything about her turned to ice. It almost made me more uncomfortable seeing the sweet, pretty girl who enjoyed watching makeup tutorials on YouTube and flirting with boys on Twitter look as hardened and shut off emotionally then it did seeing the spirits. Almost.
With a new sense of pace, we started back on the trail. My flashlight flicking back and forth between the trail in front of me and the trees beside me even more often now, and it wasn’t long before we reached the fourth gate. Or at least I think it was the fourth gate. There actually wasn’t a gate at all, but only a prominent mark in the ground, like someone had run their finger through wet concrete and molded it that way. I just knew that it was, however. I knew we were getting deeper into the game, closer to hell, I suppose.
I didn’t even bother to stop, I just kept walking. The moment I stepped past the ‘gate’ I knew I was correct. It felt like it dropped twenty degrees instantly. I also heard sound again, but it wasn’t the average forest sounds, it was distant wails, that could have been mistaken for a gust of wind in a different situation, but not this one. When Madi stepped over the line, her face froze and she looked at me. I did my best to smile for reassurance, but I’m sure it wasn’t worth much. She put her head back down and pulled her jacket closer around her.
“Are we going to talk about how we made it here? To the fourth gate? With no fucking directions?” Andrew was looking at me, and then pointed back down at the line in the dirt. “I mean, of all the turns we could have taken, all the different routes we could have gone down. This ‘gate’ is hardly six feet long in a forest that’s how big? And! And! How in the did we even know this was supposed to be a gate? I can’t be the only one that just knew?” Andrew was ranting, something he did to cope with things. Normally it was when a guy pissed him off at school by talking to a girl he was interested in, or how his favorite football team lost and it was all on the referees, this time it was about ghosts that kidnapped and possibly killed our best friend.
“I don’t.. I don’t have an answer.. lets just keep moving okay, I don’t want to stand in one place for too long.” I replied.
“Fuck this.” Andrew crossed his arms and let out a shiver from the newfound cold, but continued to walk ahead of me. Lauren simply walked by his side and looked straight ahead, focused on an unknown point and mind set only on completing her objective.
The further we got into the land of the fourth gate, the harder it was to ignore the background sound to our trek. It was clearly screaming, and it was clearly in the direction we were heading. Then again, I guess we had given up rational thought the moment we decided to continue further into this damned hell forest instead of turning around and cutting our losses at one of us. I know that may sound fucked up to say, but I’m afraid that even if we make it out of here, our lives will never be the same again. I know mine won’t be.
I don’t really remember when, but at some point images started flashing through my head. Ones that were not my own. I saw ash and monsters, endless miles of snow, spiders by the millions crawling along the ground. They were terrifying, and would flash in front of my conscience every couple of minutes for a brief moment. It was distracting, I wanted them to stop and after awhile started cringing every time I knew I was due for another. As we grew deeper, the visions grew longer.
Eventually it became all I could do to focus on walking straight. My gut instinct was to sit down, and close my eyes to try to make it stop. I knew that wouldn’t help, but I had the strongest urge to do it anyway. I persisted. I kept moving. I trained my eyes on the back of Andrews head, and grounded myself there.
It was in the middle of one of these visions, one where I was flying but my wings were on fire, and I knew that soon I would fall to my death, that I heard Madi scream again. I snapped back to reality and looked to my right, where she had been stationed all evening. She was gone, but not in the way that Kenny had been gone, this time there was a trail of blood. I don’t think that makes it better.
“P…please… help..” I followed the voice up a tree and saw Madi pinned to the trunk, a thick branch penetrating through her stomach. I crossed the distance between us in moments and looked up. She was out of my reach, and her eyes were closing quickly.
“Madi! Please, stay with us. We can help!” I yelled up to her, desperately wracking my brain for any solution. I whipped around to find Lauren climbing a dogwood next to the one Madi was impaled on. Andrew and I looked on helplessly.
“I got you Madi, I got you.” Lauren’s voice was reassuring as she worked her way a good fifteen feet off the ground to a crossing point between the two trees. I had forgotten how much of a climber Lauren had been in elementary school. It felt like ages ago, but it sure as hell was useful now.
Lauren reached over and made the jump. Madi followed her lazily, a drunken haze settling over her whole body. Lauren began to slowly climb down the the level our friend was at, and cradled her head. She then looked back down at us and shook her head. There was nothing we could do.
“You have to try, Lauren. Please get her down.” I begged, I couldn’t handle another loss. Lauren grimaced, and did the only thing that could possible save her. She broke the branch as close to Madi’s body as she could and she pulled her off. I’m not sure actually, if she managed to pull her the whole way off the tree branch. It wasn’t long after Lauren touched her,
Madi disappeared into thin air.
I sat down on my knees and cried. With Kenny, we could force ourselves into thinking he was still alive somewhere, just kidnapped by some mysterious force, waiting for us to save him. Madi was dead. I don’t know where her body went, but I could see the life drain from her eyes when she was up on that tree. I don’t think I will ever get the image out of my head. Can you imagine? Seeing your best friend, one who begged you to leave and that you forced to keep going, impaled on a tree limb, screaming for her life? Knowing you couldn’t save her?
There wasn’t much time for grieving, however. Whatever resided in this forest didn’t care about feelings. I only had about a minute of freedom before the visions started again. Piles of bones, my home being swallowed by an earthquake, creatures of indescribable horror chasing after me. The pressure that I felt pushing me forward didn’t stop either. I could feel it pick me up from below my armpits, literally, mind you, and shove me forward.
Lauren made her way down from the spot she had been trying to rescue Madi, no expression on her face, and walked right past me in the direction that I had been shoved. Clearly she was getting directions too. Andrew put his head down, and walked behind her, leaving me as the last to follow. I took one last glance back, and continued on. There was nothing else I could do.
The fifth gate didn’t exist, at least physically. No one had spoken a word for the mile walk after Madi’s death until eventually Lauren spoke.
“We just passed the fifth gate.”
Of course, I felt it too. Instead of feeling hands tapping or shoving, it now felt like a constant pressure. Like when you were five years old and your 6’8 uncle gave you a bear hug. Only then you knew it would eventually end. The visions have gotten increasingly worse, but I’m starting to become numb to them. They are just a part of me now, I’ve accepted that.
I hadn’t noticed it, but the terrain around us was changing as well. Things around us were just.. dead.. now. The trees were growing more and more brown, leaves becoming more scarce as we continued on. Plants with blooming flowers were replaced with thickets of thorn brush. Animal carcasses littered the distance. It seemed unlikely that we were even still in an earthly plane anymore, the more I thought about it. Something like this would have garnered the attention of the local government in an attempt to stop whatever was causing the death, and as far as I could remember when we were looking at Google Maps of the area, there was no such large lifeless area.
It wasn’t long until we saw the eyes again. It felt less eerie this time around, and more sinister. As if the surrounding forest wasn’t enough, as soon as I saw the bright green glow around us I felt the death of the place. It weighed on me like a thousand pounds. I glanced at my friends. Andrew was darting his head back and forth in all directions, while Lauren kept her focus straight ahead, ignoring her surroundings completely as she had been for what seemed like years.
“You have one last chance.” The same voice as before at the third gate boomed through the air like a tornado. None of us listened.
Moments later, the dark figures appeared again, weapons in hand. They were more grizzly this time, however. No longer shrouded in dark capes, but rather flaunting their unnatural bodies to us. Their limbs were too long, bodies too thick, and worst of all, their skin was pulled so taut against their bones that it looked like a demon summoned from a sacrificial ritual. I guess, in a way, they were.
They had only appeared for a moment before they rushed at us. Unlike the previous encounter, where they had stood still and simply waited, this time they came at us from all sides, sprinting. I immediately sprung into a sprint forward of my own, Lauren and Andrew doing the same.
“We need to find a way through!” I shouted, even though I was only a foot or two behind, the white noise emitting from the creatures was deafening.
“Split… that… can’t reach.. all” I could only heard bits and pieces of what Lauren was saying, but her message was clear. She wanted us to split up, each running in a different direction, so that hopefully they would chase one, and leave the others. I couldn’t have disagreed more.
“Someone will die, Lauren! We have to stay together!” I screamed back. Like hell was I going to lose another person to this damn forest.
“One.. us.. all” I overheard. She thought it was going to either be one of us or all of us. She was probably right, but that didn’t make it okay. I just ran as hard as I could behind her. The creatures were closing in, and I had just managed to sneak by one of the incoming demons in front of us as he swung his club at me by dodging to the left. It wasn’t going to last though, I was running out of steam, and fast. That, along with the fact that I had no idea how long we would have to outrun these things, or if we even could, made me want to give up. Maybe it would be easier to just give in. Let this nightmare be over.
The thought of Madi and Kenny was enough to pull me through. I pictured Madi’s face as she breathed her last breath, and the look of determination in Kenny’s eyes as he stared down these dark men the first time. I had to keep going.
Suddenly, Andrew stopped. It nearly knocked me over as I tried to pull him with me, but he didn’t budge.
“Andrew, what are you doing. Come on! We have to move!” I shook him, and he just shook his head at me.
“I can’t do it, Daniel. I give up.” A single tear fell from his right eye, and he sat on the ground. The demons were nearly on us from the back now. I grabbed my friends arm and pulled harder, trying to force his hand, but he was dead weight.
“Go on. Lauren needs to. Save them. I’m sorry.” Andrew turned around and ran towards the creatures that were coming from the back, and threw his body into them. I hadn’t even noticed that the ones in front of us had reached me as well, but they just ran straight past, all converging on Andrew, tearing his body apart limb from limb until there was nothing left. I couldn’t watch, so I spun around, and sprinted forward again. I took one last glance behind me as I caught up to Lauren, only to see what was left of Andrew disappear, just as the others had, along with the dark men.
“How do we do this, Lauren?” I asked, stopping momentarily to catch my breath.
“We are dead already, Daniel. Don’t you get that.” It wasn’t a question. I saw no sympathy for our mutual friend in her face, no remorse. Then, without another word, she walked again. Onward towards the next gate. One step closer to hell. If you didn’t count what we were in as hell already, that is.
The sixth gate came and passed. I didn’t say a word, neither did she. I don’t think either of us really know what we are going on for at this point. I’ve given up on saving them. I guess I only move forward because it seems a waste to go back. The visions have completely taken over my sight. I only see horrors now, and my legs walk on their own. The silence of the forest has been completely replaced by screams of agony and anguish. I look down at my arms, during a brief moment of clarity, to find them covered in bone deep gashes, and bruises that are dark, and large. I chuckle to myself, despite everything. I didn’t even feel these injuries. At least if I die, it will be painless.
We traveled for hours, and eventually that little presence that had been guiding us the whole time went away too. We wandered aimlessly, with no way of knowing where the seventh gate would be. The final gate. I tried for a moment to think about it logically, but it was hard to do anything besides concentrate on not going insane.
Finally, it came to me. Each gate had some sort of trial, an attempt by the forest to get us to leave. Gate one was our phones going off. Enough to dissuade some, but not us. Gate two was the first presence of the supernatural, when we all knew this wasn’t normal. Gate three, the first appearance of the dark men, and the loss of Kenny. Four, Madi. Five, Andrew. The thought popped into my mind at the same time as it did to Lauren. Undoubtedly from whatever devil source has been guiding us this whole time.
Only one can go on.
I tried to ignore it. Lauren didn’t. She spun around only a moment after the voice rattled through our heads and clocked me straight in the jaw. She was a small girl, but it was enough force to send me to my knees.
“What are you doing! We can-” Another punch to the temple. This time my vision blacked out, and I curled up into a ball on the ground.
“No. The forest has rules. You play by them, or you die. How haven’t you learned.” She shouted, before sending a kick to my exposed back. I began to cry. Another kick, then another. Finally, she turned me over and knelt over top of me, resting her thumbs against my eyes.
“You were always weak, Daniel.” Lauren spoke, and then began jamming her thumbs into my eye sockets. I can’t begin to describe the pain. It’s unimaginable, even with the torment I have experienced in the last eight hours. My body responded, rolling to the side and throwing Lauren off balanced enough for me to push her away. I grabbed my head and tried to think. I didn’t have long before she was on top of me again, her arms around my neck this time, trying to choke me.
I threw her off again, begging her to stop and think, figure out a logical solution. She was having none of it. She came back again, and again. Each time I threw her away, using my size and strength to my own advantage. I could tell she was tiring. Her attempts were getting weaker and weaker.
She came at me again, and I threw her again. This time, she didn’t get up. I walked over to her, my hands still massaging my eyes, trying to get feeling back to them. When she turned around, the ice in her eyes had melted back to the warm ocean blue that I remembered so fondly.
“Daniel.. what’s.. whats going on.. I can’t… I can’t feel my legs.” She whimpered. I looked down, and immediately realized the problem. The last time I had thrown her away, she had landed on a large rock. That rock had cut open the back of her neck, and bone was sticking through the skin. I had broken her neck.
“It’s going to be okay, Lauren. I’m right here. We’re gonna make it.” I tried to soothe her, but the fear in her eyes broke my heart. I knew it was all a lie. I cradled her in my arms, and did my best to keep her company. After a minute, she was gone. Disappeared, just like the others. Suddenly, I was alone.
When I looked back up, the seventh gate was directly in front of me, a grand sight. It reminded me of Wayne Manor in the Batman comic books, Victorian in style, elegant, and flawless.. Behind it, was the fabled asylum. It didn’t appear to have any fire damage, as was suggested, but rather looked pristine, like it had been build yesterday. Initially, I questioned it, but it was fleeting. I knew I just had to get there.
As I walked up to it, the gate opened in front of me. I stepped through, and suddenly all the noise, voices, pressure, everything was all gone. It felt normal, like I was just walking through the forest again. All of my cuts and bruises were mended, and my mind was my own. I walked to the front door of the asylum, and rested my hand upon the handle. With a deep breath, I swung it open.
Standing in front of me were Kenny, Madi, Lauren, and Andrew. I wanted to be relieved, but the sight of them made it hard. All four were battered, bloody, and crying. I tried to run to them, but an invisible force kept me from entering the asylum that held them captive. One of the dark men came from out of the shadows of the room to the right, and slashed through Kenny. He let out a guttural scream, followed by a cry for help. I pounded on the invisible wall, and screamed, but they could not hear me.
“Save them all, or save yourself.” The familiar boom of the dark men echo’d through the air, and I spun around to see the creature directly behind me. Hot breath scorching my face. For once, the presence no longer seemed menacing, but inquisitive. I tried to hit it, but my hand went right through it.
“What do you mean!” I shouted,
“Save them all, or save yourself.” It just repeated itself. Its bright green eyes staring into my soul.
I guess I should be thankful. I had given up any hope of saving my friends, and now I had the opportunity to. I wish I could come back with them, but the dark men have made it clear that, that isn’t a possibility. They did let me write a note though. I know you won’t remember this, but I hope that you can take me seriously when I say: Don’t attempt the seven gates of hell. It isn’t worth it.
Signed, Daniel Huntington
* * * * * *
My name is Lauren Lopez, and this letter was delivered to my house earlier today. I don’t know, it probably isn’t real, but just in case I wanted to share it with you all. I don’t know anyone by the name of Daniel Huntington, but the whole thing does feel kind of familiar. I have a feeling it’s one of Kenny’s tricks to try to get us to do something he doesn’t think we will all want to do. If that was his plan though, it worked.
I had never heard of the seven gates of hell, but the four of us are going tonight.