The Gate – short story

The Gate – short story

About three months ago, I stumbled across a free online course from The Open University, provided through Future Learn. Start Writing Fiction is 8 weeks long, and it’s still available. I highly recommend it for beginner writers who want to know more about the process of writing, or how to begin a project. Personally, I didn’t learn anything technical, as I’ve taken writing courses before and so the knowledge base was already there. However, I felt I did benefit from the course with a renewed sense of inspiration and a reminder of why I write.  I also had some great interactions with my fellow students, and I hope to keep in touch with them.

My main assignment was to create a 1000 word max. short fiction piece based off of observations or notes that I kept during the duration of the class. I chose the image of a gate standing alone in a field.

I admit it was difficult to keep to the word limit, but the exercise was beneficial to practice finishing a piece. I’m planning a blog post about that specific issue, so stay tuned.

Before I post my assignment, I do want to plug Future Learn a little bit. I found their platform to be really easy to navigate and understand. The courses themselves provide a wide range of student support and forums. I’m currently taking a two-week Archaeology course just as a bit of research for a side-project I’m working on. Also, any course you take has the option to upgrade for around $60, and you gain unlimited access to the course and its resources. You also receive an awesome certificate in the mail!

 

The Gate – Complete at 998 words

 

The gate that appeared in the cornfield behind the Higgins’ house one September day wasn’t attached to a fence. It stood alone in the center, like a strange scarecrow, creaking slowly on its hinges in the small breeze. The corn had been harvested the week before, so the field was brown and dead, littered with the dried up stalks and old husks of its crop.

Archie Higgins woke up at 5 AM, like he did every morning, whether it was Christmas or his birthday or just any other day in June. He sat up, stretched, farted, slipped his house shoes on, and shuffled downstairs to switch the coffee pot on. Mae, his wife, would have slept in on a morning like this. But she’d taken a chill during the previous winter. It began with the flu, but gradually diminished to an eternal hacking cough. Archie preferred the silence of the fields and the barn, truth be told, but he’d never stay out there too long if Mae needed him. Just something you did, his father had taught him. Just something you did for those you loved. And he would have kept doing it too, if Mae had survived the summer.

Instead of sitting at the empty formica-topped kitchen table, Archie took his coffee mug outside, to the whitewashed porch. A glorious, golden September it had been thus far, and the mornings were crisp and peaceful. He sat in his rocking chair, a gift from his carpenter son. Dean worked in the city now, owned his own furniture boutique, and Archie couldn’t be prouder. He’d said so only once, after he’d ripped the birthday wrapping from the high-backed rocker, and Dean’s eyes had shone in the light of the setting sun.

He sipped his coffee, strong and black, and sat back, waiting for the sun to rise. It took him a few minutes to see it, but when his eyes did finally alight on the lonely gate in the cornfield, Archie felt a small twinge in his chest. He rocked forward and stood up slowly, feeling the ache in his bones and the chill in his calloused fingers. He took the stairs off the porch, rather than the ramp Dean installed for Mae’s shorter, shuffling gait. She’d only used it twice.

 

 

Archie reached the edge of the cornfield just as the sun kissed it with a dusky red and gold. Just some kids, he thought. Some kids playing a weird prank, or dumping their trash again. Too old to retaliate. Well, let them think that when their parents get a phone call from the elderly widower farmer from down the road. Should teach them.

He crouched down in front of the gate to examine it, then stood again and walked around it, absently whistling a tuneless song. Mae used to say he was wasted on farming and should have been in the town’s barbershop quartet, or even the theatre troupe, but Archie always just kept on whistling. He’d had a shot, once upon a time, but Mae got pregnant right after the wedding, and his chance flew away like Autumn leaves on the wind. He didn’t regret it much, but sometimes he’d had to remind himself sternly that letting things go was just something you did for the ones you love. He was good at letting go these days.

The gate was crafted out of some kind of exotic wood, though it was old and splintered. Its boards were nailed horizontally, with iron or some other kind of hardy metal. He couldn’t see any rust anywhere, but its age showed in the weathering. A handle fashioned in the shape of a young leaf seemed to be the only decoration, and its hinges were of the same metal as the fastenings.
It stood upright in the chaff of the field, though how it stood with no fence to support it Archie couldn’t figure. It wasn’t nailed or driven into the ground. He walked around it again, counter-clockwise this time, and as he came around the front again, he noticed a sign taped to it. A sign that hadn’t been there before. A sign that read “Open the gate,” in Mae’s handwriting.

Without thinking much, he reached for the handle. As he did, he felt the tips of his fingers begin to warm, then radiate. And with the heat came conjured images of callouses sloughing away, veins and liver spots fading, digits filling out from their gnarled forms into fingers ripe with muscle and vitality. A thrill ran through Archie, and he fancied he could hear Mae’s whisper, borne on the breeze, singing Come away, Archie. But then he felt the twinge in his chest again, more painful than the last. More painful even than two weeks ago, when he felt it the first time. He jerked his hand away from the handle and massaged his left pectoral. The heat left him, and the breeze died. He turned slowly away from the gate and headed back to the house, mind already searching for the Advil and the beginnings of a good breakfast. But the voice of his wife still whispered in his ear. He hesitated, staring at the home he’d built with his two hands, and the field around him that sustained his livelihood through good times and bad. He remembered he was alone now, with no one to care for and none to care. And Mae’s voice seemed lonely. He turned again, whispering Just what you do for those you love and reached for the gate. The pain in his chest faded. So too did the ache of age, and the sound of Mae’s honeyed voice rose higher on the breeze as he grasped the iron handle.

Dean found his father later that day, stretched out under the golden sun in an empty field. In his right hand, he gripped a leaf. Not a dry leaf stained with the reds and browns of Autumn, but a mossy green, springtime leaf.

 

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