Fifteen pairs of white T-shaped support beams holding up glorified concrete awnings. The Rivera Arches … they’re pretty ugly. School brochures run it off as modernist architecture, but it doesn’t give much more than a subjectively pretty photo op and most practically, shade.
Romans created the arch to withstand heavy bearing loads: these Arches definitely bear a lot, but they themselves aren’t much worth caring about.
Ironically, I choose to surround myself with the things every day. There’s a clearing of sorts beneath the bridge to the library that I always take some stairs down to for studying or just by default, and it’s always so quiet … save for that one night.
It was not peaceful that night.
Around this time last year, the night began as a standard study session, solitary. The library had closed, so I grabbed my bag and was about ready to head up the stairs to the dorms and turn in. Then I heard crying halfway up the steps.
No one else had been down there ever since I arrived hours before, but even then I chose to go back down and ask at the bottom of the stairs, “Hey, is someone there? Are you hurt?” Then there was the rattling of metal, accompanied by a moan of anguish that made for one hell of a bone chiller. It was a cold night and I was shivering to start with, and beyond what the lights upstairs could reach I couldn’t see my own feet. But I nearly crapped myself when a faint weeping voice hit my ears and sent shivers everywhere.
“ … open the gate … ”
When I got my bones to stop shaking, I processed what the voice had said. It was a woman’s voice, and it sounded as if she had been mentally battered, as if when she spoke she was bleeding sorrow. Gate? The only gate I knew of was an old, white and rusty gate in a far corner of the open space, locked up with only a chain just as rusty, and the only thing behind it was water pipe valves. Was she locked behind there somehow? I didn’t want to find out what was behind any gate that night, and I tried to ignore the plea.
“ … please… ”
Half of me wanted to bolt out of there, and the other more panicked half was fearful of what would happen if I didn’t go back to do what the voice was asking. But the choice was made when I saw two figures at the top of either side of the stairs with their backs to me. Believe me when I say they were human, but their intentions for that night were beneath humane.
“Hey, looks like we’ve got some fresh meat tonight … ”
The world went blank for a moment, until my heart sinking dragged me back. I had already near-fainted from hearing the obscured voice, and my knees were buckling from the constant bombardment of fear that the night was drowning me in.
What was I supposed to do? At first I tried sneaking away from the stairs, but almost immediately a gruff voice tried to stop me. “Hey, are you lost kid? Why don’t we take you out and make you dinner … ”
Nonononononononono do not let this happen god please, my mind was screaming.
“ … the gate … now … ”
There was no other option. I dashed to the shrouded voice before the assailants started on me, running down the stairs and both of them laughing like hyenas tailing prey.
My heart wanted to burst out of my chest and my brain was pumping every fear into my every limb. I ran to the voice, breathing ragged, and was met with the white gate in a corner of my study spot turned horror scene, rusted all over held and held shut only by a chain covered with even more decay. There was no lighting beyond the gate, and I couldn’t even tell if anyone was back there. Was there even any way to escape?
Crapcrapcrap nononono. “ … open it … you must … ”
“Come on kid! I’m starving for a taste!”
Gate. Open. Must open gate. I could not think. I planted my feet, gripped the rusted gate and heaved back. No good. Not good. Again. Again. Againagainagain. Rusted as it was the chain was resisting, but I could feel its strength giving way.
Then there were two pairs of giant, calloused hands on my shoulders, almost yanking me off of the barrier to my safety, but I clenched my fingers to that gate with an absolute deathgrip. And it was the yanking that finally got the chain broken and the gate free.
A frigid wind blew from the gateway and I fell on my butt, not because the wind was strong but because there was no one behind me anymore.
“Y O U W I L L B E A R T H E S I N S O F A N C E S T O R A N D S T R A N G E R A L I K E N O W S U F F E R”
The same voice that had been calling to me was proclaiming those words, but no longer did it sound weak: it was thundering and vindictive, and it was coming from somewhere up the stairs.
I grabbed my bag and ran upstairs, heart still pounding but relieved to my soul that whatever was going to happen that night didn’t. At the top of the stairs I was, beneath the Arches, and at the very end to my right I could see my assailants standing on either side of the structure, facing the center with arms lifted up.
They seemed to be staring at a woman in midair, her skin pale blue, translucent and covered in tattered white cloth, and she was slowly lifting her arms up, seeming to control the actions of my unsavory aggressors. It seemed as if they were becoming taller, thinner, less descript and white as bone. Their heads seemed to be coming towards the center of the Arches. By some entrancement I walked over to the ethereal happening, looking at the voiceless, stretched, pained faces of the terrible assaulters looking down on me and the ghostly lady, who I looked to next.
“ … thank you … ”
I think I’ve told about all I care to remember from that night. The gate’s been replaced and kept shut with a deadbolt since then, and I’ve still been using the place as a study spot ever since. After what happened, you’d think I’m crazy not to move somewhere safer, but there’s honestly a connection to that place I just can’t let go.
… Then again, I’ve got the key to the gate.