Fate’s Gate

By Theresa Costello (Malvern, PA)

Fate’s Gate

You’ve seen my door stuck into the hill.

The locks and bolts keep me quiet and still.

The roots of trees hold me in their embrace.

Springy mushrooms and soft moss fill up my space.

Deep in the earth where mysteries dwell.

Where magic still grows like flowers in the dell.

There do I slumber, my furry head on my paws.

Stormy eyes closed and dreaming of fresh meat in my jaws.

Pointed ears twitch and turn at the small sounds they hear.

The Harvest Moon has arisen and soon I’ll appear.

Boulders tremble and quake at my growls from within.

Those who fear fate should flee for I am the Grim!

The Land Beneath

By Candy Kane (Devon, PA)

Candice was up before the sun was. She had been thinking about this day for a full week.  Today, Mombo was taking her to the Tyler Arboretum, where they would be free to spend most of the day walking and seeing the trees and leaves and maybe, some animals.  Mombo loved the woods and Tyler Arboretum had 650 acres of woods. It would be quite an exploration.

Candice dressed, making sure to wear her hiking boots that Mombo had bought her. She quickly ate the breakfast her mother had made for her brother Carter and her. She was so excited she could hardly eat.

“Candice, you must eat something,” her mother said.” Mombo will be here soon and she won’t wait for you. When Mombo is ready to go, she’ll just leave, if you’re not ready. Oh, but Candice was ready. She ate her breakfast so quickly she had a lump in the chest. Then she heard a car in the driveway. She flew out the door and joined Mombo as she hopped out of the car.  “Hi Mombo!” said Candice, breathlessly, “I’m ready, let’s go!”

Candice’s mother came out of the house and gave Mombo a kiss. “Hi Mom, thanks for taking Candice today. I know she would much rather go on an nature walk than to the game today.”

“We will have a great time! There is something wrong with you if you don’t have fun at the arboretum!” said Mombo. “Come on, Candice. It’s time for the adventure to begin!”

They waved goodbye to Candice’s mother and brother and off they went. They talked all the way about what they might see. Maybe deer, or an an opossum. Perhaps a raccoon or a fox and her kits. There is no end to what they would see in the woods.

Soon, they were there. Candice said, enthusiastically,  “Mombo, it’s so beautiful here. Which way should we go?”

“Well, a few weeks ago I started there,” Mombo pointed to the left. ” I haven’t been this way for years, so let’s go here.”

As they walked into the woods, Candice was thrilled by all the lovely sights she saw. Mombo walked one way, then turned a bit to the right. Every part of the walk was exciting and they did see all sorts of animals. Candice brought her journal with her so she could log everything she saw.  Soon, she had an entire page filled with sights she had seen.

Suddenly, Mombo shouted, “I’ve been here before! I remember this spot. Look, look at this, Candice! This tree has a hole at the bottom. Wait, it’s not really a hole, it’s a little black door. This is amazing!”

Candice looked closely at the tiny black door. It was only about a foot high and ten inches wide. She thought it was the prettiest little door she had ever seen. Of course, she hadn’t seen many tiny doors such as this. This was the first one, actually. But she was sure if there were more, they probably weren’t as nice as this one.

Mombo was consumed in thought. Soon she said, “You know, Candice, I’ve been coming here since I was younger than you. My Nanny, Margie, used to bring me here because she came here as a child. Once, I was with my brother and Margie. I ran ahead of them and found a secret underground world. I don’t know why I forgot about it, all those years ago, but I think this is it! Would you like to see what lies beneath?”

Her curiosity overcoming her fear, Candice said, “Oh yes, Mombo, I truly would, but how…”

Before Candice could finish her question, Mombo opened the door.

“I remember, now! You just start down the staircase. You just walk forward and down the steps!” And without stopping, Mombo walked into the tree, shrinking as she did.

“Wait for me, Mombo! I want to see this, too!” Candice cried.

Instantly, they were both going down the wooden staircase and into a very large, round room, with a dirt floor. There was a round needlepoint rug on the floor. The room had a kitchen at one end, and a piano at the other. A fiddle was laying atop the upright piano, as was a harmonica and a tambourine. Candice was no longer afraid, once she realized there was music down here. People who liked music had to be nice, she thought.

Candice noticed the fireplace in the kitchen, with a pot hanging from a wrought iron crane. Wonderful smells were emanating from that side of the room.

“I thought you would never come back,” a little man said, walking into the room from a doorway Candice hadn’t seen before. “I thought you had forgotten all about us.”

The little man was looking at Mombo. He had tears in his eyes.

“I’m sorry I stayed away so long. I don’t have any excuse. Actually, I may have forgotten, for a bit.” Mombo seemed different. Candice looked very carefully, now. Mombo was different. Very, very different. Mombo was getting younger. As an amazed Candice watched, Mombo, her very own grandmother, was now younger than Candice!

“Mombo, what’s happening? How can this happen? Are you still Mombo, now?”

“Yes, sweetheart, I’m just the same, why do you ask? I’ve always been the same person.” Mombo said, confused.

“But look, look in the mirror! You’re little. Your hair is really blonde and you don’t have any wrinkles anymore!” Candice shouted in alarm.

The little man smiled and said, “None of those things matter, down here. We all look better in this light.”

Candice took a good look at the little man. He wasn’t very old. In fact, he wasn’t much older than Carter and Carter was ten years old. Why had she thought he was an old man? And what had happened to her grandmother?

The little man took something from the pot and placed it in front of Candice. She didn’t think she was hungry, but the aroma was so enticing, she found herself gobbling the food. As she did, she looked up at the ceiling. She saw the bottom of carrots and asparagus, potatoes and turnips, parsnips and onions. But just the bottoms. Then, she saw the little man jump up on the counter and snip off a piece of carrot and throw it in the pot. He and Mombo talked and laughed. Candice was lost in the deliciousness of the meal, but she did hear a few words and realized they seemed to be talking like old friends. 

Soon, a little woman joined them in the room.  Again, Candice realized that this woman was looking younger than she had two minutes ago. Mombo was deep in conversation with the little man/boy, while the little woman/girl sat down at the piano. She started playing tune with a slow beat. Soon the man/boy picked up the fiddle and started playing, too. Mombo handed the tambourine to Candice and played the harmonica herself. The little people played faster and  faster. Soon they were all playing and dancing to a wild beat. This went on for what seemed a few hours.

“Mombo, this is the best place I’ve ever been.” Candice said, dancing and twirling, madly. “I don’t ever want to leave. I love the music!” Soon, Candice looked around and saw many children her age and younger, dancing as wildly as she was.  They danced for hours and then the music got slower and slower. Candice had been dancing for the last few minutes with her eyes closed. When she opened them, the other children were gone and just Mombo, the woman/girl and the man/boy remained. 

“I think it’s time for you to take Candice back to her mother,” the man/boy said.

“I know you’re right, but I so hate to leave. I don’t want to forget this place, again.”

“You won’t,” said the man/boy. “You’ll keep it in your dreams and in your heart. And some day, when you need me, I’ll be here and we can dance again.”

Candice started to cry. “I don’t want to leave. I want to keep dancing with the other children. I want to hear more music.”

The little woman/girl spoke for the first time.

“You have a family to go home to. The children you saw today had no one. We’ve made our own family here. We dance and sing and cook lovely meals. We will always be here, if you really need us. You can come back and visit the world that lies beneath.”

They said their goodbyes and walked up the wooden staircase. Mombo led the way. As they climbed, Candice noticed Mombo’s  hair changing color. Mombo turned to help Candice out of the tree. Mombo was aging. Her wrinkles were coming back. As soon as they reached the foot of the tree and closed the door, Mombo was back to the grandmother she knew.

“What a fabulous adventure! Wasn’t that the most fun ever, Candice?” Mombo gushed.

Candice thought of the last few hours. “Mombo, wait. I want to write all of this down, before I forget it.”

“Candice, how could you forget this day?” Mombo questioned. “You can write about it when you get to the car and sit down. For some reason, my feet are killing me.”

“Do you think it’s from all the dancing, Mombo?” Candice wondered, as they continued to walk back to the car?

“Don’t you mean hiking, Candice. We couldn’t very well dance in the middle of the woods, even though it would be great fun. But there’s no music.” Mombo stated.

Candice thought for a moment. Why did she say ‘dancing’.  She must be very tired.

“I think I’m going to sleep on the way home, Mombo.”

“I think that’s a good idea, Candice. The hike made me very sleepy, too. I guess I’m not as young as I used to be.”

And that night and for many nights that followed, Candice dreamed of music and children dancing and carrots that grew through the roof. Of men that were boys and women that were girls and a little girl that reminded her a lot of Mombo. As the years flew by, she had fewer and fewer of those dreams. But when people disappointed her or made her sad, she would dream a dream that made her happy. She would dream of going to a place of music and friendship, of youthful joy. She would let her dreams take her back to the land beneath.

What Lies Beneath

By Robert H. Lehmann (Philadelphia, PA)

It was at the Tyler Arboretum that I chose to take a jaunt during my lunch hour.  I’d not been there before but had heard good things about it and, as the weather was fine — one of the last days of summer or the first days of autumn, the notion of leaves rustling underfoot and changing color above my head was a compelling respite from the work-a-day world. 

As I strolled aimlessly through the Arboretum, eschewing any of the paths for the unguided wilderness rambles, I chanced upon a door which obviously opened into a chamber dug into the hillside.  The door had an intriguing, quaint charm about it: a story-book quality of Bavaria, of the Brothers Grimm or Hansel & Gretel.  Yes, that’s what it reminded me of: Hansel and Gretel.  Not their homes, but of the house they discovered in the forest.  Likely built during the Romantic Age of the late nineteenth century, judging not just from its apparent age (lichen & moss encrusted) but its whimsical styling, too.

But what was it doing here?  Had I to guess, I’d have thought it the door to an ice-house of some nearby but long-gone mansion. Or maybe the mausoleum of some band of eastern Europeans who had stayed for a time and then moved on.  But the park guide made no mention of any such thing, emphasizing rather the pristine wilderness of the place.

As I pondered the door, a lizard scrambled down from the hillside into which the door was set and passed by it.  Almost. For all of their quicksilver motions, darting about, this lizard seemed to move sideways, as though, not seeking refuge or hunting prey, it had been pulled by a strong vacuum underneath the door.

Still, the odd motion notwithstanding, this did seem exactly the sort of place a lizard would find at home; dark, damp, apparently undisturbed. Thus I settled in to see whatever other life inhabited this forgotten place. 

My wait was not long. Fairly soon thereafter, a chipmunk, those charming comedians of the rodent world, scrambled through the leaves, chancing about to examine first one acorn, which was rotted and then a second, which was not and he ate it. Progressing in his tack, he passed by this strange door, sniffed the air from the bottom and instantly turned and ran in the opposite direction, away from the door. Again, what appeared to be a vacuum seemed to pull him backwards towards the door. Though the animal was clearly scrambling to go forward, it was moving backward, being sucked by some vortex which disturbed neither the nearby leaves nor the scrub grass.

And then he was gone, underneath the door. 

By now, needless to say, I was transfixed by this mysterious door. As I sat there watching, I became conscience of a lightheadedness, that, though my breathing was normal, I was losing oxygen with each breath. For every perfectly normal breath in, it seemed as though I exhaled a breath-and-a-half, as if — is this possible? — the same force that had suctioned the lizard and the chipmunk was now pulling the breath out of me! 

Before I had been merely mesmerized; now I felt that this strange door held me in its thrall. Lightheaded as I was, my limbs were not mine to command, my decisions were not mine to make and I found myself walking forwards toward the door. As I drew closer, I could see that the door was partly ajar — something I could not failed to have noticed as I’d sat there watching it. But there is it was, mosses undisturbed, as though it had always been open just that crevice, waiting for the hand of the curious to pull it open. But I was no longer curious and the urging did not come from me.

And then there was a metallic-sounding voice, coming, not from the depths behind the door, but up on the bluff, above me and to the right. 

“Yo, buddy — can’t ya hear me? I’ve been yelling at you for the last five minutes.” It was a mounted Park Ranger speaking through a bullhorn. “The park’s closing if 15 minutes; ya gotta start makin’ yer way to the exit.”

And for a nameless time, I looked at his face and it seemed it was not the face of a man or woman, but that of some sort of troll or gnome and I couldn’t be certain that it wasn’t the horse who’d spoken! For an insane moment, my most fierce desire was to run through the doorway and protect myself from this alarming vision, who’s countenance was surely the projection of my own imaginings. 

As last I broke free from the mental grip of both specters and scrambled up the hill the way I had come hence, knowing the path there would lead me back to the entrance. In the lengthening shadows I wondered how it was possible that I could have been there for well over 4 hours — I’d come for my lunch hour and had no notion that any amount of time had passed since I’d gotten there. I dared not look back at either specter, though I could hear the iron shoes of the horse striking the occasional rock as it moved through the rustling leaves and, from what I could tell without looking, blessedly it was not following me but seemed to be moving down into the hollow where the door lay ajar.

As I reached the Arboretum’s gate, I could see that mine was the last car in the lot and a man was standing there waiting to lock the gate. 

“Sir, I’m sorry if I kept you late; I must’ve dozed off.  If your Ranger hadn’t called to me, I’m sure I’d be there still.”

“No problem, mister — we’re just closing now. But we ain’t got no Park Rangers. Likely just somebody out for a ride, though they’re not supposed to be cutting through the Arboretum.  All-in-all, it’s just as well they did way you: dark as pitch in there at night and you’d be walkin’ around bumpin’ into trees and who-knows-what-all and you’d never find your way out.”

Never.

What Lies Beneath

By Kathleen Doll Cristofaro (West Chester, PA)

My sister, Sally and I stumbled upon the half hidden doorway as we were looking for frogs in the forest. The door not only looked ancient but it seemed to dare us to explore what was lying beyond its threshold. “You go first” my sister Sally teased me as she gave me a push through the small doorway. “If there’s a hungry troll living in this cave he can eat you first while I make my escape.” Just before the creaky door slammed behind us we saw the room led into a narrow tunnel.

 “Why do you have to be so mean sometimes?” I asked as I held my hands out in front of me in the darkness. “And Sally, of course Mr. Troll would eat me first because I am your sweet as sugar sister.” I said with a laugh. Though it was dark in the little cramped room I was sure that Sally was standing behind me with a sour expression on her face and maybe even sticking her tongue out at me too.   

 “What’s the matter Patrice? Are you scared?” Sally taunted me as she sensed my hesitation to walk any further. I suddenly wished we were in the sunlit forest. I was afraid of the dark but pretended not to be as I took a deep breath and gave a loud whistle. The musical sound bounced off the walls with an eerie echo. I shrugged off my fears, “Hey Sally, maybe this tunnel leads to a flask of magical fairy dust. Then we’ll have powers to fly around the moon instead of only pretending at home when we jump off our beds.” I heard Sally’s shallow breath speed up as she whispered “I’m scared.” “Oh don’t be so silly Sally and remember this adventure was your idea.” Then I added hopefully, “Since this tunnel is so narrow let’s trail our hand on either side of us. Then no werewolves will be able to get past us. How’s that for a plan?” My proud feeling quickly left as I heard Sally snicker. “Oh Patrice, do you hear yourself?  The monsters won’t be able to get past us which means that you and I won’t be able to get past them either. Real good idea Scarecrow.”  I shuffled my feet forward and away from Sally hoping she wouldn’t notice my sulking silence of hurt feelings.

We fell into step with each other for a bit until suddenly we both broke out into screams. We had walked right into a curtain of wispy spider webs that attached themselves to our clothes, hair, hands, face….Yuck!  We brushed ourselves off as our hearts pounded.  I was surprised to feel Sally’s sweaty hand reach out and grab mine tightly. Then she reached over with her other hand and pinched my arm. “Ouch! What did you do that for?” Sally only laughed.  After taking a few steps I stopped and yanked her close to me. “What was that?” I whispered in a shaky voice.   “What? What?” Sally whined.  “I didn’t hear anything.  Do you think it’s a Gargoyle or a possum?” “Shhhhhh! Listen!” I demanded.  Only when I was positive that Sally was straining to hear, I leaned over and shouted “BBBBBOOOOOOOOO! loudly into her ear.” 

 Sally jumped higher than a frog and pushed away from me so fast that we both lost our balance. Even after bumping my head on the wall but I couldn’t stop laughing.  I heard Sally crawling towards me, “You are simply awful to have done that Patrice.” Sally snuffled.  I immediately regretted my joke as I could tell she was close to tears.  “Sally I’m sorry.  Are you okay?” I asked with concern.  “Okay, sure.” She answered.  “I guess I won’t pinch your arm anymore. I’m sorry too.” she admitted as she helped me up.  “We better retrace our steps back to the door before Mom starts getting worried.” I said.  Then I heard Sally chuckle, “It’s okay Patrice, I’ll just tell Mommy you forced me to come down here with you.”  I was glad my sister could not see me make a face at her in the dark. 

“Look!” Sally shouted excitedly.  Coming to the end of tunnel we found ourselves in a small room.  A dim ray of light suddenly surrounded us.  We could barely make out that this was the end of the tunnel. But where was the glow coming from?  “It’s Magic,” was all I could figure to say. Then I saw the terror on Sally’s face as she pointed to something over my shoulder. “A monster!” she yelped.  I turned and gasped.  “Oh my goodness, it’s a Witch!” We screamed as we held onto each other.  Then right before our eyes the image changed. 

The Monster was gone and in her place a pretty lady stood across the room from us.   In awe I pointed. “Oh, she’s beautiful!” at the same time Sally said “WOW, it’s an Angel.” 

Suddenly the room was pitched back into darkness but not before we got our bearings and ran down the tunnel path in the direction of the door.  “Sally. Wait for me.”  I shouted as I scrambled after her.  We both got to the small wooden door at the same time and before we could even turn the knob, it opened.  We tripped over the threshold and fell into a heap at the feet of our Mom.  “I thought that was where you both escaped to. I sure hope you left some dust and cobwebs down there for the next set of curious kids.” Mommy said as she knelt down beside us and wiped our faces with her lilac scented handkerchief. Mommy pulled us both into her lap with a laugh.  We were so happy to be back in the sunlight that Sally and I threw our arms around each other and Mommy too.    

An amused smile played across the Mother’s freckled face as she looked at her precious daughters, Sally and Patrice. “So girls, what did you see past the tunnel?”  Both Sally and Patrice looked at each other in a silent dare until Patrice spoke up.  “I saw a Witch!  Then she shifted and suddenly a beautiful lady appeared.  Then the light started going out and Sally was so scared that she took off running and I ran too but only to make sure she was safe.”

Sally made a face at Patrice then looked she picked up the story when she was sure she had their Mothers’ attention. “I saw an ugly monster then somehow she turned into the most beautiful angel this side of the clouds. Then I thought I heard you calling so I ran, not because I was afraid like Patrice was.”

Mom was quiet for a moment and hugged us both in her arms as we sat together.  “You both saw something ugly, which turned into something pretty, right? Do you girls have an explanation for that?” their mother asked with smile in her voice. “It was a wizard playing tricks on our eyes?” Patrice volunteered. “Maybe it was a trapped Genie.” Sally offered.  “Nope, it was neither of those.” The sisters were surprised to hear their Mom say. 

Patrice’s eyes filled with tears. “Pinkie Swear Mommy.  I really did see a lady, and she was almost as pretty as you too. Her eyes had a sparkle of playful tenderness in them and her smile is like yours sometimes, nice but sad too.” “What a perfect description Patrice.” Sally said. “That is the same lady I saw too.  Do you think she’s a captured guardian angel? Where do you think she came from? Do you think that Witch ate her?  Should we go back and try to free her?  Is her Mom looking for her? Do you think she is afraid of spiders too?”

Patrice swiped her tears away “Well, I hope the spiders spun a web on that ugly witch. Oh she was awful, right Sally?” Patrice’s sister huddled closer to their Mom as she nodded for Patrice to continue.  “Her mouth was drawn out in such an ugly fashion and her eyes were like icy slivers of meanness.  I hope she never comes out of that dark place.  I think the Angel rescued us so the ugly one won’t follow after us. Right, Mommy?” 

“Well girls, let me tell you a secret. I actually know what lies beneath because that door has been there for centuries. When your Grandma Pasqualina was young she set out to explore that old cave too. Even your very own Mother has the same story too. We all saw the same pretty lady and the ugly lady too.  Funny thing is though it was years ago, I think I was about the same age as you both are now.  Can you tell me what you found out about what lies beneath? I’ll give you a hint. You see this everyday and whatever you put into it, it gives right back.  What is it? Guess.”  Sally and Patrice looked at each other with huge eyes waiting for their Mom to give them the answer.

“The truth is we all either see the same thing or something different.  But there is only one answer for all of us.  We all saw the angel because in this lifetime that is what each of us will become to others at times.  We all also saw the witch which is a reminder that there is a potential to be ugly but it does not stay if you are full of goodness.  Now how about you girls show me how to catch a frog.  Come on my little sweet little Angels.”  Mommy said.

As Mommy swung us off her lap, Sally got to her feet and planted a little kiss on Mommy’s cheek then leaned over and gave me one too.  As we got to our feet Mommy took Sally’s hand and mine into her own as we happily skipped down the forest trail. 

 Later that night as I chatted with the Moon I told him the secret I learned that afternoon. What lies beyond that door is a small room holding the very best of what lies beneath. It is more than imagination and fears. I knew the answer to Mommy’s question but I wanted the secret to remain guarded. There is good and bad in all of us but we must hope to always be our best down to the skin of our souls. It was hard to believe that what lies beneath is nothing more than our true selves reflected in a Magic Mirror……….

What Lies Beneath

By George Ambrose (Lansdowne, PA)

The ants tell stories of what goes on here
But what do nosy neighbors know
Of what lies beneath?

We worms don’t say much.
We just get the job done.
Eating forest litter and turning it to loam.

Making soil so rich
That it’s kept behind a large, locked door.
And that’s what lies beneath.

You might peek in
But all you’ll see is the darkness,
Where we work our magic.

Other bugs, millipedes and such,
May come and go, but it is us
Who lie beneath.

No one rakes the forest leaves
And yet in Spring, they’re gone.
Do you think the fairies do it?
Then you would be wrong!

It’s us, the worms, that lie beneath
Working without being told
Busy turning leaf litter into forest “gold.”

What Lies Beneath

By George Ambrose (Lansdowne, PA)

It was not the Painter brothers’ habit to fell storm-damaged trees—unless they posed a danger. The old beech had seen many things before the severe summer storm both struck it with lightening and later blew it over, not down, but over. It arched across the nearby creek and its branches served as props, that kept it from falling.

The brothers kept an eye on it as they worked their farmstead. Interesting things happened around the old beech. Flowers , that were found no where else on the property, bloomed beside it in the Spring. After rains, “fairy rings” of mushrooms sprouted there too. And something was always nesting in the gnarled branches and even in the partially exposed roots. Mice, birds, squirrels, a weasel, and woodpeckers all lived there. It was always home to some creature.

Some years passed, and the old tree stopped putting out leaves. But it didn’t fall.The brothers thought of this tree as a friend, calling it “the old man.” They even saw what resembled a face in its weathered bark after the storm blew it over. They would greet it as they passed: “Good morning, old man!”

Finally, after many years, because its branches could not support its weight, the tree did fall. Because the upper parts were now blocking the creek, it had to be cut and moved. The now-exposed roots and bottom trunk were too large and posed no danger, so they were left where they were. (You can still see it near the Spring House.)

As for the rest, the brothers decided to give it “a proper burial.” “What did you have in mind?” one asked. “Something special” was his brother’s reply. And so they made plans. Since they already had a place where they gathered mulch and clippings and limbs to use on various garden projects, the plan was “only natural.”

So in a sunny knoll not far from where it stood, the remains of the old beech were crafted into an “eyebrow door” that arched over the hillside repository. Its arched shape resembles an eyelid “so the ‘old man’ can still watch over these woods”. There is a window and some vent holes so just enough air circulates around the rich loamy contents inside.

Thus, the old beech was given a fitting resting place by the brothers who loved trees.

first impressions

By Dan Ruppel (Montreal, Canada)

“I’m just thrilled to have met you”
Your hands run across the old door
Sun-speckled in the leafy world.
“I’ve got to…” “I know” “…go back”
“Right,” and the shadows aren’t
growing any shorter now.
It’s a quick nod and a smile
through tears, a quick laugh
and your, “thanks, it was magical”
Now I laugh, too, for
you’ve shown me what
lies beneath those
first impressions and
I’ll miss you for it.
“Well I’m thrilled to have met you,
too.”  But the door’s
already open
and your shadow’s
growing longer
(your wings flutter)
as you leave.