The Devil’s Gate

It was a normal day.

The outside world hummed the same tune as always. The mailman delivered the post at exactly 8:30 and the sound of wind clap and padding paws greeted me as I awoke from a dreamless night. It was another Tuesday of another month set in motion by the rotation of a universe I thought I knew so well.

The sound of branches hit against my window as an angry gust of wind flowed through the leaves. I got up from my unmade bed and whistled over to Joost, urging him to follow me to the kitchen where I filled his bowl with food. He pranced up to it, and looked up at me expectantly. Seeing that I wouldn’t be adding anything special to it, he huffed and buried his nose in the dry kibble. The cruch cruch cruch of his chewing alerted me to my own hunger. I shuffled through the contents in the fridge.

No milk. Taking a seat on the kitchen counter, I reached my hand into a box of cereal and chewed. I glanced at the calendar reading “November 1st 2016” and a bright pink post-it next to it caught attention.

Yo Scott, Holly gave me this ticket to some psychic. Really hard to get an appointment w/ her. Can’t go. Spending the weekend with Janice… Didn’t want to waste the ticket. Check it out for me
-Ronnie

A black ticket stub attached itself to the note of my roommate’s messy scrawl. I perused the flimsy strip of paper. The edges were worn as if the owners were too cheap to keep making new ones and decided to recycle the tickets they gave out. On the front, the words Madame Bodhi: The Awakener Get your fortune told today! was scripted in a lavish gold ink. I rolled my eyes and fought the urge to throw the damn thing in the trash.

I dialed Ronnie’s number in my cell. He picked up on the third ring. “Yo, what’s up?”

“What the hell is this, Ron?” I waved the stub in the air as if he could see me. “You know I don’t believe in this stuff.”

He sighed with exasperation. “Look. Holly got it for me. Nothing big, nothing serious. Just to have a little fun. She paid a lot for it, but I can’t make it tonight. Just check it out for me so I can make something up for her when she asks.”

“What the hell kind of anniversary gift is a psychic reading?”

“Don’t be a dick. You know she’s into that stuff.”

“Well, ask Matt to go.” I clutched my temples.

“He works. Check it out, all right? You owe me for Main Street.”

“Jesus. Main Street? We still on that?

“Yeah, we’re still on that,” His voice rose. “I’m still cleaning that shit out of my hair. Just go and tell me how it is so I can tell her about it.”

I paced around the room. Joost noticed my mood and whined in response. “Fine. But after this, we’re even.”

I hung up before he could respond.

Bringing the box of cereal to the couch, I turned on the TV and flipped to baseball. Outside, a storm loomed.

***

6pm rolled up and Madame Bodhi was a no show. A flyer on her door fluttered through the heavy wind, held together by a thin tape. I read it. It was a foreclosure notice. I looked around the area. Talk about a ghost town. Only two or three stores looked occupied but even then, they looked as if they were fighting to stay open. Up above me, gray clouds covered the sky threateningly.

     “I’ll make up for Main Street another time,” I decided. I walked away then, intending to drive back home, but a tavern across the street caught my attention. I halted mid step. Something about the decrepit building drew me in. As if in a trance, I headed over. The walls of the exterior were painted a garish blue, the paint peeling off revealing a tacky yellow that had been painted over. A cheap sign was posted on the edge of the roof. Neon red lit up the name The Devil’s Gate. Beside the door a stand-up chalkboard read: “Saints and Sinners Welcome. Leave your morals at the door, but your money at the bar. Remember, God doesn’t serve alcohol in heaven.”

A loud clap of thunder sounded above me. Soon after, heavy rain pelted itself against the roof forcing me to duck under the eaves of the building. I’d have to wait it out here. There was no way in hell I would be walking back to my car three blocks away in this downpour. The heavy door wouldn’t give and I had to put my whole weight into it in order for it to budge. Eventually, two men stepped out and the first held the door open for me.

I muttered a quick thanks and walked up to the bar. The soft tinkling of the bell at the knob announced my entrance, but no one bothered to notice.

  The inside of The Devil’s Gate was just as charming as the outside. Only a handful of people sat inside. Dim lights barely illuminated the ketchup stained on the tables and the vulgar phrases carved into the dulled mahogany bar. The floor looked as if it hadn’t been mopped in years and the entire room reeked of smoke and worn out leather. Pretzels scattered the ground and the wooden pillars that held up the roof smelled as if they had been soaked in whisky for more than a decade. On the far left, an overwhelming amount of Elvis posters lined the wall.

The bartender was a thick man with a heavy beard. A tattoo of Cher during her glory days lined his outer bicep. He uncapped a bottle of Blue Moon and handed it to the lady next to me.

Without looking up, he asked, “What will it be tonight?”

“Just a Heineken.” I replied.

A man behind me took the stool besides mine and ordered, “Guinness, for me Lenny.”

“Comin’ right up,” he told us.

“And can you change the channel?” The man asked. “I hate this garbage.”

The TV perched precariously on the shelf caught my attention. Lenny grabbed a remote beneath the counter and flipped the channel away from The Real Housewives of Dubai. Static from the impending storm interrupted the signal before a baseball game flashed on the screen.

An old man folded his newspaper on the table and paid avid attention to the game.

“Who’d have thought,” The lady with the Blue Moon mused. “That the Detroit Tigers would even make it this far? Against the Red Sox no less.”

I let out a strangled laugh. “The Tigers? You’re joking, right? They haven’t won a World Series in over 40 years.”

Sure enough, the sports commentator announced the current score of the game. It was the ninth inning, Detroit and Boston tied for the championship. If I had been eating the pretzels in front of me, I’d have choked on them.

I shook my head in disbelief. Speaking to no one in particular I commented, “How in the hell? But they were shit this season.”

The old man took a swig of his drink and replied. “They surprised us all, that’s for sure. Ever since they recruited that damn Macrieve, they’ve been unstoppable.”

“Macrieve?” I wasn’t too crazy about baseball, but my dad spent half his income on Red Sox memorabilia, tickets, and all. I kept up with the game to keep up with him.

Lenny piped up then, handing the patron next to me his Guinness. “He’s a great hitter. Guy can’t miss a ball for the life of him.”

I noticed I was still waiting on my order. I faced Lenny and reminded him, “Hey, man. I ordered a Heineken.”

He turned and reached inside the cooler, pulling out a bottle of Dos Equis. Jesus. I opened my mouth to tell him again, but he pulled out a Heineken right after. He was just about to uncap the bottles when the man besides me asked, “Oy, Len. How much for this Guinness?”

Lenny responded, “Eleven ninety nine, Ed.”

The bottle halted midway to Ed’s lips. “Twelve bucks?” Incredulity painted his features. “That’s three more than you usually charge.”

“Gotta make the bills. Don’t want to be forced to close like that crackpot across from me. What’s her name? Madame Berry?”

My interest piqued. “What’s the story with her? People finally figured out she was a fluke and decided not to waste their money?”

Blue Moon inserted herself back into the conversation. “Madame Bodhi. She met the same fate every other owner in this cursed street had and will. Businesses won’t thrive here.” She swiveled her bar stool and faced us to say, “No one wants to come here ever since that psycho Wroth.”

“What’d he do?” I asked.

“He swallowed a whole bottle of Bourbon, snuck a few pills in there, and lit up the entire strip of Becker.” She shaped both her hands in the form of a machine gun and made a crude sound of bullets being released from a barrel.

“Jesus.” Ed and I said in unison.

Blue Moon finished her drink and motioned for the Dos Equis. Lenny handed to her and he brought the Heineken over to where I sat. I was too interested, my thirst forgotten. She continued, “Total body count? Fifty six. At least an extra twenty injured. This place hasn’t been the same since.”

“When was this?” I asked. I hadn’t heard of this mass shooting and I had lived in the area nearly all my life.

“Happened three years ago. The anniversary was yesterday, in fact.” The old man said. “November first.”

Ed shuffled uncomfortably on his seat.

My brows furrowed. “No, you must be mistaken. Today’s the first.”

The old man ignored my comment and Lenny sighed. “Damn shame too. Half the stores on this strip couldn’t afford to pay off the damages. I thank god every day the cops were able to stop that wack job before he ruined this place beyond repair.”

The old man spoke then, “Hey, didn’t a man die right outside your place?”

“Yeah,” Lenny shuddered, as if the memory replayed in his mind. “He was young too. Barely twenty three, if I remember the reports correctly.”

I leaned in close. “Do you remember his name,” I asked.

He stroked his beard. “What was his name? Stephen? Shane? Christ, I can’t remember. But damn, the sight of it’s seared in my mind. Found him lying on his back right in front of my door. Must’ve crawled over looking for help. Didn’t make it though. Can’t remember what his face looked like but I remember that ugly lime green button up with pink flowers that clung to his body with blood. ” 

I froze at his words. Lenny continued, “Half his insides were pouring out. Poor kid had been shot at least half a dozen times.”

“Well, what’d you do?” Ed asked.

“Nothing.” At Ed’s frown Lenny said defensively, “Well, what could I do? He was nearly dead and shivering from the rain. It was storming then too. There was no saving him. Besides, I had to take care of the customers in my bar first. Three of them had been shot. Gotta take care of the living before the dead.”

I stared down at the shirt I wore. The neon pink flowers were stark against the lime green that started to fade in between washes. It had been a gag gift that Ronnie had picked up at a thrift store. “A one of a kind,” he had told me. But surely there were others like it in the area.
…the ugliest lime green button up with pink flowers…

                                                                          … The anniversary was yesterday, in fact. November first…

But today was the first. Wasn’t it?

I watched with dawning horror as Lenny took a swig of my Heineken bottle then. Realization hit me like a punch in the gut. No. Lenny took a swig from his Heineken bottle. He never brought mine over because he never heard my order. In fact, none of them actually looked at me when they talked. 

“No,” I whispered. I stood up then, my legs unstable. The rest of the room seemed to be shaking, but only I struggled to stay upright. Fear gripped my insides as I tried to make sense of things. 

I waved my hands in front of Lenny. No response. Ed. Nothing. Blue Moon merely turned away, facing the TV once again. They couldn’t see me. I wasn’t real. I let out an agonized yell and dropped my knees, hysteria grappling for control.

“Scott!” Lenny called out. I stood up, relief welling in my chest before dying down as he added, “Kid’s name was Scott. Poor family was devastated. His roommate came in with the guiltiest expression I’d ever seen on a man.”

A wave of vertigo hit me. I staggered towards the exit, the voices from the bar growing distant. They must’ve stopped talking about the massacre because a boom of laughter erupted. I didn’t make it to the exit before I collapsed near the table where the old man sat. I grasped the edges and stared at the folded newspaper beside him. In bold letters, the front heading read: “Boston Residents Pay Tribute to Fifty Six Dead from Shootout.”

An image of candles displayed in front of a wall posted with pictures of the deceased victims was printed beneath the headline. A damp ring left from the wet bottom of the old man’s glass encircled the date on the paper. November 2nd, 2019.

2019. Three years since I’d visited Madame Bodhi. 

Outside, the wind picked up and a whistling echoed through the tavern.

A sharp pain erupted in my stomach. I looked down and wounds started forming before a pool of blood gushed forth, staining my shirt. Lime green with pink flowers.

Time was up.

***

“Hey, watch where you’re going,” I said. The guy who bumped into me nearly knocked me to the ground. I looked him over and backed away. His eyes were bloodshot and he could barely stand on his two feet. Sweat dripped from his forehead. In his hand, he held a half drunk bottle of bourbon. Disgust colored my face. He pounced on me, but in his state he was too weak to do anything more than clutch at my shirt.

I shoved him away. “Get off. Jesus. Get a hold of yourself.” He fell to the floor and I walked around him.

“You’ll be sorry! You all will!” He shrieked after me weakly.

“Sure thing, asshole. I’ll be waiting.” I yelled back, chuckling.

I walked down Becker Street the wind picking up the closer I got to my destination. I reached the glass door shadowed under the violet awning. Madame Bodhi The Awakener, the sign on the glass read. Step in if you dare. Your life will change forever.

“Jesus. We are so even after this,” I muttered to myself. I went for the handle, but it opened before me, revealing a busty woman wrapped in a bright yellow shawl. Her thick rimmed glasses were cat-eyed and she regarded me coolly with all the practice of a well-rehearsed fraud.

“I saw you coming, Scott.” She cooed.

“I bet you did.”

She waved her hand inside, motioning for me to come in. “You’ve got an exciting day ahead of you.” I followed her inside.

Just as I entered, rain descended and thunder boomed.

The storm had arrived.  

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