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The Portal

The portal opened on a Tuesday morning. It arrived suddenly, without notice. Sparks licked the concrete walls of the alleyway. Roaches scattered beneath the golden light. They hid behind dumpsters filled with tv-tray dinners and rusted syringes. They clacked their little legs against the blacktop in anticipation. The roaches witnessed the portal. They understood.

They waited for the first pilgrim to arrive.

He stood in his nightgown, shaking slightly, needle-marks peppered across his arm like reddened freckles. Greasy fingers clutched a brown paper bag—contents unknown. Brown bags were best for tossing inside the rusty dumpster. Quiet mornings were best for avoiding questions. He avoided his reflection in the shallow, muddy puddles.

But he could not avoid the allure of the shimmering portal. He stared at the portal, and he understood.

The second pilgrim fried eggs upstairs. Butter sizzled on the electric stovetop and she wished for a non-stick griddle. Her husband loathed the scrub of steel-wool on scratched iron, and she loathed her husband. There was no escaping the dregs of her apartment. No divorce. Only burnt eggs and brown paper bags for hungover mornings.

As the butter browned, she walked to the window and sampled the morning air. It smelled of diesel fumes and rats. It tasted bitter, thick, and stale. How she longed for the sweetness of the valley! Green treetops and a rustling breeze, the rough texture of ponderosa bark against her tender hands, the gentle gurgle of a creek! These simple pleasures were long ago consumed by a world of metal and rust.

As she waited at the window, the portal called to her. In her mind, she heard whispers. They were enchanting, mesmerizing, the sound of a thousand angels in chorus, calling as if to say, “a chance for a far green world.”

At the window, she glimpsed a single spark—a flash of golden light.

Barefooted, she walked outside to see the cause of such commotion, and to see if her husband had discarded the brown paper bag. The portal hummed. She gazed on the portal and understood.

There was no brown bag, no husband, no eggs burning on the stovetop; there was only the portal, and beyond.

The building cried out against the smoldering breakfast. Smoke thickened. Flames licked the flaking drywall. Within the hour, flames consumed the kitchen. Fire spread like cancer, corrupting the nearby rooms. Smoke alarms blared and shattered the silence of the still morning.

Dwellers poured out of side-exits like a faucet. In their arms, they clutched infants, computers, pictures. They scampered down fire escapes and dropped into shallow, splashing puddles.

They saw the portal.

Thoughts of saving family photos; beloved, barking teacup-mutts; and little brown paper bags vanished immediately. Their hands fell limp, their possessions fell like teardrops on the alleyway. Those trinkets lost all meaning against the summons of the portal. And the portal beckoned. The escaping dwellers stepped calmly into the warm light.

Firemen arrived. They found the building covered in a thick haze of smoke. With their fire hoses clenched, smoke-masks sealed tight, boots crushing particle board embers, they plunged forward. One-by-one they discovered a curious shimmer through the smoke.

Radios silenced. Water gushed through discarded firehoses. The dispatcher sat and listened with hushed panic and did not understand.

Reporters arrived. One cameraman fixed her lens on the burning rubble, on the street, and on the alleyway. A shining glimmer of gold cut through the haze. The cameramen stopped, smiled, and walked calmly into the smog.

In the broadcast station, confused screens froze on still images. They saw the portal. The on-air crew stood, smiled, and proceeded towards the exit. They did not take the rusting tram or the metal-on-metal bullet train. They did not drive or cycle through the busy metropolis. They walked, for they had witnessed the portal, and they understood.

Within minutes, every news station was empty. Televisions played colored blocks with crackling static. Husbands arrived home to find their wives missing, their children missing. They relaxed on suede couches. They poured themselves a cool glass of milk. Water condensed in droplets down the glass, reflecting the faint light from the television. The droplets bore witness.

Husbands joined their families in the silent procession. They never asked why, only knowing that the portal called them to a greater purpose.

Soon, the televisions played for no one.

Within days, the city plunged towards a far green world. Men marched half-naked with wet towels wrapped around their waist. Children shambled with red suspenders and Hello Kitty backpacks. Those that could walk, walked. Those that could crawl, crawled.

In prison cells, convicts heard the summons, but could not answer. In the damp of their eyes, they found themselves wanting. They did not eat or sleep—those things had been rendered irrelevant in the splendor of the portal and its great purpose. Instead, they languished.

They scratched at the bars of their cells until their fingernails split open. Dirty blood stained the masonry. They screamed and bruised their chest and clawed at the walls. One-by-one the prisoners died—the first casualties of Armageddon.

Society rebelled against the portal. Soldiers aimed weapons they thought mattered. They labored to erect plastic tarps to block the view. They failed.

Workers eventually slipped in their diligence and set their gaze upon the portal. A blink was enough—they were immediately entranced. Jackhammers fell on wet concrete. Orange vests disappeared. These workers were replaced, and the next, until there was no one left to resist.

Blockades sat abandoned on highways and city streets. Motors idled until all the gasoline dried up. The streets quieted. No more blaring of horns or squelching rubber on hot tarmac—only the quiet pitter-patter of footsteps on sidewalks.

Tens of pilgrims turned to hundreds and then to millions. Like a great wave of ants swarming across the jungle carpet, thick lines of marching men found salvation in the portal. Many marched until they collapsed, falling dirty and spent.

Parched throats begged for water but found only coppery bile and pink-tinged spittle. Last breaths pleaded for the sweet ecstasy of the portal. If only they could step through to a better world! Bare-boned hands reached towards the known direction, and there they remained until ravens feasted.

Within a month, machines ground to a rusted halt. Skies once filled with burning kerosene had cleared. A flock of wild geese flew unhindered. They stopped at the river’s edge. Wading amongst tall thickets of spikerush, they lapped the water. It was sweeter than before, not slicked with oil, not burning their throats.

In the skies again, the geese observed the thinning lines without understanding.

The portal took men and women, old and young, weak and strong. Presidents in pinstriped suits marched beside coal miners in yellow hard hats. The portal equalized. Philosophers who searched for meaning found an answer in the portal. The portal was Nirvana. The portal was Heaven’s gate. The portal was an end to all suffering.

Martyrs stepped through in their quest for salvation. Where it led, they did not care—for it must lead to someplace greener, they said. Someplace without war or sickness or famine. A far green country with rolling hills and the scent of pine and juniper on a humid wind.

Not everyone accepted their revelation. There were those that took up a hammer to their television screen, shattered glass in homemade bunkers. They beat their radios and hoarded canned tuna and laughed to themselves while the masses marched past.

But in their waking dreams, the portal beckoned.

The siren’s song was unstoppable.

One by one the preppers succumbed, starving, or raving mad in their fervor. One by one they joined the ranks of the marching. Men on foreign lands walked until they reached the refuse-filled beaches. Broken glass and plastic straws pierced their bloody feet. Still, they pressed on, like sea turtles answering an immutable call. They swam out to sea and drowned.

Years passed and concrete pillars split from rain and fire. Buildings fell like dead trees. Telephone wires rusted unburnished. Tarmac split under expanding ice from bitter, acid rain—until even the rain sweetened. Potholes socketed the streets. Grass appeared on the edges of those cracks with creeping, tender stalks.

It was springtime, and a flock of wild geese waddled out of the frog-pond. The goslings were yellow and fluffed, and growing bolder. They had never encountered a human. When they saw the last pilgrim, they followed. At last, the family of geese stood underneath the golden glow. They witnessed the portal and *understood—*the portal was never meant for them. Turning away, they grazed on yellow ivy creeping across the cracks in the concrete.

Ten years after the portal first appeared, the last footsteps fell upon the pavement. There was no eulogy, only a faint golden spark as the last warm body disappeared. The portal’s great work was finished. It vanished with summer lightning across an azure sky and left a far green world behind.

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in All Stories, Fiction, Horror

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