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And yet another flash fiction from FB: A decision needs to be made. Quickly.

“It’s the last gate you’ll ever walk through. I’d hoof it.”

Junie jumped and turned around, trying not to look at the tormented statues in the dead garden. There was a man there, old, with a white beard and grey-dark skin. “What…where did you come from? Where am I? I don’t know…”

“How you got here?” He didn’t smile – or answer her other questions. “You showed up about half an hour ago, pitched in head first. Now you got to make a choice, little girl, and you got to make it fast. Go through the gates before they close up again, or stay here with the others.”

She looked back at the gates. They looked like wrought iron, but the framework around them was equal parts stone, bone, and twisted dead-looking trees. They were set up high atop steep stairs made from grinning skulls, and beyond them all she could see was sickly pale sky and the shadows of more trees. “What others?”

This time he did chuckle. “The ones you been tryin’ not to look at. The ones who were too scared to make a decision. Once the gates closed, they were stuck. In more ways than one.”

Did he mean…Junie forced herself to focus in on the nearer statues. Some were old and crumbling, others newer with their polished surfaces showing few cracks. They were all done in the ‘classical style’ – meaning naked – but the poses were anything but beautiful. Some were arching, others twisted, a few contorted painfully. The feet of the statues appeared to be encased in their bases, and greenish gray vines had crept and twined around the white stone limbs and bodies in eerily identical patterns.

And every face, every single face, was frozen in a silent scream, above which wide-open eyes were fixed unmoving on the gates.

Junie turned and ran. Head first. She’d been on a motorcycle with a friend, a car had stopped right in front of them. Vines caught at her ankles, bit at her arms; she tore herself free. The skulls were slippery, but she clawed her way up them and squeezed herself into the narrowing gap between the rough iron bars, barely making it before they closed together so tightly a piece of paper wouldn’t have fit between them, nearly catching one of her hands.
She caught her breath, looked around. Pale sky above, and down the stone steps a deep bowl of a valley filled with more twist-branched trees. And a path, leading into the mist that wove around the trunks, a path that looked like it had been made by people walking. She heard the old man’s chuckle again, although he was nowhere to be seen. “Brain-dead’s best,” his voice said, dry as wind brushing past dead branches. “Leaves you free. Comatose…that’s dead-alive and stuck. Go on now, get away from those gates – ain’t nothin’ for you there. You chose freedom, so now you’ve got it to use.”

Junie looked back through the gates. A statue near the front caught her eye, its face tormented almost into unfamiliarity but not quite. She looked at him for a long moment, wondering if he could see her – wondering if he could see anything but the nearness of freedom he’d been too scared to reach – and then she turned and walked down the stone steps, following the path. She was free.

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