Seven Gates

          Rick was about as exciting as it got. Foot on the Haul Road sign, he wanted a picture shot-gunning a beer, rivulets of yellow lining his beard, chaw speckling his chin. He had finished detailing an urban legend, word-of-mouth chimera. Graveyards. Hanging ghosts of horse thieves vanishing within headlights. Haunted dams. We didn’t have points of interest like the Washington Monument or Pike’s Peak, only the Seven Gates, and we parked there most nights, drinking to Hall & Oates.
          I rubbed my stomach like a genie’s lamp. Gas or Rick’s seed may have found purchase this time. I imagined a tiny Rick-shaped blastocyst, a bean with Rick’s face rambling about high school, and I gagged. Not about Rick specifically, but over an unseen resident. My urban legend: she first felt it and knew, before the kicks, when she had transformed to a seer.
          Rick suggested pie at his mom’s. Rick’s parents lived in a hobbit house, a clapboard cave against a hill. Placemats of frolicking dogs. Bearcat scanner on the toaster oven. I was in their kitchen when my friend’s brother died, charred, hanging akimbo on a tree limb above the fried shell of his Thunderbird. Rick’s big solid mom chanting, “No. No. No.”
          “No,” I said.
          I brought my foot down on my Ford Tempo’s running board, tweaking my crotch because of my body suit and my ultra tight pants. Maybe nothing was good for a baby. “Maybe I should hang out with my friends,” I said.
          “All right.” He was real put out.
          “You mad?”
          “Monster truck rally?”
          “Fire pit?”
          “We’ve hit the quota.”
          We hung out like this on Saturday, and he asked the same questions. We’d had the pie. Ground cherry. Fruit of Ohio. His mom’s competing generalities, her chatter, against the Bearcat’s squall. After a week of high school, boredom rose to the eyes, the river’s tide.
          “Here, I’ll take a risk.” He was unsteady. He’d had five beers in an hour, creating a cairn on the Ford’s mat. I looked at the Seven Gates at the misty Allegheny. “Want to Mangle Pit?”
          Hold up. “Yessssss.” Needed a vessel for it.
          Mangle Pit was hushed and flinty and steeped in alfalfa, on a road deserted since the highway. It harbored the occasional gust of a lost driver. A mile off glowed the nimbus of Walmart’s parking lot.
          Invitations went out: Ray, Tina, Annmarie, Lily. Last Mangle Pit someone broke an arm. Someone sprained a wrist. Rick nearly fell. But he emerged in the weeds, his arms light-sabers of blue. Rick’s mom had said, “It’s a shame. It’s a shame, them car crashes.” 
          Mangle Pit meant danger, yelled Rick, denim-clad oracle, guided by Rolling Rocks. His blurred words sounded like MangoPisssss. He asked why I wasn’t drinking. I didn’t answer. Recognition created a spur in his cheeks, a quiver in his face, as if the Alleghany Goatman had a leaden hoof on his sternum.
          “But, what are you into right now? Just right now?” His expression shifted to boyish.
          “Excitement. Well, lots of emotion. No!” I had it now. “Something that feels real.”
          “I got that.”
          Hold up. “You do,” I said.
          A lit billboard of the pastor shined on us. He wore a toupee that pastor, and it creeped me. It creeped Lily when she had an abortion. I peed my pants a little. It was Mangle Pit. The pastor’s condemnation was not new, a valley mantra, the fulfillment of an expectation.
          High school lore told of the Dead Miner, warped by The Seven Gates, protecting the bridge. His headlamp could shine from nowhere, and scare you off the trestle. Three people had died. That wasn’t lore. I was psyched to do it—a walk on the trestle, a hang n’ wave from the third support for twenty seconds against the blast of bottle rockets shot from Route 52. Of course, the scariest things were the billboard, the bottle rockets. We made the scariest things.
          I grabbed the trestle to the Alleghany Mines, filigreed letters floating overhead. I wished away the Miner. I ginger-footed the support, scattering scree. My friends murmured a warning. I counted crossbeams, thinking of Tina and me last fall. We got to the middle, before swinging. Them car crashes.
          But the wind pressed me to the support. I began to regret. In my periphery, I saw a shimmering strobe of light, stopped and curled my opposing hand over metal. Despite logic, I looked for the Miner. And, his face will appear like a slipping concave, a maw with the ridges of gears.
          Pain pistoned my knuckles. I shouted the “okay” for the rockets. I swung out over the highway waiting for the Miner’s pickaxe. Three or four rockets whizzed past, toward the Pastor. They skirted a shoulder. A knuckle. My hand. I thought Bearcat Scanners. Pelted pastors. Blastocysts.
          Lungs aching, I focused my breath and changed count: one-coal-miner, two. I dangled a foot into the wind, my shoe spiraling away. I knew I looked like a Raggedy Ann, like a crazed girl mid-jumping jack, gripping a beam. I was suspended in the cheap sulfur of wasted rockets. Misguided, knowing it while rooted against my own weight pulling. I still felt some freedom, probably the only freedom. 
          I walked carefully back across the trestle as they cheered.
          Still, there was the “Jesus Christ,” the “Too much.”
          Weeds scraped tracks into my calves, before I felt Rick. A little more regret. His voice casted an enchantment. I wanted Rick to see my face, its complicated expression. Might be the last one. He was shouting, “You’re awesome.” 
          You want to hear something really scary, it will go, word of mouth like an urban legend. Me and Rick in the bucket seats of the Ford. I rubbed my side like a genie, okay with the result. The Billboard. The Rolling Rocks. The Gates of Hell, all distant. You won. You won. But, he didn’t care what.

Amanda Marbais’ fiction has appeared in dozens of journals including Hobart, The Collagist, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. She lives in Chicago where she teaches literature at Loyola University and Columbia College. She’s the Managing Editor of Requited Journal.

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