Queer. Writer. Traveler. Epileptic. Gaymer.

Bill poorly mimics the drum blast of Metallica’s ‘One’ against the steering wheel of his 1991 Ford Ranger as his daughter, Lily, giggles at his exaggerated enthusiasm. It’s mid April and they’re on the 202 headed west towards Winthrop after a nostalgic morning of strawberry chocolate chip pancakes at the Augusta House of Pancakes. Not the catchiest title for a diner, but nonetheless, it’s the finest kind of breakfast food in Kennebec County; heck, maybe even all of Maine. Bill smiles back at his daughter, then continues to sing along to the breakdown before the song’s lengthy guitar solo. Lily turns toward the window admiring the seemingly endless rows of pines as they turn onto the camp road. Those from away are usually baffled by highways that lack advertisement billboards selling the latest fast food or even bible verses pointed at teens who are considering abortion. Mainers find comfort in driving, outside of winter of course. They’re able to embrace the full beauty in which the snow blankets the forests, then gently melts weeping into the streets as mud season begins. From there, they witness the green grass peek from the earth’s surface, and maybe just a bit more snow just because. As it reads, or read, crossing the state line, “Welcome to Maine: The Way Life Should Be”.

Bill pulls onto the entrance road underneath a giant log that reads ‘True Cove Camp for Boys’. He’s the groundskeeper and gardener during the offseason for this boys sports camp. Their headquarters are in New York, as are most of these hoity toity New England summer camps, however this camp holds values close to his own. Brotherhood. Faith. Tradition. Bill shifts the truck into neutral, turns the radio down, and looks to Lily.

“You ready?” he asks, playfully nudging her shoulder with a key ring.

“To pull weeds for the next six to eight hours? You betcha,” Lily sarcastically replies.

Lily snags the key ring from her father and exits the truck approaching the locked gate blocking the way avoiding puddles of mud. As she inserts the key into the well weathered padlock, a Monmouth police officer pulls into the drive. Bill exits his truck, right hand gripping the pistol tucked in the driver side dash. Lily eyes the car, pulling her hands away from the lock. Everyone’s still. A loon calls from the lake adjacent to the road as Bill tightens his grasp eagerly waiting for the officer to make a move. Suddenly, the car door opens and the officer steps out.

“Gary?” Bill says to himself as the police officer steps out.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Bill questions, walking towards him.

Lily sighs in relief, then continues to fumble with the rusted lock. Pulling the wrapped chain, the gate creaks as she swings it open.

“Just checking in. Wicked muddy out here, your truck gonna make it up the hill?” Gary asks.

“Yeah, Gar. We should be just fine,” Bill says, moving Gary along.

Gary eyes the bed of Bill’s truck. There’s a large blue tarp covering most of the contents with a few shovels and other miscellaneous gardening equipment sticking out.

“Alright,” Gary starts, readjusting his waist.

“Have at it, give me a shout if you run into any trouble. One must be so careful these days afterall,” he advises.

“Will do, Gar. Thanks,” Bill waves him along.

Gary drives off while Lily jumps back into the truck as Bill continues on the entrance road. The truck wobbles a bit as it attempts to navigate the deep wells of mud. Bill eases off the gas pedal looking over his shoulder out the drivers side window. Suddenly, he slams on the gas just making it past the slippery entrance at the bottom of the hill.

“Every time,” he smirks.

As they pass the first set of sports fields, Bill reminisces about the day Lily was born. She’s sick of the same story year after year but knows her father loves to tell it, especially since her mom passed. He talks about how that spring was wetter than most and while they were churning the old soil with new fertilizer the only sign of life was a Tiger Lily beginning to bloom amongst the natural debri of the baron garden beds. The sun peeked through the overcast skies illuminating the morning dew as if the gods themselves were weeping tears of joy for the birth of an angel. As fate would have it, the first sun shower of spring coincided with her mothers water breaking.

“You’re disgusting. You know that, right?” Lily responds.

“Wouldn’t have it any other way,” Bill smiles, pulling the key from the ignition.

Parking adjacent to the dining hall, the garden is home to a variety of fruits, vegetables, and herbs used right next door inside the camp kitchen providing organically grown meal options with fresh ingredients. Also, a few times throughout the summer, Bill comes out to teach a handful of campers about proper garden maintenance and the best times to harvest. He believes the next generation is falling behind on the importance and benefits of an agricultural education.

Lily throws her water bottle to the side of one of the baron beds along with a shovel and a rake. Bill releases the tie downs over the truck’s bed, then grabs some equipment from the back. They both proceed to put on some work gloves.

“Alright, let’s get to it,” Bill begins, gripping one end of the blue tarp. 

“Hooray for us,” Lily adds.

Bill pulls the tarp revealing a morbid collection of limbs. The amount, along with the aroma, is unsettling to say the least, as if they were the rejected pieces of Frankenstein’s monster. Lily grabs the arm of what seems to have been a child.

“Well, shit. Poor little guy,” she starts, pulling their flesh closer to her nostrils.

After an inflated, and uncomfortably enjoyable, inhalation of the rotting appendage Lily sinks her teeth into the meatiest part of the forearm.

“Hey, we just ate breakfast,” Bill shouts.

“My bad, it’s been a year for me too, remember?” Lily replies, tossing the remains aside.

“That’s why we kept our chosen offerings at home. We wait for the Dark Prince—”

“To reveal himself underneath the crescent moon. I’m aware,” Lily recites.

Bill reaches out to Lily, they clasp hands and bow their heads collectively towards the garden.

“Dark Prince,” Bill starts.

“We offer to you that which has been taken from your enemy,” he continues. Lily joins in.

“The false gods sheep; stripped, tortured, and slaughtered. May your darkness spread from our words to their blood within this soil. Turn their ignorant minds to rubble, and their hearts to darkness through the earth’s growth, their sustenance, and your nourishment,” they chant.

“Praise be to you, Dark Prince,” they finish.

END.

Written and submitted for Cemetery Gates Media April 2021 theme ‘The Burial of the Dead’

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

Father Matthews impatiently scrolls through last year’s Christmas concert photos on his phone. The blue light from his device reflects off his clerical collar, dimly illuminating the confined confessional closet walls. Light rainfall can be heard trickling off the church roof onto the sidewalk outside. A collection of altar boys change the pace of his scrolling as he nervously pauses listening for the presence of another. Not a peep from the pews, he eagerly zooms in while his pupils dilate against the brightness like a reflecting pool at the shallowest depth of an abandoned wishing well. Abruptly, the church doors open. Father Matthews fumbles his phone to the ground; it audibly bounces on one corner eventually landing flat, screen down. Embarrassed, he twiddles his thumbs awaiting the first confession penitent. As the door closes behind them, drops of water crash onto the service room floor. They’re still. Father Matthews stool creaks as he readjusts his seating position. Finally, the footsteps slog forward bit by bit. Eventually making their way to the confession booth, Father Matthews can barely make out what seems to be a small child’s bare feet outside the red curtain draped over the parishioner’s entrance. They wait; wet and cold, sporting and a pale blue complexion. Drops of water fall from their shivering chin echoing through the vacant chapel. They enter.

Silence resides from both parties as Father Matthews awaits the child’s plea for forgiveness. There’s nothing. The quiet hovers overhead, it’s deafening; unfair even. Father Matthews starts to take a breath about to address the child as they promptly begin sobbing.

“Speak, child,” Father Matthews starts.

“Forgive me Father,” he whimpers in pain.

“Proverbs 28:13 tells us whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy,” Father Matthew recites.

“Confess, and you’ll find mercy,” he commands.

“You first,” the boy’s tone shifts as he begins to snicker.

A thick bubbling mixture of blood and fecal matter begin to ooze between the cracks of the confessional partition. The boiling excretion eats through the faded wood panelling underneath Father Matthews feet as his phone vibrates wildly. Reaching for his mobile device the boy on the screen menacingly cackles as he warps into that of demonic proportions. His screen shatters, shooting glass shards into his eye sockets and neck.

An overwhelming sense of panic takes over Father Matthews while he pulls his feet up from the vanishing floorboards. Reaching blindly around him, the vulgar concoction singes his hand and continues devouring the flesh making its way slowly up his arm as he begins to beg for help.

“Help! Somebody,” he screams.

In aims to stay alive, he carefully lowers one foot towards the floor. Immediately, the rubber sole of his shoe smolders adding the stench of burnt rubber to the already unbearable aroma.

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,” he begins to pray.

His stool creaks as the structure begins to crumble around him. He quickly shuffles to the furthest edge of the booth bringing his knees to his chest and resting his head against the wall.

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” he continues between spouts of crying.

The boy continues to heckle the priest’s anguish and sorrow laughing at his despair.

“Enough!” Father Matthews shouts.

Barreling both feet through the remaining wall of the booth he crashes through the other side hastily pulling himself through. Landing face first onto the cobblestone service room floor he turns in pain underneath the stained glass portrait of Daniel in the Lion’s Den.

Outside, the storm passes and although Father Matthews has been blinded, he can feel the warmth from the sun shimmering off the blood dawned upon his cheeks. The antagonizing simmer of flesh eating sludge fades as it descends into Hell through the pit it created. Grateful to be shown mercy, he takes a breath in coughing as he exhales. The phone from his office begins to ring.

Picking himself up, he wraps the remainder of his sleeve around the open ended limb that once was his right arm. The insufferable pain brings him to his knees as the wound squelches against the gritty fiber and rotted flesh. Nauseous, he rests his forehead on a pew bench vomiting profusely onto the floor. The answering machine from his office picks up.

“Father Matthews?” a woman questions, seemingly distraught.

“It’s Diane, Samuel’s mother,” she states.

Father Matthews lifts his chin in terror.

“He killed himself last night,” she says, barely keeping herself together.

Father Matthews acknowledges the irreversible damage he has done as his tears pool alongside his chunder in a pattern that imitates the evil and ugliness of an early painting by Adolf Hitler.

“Did he say anything to you during choir practice last night? Please, give me a call when you can. Bless you Father,” she concludes.

“I’m sorry,” he begins to apologize.

“Forgive me, Father,” he pleads.

His office phone rings once more. Each ring pokes further into him as he continues a blubbering mess surrounded by unoccupied pews. Voicemail picks up.

“Hi, Father Matthews? This is Father Jefferies from Second Light Ministries, I’m calling to let you know that your transfer request has been accepted. Let us know when you can start, I know moving can be quite the task but it seems by now you must be a professional. Eight different congregations in the last decade alone? Impressive. We’re eager to serve beside you, blessings to you Father,” he finishes.

Written and submitted for Cemetery Gates Media March 2021 theme ‘Haunted Church Confessional’

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

“Quiet,” they bark at the boy chained to the corner of the room.

His face dawns blood, dried upon his cheeks, welled from his recently emptied eye sockets.

“Momma,” he cries.

“I said quiet, boy,” they demand once more.

“You don’t want me to kill her, do you?” they threaten, hovering a peculiar knife over a corpse.

Their hinged blade punctures through the vessel’s torso, the blood collects along the edges of the observation table trickling down into two separate oak barrels. Wax melts onto the cold concrete floor as candles dimly illuminate arcane symbols hastily scribbled on the cracked stone walls. Poorly secured shelves present mason jars like trophies containing a variety of liquids and herbs preserving indistinguishable monstrosities. Thin twine hangs severed fingers over the boy’s head accompanied by chimes made with empty bottles filled with teeth like some sort of nightmarish crib mobile. A gust rushes through the corroded steel barred cellar window. The witch is still, they place the blade aside admiring the crescent moon’s pleasant shift from a calming cool blue to a warm orange hue. Revealing themselves from the darkness, their flesh is torn almost down to the bone, their face is mostly burned making their jaw the only distinguishable feature, and their figure is as fragile as the crystal glassware scattered amongst the cellar tabletops.

“It’s time,” they say.

The witch gathers a candle, their spellbook, and a copper goblet reforged by thirteen generations of blacksmiths belonging to the Paladins of Criafar. Placing the candle in front of the boy, they kneel lighting it ceremoniously. The boy quivers, whimpering before the presence of the witch who mockingly smirks at him turning through their spellbook with intent, and pleasure, to harm him.

“Please,” the boy starts.

“I just want to see momma,” he pleads.

“Don’t worry,” they scoff.

“You will,” the witch whispers into his ear.

Rising, they grasp the goblet with purpose, presenting its copper casing towards the moonlight revealing a hidden text that glows a similar orange tinge. The text is illegible however symbols throughout match those drafted amongst the walls. The witch submerges the goblet in one of the oak barrels, filling its contents with blood. The blood bubbles for a moment, further highlighting the goblet’s engravings. The witch indulges themselves by inhaling the steam as if it’s a warm cup of cider on a gloomy fall afternoon. The bubbles settle and the glow fades as the witch again approaches the boy. The boy continues to whine as the witch begins to gently caress his cheek.

“Shhh….there, there, boy,” the witch consoles him.

“Where’s momma? Is she alright?” he stammers.

“Momma’s resting, dear,” the witch answers glancing over at the corpse on the table.

“Momma, momma please,” he continues.

As the boy continues to call out, the witch forcibly tightens their grip on his jaw. Mouth agape, he pulls against the steel restraints, pleading for freedom. The witch ignores his requests, raises the goblet to his lips and looks towards the moon.

“Under the moon, that’s been set ablaze. Over the boy, with a stolen gaze. Consume the blood of this bastard’s creator, for life will be restored near death, but no later,” they read aloud.

The witch pours the boys’ mothers blood into his mouth, he quickly begins to choke on its thick consistency. Coughing up blood onto himself, the witch tosses the goblet aside and proceeds to close the boy’s mouth and clasp his nostrils shut.

“Swallow it boy,” the witch commands.

“Don’t you want to see momma?” they ridicule as the boy’s limbs writhe within the shackles.

Unwillingly, the boy swallows his mother’s blood. The witch holds him a bit longer enjoying his struggle, eventually tossing him back to the corner. On his hands and knees, the boy gasps for air in between dry heaves. The witch waits, staring attentively. Suddenly, the boy releases an otherworldly screech, stretching his limbs as far as the restraints will allow. He collapses. The witch draws nearer, optimistic. Immobile, the boy’s body lays lifeless on the cellar floor amongst a puddle of his blood and urine.

Anxiety overcomes the witch as they straddle the boy’s corpse. Eyeing the window, the moon begins to slowly return to its original temperate blue color. Rushing towards their spellbook, the witch begins to doubt themselves frantically sifting through the pages, carefully reviewing the ritual once more. Shackles begin to rustle behind them, relieved they grin turning towards the boy who gradually awakes. Stretching his arms out, he rubs his eyes, immediately realizing his vision has been restored and his wounds have been healed.

“It worked!” the witch exclaims.

Now aware of his surroundings, the boy’s quick session of relief swiftly shifts to panic as he witnesses his mother’s body sliced open on the table presenting her organs to the nauseating, musty cellar room.

“Momma,” he shrieks.

“Momma, wake up. Momma, please,” his cries fade as he’s brought to his knees in exhaustion.

The witch makes haste as the moons shift is imminent. Retrieving the tossed goblet, they submerge its now empty basin into the other oak barrel presenting it to the night sky. The boy sobs as the witch knocks back a glass of his genealogy. After the final drop passes down their esophagus, the witch drops to their knees, raising their arms to the stars, presenting their whole being to the changing night sky.

“Yes, yes, yes,” the witch moans as pain passes through their body.

The boy watches in terror and confusion as the witch’s empty flesh pockets fill with white skin that shines against the stars, lushes dark brown locks flow from their once rotting scalp, and their eyes become once more, filled with life. As if a pig is being massacred, the witch expels a hellacious screech. The boy covers his ears before the witch eventually collapses and begins to convulse.

Reaching for the candle still lit in front of him, the boy leans in for a closer look as the witch’s convulsing starts to seize. The boy’s panicked breathing gently pushes against the candle’s flame. Their body is still as the crickets accompany the winds whispering through the chimes above his head. Suddenly, the witch awakes forcefully grabbing the boy by his throat, then pleasurably inhales through their restored anatomy as the boy begins to gasp desperately.

“Mmm, you have your mothers eyes,” the witch mocks, tightening their grip.

Hot wax drips between the boys loose grip of the candle. Singing the edge of his palms, he releases the open flame onto the witches tattered robes; it ignites. Unaware they’ve been set ablaze, the witch cackles as their fingernails dig into the boy’s skin. His blood runs down their hands, his eyes wide; they kiss the boy on his forehead tossing his defeated corpse back into the dark corner of the cellar.

The witch turns towards their spellbook salaciously licking the boy’s blood from their fingers. Kicking another lit candle over, the flames begin to travel up their robes quickly disintegrating the worn fabrics. Sprinting towards the well, the witch leans over the cobblestone casing, pulling the rope to retrieve the bucket from below. The witch is able to douse themselves as infernos consume the tapestry, the bodies, eventually reaching potion vials filled with flammable contents. The witch turns and makes haste for their spellbook however the flames envelop any viable path. Escaping with their life, the witch hastily makes their way up the cellar stairs. Smoke rises to the night sky while ashes scatter amongst the desolate woods. 

First light approaches, as hikers come across the warm embers and debri.

“Look,” one says sifting through the ashes.

“What is that?” the other questions as they uncover a textbook.

The spellbook and copper goblet present themselves…unharmed.

Cover Art: Joy Marino (@joymarinoclicks)

© John Marrows Some Rights Reserved

Top 3 Haunted Places in Maine

Grab a lobster roll with your friends and cruise through the dense Maine wilderness. If you’re looking for more of an adventure away from the traditional tourist traps of Maine, be sure to add the following locations to your road trip itinerary.

DISCLAIMER: Remember to receive proper permission before entering buildings or facilities that are clearly marked as private property.

The Bowdoin Cemetery in the Pit

A young woman in the 1800s allegedly practiced witchcraft and was sentenced to death by hanging from the townspeople in the Bowdoin area. This cemetery is unmarked and easily passed alongside the back Maine road it resides upon. Buried around a circle of trees it seems even nature itself is afraid of what may lay below the soil. Many of the cemetery plots are destroyed, however, what frightens most explorers, is not the mass amount of vandalism, but the alleged witch’s grave itself. The soil is soft, almost freshly turned, as if someone recently was digging to find her corpse. If local legends are true, her grave has a curse attached to those who step in, and especially dig into, the burial site. The Bowdoin cemetery is definitely an eerie, and interesting stop for your next journey through Maine.

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The North Manchester Meeting House

Constructed in 1793, this church still serves the small town of Manchester, ME. However, the building itself brings less attention than the cemetery surrounded by old stone walls. Within one of these stones, imprints what’s known as The Devil’s Footprint. Locals claim during the construction of the church a worker stood atop this stubborn boulder swearing he’d sell his soul to the devil if that rock could be moved. The next day, the rock was moved and the construction worker had disappeared. It’s easy to miss the inexplicable imprint while combing the quiet and vacant cemetery grounds. The legend of ‘The Devil’s Footprint’ is one to worth viewing on your next Maine road trip.

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The Central Maine Sanatorium

Originally titled ‘The Chase Memorial Sanatorium’, it opened in 1910 as a hospital to treat tuberculosis patients. As the rate of tuberculosis cases rose, so did the need for treatment. Extending the intimate hospital setting, construction of wooden buildings took place in 1912 but was unfortunately lost in a fire one year later. The hospital quickly bounced back rebuilding with the addition of a surgical wing and children’s unit.

At the time, there were three Maine (pun not intended) treatment centers for patients with tuberculosis. Western Maine Sanatorium, Central Maine Sanatorium, and Northern Maine Sanatorium. In more southern regions of the state, patients who seemed to be responding to treatment and were more likely to be cured were admitted or transferred to Western Maine Sanatorium in Hebron, ME. Otherwise, they remained or were transferred to Central Maine Sanatorium in Fairfield, ME. In northern regions of the state patients with tuberculosis were admitted to the Northern Maine Sanatorium in Presque Isle, ME. The Central Maine Sanatorium closed in 1970 with a portion of its rooms remaining open as the Pleasant Hill Nursing Home eventually closing in 2001.

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If you’re looking for more be sure to follow me on Instagram @iMarrowsJ or check out my page on Haunted History. Did I miss something? Contact Me or comment below.

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© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

In 1878 alongside the Little Colorado River, a Navajo encampment was attacked by a collection of Apache raiders. The planned attack by the Apache left most Navajo men, women, and children dead. As the Apache were looting the encampment, they came across three women whose lives were spared but were taken as prisoners.  Navajo leaders eventually received word of the attacks and they sent 25 men in retaliation. Tracking the Apaches and obstructing the borders to the region, the Navajo men took their strategic approach with caution.

Unfortunately, their efforts quickly failed as the trails vanished from volcanic cinder flowing through a nearby river. News swiftly spread that yet another Navajo encampment had been raided alerting them that the Apache may still be in close proximity. Vanguards were again deployed to search the surrounding area. Amongst this crew, two were requested to explore the short arm of Canyon Diablo. During their hunt, they were alarmed by an odd breeze of hot air coming from underground. Carefully approaching, they discovered a cavern beneath them able to shelter the Apache raiding party and their horses. With the knowledge of the Apaches whereabouts, the two scouts returned to their tribe to prepare a retaliation attack.

After murdering the unsuspecting Apache guards, the Navajo gathered brush, kindling, and driftwood then proceeded to light a fire on the canyon floor right outside the entrance of the cave. As the smoke began pouring into their cavern hideaway, the Apache began to slit their horse’s throats and used the blood plus what little water they had in attempts to put out the flames. Begging for mercy, the Apache began to seal the entrance with the slaughtered corpses of their steeds. The Navajo people questioned the status of the three women the Apache had kidnapped and when there was no response, they began firing their guns into the cave. Piercing the flesh barriers adding fuel to the fire, the Apaches death songs faded as they all met their ill-fated ends.

As silence rained through the charred carcasses, the Navajo made a clearing, stripping the 42 Apache raiders of their goods and valuables. Since that tragic day in history, no Apache has approached the cave nor considered raiding the Navajo people. Local tribes would warn would-be pioneers of the caves lethal accounts claiming the land surrounding that area was forever cursed. Settlers passed this as superstition but pioneers later reported hearing unexplained groans and footsteps outside their cabins. It seems the folklore and legends that followed the massacre easily left an impact on the pioneer’s that later settled on those very grounds.

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© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

Addressed in the 1977 book, this home was built in 1927 at 112 Ocean Ave. The book was focused on the fictional happenings after DeFeo Jr. relentlessly murdered his family. Since the murders, the home has been owned by five different families. In 2010, the waterfront home of three-stories sold for an impressive $950,000. The latest research states the home was again listed in 2016 for $850,000 which included five bedrooms, a basement unit, and three and a half bathrooms.⠀

NOTE: This is a home. People DO reside at this residence. If you’re a fan of the book/films and are planning a visit, please be respectful of the grounds and the family that lives there.

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© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

Originally dubbed Canyon Padre Trading Post, Twin Arrows Trading Post was put up in the 1940’s motivated by the nearby popular Old Route 66 stop, Two Guns. Tourists and venturers were able to purchase fuel, Route 66 souvenirs, and perhaps enjoy a meal at the attached cafe and diner. Two iconic wooden arrows were erected within the parking lot to lead the way for sightseers and tourists alike. Unfortunately, the construction of a nearby interstate combined with the increasing disinterest of kitschy roadside stops led to the abandonment of the Twin Arrows Trading Post in 1995. The graffiti-ridden rubbled grounds are currently owned by the Twin Arrows Navajo Casino whose most recent refurbishment was of the historic arrows in 2009, still standing to mark this forgotten roadside attraction. No further plans have been announced to reconstruct or reopen the Twin Arrows Trading Post.

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© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

Built in 1874, the site was originally the city of Phoenix’s first school. Serving the community until 1916 where it was shortly exchanged to become one of the city’s most well-known hotels. Opening its doors on March 28th, 1928, Hotel San Carlos was often touted to hold the finest accommodations in the southwest; including the first high-rise in Phoenix with air conditioning. Less than two months of the hotel’s inception a young woman, Leone Jensen, checked in to her third-floor stay. Traveling across the country, Leone was on a journey to marry the man of her dreams, who, legend states, happened to be a bellhop at another hotel. Unfortunately for her, he no longer felt the love they once shared and this was something she could not bear. In the final hours of her second night, Leone drafted several letters on the hotel’s parchment addressed to a variety of suitors. Out of the many letters she had written, the lengthiest was directed towards an undertaker in Los Angelos stating requests and plans for her funeral.

“Bury me in my tan dress and tan high-heeled slippers,” she wrote.

“Organ music above all things. And can you arrange for two girls to sing, as I have never loved harmony, ‘Nearer My God to Thee.” Leone requested.

Good-by and good luck. Think of me kindly.” she signed.

Much later that evening, around 02:45AM, Leone made her way to the roof of Hotel San Carlos donning her evening gown. Gazing over central avenue she eventually stepped towards the edge, took one last step, thus plunging herself to the sidewalk below.

Hotel guests and passerby’s claim to see Leone repeat her dive from time to time, stating they’ve witnessed a woman in an evening gown on the roof. Other stories claim her lover was abusive and pushed her in a rage, some say the hotel was constructed over an ancient Hohokam village and the grounds were cursed from the very beginning.

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© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

Frigid winds whip by branches mocking the silence surrounding this enormous farmhouse. It’s a frozen evening accompanied by heavy snowfall. Harrison reads a book quietly on a worn, stained mattress that’s placed conveniently in the corner out of everyone’s way. Snuggling up with as many blankets he can find, he flips through each page intent on finding answers. Headlights flood through the thin bedsheet curtains accompanied by obnoxious hair metal and the revving of a classic American pickup truck. Harrison stands, looking out the window, he immediately begins to panic. Sprinting down the hallway avoiding puddles of blood and defiled animal carcasses, he begins to slam on his aunt’s bedroom door.

KNOCK. KNOCK. KNOCK.

“Aunt Lynn? Aunt Lynn, George’s here! Get out, he’s coming!” he warns.

Scurrying back to his mattress, Harrison attempts to hide under a plethora of blankets and sheets. The music cuts along with the engine as the headlights fade amongst the desolate snow-covered field. Lynn runs into the living room frantically searching for Harrison. George’s truck door slams followed by his vomit hitting the cold, concrete walkway.

“Get out here, boy!” George demands seemingly inebriated.

“Harrison? Harrison, where are you?” Lynn whispers.

Harrison peaks his head out from underneath his blanket.

“Do you have the book?” she asks.

He doesn’t answer.

“Do you have the book?” she eagerly persists.

He nods in fear presenting the book.

“Good boy. You can’t hide here, go…go outside,” she continues.

“But I don’t have shoes on…” he returns.

“Shhh…just go,” she insists, holding her hand over his mouth.

BANG. BANG. BANG.

They both jump as George slams violently on the door.

“I know you’re in there, boy!” he continues.

Unwilling to move, Harrison tears up in fear. Hoisting him up by his forearm, Lynn drags him towards the back door continuing to silence him. Opening it, she aggressively pushes him outside into the bitter winter evening closing the door in his mortified face as he grips the book close to his chest. George continues to beat on the front door.

BANG. BANG. CRASH.

Obliterating the frail door structure, George makes his way in, wielding a malt liquor bottle by the neck. Lynn makes her presence known hoping Harrison will make his escape. Marching toward Lynn, George forcefully grabs her by the neck pinning her against the wall.

“Where is the boy? Where is the book?” he demands reeking of brown liquor and cheap cigarillos.

“We’ll die! We’ll all fucking die if I don’t get that book! Where is he? George warns.

Refusing to respond, Lynn braces for a hit. Gripping her neck tighter in frustration, he then releases her to the floor smashing the bottle across her temple. Flailing on the floor, the convulsing eventually stops as her blood empties onto the carpet.

Harrisons innocent eyes watch from the window as George frantically tears the room apart. He exits the living room to search the rest of the house. Snow continues to fall around Harrison’s nearly frost-bitten toes. His feet begin to ache in pain, so he peeks cautiously into the empty door frame, holding back tears as he leans his head low against the door frame. With a deep breath and the book tucked under his arm, he gently steps back inside. Sneakily making his way down the hallway, he finds the warmth from the animal blood oddly relieving on his icy feet. George’s boots stomp each step as he comes stampeding down the stairs. Sprinting into the living room, Harrison trips over his aunt’s corpse. Holding his own mouth, he backs up into the corner scanning the room for something to defend himself with. Following the boy’s bloody footprints, George struts confidently into the living room towering over Harrison. Curled up, Harrison hugs the book close to him as his tears mix into his aunts’ blood on the carpet.

“Couldn’t hide forever, boy. It’s over. Give me the book. Give it to me!” George barks.

Defeated, Harrison sits up handing the book to George who snatches it promptly. Beginning to sift through the literature manically, Harrison secretly folds up a page he had torn out placing it in his pocket.

“C’mon. C’mon! Where is it?” George says to himself becoming increasingly more irritated.

“It’s gone. Where is it? Where is it!” he concludes looking to Harrison.

Charging Harrison, lifting from under his arms he slams the boy against the wall.

“Where is it, boy? Tell me. Tell me!” George insists continuing to bash the boys head against the wall.

Conquered, Harrison smirks, glaring comfortably over George’s shoulder. Children with hair as white as the snow on the mountain caps and pastel blue skin, like the frozen waters of the lake, chuckle wildly as they begin to devour him from the tips of each limb.

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

DISCLAIMER: The Gatekeeper, and characters surrounding this series, are works of fiction. They bear no relation to actual persons and are not to be associated with the author’s sexuality or gender identity.

TRIGGER WARNING: Throughout this series, there will be instances of homophobia, transphobia (including use of dead names + incorrect pronouns), sexism, verbal/physical abuse, domestic abuse, suicidal ideations, self-injury, and dysphoria. If any of these topics have proven to be harmful to you as a reader at any time, please continue with caution. The author’s intention is NOT to upset readers but to shed light on unfortunate circumstances that may still occur today for our LGBTQIA youth.

Remember that you are not alone. If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgment-free place to talk, call the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386. The Trevor Project has trained counselors that are able to support you 24/7. Also available to assist you through online chat and text.

Standing proudly atop the jagged cliff edge, Warrior Orion gazes upon the tormenting labyrinth deep within the Valley of Shadows. Staff at hand, he takes in the mountain air knowing his journey will be risky and arduous. Committed to retrieving the rose-tinted ruby he once strung around his neck by a thin reddish silver chain fashioned with the blood of his tortured mother, Orion will let nothing stand in his way. Deceiving in its layout, legend tells that the labyrinth holds many of trials for any adventurer to brave. Each corner holds the extremes of any climate; from the scorching, driest deserts to the most frozen, dead winter tundra. Warlocks, Cutthroats, Paladins, and Necromancers shroud themselves throughout the thickening labyrinth walls awaiting to challenge any intruders. However, perhaps the most wicked being lurking amongst the harrowing groves may not seem so harmful a first glance, but don’t be fooled. The Gatekeeper takes no prisoners. This murderous flesh splicer arms himself with a rusted sickle stationed in a sheath hewed by the scalps of his victim’s firstborn children.

Approaching the entrance, Orion smugly eyes the towering walls of the labyrinth.

“Well…,” The Gatekeeper begins.

“Who are you, demon?” Orion demands, holding his axe at the ready.

“Demon, well that’s a first,” he scoffs.

“I am The Gatekeeper,” he humbly replies.

Observing the rose-tinted ruby tucked within his pelt lined with infantile skulls, Orion raises his axe asserting his stance.

“Ahhh…if the ruby is what you seek, best not be tongue and cheek. Time does not exist within these walls. Nor age, nor pity…nor mercy. Through frigid winds, scorching sands, and humid jungles, those before you have underestimated the challenges these climates present. So…I implore you, I entreat you, I dare you; enter through the labyrinth gate, but save your breath, and accept your fate. For there is no light…only death awaits,” The Gatekeeper threatens as the corroded gate creaks opening behind him.

“Your threats are empty, demon,” Orion confidently sneers.

“You would be so surprised, warrior. Some who claim their path is light, spout darkness in pursuit of deceit,” The Gatekeeper warns.

TAP. TAP. TAP.

“Closer now warrior,” The Gatekeeper strikes the steel bars with his sickle teasing Orion.

KNOCK. KNOCK. KNOCK.

Orion forcefully shouts towards the sky beginning to charge the entrance as The Gatekeeper begins to fade away.

BAM. BAM. BAM.

“Sweetheart? Ori, honey? It’s mom, are you almost ready?” Orion’s mother knocks outside his bedroom door shouting over the power metal blaring inside.

“Ugh!” Orion groans slamming his composition book shut opening his bedroom door holding his flannel closed, sporting basketball shorts and long socks.

“Mom, I thought we talked about the whole ‘sweetheart’ thing?” he replies.

“I know. I know. And I’m sorry but your father is already waiting in the car. Humor me for a minute, will ya?” she continues.

“Ok, but I’m not wearing this,” Orion grabs a black sheath dress presenting it unamused.

“Look, you know I’m on your side here,” she begins, pretending she didn’t see the ace bandage tightly wrapped around Orion’s chest.

“…and if your father wasn’t running the ceremony, of course, I’d want you to wear whatever you’d like, but I just, I can’t…help me, help you,” she bargains.

“Alright, alright. I understand,” Orion agrees aware of the potential chaos rebelling can concoct when it comes to his father.

“Give me three minutes,” he sarcastically smiles.

“Okay sweetheart,” his mother accidentally replies immediately beginning to apologize.

“Mom! Ugh!” Orion shuts the door.

“I’m sorry. I’ll be in the car, love you, Ori,” she shouts through the door.

In front of the mirror, Orion takes off his flannel revealing his homemade binder. Attempting a deep breath in, he flexes his biceps releasing the air with a confident smirk.

Glancing at the sheath dress, his cheerful grin wilts. Disappointed, he turns the mirror around, regrettably slipping into the dress.

BEEEEEEP.

Orion’s father impatiently lays on the horn in their driveway.

Reaching for a couple of pens, one black, and one red, Orion grabs his composition book swiftly making his way down the stairs.

“Sorry dad, had to finish up a few things,” Orion apologizes buckling his seatbelt.

“I understand that this may be a difficult time for you, but I have a duty to serve. Not only my family but also my community. Do you understand that?” he irritably spouts from the driver’s seat.

“Yes, sir,” Orion reluctantly replies eyeing his mother in the passenger’s seat with her head down.

Entering the labyrinth, Warrior Orion confidently marches into the unknown. He turns back as the gate closes slowly behind him. Three corridors present themselves, each as seemingly distant and eerie lined with dead trees, hazy air, and moist crumbled stone walls. No end in sight. However, the entrance of each path is marked by freshly slaughtered creatures hung by stakes punctured through their backs angled up to pass through their chest. Their blood puddles underneath their defiled carcasses releasing a wretched stench. An anaconda, a sheep, and a young boy present themselves like trophies murdered by The Gatekeeper himself. Taking one step closer, flames burst from under each of them. The boy awakes in a panic writhing in pain attempting to pull himself from the wall. Orion hesitates, unsure if he’s able to assist the boy.

AHHHHH.

Placing both hands on the wall behind him, the boy screams in excruciating pain pushing his body up the stake. Just outside his reach, the boy fails to free himself accepting his fate as his body descends back down towards the cold stone wall. The flames grow higher closing off each entrance, Orion must decide as the boy’s skin begins to bubble.

Approaching the boy, the flames seize, and the other two paths grow over with barbed vines.

“Who did this to you?” Orion questions as the boy struggles to breathe between the pain.

In hopes of comfort, the boy looks to Warrior Orion in his final moments.

“Darkness falls to those who give in to the labyrinth, light is rewarded to those who triumph. Go, warrior, show no mercy,” the boy softly replies as his body collapses over the stake lifeless.

“Are you ready?” Orion’s mother says standing at the open car door.

With a simple nod, Orion exits the vehicle onto the cemetery grounds. Chin down, he follows his mother towards the ceremony, his father already beginning to speak at the podium. The temperate September air playfully sweeps the remaining leaves aged and fallen in beautiful yellows, oranges, and reds. Snowy mountain tops line the distant horizon proceeding the rolling hills of wheat fields already harvested and awaiting the return of spring. Orion rubs his bare arms as goosebumps form.

Orion stands uncomfortably amongst the few in the crowd finding it difficult to focus. Sora wasn’t the closest friend, but he was amongst a handful of outcasts in Orion’s school. After he came out, his friends started drifting apart and even their parents asked them to stay away. His mother sits emotionless, disappointed even. Rural America, somehow moving forward, yet stuck in its traditional roots. Small minds gathered with a collective ignorance stewed within religious hierarchy’s, comfort in the familiar, and fear of change. Your roots either take to the soil in which you’ve been planted, or you make way and uproot to something bigger and better.

“As Gods children, we are made in the image and likeness of Him. This responsibility deserves a certain amount of dignity and respect. One of the first commandments we learn in scripture relates to the understanding that you should not take the life of a human being. We do not have the authority to give ourselves life, nor do we have the authority to take that life from ourselves. God shapes lives through suffering. Our lives are not in our hands,” Orion’s father shares.

“Lord we ask that you take this boy, that you remind him of your eternal sacrifice. Romans 6:23 states ‘For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’ Amen,” he concludes.

“Amen,” the few reply as Orion stands upset but silent.

Onward on his path, the fog thickens as Orion ventures deeper into the labyrinth. A great distance in without a turn, sign, or even sound, he begins to question his choice in direction. Lowering his weapon, the warrior’s axe strikes the ground somewhat crumbling the asphalt underneath his feet. Curious, he taps the ground once more; the earth begins to tremble underneath as Warrior Orion stumbles a bit. With one last determined swing, Warrior Orion crashes through the floor falling violently to the caverns below. Immediately standing to his feet, Warrior Orion grabs his Axe circling the hollows in a panicked defense. The dim light from above fades as the ground reforms above him. The gentle dripping from the narrow pipelines echo through the seven corridors. Warrior Orion’s boots slosh about in water filled with rotted remains, stumped limbs, and bloodied shreds of garments. A gentle wake pushes against his ankles coming from one of the passageways littered with empty bottles and molded scraps of sustenance. Warrior Orion grasps both hands readily around the handle of his axe preparing to contest whatever comes his way.

“Looks like it might rain soon,” Orion’s father states looking to the sky as he drives attempting to unwrap his fast-food hamburger.

Orion sits quietly in the back seat staring out the window.

“You know, I was surprised that Sora’s father wasn’t there,” he continues in aim to spark conversation.

“Did you talk to his mother, Oriana?” he adds in between bites.

Orion ignores his father.

“Sweetheart, hello?” he persists.

“Please don’t call me sweetheart,” Orion answers.

“Why not? You’ll always be my sweetheart, our sweetheart. Right, honey,” he pleasantly smiles looking to his wife.

Orion’s mother uneasily smiles towards her husband as he grabs her hand with his greasy palm. Looking back towards Orion she mutely empathizes with her son. Orion clenches his fists, then takes the pen from behind his ear opening his composition book.

The wake strengthens as the creature draws nearer. Its back surfaces only a moment presenting crimson spotted sores wading through the refuse then disappears into to the shallow muddled water. Warrior Orion combs the murky puddle around him with his axe. There’s nothing. He looks once more, squinting down the shadowed tunnels as more water begins rushing in from every direction.

Lifting his axe, the water level rises rapidly past his waist, then his shoulders. Suddenly, the Cesspit Gar sinks its teeth into Warrior Orion’s leg. Collapsing, he takes a panicked breath in as the gar pulls him under dragging him to the bottom. Jousting his axe into the gar’s mouth, he attempts to break free, but its grip is unwavering. Releasing his axe, Warrior Orion clutches each end of the gar’s long snout, and with a forceful heave, he unhinges the impressive clutch the hideous creature has upon him.

Snapping wildly back at him, Warrior Orion grabs ahold of the primitive beast keeping his head away from its many rows of barbed teeth. Wrestling against him, the gar manages to plunge them both to the nethermost region crashing Warrior Orion to the seafloor.

SNIP. SNIP. SNIP.

The gar frantically bites around Warrior Orion’s death grip on its neck. The creature’s sores begin to secrete an acidic ooze burning through Warrior Orion’s hands.

SNIP. SNIP. SNIP.

Persistently nipping, the gar knows its ooze continues to eat away at Warrior Orion’s flesh. Desperately scanning the depths, debris and human remains scatter the grimy, muck covered sands below. Amongst the rubble, the blade of Warrior Orion’s axe teases him.

SNIP. SNIP. SNIP.

With a hole blistering through the inside of his palm, he knows he hasn’t much time. Releasing his grip on the creatures third strike, its nose buries deep into the sand as Warrior Orion rolls to the side hastily reaching for his axe.

“You alright Ori?” Orion’s mother asks as they pull into the driveway.

“Yeah. I’m fine,” Orion answers a bit disorientated, arm already extended to the door handle.

“Right, hope you brought your umbrella ladies. It’s really coming down out there,” Orion’s father expresses taking the last sip from his soda cup. The kind of sip where you know there’s nothing left, but you keep sucking the straw because the annoying noise it makes.

Orion caps his pen, clutching his composition book close to his chest making his way inside.

“Wow, do I got mustard on my mustache?” Orion’s dad asks jokingly.

Orion’s mother shakes her head, then exits the vehicle swiftly running to the door.

“Oh, come on,” his dad starts again shaking out his umbrella by the front door stepping inside.

“She knows I would’ve shared the umbrella, right?” he states.

“Are you that dense?” Orion’s mother replies.

“Excuse me?” he retorts.

“You embarrassed that boy and his family,” she starts.

“What are you-,” she barrels over him.

“That poor boy took his own life and you said those awful things. Awful, awful things. How could you do that?” she adds passionately.

Orion moves to the top of the stairs listening in.

“I was doing my job,” he sternly answers.

“No. That’s not your job. Your job is…” she’s at a loss for words.

“To inform the people of His word?”

“The kids dead,” she jumps back in.

“He’s dead Martin, and you just fucking spit all over his grave-,“

BAM.

She falls to the floor as he hits her in a spout of anger.

“How dare you speak to me that way?” he continues, looming over her as she crawls back into a corner.

Loosening his belt, Martin continues to pursue her.

WHACK.

She shrieks in pain as he hits her with a sinister grin stapled across his face. Orion jumps, cringing to each crack of his belt.

WHACK.

Her cries are almost silenced by her agony as she lies helpless on the living room floor. He winds up for another swing.

The gar pulls its head from the crusted seafloor, approaching in a rage.

WHACK.

Warrior Orion slams the blunt end of his axe into the gar’s bloodthirsty eyes, then pushes from the bottom eager to resurface. With an exasperating gasp for air, Warrior Orion swims down another path through uncharted waters and unknown remains.

To be continued…

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

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