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

Consider helping me deliver more content: https://www.patreon.com/imarrowsj

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

Consider helping me deliver more content: https://www.patreon.com/imarrowsj