APPROACHING the Gateway wasn’t what I expected. A lane between heavily dense woodland was hardly noticeable and if I hadn’t been sandwiched between my parents in their car and the removal truck I would have missed the turning completely. The road was basically a very thin layer of stones covering a terrain of potholes. I cursed every time I felt my car bounce; this couldn’t be doing the suspension any good at all. The trees were encroaching on either side of me and I prayed they didn’t scratch the paintwork. As the lane curved I could see a small bridge in the distance. It was badly in need of repair and I doubted it would hold the weight of a carrier pigeon, let alone two cars and a truck ladened with furniture.
Mum and Dad stopped their car and got out approaching the rickety old bridge on foot. I turned off the engine and followed them. “Well what are we going to do now?” I asked. “There’s no way I’m chancing my car on that old thing. I’m not even sure it would fit, never mind the truck.” I motioned behind me and saw that the four Were’s had also got out and were approaching. When they had reached us my Father turned to face us all and asked: “Has everyone cleared their minds of aggression?” His eyes searched the Were’s. I looked at each in turn, they certainly seemed placid, even Mr Creepy.
Actually it kind of seemed odd, like there was something fundamentally wrong with them. I usually kept my shields strong, more a habit that had been ingrained into me at such an early age; it was on par with learning to walk – something I didn’t often put a lot of effort into consciously doing. Curiosity had the better of me and I lowered my shields scanning the Were’s. It was almost as if half of their personality had gone into hibernation. I looked closer inside them, although it would probably be better to describe it as `feeling' closer inside them, brushing against their consciousness. The first three scanned much the same; feeling ferocious in nature, but quiet – a sleeping wolf. As I brushed against the fourth, I felt something stir; a wolf about to wake. A jolt of adrenaline had me pulling back fast.
Father spoke quietly to the Were’s as Mother took me to one side and
explained that we would be crossing the bridge. My doubtful look between her and the dilapidated monstrosity was enough to make her chuckle. She explained that the bridge that I could see right now was not the actual bridge. It was merely an illusion created by the Guardian that was stationed here to keep out those that did not belong on the other side. I ran a hand over the splintered wood of the railing, it felt solid (well as solid as it could be in its current state). Mum went on to explain that had a Human approached the bridge they would feel an urge to turn around. There were those that might venture forth for whatever reason, but they would encounter something that would force them to turn back. When I asked what kind of thing, she shrugged stating that it could be anything from a wild animal to the illusion of an earthquake – anything that would have the individual turning away in fear. That was the Guardians job – to guard the gateways. When I asked how they would know the difference between species, she just tilted her head in confusion and said “They are Guardian’s”. I guess that would have to be answer enough.
My Father advised me to feel confident when approaching the bridge and I tried my best to at least look as if that were accomplishable. We started returning to our vehicles ready to make the journey across. Somehow, Mr Creepy fell in step with me. “Did you like being inside me?” he taunted.
“I felt you inside my head, and I felt your fear as you retreated. Do I scare you Raven?” he mocked.
“No” I replied, all bravado. He knew it too, but I continued towards my car trying to keep myself calm.
“I see you,” he smiled “the real you. When you don’t have Daddy around to look out for you, you’re nothing but a scared little girl.” His voice seemed closer to my ear and the edge had me shivering. He noticed and I could see him licking his lips out of the corner of my eye. “Daddy won’t always be around.” he whispered and quickened his pace to catch up with the other Were’s. I got in my car and gasped for air as my heart thundered in my chest. 'Was that a threat?' I wondered if I was overreacting, but as I snuck a peek in the rear-view mirror I saw him watching me with a smile on his face that had my heart rate quickening further.
I sat behind the wheel desperately trying to control my feelings, to calm myself. One thing was for sure, it wasn’t the bridge or the Guardian that was now on my mind. When the engines started I absently turned the key and put my foot on the pedal, following my parent’s car. As we got to the bridge, my parent’s car shimmered slightly. It reminded me of heat rising from a tarmac road in the heart of summer, but as the car entered the phenomenon completely, it vanished from sight. I couldn’t help the gasp that escaped my lips. My foot automatically hit the brake as I realised I was entering the same 'heat wave’, but nothing happened, the car still moved forward. I pumped the brake a few more times, still nothing. I screamed and closed my eyes tight.
It seemed an age passed, I didn’t feel any different, and suddenly my scream felt overly dramatic and anticlimactic. I slowly opened one eye and then blinked in confusion. Before me was a long bridge, longer than any I had ever seen before and it looked like it was made from solid gold. The sun reflected off every surface and it appeared so bright I had to shut my eyes again. After another minute I gently opened them for a second time. The golden bridge was still in front of me, shining brightly, but it didn’t hurt my eyes any more. I saw my parents in front and realised that my foot was still jammed down hard on the brake. I eased it up and replaced it on the accelerator. A heartbeat later I was in control of the car again and I breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you.”
“You are welcome” said a voice in my head. I was shocked only for a moment when I felt an absolute calm come over me. The best way to describe it was that I felt that I was wrapped in joy and love. I smiled and thanked the Guardian again silently, feeling its smile in response.
Once I was across the bridge there was a small place to pull over. I pulled up next to my parent’s car and got out. “Oh my God that was so weird!” I laughed. My parents stood next to their car smiling, an arm around one other, obviously still feeling the after effects of the Guardian just as I was. We waited, the three of us enjoying the sun-kissed feeling of euphoria.
Soon enough the truck finished its journey across and pulled in next to us. Three Were’s got out. I looked for the fourth, but Mr Creepy was nowhere to be seen. “He didn’t make it” explained the Alpha, a note of inevitability in his voice. I waited for an explanation, but there was none forthcoming from anyone and I was too embarrassed to ask. My Father double-checked the details with the Alpha of the new house and we loaded back into our vehicles and set off.
The journey didn’t take long but it was an enjoyable drive. The winding roads through the fields and woodland were beautiful and well maintained. I was glad for the smooth ride as my poor car had already had a bit of a shock today. Seeing the house for the first time was strange. The front portion of the property was the original part of the large estate that had the look of a country farm house, but on a much grander scale. The 'gravelled drive’ was of a bonded nature and I smiled knowing both my heels and my car appreciated that fact. It curved around the house towards the garage block giving me a good view of the rear of the property. My Dad had explained that there had been a fire and they had rebuilt the entire back portion.
I pulled up next to my parents and got out, staring up in awe at the beautiful balcony that gracefully wrapped around the corner of the building on the second floor. Two large windows adorned the corner itself so that you could look through one and out the other – almost as if there were no corner to the building at all. “Wow!”
“Glad you like it,” Dad smiled “that will be your room.” My jaw dropped.
“I think she’s speechless.” Mum chuckled.
“Wait until she sees the en suite then,” he laughed, wrapping an arm around my Mother’s shoulder and leading the way back round towards the front door. It took me a moment for reality to catch up and I tottered after my parents excitedly.
The removals truck had pulled up to the front door and the three remaining Were’s were already unloading as we walked up the front steps. My Father turned the key and we entered our new house for the first time.
The entrance lobby was very impressive with a large sweeping staircase taking up the right half of the space. The walls were marked where there had obviously been family pictures adorning them by the previous owners and I felt a tinge of sadness that they had had to leave their family home. That melancholy thought was soon forgotten however when Mum started talking animatedly about paint and fabric swatches.
After a brief tour of the downstairs rooms of which I wasn’t sure we even had enough furniture to fill, my parents gave the Were’s a quick rundown of which room was which so there was no constant queries. The Werewolves however, were such an efficient team that I had no worries that they wouldn’t fulfil our needs precisely.
As we reached the back portion of the house you could tell that it was newer than the rest only by the fact that it had been modernised; it had been done so expertly that it blended perfectly. The kitchen, instead of being somewhere the servants of long ago would have spent their time, had been transformed into a huge family room – the heart of the home as was now expected by today’s modern standards. My Mother gasped as we entered and practically danced around the room. My Father and I shared an amused look, but his eyes told how happy he was that he was able to give her something she truly loved. “She loves you more.” I smiled at his surprised expression as his face swung around in my direction, then softened again with that stupid soppy look he always had around my Mother. He pulled me in for a quick hug and a kiss on the forehead, before going to join Mum who was opening the large French doors and practically skipping out to the fully stocked herb garden.
I opened doors to discover what was hidden behind. The first was a pantry – although it was practically another room it was so big. The next hid a utility room with huge Belstead sinks and its own door to a small courtyard with a washing line and recycle bins (I’d never seen so many types of bin, but I was glad to know they took their recycling seriously in Zaratan). Another door led through to the dining room which I had already seen previously – a very grand room that would be perfect for dinner parties – perhaps a waste for us I grinned. The last door hid some more stairs, a flight leading down to what I presumed was the basement (I decided to check that out later) and some that led up. I followed the staircase up to the next floor.
At the top were two doors, the first was a large room that had no windows, yet it seemed filled with natural light. I noticed a series of holes in the ceiling and when I looked up I saw that they were mirrored pipes. I would have to ask Dad about them. I returned to open the second door and gasped in delight. I recognised the corner windows immediately – this was my room. I squealed like a kid at Christmas.
The room was huge and so modern, yet it held touches of the old in its style. There was a large fireplace made from iron and marble to the left. Further along was one of the floor-to-ceiling square windows, mirrored by an exact copy on the adjoining wall. Next to that window there were huge double doors leading out onto the wrap-around balcony I had seen earlier. I opened them wide and felt the cool summer breeze brush over my skin. I took in a deep breath as I stepped out, 'so clean and fresh.' It felt different to the air back in the Earth realm; this was so much cleaner I couldn’t even describe it. Even the cleanest country air was nothing in comparison to this. There was something about the air entering my lungs that made me feel like I was home for the first time in my life. I took in the view. 'Yes, this is home' I smiled.
To the left of the property was woodland and to the rear and the right were fields for miles. 'We really are in the boonies' I thought to myself, but instead of the trepidation I had previously felt at the idea, now I was almost relieved not to have civilisation built on top of me.
I looked down over the gardens – they obviously had not been disturbed by the fire. Beautiful manicured lawns and shrubs to the right with a large patio and decking area for entertaining. Directly below were the courtyard and the kitchen gardens where I could see my Mother still inspecting the contents excitedly. There was a path leading from the kitchen gardens that was bordered by exquisite pink roses in full bloom. The path led to a small fountain; a bench to the left, a gate to the rear, and another path to the right that led to the rest of the gardens. The gate to the rear opened into the woodland that surrounded that part of the property and I was eager to explore.
A noise behind me interrupted my lazy thoughts and I realised a set of double doors opened on to the rest of the second floor. Two Were’s were attempting to manoeuvre my bed through the opening, I rushed to hold back the doors for them and guided them up the few steps to the sleeping area. Exploring would have to wait; I needed to get my things in order.
As the boxes started accumulating I set about unpacking and arranging (and rearranging) my beloved possessions. When I opened the box marked 'bathroom’ I realised I hadn’t even looked in there yet. There was only one door left from my room and hefting the box in one arm I opened it. I almost dropped the box “Oh my…” I trailed off; It was a bathroom fit for Aphrodite herself. 'I’ve died and gone to Heaven' I sighed. The far wall was covered in floor-to-ceiling mirrors, reflecting back the splendour of the room. In the centre was a large round sunken bath, although it would probably be better to describe it as a pool. A control panel to one side indicated that you could use it as a Jacuzzi “Cooool!” There was a gage that indicated and regulated the temperature of the water so you could stay in there as long as you liked without getting cold. You could also control the amount of bubbles and the massage jets. There was a ton of other buttons and I couldn’t wait to try them all out. To the side of the room was the toilet, bidet, sink, and a row of built-in units. To the other side was a gap in the wall, when I popped my head around I gasped at the size of the massive walk-in shower. There were multiple spouts protruding from the tiled walls as well as two large shower heads hanging from the ceiling. 'The whole gymnastics team could shower in here.'
As boring as packing had been, unpacking seemed to be more exciting, finding places for my old things in the my new life was bizarrely satisfying and enjoyable.