Here’s a piece of flash fiction inspired by a recent trip to New York City. It’s about 640 words and has an estimated reading time of 2.5 minutes. Let me know what you think!
Stranger’s Gate: The inscription at the Central Park entrance enticed Alberto ever since he moved to New York City. He read about the name’s history, and it wasn’t all that interesting. The architects of Central Park created names for twenty entrances to the park, including Mariner’s Gate and others. They wanted the park to be democratic and available to everyone, evidenced by the low stone walls. Some wealthy New Yorkers in the 19th century argued for high, ornate walls, but the park architects vehemently opposed it.
The inscription of Stranger’s Gate was merely a name, but Alberto was an imaginative person who liked fairy tales and fantasy novels. That’s why the name enticed him so much. He often came to this entrance and walked up the stairway into the park, imagining he was entering through a portal into the distant past. On this July night, though, something felt more ominous upon his entrance.
Alberto often came to Central Park at night, despite people telling him not to. Crime had increased in the city lately, and there were no shortage of nomads and transients sleeping in the park. Alberto didn’t care. He’d enter through Stranger’s Gate and walk the trails with his flashlight and water bottle.
But tonight, was different. Something in the air perhaps. The city was quieter than usual, and he wasn’t sure why. Maybe people headed to the beach on the weekends, or perhaps it was true there was an exodus from New York. Whatever it was, the loneliness on the streets seemed more evident than usual. People had a wild look in their eyes, and some seemed desperate.
As he walked the trail, he heard rustling ahead like footsteps. Then, murmured voices sounded threatening. Alberto rarely felt scared in the city, but he did now; the hair was standing on his arms and neck. He froze so as not to make noise, but the voices came closer. “Who is it?” he called out. He was met with silence, but the footsteps continued to approach.
Two men emerged from the wooded trail, their long knives shining in the moonlight. Their faces were odd: not quite human in the configurations, how the eyes seemed too spaced apart and the mouths too wide. They were both wholly bald and hairless like albinos, and menacing blue eyes glowed in the dark wooded area. One of them laughed, sounding like an animal. “Hello, stranger,” the one man said. “Have you come for us?”
“No … What do you mean?” Alberto replied.
“Have you come to take us away?”
Alberto then recognized that, despite how frightening they looked, these men were also scared. Their hands were shaking, and tears formed in their eyes.
“Take you where? I mean no harm,” Alberto said.
The men embraced him, slowly at first, but then with open arms. “This is such a relief,” one of them said. “We hide here, by Stranger’s Gate. It is the only safe place in the city for us. During the day, we dare not show our deformed faces. At night, we scavenge the park for food and supplies.”
Alberto and the strange men talked all night and became friends. Over the next several years, Alberto would come to the park in the twilight hours and bring the men food, water, and other basic care. It was funny because Alberto had always felt alienated in the city, so he felt a kinship with the strangers near Stranger’s Gate. He realized that the love in his heart signaled to them protection, and he took his duty seriously.
He knew there was enchantment near Stranger’s Gate, and he eventually found it. It gave Alberto purpose, a chance to welcome the strangers of the night and provide them with the respect and dignity that all living beings deserve.