This story is by Allison Allen and was part of our 2023 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Solvitur Ambulando”. It is solved by walking – Augustine of Hippo
The vampire’s name was Thackeray, and his companion, Noisome Grinch, was a minor demon he had met centuries previously, at a time when even for night creatures such as they, life had been full of hardship. The demon had helped him out of an…unexpected difficulty, and shortly thereafter Thackeray had returned the favor. What began as an uneasy alliance of convenience had evolved into, well, perhaps it was still an uneasy alliance of convenience, most days. But the truth was, it had long since become hard for either of them to imagine going on without the other, though needless to say this was never spoken of.
On the night the gate appeared, without any sort of warning at all, so close to Thackeray that had he tripped he could have fallen through it, the two of them had been debating its existence; this was less of a coincidence than it may seem, as the topic of The Gate had been ever more constantly on their minds for some time.
“It’s a myth,” said Thackeray.
“No, it’s a legend,” N.G. declared.
Thackeray rolled his eyes. “Please tell me, Noisy, what, precisely, is the difference between a myth and a legend?”
“Easy! Myths are real and legends are made up! Vampires and demons are mythical. Arthur’s sword, The Holy Grail, and the Gate of Life are made up legends.”
“People think we are made up,” Thackeray pointed out.
“Well, obviously they are wrong.”
“Well, then maybe you are too. Maybe legends are as real as we are. Or maybe the Gate of Life isn’t a legend. Maybe it’s a “myth,” although I have to question your definition of myth. I don’t feel ‘mythical’.”
“Me either. I feel hungry. Can we get on with it?”
“It” was hunting. People, usually. Thackeray sighed. He was hungry too. He was also ill, to his core, with the evil of what he was.
It was at this point, as if the gate itself were tired of the discussion and chose to settle it, that it appeared before them. It was not imposing in any obvious sense. It was made of weathered, greying wood, standing about seven feet high and maybe four feet wide. Across the timber forming the top of the gate a pair of words were carved, and after the initial surprise created by the gate’s appearance, it was that which caused them both to gasp.
“Solvitur Ambulando!” They spoke almost in unison, gaping at the gate and then at each other.
“Is this some sort of trick, or a trap? Was someone listening in on us, and now they’re having their little joke?” Noisy had sprung to his feet as his head whirled from side to side, looking for the source of this abrupt manifestation.
Thackeray, in contrast, was standing very, very still. He had eyes only for the gate. Simple as it was, it nevertheless commanded his attention. Somehow it appeared far more real than anything around it. Standing so close to it, he felt more solid and real than he had in a long, long time. It was this that led him to shake his head at Noisome’s suspicions.
“And what if it isn’t? What if this really is,” Thackeray’s voice became hushed and almost reverential, “the Gate of Life?”
The Gate of Life was a myth, legend, or, apparently, fact, that was much whispered about amongst the various creatures of night. It was reputed to be the one way a formerly ensouled being who, for whatever completely justifiable, unavoidable and non-prejudicial reason, had come to, well, lose said soul, could regain it. Its reality was almost universally mocked and also longed for, as the alternative, and obviously much more realistic option, was eternal damnation. Vampires, of course, were immortal, right up until they couldn’t stand it any more and exposed themselves to sunlight, at which time they were assumed to drop straight into hell. Demons both minor and major often attested to that fact, and while they should know, since they resided there when not plaguing the earth, they were also terrible liars. Still, where else would a lost soul who lives on the blood of humans go once their time on earth had ended?
The Gate of Life was the alternative, it was said. It opened onto the Night Camino, the Way, and the unsouled creature who persisted to its end was believed to regain its soul and the possibility of escaping a hellish end. The problem was, no one had ever actually seen this gate, at least no one with any credibility whatsoever. It was said to appear only once the creature was ready to attempt it, and it couldn’t be seen by anyone else when it did appear. A few claimed to have been through it only to have found the way either too difficult to complete or just too unpleasant, leading to a change of heart and a return to the status quo. These unhappy few were rarely around long, as they often quickly exposed themselves to the day, or otherwise dispatched themselves, and disappeared.
“We’re both seeing this, right?” Thackeray asked.
“You both are, and that’s so very odd” said a voice, and a figure stuck its head through the gate and looked at them closely.
“Never seen that before. Really true friends, are you?”
Friendship was all too rare amongst the night creatures. They both shrugged uncomfortably, making sour faces while emphatically not looking at one another, and said “I guess?”
“Well, regardless. You both see it, you can both go through. Or not. You know how this works?” He didn’t wait for them to answer, but went on, speaking briskly:
“If you step through the gate, you are committing to refraining from hunting any humans or other creatures, and that’s fine, because you will need no sustenance. No one will hunt you either. If you do harm someone you will find yourself right back here, no matter how far along the Path you have progressed. The Way is very long, and there are no shortcuts. You cannot fly, or even run. You simply walk, and the walking is slow at first, very slow, then faster as you progress. It is always night, at least to start, and even so you will find you must stop and take your rest as you normally do. The way is marked; follow it. It is very simple, and also quite difficult. If you make a good effort, help may appear.”
He stopped and looked at them both.
“Do what you will do, now.”
“If we do this, and succeed…” Thackeray faltered. He had been undead so very long. Thoughts of exposure has been with him almost since the beginning and were much more frequent lately. He couldn’t do this much longer, but he also feared to his core the Hell he knew he deserved.
The man understood the question, and his gaze softened a little as he looked at them both.
“If you succeed, you are no longer undead, and choices will be offered to you.”
“So it’s true” Noisome whispered, or was it Thackeray? Standing before the quiet wooden gate, all skepticism had drained away. This was no trick. They looked at each other now, for one long, silent moment and in that moment the raw, unguarded acknowledgment of centuries of pain, bitter fear and the cold creep of despair passed between them. No further discussion was needed. Wordlessly, and for the first time, they took each others hand, and together as one they stepped through the gate.
I watched them go. Truthfully, I had been watching them, and waiting, for many long years now. I have been keeping this gate since, well, that is another tale. Will they make it? I never know for sure, but I do always send my hope along with the walker, for whatever that’s worth. And if they get far enough, I send help. I do have a good feeling about them. Better start looking around for that help…