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Open the Gate

They say that hindsight is 20/20, and that’s the same level of vision we at Gateway Systems bring to our Open Gate project. Gone are the days of living with regret. Step through and take the leap. Welcome to Gateway.

By Elizabeth Kaye DaughertyPublished about a year ago 11 min read
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Gateway Systems. The leaders in innovation of science, of communications, of humanity. That’s what my grandchildren called it. But the square building that reached into the sky didn’t impress me any more than the other walls I’d seen constructed in my lifetime.

“Ma’am, you made it,” said a chipper young man with an American accent and a name tag reading Jon. “It’s so exciting to have our lucky winners all together now. Please, right this way.”

He held out his hand to help me up the steps into the front door, but I didn’t take it. Instead, I smiled and helped myself through, like I’d always done. He shut the door behind us and we entered a brightly lit and heavily floral-scented lobby, complete with a curved couch and large displays of potted forget-me-nots. Not a speck of dust.

“You have to tell me who your cleaner is,” I said with a laugh.

The two other men waiting in the room smiled along with me; a tall man with dark skin and weathered eyes, and another with red spots and a few scraggly hairs on his chin. He can’t have enough experience to want to change anything, can he? I wondered.

Jon stepped around us and opened a glass door with his hand. “Congratulations again on being chosen for this once in a lifetime opportunity. And for having your waivers filled out promptly. Please, right this way to see the Open Gate project.”

The younger man followed Jon, who himself couldn’t have been old enough even to be his father. A brother, maybe. The second man and I followed behind with the patience and reservation of age. Jon brought us down an elevator and another hallway, with the younger man never far from his shadow. The tall man and I shared a look and stifled a good-natured laugh.

“Prepare yourselves,” Jon said as we reached a dark curtain. “You’re the first to see our Open Gate project without having been part of the team. Even I have only seen this in passing! I’m just the door boy, after all.”

I chuckled, then he slid the curtain aside. Both the men with me took deep breaths and stayed still, motionless. I could only describe what I was looking at like I was looking at something from a television show. A sleek white pod, like from a Star Trek spaceship. It took up the whole room, blinked with colorful lights fastened to the outside, and boasted a glass screen on the inside.

A smartly dressed woman in spectacles sat inside and greeted us with a smile. “Greetings!” She said, standing upright. “I’m Cynthia, the chief lab officer that developed this technology. This is the Gateway four point six, the first system that can handle an entire human experience. I could bore you with the programmer talk, but that’s not why you’re here, is it?”

The eager look on the men’s faces told her the answer she needed.

“I thought so. Who wants to go first, and I’ll show and tell?”

The oldest man and I hesitated, but the youngest one faced it with the bravery of youth. Bulletproof. “I’ll go,” he said.

Cynthia nodded and gestured to the now open seat. “Come on up, Sam.”

The young man plopped himself down on the seat, black pleather that squealed beneath him. His eyes opened wide at the massive screen before him, but all that met him was his own reflection. Cynthia stood at his side and pointed to a series of buttons and gizmos below it. She explained their names and how to use them, applying to Sam’s body as she did, but none of it made much sense to me. The new-fangled computers were too much for me.

At the end of it, Cynthia opened up to face all of us, including Jon, who watched with barely contained enthusiasm. “And then all we do is press this button.”

She gestured to a green switch and Sam flipped it like a gun had gone off at the racetrack.

The screen flickered to life, and Sam sat back, still, against the seat. His breathing remained regular, but shallow. His eyes darted back and forth, and as they did, the images on the screen moved and shifted with him. It was my turn to audibly gasp.

“Perfect,” Cynthia mused, a cool smile on her face. “It’s working as intended. It looks like Sam’s memory has brought us to Wall Street.”

Indeed, the screen showed Sam, from his perspective, standing in front of the iconic bull. The only thing more American that I knew was Lady Liberty herself. That image of her torch of hope and promise of welcome still stayed fresh in my mind.

Sam nearly tripped over himself in his memories as he hurried inside. The floor swarmed with sweaty men in suits that brushed against the scrawny teen and shouted into their phone receivers. Sam’s hands and mouth moved wildly, but we heard nothing.

“Ah, clever man,” Cynthia said with a chuckle. “Stock trading is such a bright choice for a young man. And with the knowledge we have today? What a great decision.”

The scene played out a few more minutes, and then Sam took a deep breath. The screen went dark. He thrust his hand against his heart, over the neatly pressed polo and expensive bomber jacket.

“Thank you so much for your time today,” Cynthia smiled. Clearly, being in the room as such a wealthy and distinguished young man hadn’t worn off on her yet. “Did you enjoy the Gateway experience?”

Sam smiled at her with a wild look in his eye. “Y-Yes, I believe I did.”

“That’s wonderful, sir,” she said. “You have our contact information, right? Why don’t we let one of these other lucky winners have their chance?”

His smile widened. “Of course, of course - where is your nearest ATM?”

“Jon?”

The door boy leapt up and to Sam’s side, ready to escort him to the ends of the earth.

“How about you, Mrs. Fischer?” Cynthia’s hand reached out to me.

I smiled and stepped past her, then eased myself into the seat. “Alright, I suppose it’s time.”

She chuckled. “Yes, time. Indeed. Let’s get you set up.”

The diodes sat warm and sticky against my temple and chest when Cynthia placed them, but the finger clamps had already lost their heat when I put them on. Then she pointed to the green switch.

“Alright. Whenever you’re ready.”

I glanced up at the empty screen, the reflection of myself looking back, and flipped the switch.

Colors careened across my vision in thick streams that twisted and curled around each other just for a moment, and in less time than it took to blink they vanished.

In their place, I found myself looking at, well, myself. Several years in the past.

My hair was braided on either side of my face with blonde ringlets trying to spring free. My broad smile was chapped and gap toothed. I stood on the top of a hill with my brother and his older friends, arms out to keep my balance on a cluster of rocks. This was Eastern Germany, the summer of 1951.

“Oh, I remember this,” I thought, and heard myself think. “And I bet I know why that machine brought me here.”

The rocks under my feet are loose, and as I look upon them now, I can imagine myself shooing my own children off such unstable outcroppings of earth. Just like I remember, my ankle buckles as the largest stone beneath me dislodges by inches.

“This is the moment I fell and broke my leg. I spent the rest of the summer inside. I couldn’t enjoy the warmth before the snows came for the winter.”

My arm swung down and sent me teetering over the side.

“I can catch myself, or call out for one of the boys. I can get the whole summer back.”

In a moment, all the times I looked longingly out the kitchen window at the sunlight while I helped mother with the washing came flooding across my memory. But those weren’t the only ones. My father brought home books for me to read every week, and it was that summer I found my favorite book, Call of the Wild.

My hands remained at my side, and my thoughts stayed in my head. My child self fell down on the ground with that crunch sound I’d nearly forgotten all these years after. A twinge of the pain radiated in me, in the place where I always ache before cold weather comes. I cried out on the ground and looked down at the dark swelling in my leg.

I turned my head to look at my brother, but instead I stared at a wall of books on dusty shelves. A voice called to me in German. “Hilde, was machst du?”

I jumped, then said “Verzeihung.”

“My job at the bookshop,” I thought. “What year is this? I worked there for many years in the 60s. I loved it. I never would have left if not for...”

And then the person who spoke to me appeared.

“Petra!”

The dark-haired girl with a scar on her chin peered around the box in her arms. The words she spoke to me faded away in my ears as I took in how beautiful she looked in the late evening sun filtering through the shop’s windows. Not that I’d ever forgotten, but it had been so many years where I was so sure that I’d never see her again...

Petra looked back and forth over her shoulders before dropping the box on a nearby chair. “Hilde, listen,” she said, pulling me close enough to smell her sweat and the scent of old textbooks clinging to her clothes. “We’re going again tonight. You have to come.”

“Oh, I see,” I thought. “That’s why you’ve brought me here.”

In my memory, I say to her, “Petra...”

“Don’t be scared. We’re not even going to leave a trace. It’s just a distraction so that refugees can get what they need to cross the Schutzwall.”

“I want to help. You know I feel for them, but...” I watched my eyes and voice trail away.

“I can tell her no,” I thought. “Tell her that my family will never approve and that I can’t be seen with her again. I can refuse. Papa never has to find out.”

But I see the smile on Petra’s face when I look back at her, the smile that makes me feel like the only person in the entire world. And I don’t move. I can feel the paper she slips into my pocket and the way her hand lingers at my hip for a breath when she’s left it.

“I know what year this is,” I thought, blinking away the scene and appearing in my bedroom that same night. “It’s ‘67. The year I had to quit.”

I pull on my boots and dark coat with a hood. The paper predicted rain overnight. And in my hand, the slip of paper that Petra left me with the meeting location and a phrase: “Tor auf.”

“Open the gate,” I thought, translating out of habit.

I watched myself blow out the candle I used to dress myself by so not to arouse suspicion in the house.

“It’s too late for that,” I thought. “You’ve got your boots on, silly girl. Your father would wake up if you dropped a pin. Perhaps that’s why I’m here. Instead of refusing Petra, maybe I can...”

But I don’t do anything. I watch myself slink down the hall like I’ve read about in so many mystery novels. Sneaking around as though I’m not already caught, as though I haven’t already lived through the rage of my father. A rage I watch myself fall face-first into when Papa turns on the light in the entrance to the house.

His German is thick and even though I understand every word, I don’t want to know them. I don’t want to remember. “Keine Tochter von mir... Du wirst heiraten, wen ich sage.”

“No daughter of mine will be running off in the night, getting killed by the fascists. You’ll be married in the spring. We’ll be on the other side of that Wall without so much as a drop of blood spilled and without breaking your mother’s heart.”

I repeat him, the words that sealed my fate all those years ago. Petra’s paper in my hand is crumpled and tossed away.

When I turn my head to look again at the heartbreak on my face, I expect that I will find myself turning in my notice to the bookshop where Petra watched me leave, or to hear the music of the wedding procession, my parents’ faces smiling with dark eyes.

I don’t find either. Instead, it seems the next pivotal moment of my life is that crisp evening in November, 1989. “Tor auf” is now the cry of the people, not the whispered unifier among friends. The Berlin Wall, they called it in the West.

And I saw her again. Petra. She knelt before a section of concrete with a can of spray paint. Her face was older, as was mine. She had gray hair like me. But her left hand was decidedly naked, while mine was heavy with a ring that was given to me by a wonderful man.

“I see,” I thought. “There she is. I never got to say goodbye to her.”

I started to move towards her, to change the course of history. In my memory, I knew that I turned and left, that I took my brick and I went home to Stephan.

“I could do more than say goodbye,” I thought. “I could go to her. I could leave the ring on our doorstep and we could come to America. I had my life with Stephan, we had our family and our joy. He’s already buried. What do I owe him now?”

My hand reached out for her, nearly grazing the sweat-damp hair on the back of her head. The cries of “tor auf” crescendoed into the sky.

But I stopped. Cold tears streamed down my face. My children were so young. What if I never saw them again? What if they stayed in Berlin and never saw America with me?

What if I lived with Petra and never forgave myself for it?

My hand returned to my side. The wedding band remained.

I closed my eyes and let the tears soak through my lashes.

“Mrs. Fischer?”

I looked up and blinked away the visions of Petra’s face until they cleared into Cynthia’s. I took a deep breath.

“Mrs. Fischer, did you understand the purpose of the Gateway? Not everyone gets to correct their mistakes. You could change your history forever.”

I withdrew my hands from the machine and wiped at my face. “They weren’t mistakes.”

“What?”

I smiled. “I didn’t make any mistakes, you see. My life has been a series of choices, as is yours. I made my decisions. There’s nothing to change or to regret. Now, if you don’t mind, can someone please show me to my vehicle? I want to see my grandchildren.”

Historical
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About the Creator

Elizabeth Kaye Daugherty

Elizabeth Kaye Daugherty, or EKD for short, enjoys a good story, cats, and dragons.

Though she has always written fiction, she found a love of creative nonfiction while studying at Full Sail University.

https://linktr.ee/Ekdwriter

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