I looked him straight in the eye and promised.
“Promise,” I spat at my mirror-self. The mirror was tarnished and cracked, and I could barely see myself in it. “Never, ever use that word again!” I scolded my pale dark eyed reflection, following with a small, sad laugh. The flickering of the candle light threw strange shadows across my face. I looked far older than my early twenties. I guess that’s what happens when you’re trapped.
I heard him shouting my name. “Mo! Mo, come back!” The words floated towards me through the fog. They seemed strangely far away. I knew he was getting angry at me. He used my full name. Imogen.
I pulled the door shut just as I heard Neil’s voice again, closer this time. I could tell he was concerned about me. Not just the note of panic I heard in his voice but the fact he called me Rose. And Neil only used it when he was worried about me.
That’s my last name. Or, I guess my middle name. My parents were hippies; free spirits, where rules were made to be broken – including having a last name. I don’t have one, so I guess Rose it is. I must’ve come out of the shallow end of their gene pool, because I’m the total opposite. I’ve always followed the rules. Until now.
What was that saying? Promises were meant to be broken? I told Neil I was doing this for an assignment. Which was the truth. It was for an experiment, for one of my courses at University. To prove that the whole town is ridiculous, believing in the town with no name. It’s just superstition.
The wall stood at the edge of town. I guess you couldn’t really call it a wall anymore. Most of it had fallen down and moss and grass had grown over the rubble. The only section that remained was the part with the door. And the door itself was mostly hidden now, by vines and moss that had taken over, filling in all the cracks between the stones and spreading like a virus across it. The wooden door had been bricked up a long time ago. I couldn’t remember when, exactly. Fifty years? Seventy? My mother had told me about it, just like every other child in town had, when they were growing up. A story, to scare your children into behaving, to stay out of trouble. To stay away from the wall, from the door. But mainly just on Hallowe’en, at midnight.
My nails scraped painfully across the rough stone as I tugged away the remaining vines blocking me from my experiment. By the watery light of the moon I could make out something written above the door. Remember the Children, it said. It had been painted on the stone in some colour I couldn’t make out in the dark. The paint was faded and peeling.
I shivered. “It’s just your imagination,” I said out loud, trying unsuccessfully to bolster some courage. The shadows seemed to swoop in around me.
The stones covering the door were crumbling now just as much as the wall itself. I pulled at the stones as quickly as I could. The moon disappeared behind a cloud, throwing me into sudden, almost pitch black, darkness. The fog drew in, making my skin jump into small armies of goosebumps.
I shook my head at the warning – or memorial.
We all knew the story. But it was just a silly superstition, like I said. One that I was just about to prove right for my paper. My bag was slung across me and hung at my side, filled with a notebook and pens, a bottle of water and a granola bar, just in case.
Every year, on Hallowe’en, at the stroke of midnight, if you went through the door in the wall, you would end up in another town. They called it the town with no name. Only because the people that went through the door never returned to tell anyone the name of it.
I could see around both sides of what remained of the wall, and it was only forest that stretched on for miles. I glanced at my watch. It was three minutes to midnight. I pulled away large chunks of the crumbling bricks from the wall, revealing the old wood like some strange sort of reverse jig-saw puzzle.
I tried not to think of the children. The five children that went through the door, and never came back. Hairs rose on the back of my neck, and a tingle of fear began at my head and ran down my spine. “Don’t be ridiculous Mo. You’re just freaking yourself out.” I might be someone that always follows the rules, that always turns in their homework on time, but I never said I was brave. In fact, I hated everything remotely scary. Horror movies gave me nightmares and I would lie in bed trying my best not to fall asleep and thinking I would never, ever get to sleep again.
There was one story that was true. I remember reading it in the newspaper archives. One of the mothers of the children that disappeared she went a bit crazy. Understandably. She blamed the town. She blamed everyone for the existence of the door. For not having it blocked off, off limits, or torn down. She took revenge on the mayor, on the city council. It ended it murder and blood and mayhem. I heard she died in prison, ranting and raving about the town with no name. She said that she had seen it, just before the door closed, as the children went through the door, before it shut behind them.
She said it was old. The streets were made of cobblestones, and she screamed at anyone who would listen that there were horse and carriages instead of cars, and she saw a woman in a dress with a corset. It sounded like it was something out of a Dicken’s novel. The woman clawed and pounded at the door until her fingers were bloody.
The door opens at midnight, and once it closes again, you’re stuck. You can’t get in from the outside, from our side, after it closes. Until the next year, when the clock strikes twelve.
One of the various versions of the story I heard growing up was that you have one hour. One hour inside the town with no name and if you get out before that hour is up, you can come back.
I heard Neil call my name again. He sounded closer. I told him I was doing this for a reason. I wanted to get an A in my History class, and I knew if I could write a piece on The Town With No Name, with evidence to back it up, there was no way I wouldn’t. It seemed like The Town with No Name had put some kind of spell on our town. Everyone was curious about it, but no one wanted to talk about it. It was forbidden, taboo. So writing this report on it would definitely garner me an A, I was sure of it.
Just as I pulled the last chunk of stone away from the door, I heard my name again. “Imogen Rose! Stop! Don’t do it!”
My fingers, frozen with the cold of night fumbled with the rusted handle. I pulled, and surprisingly the door moved. I glanced at my watch again, pressing the small button that lit the face in Day-Glo blue. 12:00.
I heard his feet crunching loudly through the dead leaves. I didn’t dare risk looking over my shoulder. If I saw him, if I saw the worry on his face, I would hesitate and then all my courage would crumble, just like the wall.
I slipped through the door and leaned my weight against it. The rough wood was reassuring.
I was expecting the familiar, skeletal trees of the forest. Expecting to see Neil come round either side of the wall any second.
My heart leapt into my throat, and I turned ice cold, frozen in fear. My whole body tingled. I don’t know whether it was shock, or adrenaline.
My feet no longer stood on damp grass and sodden leaves but cold, wet cobblestones, and in front of me loomed a town of stunted white-washed buildings. A horse and carriage trundled past me, and I had to jump out of way.
A woman strode purposefully past me.
“Excuse me, but where am I?”
The woman looked at me and smiled kindly. “Imogen Rose.”
I stared. “How do you know my name?”
The woman looked puzzled. “No, that is the name of the town, my dear.”
I had promised him. Promised I wouldn’t do anything stupid.
I had fifty eight minutes.