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CANTO 1: Quarter of the way through my life, I found myself in a dark and desolate place, I had long lost the right path that led to happiness. I was alone.

My name is James, I am a junior editor and struggling novelist living in NYC. I know what you're thinking, struggling writer in New York, is this going to be on NBC or ABC? Cliché though it may be, that is who I am. But like all people, I’m not always happy. Yes, I have all the things a man should need to be happy, but something’s always been missing, something’s always been out of place. I lost the love of my life our freshman year in college. Her name was Isabel, she had dark chestnut hair and deep blue eyes, like water after a rainstorm. She was the best part of me; she was my heart and then one day she was gone, struck by a drunk, speeding to get home.

But I digress, this is my story and whether you believe it or not, this should be shared because you never know who this may help. As I said my life was good but not great.

One not so very special day, things seemed to shift from good to bad. The leaves had just begun to change and air was turning crisp. My life as “good” as it was, was starting to turn into shitty. Nothing so bad that something was clearly wrong but it was like something dark was following me.

It started small, like it was just bad luck. My girlfriend of about a year left me (not too strange as we weren’t too happy), my car got broken into (shouldn’t have a car in NY anyway right?), I got mugged (that one was scary, especially considering how safe the city has gotten), but more importantly I could swear someone was following me. No one sinister looking, just a man, in a long dark coat. He never attacked me, he never approached me, sometimes I wouldn't see him for days but he seemed to be everywhere I was. That was the most eerie. It was like that for weeks.

Then one day my dog, Ace, a beautiful dark grey husky, ran away. A neighbor took him out when I was stuck at work and when a cab stopped short, he got loose and ran off into the park. Ace was a present from Isabel, he meant the world to me. I rushed home but by the time I reached the park, it was dark and every New Yorker knows, you never go into the park after dark. It would have to wait…

The next day I had friends scoured the park with me. Everyone called his name for hours but not a trace was found. So odd, he’s such a good dog, he would always come when called. I contacted the animal shelter and control but no husky was reported.  The search continued until I got a call from of all people my godmother.

“Hello” I said cautiously. Hoping I hadn’t missed someone’s birthday.

“You need to come home” her ominous words filled me with dread. In not so many words she told me, that my family, my whole family was dead. My mother, father and sister killed in a car accident. That was the day that these little “problems” in my life became insignificant.  I rushed home that very day, while my friends continued to search for Ace.

The next two weeks were a blur of wakes, funerals and mountains of paperwork. I was drained, empty inside and with a heavy heart I flew back home.

Back in the City the first snow had just fell and a perfect white sheet laid over the city. My friends had searched and searched but Ace was no where to be found.

I looked for him several times but I never found him. I took some time off work and spent a lot of time alone. I would drink and sleep, drink and sleep my life stuck in a cycle of shit. I became cold, distant, angry… I was angry at everyone, I was angry at God. Why would he take everything from me and in a rage I stood up and yelled at the heavens “What the fuck did I do to deserve this?”

Nothing but silence.

“You took everything from me, Isabel, my family and my fucking dog? You had to take my dog? What the fuck did he ever do to anyone?!”

This time, someone responded. I heard a whisper come from behind my door. I look at the clock it was 3am. I moved towards the door and I heard the whisper again. So soft it was almost not there. I leaned into the door to try to listen but I still couldn't hear it, so I pressed my ear to the door.

“I can give them back to you”

I shot back, hoping it had been the wind, I threw the door open but there was no one to be found, I walked into the hall and looked but no one was there, no one had been there…

I walked back into my apartment slowly making sure no one snuck up on me and shut the door and then I heard it. The unmistakable sound of him. It was Ace I knew his bark anywhere. I ran to the window and there he was out in the street barking up at the window. I rushed to the door grab my coat, his leash and ran out after him.

Out in the cold night there he was barking at me. I called him and called him but he never came. Odd. I started to walk towards him and he took off. I rushed after him but the snow slowed me down. As he round the corner he stopped waiting for me to get closer. Was he leading me somewhere?

He led me for blocks until we made it to the entrance into the park. He stop just outside of it, waiting for me. As I got closer he took off into the darkness of the park. I stood there, staring into the darkness. Every New Yorker knows not to go into the park after dark….

I heard Ace barking and barking; waiting for me…

I shouldn't go in, but maybe he’s leading me somewhere. Maybe someone’s hurt. I cant risk losing him again. I slowly entered the bark.

I could barely see the lights of the dark being dim, some broken, he barked and barked and I rushed after him, he led me deeper and deeper into the park.

He ran up a small hill turned and bark down at me. As I walked up he stopped and a warm glow seem to grow behind him. I slowed and peered over the edge.

Therem a man sat at a small fire, a ragged black hoodie covering his head. A large stone laid past him. He was cooking what looked like a squirrel over the fire.  I climb all the  rest of the way up to the top of the hill, Ace came and sat by my feet. The man turned his head slightly, his face still hidden.

“You have a good dog, very brave.”

“Thank you….Did you take care of him?”

“In a way…” He turned the squirrel over to the other side.

“Well again, thank you, is there something I can do for you? Some kindof reward?”

“My reward is forth coming, just a request needs to be filled”

“A request?”

“Yes, you’re going to need a guide…”

I took a step back, Ace stood and moved with me.

“Your dog has decided to join you, he wants you to be happy…” I took another step back, right to he edge of the hill. “What do you mean?”

The man stood and turned to face me, his face was a pale blue, his eyes completely black, hundreds of tiny barely healed scars covered his face.

I turned to run but there was  nothing there, I don't mean no where to run, I mean nothing. Its as if the world fade away and only that stop continued to exist. Nothing remained, but the snow, Ace, the man, the stone and myself.

“You cannot leave until the choice has been given. You can go home, you can take your dog and live your life, or you can come with me and I can give you a chance, a single chance to fix things, to set things right.”

“What do you mean?” I said cautiously but curiously.

“What if I could let you see your parents again? Your sister?”

“No one can do that”

“I can, they need your help, you trapped them somewhere. Only you can help them.”

I sat in silence, knowing I had to answer yes, even if it was a fools errand I had to try, I had to know what he meant but before I could answer. He stopped me.

“Wait, there is one more thing. I have a question that you must answer”

“Yes?”

“The woman you loved…what would you do to see her again? to feel the warmth of her skin? To feel the taste of her lips?”

“Anything”

“Would you kill?”

“I would”

“Is that your answer?”

“Yes…..”

The man stood and walk to the large store, he forcefully and violently slamed his hands into the stone and began to pull it apart. A crude smell, of blood and death seeped through stone. As he drew back the opening, larger and larger, a blistering heat could be felt and a light started to pour through.

I couldn’t do it anymore I had to close my eyes, the light grew too much. And then a loud crash was heard.  When I opened my eyes, I saw it; Black Gates, but not just gates painted black but the iron seemed as if they were made of darkness itself.

Vincent lowered his hood, exposing a long and jagged scar running down the back of his head, he turned slowly to face me, tears streaming down his face. “I’m sorry for the things you are about to see”

He took my hand and dragged me closer. The heat growing more and more intense, I could barely stand it.

He grabbed my hand and forced it on to the handle, I knew it would burn and I clenched ready to feel the blow, but in its place, I felt cold, ice cold, like putting your hand into a bucket of ice water, I pushed the door open and Vincent entered, fading into the darkness,

I stood there, motionless, the heat vanished, I felt nothing but a deep chill course through my body.  What should I do? Should I follow? What did he mean about my family? Isabel, my sweet Isabel, could this have something to do with her? Ace walked into the darkness, vanishing into the distance. Then I was alone; there was nothing but darkness around me or the darkness before me. I was alone again. I’m safe where I am, but something is drawing me forward, something is calling me in.

Ace barks. I can’t leave him alone. I enter, letting the darkness engulf me. I hear it.

Screaming, terrible screaming, the screams of the anguished, the scream of the tortured, of the unloved, of the forgotten and in an instance it fades and I hear it, the voice, I hear it, as clear as you read these words. There was no questioning it now, he was in front of me.

“You’re mine now…”

END OF CANTO 1

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