They step down onto the wet sand, the tide nearing its lowest as they follow a snaking sandbar that leads its way out towards the gate. Several people amble around the stilted shrine, picking up shells and other oddities now that the tide is low.
“Sooo.. the gate itself is..” he counts on his fingers lazily, squinting. “2018, 2008.. eeeeight hundred some years old? Sometime in the 1100s.”
Saya turns and looks at him in disbelief, “Wait, what? And it's still standing? After all that time?” The bottom of the torii was covered in barnacles and discolored, but for it to be that old and still standing..
“Oh, no, no no, this is Japan. Typhoons come here regularly. This one is.. a hundred and ten years old?” That sounded about right to Lan as they kept walking. Saya was nevertheless impressed.
“I know the difference between lumber and salt-treated wood, but I've never heard of wood structures lasting that long.” She holds her hands out, “I mean it looks weathered, but intact.”
“Ah, you see,” Lan grins, smug with the knowledge of his town's landmarks, at least the few they visited. “They build 'em with camphor wood. It's all over Asia, and is very sturdy. You know uh.. Vicks. Vicks rub? When you have a cough?”
She nods as they're nearly up to the base of the gate. The crowd starting to get a little louder as cameras click and snap. “Same thing,” he says, “just distilled. Turns out camphor is useful in all sorts of things.”
Saya stops in the middle of the first two posts, pushing back her hair and craning her head back to look up at the beautiful gold-on-black lettering in the center near the roof, surrounded by the stark red of the rest of the gate.
Lan was quiet behind her for a moment before he catches up, following her gaze. “Oh.. you're not pregnant, are you?”
She spins and drops her vision to his face, which is grinning. “What?!” He shakes his head as he laughs, taking her shoulders and turning them back around to face the gate.


  “It's part of the belief. The shrine needs to retain its purity, so it's discouraged for late-stage pregnant woman to avoid the gate, as well as the elderly. You do know what people believe of torii, right?”
Saya nods, then shrugs under his hands. “I have an idea. Entrance to a sacred space?”
“Mhm, or a place of the thinning of the barrier between this world and the next. It's all in what you choose to believe.” He lifts his hands from her shoulders and steps in front of her, walking a few paces ahead. “I've heard some crazy believers that won't walk through them. They're few and far between, akin to..”
Lan stops with the main bar of the gate above him as Saya walks up next to him. “Like walking under a ladder. Does it feel much different to you than before?”
He holds up his hand and moves it towards the shore, then away, directly under the beam. He was smiling, but shrugs, leaning down to her and murmuring. “The best tour guides leave you wondering, right?”
When she turns a bit and glances at his eyes from the corner of her vision, he raises a brow with that impish grin before standing back up.


  The area around the gate was dry enough that they could walk around the whole thing, and Saya did, with Lan right behind her. From where she stood, the water line was nearly a foot above her head. Even at Lan's height, he'd likely be underwater.
“Can I?” She holds her hand up, pointing to the base. Lan curls a lip in disgust, looking at the sea's green slime and barnacles attached to it, but nods, “Nothing stopping you, no.”
The algae didn't bother her, but the barnacles.. she leans up on her tiptoes to a relatively bare, pale red part of the gate and presses her palm flat against it. The wood was drying, but not completely yet. She knocks her knuckles against it, feeling as if she were knocking on concrete.
Lan did the same, his hand much higher than hers above the waterline, though. “The one thing I always found interesting about this was its.. symmetry. All torii are symmetrical, mostly, but this one, being so big, look.”
He points at the outside of the middle posts, as tall as tree trunks, made out of them, as well, but with little imperfections. A bulge here, a thinning up higher, the base wider than the top. “Now look over there.”
Lan runs an finger from base to top on the opposite trunk, and it bulges and thins in the exact same places as its partner that they stood beside.
“Like mirrored trees,” she says, and he nods, dropping his hand.
“Mhm. And if you think what kind of tools they had in the 1800s, kinda makes it a little more fantastical. Much too young to compare to Stonehenge, but I still find it interesting.”
Now she was comparing each pole to its opposite, every little detail seemed carved to be symmetrical, even with minute little changes and natural weathering.


  As they walk back towards the shrine along the sandbar, he pulls out his phone. “Here, NFC again, would you?”
Saya tilts her head but clicks open her purse, thumbing her phone as she touches it to his – it asks if she wants to accept an image file, and she accepts.
Lan keeps walking, but Saya stops in her tracks once she opens the image.
It was taken nearly at ground level, with a blur of people around her, but it was Saya from behind, hand on head to keep her hair calm, staring up at the tremendous gate above her – frozen in time.
She looks at Lan's back as he kept on, and though she couldn't see his presumably grinning face, his step had a bit of a yes, I did swagger to it.


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About the author


Bio: apologies for everything about me, it might get better.

updates will be once a day for the next seventy days since i am migrating from another platform and have those chapters - and more - ready to go. (from 8/9)

feel free to come hang out in the discord, if you like.

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