The Keeper

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic

A haunting short story.
England 1937. An afternoon drive leads three men to an isolated house. A brief encounter with its Keeper unleashes a series of uncanny events, whose sinister purpose slowly becomes apparent.

One

"I say Charles." began Albert, pausing to shift gears as the bright red Citroen began it's ascent up a steep hill, "We should have reached Griffenhall a good half-hour ago. Are you sure you're reading the map correctly?"

Charles glanced over at Albert and gave a slight shrug of his shoulders. "I admit my navigation skills are limited Albert, but there is only one road from King's Lynne to Griffenhall and we're on it. But just to put your mind at ease, lets have James’s opinion."

Charles passed the map back to James, who was sitting comfortably in the back seat, legs stretched out and chewing on the end of a cheroot he had not bothered to light since the start of their journey.

James pretended to study the map carefully for a minute (adding an occasional “Hmmm” for good effect) then handed it back to Charles. "I'm sorry to disappoint you Albert, but our navigator is correct – we are on the one and only road leading to Griffenhall. You'll definitely need to pick-up the pace if we stand any chance of getting there by supper."

This had the desired effect of making his two companions chuckle. Albert had been speeding for most of their journey, hitting 60 mph on several occasions, the automobile's "impressive cruising speed", a phrase Albert used, if not once, then at least a half-dozen times.

The three young men were on a short "sabbatical from Oxford" (as James put it), travelling around the countryside for a few days before the start of exams. Their car, the newly released 1937 Sports Citroen, was the most recent addition to Albert’s father’s collection, a prominent businessman who made his fortune in the booming chemical industry, producing fertilizer for the ever-growing number of farms in England.

“Quite decent of your father to lend us the new auto.” remarked Charles, thinking of how painful the trip would have been in James’ cramped and somewhat dilapidated Morris Minor, affectionately know as the “spinal compressor” among his friends.

“Yes, the old man has a kind heart, despite his reputation as a ruthless businessman” replied Albert. “In fact, he once…” Albert stopped suddenly in mid-sentence, adding instead “What’s this? I thought father had the engine checked before lending us the auto!”

The reason for this sudden outburst soon became apparent to both Charles and James – steam was escaping from the hood of the car. Fortunately, they had just come to the top of the hill, allowing Albert to switch off the engine and coast to a stop.

“What a spot of bad luck” remarked James, “And we were making such good time as well.”

Albert gave a slight sigh as he shot an amused look back at James through the rear-view mirror. “I’m going to be a gentleman and ignore that comment James. Now come along you two, we’ll need to move this vehicle off the road."

A clearing at the side of the road, next to a tall English oak, lay some twenty feet ahead, and the three men steered the vehicle to this spot  without too much effort. Once there, both men stood aside as Albert released the latches at the base of the hood and yanked it open, all the while keeping his face turned away from the overheated engine. The two engine panels folded neatly together and came to rest in an upright position above the engine.

“How bad is it?” enquired Charles.

“Engine overheated, that’s all. We’ll need to let it cool for a bit and top off the radiator with water as well. In the meantime, be a good sport and lend me your jacket, I need to wrap it around my hand so I can twist the radiator cap open. I promise it will be none the worse for wear because of it.”

This proved not to be the case, however. Charles noticed a slight circular stain, the size of the radiator cap, on the right lapel of the jacket just as he was ready to slip it on again. He did not bring this to the attention of Albert, instead folding his jacket over his arm and commenting on how warm the afternoon was becoming.

“There’s a house up on that hill to the right of us.” James said, pointing. “Looks inhabited…though it could do with some repairs. May as well head up and see if the occupants will provide us with water for the radiator.”

“I could do with a glass myself” added Albert.

The house, a narrow Edwardian construction unusually devoid of any ornate decorative features, had a gray, moss-stained door that was slightly ajar. Charles reached out and gave the copper door bell a few turns. No bell sounded, but a few moments later an elderly man appeared at the door. He was of small build, pale in complexion, and wore dark trousers and a Tweed jacket that would have been considered fashionable twenty years ago.

“Good afternoon.” Began Charles. “My apologies for the intrusion, but we ran into a spot of trouble with our vehicle. Is there someone in the household we can speak with that may be able to assist us?”

“I am the keeper of this place.” Replied the elderly man in a shallow but even voice.

“Wonderful.” continued Charles. “My name is Charles Black, and these are my companions, Albert and James.” Both men nodded their heads towards the elderly keeper, who ignored their gesture and continued to keep his eyes fixed on Charles. After murmuring a few words to himself, he said at last “How can I be of help?”

“Our car overheated. We were hoping you could provide us with a pitcher of water” Replied Charles.

“I can accommodate that request. Please follow me into the kitchen. I will have to ask that your two companions wait here for you.” The elderly keeper turned and motioned for Charles to follow. Both Albert and James feigned a hurt look at Charles. “Children” murmured Charles as he stepped into the house.

Charles had walked out a few minutes later carrying a white ceramic pitcher half filled with water, which Albert was now carefully pouring into the radiator. “Awfully queer chap, wasn’t he?”

“I’d say” replied Charles. “Didn’t say a word the entire time we were in the house. Didn’t even acknowledge my repeated thanks for his help.” Charles seemed to hesitate for a moment, then continued “Also, when he was at the door, staring at me, he murmured something to himself. The more I think about it, the more certain I am that he said Etiam, hoc faciam.”

Etiam, hoc faciam” repeated Albert slowly. “What does it mean?”

“It’s Latin for Yes, he will do.”

Albert stop pouring the water into the radiator. He looked at Charles for a moment, then handed him the pitcher and secured the hood in place.

“I don’t know about you, but the faster I get away from this place, the better I’ll feel. Just leave the pitcher at the base of the laneway where the old man can fetch it himself and let us be on our way.”

They were just a few minutes into their journey when, quite unexpectedly, they found themselves driving up another steep hill.

“The terrain looked fairly flat when we drove off” said Albert in a perplexed voice. “Certainly I would have spotted a hill of this size.”

The three men glanced at one another. An air of uneasiness had fallen over them. The car had just come over the crest of the hill when Albert slowed to a stop. He was looking to his left, where a narrow laneway wound its way up to an old house on a hill.

“It can’t be.” James said in a low voice.

After a brief moment of silence, Charles turned to Albert, ready to remark that, as unusual at it was, there could certainly be two similar houses in the area. But he stopped himself when he noticed that Albert’s gaze had shifted, he was now looking at the base of the hill, next to the laneway. Charles leaned over to the right so he could peer over Albert’s shoulder. There, just as he had left it only a short while ago, stood the white ceramic pitcher.

 

Two

The men were leaning up against the car, lost in thought, occasionally glancing at the house, inwardly wishing it would not be there the next time they looked. The vehicle was parked under the shade of the English oak, one more uncomfortable reminder that they had indeed come back to their former location.

Albert broke the silence. He spoke rather to himself than to his companions.

“We can rule this out as being some queer configuration of the surrounding geography. There’s no way we could return here in such a short time without having steered to the right for most of the trip. Alternatively, I would have to have made a few sharp right-hand turns at fairly short intervals. Neither happened. So…let us consider this further…” He left the remainder of his thought unspoken.

“Charles, I don’t suppose you noticed if there was a telephone in that house?” Inquired James.

 “Telephone?” Laughed Charles. “Do you see telephone wires anywhere in this godforsaken countryside?”

“No, of course not. You’re quite right.” Replied James, turning his sights to the old house again. “It was a silly question”

Charles let out a long, slow breath before speaking once more to James. “My apologies for the curt response James, but I can’t…I just can’t shake the feeling that this event is linked to that house and the keeper who lives there.” Here he paused, then shifted uneasily before adding “I’d rather finish the journey to Griffenhall crawling on hands and knees than step foot into that house again.”

An oppressive silence fell over the group. Charles had spoken that which had been on everyone’s mind – that his entrance into the house set something terribly strange, perhaps even sinister, into motion.  

Albert cleared his throat before addressing his companions in an even, calm voice. “I’ve been thinking this through and, if you and Charles are in agreement, I propose we do the following.” He began to pace a little as he spoke. “First, you will position yourselves as lookouts at opposite ends of this hilltop. James, you will stand next to the road at the point where we drove up, and Charles, you will stand at this end, where we drove away earlier. Next, I’ll get in the car and once again drive off…”

“Come now Albert, this is no time for levity” interrupted Charles.

“I assure you I’m quite serious – please, hear me out. As far as I can see, one of two outcomes will happen. If within 5 minutes of driving I do not see James at the top of a hill, then I know the road does indeed lead away from here. I will turn the car around, Charles will see me approaching, and before long the three of us will be on our way again.” Here Albert paused. “On the other hand…”

“On the other hand,” interrupted James gravely “if you see me after a few minutes of driving, then we remain caught in this…this situation. So let me put forth a more sensible proposal - we forget about the blasted vehicle and start our way forward on foot.”

But as he spoke these last words, he knew they sounded hollow. All three men instinctively understood that the house and its keeper would not allow this. They had been chosen to play out a certain fate, the outcome of which was still unknown. And so, without saying anther word, the three men parted, each heading towards their assigned task.

 

Charles glanced anxiously down at his pocket watch for the third time. Ten minutes had passed since Albert drove off down the hill. He turned to look at James at the other end of the road. Like Charles, he had just finished checking the time, and was returning the watch to his pocket when he noticed Charles looking his way. He nodded a silent “no” to indicate there was no sign of the car. Charles returned the same signal.

“What’s taking Albert so long?

James was now standing by Charles’ side. Twenty minutes had passed since Albert left.

“I’m not sure he can come back, James”.

“Not come back? What the devil do you mean by that?”

 “The third outcome, James, the one Albert did not share with us – the possibility of him not returning. That’s why he came up with the premise of keeping us here as lookouts. He did it to protect us, and for no other reason.”

“To protect us.” James thought to himself “Yes, that is exactly something Albert would do – protect us…” James took a minute to gather his thoughts before speaking. “I say Charles, Albert is like a brother to us, and we cannot abandon him, no matter what his original intentions were. Surely you must see that. We need to set-off and search for him immediately. Let’s be sensible, he probably veered off into a ditch, perhaps injured or unconscious and unable to return.”

Charles did not respond.

“Well, are you coming?”

Again, Charles said nothing. James turned to face Charles directly and was shocked at what he saw before him.  Charles’ green-blue eyes were staring blankly at the distant horizon. His pallor was ashen gray and he looked as if he had aged thirty years. 

James stood motionless for a minute, then rested a hand gently on Charles shoulder and said earnestly “On second thought Charles, one of us should remain here. You continue to hold down the lookout post. I’ll go and find Albert and bring him back. It won’t take me more than an hour. I’ll be back soon Charles, I promise.”

Charles turned and faced James with his vacant stare. “I’ll be here, waiting.”

It was with a faint smile that James gave Charles a reassuring pat on the shoulder, then set off down the road.

 

A mist was slowly enveloping the countryside with the approach of nightfall. Charles had not moved from his post, not since James left over three hours ago. Darkness brought an uncharacteristic silence to the land. The feeling of isolation and loneliness took hold of Charles, and in a moment of utter despair, he turned in the direction of the house. He could barely make out its outline in the dark, but the door stood ajar, a faint glow emanating from within. As he watched, the door opened wider, revealing the keeper.

 

Three

The sleek Lotus sports car swerved to avoid a large badger on the road, causing Robert to curse softly under his breath.

“That would have made a sizable dent Robert. Wouldn’t do to show up at a new client with roadkill all over the fender and hood”

“You got that right. Damn beast almost attacked us”

“Must have been hungry” replied William. “Speaking of which, we left King's Lynne a couple of hours ago. I would have grabbed a bite to eat had I known the drive to Griffenhall was this long”

“Agreed. The road map made the distance seem no more than an hour.”

“Outdated map I guess.”

Robert reached for the map on the dashboard and read the cover. “Esso 1967 road map for South and West England. Couldn’t get more current than that.” He tossed the map back onto the dashboard.

William stifled a yawn and rested his elbow out of the open car window. A few seconds later he pointed to the right and added “Careful, another large badger by the shoulder up ahead.” then continued sarcastically “Given the steepness of this hill the damn thing is going to die of a heart attack before any car gets a chance to kill it.”

They were just approaching the crest of the hill when the car stalled, then came to a complete stop. Both men stared at each other in disbelief. Robert tried the ignition several times – the engine was dead.

“Man, this can’t be happening” lamented William “We’re already an hour late for our meeting. Head office is not going to be happy.”

Once out of the car, both men headed for the shade provided by an old English oak by the side of the road. It was William who spotted the house first.

“Looks abandoned, but I image most of the isolated homes around here are. Let’s check it out. If there’s no phone they may at least have some sort of vehicle for us to borrow”

“With the luck we’re having today they’re probably bicycles – with both wheels flat. Alright, lets get going and hope for the best.”

It was William who tried to ring the copper doorbell. No bell sounded, but shortly after the door opened and an elderly man appeared. Willian detected a great sadness behind the piercing green-blue eyes that greeted him. And his clothes, although outdated, were of good quality, except for the faint circular stain on one of the lapels.

“We’ve had some car trouble” began William “we were hoping....”

The old man continued to stare at William as he spoke, his green-blue eyes brightening as he whispered ever so softly “Etiam, hoc faciam”.


Submitted: April 15, 2021

© Copyright 2021 STall5657. All rights reserved.

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