The Guardian of the Grounds

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic
Scott and Mark are victims of nostalgia. Their last summer before college begins, they visit one of their old childhood hangouts, a fort they built themselves in the woods. When they go there, they meet a largely built man. Is he friend or foe?

Submitted: March 01, 2008

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Submitted: March 01, 2008

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The Guardian of the Grounds
 
 
 
 
The fort we built ourselves sat in the middle of an untamed labyrinth of trees and swamps. The structure, however, resembled more like a hut, built from old wood boards unevenly placed together to form the walls and angled roof. A dirt path led from the outside world to the rotund center of the forest. One day, my friend Mark and I had followed it through patches of mud, swarms of insects and muggy air to where the result of our hard work stands today.
The frequent rains we received in my hometown took its toll upon our reclusive hideaway resulting in mold, weeds and occasionally a rotted board or two. Throughout the years that we visited, we tried our best to maintain it. But, as the years went by and we got older, it became harder to visit as frequently as we used to around our busy schedule.
Years had passed since the last visit to our hideout. Both Mark and I were eighteen now, and around August, would be attending our college of choice, neither of which were close to home. This being our last summer here, we thought it would be fitting to visit the location where we spent the latter part of our childhood together for the last time.
We stood at the entrance to the path that would lead us to our old haunt. Who knew how much of it would still be standing, if any. But, both of us were victims of nostalgia, desperately needing to see for ourselves.
“Let’s get goin,” I ordered Mark. “It’s supposed to rain hard later today and I don’t wanna get caught out in it.” The sky was a light, cloudy gray, with barely any sun shining down from behind.
“Yeah I hear that,” he agreed. “Ready when you are.”
We proceeded into the woods, immediately hearing the distinct sounds of birds, frogs, crickets and other joyous noises of nature. A slight breeze blew causing the old tree limbs to creak much of the way through the woods. Our parents, saying they were dangerous, had always forbidden us to wander through these woods. Of course, it was a childish reaction that once we were told not to do something, we had to do it.
“How much do you think is remaining, Scott?” Mark asked. I had wondered the same thing myself.
“I doubt there’s anything left standing,” I answered pessimistically. “We’ve had a lot of freak storms over the years, and were not the greatest of architects.”
“For some reason, I think there’s a little bit left standing; not much, but at least enough to be able to identify it,” answered Mark. He had always been the more optimistic one.
I smiled, “I’ll bet ya $10 there’s nothing left standing at all.”
“Agreed,” he said. It’s good to be optimistic at times, but sometimes it would be Mark’s downfall. The odds of the fort still standing after at least three years weren’t in his favor.
Tall weeds grew throughout the forest and puddles of dried mud sat at the edges of the path. Dead trees were everywhere; many of them had rotted and eventually fallen onto the ground. Trash was scattered throughout the woods; mostly alcohol bottles, cigarette butts and boxes, tires, the occasional used condom along with other discarded garbage. These woods always had a reputation of attracting rowdy crowds. Drug deals and parties were particularly common within the surrounding area.
Mark and I stayed quiet for most of the time, looking around at the woods and listening to the sounds of nature. Our path eventually led up to a fork, where the path diverged between the trail that took us to our fort and the one that would bring us to a manmade ditch for dirt bikers, paintball matches and manhunt. Neon pink, green and yellow paint on a close tree showed which path would lead us the wrong direction. We kept to our intended path.
“You realize since we were nine, and our parents told us not to come back here, we never once got caught coming to or from here?” enlightened Mark, breaking the silence.
“I’m sure our parents realized eventually. If they didn’t, that’s pretty impressive,” I responded.
It was silent once again, all but the sounds of nature, the wind and the crunching of our shoes on the dirt path. We had reached the middle of the forest. The universal symbol for this was the plank bridge. A slow moving river slithered throughout the entire forest. It was one of at least two in the woods. To get across, there used to be a rope swing, but the branch broke and was still laying in the river with the broken end sticking out. Afterwards, we built the bridge with extra pieces of wood from the fort.
We stared at the bridge, wondering how safe it actually was. By now, it had to have rotted through. Mark decided to test its strength. Taking one small step at a time, the board creaked and whined, but surprisingly supported Mark’s weight and got him to the other side.
Now it was my turn. As Mark did, I carefully walked across the boards, as it continued to wail. It supported my weight however, and I made it safely. We looked at each other in amazement at the durability of the wood that we used. It wasn’t much further now to the fort.
Not much of the woods, from my perspective seemed to have changed. It all, for the most part, looked the same as I remembered it. The wind had picked up a little bit stronger now since we had begun our journey, which meant the storm was on the way.
Mark took notice of me viewing the little sky I could see through the trees. It had turned a darker gray. “Don’t worry, Scott, if it starts raining, we could always bunker down in the fort until it stops, or till it lightens up.” Off in the distance, a roll of thunder echoed across the area. We both froze in our tracks, looking back from where we had come.
“Do you want to head back and save this for another day?” Mark offered, knowing I preferred not to get drenched today.
“Were almost there, plus, who knows when we’ll get to do this again. We might never get a chance,” I replied, rejecting his offer. The thunder roared loudly, getting closer to where we were. The wind picked up even stronger, tossing leaves down upon us from the branches above.
“Let’s pick up the pace a little bit,” I said, followed by us beginning to run down the dirt path. There wasn’t much farther to go. As we were running, we passed a dead tree with a neon orange “X” painted across it, probably by construction crew. From that point, it should be just up ahead.
We stopped short at the entrance to the circular den that housed our fort. Encased by the protection of the trees our fort, built almost ten years ago, was still standing after three years since our last visit. Time of course, did chip away at it.
Mark and I walked slowly towards the old structure, mouths a gape and still short of breath. Neither of us mentioned the bet we had made at the beginning of the trip. We just stood in awe of our childhood sanctuary.
We walked up towards the front door where two Masterlock pad locks, originally silver, now covered in orange rust, secured the fort from any intruders. Both of us took out of our pockets a chain, which each held a key to one of the locks. For the first time in three years and with a great amount of force, fighting through the rust, we unlocked them and opened up the door.
We looked around the small circular room. A small wooden table and two chairs, a metal bathroom medicine cabinet, all found in the woods, and four battery operated lanterns hung from the ceiling. On the table were a pack of cards; soggy and covered in mildew. Cobwebs had formed in the corners where the roof met the walls. The entire room smelled of mold and decay.
“I can’t believe it,” I said breaking our silence.
“Everything is here, exactly as we left it. Nothing is missing,” Mark added.
I went to one of the four lamps and tried to turn it on. “Well I would’ve been even more surprised if these things still worked.”
“I think we had put batteries in the cabinet. See if they’re still there,” reminded Mark who was eyeing all the other junk we left lying around there. “I’m gonna look around outside for a bit.”
“Ok,” I said as I rummaged through the medicine cabinet. Like Mark said, I ended up finding an unopened package of “C” sized batteries. Inside was also a pocketknife, a second deck of cards and other assorted knick-knacks that surprisingly were kept dry by the cabinet.
I stood up and removed one of the lamps from the ceiling. As I fought with the rusted batteries inside, I heard the crunching of dirt and the squeak from the door. “Back so soon?” I asked with my back facing him.
“Across the lake, there’s somebody watching us,” he said quietly.
“What?” I asked confused.
“Across the lake there’s this man, in raggedy clothes, a full gray beard and a large brown hat. He looks like a prospector. He was standing over there, staring at me as I walked around the fort.”
“You’re crazy, Mark,” I said as I continued to fiddle with the batteries.
“See for yourself,” he said pointing towards a closed window towards the back of the fort.
“Fine, I’ll humor you, Mark.” I walked towards the back wall, unlatched the hinged door to the window and opened it. I looked out at the lake behind it, which connected to the second of the two rivers in the woods. Behind the lake were bunches of trees and in my view of sight, no weird man. “Sorry, Mark, I think you’re just imagining things. I don’t see anyone.” I turned around and closed the window behind me.
“I swear I saw someone. Why the hell would I make something like that up?”
“You didn’t make it up personally on purpose. You’ve always been the one of us to have the over exaggerated imagination. It was just playing tricks on you,” I responded as I got the lamp to light.
Mark stood silent before asking, “Why the hell did you bother with that damn thing if were only going to turn around in a couple minutes anyway?”
“I just wanted to see what the old place looked like lit up again. I miss this place more than you can believe. I just needed a last official look around.”
“Yeah, we had some great memories in this place,” Mark said. I looked at him and listened to what he said, but it was apparent that there was something else on his mind. I saw him staring at the window.”
“C’mon, Mark, are you still worried about what you thought you saw? It was just your imagination. These woods still are creepy, no matter how old we are, and this is the first time we’ve been back here in a good while. Just forget about it.”
“He just looked so real,” he said. I could tell Mark was definitely freaked out.
“C’mon Mark, let’s head back. We’ll visit when it’s a nicer day.” Thunder rumbled, shaking the entire fort from top to bottom.
“Yeah, let’s get moving,” he agreed.
 I turned the lamp off, hung it back up on the ceiling and put everything back in its place. We took one last look of the place, walked out the door, closing and sealing it like so many times before. We started to head out of the den, when Mark stopped short.
“What’s wrong now?” I asked.
“Do you see him now?”
I squinted through the trees, across the lake and what I saw freaked the hell out of me. It was definitely the shape of a man. Whether it matched Mark’s description, I didn’t care about. Thunder roared again, and an ice-cold chill spread down my spine and throughout my entire body.
“Let’s go Mark,” I said as I ran full force out of the den, with him close behind me. “Who the hell was that guy?”
“How the hell should I know? I told you I saw someone. I told you,” he shrieked. The wind had picked up and the thunder had grown louder. Lightning jolted through the pitch-black sky. Mark and I were running for our lives. Whoever that person was, friendly or violent; we didn’t want to find out. Rain was starting to fall hard, stinging our faces as we ran into the pounding drops.
We reached the bridge faster than we had before. We weren’t worried about precautions this time, just dashed across the beams, only to meet our stalker face to face walking out of the brush and swamps. Shrieks escaped from us, at the surprise, just as thunder pounded its way through the woods. The man stood in front of Mark and I, piercing through us with green-yellow eyes. His long, stringy ash colored hair, and frizzy beard blew in the strong winds. He stood with enormous height and a powerful, muscular physique. In his right hand, he grasped what looked like a long, wooden, walking stick. Nevertheless, neither Mark nor I wished to find out what purpose it served. A large, gray shirt, vest and pants, all worn out, covered the man’s body.
The rain poured torrentially upon our heads as we stood, apparently prisoners. The man raised up his staff, pointed it back towards the fort and with a heavy voice ordered, “Move.”
The rain fell heavier and the thunder grew stronger. We did as he said and turned around, slowly making our way across the crumbling bridge. There was nowhere for us to run to. To our surprise, he’d passed over the rickety structure as well, without it caving in under him. Tracking back through the woods was not as easy as before. The continuing downpour was turning the dirt paths into mud that would grab onto our shoes, and often refused to let it go.
We walked side by side, as our captor followed behind. Neither of us dared to turn around for a glance, fearing what he might do. The wind continued to howl often and thunder roared continuously. The tree, which was marked with an “X” and served as a marking point, was now split in half, with a charcoal black color. Apparently, a lighting bolt had struck it after we attempted our getaway. It laid in the middle of the path.
Stopping in front of it caused the giant behind us to issue out orders, “Just step over it boys. It’s not going to hurt you.” His tone was harsh and frightening. We had no choice but to listen, still nowhere to run to. We stepped over the tree and continued to trudge through the muck. The path led us back to the den and up to the front door.
“Open the door boys and get inside,” the behemoth ordered. At his request, Mark and I removed our keys and re-opened the padlocks and door going inside with him following us closing the door behind us. The howling wind shook the entire structure. The man lifted his hand up towards the light I fixed, turned it on, now shedding light and shadow across the interior walls and floor.
He turned around and walked to the table, propped his staff against the wall, and placed his hat on the table. With a thunderous voice, he asked, “Where did you get those keys?”
 “Well you see,” Mark started, “about eight years ago, my friend and I came back here and built this structure. When we built it, we added those padlocks and these are the keys that came with them.”
“Are you telling me that you two are the architects of this building? Don’t make me laugh. The two who built this are no more than ten years old. I watched them build this place myself.” Mark and I looked at each other with astonished faces as he continued on, “It’s been a couple years since they’ve been here, so I elected myself to oversee the grounds until they came back. There’s no way you two boys are the same as the other two.”
“You live back here and watched us build this?” I asked.
“Whether I live back here or not is none of your business and no, I didn’t watch you build, I watched the other two boys.”
“But we are those boys,” Mark insisted, “We have the keys to prove it.”
“You obviously stole the keys,” the man lashed back, “no more than thieves and bullies.
“Wait a minute,” I interrupted, “If you come over by the door, you’ll see the proof that we were the original builders. We etched our names in the door with the year we built it. I’m Scott and he’s Mark, the names should still be there.” I took the light down as he stood up and followed me to the door. I lifted the light up to illuminated on words etched into the wall:
Scott and Mark
1999
 
“If you’ve only seen those two boys go in, and then us, who have matching names of the two who built this. We are the two you watched build this structure,” I explained. The man was thinking to himself. “We built this place in 1999, eight years ago when we were ten. The last time we visited was when we were fifteen, three years ago in 2004. However, because of our busy lives, we couldn’t get back here as often. Now we are eighteen and are about to go off to college. So, we came back for one last glance.”
The man sat silent. The sound of the wind and the rocking of the structure were the only sounds to be heard. “That many years have passed?” the man asked. He went back over to his chair and scratched his head “It’s amazing how fast life goes. Your life is about to begin boys, enjoy it while it lasts. I’m almost an old man now and I never did anything with my life. I took a delight in watching you boys enjoy your childhood back here. Watching you reminded me of days spent with friends, the childhood I have long since left behind. I saw the expressions in your face of wonder and pride at what you had accomplished. You were full of life and I promised that from the first day I saw you, I would be a guardian if you will, and watch over the land while you were away. I apologize for my mistake boys, err.., I mean, gentlemen.”
“It’s no problem,” I said. “You immortalized, protected and preserved a major piece of our childhood, a part of our life that is coming to a close. As you said, sir, life goes by to fast. This is probably the last time either Mark or I will be able to visit this place. We leave for college in five weeks.”
‘But if you could continue to watch over everything for us here,” Mark added in, “incase someday, we return to our hometown, we have a piece of our childhood to return to and visit. Would you do that for us?”
The man gave us a grin, “I’d be honored gents.” The storm outside had calmed down, nothing but the peaceful sounds of nature came into the fort.
“If I can ask you,” I started, “what’s your name?”
The man took a pause for a moment and looked around the building. “Gentleman, please just call me the Guardian of the Grounds.”
 


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