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  • James Mitchel Reed

The House of Light - Short Story

I was opening the shop early, got in there about six in the morning and already it was hot sun scorched pavement. The heat of August got the grease everywhere. I didn't own an unstained shirt, but frankly the customers weren’t much better in their appearance and they aren't even working with grease all day, I wasn’t trying to impress anyone…I didn’t have anyone to impress. Usually when I got to the shop that early, the only thing around were the cows in the field across the road, but this particular morning there was a man waitin' in my front lot with a fancy car and nice clothes. A nice white collar shirt with a light grey sport jacket and some aviator glasses. Nicer clothes than I seen on any of my customers. I parked my truck and killed the engine. The guy was leaning up against his car with one hand in his pocket. I called over to him when I got out and slammed my truck door, "we aren't open for another couple hours guy, you’re gonna have to wait a while for I can do anything for ya."

He took his glasses off and put them into the inside of his jacket, "I'm actually not from Stratton–" for he could finish I cut him off,

"I could tell that from a mile away guy.”

His smile was a mile wide and off putting, more of a curved grin. Then his face changed completely, “that obvious?" he chuckled to himself and put his hands up like he was confessing something.

Our shadows were long on the pavement, stretched out by the early sun low in the sky and he was squinting into the light. He held up his hand to block the light from his eyes.

"My engine light came on a few miles back and I saw your shop so I thought I'd pull in and wait until opening," he gestured to the closed down, silent shop behind him, then pointed out to the long, straight road I'd just driven in on, "I have a ways to go still and I'd hate to break down without a hope close by."

"I get ya, but you're still gonna have to wait ‘till opening, like I said that's gonna be a couple hours at least.” I wasn’t gonna change my schedule just because somebody needs something, not gonna make a god damn difference anyway. Tryin' too hard doesn't get anything better than just doin' the job regular. Anyway, this guy didn't feel right, there was something weird about him and I wasn't sure I wanted to help at all. Maybe I'd make him wait all day.

"I'm actually in a bit of a rush, already a few hours late and I’ve been on the road since early on," he was lookin' down at his watch, "I can pay extra," he said, reaching to his back pocket to grab his wallet.

"We don't even know the problem yet guy, how should I know what extra is gonna be?" I shrugged my shoulders at him and walked around his car to get to the door, I pulled a cigarette from the breast pocket of my grease-stained overalls and put it in my mouth while I fiddled with my keys at the lock.

He hollered to me again, "I'll be paying with cash if that makes any difference.” That caught my attention, I liked cash transactions. Any money off the books was good money. I turned around, left the keys in the door, grabbed a cigarette from my breast pouch, and pulled down my ball cap to block the sun, "well now I'm listenin'!"

I'd probably be able to make a few hundred extra off him. I walked over to his car and gave it a once over while he watched me. I made it look like I was really searchin' for problems and bad parts.

I got down on my back and looked under the car, made a real show of the whole thing. I got up and brushed my hands together lightly, "let's start her up," I said as I put my hand out to him for the keys. He placed them into my hand lightly. "Never got your name boss," I tossed the keys to my free hand and extended the same one out to shake his.

"I'm Robert, nice to meet you, and thanks for the help I really appreciate it," he put his hands up again like he was confessing something. Why the fuck did he keep doing that? It was weird. He was weird. At this point I'd rather help him for less and get him outta here.

"Will," I said, jingling his keys and unlocking the driver’s door. I sat into the leather seat and turned the ignition. The car strained and chugged but didn't start. I turned the key again–same thing. I looked up at Bobby from the driver’s seat and made a face that told him it wasn't looking good. I bent over and pulled the lever to pop the hood and heard a sharp clicking sound of the hood unlocking.

I got out and lifted it up, propping it open with the rusted metal rod, I looked around a good bit and then over to Bobby, "you're gonna need to replace the alternator, lucky you stopped over here, not another shop for probably a couple hundred miles out here and you might notta got her started again." I left the hood propped open and put the cigarette back into my mouth, this time lighting it and taking a long drag, "I should have a replacement somewhere inside." I gave him a smirk and headed back to my door, the keys left in the turned lock.

I pulled out a used alternator from a pile of junk that would be good enough to get him a few hundred miles, maybe more. I went back out to his car and replaced his old alternator with the slightly less old one I'd just found in my shit pile. I took the hood support out and let the big sheet of metal drop heavily into place and lock. I pulled a cloth from my back pocket and wiped some of the grease off, gave my face a wipe too. Leaving behind some grease on my face, like I said, the heat and the grease make a great combination. I put the rag back into my pocket and saw Bobby standing behind the hood of the car. I couldn't quite tell before, but he was a tall man, fairly well built, strong–but I was sure I could beat the ever livin' out of him if need be, not that I thought I'd need to. But knowin' you could kick another man's teeth in was never a bad thing.

He walked quick over to the car and patted himself down for his wallet, he started talking before he reached me, "how much do I owe you Will?" He was talkin' fast and I was getting curious why this guy was in such a rush so early.

"$800 should do it," he looked up at me with his hand in his wallet and paused, considering whether or not he'd try and bargain me down. I never expected him to pay $800 for replacing an alternator with a piece of junk, but I also didn't expect him to know what an alternator was–or be able to tell the difference from a good one. Even if he would pay me $800, I didn't expect most folks to have that much cash on hand.

But that's exactly what he did. He pulled a thick stack of flat, crisp bills from his wallet and counted out $800 and put the rest back. He was walking around with more than $1000 cash in his wallet. He handed me the money with his left hand. When I took it from him I noticed a gold ring I hadn't seen before. It had a symbol on it that looked like rays of light.

I counted through the money myself, concealing a smile at all the extra cash. While I was counting, without looking up, I asked him about the ring, "that's a nice piece of jewellery you got there, where's it from?"

"Oh, it's a membership ring from my group."

"Group of what?" I asked, finishing my count, stuffing the money in my overalls and looking up at Bobby. I adjusted my hat, pulled it tighter on my head and scratched my itchy beard. Grease everywhere.

"That's where I'm headed right now as a matter of fact."

I'm no Jesus lover. Don't know if I'd be allowed inside a house of God after all I've done in my time, but even if I was, I didn't have the taste for religious folk. Some of the women, maybe—but still not worth my time on Sunday morning.

“I don’t mean to be rude, Bobby,” I put my hands stretched out toward him in a sign of non-aggression. “But I got no clue what the fuck you’re talkin’ about,” I laughed and shrugged my shoulders.

"We honour the light and speak to the Keeper through it,” he twirled his ring and closed his eyes for a long moment when he said it. A slight shiver went down my spine, the way he was acting. The ring. The weird, unnatural way he was moving his head. The way he was breathing. It was all strange.

"We're called the House of Light,” as he spoke he reached into the other pocket inside his jacket and pulled out a skinny piece of hard looking paper, "here, give it a look."

I took the piece of stiff card from his perfectly soft hand and gave it a once over. "We're always accepting new members, people who need the light, people who need to get things off their chest–people who need to make things right.”

I looked up at him, "you mean confess?" he looked at me with a strange curve in the corner of his lip.

"To make things right with the Keeper, yes," his hands were folded, that gold ring reflecting the morning light.

"Anything worth confessin’ shouldn't be confessed anyway, isn't that right?" I looked up at him, I held the stiff card in my hands and adjusted my hat slightly.

"Well that depends what you've done," he said, "you ever done anything strange, Will?"

I had done some strange shit. I'd done some fucked up shit, actually, but even if I was interested, I wasn’t cut out for that kinda group therapy bullshit, only thing that could help me was gettin’ drunk. I looked at him and handed back the stiff card, "you have a nice day, guy."

He took the pamphlet back and scribbled on it with a pen he took from his pocket. He handed it back to me, now with an address in the top corner.

"This is the address of the house east of Stratton, if you ever want to drop by. We're always open." He smiled that same strange, curved lip smile at me and handed me the piece of paper. I folded it roughly and stuffed it in my pocket with the rest of the cash. I pulled my hat down even more and brushed his shoulder as I headed back into the shop.

“You know Will, a lot of people struggle, it’s not easy going through life alone, I get it.”

I looked around, behind me, behind Bobby, “who you talkin’ to?”

“You, Will.”

“You don’t know anything about me guy.” He looked right into my eyes and said nothing. “Look guy, I don’t need help from a bunch of crazies following light all over the goddamn place. I’ll be just fine without anyone else tellin’ me what to do.”

He smiled and looked down at the pavement, “take a look at the card, maybe something will convince you to stop by.”

I had my hand on the stack of cash he just gave me. I grinned and looked at him.

I watched him speed down the road, the sun was higher in the sky and the shadows were a little shorter. The clouds got a little darker and the wind picked up. It whipped around the shop in a few gusts. The smell of a storm was in the air.

*

I finished the bottom of my fourth pint in one gulp, my face red and warm, the rest of my body soft and limp. Five or six was a typical night. Sometimes more, sometimes until I forgot where I was–a shitty bar in depressing town, bunch uh fuckin’ other sad looking shits sitting around. Basic rule was drink until I’m dumb but could still drive.

A deep roar of thunder outside made me look at the tiny window, the rain falling hard enough now that I could hear it even over the music.

The door opened and a man and a woman let some rain in and slammed the door behind them. The woman was soaking wet, her coat was open and her plain grey shirt was stuck to her tits, her skirt to her big thighs and ass. Fuckin’ hell. Tits like that. They walked in and went to the back corner table, took their coats off and sat down. She had long blonde hair; a fucking knock out if I ever saw one, and I was almost drunk enough to go say some dumb shit and get slapped in the face.

“God damnit, those are some tits eh?” the guy beside me all of a sudden woke up, he was mumbling, half drunk.

Both of them ordered diet soda or some shit. Why come into a bar and not drink alcohol? Maybe they were religious, can’t drink alcohol on account of Jesus Christ and all the sins. I didn’t know if Jesus people were allowed to drink or not. Plus I didn’t think that religious women had tits like that.

They sat there for about thirty minutes before asking for the cheque. Whispering in their corner, looking at the clock constantly. They looked over at me a couple uh times, or maybe they didn’t and I was drunk, they were just lookin' at the clock.

She got up and put down a five dollar bill to pay for the sodas, the gold ring on her hand was the same as guys from this morning.

They walked out the door and back into the rain. I pulled the wad of cash from my pocket and slapped a twenty on the bar and followed them out the door. Rain was falling harder and the sky was lit with brilliant flashes of light every now and then.

I caught up to them, their dark cherry-red Lincoln was parked in front of my truck. I had no problem yelling over to them, cause I figured I could knock that guys teeth in if I had too.

The rain was dripping off my cap, her hair was a darker blonde now that it was wet and he was fiddling with his key at the driver door, “hey lady,” they both looked over at me, my hands in my pockets, leaning against the front of my truck, the sheet lighting exploded in the sky and I saw the guys face for a split second, a balding, rugged looking fuck. Worn down. Was he fucking this lady?

“Hi there, friend,” he said and smiled.

“Hi Will,” she smiled at waved at me.

I paused for second and looked the bald guy who made a face at big tits–how’d she know my name?

“Well it’s right there on your uniform,” she pointed at the red name tag on my cover-alls.

I looked down and laughed, wiped some rain off my face.

“I’m Catherine.”

“Jones.”

Catherine pulled a small umbrella out of her hand bag and opened it up. The rain started bouncing off of it, shooting out in all directions.

“Where you two headed tonight?”

Catherine replied, “we’re going to a meeting.”

“Close by?”

Just as he replied a clap of thunder cracked and he yelled over it, “no we’re going out of town, private place.”

I walked over to the lady, under her umbrella and pulled my hand out of my pocket, and with it the address Bobby scribbled out on the scrap paper. I handed it over, “you goin’ to this address by any chance? Some fancy guy with sunglasses gave it to me this mornin’ said I should come check it out, clear my sins and make shit right with the good lord.”

They laughed, and looked at each other like I was some kind of idiot. “Well you can follow us if you want.”

“You gonna be wearin’ that wet shirt all night lady? Cause count me in double if you are,” she handed me back the piece of paper and pulled her jacket tighter around herself.

“Let’s get out of this rain,” Jones yelled over to Catherine, it was coming down even harder, “you following us out there or not? You can meet Robert and get a tour of the House.”

Jones got in the car and unlocked her door, she collapsed her umbrella and got in right away. I jogged back to my truck, jumped in and fired up the engine and followed the red lights on the back of the dark red Lincoln.

I flipped my wipers up to their fastest setting and they still couldn’t keep up with the fucking rain. I could barely see ten feet ahead, just their blurry red lights and water splashing everywhere. The smallest trickle made it’s way through my window seal and down the inside of my door.

*

The gravel was crunching under the tires of my heavy truck, I could feel the wet dirt and slight dips in the road, putting me on different awkward angles. The rain was slamming hard on my roof as we got closer to the end of the lane. There were about 10 cars parked all side by side. We turned at the end of the lane and it curved into a half moon with a few more cars parked, I put my truck beside Jones and Cathy, half ass on the grass. I shut the engine off and sat in the cold silence of the pattering rain.

We walked quickly to the porch and up the varnished cedar stairs, that same gold plated circle and star was on the door, and on the thick red brick pillars holding up the porch roof. The deck was massive, had nice sun chairs and a big swinging bench at the end that was gettin’ blown around by the wind. The chain was rattling and rubbing against itself–clink-clank, clink-clank, irrrrrr. The wind was howling around the big corners of the three story mansion.

I turned around and there was Bobby, filling the door frame with light pouring around his big shoulders, he was taller than I remembered. His hair was all slicked back and shiny black and he was wearing a nice white button up shirt, save for the last four or five buttons. That gold ring was gleaming on his finger and a thin, long gold chain around his neck.

Jones and Cathy both gave him a hug that seemed to last too long and his hands were low on Cathy’s back–made me a bit jealous. They disappeared into the house and I was left staring at Bobby, the sound of hushed conversations coming from all directions. Before I could say anything, Bobby grabbed my hand with a strong grip,

“Will! Good to see you,” his lips turned into a huge painted grin, like the smile on a birthday clown. His white teeth blinding, “I’m glad you came,” he grabbed the back of my arm and pulled me inside, closing the door. The foyer was open, I could see into the house in every direction from red carpet I was standing on, wiping the rain off my boots.

I put the back of my hand to my mouth and whispered to Bobby. “Not gonna lie Bobby, those two were drinking diet soda in a fuckin’ bar,” he kept looking at me with that grin, “you people can’t drink alcohol or what? It’s against the rules?” I laughed.

“Of cour–“

“Cause if it is, you’re missin’ out!”

Bobby cleared his throat and paused before answering me like he was upset I cut him off. “Of course not. We’re all free to do as we like, but we encourage one another to live a pure life, unfiltered, to keep our heads clear and our hearts free.”

“If ya ask me, it’s a clear head that does the most trouble, too much thinkin’ is no good,” I tapped the side of my head with my pointer finger.

“You might think differently after you meet a few people here, Will,” someone was walking across the foyer and Bobby called him over. He was about my height, wearing the same grey clothes as everyone else and he was barefoot.

“Jon! I want you to meet Will, he did me a big favour this morning.” Jon’s head was pointed at his feet when he walked over and shook my hand with the same uncomfortably limp grip as Jones’.

“Uh, yeah. Hey?” when I said it I looked over at Bobby, “this guy okay? Why doesn’t he look at us?”

Bobby put his big hand on Jon’s shoulder and he looked up immediately, “he’s fine Will,” Bobby’s voice got a bit tense for a second, “aren’t you Jon? You okay?”

His face winced when Bobby’s hand squeezed and he looked at me with a forced smile, “very nice to meet you Will, welcome to the house.”

“Sorry to interrupt you Jon, carry on.” Bobby’s voice sounded normal again and his face relaxed. Jon walked off with his head pointed back at the floor. Bobby rubbed his hands together and looked at me–I must’ve had a look on my face.

“Will! No need to worry,” he laughed like it was a hilarious joke, Jon staring at his feet like that. “Jon is practicing what we call constant contact. Living in a state of meditation removes him a bit from our reality, but it’s important work for all of us.”

Bobby patted my back and squeezed my shoulder. I looked over to the dimly lit room where Jon had just gone, he was sitting on a red couch beside another person looking at the floor. There were other people in the room but no one was talking loud, nothing above a whisper. It was unsettling being able to hear everyone but not being able to understand jack shit. A few more people walked by us, went upstairs, down the hall and through doors here and there. Everyone smiled at Bobby and he smiled back, giving some of them long hugs, grasping their shoulders and looking into their eyes.

The way some of these women were huggin’ Bobby, well shit, I never got a hug like that from a woman: all tits out and arched back, standin’ on their tip toes. Must of been about ten maybe fifteen people walk by us since I got in the front door.

“You got people sleepin’ here or what?”

Bobby watched a woman climb the curved staircase and then he looked back at me, “of course, they stay here because it’s safe, Will. Because we make a home for everyone, we’re a family,” Bobby looked at me with that curved lip smile of his. “You’re welcome to stay the night as well. Everyone is welcomed here, even non members. You don’t have to leave.”

“I’ll be just fine headin’ home tonight Bobby, wasn’t planning on staying long anyway,” I tapped my wrist that had no watch on it.

“Well, the offer is always on the table Will, anytime.”

“How about some water?”

“We have some flavoured water in the kitchen, it’s infused with different fruit and vegetables, quite refreshing!”

I never heard anyone so fuckin’ excited about water, but Bobby seemed to be excited about everything and that apparently included water with vegetables in it.

“If you don’t mind, please take off your shoes before I show you around,” he pointed down to my feet with his entire hand turned over and then to the hardwood floor beyond the carpet I was standing on.

“No problem buddy, don’t wanna muck up the floors!” I kicked off my shoes onto the matt beside us and started walking into the house but Bobby didn’t move. I looked at him and shrugged my shoulders. What the fuck, we goin’ to get this water or stand here all weird. He shot me back an apologetic frown, the way a young boy would if he had a toy taken away.

“I’m sorry Will but,” he motioned like he was taking a cap off.

“My hat? So what?”

“Sorry but no hats inside either, Will.” He pointed up and looked at the ceiling. What the fuck was this guy on?

“Ah, gotcha buddy.” I had the mind to say fuck you, my hat goes on my head and doesn’t come off for anything unless it’s sex or sleep, sometimes not even then. But curiosity was overcoming me, and if the hat off my head was my ticket inside, so be it.

“How about that water!”

Bobby smiled and those pearl white teeth looked too big for his slender face. Massive chompers on this guy.

“This way,” he said.

I followed him down the hall toward the kitchen, there were paintings on the walls in big gold frames, and shelves with books. One of em’ caught my eye: The Way of the Keeper by Robert Falmore. I turned to ask Bobby about it but he was already through the swinging door up ahead. The hinges creaked as the door swung back and forth between rooms, scattering light onto the walls and then taking it away until it was still.

When I got into the kitchen after him, he was standing hunched over talking to a man and a woman sitting in chairs by the sink. The lady was crying, tears were spotted her grey skirt. She threw her arms around Bobby’s neck and stood up.

I could hear her say, “thank you Bobby, thank you,” she was sniffling, “thank you for showing us the way and helping us communicate.” Her arms were gripped tight around him, her body was pressed against his, being held there by his big hands.

“I will always be here for you Sara, and for you Martin,” he let go of Sara and gave the guy a good handshake, firm, “I’m showing a new friend around,” he turned around and looked right into my eyes. “Will here, he may be joining the house.”

“Hey there guy, I never said anything about joinin’ up or signing any kinda membership,” I put my hands up as if I was confessing to a crime. Martin and Sara both stared at me with blank faces, Sara wiped a tear from her cheek, or maybe it was just water. The pair of them looked like pale faced statues. But their faces changed when they looked at Bobby, lighting up and smiling.

“Well, just a tour for now then,” he walked Martin and Sara to another door that left the kitchen, mumbled some shit and they left and closed the door almost silently. Like they turned the knob and gently pressed the door into the frame and then quietly turned the handle to close it.

“Will! My friend. Let’s get you some of that water I promised,” he went over to the giant tub of water with different kinds of shit floating around inside, grabbed a glass from the cupboard and filled it up to the top.

“Careful guy, might spill the sacred water!”

Bobby laughed, but not like he was laughing at a joke that he actually found funny. He held out the filled glass to me, “try it, you might like the taste.”

I took a sip and shit, it was good, and cold and refreshing, I’d never had water like that in my life, “that is some good fuckin’ water Bobby, cheers,” I held my glass up and drank down about half. Took the edge off my buzz a little. Bobby just gave a simple nod, like yeah, he knew the water was fucking good and he knew I’d love it. That was the look on his face.

He was leaning up against the granite kitchen countertop, arms crossed over his chest, staring into my eyes, “Will, can I ask you something?”

“Go for it, guy.”

“Why did you come here?”

For Cathy’s big tits, I thought, but I told Bobby; “I was curious you know, you got money, you seem like a nice guy, drive a nice car, I figure why not? Can’t hurt right?” I slurped my water, “plus, the House of Light–got a nice ring to it.”

Bobby chuckled deep in his chest, “well I’m glad you think so Will,” he smiled at me again and took a glass out for himself, started filling it up, “I guess it does have a nice sound doesn’t it?”

“Fuckin’ A!” I was warming up to this guy, maybe he wasn’t half the bastard I thought he was, helpin’ all these people giving out hugs and shit! Or maybe I was still tipsy from my sixth pint, or maybe there was something in this water.

“Come with me, I want to show you a circle happening upstairs. You can see what it’s like to be a part of the family here.”

I downed the rest of my water and followed Bobby out of the kitchen back the way we came, past the paintings–one was of an orange sky with a golden spiral in the middle, wrapping around a long, thick tree trunk. It was vivid and captivating, like a sunset filling an entire canvas with an ancient tree going on forever and ever. I looked at it for a moment and forgot I was following Bobby upstairs. Then I looked over at the book with Bobby’s name on it and pulled it off the shelf, “you’re a writer huh?” I waved the book around in the air and flicked it with my finger.

“That’s the first document from The Longest Root. The first time I spoke to the Keeper. When I saw the light and started this place,” he pointed at the book a couple times, shoving his finger into the air, “that book was the beginning, it’s what started everything Will, the primary text.”

“Yeah, uhhhhh, you write it?” I pointed to his name on the spine.

“I didn’t so much write it as transcribe it.”

“Pardon me Bobby but, what the fuck are you talkin’ about?” I looked at the book in my hand and then held it up. “You write this or what?”

He nodded his head, “I wrote it.”

“Well shit guy, that’s one heavy book.”

Bobby took it from me, “indeed it is Will. Quite heavy,” he lifted it up and down a few times and then put it back on the shelf. “Everyone here is familiar with it, I’ve read it a few times myself.”

“And what’s with the painting?” I pointed to the orange piece with the spiral.

“If you read the book, you’ll understand.”

“I guess that’s members only.”

“Actually, no. You’re welcome to take a copy when you leave, free of charge.”

“Wait, so you’ll just give me a copy?” I laughed out loud.

“The book, Will, is for everyone. Because everyone should have access to the righteous path. To be able to know where the light is,” he paused and looked at the front door, back at me, “but just because you know a path exists, doesn’t mean you can walk it.” I didn’t say anything back, just looked at him for a moment.

We kept on walking down the hall and then up the curved staircase. People were walking by us on both sides going up and down. On the second floor we passed a couple rooms with wide open doors, each one had two sets of bunks with pristine sheets that looked like they were made up by soldiers. We kept on walking down the hall to a fourth room that was closed. He looked at me and held his finger to his lips. The rain was louder on the second floor, closer to the roof. A low rumble of thunder echoed outside over the open fields as Bobby creaked open the door, revealing a medium sized room with about a dozen people; some on chairs, some on the floor and a few on a couch on the far wall. White candles were flickering from the window ledge and the shelves behind the couch. One of the guys was holding a tall, thin white candle dripping its wet wax down onto his fingers, but he didn’t seem to notice. The window across from us was covered in drops of rain–it lit up briefly with a flash of lighting and another clap of thunder. Everyone was quiet, their eyes were closed and their lips were moving without any sound.

Bobby whispered to me, “we’re always preparing for the Keeper. This is how we help each other rid ourselves of temptations and lower desires. To clear our pasts and even the scales.”

“Shit Bobby,” someone shot a glare at me, I lowered my voice to a whisper, “shit Bobby, I got a lot of low desires.”

He turned his head to look at me, his face was half in darkness and half flickering in the warm light of the candles. He nudged his head and I looked over at the couch. There was a man and a woman, he had his hand on the thick part of her thigh, close to her stomach. Both their eyes were closed.

I thought, well goddamn, could be worth joining just to fuck Cathy and then bail. It’d been what, maybe six months since I got laid, I could follow the keeper right into Cathy’s bed. I took a few more steps into the room and looked at all the walls. The one we’d come in from was filled with white sheets of paper, each one had a scribble. One of the guys started speaking out loud, sounded like nonsense words to me. Bobby pulled me out of the room and closed the door.

“What’s with the white paper?”

Bobby took me by the arm and walked me further down the hall away from the room and then stopped, but he was still kinda whispering, “everyone signs when they join, as a show of good faith, we hang them in different rooms of the house to remind each other of our commitments. It’s more of a gesture really than anything else.” Someone opened a door down the hallway, Bobby heard the knob squeak and turned around, a woman poked her head out of the room.

“Bobby,” she was calling for him in a half yell, half whisper, “can you come here for a sec? We need you in here.”

“Can it wait?”

“We’re right in the middle. We need you.”

I heard some sounds from the room, muffled voices, Bobby looked at me, “hey guy don’t let me stop ya, I’ll be fine.”

“I’m very sorry Will, I’ll only be a few minutes.”

“Maybe I’ll read some of the book you didn’t write.”

He chuckled, “thanks, Will,” and then ran off down the hall and disappeared into the room with the woman.

I stood there by myself in the now empty hallway, hearing whispers from downstairs and behind the closed doors. I leaned over the banister and looked down the stairs, felt the smooth, polished railing. I looked back over to the door that Bobby just went through, it was still closed. There was a room at the end of the hall, past the one we had just been through to see the ceremony or whatever it was called. I walked down the hall, looking into the open rooms with bunks again, someone was laying on the top bunk in the second room now. I looked behind me to see if Bobby or anyone else was in the hall and then I grabbed the door knob and twisted it–but it didn’t open. I tried again. Locked.

There was a keyhole, one of those old ones that takes a big long fancy key to unlock. I could hear some muffled noise so I pressed my ear against the wood door to listen. Couldn’t really hear much, maybe a couple voices, but the rain was loud and the thunder deep. The storm must’ve been moving in closer. I got down on my knees to try and see somethin' through the keyhole. Those old ones were big and you could see right through into the room–just a little slit but better than nothin’. I’d take what I could get. I took another quick look around and then closed one eye and pressed the other up against the tiny opening. Markings of symbols on the walls; stars, spirals, piles of rubber gloves and–

I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned around, “Jesus fuck!” it wasn’t Bobby, it was the guy from the bunk bed. I stood up and he put his finger up to his lips, christ all the people in this house you think you’d be able to talk above a fuckin’ whisper. Only person who does is Bobby–and me.

“Quiet, please, there are meditations happening in these rooms.”

“Fuck sake, you scared the shit outta me guy,” I let out a sigh and wiped my hand across my forehead. My head was feeling hot and tight, like it was being sucked into a vacuum.

“Sorry,” he whispered.

“Fuck. You’re quiet walkin’ around in bare fucking feet, sneakin’ up on people. God damn. Well so what’s going on in this room? I don’t hear no meditating.”

He looked at me funny, “well, you wouldn’t hear meditating.”

“You know what I mean. What’s in this room here?”

“I’m not sure.”

“What? You a member here?”

“Yeah.”

“So, what’s in the room?” I pointed with my thumb.

“I don’t know, that’s not allowed until you have a Keeper’s Robe.”

“You need a robe to, what?”

He sighed and shook his head, “you’re not allowed in there until you’ve been here longer.”

“How long?”

“Years.”

“Fuckin’ A. Years just to see behind a door?”

“Those who wear the robes keep the secrets. I’ve already given up everything to live here, I’m very close.”

“Close? To what?”

He just stood there with a blank look on his face, I waved my hand in front of him, “hello? guy? close to what?”

He didn’t move. I turned around and Bobby was standing right behind me. I jumped out of my skin again, “fuck! everyone’s sneaking around here, it’s lucky I’m already half bald.”

Bobby laughed at my joke and pulled the barefoot guy aside and whispered some things in his ear and sent him on his way.

“I see you met Andy. He’s one of our newer members.”

I looked back at the little keyhole slit and heard more muffled noises from behind the door. What’d he mean by he gave everything up to live here?

“Will?”

“What’s in that room right there?” I pointed at the door with the lock.

“Unfortunately I can’t show you that room.”

“Why not?”

“That room is for people who have made a bond with the Keeper. Promises.”

“Promises of what?”

“That’s between them and the Keeper.”

“But you know don’t ya?”

“I know everything about this place, Will. I know a lot more than you think.”

The thunder was rumbling outside and the flashes of lighting were so close to the house now I could see the light under the cracks of the doors. The quiet was off putting because it was never full, always the constant whisper of everyone in the background. The rain was pounding harder now on the roof, the trees were wailing all around the house. I looked at Bobby in his blackened eyes, his face now void of any grin or smile that I saw earlier, I looked down at my feet and put my hands in my pockets and felt the $800 cash, the money I ripped this guy off for.

“I guess that’ll about do it eh? Callin’ it a night.”

“Leaving already? You can sleep here if you’d like, have breakfast with us in the morning. Get a real feel for the place.”

I rubbed my face again, shit. I was feeling pretty warm, the thought of driving home felt like hell on earth in this weather. My head was dizzy from the beer. I hadn’t had anything else. Except the water…but that just had vegetables in it–I think? I could drive drunk, but I felt tired and drunk, and this dizziness was making my head vibrate.

The lights in the hall flickered after another strike of lightning, Bobby’s face was in and out, dark and then light.

“Will, at least let me show you where you could stay. If you wanted too.”

That didn’t seem like a bad fuckin’ idea, if I could even make it to that room at this point. I could feel a headache coming on. I needed a vice grip on my head. The lights flickered again. Thunder. Lightning. Bobby’s face was flashing between darkness and light.

“Come with me,” he said, “I’ll show you to your room.”

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