by Paul Purday
Peter Freeman was running furiously, breathlessly. Fifty metres behind, a bunch of young thugs appeared to be closing in on him; he was not a coward but he knew the odds of six to one were not positive.
With his sense, sharpened in the adrenalin rush of the hunted, he found himself thinking clearly – in fact not unlike someone who is drowning – his mind was as crystal and his life flashed before him. Like a gazelle side-stepping a cheetah he ducked through gates; swerved down side-turnings and then thought – Whitefoot Lane! Quiet and hedge-lined with no entrance from the road he was on. A large oak planted nearby concealed a gap in a garden hedge. He was able to squeeze one-side of the oak and nearly fall through the narrow gap that he had observed there in the past. Hopefully his pursuers (who were not reviewing their lives) would pass the oak on the easy side and would not realize his short, diagonal cut across a well-manicured lawn into Whitefoot Lane. Frantically, wrecking another hedge he fell into the lane and listened to the satisfactory diminishing of his pursuers’ cries.
The lane was utterly peaceful unlike his breathing and seemed to bear a faint resemblance to a place he had seen somewhere in a memory tucked in a corner of his mind. He had been there before but now it was different. Was it the sharpening of his mind? Or his awareness-sharpened senses that were listening for sounds and heard none? Perhaps it was the extreme peace, quietness and solitude of the lane that glowed freshly in his consciousness. As he walked and his pulse slowed he realized he was no longer frightened. It was as though the world had passed by with all its strivings and animosity; requirements and standards. Here, enclosed by hedgerow on each side – much higher than him (even though he was sixteen) there was a security he had not known before. Here, the world of make-believe that often filled his mind, took on a strange reality.
As he walked, slower now, along the lane he could not help noticing in the distance just before a right hand bend, a strange colour on the left of the lane enveloping the foliage. It was neither smoke, though it could be described as smoke, nor was it intangible and vaporous (as a smoke like substance would be). It appeared solid (as glass is solid) but transparent. He approached tentatively and found that the misty appearance was the more distant effect, but the nearer he got the appearance was that of crystal or glass – transparent yet reflective. The very foliage was of this substance. The play of light on it caused a rainbow effect – the constant prismatic dance of light was – ever changing – ever merging, thus forming a colour more to his mind than his eye, a colour that he could not recollect from past experience.
“Perhaps it’s ice” he thought, though he felt strangely warm – not now from exertion but from feeling a sort of joy that he couldn’t put into words. It glistened, yet now appeared solid like stainless steel, now transparent like the purest diamond.
A voice inside his head told him, “Enter!” And deeper still within his knowledge a more resonant language told him but not in words – “This is your only way.”
He walked into the coloured cloud, through what appeared the only possible way. He felt light-headed and almost weightless.
The mist cleared and before him was an old shed. In that subtle light such a mundane object appeared even more mundane. Its gnarled and weathered boards were fused more by the years than any quality of construction. The very moss and lichen that crept skyward up the boards seemed to cement the structure to itself if not to the ground. Old rusty nails were hammered randomly into the wood at intervals and its texture was thrown into sharp relief by the subtle rainbow light.
A dilapidated door hung ajar – there was no question, he must enter. He felt he was in another world – was this a presentiment of where he would soon go?
Pushing the door, he crossed the threshold and found the interior dark yet completely lit – not with a natural light but a light that could be felt. The only objects in the shed were an old chair and on it – an old man.
His clothes and battered straw hat matched the shed – but his face! The wrinkles and lines of at least thirty thousand days seemed to Peter to be etched there and somehow matched the weather-beaten boards of the shed. It was a kindly face – more kind than Peter had ever seen. It was a wise face – more wise than Peter could contemplate. It was a knowing face clothed with a beauty even in age more that Peter had ever known.
“Hello, Peter, you are here at last!” he said – his voice deep and melodious despite his age.
“Were you expecting me?” asked Peter with words that were spontaneous with surprise – “Who are you?” another knee-jerk response – “Why are you here?”
“So many questions,” the old man commented with a humorous glint in his kind brown eyes.
“They call me the Keeper,” he said gently. “You may call me just ‘Keeper’ if you want. My name tells you about me – often we are named and those names don’t describe us. A name must describe a person or what is the point of it? Usually it is to describe the family we were born into but it does not describe ‘us’. We have to earn our names – not through working hard necessarily but by our characters.”
“Why are you called ‘Keeper’?” Peter asked, his pulse now returning to normal – even though his situation at this moment was far from normal.
“Firstly, I keep this place.” This was said with dignity as though it were a palace. “And, secondly, I keep people – not to be prisoners or for a collection of curios but from themselves and from the harm that so easily comes to all. This place is the way in, humble as it is; but also it is the way out to a different, a smaller world.”
“But Keeper,” (Peter felt able to call him this already, such was the kindliness of the man’s disposition) “How can I take all this in? You make me feel that all this is true while I’m in this shed, but if we’re to walk back through the door, the real world with it’s computers, and television, and cars, and planes, and competitiveness, and hatred, and …”
“What a lot of ‘ands’,” Keeper commented, smiling good-humouredly. “You obviously have a lot to be kept from. You do not realize do you that there is another door in this shed?”
With a jolt Peter saw for the first time that there was indeed another door behind where Keeper was sitting. “That is the way out,” said Keeper softly, “And you may choose that way if you want.”