Light will always penetrate the darkness of existence. There are some who will be Keepers of the Light, most especially at those places where darkness has prevailed.
Chapter 1 - A Quest For Home
I just needed a place to live. I’d been searching without much luck for nearly a month and I was getting desperate.
“No, lady; sorry, no pets allowed here.”
The young contractor looked at me with what I hoped was compassion. Just as I was gearing myself for another down-on-my-knees plea for redemption, I could hear him giving me an address. Looking into his eyes, I knew there was no way my old dog, cat and I were going to be able to rent his little house, ramshackle or not. He was not going to change his mind.
The address turned out to be on a street I had driven often, yet I’d never noticed the house. I drove right by it the first time, circled back, and pulled into the little driveway. The house was tiny, white with dark green trim and was perched on the rear of the property. Looked like two lots together; I thought, and I wondered why more of the land had not been utilized when they built the house. Maybe there had been a “big house” in front at one time. However, there was a garage and an older shed where gardening tools could be kept.
Sitting there in my car, I was suddenly struck by the whole scene. It was nearly dark, long shadows were deepening across the front of the house already. Suddenly I knew why I hadn’t ever noticed this place. As the sky darkened, was I imagining it, or were the trees closer together than they had been just a few moments before? Peering through my windshield, I studied them.
There were two tall palm trees at the front corners of the house, towering over the house at least thirty feet into the evening sky. There was a long concrete block fence along the left side of the property. Spaced from rear to front were three large old elm trees. On the right was a security fence separating this property from the house next door. Beginning at the garage was another row of elms, four of them, and right next to my car was a bent and gnarly weeping willow. Just past the willow was a tall spindly old pine tree.
Trees and a large yard! Free storage for all my extra stuff that I knew would not fit into that tiny house. I began placing things here and there in my mind’s eye but my musings were interrupted by a dark movement in the trees. Looking closely gave me no clue as to what I’d heard.
In any case, I wanted to see the inside of that little house before it became totally dark. It was nearly the end of January and I knew it would be fully nightfall soon. Leaving my car locked, I walked to the little gate.
“There’s probably a padlock and I won’t be able to get to the house.” My pessimism is a habit; it keeps me from being disappointed. Nope, the gate was unlocked; indeed, there was nothing holding the gate closed. Hanging on the fence was a small piece of silvery chain. Bending down, I could see it was a choker, the kind I’d seen used to train very large dogs.
Forgetting the trees and gate, I looked up a very slight incline to the house. It sure was needing someone to love it. Paint was faded and chipped, debris from the trees lay strewn on the steps and overall was a dusty tiredness, as if the house had given up on ever being thought beautiful again.
“Just like me”, I thought. Whoever had lived last in the house had certainly thought it beautiful; ragged remains of rock gardens hovered beside the stark concrete porch, flanked outside by those tall palm trees. Leaning back to look up at their untrimmed skirts of dead growth, I could hear the rustling of what I was certain would be rodents of some sort. Well maybe I can get the landlord to trim them before I move in and before... There I went again.
“Careful, now, just don’t get ahead of yourself.” I knew from experience that things didn’t always just happen because I wanted them. “Hang in there, old girl, was my mental talk. Check it out first.
Stepping up on a conveniently placed garden rock, I tried to see through the dusty windows. Nothing; just darkness. Determined to see something before leaving, I went to the window next to the alley, where there was no fence at all. Peering through I could just see a small kitchen, with cupboards and drawers open . There was an arch leading to the small living room. It was going to be crowded but i could already see my things in the house.
Hurrying back to my car, I looked back at the house, shouting “I’ll be back! Wait for me!”, feeling silly about it but knowing that I had to let God know somehow that I wanted this house. I stopped in the middle of the yard, looking up at the dark sky and decided to make my plea right then and there.
“God, hello God, this is me. I praise you and all that other stuff, but I also want to know if you have in mind this house for me, or what?” I waited. “God, I accept whatever you decide, but I just wanted you to know that I would really like to live here.” Remembering, I added, “and I pray to you in the name of your most blessed Son, Jesus. Amen.” It wouldn’t do for God to become offended because I had dared to speak directly to Him.
Pushing through the gate, I heard rustling behind me. “Who’s there?” I called. “I’m just looking to rent this house..” I could see nothing through the trees. Where was the faint path? Wait – I had just walked there, where there was quite clearly one of the knobbed elm trees, looking as if it had been in that spot fifty years. The yard was dark now, inscrutable.
It would be a perfect place to live.
Chapter 2 - Duality
The voice sliced into my ear from the phone, female, older, an Island accent. “You work? You don’t sell drugs? You have money? Ap’cations in shed, green folder. You fill out, leave in red folder. If yes, I call.”
Hurrying after work to The Place, as I’d already begun to think of it, I knew I would have enough time to get the application filled out, so I could leave it tonight in the red folder. I really needed to find my own place. I had been living in my dad’s old motorhome, parked behind my son’s house. Everyone was still polite, but we were all waiting for me to find a place of my own. The sharp voice on the phone had not responded to my request to bring the completed application directly to her. “You fill out, leave in red folder,” she repeated. “If yes, I call. G’bye.”
This time the voice was softer, more syrup. “Kathrine? Hello?”
Startled at the accented voice during my work mode stupor at my desk the next day, it took a long second before recognizing who was speaking.
“Kathrine, yes, this is Kathrine. May I help you?”
“Ahh, yes, this is Lu Fong, your ap’cation?” My heart thudded. Had she already done a credit check? How far back...? “Yes, Ms. Fong, I left it in the red folder for you...” stupid thing to say; she was calling me. I could feel nerves starting to crawl, suddenly wanting to live in that little unkempt house more than anything I’d ever wanted in my life. With all the moving, my rental history was sketchy at best. Even if I could afford it, landlords in the nice neighborhood mostly looked down their noses at my application efforts, no matter how creative.
But I was getting older these days. I was through jumping around the country, having one adventure after another, at least for some time. I just wanted to nest quietly, work my bead pieces and maybe do a little gardening. I sighed, thinking of the little white house with the dark trees. It would be a good place. Tucking rosebushes and herbals into tidy path-marked gardens in my mind, the voice on the phone spoke again, breaking into my happy picture.
“You come tonight, yes?” I’d not caught what the voice had said just prior, but I was good at dissembling. The best defense was always a skillful offense. “Sure, what time? Shall I bring my checkbook?” Ah, good, I thought. Let her know you have money up front. Landlords always like that. Subtle, too. Flashes, in color, of the little white house, now tidy and sparkling with life, in my mind.
“You come alone, yes?” I was certain she sounded suspicious.
“Yes, there’s just me.” Maybe this lady was concerned that I would rent the house and then stuff it with ten more people, people sometimes did that in these areas. Using my cultured and mature voice, I said, “Just me, I am a widow.” Dropping the tone of voice at the end of that statement nearly always brought sympathy from my listener. It didn’t work this time. “You come alone to house after work tonight. Bring checkbook, yes. G’bye.”
There was no other car parked in front of the place when I pulled my car into the tiny fenced area by the willow tree. Its leafless dark tendrils left dull moans of sound across the windshield. The gray January sky was full of cool air, chilling my neck hairs. Wishing I’d brought my old dog for company, I walked to the gate, which was already hanging open, inviting me. The silver chain was gone, I noted.
Walking up the grassy path to the house, I looked for the tree I’d seen the night before. One, two three old elms on my left, and four on the right. They were all pretty much the same size, but they seemed to be twisted somehow; bent into strange shapes. Walking to the first tree on my left, I was astounded to see the tree was covered with strange knobby bulges. The base was massive but I could see the form of the actual tree trunk was quite slender. The bulk came from those odd looking bulges. Peering closer, I could see the tree had surrounded the bulby shapes with its own skin, a rough grey scale of bark. There were long oozing trails of something dark. I leaned over, careful not to touch, to sniff at the dark goo. What kind of elm trees were these, anyway, I wondered.
“Halloo!” The voice was just as sharply accented in person.
I turned, putting on my best and most trustworthy face. “Hello! You are Ms. Fong? Thank you so much for meeting with me tonight.” I walked up the path toward her.
Chapter 3 - The Silver Chain
She was tiny and appeared to be younger than her voice. Her dress, a fall of darkly hued blue flowers on a background of foresty green, hung simply from her slender frame. Her face was round, hair a curly dark cap, neatly groomed. While her face was shaped into a polite welcome, the eyes were hooded and guarded. I didn’t really want to look directly into those eyes just yet.
She was standing on the tiny wooden platform built around the base of what appeared to be the oldest elm on the place. Getting closer to it, I could see the massive lumps and bulges deforming its original grace. Trails of gooey stuff glistened down its scarred and weathered bark. Even without its summer coat of leaves, this tree dominated the northeast corner of the property, truly a king of elm trees, even if deformed.
“Kathrine Irish?” The eyes were on me, piercing my armor, exposing my entire life history; the voice was clearly a politeness to give time to the intense scrutiny. Ah, well, I think. I am used to being judged. Let her look. She looks, only to decide if I will be a worthy tenant in her house.
Self talk works. My confidence is tucked back in place as I finally complete my walk across the yard. “Hello, Ms. Fong.” After long years, I’ve finally learned to stop gushing polite mouthings when meeting new people, especially prospective landlords. Puts the ball in their court, so to speak, leaving me the freedom to watch their next move. Some people take a long time to learn this simple truth; it had taken me longer than most.
She got right down to business. “You have checkbook?”
“Right here, I have the deposit and the first month’s rent, $900 total, is that correct?” I’m still smiling down at this tiny woman, but my inside dialog is going into overload. ‘Wait a bit-- you haven’t even seen the inside of the house yet, you idiot. Don’t agree to take the place without looking inside the house, at least.’. My self talk gets pretty tough sometimes, terrified of exposure.
“You see house ‘ready?” she asked. Her eyes never left my face. Somehow they were looking at me, through me, past me. They were dark eyes, I noted, calm eyes that had seen much. This lady did not think of herself as an idiot, I knew, but she did know her weaknesses; I could see she’d learned to like herself anyway. Feeling more comfortable with both Ms. Fong and myself, I answered, “No, I didn’t get inside the other day when I was here. The house and garage are both locked, I checked the doors. It was getting dark too fast to see much, anyway,” I added, worried she might think I’d been prying on her private property.
“Keys! Yes, I have keys here... somewhere.... ah! Here they are,” triumph in her voice. She held them up to me, the silver chain glinting from her fingers.
I reached for them, instantly wanting to feel that chain in my hand. Deep inside myself I know it will feel cool and silvery, flowing.
Her hands flash, the silver glints once, and she is walking ahead of me, toward the side door to the little white house. “You might like my other house better, it is short distance from here,” she’s saying over her shoulder. “This house had drug man in it last time. He wreck place bad, we fix for you, before you come in...”
A loosely nailed walk leads from the wooden platform surrounding King Elm; I follow her, eager to see the house. The wooden pieces will have to be nailed, but I want them to remain. The feel of this yard is warm and inviting. Geraniums gaily decorate my mental vision of how it will look when I get to working here.
Ms. Fong is struggling with the keys; they will not fit into the lock on the heavily barred black screen door. The concrete steps are as tiny as the woman standing on them. They appear to be an addition after the original wooden steps had rotted away. They’d been painted a wonderful deep barn red color, as had all the wooden walks, though it had been long ago, judging from their sun bleached color.
Inside, the house was full of shadows from the darkening day, but I could still see how happy my life could be lived here. Crowded, yes, but comfortable. I stopped listening to Ms. Fong, who was alternating between stories of how the last tenant had gone away, and the virtues of her other house. There was a tiny kitchen, the ‘living room’ and another arch leading off to the left, out of the north corner of the room. The next little room was small, nice, could be my office. I turned to the left, our of this room, into a short hallway, where I could see, to the right the tiniest bath in history. The one in the motorhome looms large by comparison. Well, okay, I think, so what? This is not a problem.
Continuing my walk, I turn to the left, into a room that seems to tip, down and to the left. Automatically adjusting my equilibrium I still feel as though I’m on a downslope. This room might be a bedroom, but there is no place for the bed, except in the middle, unless I put it next to that window there– “You like see rest of house?” The voice and Ms. Fong are right at my elbow; I hadn’t heard her come up behind me. I feel a sense of silvery flow as she brings her hands out, the keys once more gleaming in the faint light. “You see this door?” she asked me, her eyes once more on me, holding my gaze. I dare not look away, in fact, I’m not sure I can look away if I wanted, and I certainly don’t. I feel soft and flowing, I can hear a tone in my head that sings through to my very core.
“Yes, I see the door,” I answer. Part of me knows there cannot be a door in this room; the house is not that big. The other part of my self is saying, ‘...But, of course!’ The door is heavily carved with symbols. I recognize some of them from my studies and travels. This is heavy stuff, I know. Suddenly I feel unsure. What is happening here? Where am I? Who is Ms. Fong?
I really only just wanted a place to live.
Chapter 4 - Fate or Free Will? Did I really have a choice?
The carved wooden door was as plain as day to me, as I stood there in front of it with Ms. Fong, yet it oughtn’t to exist. Reality has a way of slamming into reality, I’ve found, which I don’t mind too much, since it keeps me on my toes, but this was something far different from anything I’d ever experienced. My mother, a mystic, would be relishing this moment if she were here. She could be here, for all I knew; maybe she’d helped to guide my steps to this place, this time. In any case, Ms. Fong was expecting an answer from me.
“Yes, I see the door,” I choked, all my smooth manners running toward my knees, to keep them sturdy and strong, “but I don’t understand...”
Ms. Fong had changed imperceptibly. The blues and greens in her dress were vivid to my eye, dominating even the carved door. She seemed taller than before, with more bulk to her figure, though when I looked again, she could still be described as a tiny slender female of indeterminate age.
“You believe in God.” It was a statement, not a question. This time the eyes grabbed me again; she wanted pure truth here. ‘You would not see this Door unless you Keeper-kin. I must know if you pure in belief.” Her eyes were still boring into my head, her hands held the keys on the silver chain in front of her.
This made no sense to me, even with my eclectic background. I’d studied the paranormal for many years, forsaking much of it for a thorough study of Christianity, only to find a strange sort of blend resulting. It left me with not much to say to what I call “main-line” Christians, and little excuse to my “new age” friends, who did not understand why I had gone away from them.
I could not seem to remain happy for long in any one view of religion. In fact, I hated to use the word ‘religion’ since the very concept appeared to preclude understanding of anything except the rules involved when many people need to be poked and prodded into this or that direction. I’d read widely, agreed with many of the founders of the various sects and groups, yet something kept me moving on, out, away from where too many gathered together. It was always easier to avoid being asked this question, and now, here I was, confronted with a Door that should not exist. Plus, I was in the hot spot for an honest answer.
“Er, well”, I stammered, frantic to give myself enough time to speak acceptably without going too far over the line. However, there was that Door in front of me, evidence that nothing I could answer would be more strange than my present circumstances, so I decided to go for it, as much as I could anyway.
Thinking of all the statements of belief I’d read from the many small groups forming in these last days of the old millennium, I began formally, rocking it into a rhythm, letting the words form themselves into concept, no longer caring how it would be perceived.
“There are people on our planet who are 'awakening' at this time,” I began. “We are those who, I believe, will eventually help point the way to others.” What I feel is that few of us share much similarity in beliefs, in how we live those beliefs. Either we ‘allow’ the flow of God to happen, or we stop the flow through fear, also defined as pride. Because there are so many views of What Is, and without absolute answers, we can each only go forth in our individual instinctive manner.”
I knew I was still throwing protective wordy bushes in front of my concept. But old habits die hard. Besides, how can I define what I don’t know? Ms. Fong remained quiet, listening intently, her eyes seemed to be directed inward, toward something only she could hear.
I continued, “Now, I'm thinking, there's more to come; that we are being given more knowledge every day, as much as we allow. I may totally wrong, and that is okay with me. For now, I do my best to live in pure truth, in each moment of my days. That means no manipulation, direct or abstract, of anyone, anytime.”
“You tried to manipulate me!” Her eyes watched me, to see my reaction. Caught! She’d known, all through our conversations. I was embarrassed to have my lofty thoughts caught on the horns of mundane needs and actions. “Yes, I did, and I apologize to you. It’s just that I really wanted you to like me! I wanted to rent this house. I have not yet learned how to be ‘pure’ all of the time.” I rushed on, thinking I’d lost my chance to get past the carved Door. “The only other thing I can tell you is that I continue to work on this negative part of my self.”
Her eyes softened as she looked at me. The keys began a gentle chiming sound when she turned to open the Door for us. “You not perfect, yes, this true. How’ver, I tell you: trust yourself more! Trust inner ‘knowing’ that comes through you. It is gentle, delicate teacher.” Her accented words calmed me, so I continued.
“The only thing I do not do is decide I already know, even by faith, What Is, because only God knows. But then, I'm only guessing here too. Personally, I think He is waiting for us to tell Him more about what it’s like to be a soul who knows it is a soul, yet is experiencing being alive in this world created for us. But it’s like grabbing for air; you can’t grab what you can’t see. Even the hand doing the grabbing is part of what is sought to be known. God is a whole lot more prevalent in our lives than any of us knows or allows the awareness of... it is so powerful that I feel very powerless ...which is the truth! I have no power at all.”
“You have all power nec’sary,” she responded, “and yes, true, none at all. All comes through God.” At last, the door swung open.
First came the smell. A stench like nothing I’d ever smelled roiled forth from the doorway, where I could see dusty steps circling down to the left, leading into what, I could not see, past the first curving of stained walls. There were no handrails, and the steps dropped quite steeply. We both stepped back, away from the stink.
Her face was serene as she handed me the silver chain with the keys. “You are Keeper-kin, sister Kathrine Irish. I give into your Keeping these Keys, this Door, this Gate. May you live long–“
Panic attack. “Oh-h, Ms. Fong, I, ah, er, I wonder if I am the right person for this job? I don’t even know what I am to do.... I just want to find a little house where I can live in peace--”
“Sh-h-h, sister, do not speak words of doubt when Door open!” With an effort, she pulled the door shut, indicating I should lock it once more with the keys, now in my hand. “You know all you must for now, but you must know you are Keeper. Much depends! I told you what happened to last man who live here?”
“I thought you said he was a doper, a dealer.” I was stumbling over my words, mouth dry and tasting bad. “He was also a, what did you call me, a ‘Keeper’?” My voice was thin and reedy, my breathing was using only the top part of lung, and doing it badly.
“He not pure in belief yet. He let Others through Door. They destroy him.”
That didn’t make me feel any better. “Well, I think this house might be too small for all my stuff, I have over five thousand books and lots of antiques and ....”
“You now hold Key. You Keeper.” The words were said calmly, no softening. Choice was not being offered. “Remember, silver chain will help if need ‘rise,” she continued. You carry Keys on chain, all time, even in shower.” Her eyes lit with humor, maybe she was seeing me try to fit my tall frame into that tiny bath.
My back began to do its familiar stiffening. No way! This is not my job! I was just taking a deep breath to tell her emphatically No!, when a clear bell tone rang out, pure and true. Simultaneously the chain in my hand began to pulse, its color turning from silver to brilliant rainbow sparkle. I could hear a pattern of half-tones that was oddly familiar. Where had I heard it before? Someplace, somewhere long ago, maybe in a dream. It didn’t matter– I was not going to stay here.
The chain held its brilliance for only seconds, then just as quickly returned to its original state, though it was still warm in my hands, feeling like a live creature, I had that same sense of belonging to it, that I’d felt when Ms. Fong had first held it in front of me.
“Ah, see? Bell chime. Chain sing. You now Keeper of Devil’s Gate.” Ms. Fong was smiling at me.
I looked back to the Door. Where it had been was now a badly plastered wall. We were once again standing in a small crooked room.
“What do I do now?” I asked her. This was a story I could not tell to anyone. Who would believe me?
Ms. Fong was leaving. She turned back to me one last time, now with a definite twinkle in her eyes.
“Pay rent on time, all time!’ she answered.
copyright January 2003 by Judith Leigh Bailey
All Rights Reserved