A short story by me.
Ever since Connor could remember, the people in town held a secret: The secret of the thousands of missing people and The Keeper of the Woods who took them. He had heard the story of the first one taken more times than he could count.
In the early 1900’s, the Highland family lived in small house on the edge of Larkin Woods. A widower named Charlotte and her two children (Emmett age fourteen and Julian age nine.) One warm Saturday morning mid-summer, Emmett took his younger brother into the woods to teach him how to hunt. By nightfall, the boys had yet to return home. Worried, Charlotte decided to look for them; grabbing her shawl and a lantern, she set off into the woods to find her children.
Charlotte wandered around for hours calling their names, Soon, the softness of woods was filled with the sounds of crying all around her. Frightened, Charlotte took off running towards home. Before she could get to the edge of the woods, she tripped over a stump, the lantern flying from her grasp landing mere feet in front of her. Suddenly, the crying stopped. In the faint light of the fallen lantern, she rose to her feet. Turning, Charlotte realized what she had tripped over wasn’t a stump at all; it was her youngest son Julian.
Charlotte ran to his side, all the color was gone from his young face, leaving him as white as a cloud. As she lifted her son into her arms, she could hear him say, “Finders keepers, finders keepers, no more light of day. Finders keepers, finders keepers, forever in the woods you will stay.” Julian was never able to tell his mother what happened that day in the woods, and Emmett was never seen again.
Connor came bursting through his best friend Morgan’s bedroom door. “Do you ever knock?” Morgan asked looking up from the YouTube video he had been watching on his laptop.
“Didn’t think I ever had to. I mean I practically live here anyway, so what's the point?” Connor replied as he flopped down on Morgan’s bed. “I came up with the perfect end of summer plan.” A smile slowly spread across his face. Morgan had been best friends with Connor since they were both five-years-old, over the year,Morgan learned that good things rarely followed that smile.”No, no whatever it is no.” Morgan said.
“Oh come on, Morgan, just hear me out on this one. It’s something we have been talking about doing for years,” Connor said excitement dripping from his every word. Morgan just sat there waiting for Connor’s dramatic pause to end. “We, you and me, the fantastic duo.”
“No one calls us that,” Morgan interrupted.
“Well, they should, and they definitely will after we spend the night in Larkin Woods and find The Keeper.” Connor was practically bouncing with excitement. Morgan hit play on his laptop, the sound of video he had been watching now filled the room. Connor rolled off the bed, walked over and shut Morgan’s laptop. “Hear me out on this.”
Morgan sighed leaning back in his chair. “Fine.” he said. “You have 5 minutes, go.”
The smile returned to Connor’s face. “It’s the last thing on the list of things we want to do before our senior year. We can tell our parents were going camping in Baker Park for the weekend. Larkin Woods is about a mile away from there. We camp there during the night then during the day we go to the woods and look for The Keeper,” he said.
“That’s just an old story that people made up years ago to keep the kids out of the woods,” Morgan replied. “Besides, nobody has gone missing.”
“Taken,” Connor corrected him.
“Gone missing,” Morgan repeated, “In months. It’s just stories, Con, nothings out there.”
The smile on Connor’s face fell. “Why do you always have to pop my bubble? So no one has been taken in months?” Morgan opened his mouth, “Taken!” Connor said annoyed. Morgan shut his mouth, “That many people don’t just disappear without a trace. You can’t just lose that many people. They were taken by The Keeper. You know that, and I know that, and as for that little no one has gone missing for months theory.” Connor reached into his back pocket and pulled out a folded up piece of paper unfolded it, then slid it across the desk to Morgan. He started skimming the paper. “Cydney Baker age nineteen went missing 3 days ago along with her also nineteen-year-old boy friend Jackson Harris. They were last seen hiking around Larkin Woods. Say The Keeper isn’t real; Say it’s just some story from way back when, but these are real people Morgan. Flesh and blood, and fingers crossed, still breathing people. Now, if we don’t find The Keeper maybe we can find them and bring them back home to their families. Are you really going to say no to that?”
Morgan had to admit Connor had a point.He did like the idea of going out and finding these teens and bringing them home, not for the sake of being a hero, he liked helping people just for the sake of helping them. It gave him the best sort of feeling. Connor knew this about him. He knew that this news article would be the one thing, the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back one could say in getting him to say the four words Connor had been wanting to hear since he burst through Morgan's door that day. “When do we leave?”
Connor had been packed since the night before, he burst in on Morgan; he had not only already found Morgan’s sleeping bag and two person tent, but he had convinced both sets of parents some best friend mini vacation time was the perfect way to end the summer. The trip out to Baker’s Park was one they had taken a thousand times. Connor was convinced he could drive all the way there with his eyes closed. Not that Morgan would ever let him try.
“Hey Con,” Morgan called out as he walked towards their shared campsite. “Where have you been? No human takes that long to pee. You’re going to be taking the whole site down by yourself now,” Connor complained. That’s when he noticed that Morgan hadn’t returned back to camp alone. He had two people with him. The guy looked as if he couldn’t be more than sixteen, while the girl looked more their own age. “Who’s this?” he asked. A cheeky smile appeared on Morgan’s face. “This is Hazel and her cousin Kyle. Hazel is Cydney’s younger sister. They’re here to look for her. I suggested they come along with us. The bigger the group, the harder it will be to get lost.”
It didn’t take the group long to get things ready for their first day of searching. “Can I just ask one thing?” Kyle, who had been relevantly quiet until now. (Connor assumed it was because he didn’t actually want to be here. The kid was jumpier than a Turkey on Thanksgiving.) “Shoot,” Connor replied. “What do we do if we get separated?” You could see the fear in his eyes. Everyone in the group could tell being taken was something he was afraid, something that would actually happen to them. “Glad you asked dude.” Morgan said digging into his backpack. He pulled out a set of walkie-talkies. Connor couldn’t help but laugh as he pulled out another set of walkie-talkies. The appearance of the two sets of walkie-talkies seemed to put Kyle at ease a bit.
“Here’s the plan,” Connor began surveying the small group. "We set the walkie’s to frequency 2, they can go up to four miles before you lose anyone. Keep your walkie close to you at all times. Morgan is going to be the keeper of the map.” Kyle glared at him. If just the word keeper was going to get a reaction from him Connor knew he was going to have some extra fun this weekend. “If you see or hear anything report speak up. We only have about six hours of sunlight left so we should head out now.”
The whole trip was exciting and straight out of the movies. Just thinking of maybe finding the legendary Keeper gave him a strange rush of adrenaline.There was a strange sort of calm to Larkin Woods. However as he looked around, Connor realized there were no animals around. No sign of deer, birds, not even a random chipmunk.The thought of this should have concerned him, but it just made the excitement build. “Not really what I expected,” Hazel said.
“What exactly were you expecting?” Kyle asked.
“I thought it would be darker, scarier in a way kind of horror film, esk. This is more bright lights and Disney.”
“That’s what The Keeper wants you to think,” Kyle mumbled.
They continued through the woods in almost complete silence t for the next half-hour. Connor wandered off for a pee break, that's when he heard it the first time; the sound of breathing. It was so close at first, he had thought one of the others had followed him. Looking around, he saw nobody. Connor shook his head removing the thought of breathing from his mind, There was nothing in the story of The Keeper about breathing. He was just getting too caught up in the whole situation they were all in. Shrugging it off, he went back to the group.
“Is it just me, or does anyone else have the feeling that we are constantly being watched?” Hazel asked looking around the area they had stopped in. “For the last few minutes, I keep thinking something is watching me. Not just behind me but in front of me and on both sides all at once.” The rest of the group were all looking at her blank looks on their faces. “I’m not crazy.’
“It’s The Keeper.” Morgan said. “The story; we have all been fed these stories about missing people and the thing in the woods. It’s a natural defense for our bodies to be scared right now. There’s no such thing as The Keeper.”
“Kyle, buddy, you okay?” Hazel asked her cousin. Kyle hadn’t talked since they had entered the woods. He was always looking blankly around like he was waiting for something bad to happen.
“Memories,” he said.
“Come again?” Connor asked confusion written all over his face.
“The people who make it out, the ones who get away from The Keeper, they have no memory of any of it. What happened to them where the people they were with went. They don’t even know if The Keeper is a guy or a girl. They could be anyone, anywhere, at any time,” Kyle replied barely over a whisper.
“Okay then. I think it’s time to get Kyle moving. Having him in one spot for long isn’t a good idea. He's too scared. If we don’t find Cydney and Jackson by tonight, Kyle can stay behind at camp while we all go out and look.” Morgan suggested.
“No!” Kyle frantically yelled. “I want to be here. I want to look. I have to.” He were staring at Hazel as if she were about to lash out at him for Morgan’s suggestion. Hazel. Connor noticed had a controlling yet calming in her eyes. It was almost like she was talking to Kyle without words.
“Okay, then it’s settled; Kyle stays. Lets just get moving before the run out of daylight,” Hazel said the look in her eyes replaced with a happier one.
As they were walking, they tapered off from each other a bit, occasionally calling out for the missing teens. “Jackson! Jackson can you hear us?” Connor yelled. “Shhh,” came a voice he didn’t recognize. “Jackson?” Connor questioned the air. “Shhh!” came the voice again. This time Connor could have sworn the voice came from behind him. He spun around expecting to find someone standing there, only to be met by a tree. That’s when he saw it, or at least he thought he saw it. Eyes: human eyes as blue as the sky on the tree as if it were alive, Connor blinked and the eyes were gone. He ran to Morgan’s side. “The trees.” he panted. “The trees are alive, not plant type alive, but they have eyes! They can talk! One of them just told me to shh!”
“Not you too, this isn’t Narnia. This is Larkin Woods. The trees here can’t talk, and there is no way they have eyes. You must have caught a glimpse of a bird or something,” Morgan said.
“Wake up and think logically for a minute. When was the last time you saw any animal in these woods?” Connor asked. “Because there aren’t any. Don’t you think there’s something majorly not right with that?”
“I am thinking logically. I seem to be the only person who is right now, Everyone else seems to be going insane,” Morgan argued back.
“Who’s going insane?” Hazel asked swinging her walkie-talkie back and forth by the antenna.
“You all are. I don’t know how many times I have to tell you, there is no such thing as The Keeper. People come in here and get lost, then are never seen again,” Morgan told her. Hazel’s face went blank, a tiny bit of anger shown in her eyes. “That is my sister out there, she is the smartest person I have ever know. Cydney has been a hiker all her life there is no way in hell she just got lost in the woods. Now, you have a choice stick with us and help us look for her or...”
“Hey guys?” Connor spoke over the end of Hazel’s sentence. Hazel and Morgan both looked at him as though they were ready to smack him for interrupting their argument. “Where’s Kyle?” Hazel spun around fear replacing her previous hate filled eyes. "That girl's emotions change faster than the hands on a clock." Connor noted. “He was just standing right here, I told him I was going to talk to you. He said he was going to stand right here,” Hazel said frantically.
Just then, the woods were filled with the high-pitched screams. The screams were coming from every direction. “Kyle! Kyle! Can you hear me?” Morgan yelled as loud as he could into the walkie-talkie. “Kyle! Where are you?” The screaming was getting louder Hazel,Connor, and Morgan all fell to the ground hands over their ears in attempt to keep out the screams. The ground started to shake. Morgan looked up and let out a yell of his own. All of the trees had eyes they were looking straight at him. The screams some how were coming from the trees. He tried to stand up, however as he began to move, two hands came from the shaking ground wrapping their dirt covered fingers around his ankles.
To his right, he could vaguely hear Connor calling his name. Connor reached out grabbing Morgan’s leg to try and pull him free from the hands. Larkin Woods went black, the screaming and shaking stopped, Connor could hardly see Morgan but continued to pull. As he pulled Morgan free, daylight shone upon them again. Morgan toppled forward causing Connor to fall backward onto the ground where Hazel had been mere moments before. “Hazel! Hazel where did you go?’ He scream into the walkie-talkie.
“Finders keepers, finders keepers, no more light of day. Finders keepers, finders keepers, forever in the woods you will stay.” A voice came from the walkie-talkie. Connor threw his walkie-talkie to the ground. He stared at the walkie-talkie as it were going to lash out and bite him. “Non-believers are never leavers,” the voice said.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Morgan asked, fear evident in every word.
“Are you serious? You are going to sit there and tell me you don’t know what that means?” Connor spat back. “Ever since we have stepped foot into this damn place, you have done nothing but say The Keeper isn’t real! The Keeper is obviously pissed off, and he’s going to keep us now!”
“My fault, my fault? You’re the one who dragged me here!” Morgan spat back.
“The Keeper said non-believers, Morgan; you said, 'The Keeper wasn’t real', and then, all hell broke lose. That’s all on you!” Conner yelled.
A rustling sound came from the trees behind them. Both boys shot up and huddled together. “Connor’s right, you, know,” Kyle said as he stepped out of the shadows of the trees. “I tried to tell you to be scared, I tried telling you that you needed to be worried!” He hissed at the boys in front of him. “Neither of you listened to me! You treated this like a game and kept telling me not to believe. But now you will see, You will see why you should be scared and why you should have just stayed home!”
“Kyle.” Morgan started.
“My names not Kyle!”
“Then what is your name?’
“It’s Emmett Highland.”
“That’s not possible. Emmett went missing over a hundred years ago. He’s dead,” Connor said. His hands were starting to shake. He didn’t know what he could believe anymore.
“The Keeper doesn’t kill you. The Keeper keeps you forever. It’s more of a collection than a grave. I, the first one, am the special one,” Emmett said. His words sent chills down Connor and Morgan’s spines. Connor was visibly shaking now. Morgan was petrified with fear. “Do you want to know what The Keeper does with her collection?” Emmett asked.
“Her collection?” Connor stuttered out.
“Yes, Connor, The Keeper is a girl,” Hazel said coming out from behind the same tree as Emmett had just been. “Surprise!” she said in a high pitched, sarcastic, girly squeal. Hazel strut forward toward Connor and Morgan, an almost animalistic smile on her face. “Don’t be scared pet.” She reached out and stroked Connor’s hair. He slapped her hand away. “You really don’t have to worry about anything Connor. Morgan on the other hand,” Morgan was frozen in place; his fight or flight instinct was all he could think of. “I should really congratulate the two of you. You technically did find Cydney and Jackson.” She pointed to a set of trees to the left of where Morgan was standing. “You see boys the poem does say forever in the woods you will stay. I really take this place to heart.”
“What about Emmett? Why isn’t he part of the woods?” Morgan asked fear dripping from his every word.
“I was lonely, I needed a pet. So, I chose Emmett. Connor will make an excellent pet and the perfect playmate for my Emmett. You on the other hand annoy me. In fact, you tend to bore me to tears. I've been meaning to add a pond to this place for centuries now. I think one in the shape an eye would be a perfect tourist spot.” Hazel sent an icy glare towards Morgan. Hundreds of hands came through the ground wrapping themselves around Morgan pulling him through the soil. Morgan could feel an icy cold liquid all around him. In the distance, he could hear Connor screaming, he could see a blurry version of Connor trying to get to him but he couldn't move. He was sinking deeper and deeper words and sounds now became nothing. Eventually Morgan was gone.
“Morgan! Morgan Andrew Peters, get your ass up!” Connor yelled as he jumped onto Morgan’s bed. Morgan shot up in bed gasping for air. He looked frantically looked around the room. No trees, no Hazel no Kyle/Emmett, just old movie posters and his spaz of a best friend. “I’m not going camping with you,” Morgan rasped out.
“How did you know I was going to ask you to go camping with me?” Connor asked cocking, his head to one side like a puppy.