Short Story
                                         The Little Keeper
                                                            By Kenneth G. Gary


                                                                               Prelude

    A child will keep a worn one-eyed Teddy Bear because they know its essence. And, because in this
fashion, they can keep it alive. Even after the family moves, perhaps a long distance, one day the same
ragged Teddy Bear shows up in some unexpected, prominent place.

    Once Upon a Time…

    Jaclyn was at home everywhere, and with everyone. She was a very happy little girl who was notably
easy to care for. She really enjoyed playing alone with her toys and dolls. So, she required little attention.
On those rare occasions when there was a baby sitter called in to stay with her, they never reported any
problems to her parents when they returned.

    Given their proclivity for random, senseless chatter, it was rumored that these early teen sitters felt
compelled not to report any strangeness attending Jaclyn; both for a loss of words and perhaps some
measure of trepidation - but she had way too much fun alone. Either way, they always had a juvenile
telephone agenda in mind and probably felt some measure of strangeness themselves in a world they
have yet to mature in.

    Next door dwelt her very best friend in the world: Terri. Terri and Jaclyn were inseparable companions.
One was always at the house of the other. As Jaclyn’s mother observed them one day, she was impressed
with how intertwined their spirits were.  She had never seen anything quite like this before, but there was
nothing to be concerned with, she felt, as rare as this type of gravitation may be, it must be good.
Moreover, given her worldview, nearly divine.

    Their houses were very modest and similar in appearance. Upon entering Terri’s house, there was a
straight stairway leading to the upstairs bedrooms. A right turn, past the stairway lead to the living room,
followed by the dining room to the left. Both the proximity, and the neighborhood, relieved both mothers of
any concern of the children running back and forth between their houses.

    Both girls wore medium length auburn hair. Being pretty much the same size, they could exchange
clothes at their pleasure – which they often did. And both were boundless embodiments of nature’s pure
exuberance.

    They often held hands, even while skipping down the street; a genuine rhythmic challenge. They played
games together with common household items; games that others could not fathom. They actually on
occasion engaged in a language that only they understood. And the giggling, was like springtime itself.

    What Jaclyn was the most excited about was starting school at the end of the summer.  Most kids want
to get out of school, but, she had never been to school so she was naturally excited to begin classes,
make even more friends, and learn about the world.

    Now, Terri’s older brother and father usually worked the night shift until just before sunrise. She would
commonly only see them when she was getting up in the morning and again around dinnertime. They
would both in turn pick her up and hug her as soon as they entered the house.

    Michael, Terri’s father, picked her up, “Hi Pumpkin! How are you this morning?”

    Terri, grinning, “Good, Daddy!”

    The moment her feet hit the ground, her brother William, reached to lift her. She immediately closed her
arms tightly around her body.

    “Don’t tickle me!” she insisted.

    William, “I am not going to tickle you.” William shrugged his shoulders, turned his palms upward in a
gesture of innocence.

    No sooner had he lifted her up he began to tickle her making her squirm and squeal with laughter.

    All in all, Terri was a very happy child too.

                    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    One morning Michelle, Jaclyn’s mother, knocked on her bedroom door as she would always do before
entering. Jaclyn would say “Come In!” cheerfully. Her mother slowly cracked the door and peeked in.

    “Jaclyn, dear, like we discussed, this will be the first day at school”

    Through her mother’s pleasant countenance, Jaclyn could sense trepidation. Probably just the natural
reservations any parent has at this point. But it was really far more than that. Thinking no further, Jaclyn
sprang out of bed to get ready for this grand day.

    Jaclyn raced through her morning preparation. At the breakfast, table her mother cautioned, “Jaclyn, eat
all your food. There will not be any mid-morning snacking at school.”

    “Um-hum” Jaclyn mumbled through a mouth full of scrambled eggs.

    “Don’t choke, sweetheart. You have time.” Her mother smiled at her excitement.

    As soon as humanly possible, mouth still full of food, Jaclyn leapt out of the chair to finish her
preparation, grab her backpack and run outside to meet Terri who she knew would be on the porch
waiting for her. Jaclyn grabbed her hand and they ran down the street with intrepid spirits to their new
adventure. They used to join one another for breakfast but both mothers saw the need to restrict this with
the advent of the new school year because they spent their breakfast in excited giggling and eating nearly
nothing.

    When they did eat, they ate from one another’s plate as though they were one.

    Everything looked beautiful this morning. One could not imagine how bright the sunlight really is for her.  
Jaclyn was not the kind of child that was given to fear anyway. There was a large, aggressive, seemingly
rabid dog on the way to school, with a vicious bark that scared the other kids but she just told him to shoo
away, and he did.

    Inside the school building, the children swarmed the hallways in every direction trying to find their
classrooms and simply exuding the extra electric energy that only kids have.

    Inside the classroom itself, the excitement was a constant buzz of talking. Two boys continued their
game of tag in the classroom circling desks and tables. Ms. Jason, the teacher walked in and patiently
brought the herd to order.

    Actually, it was the teacher who seemed to be a little unsettled. She stuttered sometimes and seemed
to go out of her way to please Jaclyn.  Jaclyn’s mother had been to the preschool meetings and managed
to impart an air of concern regarding Jaclyn. She wanted to know everything her child did and right away.
Jaclyn did not seek to take advantage: she was a kind, considerate and thoughtful child.

    She did notice that at the end of every day, when the principal would announce that class was over for
the day and the teacher would go with him, the teacher had a strange, unexpected look in her eye. Jaclyn
could sense it. However the principle really only wanted to gain all teachers perspectives early, before any
problems appeared.

    These were the days, and the neighborhood, where children walked a couple blocks to school.
However, it takes only a moment of insufficient attention for children, in the full effulgence of play, to deliver
themselves unto danger that always lurks nearby. Playing tug-of –war on the way home with their
backpacks, upon tearing the bag from Jaclyn’s grip, both Terri and Jaclyn stumbled into the street to meet
fate in the embodiment of a speeding Lexus whose driver did not anticipate this event.

    The sound of metal on flesh and bone has a deeply disturbing, muffled, thudding sound.  A sound you
never forget once you hear it.

    Nearly immediately, a child’s confused soul drifted slowly upwards; there was no possibility of mortal
recovery. She was accompanied by barely visible misty creatures, one of which was halted by
overwhelming alarm.

    The driver, a middle aged man in a dark suit and tie, was out of his car immediately. He dashed to
where Terri lay in the street.

    Driver, to Jaclyn, standing nearby, “You okay!!?”

    Jaclyn slowly nodded her head yes. Her attention was transfixed to the floating gossamer creature on a
halting ascent. The man was desperately seeking aid over his phone, but his voice, and everything else
began to sound miles away to Jaclyn.

                    ……………………………………………………………………………………….  

    The beautiful, vaporous messenger looked deep within Jaclyn’s eyes, and her face was suspended in
complete consternation; alarm writhing across her brow.

    Being unable to miss the import of her portentous demeanor, Jaclyn returned an imploring gaze, hoping
for explanation. Jaclyn was dazed, confused, by whatever it was that had just occurred. And who is this
entity hovering before her?

                    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Angel, eyes still locked on Jaclyn, an involuntary ejaculation; ‘I have not seen your kind for ages…’

    Jaclyn, heart filled with trepidation,  “What ‘kind?’’

    Angel ‘ A being that is a bridge. How did you get here, little one?’

    At this, Jaclyn had no answer. She had never thought of her life in its entirety. No one does. But she was
appalled, she was no different from her every day friends. Was she?

    Angel; with unrepressed shock in her eyes, realizing that this little girl had no idea, as if reading her
mind… ‘Yes. You are. You are thoroughly different from everyone else that you know. I repeat; how did you
get here?’

    Well, this Angel, this celestial escort, was asking too much. Her question was a literal one; but, no one
remembers how they ‘got here’. No one recalls when they first realized that they were alive. This would
require comprehension of the opposite, not being alive, for contrast. This is a phenomenon totally foreign
to a being that was created complete, as this Angel was, and she actually forgot, for she did not discourse
with humans often. She had forgotten that these so-called ‘partial creatures’ have as part of their very
make up, this mortally paradoxical blind spot. Their lives are comparable to suddenly waking up on a roller
coaster with no recall regarding getting on the ride, or even entering the amusement park. Most striking,
she always marveled at; this situation did not even surface as a question for them. They just continue the
ride – as if it was their idea to begin with.

    It does not even astound them that they do not ‘think’, things simply occur to them. Thoughts just enter
their unfenced minds, and they cannot distinguish between this and willful thinking. This latter phenomenon
occurring when the table is already set with the objective clearly demarcated; principles and artifacts ripe
for organization into results.

    No, rather, they are fields where great winds play as they will; and these creatures interpret it as them
being the authors of such occurrences. In one sense, the Angel could not even fathom why God made
them at all. For what? As the embodiment of confusion?

    Angel, “The ‘Ways’ for your kind have been long forgotten. Who will teach you? How will you exist here?
How did this happen?”

    Jaclyn was at a complete loss. Although something within her told her this was momentous - she could
not fathom the magnitude of this occasion, nor had she any insight on resolution. She was, after all, just a
little girl. With some measure of desperation, the Angel turned and sped upward. Looking back over her
shoulder at Jaclyn one last time; her eyes full of profound pity; but she continued on.

    Where to begin. This event cannot be overlooked, and someone else must know something to help in
this ‘situation’. What situation? Well, she was just informed by what had to be a celestial resident that she
had no perceivable boundary to her soul. Not knowing what that meant, or even what a soul was – is there
a good definition anywhere? -  she absorbed the fact that it was a profound message, and that it posed
dire consequences one way or another.

    Or, so she was told by her great grandmother.

    The flashing blue lights, noise and busy people dressed in white brought her back to the scene of the
accident on the street.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    That night, Jaclyn’s parents told her she did not need to go to school for a couple of days. Jaclyn did not
exactly understand why, but she did feel strangely tired anyway and she did not protest or question why.

    She slept well enough, but she did have a visitor that night. They were walking through a sunny
meadow, her and an elderly lady whose name she did not know but who clearly had her well-being in mind.
This woman gave her constant assurance that all would be well, holding hands as they walked gentle
slopes. At once, the lady knelt down and picked the only flower in this vast grassland and put it in Jaclyn’s
hair.

    In the morning, she could not wait to see Terri. Terri was not waiting for her on the porch, so she ran
over to Terri’s house and knocked on the door as she so often did. Terri’s mother opened the door. She
looked tired. Her eyes were red. She immediately hugged Jaclyn, who noticed that the hug was more
vigorous than usual. After which, Jaclyn raced up the stairs, as always, to Terri’s room. Terri’s mother
stood at the foot of the stairs, grateful for something in life that felt the same for a moment. This is what
Jaclyn always did.

    Soon Terri’s mother could hear the girls upstairs laughing and playing, as usual. She began to weep
convulsively. Not having slept the night before, she finally fell asleep in a chair in the living room to the tune
of the girls play.

    Later that afternoon, Terri’s mother called Jaclyn down stairs because she had to meet her husband for
an important decision to be made. Jaclyn bounced down the stairs with the residue of a giggle still
embracing her countenance. They hugged again, why is she hugging me so much? And Jaclyn ran home,
played out for the time being, to eat a late lunch.

    The next day Jaclyn expected to be the same. She ran next door to see Terri. She knocked on the door,
which was again opened by Terri’s mother who took her by the hand and brought her into the living room.

    The room was filled with people and they all looked somewhat similar. Jaclyn realized they were all
wearing black. They were not talking much, and some were sobbing and others were crying outright, tears
streaking their faces. Jaclyn did not understand this kind of party, but she did grab a piece of cake before
heading upstairs to play.

    The girls played all afternoon until Jaclyn had to go home.

    Jaclyn and her mother ate dinner alone that evening. Her father was buried in his quiet zone, an upstairs
bedroom that served as his office at home. Michelle felt he spent far too much time up there and Jaclyn,
while well behaved, would sometimes simply burst through the door and race across the room to embrace
her daddy – which he enjoined with pleasure.

    At dinner, Jaclyn mentioned how much fun she was having with Terri, the things they did, and the games
they played. Her mother did not know whether this was healthy or not. People must move on, eventually;
but Jaclyn was so joyful in her description that her mother finally had to speak.

    Michelle, holding Jaclyn’s hand, “Sweetheart, I know you miss Terri. You will meet many new friends too
when you return to school next week.”

    Jaclyn, “Terri is my best friend. We had lots of fun this afternoon!”

    Michelle, feeling at a loss for this tragic situation just smiled and caressed Jaclyn’s hand.  Michelle, not
wishing to pursue the loss that they all felt simply affirmed Jaclyn, “I am sure you did, darling.”

    That night, Jaclyn went to bed unusually early. Michelle thought that all the stress had simply depleted
her more than usual. Michelle brought a cup of tea in a saucer, hoping to ease any distress and invite
sleep. Upon entering Jaclyn’s room she was paralyzed with fear upon seeing several people in the room.

    In complete shock, Michelle dropped the tea and saucer, which shattered loudly upon meeting the floor.
Jaclyn woke immediately, and all the people were simply gone. But Michelle knew what she had seen. She
had witnessed this before.

    And one of the people in the room was her own grandmother.

    Michelle, enveloped in fear, knew she had to talk with her husband John, Jaclyn’s father, about these
events.

    Late that evening, although John was deep within his do not disturb territory of his home office upstairs,
Michelle was driven to intrude – it literally was an emergency – and she needed to make sense of this
phenomenon even to herself.

    Upon entering, John was busy perusing some non-descript folder intently.

    With no introduction to the topic at all…

    Michelle, astounded, “She is what they call a ‘Keeper’!

    John, inquisitively: “What?”

    Michelle, “A Keeper. She can keep people she thinks about around her. Even if they are dead. My
Grandmother could do that but not my mother, aunts or uncles. None of my siblings can do that. I thought it
was over. But this little girl, our daughter, can do it.”

    John “What are you saying?”

    Michelle, “I have seen my deceased grandmother with Jaclyn more than once. She is a Keeper. Jaclyn
is! I don’t know what to do. All she has to do is think about them. It probably seems normal to her. She just
‘calls’ them and they show up.”

    John “Calls them? How?”

    Michelle “I do not know. I just do not know. I thought it was only Grandma…my Grandma, her Great
Grandma, that could do this. I saw Grandma do it twice, willfully. Later, when she became ill and forgetful,
she ‘called’ people probably accidentally.

    People were walking around in her room whose names she did not even remember. It was a ghastly
scene because she taught me how to pick out which people were dead. They all were dead, some of them
looked hundreds of years old. Most had a perplexed look on their face, wondering where they were and
why. Some of them even looked like they used her ‘connection’ to get here without her invitation. ”

    John leaned back in his chair away from his work, attentive and concerned.

    Michelle, slowly walking towards his desk, eyes focused in the distance, “It is very powerful when done
to the living. I was once driving to the grocery store, I was in the car, at a stoplight, only to find myself
standing at the end of my Grandma’s bed! Not physically – but whatever it is that animates the body, that
feels like oneself, was standing at the end of my Grandma’s bed.”

    How did she do it? How do we do anything? Solving a mathematical problem can be explained
methodically after it has been solved. The entities involved and their relationship can be identified. But
what is it that surfaces this inchoate methodology to begin with? The interminable gap between actual
thinking and the infusion of ‘insight’, unwilled, onto the plateau of the mind. Things are not willfully thought;
they arise from some subterranean strata of the mind; all due to lack of borders. And who is to say; if
thoughts can come from there, can we not follow?

    What Michelle did not know about her Grandma was that she could ‘call’ people during her dreams.
Dreams are dangerous enough to begin with. There is complete surrender to utter madness – to a place
that masquerades, successfully, as reality. Coupled with this ability to call people, would they show up in
their malformed dream state? Could she possibly call forth the entire dream scene? Jaclyn could be in
more danger than anyone knew.

    Michelle “I do recall Grandma telling me once that it was easier if you had something that they had
owned. Or visited a place where they once lived. That’s all I know. I should have realized something when
she mentioned her Great Grandmother, whom she has never even met before her death.”

                    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    On the third day, Terri’s parents had to attend to some ‘family business’. Her older brother William did
not care to attend, expecting to be urged on by his father into participation, but his father understood and
allowed William to remain at home.

    Soon after they had departed, Jaclyn was knocking at the door. William opened it and was surprised to
see Jaclyn, but her inviting smile, and the familiarity of her visits wiped all questions from his already
distraught mind. They hugged and she ran upstairs as usual. He thought it rather strange, but, he was at a
loss for what to do so he let her proceed as she had always done.

    Soon he heard the girls laughing and playing. A very familiar noise, this is what they always did. There
was a moment of wonder where he thought, how could Jaclyn make such a ruckus all by herself?  But his
grief, and that amazing ability we have to just overlook things that simply could not be true, both contrived
to cause him to ignore the noise and engage in mindless television.

    Terri’s parents were in a lobby adorned with ornate flower arrangements, meaningless magazines, and
uniformed attendants. Soon they were called to the desk to certify the conditions of the agreement so that
the process could commence immediately. There was another couple sitting across from them who had
already been at the desk. There was a faint acknowledgement exchanged between them. The other
couple was delivered a small, plain cardboard box, and they immediately departed.

    Terri’s father insisted upon witnessing all the way to the end. This was not commonly allowed but his
wish was accommodated. His wife joined him, somewhat reluctantly.

    They stood in silence as the plain metal carriage moved slowly along the belt delivering it to the intense
furnace. Upon entrance, they turned to depart.

    Jaclyn and Terri were holding hands, as usual as they crossed the bedroom floor. Jaclyn fell into
complete terror upon seeing Terri burst into livid flames. Jaclyn screamed from the bottom of her soul.
William raced up the stairs to find Jaclyn wailing, tears streaming down her face. With her left hand she
was holding her right wrist in obvious pain.

    Her palm had been badly burned where the girls were holding hands while Terri had been cremated.
About Kenneth G. Gary

Kenneth G Gary was born
in Atchison, Kansas, grew
up in Minneapolis, Minn.
and moved to Boston,
Massachusetts where he
earned a degree in
Biological Anthropology at
Harvard University.
Professionally a science
instructor and later an
Integration Architect
working across the nation
and internationally.
He has five siblings and
has been a storyteller in
the oral tradition for his
children, their children, his
nephews and nieces and
their children. It is a strong
family tradition. Writing is
a recent passion in his
retired life. It is a return to
a story telling past.
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