by Harris Coverley
My earliest memory is of sitting
in my mother’s cool arms, trying to suckle and being rebuffed, a bottle’s nipple
shoved between my lips. I may have only been little more than one year old, but
the pain still feels real.
There are great black spaces
after that, but by the age of three more and more thoughts of the day come into
play, and the routine that dominated our lives becomes clear.
We had the run of most of our
house, but we stuck mainly to the kitchen. It was there where we ate all of our
meals at the big dark oak table, each meal cooked by my mother, a process often
taking up most of her day. The rest of the time we sat at the table and talked,
played games, and then early in the evening we would both go to bed at the same
time. There were plenty of other rooms upstairs in the large house, but we
never went in them. She had her small bedroom, and I had mine. The bathroom was
the brightest room in the house, a colour scheme of rich sea blue, and kept pristine.
Our groceries were delivered
to our doorstep, and anything else needed was ordered over a cracked,
wall-mounted telephone, cast in green plastic.
It was only every so often
that I saw the Master come and go. His room was on the ground floor, along the left-hand
side of the hallway, behind a tall red door of a different design to the others
in the rest of the house. Never did a single sound emanate from behind it, or
at least nothing I could be sure of.
I don’t remember the very first
time I saw him, but he was there,
never looking upon his entrances and exits into our kitchen activities, me only
occasionally being able to glimpse his person, shrouded in a wide-brimmed
trilby and a shaggy grey coat that nearly dragged across the floor.
Sometime before the age of
four my mother noticed me peering at his latest return through the crack in the
kitchen door, and as soon as he went into his room and locked the door—as he
always did—my mother knelt in front of me, took me by the shoulders, and told
me never to look upon him, never to speak to him, never to ask after him, and,
especially, never to enter his room, or else I would be punished. The threat of
punishment from her, always so tranquil, scared me, but I was a good obedient
boy, and so did as she ordered. The only detail of his being that she gave was
his moniker: the Master.
At the age of five I was sent
to school, and as we left each weekday, I averted my eyes from the window of
his room as we departed and returned. It was not until after I turned six that
I gained a little rebelliousness to glance quickly at the window as we set out
one day, and I saw what the insistence of peripheral vision had long suggested:
the glass was covered with ancient, glued on newspaper. My mother did not
notice, and we carried onto school, a short walk away, but as the days went on,
I tried to steal more and more glances.
School proved nice enough,
and made a break from the monotony of home life. I made friends, but was often
at a loss for stories of any adventure to tell. Other children went on holiday,
called on their parent’s places of work, had grandparents and other relatives
One night I asked my mother
why we never went on holiday, and she said that holidaying was impossible. I
asked her where my grandparents, and aunts, and uncles were, and she quite
nonchalantly told me they were all dead. At some point in the past I had
already learned of the concept of death, so this did not trouble me, and I
threw no tantrum at the prospect of never going on holiday, although I never
did throw any tantrums.
A short time after I fell ill
with a severe cold, and was forced to stay home from school. Our routine
reverted to those pre-school days of us in the kitchen, although I found my
previously solid schedule of going to bed at eight and rising at eight suddenly
interrupted by an onslaught of headaches and vomiting. It was during one such
interruption, a midnight trip to the toilet to empty my stomach, that I
happened to look down the stairs and spy the first instance of my mother and the
Master communicating. I caught her kneeling before his door and sliding a small
brown envelope underneath. She stayed for a few moments, me peeking out from
behind the upstairs wall, before a similar, but definitely not the same, envelope
was shoved back from the other side. As she
stood up with the delivery she looked up the stairs and, fatigued by illness, I
was unable to retreat fast enough. Our eyes met, and for a brief second our own
individual fears were mirrored in each. I regained my strength and rushed back
to my room, the covers pulled up, new vomit forced back down my throat.
The next day, as we finished
our breakfast—she some wheat cereal, me, still liable to vomit, dry, unbuttered
toast—she turned to me and told me that such letters were the only way for the
Master and her to communicate safely, but that’s all she would admit. I plucked
up some courage to ask her where he sometimes went in the middle of the day,
but she told me she did not know. In retrospect, it was clear she was lying,
but I did not raise it again.
A year passed, and I moved
through my classes, becoming more curious. I asked more questions at home,
about this and that aspect of the world, but I made sure to avoid the topic of
the Master. My mother, acknowledging that I was cracking the shell in which I
had long since existed, bought me books, such as a junior encyclopaedia, and
compilations of fairy tale I could read by myself. There was no television in
the house, so I devoured them quickly. Before long, I had exhorted her to take
me to the local library on an almost daily basis, and I began to make my way
through the children’s section. I admit that stories of the supernatural were
what really got me going, along with natural science and evolutionary history.
Soon the juvenilia proved too meek for me, and I moved onto more adult
sections, conquering them shelf-by-shelf.
One day, about a month before
I turned eight, I found a yellowed pad of paper in one of the spare
rooms—clearly I was already getting a little adventurous in exploring the
unlived-in parts of the house—and I started to write ghost stories, inspired by
my library adventures. I was a boy with a growing imagination, and like anyone
at that age I truly believed that I was writing the finest horror fiction on
Earth. I must have, over the course of a week, cracked off a dozen or so tales
of haunted houses, spectral invaders, and mad scientists. By the weekend, I was
confident that these tales would make up for a lack of real life stories to
tell, and so planned a full reading at school break-time on the Monday. But when
Monday morning fell, the pad was nowhere to be found—not in my dresser drawer
where I had left it, not in my schoolbag, not in the kitchen; it was completely
absent. I pondered this throughout the day, and when walking home with my
mother I asked her if she had seen a yellow pad anywhere in the house. She did
not answer, and remained silent until we crossed the threshold.
“I threw it away,” she said,
taking off her coat, and expecting to leave it at that.
I almost cried immediately,
all my good work gone, and I asked her why.
“There are some things you
cannot possibly know, or write about, even in jest,” was her reply.
For the first time in in our shared
life we argued, violently, like so many parents and children do, and also for
the first time I was exiled to my room. She refused for the rest of the week to
take me to the library, her idea of punishment, and my mind grew stale and
listless. Searches for new pads of paper proved fruitless.
That Saturday I was reading a
ragged textbook on animal husbandry, having adopted a strange notion of moving
North and establishing a farm, when I decided to go down to the kitchen to get
a drink, the day being a warm one, while hoping not to encounter my mother’s
As I made my way down the
stairs, I saw something that stopped me dead: the Master’s door was wide open.
It was never wide open. He had always
left and returned with the solid securing of its brass locks.
At first, I stood halfway on
the steps, curving my body to look beyond the frame. There appeared to be
nothing unusual to see, and his room seemed devoid of life. I made my way to
the foot of the stairs, and surveyed the hallway up to the kitchen, pricking up
my ears. As far as I could tell, I was completely alone; neither the Master nor
my mother made any sound or sight.
The impulse came to me and I surrendered
to it: I would take the opportunity to see the Master’s dwellings for myself.
To hell with my mother and her years-old warnings! What power did she deserve over
me given the way I had been treated? It
was all complete nonsense! I had lived as an idiot for so long, and even at
such a young age, I desired an insurrection, truth, a chance to figure out for
myself what was really going on.
I calmed down and walked
slowly to the edge of the doorway. I took a deep breath, and sharply turned in.
The door may have been of a
different design to the rest of the house, but the decor inside the room
matched: the same dark lime carpeting, the same worn brown floor panels and
kickboard, the same off-cream wallpaper. At the front of the room, under the
papered window, was his low wooden bed, covered with a rough blue-and-white
tartan sheet, neatly and tightly made. On the far wall, opposite the door, was
a combined bookcase and chest of drawers, adorned with dull brass handles. I
went up to the case and gazed at the books, the titles of some of which are
still scorched into my mind, despite at that time having no knowledge of Latin:
Tomus de Clamoribus, Liber de Oculis,
Niger Verba, Ad Superior Caro…there
were more, but those remain with me. There were also English-language books on
subjects that I recognised the library as having copies of, or similar, on
occult subjects, astrology, lost civilisations, and “science” that even a small
boy could recognise as at best junk, at worst insane, along with general textbooks
on chemistry and biology, neurology and mechanics. As I looked closer, I
noticed on the desk section above the drawers that there was a line of seven
glass items, bauble-like and misty in hue, with copper stands on their bottoms.
I leaned in and observed within them…movement.
I stood up straight and
rubbed my eyes. The situation was getting to me I was sure; the rush of
disobedience was causing me to see things. I leaned back down for a new look,
and soon wished I hadn’t.
Within those baubles swirled
clouds of unknown colours, propelled by the ecosystems of their own individual
worlds. Each bauble’s world was different, and yet related to each other’s. The
patterns, the shapes… indescribable, not re-creatable by human language or the
artistry of human hands. As I continued to stare, I neglected to notice the
front door open and close.
I settled on the central
bauble for my deepest observation, thinking at one point that my pupils would
touch the glass. I entered its world, and soon began to see an even deeper
level to the madness inside. It became increasingly obvious, although I still find
it hard to believe, that the waves of smoke that made up the clouds were not
mere smoke. No, the smoke waves were but a composite of hundreds upon hundreds
of faces, many human, some not so human, and all screaming, crying, yelling, in
states of agony and inconceivable terror.
Suddenly, I heard a voice
behind me say, “Boy, you have finally entered the fold…”
I spun about and looked
directly into the face of the Master who stood in the doorway. He was so
hideous to me: ironclad eyes of blue steel under that trilby, his orangey skin
laced with black pockmarks, the teeth of his vile grin like the broken fingers
of a skeleton.
He stepped forward, seemingly
ready to embrace me.
“My son,” he continued, “how
wonderful it will be…”
“What will?” I said, managing
to break through the shock gripping me, holding back my bladder.
“Me and you, side by side,”
he replied, that grin growing ever wider. “What we can achieve, what we will
As the Master moved forward, my
mother revealed herself in the doorway, reflecting my look of fright.
“Get out of there!” she
cried, the Master not reacting, far too focused on my trembling body. “GET OUT!”
Obeying her, I quickly ran
around the now crouching Master and out of the door, my mother pulling it shut
“To your room, now!” she
yelled, and I did as she commanded. As soon as I got there I hid under my
sheets, shaking, my shoes still on, me ramming my face into the mattress and
begging for sleep.
Several hours later I composed
myself, and made my way out of my room and downstairs. The Master’s door
remained closed and the room beyond was silent. In the kitchen my mother sat at
the oak table with a bottle of whisky and a mug, taking the occasional sip. I
had never seen her like this, so I knew to tread carefully.
I sat down at the table and
we said nothing for a good many minutes, until I found the nerve to break the
hush: “Why? What does it all mean?”
My mother didn’t say anything
at first, merely taking a larger slug of the whiskey, but she eventually replied,
“Across the eons, throughout history, some people, exceptional people, have
been displaced, as it were.”
To this I just nodded, and
she continued: “Some of these people attained something beyond what mere mortals
have…some were evil, some were good…the Master is unfortunately one of the evil
ones. People like him need a…caretaker of sorts. Someone to look after him,
someone to monitor him…that person ended up being me.”
We sat quietly for a while longer,
before I was able to say, “He called me ‘son’.”
My mother made to put her
head in her hands, but she stopped herself.
“Even your own mother has her
weaknesses,” she said with great sadness. “And for that I am truly sorry.”
After that I left it alone,
and went back to my room.
As the years went past, I
stuck to the old rules: do not go near the Master, do not look at the Master, and
do not in any way interact with the Master.
However, I still went against
my mother’s wishes in that I continued to write fiction and hone my skill at
the craft. I eventually made my way to the study of literature at university,
in spite of her disapproval, and since graduation I have managed to sustain
myself by writing a popular-enough novel each year, usually of the dark or
weird variety. Some have even been optioned for film, although none of them
have been lucky enough to have been made yet.
A wife has come and gone, no
children thankfully. But as I reach middle age, I admit I feel guilty. All
those years I lived at home, I got older, and my mother grew tired and haggard,
while the Master I know refused to
age a day. Yes, the coat continued to fray, and the trilby grew more warped,
but his face remained in its same ugly yet static state—so yes, I did not stick
to the old rules as well as I should have.
Every time I visit her she is
weaker and weaker, and I know it will not be long until my final visit. She
refuses to leave, married to her duty until the very end.
It is obvious what will
eventually happen: I will have to take her place as his guardian—I cannot
entrust such a task to any other—and spend the rest of my life typing up my
work at that same old kitchen table, making sure should he go out that he gets
in by the end of the day.
I have no interest in what
sick and terrible things he gets up to in that room, or what was really in
those baubles of his. Well, I would be lying if I said I had ‘no interest’.
Those books, that equipment…what evil deeds must
he get up to day and night? Where did he come from? Who is he?
Regardless, I have half a
mind to burn the whole damn house to the ground, and rid the world of him and
my mother of her endless suffering. But I love her, and I couldn’t really bear
to do it. It is just a reoccurring notion, kept down by the occasional single
No, the end is inevitable.
I am, and will always remain,
my mother’s son, and the Master’s keeper.