A Druid on My Doorstep
by Brian Schell
I got off the plane at Heathrow an hour before, and I finally got through Customs and out to the car that was waiting for me. I had received the call that Grandpa Edmund had died a few days ago, but this was the soonest I could make it. The funeral was tomorrow morning. The old man had relatives scattered around the globe, and I would be far from the last arrival.
One of my cousins, Ronald, was waiting at the curb for me. Normally, I’d have just rented a car, but I was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and I was leery of driving on the wrong side of the road. I sat in the passenger’s seat as Ronald pulled away from the curb.
The drive took the better part of an hour, and I had nothing to do but talk to Ronald, whom I’d just met for the first time. He had lived in England his whole life. “Heart attack, huh? Was it sudden?”
“No,” Ronald answered, “He’d had problems for a few years now. Had a pacemaker put in back in twenty-ten. He thought that’d solve his problem, but it got worse over the next few years. Then last week, he keeled over out in his garden and never woke up again.”
I could listen to him talk with that accent all day. My dad had talked like that on the rare times when he got excited, but most of the time he was careful to use his
practiced American accent. Most people didn’t realize he was from here originally. This was my first time visiting. We’d buried Dad last year, but no one from this side of the Atlantic attended that funeral. Tomorrow was going to be a much bigger affair.
I watched out the window as we drove on, and the London cityscape faded into the more sparsely populated countryside. Out here it didn’t look much different from the Midwestern states back home.
Then we reached my grandfather’s home. Or maybe I should call it an estate. Apparently, Gramps was far more loaded than I understood. I was assigned a guest room upstairs, where I promptly took a nap; it had been a long flight.
The next few days passed in a confusing blur of the funeral, various social gatherings, introductions to relatives I didn’t know I had, and weird British food. It was overcast and chilly every day, and I quickly started to miss home.
Then England suddenly became home. Grandfather hadn’t bothered to rewrite his will when my father had died, so I wound up with a sizeable chunk of the inheritance. I didn’t get the big house, but along with a pile of cash, I got one of the larger guesthouses and matching land as well. It included ten acres, and that was just one of the former guesthouses. It was fully furnished and beautifully decorated, so all I needed was new clothes and supplies. I sent home to have a few personal things mailed to me and got a refund on my return airfare. Now I was British too, or at least I started the paperwork to make it happen.
The only part of the guesthouse grounds, or should I say my grounds, that I wasn’t too keen on was the crypt. There was an old, and I mean really old, mausoleum right in the middle of what became my backyard. The damned thing was creepy as Hell, and you couldn’t go outside at all without seeing it.
Ronald had inherited and moved in to the house next door, and we got together every few days now just to hang out and shoot the shit, or as they more properly say in England, “for tea.” One afternoon, I mentioned that I was considering having the old mausoleum torn down. The way his eyes bugged out told me he wasn’t going to be supportive.
“You can’t tear that down! It’s an old druidic monument!
I had not been aware of that, but I didn’t care, either. “I thought druids were into trees and stuff. That thing is solid marble. It’s probably got bodies inside it.”
He nodded, “It probably does. I know it sounds silly, but your grandfather Edmund came out here once a year and planted a tree with his own hands. That’s where the woods at the back of the property came from — he planted every tree himself, for more than seventy years. From what he said, his father used to do the same thing, and his father, all the way back. I think he intended for your father to continue the tradition.” He put down his tea and looked at me sideways. “No one ever told you about this?”
I shook my head. “First I ever heard about it. Dad died kind of suddenly.”
“That’s probably why the will specified that you got this house instead of the big one. Because he expected the crypt would be cared for.”
“So I could plant a tree every year? Why would I want to do that?”
“He said it kept him healthy.” Ronald winced as he said it, even knowing how it sounded.
“He had a bad heart, and now he’s dead. How did that work again?”
“He was ninety, there’s that.” Ronald said dryly, then refilled our cups and sat back. “No, I don’t remember him ever missing a year with the trees. It’s good for the environment, and doesn’t hurt anyone, so what’s the harm in
it?” He paused, and then added with a smirk, “I suspect any modern-day druids would approve.”
I laughed, agreeing with him. That afternoon I called a work crew who came out and gave me an estimate on tearing the crypt down. They said they could come out on Monday and take care of everything.
That night I had a dream, wherein the work crew had broken down the door to the mausoleum and dozens of zombies wandered out, all wearing dark brown cloaks, like the druids in the movies always wear. One of them, wearing a blue cloak, opened the back door and came in. He didn’t look as zombified as the others; he must have been the leader. His eyes glowed a soft greenish color. Just as he got me cornered, he reached for my face, and I woke up.
I looked out the back window in the direction of the mausoleum. It was pitch black out there, but I saw, or at least imagined that I saw, two little green eyes staring back at me. It took hours to get back to sleep after that.
The next morning, still in my robe and with my first cup of coffee in-hand, I walked out to the mausoleum. It had rained gently in the early evening, and if anyone had been out here, there would be footprints in the mud. There were a few that I recognized as my own, but no one else had been out here last night, that much was clear. I went back inside.
Sunday night came, and after dark I looked out the window at that crypt, scheduled for demolition in the morning. I saw the two greenish pricks of light, but I couldn’t make out a figure. I locked the doors and slept with a cricket bat in bed next to me.
The next morning the crew arrived, and by the time evening rolled around, the marble slabs had been hauled away. The foreman said he’d resell the marble and possibly put through a refund for me if they brought enough on the market. I didn’t really care, so long as they were gone. I told him not to tell me if there were bodies inside; just take everything away. The foreman seemed to understand my reluctance to know about that. Ronald came over and the two of us stepped through the loose dirt and the hole left behind. “I’ll have to order some fill dirt to fill up the hole. That thing was buried deeper than I had thought,” I mentioned.
“Those guys built it to last,” Ronald said. I’m not sure if he meant it to be accusatory, but his aloof British manner struck me that way. I looked for a reason to excuse myself and went back inside.
A few hours later, it was dark outside again, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the hole in the ground. I set up my chair on the upstairs balcony and waited.
Sure enough, right around midnight, I saw the two green eyes seem to rise up from the hole. They hadn’t gone away with the marble at all. They stopped rising when they got about to the height of a man standing up. All I could see were the eyes, and they were coming toward me. I stood up and leaned over the balcony, as the eyes were almost directly below.
As they reached the wall of the house, the eyes started coming up the wall. For the first time in days, just for a moment, the moon poked through the clouds, and I could
see there was a body connected to those eyes. It was a body dressed in the blue robes I had dreamt about. He was climbing up the sheer side of the wall; I don’t know how, but he was doing it.
I stepped back into my room and closed the balcony doors, locking them from the inside. They were mostly glass, so I knew they wouldn’t hold the ghost, or man, or whatever it was, outside if it really wanted in.
I imagined it was angry with me for destroying its home, but there was nothing I could do now, was there? It reached up with both hands and brought its fists down, smashing the doors. Jagged glass rained down upon the carpeted floor.
It stood outside the shattered door and waited. I knew it wanted something from me. What could it want? I knew my life was hanging on my response.
“Stay back!” I screamed at it.
It stepped over the frame of the door and into the room. Glass crunched under his sandaled feet.
He… it had me cornered. I reached over to the bed for the cricket bat and swung it at him, but he only smiled. In my hands, the wooden bat suddenly sprouted with green buds and changed before my eyes into a floppy green vine. I threw it on the floor, where I saw it writhing like a snake.
“Don’t! I didn’t know! Don’t hurt me!” I begged. I fell to my knees in terror, unable to get around him and run out into the hallway.
He reached his hands out, about to do something terrible to me, when I noticed the “vine” on the floor again.
Then it occurred to me what he wanted.
“I’ll do it! I’ll plant as many trees as you want. I can’t bring back the stone, but I can keep up with the trees. That’s what you really want, isn’t it?”
The robed figure hesitated. Then he put his hands down, turned, and walked back out to the balcony. He climbed back down the wall, shuffled over to the hole in the ground, and vanished.
The next day, even before I repaired the broken door, I arranged to have a large tree delivered and planted that very day. That was six years ago, and as I look out to my beautiful lawn, there are six trees planted where the mausoleum used to be. I haven’t seen the ghost of the druid since.
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