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There are moments in people's lives that cross the boundary of the normal into the unexpected. While rare, these moments can occur in the form of strangers. That homeless lady on Main Street, spouting conspiracy nonsense and begging for change. The wheelchair-bound veteran on 45th and 27th, who seems to stare behind people's eyes. Or even the business executive on Park Avenue - behind those cool glasses are the eyes of a man who would end up going on a serial murder spree eight years later. All of them have a mystery, a purpose, and a story.
My name is Jacob Lloyd, and this is my story.
I was looking for a place to find a drink a few weeks ago. It had been a long week of work, and the only thing that seemed to help during the biting Washington winter was a bottle of beer. Most of the bars had closed, as well as my own, due to the massive hailstorm two weeks prior. They needed to repair and maintain what happened during the hailstorm, so finding a good drink was more difficult than normal.
After an hour of walking (I didn't want to take my car, due to the fact that I was going to be slammed in a couple hours) I came across a small pub called C.C.'s. In hindsight, the dingy, weathered look of the front of the pub should have been enough to turn me away, but my unwillingness to keep looking for somewhere else in the cold led me to head inside.
The inside of the pub looked as old and mistreated as the outside. The mahogany tables and chairs looked at least a decade old, and the only light emanated from a few lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling by chains. The bar itself looked decent, but was almost completely bare. Behind the bar, the large, scarred bartender was cleaning glasses. Some of the bottles on the shelf behind him were coated in a thick layer of dust, and the ones that weren't were newer brands. Although it may have been the intention, it seemed to give off a kind of older vibe.
Of the very few patrons present, all taking in copious amounts of alcohol, one caught my eye. The lone man at the bar was pulling back a large bottle of whiskey. His simple clothes gave the idea that he wasn't very wealthy, but he was clearly employed, seeing as the whiskey was of a fair quality. The dark red scarf around his neck hid the origin of a deep scar traveling up the side of his face. His jet black hair fell in a mess around his head. However, the most unsettling thing about the man was his eyes. They were bright silver, like pools of liquid mercury, and seemed to carry an age to them, even though he looked close to 25.
As he seemed to be busy with his drink, and I'm a sociable person, I struck up a conversation with the bartender. Even though he seemed to be a gruff man, he was somewhat particular to me. After placing an order for a cheeseburger and a beer, I asked about the name - particularly, what it stood for.
"It stands for Custos Cogitatio. That's Latin for Keeper of Thought."
"Keeper of Thought?" I inquired. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Well," the bartender began, "there's a old legend in Washington about something they call the Keeper of Thoughts. According to the legend, this thing steals the thoughts and memories of humans, which is what it feeds on to survive."
He turned around to grab my beer and popped the top of it before continuing. "Word has it that this thing can't die as long as it's able to feed. The memories and thoughts of humans keep it alive. The legend's been around for quite some time, although no one's seen the creature or proven it exists."
"And this is where the tricky part of the legend comes in. People say it roams the forest at the edge of town, but no one has been able to confirm that."
"So why is it still a legend?" I asked. "If you've never seen it, then why pass it around?"
The bartender briefly hesitated before he spoke, his voice in a much lower key. "Well, the thing is, anyone who goes into the forest alone looking for this thing comes back the next morning. Those people say that nothing happened, although they usually complain of a bad headache. But if more than one person goes in... well let's just say we can't say what happened to them."
"How come it only kills when there's a group?"
"I guess it doesn't want anyone to find it. If only one person encounters it, it'd probably just take the memory of seeing it while it's feeding."
"And how did the unlucky ones die?"
"Folks who find the bodies say that they look drained of life, but no markings are on the bodies. We really have no explanation for it."
"It's because it takes their souls when they're not alone."
I turned to my right. The man in the red scarf had finally spoken. He set the bottle of whiskey down with a dull thud. He was staring at me, but oddly, as if I really wasn't there.
"And how would you know that, Luke?" the bartender asked. I figured that the guy was a regular at the bar, considering that the bartender knew his name, but it didn't occur to me until later how strange it was that the bartender didn't know Luke's story. If he was a regular and had a story about the Keeper of Thought, it would seem like the bartender would know.
"I saw it. It was three years ago. I'll never forget that night." While speaking in a low, sullen voice, Luke's voice sounded pained, as if this was a difficult thing to remember.
"You saw it?" The bartender leaned in, forgetting his post (although it wasn't like many people were coming in anyway).
"Yes I did, Josef, and if I'm going to tell this story I'm gonna need some more liquid courage first." I waited while he chugged the rest of his whiskey, while Josef the bartender gave me my cheeseburger. When Luke was finally done, he began the story.
"I used to be a thrill-seeker. I was always looking for the newest thing to give me an adrenaline rush. It was almost like an addiction to me. When I heard about the Keeper of Thoughts, it became my newest interest. No, not interest. It became my obsession. I spent days on end researching it. I tried to see if anyone knew anything, if anyone had seen it, when it would show up and where, that sort of thing. I didn't have much to go off of at first, but eventually I managed to collect enough scraps of information to get a date set. I invited three friends to come with me, and we set out for the forest."
"We deigned that we were going to stay in the forest for five days, unless we found the Keeper before the fifth day. I was to bring the tents and sleeping gear. Alex had the food, Michael had our camping supplies, and Gavin was going to pick us all up in his truck. When the day finally arrived, I was ecstatic. Gavin picked me up last, and we set out for the forest."
I had stopped eating my cheeseburger at this point. Luke's story enraptured me, and I wasn't going to miss a single detail.
"We camped in that godforsaken forest for four days before anything happened. We were beginning to suspect that the Keeper really was just a legend, and we were ready to pack it in the next morning. Had we left that night, this never would have happened."
"When we woke up the next morning, it took us a while to realize that Gavin was gone. He didn't leave the night before, he hadn't taken his truck, he was just gone. We couldn't leave without Gavin - he had the keys to his truck - so we ended up looking for him. Took us the whole day. By the time night fell, we were hungry, sore, and severely angry with Gavin. We had entirely forgotten that we were there in search of the Keeper."
"It was a cloudless night. The moon gave off some light, but the forest's canopy blocked most of it, leaving us in the dark. And there was some kind of mist in the air. It was really thick - we could barely see at that point. Michael had been complaining for hours that he was hungry. Alex and I tried to ignore him and carry on searching for Gavin, but we noticed very quickly when he shut up. We turned around, and-" Luke stopped, his eyes screwing up as if in pain. Josef started forward, but Luke waved him off, insisting only that he needed a minute.
"I'm sorry." Luke muttered. "It's just not something I fondly remember."
"Michael was on the ground. He was completely white, like a ghost. Behind him, the mist thickened to the point where we couldn't see past it. Must have been covering its legs."
"What legs?" I asked, but Luke ignored me.
"Above that, a black cloaked figure stood. I couldn't see it's face, because the hood covered it's whole head. Its arms were inhumanly long, though the cloak covered those as well. And this chain was wrapped around its neck, like a noose. One of its bony hands was at its side, but the other held a blindingly white orb. After a pause, the orb grew dimmer... and dimmer... until it finally disappeared from view."
"The Keeper had stolen Michael's soul. That's why he died. That's how they all die. The Keeper eats souls when it doesn't want to be found."
He paused again, this time to drink another bottle of whiskey Josef had brought him. While any normal man would have succumbed to the drink, Luke didn't waver in his storytelling.
"Alex and I just ran. We didn't keep looking for Gavin, we didn't take any pictures, we just kept running on and on and on. I never did find out what happened to Gavin. The mist kept getting thicker and thicker around us. That was how I knew that the Keeper was gaining on us. And that's when I did something I'm not proud of."
"I tripped Alex."
"The mist started to clear up, and from Alex's tortured screams, the Keeper had gotten to him. I heard this sickening noise, like a moan, but too deep to properly register. I didn't care. I just kept running. Didn't stop when I got to the edge of the forest. Didn't stop when I got into downtown. I hailed a cab and drove through town for hours, until I was sure it wasn't behind me anymore."
"I'll never forget that night as long as I live. Keep trying to drink away the nightmares, but it looks like I'm stuck with this thing."
Luke stopped talking, his focus back on the drink in front of him. It was clear to both the bartender and I that he was done talking. At this point it occurred to me that I would pass this same forest on the way back to my house, and I was briefly concerned. However, I pushed that thought aside. Paying Josef for the food and booze and thanking them both for an enjoyable night, I began my trek home.
I awoke the next morning, not remembering the trip home, and having a pounding headache. It seemed that I was hungover from the beer at C.C.'s. My lamp was flickering next to the bed, and the TV was on some local news station.
"- 15th charity set up in the city, and - " I didn't care about what the news station thought about charities, and headed into the bathroom for a shower. When I exited a few minutes later, it was now talking about some local raffle. I rolled my eyes and went to get my toothbrush.
" - the tragic death of one Luke Williams, who - "
I stopped. Turning just in time to catch the face of the silver-eyed man, I sat down.
"Eyewitnesses report that he screamed for a brief moment before bursting out of his front door. Luke then collapsed, and a bright light could be seen in the doorway for a short time before fading away. Currently, the explanation for this strange occurrence is hallucinogens, but no explanation could be found."
I managed to get up and go about my preparing for work, but the story stuck in my head. Was it my paranoia, his being a drug addict, or did the Keeper really exist? Had it come to silence him? Was there really truth to the Custos Cogitatio?
Rubbing my temples, I tried to remember if I did anything the night before with Luke. But the night and the story was hazy at best, and I had no choice but to leave it. Still complaining about the headache, I dressed myself and reached for my phone, only to realize it wasn't there.
Figuring I left it at the bar and Josef was going to have it, I went to work anyway. The hangover went away surprisingly quickly, with my head being clear by the time I got to the office. It was a particularly grueling day at the office, what with the numbers I was crunching seemingly more complicated than usual. My boss kept saying it was more of the same, but I knew otherwise. He didn't run the spreadsheets, after all. After all was said and done, however, I headed back to C.C.s to pick up my phone.
When Josef saw me, he smiled, flashing my phone at me and tossing it towards my direction. I swiftly caught it, and almost as swiftly ordered a drink.
"You actually gonna drink it this time?" Josef asked, as he popped the top of the beer. This struck me as rather odd. I was sure I had drank a lot, that's where the headache came from, that's why I couldn't remember most of the night...
"What did you say?"
"I asked if you were going to drink it. You didn't have a single drop of your beer yesterday."