The Seven Garages Of Kevin Simpson
by Alan Baxter
‘Yes, Mrs Baker. Your father’s will identifies each one and dictates that they have all been left to you, along with the family home.’
Claire sat stunned for several seconds, staring across the solicitor’s desk. ‘Seven garages?’
‘Yes, ma’am.’ The solicitor was smiling. ‘Mostly on industrial estates, commercial lock-up garages, in suburbs around northern and western Sydney, though there is one on a farm property just outside Burrawang on the Southern Highlands and one in North Bondi.’
Claire looked at Ben. Her husband shrugged. ‘You don’t think this is weird?’ Claire asked him.
‘Sure, it’s weird. But not really any weirder than anything else your old man ever did.’
Claire scowled. ‘Come on! I know dad was a bit strange, but this? The one in Bondi is probably worth more than our house!’
The solicitor pushed a thick manila folder across the desk, bristling with papers in various shades of white, yellow, creme. ‘It’s all fairly straightforward. The keys and deeds are in there. Take some time to go over the paperwork. If I don’t hear from you in a couple of weeks I’ll assume it’s all good and close the file.’
Ben and Claire stood on pale concrete, trucks humming all around them in the winter sunshine. They stared at the roller door on the end of a row of identical roller doors, cracked white paint in horizontal bars. A number, black paint on a white square, on the ruddy bricks above the door. Claire held a key with a paper tag attached.
Losing her father was inevitable, same for anyone. And her dad was old, had been sick for a long time. No surprise and they had talked and planned. It was a good death, as far as that was possible, all his affairs in order. No surprises. Until now. Why had he kept this secret?
‘Come on, love.’ Ben’s voice made her jump. He laughed.
Claire shook her head. ‘Just wondering what might be in here.’
‘Only one way to find out.’
‘Yeah. But I don’t know if I want to find out. I knew the house would be mine one day and that was all dad had of value. He hadn’t even redecorated that since mum died.’ Claire’s voice hitched, the pain of losing her mother still raw even after all this time. That had been a surprise. The kind of surprise a four year old could never really recover from. And so harsh, coming right after her Pops had died. Her dad’s dad. The old man that smelled of mothballs and gave her treats, always laughing, always tickling, always teasing. That had been a horrible year and Claire’s scars from it refused to heal properly.
Ben put his hand on her shoulder, kissed her hair. ‘Your dad was a strange guy. You’ll probably find he has a collection of antique lawnmowers or something that he was too embarrassed to talk about.’
‘But he owned all these garages, Ben. He didn’t rent them. Where did dad get the money to buy all this? Not on a Sydney Water pension.’
Claire chewed her bottom lip, eyes sad. ‘It’s hard enough to have lost him. I don’t need this crap too.’
‘I know. Just open it up and see what’s in there. The anticipation is always worse than the event.’
Claire nodded, put the key in the lock and turned it.
The harsh rattle of the roller door sounded stark in the cool air. The garage beyond was very dark. As the door reached the top, the light that flooded in got sucked away.
‘It’s all painted black.’ Claire said, her voice mystified.
A long, heavy table stood in the centre of the garage, as black as the walls, floor and ceiling. At the end was a bench with a sink and draining board, the black paint lightly scratched in places, dull aluminium showing through. Next to the draining board was a two burner hob, gas bottle beside it. Next to the bench was a stand up fridge freezer. All black. Ben strode up to the fridge and pulled open the door. It stood empty and dark. He followed the cable and found the plug in the socket but the switch turned off. He opened the freezer compartment and that was empty too. Claire looked around, lips pursed.
‘Dinner parties of some sort?’ Ben suggested.
‘Why is it all black?’
‘Dunno. Perhaps… was your dad ever, I don’t know, a Mason or anything like that?’
Claire shook her head. She looked more closely at the long, dark table. A symbol, curved artistically, had been painted into the centre in a glossier ebony than the rest, barely visible but glistening softly against the matt black around it. It held her eye, drew her attention. She found it beautiful, and strangely familiar. It stirred a feeling deep in her gut that she couldn’t explain.
They stood in silence for a few moments. Eventually Ben glanced at his watch. ‘We should get back. Josh will be out of kindy in an hour.’
The weekend brought dark skies, heavy rain. Claire didn’t care. She held the steering wheel like she was angry with it, white knuckles bright against black leather. She stared ahead with a grim determination. The last thing she needed now was weirdness yet she refused to be cowed by it. From the corner of her eye she could see Ben watching her. ‘You okay, love?’
Claire nodded, saying nothing.
‘You’re acting pretty weird about all this.’ As Claire opened her mouth to speak, eyes narrowing, Ben added quickly, ‘I mean, I know that it all is pretty weird, but you seem particularly freaked out about it.’
Claire pressed her lips together again, shrugged dismissively. There was silence for a while as they drove. Eventually Claire took a long breath. ‘Sorry, Ben. I just don’t know what to make of all this. What are we going to find?’
‘I don’t know, love. We’ll just have to wait and see. You’ve got your route mapped out, right?’
Claire nodded again. ‘That first one we looked at was right near dad’s place, near our place. The others are all in a kind of crescent from there leading round close to the city in the inner west. After that it’s a quick trip across the city to Bondi, then a long drive south to the one in the Highlands.’ She gestured with her chin to a map wedged into the centre console.
Ben picked it up, studied the roughly scythe-shaped route. ‘I wonder what the relevance of the locations is,’ he said. ‘And why one so far away?’
Claire made a sound of annoyance. ‘What’s the bloody relevance of any of it? I know that several generations back my family lived on the Southern Highlands, but beyond that I have no idea. It makes for an easy route, at least. I’m scared of what we’ll find.’
Ben was sympathetic. ‘We’ll have a look at each place, then have that bit of a treat we planned for afterwards. There’s no use speculating really.’
Claire sighed. ‘Speculate is all I’ve done since we opened up that first one.’
They stood beside the car, parked under an awning opposite the fifth black garage. Pendulous clouds poured heavy drops onto the concrete in front of them and the tin above, a random, hectic tattoo.
Claire shook her head, angry, frustrated, exhausted, frowning at the rain pounding down. ‘All identical. All exactly the same. What the hell is going on?’
Ben shrugged. ‘Not exactly the same. But yeah.’
Claire sighed. She had tried to ignore it, but the strange glossy symbols on the tables perturbed her. Each one slightly different from the others. She felt a strange connection between them. Nothing she could explain, so gossamer a relationship that she hadn’t even mentioned it to Ben, but something about them triggered a sensation deep inside. It was as though each one had a relevance to the one before, like letters making a word or words making a sentence. No sentence she could understand, but enough to make that stirring in her gut into a rock of dread. Each time she looked at one the rock grew heavier, darker. But she had no rational explanation why. Nor could she understand why she felt so reluctant to tell Ben about it, though something stayed her. Embarrassment, perhaps, at such ridiculous thoughts.
Ben looked as perturbed as she felt now. ‘Two more to go.’
‘Is it worth it?’ Claire asked, annoyed.
‘Mum has Josh all weekend. Let’s say the one in Bondi and the one down south are just the same? We still end up in the Southern Highlands, we have the cottage booked, no Josh to worry about. It’ll be good.’
Claire stood chewing her lip, eyes hooded. Eventually she said, ‘I’m tempted to call the solicitor back and have him take on all the bloody garages. Just get him to sell them all for me and give us whatever’s left after his fees.’
‘So what? I’m pretty much over all this. My dad had a collection of black garages, all set up for spooky little dinner parties or something? I want nothing more to do with the fucking things!’
Ben put his arm around her shoulders, watching the rain spray back up off the road for a while. Eventually he said, ‘Look, let’s finish today’s tour of your dad’s… collection. Just confirm that the last two are the same as the others. We still haven’t really finished going through everything in the house. You might find some paperwork or something that explains it all. But you need to know, don’t you.’
Claire looked up at him, resting her head against his shoulder. ‘Do I?’
‘I know you, babe. You need to know. Besides, there might be answers in one of the last two garages. And if not, if they are all the same, we’ll still have a nice evening tonight – the cottage, a nice dinner out, a nice bottle of wine… Am I making all this sound nice enough?’
Claire smiled in spite of her mood. Ben could be a dumb lug sometimes but he loved her unconditionally. And he was the perfect father for Josh. She had to remind herself time and again that her family now wasn’t going to be like the family she grew up with. Josh would have his father and his mother, he would be loved and cared for. No looking after himself because his father went to work and left him alone. No trauma, no pain. No scars. ‘There’s a big bathtub in this room we booked, right?’
‘Big enough for both of us. We’ll need it too, looking at this weather. It’ll be bastard cold up on the Highlands.’
Traffic zoomed by on the other side of the block. They stood staring at a dark green up-and-over door, a big ‘3’ on it, white outlined with red. The brick tower piled above it seemed to lean over them, windows dull, reflecting grey. The rain had eased to a misty drizzle and a cold breeze. Claire took a deep breath and shrugged, searched among the key tags. ‘Here we go then.’
She unlocked the door to the sixth garage and lifted it up. The floor was plain concrete largely covered by a thick, heavily patterned rug. It was mostly deep reds and browns, a Persian sale special. In the middle of the rug sat a worn leather chair, wingbacked, deep red. Next to the chair a small table and behind the chair stood a tall lamp. The cable from the lamp snaked off across the rug. The garage was double length, all three walls lined with bookshelves, bowed under the weight of books. Claire and Ben stood dumbfounded, open mouthed. Eventually Ben managed, ‘Bloody hell.’
‘It’s a library.’ Claire walked into the garage, approaching the first books on her left. ‘All the way out here. This is miles from his house… oh, shit.’
Ben, still in the doorway, jumped. ‘What?’
Claire pointed at the shelves. ‘An Encyclopaedia of Occultism, Occultism of the Secret Doctrine, The Secret King: The Myth and Reality of Nazi Occultism… what the fuck?’
Ben walked over to the other side of the garage, inspected the shelves on that side. ‘Modern Magick: Eleven Lessons in the High Magickal Arts, Blood Magick, The Magick of Solomon…’
Claire had moved to another shelf. ‘Satanic Bible, The Devil’s Notebook, The Satanic Rituals: Companion to The Satanic Bible. Oh, Ben!’
‘The Holy Books of Thelema, The Book of the Law. And here, Egyptian Magic, Nubian Magic, Sumerian Magic, Witchcraft and Magic in Europe.’
Claire stepped back into the middle of the garage, clutching at the wingback chair, shaking her head. ‘No, no, no. Was my dad some kind of devil worshipper?’
Ben tore his eyes from the bookshelves. ‘No, love. I don’t think so. Look at the variety. I think he was more, I don’t know, an occultist.’
‘Is there a difference?’ Claire was pale, shocked. Now she was getting angry too. Just how much had her father kept secret from them?
‘Well, yes, there is. Quite a big difference really. Although maybe not all that relevant when it comes down to it.’ Ben looked at her, his face apologetic.
Claire sat heavily on the arm of the chair. ‘I can’t believe it but I’d actually rather have found this garage black and empty like the others.’ A small piece of paper sat on the seat cushion beside her. It bore a symbol like the glossy black icons on the tables in the black garages, drawn in sweeping lines of dark ink. As her eyes fell on it she felt as though something in her clicked into place. She had no more explanation for the strange symbols than she had before, but a sense of completion began to rise in her mind. ‘One more,’ she whispered.
‘What was that?’ Ben asked.
‘Nothing.’ She stuffed the small note into her jeans pocket. Her stomach quailed in fear, reminding her of childhood nightmares, waking in a cold sweat. Only this time there wasn’t the escape of morning to look forward to.
Ben was looking along the shelves again. He stopped at a section that had been built in with glass doors. ‘Look here. These books look old, like hundreds of years old. Some have Latin titles. Magic, daemons, paganism, animism.’
‘Stop it, Ben. Stop it. I don’t want to hear it.’
He turned back to her, saw the tears in her eyes. He went to her and held her head against his chest. ‘You know, this actually helps in some way,’ he said. Claire said nothing so he plunged on. ‘Perhaps your old dad was a bit obsessed with the occult. It would explain why you knew nothing about it. It’s not the sort of thing you necessarily boast about. But perhaps he was involved with a group of occultists. Perhaps they met for dinner parties to discuss the subject and stuff like that. It would explain the black garages. Different meeting places for different areas. It’s probably completely harmless, love, like stamp collectors or bird watchers.’
‘Only they invoke daemons and perform ritual magic?’ Claire’s wet eyes looked up at Ben and there was a hint of amusement in them. She could always rely on Ben’s pragmatism.
He smiled. ‘Yeah, why not?’
‘But why did dad own all the garages?’
Ben made a rueful face. ‘Perhaps he was the boss of this occult society and he took fees from all the members. Over the years he might have wrangled a fair amount of cash out of the poor bastards and used some of it to buy all these garages as local club houses.’
The smile in Claire’s eyes finally reached her lips. ‘Now I wouldn’t put something like that past the wily old bastard.’
The rain was heavy again as they drove south out of the city under a low, black sky. Ben had the wheel, Claire exhausted from their trails all over the Sydney suburbs. Her mind wrangled with the possibilities. Weird but harmless kept rising to the top. That did pretty much sum up her dad. Perhaps she should have his headstone changed, have that written on it in big capital letters. She didn’t really remember much from before her mum died, but she did know her dad had changed then. Her childhood had ended before it began and she was thrust into an unfair world and her dad had got weird. But he was harmless and, no matter how much he worked to support them both, he had loved her and cared for her as best he could. ‘How far is it?’ she asked.
‘About another hour.’
‘Can you see all right in this weather?’ She squinted out through the screen, awash with rain, wipers whipping.
Ben nodded. ‘Yeah. And we’ll be there before dark. Have a nap, love. I’ll be right.’
Ben pulled his jacket collar tight, wincing against the rain as it drove sideways and freezing into his face. He hoped they would find something this time that might ease Claire’s mind, rather than add to her suffering. Somewhere deep inside he was cursing her old man. Bloody weird old bugger, one last attack of kookiness even in death. They hurried, half crouched, across the muddy paddock. The winter wind blew icy, frozen knives probing every gap. He fumbled with the key as they ran and quickly undid the padlock on a heavy wooden door. The big shed looked old but solidly built, dark timber and heavy, square posts. The rain, clouds and lateness of the hour made the inside of the shed inky dark as Ben pulled open the door and stepped inside. Claire hopped in behind him.
‘It said there was power,’ he muttered, feeling around the doorframe.
‘I don’t care, close the door.’ Claire reached out and pulled the door shut. It closed with a solid click, plunging the shed into absolute blackness and eerie quiet, the wind denied entry, the rain impotent on a high tin roof.
Ben found a switch. A sharp click and fluorescent light flickered then blazed into the space, making them squint against the harshness of the blue-white glare.
The space was like the first five, painted black on walls, floor and ceiling, a long black table in the middle, fridge freezer, hob and sink at one end. But the table was made up for one diner. One chair stood before the plate and cutlery. Another of the weird symbols adorned the centre of the table, this time deep red, rather than glossy black. On the bench were other items, a couple of pans, large knives. A dagger sat by the plate, ceremonial looking, wicked curved blade and jewelled hilt. On the floor a stranger symbol had been chalked onto the black painted concrete slab. A large circle with cursive characters around it, within it, bisected and divided by intricate lines.
Ben walked past the table, approached the fridge. Claire moved to study the sigil on the floor. Ben opened the fridge door and froze. ‘Fuck me,’ he said softly. ‘Claire, you should… oh, fuck me.’
‘Home.’ The voice was deep, sonorous. It came from the entrance. Ben spun around. The door was still closed but now four people stood there, one of them Claire’s father. Ben whimpered, his stomach turning to water. The old man smiled and it chilled him to the core. Beside Claire’s dad stood another man, similar in age, besides him an old woman and yet another man. They all appeared to be elderly, yet had a vibrancy to them, an inner strength that exuded into the enclosed space. They seemed charged with power. The old man on the far right indicated Claire’s dad. ‘Your father you know very well,’ he said. Ben couldn’t tear his eyes away from the quartet of septuagenarians, transfixed by their presence. ‘And you remember your old Pops, Gene, his father,’ the old man went on, indicating the next man. Both dead men smiled. The speaker gestured to the old woman. ‘This is your great-grandmother, Eve, Gene’s mother.’ He smiled and it was terrible, teeth white, eyes bright. ‘My daughter.’
The old man straightened up, drawing a long breath. ‘And I am Vincent, your great-great-grandfather. I am your legacy. Your child’s legacy to come. You are ready. The ritual, the consumption, the magic. It flows in your blood, child.’ His smile deepened. ‘Your father’s method was rather theatrical for my liking, even risky. But we all develop a style. You can start now,’ he said. ‘He has served his purpose. Everything is ready.’ His smile was feral, predatory.
‘Claire…’ Ben’s voice was weak with his fear. These horrible things, whatever they were, stood between themselves and the exit. ‘Claire, we just have to leave. Just push through and leave. They can’t hurt us.’ He tried saying it again, as much to convince himself as his wife. ‘They can’t fucking hurt us!’
All four of Claire’s ancestors grinned. ‘You can start now,’ Vincent said again, amusement in his voice. He began reciting sharp and horrible words.
‘Claire, let’s just go!’
She stood inside the sigil chalked on the black floor, the jewelled dagger in one hand. She looked up at Ben. He didn’t recognise her eyes.
She began to repeat the words.
(c) Alan Baxter 2011. Originally published as a podcast at Pseudopod. Find the podcast here.