Daniel Stride

The April Selected Writer is Daniel Stride

Feel free to email Daniel at: strda221@gmail.com


by Daniel Stride

One. Two. Three. Penelope hopped from the dinghy, and splashed into the sea. Shit. The foam reached to her thighs, soaking her rolled-up jeans. Still, wet jeans or not, there would be no making for the mainland tonight. Not with this storm brewing.

Thunder echoed as she heaved the dinghy onto the beach. In the gloom, Penelope saw stunted shrubs, a brick lighthouse—its beacon cast a glow over the island—and the keeper’s cottage. Not tourist material, but fine for now. She fetched her sneakers from the dinghy, her ears ringing with the patter of droplets. Fuck off, rain.

Penelope flicked hair from her eyes, and staggered barefoot towards the cottage. Her jeans hung cold and heavy.

“It was a dark and stormy night,” she muttered, repressing a giggle. Poor Bulwer-Lytton. Paul Clifford wasn’t awful, if you applied an 1830s lens. At least now, she’d have time for writing her own novel. After she treated herself to a sunny fortnight lolling on Majorcan beaches. She could almost taste the umbrella drinks...

But first she must suffer the formalities. The memorial service with the Falmouth in-laws, the black dresses, the crying into handkerchiefs—she wished she had pursued Drama at University, rather than English Literature. Penelope imagined the obituary in next week’s Cornish Times. Thomas Dapple, 68, local dairy farmer and lottery winner, tragically drowned in a yachting accident on his honeymoon. Survived by his wife Penelope, 27.

“Widowed so young,” said Penelope, a smile on her face. “However will I manage?”

Built from moorstone granite, the cottage looked sturdy. Penelope peered through the windows, but saw only pulled curtains. They forgot to take them when they left. She shrugged. At least it’ll be warmer.

Paint peeled off the door. Penelope tried the knob, the rust rough beneath her fingers. To her surprise, the cottage was unlocked. She stepped inside.

And stopped.

She saw a candle-lit room furnished with table and shelves. Twin armchairs sat in front of a fireplace; a coal fire burned in the grate, casting flickering shadows on the walls. Two doors led away, one to the left, and one to the right.

Someone lives here! Not the keeper, surely. Not with an automated lighthouse. Perhaps a marine safety officer?

“Hello?” She shut the door. “Is anyone home?”

No answer. Perhaps they were out. In this weather? Wherever they were, they’d left a cosy place—all it needed was a cat or two. Penelope shrugged off her lifejacket, and dumped it on the table, together with her socks and sneakers. Unrolling her jeans, she settled on the fireside rug, her body drinking in the warmth. The pattering on the roof sounded almost soothing.

A voice. “You look so much like her.”

Penelope leaped to her feet. Beside the curtains stood a man in jacket and beaked cap. He must have been there the entire time. How had she missed him?

“Yes.” His voice rang with weariness and age. “You could be her.”

The man stepped forward, revealing a great grey beard. The brass buttons on his jacket gleamed in the candlelight.

Penelope drew a deep breath. “Sorry, sir,” she said. “My husband and I were honeymooning on our yacht—it sank. I need to find him...poor Thomas! I can’t leave him out there all alone!”

The man just stared.

I thought I was a better actress. She rubbed non-existent tears from her eyes. “Can I use your radio? I need to contact the mainland for a rescue! We need to hurry!”

No answer. He stood motionless and unblinking, like something escaped from Madame Tussauds.

“You do have a radio? Sir?” A long pause. He’s gone a bit wrong in the head. “At least can I stay the night?”

The man nodded. “Make yourself comfortable.” He shuffled over to a fireside armchair, and lowered himself into it. Penelope heard his joints crack. “I haven’t had anyone here for a long time.”

Penelope huddled down beside the fire, and hugged her legs to her chest. So the old fellow was losing his marbles. Her grandfather had been similar, towards the end. Well, radio or not, at least he wouldn’t ask awkward questions.

“I’m Penelope. Penelope Dapple. My husband...”

“I’m the Keeper,” he said. “The Keeper. For my sins.”

Ah. He was the lighthouse keeper before automation, and couldn’t let go, so the authorities humor him by letting him stay. Penelope had read about similar cases. Sad, but not uncommon after long service. She might even find a way of squeezing him into her novel.

The fire grew cosier. Penelope stretched herself out on the rug.

“Do you have any tea?” she asked after a while. “Peppermint, if you don’t mind.”

“No tea.”

“Coffee? I’ll have mine with two sugars.”

“No coffee.”

Penelope frowned. “What do you have?”

“No-one. It’s been such a long time. Since she...”

“Since who?”

“Since I lost her. Lucy. My wife.” The old man stared at Penelope. “You look so much like her.”

The way he said it gave Penelope the shivers.

The Keeper pointed at the shelves. “Those were her books. Lucy loved to read. The books... they’d come alive for her.”

Penelope went to take a look. Austen, Maturin, Melville, Shelley, Dickens, Poe, Henry James, and Conan Doyle, among others. A decent selection. And no dust. There was an empty space next to Bleak House, where someone had removed a book.

Penelope thumbed through a leather-bound edition of The Turn of the Screw. “Got Paul Clifford?”

No answer. Penelope replaced the volume. “Look,” she said. “About tomorrow morning. I’ll need...”

But the old man’s chin rested on his chest. He snored gently. 


Poker in hand, Penelope stabbed the coals, mulling over what she’d tell the police. The yacht sinking, Thomas falling into the sea…all true. The weather even helped her story.

No need to mention getting him blind drunk—he’d wasted half his lottery winnings on thirty-year-old single malts anyway—and no need to mention that he’d been pushed. She smiled as she replaced the poker. Accidents happen.

Penelope yawned, and eyed the unoccupied armchair. It’d do for tonight. Need a blanket or two though. Where does he store them? She saw no obvious closets. Maybe the other rooms? The Keeper still snored. A shame to wake him, but better to ask. Besides, the old man would be more comfortable in his bed than a chair. She was about to shake him when…


Yes, voices. From the other side of that door. He told me he had no-one. Maybe the authorities provided the Keeper with live-in help? No, the expenses would be prohibitive even without the recent government cutbacks. It’d hardly be burglars though, not on this godforsaken rock.

Penelope pulled on her socks and sneakers, and went to investigate. Whoever it was might have a radio. Or a cup of tea.

The door creaked open. Lit by a solitary candle on an oak table, the room sported a coal range and a sink with cupboards above it. The kitchen.

Penelope stepped into the room, hunching her shoulders against a sudden chill. “Hello?”

The shadows beyond the table shifted, revealing…

No! It can’t be.

But it was. A woman, sitting in a rocking chair. A woman who could have been her sister. She had the same mousy brown hair, same nose and chin. Perhaps five years older though, judging by the facial lines. Clad in an Edwardian lace blouse, she perused a book.

A floorboard creaked beneath Penelope’s foot. The woman suddenly looked up, raising her eyebrows. She removed her reading glasses.

“Who might you be?” asked the woman, in a voice like silk.

“I’m Penelope…”

The woman turned her head. “Would this be your Penelope, Mr. Dapple?”  

Mr. Dapple? What!

Thomas could not have survived. She’d seen him floating face-down off the yacht’s port side.

Even so, Penelope’s eyes darted around the kitchen. “What are you talking about?” she spluttered. “There’s no-one...”

The woman stared, not at Penelope but at a vacant space on her left. “What do you mean, Mr. Dapple? She's standing right there, plain as the nose on your face! No, I’m not mad, I tell you!”

Penelope took a step backwards. This couldn’t be happening. “Are…are you Lucy?” she asked.

The woman stopped her argument with ‘Mr. Dapple,’ and stared at Penelope. “Yes, of course.” She blinked. “Who told you?” 

“Your husband.”

Even in the dim light, Penelope saw color draining from Lucy's face. “That is in very poor taste.”

Penelope backed away even further until she entered the other room. She slammed the kitchen door, cutting off Lucy mid-sentence. Then there was silence.

The door stayed shut. Thank god. Penelope drew a deep breath, and wiped the sweat from her forehead. Perhaps she’d imagined it? Yes. Tiredness and stress did strange things to the mind. She’d read about that too. I could do with one of Thomas’ single malts right now. Or even Aunty Sue’s foul old apple brandy.

Her heart no longer pounding, Penelope retreated to the hearth. She knelt, and warmed her hands over the blood-red coals. Much better. A night’s sleep would help too. That reminded her—she needed to ask the Keeper about blankets.

The armchair sat empty.

Has he gone to bed? Penelope blinked. But I’d have heard him. I was only in the kitchen for a couple of minutes.

She knocked on the far door. “Sir? Sorry for bothering you, but do you have spare blankets?”

No answer. He’s just gone in. He’ll still be awake. She knocked again. “Sir?”

Penelope eased open the door, to reveal pitch-darkness. Her hands turned clammy. Something was there. Something chilling. Something waiting. This wasn’t a bedroom door, her mind whispered. It’s a gate.

Heart in mouth, Penelope slammed the door shut, and dashed back to the hearth. She seized the poker and lifted it, ready to strike.

But nothing emerged. It was just her, in an empty room, with a coal fire burning, and the rain pattering on the roof.

She shook her head. What's happening? Her mind was playing tricks. She’d be clawing her eyes out before morning.

Penelope remembered the dinghy. Could she make for the mainland through the storm? I must risk it. Even at night, waves and rocks felt the lesser evil. There was something about this place, something not right.

Clenching the poker, she ran to the window and pulled back the curtain. Rain streamed down the glass in torrents. Lightning flashed on the horizon. Shaking her head, Penelope turned around.

Candles and fire went out, leaving her in total darkness.

She froze. What the fuck?

Worse, the room was now bitterly cold; her jeans again hung clammy about her legs. 

Shit, shit, shit.

Still gripping the poker, Penelope stumbled blindly towards the front door. She bumped into the table, and cursed. I will not panic, she told herself. I will not panic. She groped in the darkness.

She found the reassuring rust of the doorknob.

It wouldn’t turn.

It can’t be locked. It was open before.

“Open, you bastard!” she shouted, bringing the poker down with a thunk. “Open!”

Penelope struck the door again and again. At last she paused, panting. Then she heard a sound. From the darkness came the creak of an opening door. Muffled footsteps followed, advancing slowly and steadily towards her.

“I am the Keeper,” said a voice, “and I’m going to keep you.” 

Daniel Stride has a lifelong love of literature in general and speculative fiction in particular. He writes both short stories and poetry; his stories have featured in Bards and Sages Quarterly, Into the Ruins, and Wild Musette Journal.

His first novel, a steampunk-flavored dark fantasy titled Wise Phuul was published in November 2016 by small UK press Inspired Quill.

Daniel lives in Dunedin, New Zealand, and can be found blogging HERE