They-who-guard-the-door stood watch as Stella checked the lock once, then twice. She never trusted herself to set the deadbolt and she didn’t trust her husband Seth not to leave his house keys dangling below the doorknob after he came home from work. Some nights Stella checked the door a third time, not knowing that the guardians at the door had not left their posts.

They-who-guard-the-door had never known a time when they had not protected a human shelter. They had guarded caves, huts—then houses of wood or stone whether the humans occupying the dwellings acknowledged them or not. It was their nature to safeguard Stella’s home now, even though they received no thanks or even a small offering of food, as had been the custom in other centuries in simpler households.

With the passage of time these Lares learned new skills as well. They-who-watch-over-the-kitchen not only minded the stove, they ensured the coffee pot was disconnected even when Stella forgot to check as she made her rounds of the house each night.

Soon new Lares emerged from the old. Now there were guardians who watched over the CO-2 detector and guardians who cared for the smoke alarm. Others minded the controls on the electric blanket or stood sentry duty beside the home computor.

As in days of old, they shielded the home when darkness pressed against the windows or winds agitated the trees as malevolent hobgoblins sought entry to the house.

“Sometimes I imagine the world is alive with creatures we can’t see,” Stella admitted, knowing Seth was asleep in front of the television and couldn’t comment on her ludicrous suggestion. But the guardians of the household heard and drew nearer. As Stella crawled into bed she relaxed, letting the warmth of the heating blanket curl around her. When the Lares steadied the night light so it wouldn’t flicker, her irrational fears began to subside.

Nameless and unrecognized, the Lares held the night at bay, quieting the wind and guarding the furnace against quick-fingered demons. Guardians watched over Stella as she slept in her bed and Seth dozing in front of the television just as they had always done and would continue to do, holding back the terrors of the night.

Published in Stories