by Lynda Collins
John shuffled to and fro in the corridor mindlessly. The hallway, like his other room, was lit by a strip of dull lights along the roof. By now, natural light almost a forgotten concept in his prison.
There was the keyhole, that one little aperture that allowed daylight to spill into the bunker, a thin pencil of light that bloomed and faded from morning to night. That was how he kept track of the passing of each day.
That and the keys.
Food arrived haphazardly. Sometimes it wouldn't seem to come for days and he would sit with a hollow stomach on his bunk staring at the walls, wondering if he’d ever eat again. Sometimes food would come twice, three times, immediately after another, even before he'd finished eating the first plateful. But the keys arrived every day, one by one, falling softly onto the mat by the door for him to find.
Big keys; some so large that they couldn't fit the lock at all, small keys; some so tiny that he'd worried he might drop them inside the keyhole and jam the mechanism. Golden keys, bronze, silver, red-brown with rust. Every single day a single key.
Then there were the other keys, the ones that looked right, that looked like they could fit, like they should fit, like they would fit. Keys that even turned a fraction in the lock before stopping. Those keys were the worst, each time he got one it was like his captor was mocking him. Fortunately, there weren’t many of those keys.
John had no idea of why he was here or why he'd been chosen, or punished; no idea of who'd captured him, where he was. He only knew that every day a key would fall on the doormat, and that there were 427 keys in the pile at the end of the corridor.
The hatch at the door opened and his food tray from yesterday was taken. One in, one out. That was the rule; only the keys accumulated. Like always, the tray was well supplied with fruit, vegetables, meat and even vitamin tablets. It was as though his captor wanted to keep him healthy, keep him living.
He lifted the tray and carried it down to his bed.
Just as he sat down there was the soft 'thunk' of the key hitting the mat. John slowly set down his tray on his bedside locker, then padded down the corridor to lift the key.
When he saw it he felt his heart flutter in excitement. This was one of those keys. One of the ones that looked as though they might fit, like they might free him.
He lifted it and held it, just feeling the cool metal heat up in his hands.
His eyes went from the key to the lock, then back to the key again. For a moment he hesitated, then slipped it into his pocket and then padded back to his bed. Sitting crossed-legged with his food tray balanced on his lap, he carefully sorted his food into the order that he would eat it. He liked to start with the worst bits first, the cabbage, or the broccoli, and work his way up to the meat, like a treat. It was a carefully-planned process that he’d worked out over the last year. If he planned it out properly, the sorting could take half an hour, the eating he could space out throughout the day. There was little else to do in this hole in the ground.
But today he had no appetite. He pushed his food around his plate, feeling no desire to put any of it in his mouth. He put his hand back into his pocket and felt the weight of the key. It felt heavy, solid.
John pushed himself to his feet and set his food tray on his bed. Then he slowly walked back down the corridor. The metal door was cold to the touch. He lifted the key from his pocket and took a deep breath before taking it to the lock. It blocked out the stream of daylight as it slid into the keyhole.
The key turned with a loud click.
John carefully turned the handle. The door swung inwards slowly, a heavy door on rusty hinges, stiff from lack of use. Swinging open, sunlight poured into the room. It was so bright, too bright after his year in the gloomy bunker.
It had been a while since he'd breathed in fresh, natural air, not filtered by the machines and equipment. He breathed deeply and walked a few more steps outside. He didn’t recognize the landscape; he didn’t recognize the foliage. He had no idea where he was, but he was free for the first time in over a year.
For a moment he simply stood and let that idea sink in. Then, he turned, walked back inside the bunker, closed the door behind him and turned the key in the lock.
Lynda Collins has been writing since she could hold a pencil. She thinks she gets better every year, so watch this space- in sixty years she might have something worth reading.
Pieces Inspired by this Image
'The Keys of the Kingdom'