Hi, Posting a short story for The daily prompt:
“You’ve been given a key that can open one building, room, locker, or box to which you don’t normally have access. How do you use it, and why?”
Walking through the misty path of the dimly lit garden in front of my workplace, I was heading to the office’s bus parking lot. The call with client took long. But my wristwatch showed 6:50 PM so I was not in hurry. The bus leaves at 7 sharp.
‘I love December’, I thought as I walked past the sweet smelling vines of Combretum indicum. ‘I think I should plant this vine in my home’ I resolved for the hundredth time. And I knew I probably didn’t mean to go through it. I already had so much on my plate. From 3 weeks I was sitting late in the office and once I got home, I worked there too. And weekends too were working right now. You could say, I was working for almost 20 days, 16 hours a day without a single day off. Planting vines simply didn’t fit my schedule right now. But definitely after this release, I promised myself.
That was the precise moment when it all begun, the moment that started series of all the bizarre incidents. Laying there on the well-manicured lawn, something shiny caught my eyes. At first glance I decided to simply ignore and walk past it, labelling it as my imagination, as December had brought nightfall much too earlier . What can shine so nicely without much light falling onto it? But being the person who always attracts troubles like a magnet, I decided to take a closer look. So I walked towards the lawn where the object was, and knelt beside it. It was a key, a sparkling, golden key, with intricate patterns carved on its bow. Oh wait; it was a peacock, with emeralds and lapis lazuli set on its feathers. I was intrigued. This was not a normal key. This was a key to something special. Like a chest or vault, but definitely an ancient one.
I reached for the key and touched the cool metal. But as soon as I took it in my palms it was burning hot and surprisingly started glowing brightly. Instinctively I threw it back on the lawn. At this point I should just turn away and run for my bus. But curiosity got the best out of me and I decided it needs further investigation. I took out my hanky and wrapped the key into it, careful enough not to touch it with my fingers. It didn’t glow this time.
This was the mistake that haunted me for the rest of the night. Picking up what clearly didn’t belong to me. But maybe I needed to learn this lesson yet. So putting the precious object in my pocket, I swiftly rose and ran towards the bus parking lot thinking that maybe I could still get the bus when it leaves the lot. I knew that I was being overly positive as the driver of my regular bus was really very strict and law abiding and never waited for anyone or anything once its 7 o’clock.
But to my surprise my bus was standing still in the otherwise empty parking lot. I slowed down and started walking towards it. I got my next shock when I entered the bus. I was the only one in the bus, besides the driver. Surprised I called for him, and I got my second shock when I saw that he was not the regular driver of my bus. He was a man in his late 40’s, broad face and deeply set eyes, which seemed too hollow.
“Yes, sir?” he said in a very polite manner.
“W- Where is Lax- Laxman?” I asked, slightly stammering. Laxman is the driver of my regular bus.
“Sit down and relax sir. You have a long way to go.” He said ignoring my previous question and giving me utter shock. My stop was only 30 minutes away from my office. What did he mean by ‘a long way to go’?
“Sir, I suggest you sit down now. We are already getting late.” He said in a polite but equally compelling voice. With no other choice, I sat down in the second row, wanting to avoid him. I suddenly had goose bumps on my body. This guy was creepy. Not only him, but the bus also seemed creepy to me. It seemed my regular bus when I saw from outside. But now as I studied it, it seemed totally different. My normal bus had blue leather coaches; this one had rich maroon velvety ones. My bus has rusty brown interior, this one had mustard yellow, or wait, was that golden? I couldn’t say for sure as it was too dark to even check the time in my wristwatch. ‘I should get a watch with radium on the dial’, a random thought crossed my mind; ‘this one is too antique now’.
I didn’t remember dozing off but when I got up, I saw a pair of dark brown hollow eyes staring at my face closely. I gave a small yelp and pushed him away. He looked baffled and angry, his eyes glowing red which scared me further.
“This is the last stop. Get down now or you will be locked forever.” He said curtly as I stared out the window just to avoid meeting his eyes.
I was in unknown vicinity. I knew the last stop to this bus was ‘Hill road’ after which it would go to some private parking lot, which I didn’t know. Could this be that parking lot? But there were no other buses. The ground was wide and seemed like boundless. Plus it was too dark. I took out my mobile as it beeped.
“I have to deliver the scripts on Monday. Please finish them over weekend and send them to me” – Richa texted.
I checked the time, it was almost 9.
I came out of the bus; the driver had already alighted when I pushed him earlier. I regretted it now. Agreed, he was scary, but he was my only link to human world now. He could have helped me get out of this huge ground. I didn’t even know the exit. I started walking towards north, from where, I felt, most of the light was coming.
After 5 minutes of walking, I could see a tall brick wall. So this was not the exit. And then the idea struck; if I walk following the wall, I might find the exit quickly rather than roaming around the ground and choosing the direction randomly. And so I walked for another 20 minutes. But to my surprise I still couldn’t find the exit.
Disappointment! Hunger struck me like never before as my stomach growled loudly. I was exhausted and didn’t have energy to walk now. I suddenly perspired heavily and took my hanky out to wipe it off my face when I felt something fall down from it. Something shiny! Yes, the golden key.
My sixth sense told me that somehow, this was the root of all the weird things that were happening to me. This shiny object was controlling my fate and I wanted to run away from it. I turned away from it and started walking fast.
“Sir, Hello…!” Someone called me from behind. I paused but didn’t turn. The person walked towards me, or rather jogged, judging by the sound of footsteps. As I sensed the footsteps closing in, I turned towards him reluctantly.
“Sir, this fell from your pocket on the ground” He said, huffing loudly. He was a small man, with Mongolian looks, ‘probably a nepali watchman’ I thought. And he was holding the key in his bare hands. Why didn’t it burn his hands?
“No, it’s not mine!” I lied blatantly. He looked at me with surprise.
“No sir, I saw it falling from your pocket.” He insisted stubbornly.
I cursed him inwardly. Definitely a Nepali. They are famous for their honesty. Why couldn’t he simply keep it with him, just the way I had kept, even if it wasn’t mine? I was suddenly ashamed of myself. Maybe because of this difference between us, the key didn’t burn his hands. I didn’t pick it up with the intentions of returning it to the owner; otherwise I would have returned it to the ‘Lost and found’ desk at the office. And why did I wish that he keep it with him, just so he would also suffer like I have suffered in the past two hours? It was clear to my mind that the key brought ill omen.
I took the key from his hands with the hanky still on my hands, and wrapped it like a detective would do to a murder weapon; which by the way earned a dirty glance from the small man.
“I- uh- I can’t find a way out..” I said, further embarrassing myself. He chuckled and shook his head, signalling me to follow him which I swiftly did.
“How did you end up in this part of the ground, by the way?” He said amusedly.
“I don’t know!” I said absent-mindedly as I saw a small gate 10 feet away. Yellow rays of light, probably sourced from a streetlight, were pouring in from it.
“This is it? Is this the only gate to this ground?” I asked with huge surprise. A 45-seater bus couldn’t have entered from such a small space.
“No, this is the back gate. There are three in total. The main gate is at the front. But it would have closed by now. I am posted to watch the second one at the east. And this one is the service gate; I am going home from my shift, so you are lucky to find me, because this gate is locked generally. And only the watchmen have the keys.” He explained.
I sighed with relief as I stepped in the outside world. It was Hill road. Not wanting to travel by public transport, not that I was completely exhausted and famished, I signalled an auto and stepped into it. Throughout my journey back to home I was thinking about ways to get rid of the key. I felt that nobody should possess it and suffer the way I had suffered.
When I got home my mom was pacing around the living room. As soon as I stepped into the entrance corridor, she leaped for the front door and greeted me with all kinds of questions about how I was late, where was I (Like I could afford to roam around the city with the amount of work I have) and why didn’t I call home to inform. I brushed all of them swiftly and told her to serve my dinner in my room.
I was fast asleep when my mother stepped into my room with dinner.
Next day, as I walked to the usual bus stop, the key not only felt heavy in my pocket, but on my subconscious also. I didn’t want to carry it around but I also didn’t want my family members to find it. My bus still wasn’t on the stop when I reached there. I checked my wristwatch. It showed 6:50. But when I checked the wall clock in my room, it was 7. That meant my watch wasn’t working. I realised that I hadn’t checked it since yesterday evening. Could it be possible that it stopped working yesterday night itself?
It arrived after five minutes and I boarded. Laxman, the usual driver smiled at me and I returned the gesture.
“Where were you yesterday Laxman? You were not driving 7 o clock bus.” I asked.
“What are you talking about sir? I was there, you were not there. I thought you were late yesterday.”
“No but I caught the 7 pm bus yesterday. And I …” I stopped mid-sentence. Maybe the watch did stop yesterday itself. And I got late. But then the other bus?
“Laxman, we have a bus which leaves at 8 o clock, right? How does the driver look like?” I asked carefully.
“Oh, he’s a body builder. He looks a bit scary because of his body and eyes, but he is a good man.” Laxman replied casually.
Good man? Ask me! He practically abandoned me in that huge dark ground. But then I had also humiliated him yesterday by giving out the cry. It’s only natural that he left me alone. But that explained many of the incidents of the night.
So basically the theory of the magical properties of the key was incorrect. But then the burning feeling of the key? I decided to examine it again when I reach office. If it really has magical properties, it could still burn my fingers, and I didn’t want to make fool of myself in public.
I entered my cubicle, logged in and decided to open my outlook first as it always took time to load the mails. Afterwards, I would go to the restroom and check the key again. But as I opened my outlook, a mail caught my attention.
‘Lost my keys :IMP’
I immediately opened it. It read:
I lost my key yesterday evening near the front lawn. The key is custom made with a ‘Peacock’ motif carved on it. If someone finds it, please revert on this mail id.
Shweta was our HR manager. Stunning. Lively. One of the best girls we had in office.
Wow! So the key that brought me ill fate (according to my belief, anyway) belonged to Shweta!
I took out the hanky and unwrapped it. In it was the key, shining happily. I touched it, tentatively, and to my surprise it was cold as dead. I began laughing at my own stupidity. So, it was my own imagination that was playing with me since yesterday. That and the levels of stress took a toll on my mental state and I began imagining things. Some of them were true, but some (like the extreme hotness of the key) were pure imagination. All because of one antique looking key. But it also taught me a lesson- you should not pick up the things that doesn’t belong to you.
And suddenly I realised that’s what I do all the time. That’s why I am so much stressed when everyone around me relaxes and enjoys. Somebody comes to me with his/her task, and I help them out. They go for coffee and I slog.
“Why are you laughing so hard?” Richa was standing beside me.
“Uh- no.. Nothing” I composed myself as I turned around to face her.
“Anyways, did you look at the scripts? I have to send them for review on Monday. Do you think you can complete them at least by Sunday evening?”
This was it. I could say yes and slog some more or I could deny and top in to her ‘Do-not-date-this-guy’ list forever. I chose later, as even if I had chosen the former, there was no guarantee she would date me.
She was frustrated rather than angry when she went to her own desk. But I didn’t care much. I was feeling lighter somehow. I started typing a mail to Shweta which read:
Your key is with me, safe and sound. If you don’t mind we can meet up in canteen for lunch where I can hand it over to you. Please suggest a suitable time for the same.
PS: I think you should keep the key locked somewhere (no pun intended), as the key is so beautiful, anyone could steal it.
I smiled as I pressed the send button. I realised the key was a good omen after all. The golden key opened the door to Shweta for me.