Strings of keys dangle from the ceiling, just low enough for most hands to reach.  Gold, brass, silver, stone, they each bear their own weight, their own purpose.  They unlock pain and laughter, memories and secrets, dreams and wishes.  Every one of them different, every one of them crafted with the utmost care.

My sister collects them, she has always had a desire to explore the tangled paths and dark corners of the unknown.  Her heart longs for learning the new, the strange, and the different.  Her soul is one of an adventurer.

The first key she found unlocked her wandering feet.  It is made of dark green stone, with tiny forests and mountains etched into its surface.  I keep it near a window, dangling from a silver thread.

It never worked on me, as it is not meant for every person.  My heart was always too attached to home for the key to fit.

The door opens and a boy walks in.  I watch him, and before he opens his mouth I know what he is here for.  There is pain on his shoulders and dragging at his feet.  I know he wants a key to lock it up, to put it all away and forget about it like a dead pirates’ treasure.

But the keys do not work that way.

He slowly walks among the keys with a lost look in his eyes, and I ask him how I can help.  He shifts on his feet, his fingers fidgeting with the hem of his shirt.  He can’t be much older than thirteen.

“I need a key, I think.” he says.

I smile and place a guiding hand on his shoulder. “Let me help you find one that fits.”

We search the room, and as I watch him reach up to touch the keys, I start pulling out his story.  He does not give me specifics, but I do not need them.  I hear his words ringing off the keys, and lead him towards the loudest ones.

This pain is one he has not felt yet, and so it is terrible.

I reach out for a slender gold key hanging from a dark blue thread.  He tries it, but it will not turn.  Not the way he wants it to.

“You cannot lock it.” I tell him gently.  He looks up with frightened eyes, and I cover his hand with my own. “It is already locked.  Try turning it the other way.”

That was something I learned the day my sister returned with the first key that fit me.  The keys do not lock.

My first key unlocked the dreams I’d been too scared to go after.  I remember the surge of hope and fear they gave as they danced around me.  They still lock up once in a while, and I have to pull down the key to use once again.

Most of life is terrifying, and so we often lock parts of it up.

His hand is shaking now, and I give him a moment before asking if he would like help turning it.  He struggles to speak, eventually ending up with a shrug and a shake of his head.

He is not quite ready, and I am not one to push.

“Take it home with you.” I tell him. “Turn it when you can.  Bring it back after it’s over.”

He pulls it out and nods, and I watch him leave with the gold key wrapped in his fingers.  I have seen such a sight many times, and it always makes my heart ache in a strange way.  It might be awhile before I see that key again, but I hope the boy will eventually come back with a healing heart.

Most of the time, they do.

Making them turn the key is not my job.  I am only here to keep the keys safe and help others find the ones they need.  Iron, copper, wood, steel, they dangle from the ceiling waiting to unlock laughter and pain, secrets and memories, wishes and dreams.

They wait for you to come for them.


cat (2).jpg

The light is fading as I enter my apartment.  I sling my backpack off my shoulder as I kick the door shut behind me.  Glowing yellow eyes appear in the dim room as Pounce trots over, her sleek black fur blending with the dark.

I fumble for matches on my counter as she rubs against my legs, purring.  Pretty soon her purring will change to demands for food, but first she must establish how glad she is that I’m home.  I strike a match, and Pounce starts changing her tune while I light the first candle.

“Patience is a virtue.” I mutter to her as I go on to light another.

I don’t think my cat cares so much for virtue.

She weaves in and out of my legs, practically begging for me to step on her as I light up the apartment with candles.  Of course, if I did ever step on her she would become the most insulted cat that ever lived, which is saying a lot when it comes to cats.

I push open the curtains, revealing the windows behind them half-covered in vines.  It should be a full moon tonight.

Returning to the kitchen, I set down the matches and pull out my can opener.  Pounce sits silently now, her tail flicking back and forth as she watches intently.  The cranking sound of the opener fills the room, settling me into this late evening.

I miss the noise of people living around me.

The closest thing I have to neighbors is a colony of bees that took over room 3.  They like to keep to themselves, and I don’t try to convince them otherwise.  I dump the can into Pounce’s food bowl, wrinkling my nose at what she sees as a delicacy.  She starts gulping it down in a very unladylike manner and I return to the kitchen to get my own food.

The cranking of a can opener starts again.

I glance over at my backpack as I work, slouched on the floor where I dropped it.  I’ll go through it tomorrow, when the sun is up and I don’t have to worry about wasting candlelight.  Grabbing a spoon, I plunge it into the can and walk into the living room.  There’s a radio on the coffee table, and I try the dials to see if it will pick up anything tonight.

There’s still at least two stations that have something playing, which tells me there’s someone else still out there, playing music for a scattered and lonely civilization.

One is a classical station, the other plays rather dated pop music.  Sometimes they say things in between songs, but I can never really understand them among all the static.  Still, it’s nice to hear another voice.

The classical station is the one I can find this evening, fading in and out of the ever-present static.

“Trees are growing like crazy.” I tell Pounce. “I found some walnuts on the ground.  You’ll hate them, but that just means all the more for me.”

I look out the window, between the reaching vines.  They’ve nearly covered the window now.  Beyond them is just green leaves and brown wood and the darkening shadows.

This used to be a city.

Pounce has finished her meal and she leaps onto my lap, sniffing at mine.  Moonlight starts to filter through the branches and leaves and vines, adding a soft blue light to my candlelight room.  I scratch Pounce’s head in between bites, listening to her rumbling purr mixed with faint violins and static.

I can feel it settle into my bones.

Tonight will be a good night.



I hold up the skirt of my gown in one hand so I don’t trip on the staircase, the lantern in my other hand swaying with each step.  The sun is reaching for the sea, longing for its cold embrace as night draws nearer.

The wind is picking up.  Clouds are building, promising an impressive sunset and a terrible storm.  I will stay up tonight, I can never sleep during weather like this.

My memories hold the ghosts of ships resting at the bottom of the sea.

It doesn’t matter how often I walk these stairs, I’m always out of breath by the time I reach the lantern room.  Below, the waves are crashing harder and harder against the rocks, and if I listen to them long enough they tell me about the souls lost beneath them.

And I’m always listening.

I know some of the lost souls by name now, I know what their last thoughts were, I know the panic they felt.  The waves tell me all that they know, which is usually too much.  It is not in their nature to hold back.

Carefully, I pull the candle out of my lantern and use its flame to light the thick wick of the large oil lamp.  The lenses around me amplify the light, and I find myself squinting as I check the oil level.  Tonight will not be the night my light goes out.

I walk back to the staircase, but I don’t go down.  There is a cable-knit sweater I keep on the end of the railing, and I pull it over my head, mussing up my braided hair.  I don’t care, the wind will do the same.

I step out onto the gallery quickly, shutting the door behind me and checking to make sure I haven’t blown out my light.  The wind is strong up here, and it tries to carry me away.  It is too confident in itself to realize it would drop me.

The dark clouds are on fire as the sun sinks.  I hear thunder in the distance.  It is summertime, but the air does not listen to seasons and it is cold tonight.  My nose and cheeks are red and my hair is flying into my eyes but I scan the horizon, praying for the ships that will have to weather tonight.

Tonight, my beacon of light screams danger.  Tonight, the waves may tell me new names.  Tonight, I will wait up in case of a wreck.  In case there are survivors.  In case I could help.

I go back inside, picking up my lantern.  The stairs groan and settle as I start my way down.  I think I shall set a kettle to boil for tea.  Perhaps bake some scones.  Anything to occupy my hands and pass the time.

I have a long night ahead of me.


If You Dare


I entered the caverns to find her.  They say she’s lived there for decades, deep in the bowels of the earth, with eyes that could pierce souls and ears that could hear unspoken things.  One of the last of the living sages.

Whenever I asked about her, people would stop and shiver, their eyes darting around as if she might find out their darkest secrets.  They told me stories in hushed tones, warning me of how a child of a friend of a friend once went down there to find her and never returned.  They would warn me not to let my curiosity lure me to her.

They fear her.

Everyone has secrets, and the thought of someone finding out such things just by looking at them was enough to keep them far away from the cavern’s entrance.

The sounds of daytime faded behind me as I stepped deeper into the dark.  It didn’t take long for my ears to only hear the drip, drip, drip, of water hitting stone and the thump, thump, thump of my own heartbeat.  I walked slowly, trying to get my eyes to adjust, but the light of the entrance had disappeared at the first bend of the path.

Some told me there was no sage, only endless tunnels to get lost in.  It was easy to believe them once I was shuffling blindly through the dark.  It was easy to believe anything at that point.

Then the glowworms started shining.

If I stayed quiet, and did not touch, they continued shining, leading me deeper with their soft blue lights.  I started walking to the rhythm of the dripping water so as to not disturb them.  They were the stars of the underworld.

Down I journeyed into the earth.  The ceiling rose, walls widened, and in time I found myself walking through open spaces paved with smooth rock, littered with stalagmites and stalactites, puddles and drop-offs.  A mist started appearing above me, like the barest hint of clouds, and something inside me told me you’re closer, closer, close.

They all warned me.  Every one that I spoke to, they all said the same things.  She sees, she hears, she knows.  Finding her costs your secrets.  Finding her costs your sanity.

They did not know I was going insane anyway.

They did not know I could never find someone to listen to my secrets.  They did not know how no one saw, no one listened, no one knew.  I could not find a way to tell them.

I was going insane, after all.

The stories could not scare me.  They only made me want to look more.  I wanted it so bad I finally entered the tunnels to look.

Now I’m standing inside a cavern lit by millions of blue glowworms, listening to dripping water echo into the darkest corners, and I’m finally breathing again.  I will find her, I am so close.

Just once, I want to be understood.