I was ten…
I think, at least. The older I get, the less I remember, and the more, I’m sure, I make up. The details of our exact age are negligible, however. I know that this had to have happened before the 7th grade, because by that time it was too late (for that’s when I met Cynthia, and I know I had the key by the time I met Cynthia). I might have been eleven, but I’m almost certain I were ten, and that she was eleven.
Me and Cyndy, that is. This is not to be confused with Cynthia who is a year younger than me, that I met on the bus. No, Cyndy is a year older than me. Cynthia and Cyndy look the same, eye color, hair color, skin colors (almost). They aren’t related. Obviously. They share the same name, afterall (although I call Cynthia – Cyndy, and bus Cynthia is just Cynthia). Their family circumstances are completely different. And their temperaments? Night and Day. Cynthia is the kind of girl who will stay home and get high, telling stories of wondrous worlds, and making you question the whos and the whats and the why we ares. Cyndy is the kind of girl who goes shopping (always), uses credit cards like money grows on trees, and parties till the sun rises, with new people all the time.
Both are lovely.
Either way, this was, before Cynthia. It was only Cyndy and me, and our families, who have been family friends since we were born. We were in the woods. The two of us swear by fact that it was the Redwoods, but the older I get the more that seems like nonsense. It could have been another national park or state park we went to, not that it matters, what happened isn’t possible in any of them. So, I’ll say it was the Redwoods, and that’s where we’ll begin.
I was ten, standing under the towering trees of red, that reached up so high into the sky that I was afraid I’d break my back trying to stare up. I never did see the tops of them. And the trees were wide, so large that cars could go through, so massive that I felt so insignificant, so tiny, so childlike. This was how I found the whismy that came from the freedom of nature. It was so powerful, and I was so small. It was so beautiful, and I knew that no matter what I ever tried to do or say, I would never be able to give the woods the justice that they deserved.
I would never be able to properly describe it.
We were hiking, or rather going for a walk, the nine of us (my family of five and Cyndy’s family of four). Our parents kept an eye on us, but they let us wander. Never get too far. If we can’t see them, then we need to go back. Always have a buddy, and for me that was Cyndy. Cyndy and I ran along the path, looking at the trees. Or maybe only I was running, whispering to them. For I’m pretty certain that at this time Cyndy thought I was strange, not that she doesn’t think I’m strange now, but that we are sisters now and back then we were only friends. (Sisters can think eachother are strange, but friends? That is a possible deal breakers. We’ve been through enough to no longer care.)
Cyndy chased after me, telling me I was going too far down the paths. We had picked a way to go when the road forked and I wanted to go further. I did. Hurrying along, we came to a shop, in the center of an intersection of paths. It was not one of those pop-up shops, but a freestanding building, with a few other shops around it. Different and odd names, candy stores, books and maps, and the antique store that was two floors. It was this store that Cyndy and I went into.
What’s important to note about this, is that when we left the shop, keys in hand, joy on our lips in the form of laughter, we had fully intended to come back. We wanted to go to the candy store next door, but Cyndy and I did not believe we would receive anything for free as we had from the antique store. We had run to find our parents, them not particularly worried. We hadn’t been gone too long. What had felt like forever to us, had been no more than a minute or two. And when we led them to where we had seen the shops, they were gone. Our family told us we might have taken the wrong way, Cyndy and I knew better.
The shops were there. And then they weren’t. All that remained, for me, was a small golden key, to no real door, hanging around a black velvet string. A key that I still have. A key that has never opened a single door, and is constantly a peculiarity to me.
The antique shop was filled, like those book stores where the items tower high and in arcs, a maze of a mess, with no real direction through the madness. Mirrors of all shapes and sizes resting on the walls, with name plates under them or written on them of strange characters or places we had never heard of. And if you starred long enough into one, it was almost like you were starring into another world behind you.
There were paintings too, with time periods, no name or artist, of different people and places. There were door frames with no doors. Doors with no frame, leaning against the wall. Walls and walls of shelves, shelves in the middle of the room. Tables thrown about in every which way, laying on their side, their face, from the ceiling. Books that were all about, locked up tight behind glass or laid open on stacks atop the accessories in the room. Tea cups, postcards, record players. The longer one looked, the more one saw. Bird cages, pianos, metal candle holders and pots, instruments, wind chimes. Vases, plants, bottles, clothes, hangers, clocks. And locks. There were so many locks. Locks on books, on doors, on door frames, on mirrors, hanging from the ceiling, lining the floor.
And there was a staircase, that was narrow and tight, leading up to a second floor, beckoning us forward.
“Can I help you?” The only worker there was the man in white. He was dressed in a white button down, with a white mustache, and stark white hair, and black pants. He had a white apron and white gloves on, with black framed glasses and the whitest teeth we’d ever seen. He told us his name then, but neither Cyndy nor I remember it now. He was a young man, no more than twenty-five, but his eyes held wisdom of a person of more than a hundred, and neither of us knew how young he truly was until we talked about it later.
We told him we were just looking, and he showed us around the shop, to all the locks and mirrors and pictures and books. To the toys and clothes and desks and nooks. To the corners where we could crawl through tapestries, and the secret back room where the candy store kept their candy. The man in white led us through this shop for hours, telling us stories about all that we pointed out.
Then we went upstairs.
Upstairs was dark, it was not filled with the light of a hundred lamps, like the downstairs was. Nor was their sound, which until going to the second floor we had not realized that there was an ambience of light jazz music playing on the floor below. Upstairs was lit by glow in the dark bottles and potions, and paint that dusted the sides of the walls like constellations. With a flick of his wrist the man in white lit a candle that then lit another and another until the room was glowing in the blue glow of the dark light potions and the soft amber of flame.
There were tables here, decorated in strange artifacts, however the table of note, and the one of importance, was the table of keys. It was not until we were leaving the upstairs that we had realized that the walls and floor were covered in keys, hidden behind painted glass, thousands of them. All different. On the table, however, there were only five set on thick black velvet.
The first key was silver, small, with a deer decorating the top of the key for the loop. It had three prongs, and odd runes that made strange words that the man in white could read.
The second was black, two prongs, big and heavy, made of iron, he said. The handle was too big for my hand, and the loop at the end was nothing special, until he waved a candle over it and it glowed from the inside.
The third was my key, the one I ended up taking. A gold key, larger than the first, much smaller than the second, three rivets in a row, with a loop at the end that was shaped almost like a heart with design that looked like leaves.
The fourth was silver again, but this time it had painted veins of blue that pulsated as it grew cold and dark around the key. It was large, but not too large, and was cut as a modern key was, despite looking so old.
The last was bronze, with a large loop at the end, of three circles wrapped around each other to form a globe, with a crystal hanging from the inside. The key blade itself was just a long rod, that looked like nothing more than a stick, until it was moved and one could see the indentations imbedded into the metal, creating grooves.
Each key had a task or a weight, something that had to be given to take.
The first was a promise, to give one that could never be taken back or broken or else. The second was of heat, of passion. Glory could be achieved but would it be worth it? The fourth was for stability, a million worlds could be reached, but no true home would be found. The fifth was a soul. Whose? The man in white would not say.
The third was “you will know.”
I still do not know.
“Take a key, or leave. You don’t have to take one. But you can.”
“Can we both take one?” We had asked.
I took the third key of gold and Cyndy took the first key of silver, promising never to lose it. She last saw the key when she was twelve, under her bed, not where she had left it, and then she never saw it again. I am not sure what she gave to lose it, or what she lost when she lost it. Was it the chance at opening doors? I will never know.
The man had told us not to worry about paying, for payment was already made and then we ran downstairs, and away, the man in white waving at us from the counter. A beautiful man.
It was only upon looking back, when much older, that Cyndy and I realized just how strange and wrong it all had been. We could have been lost forever. We could have been hurt. And despite having full faith in the man in white, the shop was just so strange, so unreal, so magical that both of us chose to ignore it existed, disregarding the fact that I still had my key and no logical answer could be given to how I got it. My parents didn’t remember buying it for me. I had never gotten it as a gift. And thus we were stuck realizing that the two of us in our naive world had wandered onto something unfathomable, and unreachable ever again.
When I was seventeen, Cyndy and I were out shopping when we both stopped. There across the busy shopping center we both swore we saw him, but when we chased him to ask, we found ourselves not only wandering back from where we had come, but certain we had not saw him at all. I believe this, too, was his magic.
When I met Cynthia in the seventh grade, she had said some strange things to me. Of note was one strange man in all black that she had met once at her aunts house who had come to get a key from her aunt, with sharp white teeth. He had wanted the key from an attic long locked. Her aunt had died a few months later, in a mysterious fire that started in the same room. Apparently no one had ever opened a door, so she never did know if he had gotten the key. It was this same strange man that the two of us swore we saw on the bus one day when it was stopped at a light, starring at us from a gas station parking lot waving.
That was when Cynthia had seen my gold key and asked me what it was worth and to which I replied: “I do not know.” I still do not know.
There are strange things surrounding the Cynthias and I, very strange things that I can not place. But this key, I have never lost, despite trying to. I have always remembered. And somehow for some reason, I feel like it is as a part of me as I am to it.
And I am still waiting for the door, the door that I might be able to use this key on. I have not found it yet, not for lack of trying. But I know that when I do, that is when I’ll know what it costs.