The Key To My Heart
The key was heavy brass. There was a tag tied to it that had an address written on it. Marcus held it in his hand, contemplating what to do. The waves of the beach rolled up and back, whispering to the sand. He examined the tag. The address was written in a curling, gothic calligraphy. It was a place on the edge of town, in the industrial section. He looked up at the waves, the setting sun, thinking. The receding sunlight glinted off the blue-glass mason jar that had once contained the key. It was half buried in the sand. He ignored it.
Marcus stood and left the beach, dropping the key into his pocket. The streets were draped in twilight. Marcus walked home in the dusk-light, passing the large suburban homes built right on the beach. Slowly, the neighborhood changed from gated communities to city blocks to projects. And then he reached the train tracks and the industrial section beyond. He crossed the tracks, thumbing the key in his pocket.
Warehouses lined the streets. A persistent chemical odor overpowered the lingering salt smell from the beach, tainting Marcus’ clothes. He took a left, leaving his regular route, led by an insatiable curiosity.
Busy warehouses became abandoned warehouses as Marcus walked deeper into the industrial neighborhood. Abandoned warehouses became dilapidated houses which became abandoned houses. After several blocks of walking past Marcus found the address from the keys’ tag. The porch sagged in the middle and the low roof had holes in it that let beams of twilight through. Marcus stepped onto the porch. The boards beneath his feet creaked and settled. The key from the beach didn’t fit in the door. Frankly, it seemed like a key from a different era entirely, a cross between a windup key and a skeleton key made of heavy brass. Marcus tried the door. It was unlocked.
The inside was dim, lit only by the fading light outside. The entry way was bare, save for a row of coat hooks and a shoe rack. Both were empty. A set of stairs led up. Something about the key told Marcus that whatever he was looking for was upstairs. He couldn’t explain it but something, an invisible thread of sorts, was pulling him to the key’s home. The stairs creaked on the way up and the air grew dusty and stale. Gears and boxes of loose mechanical parts were placed carefully on the stairs, although they were gathering dust. At the top of the landing there were steel tool chests, clean but covered with a light sheen of dust.
The strange strings pulled him past the tool boxes and down the hall. He stopped before a door on the right, just past the stairs. He opened it to find a bedroom. On the bed was a figure, covered with a sheet. Marcus took the key out of his pocket and looked from it to the shape on the bed. Whatever was hidden under the sheet was calling to the key.
He pulled the sheet aside. The light being filtered through the curtains revealed a nude woman, apparently asleep. There was something off about her though. As he gazed at her, a subtle strangeness revealed itself to him.
Strange geometric lines ran across her skin, only barely noticeable in the dim light. It was almost like she was a life size puzzle. He touched her lightly on the arm.
Her skin didn’t feel real. It was too smooth, almost like plastic. A glint caught his eye. On her right breast there was a brass keyhole embedded in her skin. Marcus took the key out of his pocket and looked at it. The keyhole was Victorian in design, and the design matched the design etched on the strange skeleton windup key.
He pushed the key into the keyhole. It fit very snugly, but slid in smoothly. He turned it and heard a clicking sound. He kept turning the key until it would turn no more. The clicking sound sped up until it was a low hum. The woman on the bed began to sit up and stretch. She swung her legs down to the floor and rubbed her eyes, looking at Marcus through the sandy blonde hair that fell across her eyes. She looked down at her breast. The windup key was slowly turning in its keyhole. She looked at Marcus again. “You found it.”
The light was quickly fading, but the woman on the bed seemed to glow from within. Marcus coughed and averted his eyes.
She looked down at herself. “Oh. Am I making you uncomfortable?” She reached down and lifted the sheet, wrapping it around herself. “Is that better?” He nodded, looking up again. “Where did you find my key?”
Marcus simply shrugged. A sound like a bell filled the room. The woman on the bed laughed. “Do you have a voice?” Marcus looked away. The woman smiled. “Lets start with names.” She examined her hand. “I guess mine is Julee. What’s yours?”
He looked down at his shoes, shoved his hands deeper into his pockets. “Marcus.” He spoke under his breath, mumbling and shifting his feet.
She smiled. “So Marcus.” She gestured to the key. “I see you found my key. Do you know what it does?” Marcus turned and faced Julee, scrunching up his face. “Oh it’s obvious is it?” Julee smiled. “It doesn’t just wake me up, Marcus. Would you like to know what else my key does?”
Marcus shrugged. Julee leaned back. “You’re too quiet. I suppose I should tell you about myself.” She adjusted the sheet around herself. “The man who built me was quite the eccentric. But he was very lonely. So he built me.” She slipped the sheet off. “When he died he hid the key. I’ve been asleep for such a long time since then.” She stopped for a moment, gauging Marcus’ reaction. He said nothing, looked at her from the corner of his eyes. She closed her eyes and spoke softly. “But now you’ve found my key.” She smiled. “It means I am yours. My creator wanted me to never be lonely.”
Marcus looked at her. He could see the key, turning in her chest ever so slowly. He took his hands out of his pocket. The key led him here. Whoever created Julee wanted him to take possession of her. She was beautiful indeed. As he placed his hand on her shoulder, the unnatural smoothness of her skin somehow warm beneath his hand, he felt the quivering of miniscule, strange machinery. He ran his hand down her arm and across her chest. Her breast was firm, strange, but lovely. His fingers grazed the keyhole, its engraved metal slightly raised above the skin surrounding it. He leaned down towards her face, her lips, preparing to take what the key wanted him to have. She turned her face up towards his. No breath passed between her lips, and yet there was life there, somehow. He stopped. “Aren’t you going to kiss me, Marcus?”
Julee opened her eyes. But too late. Marcus pulled the key from her breast. The hum of machinery slowed, and turned into a quiet ticking sound, and stopped. Gently, he laid her back down on the bed. He pulled the sheet over her, covering her from head to toe. He placed the key in his pocket, and walked out of the house.
Night coated the streets and stained the sky. He walked all the way back to the beach. The blue glass jar was still there. Marcus took the key out of his pocket and looked at it, turning it over in his hand, contemplating. He tore the tag with the address from the key and it into his pocket. He placed the key into the jar and covered it with sand. There was only one thing left to do. He walked to the edge of the tide, his feet sinking into the wet sand, and threw the jar filled with sand as far as he could into the ocean. The waves carried his footsteps away. The sky was full of stars. Marcus sat on the beach and counted them in silence.
Photograph by Leeroy