Short Story
                                     The Key To Everything
                                                             By Charles G. Chettiar


     I first saw the man when I was walking home. He looked commonplace but the bunch of keys he was
carrying made him conspicuous. His face was wizened and dark. An old man like my father who had died
a couple of months back. I didn't need the key, still I gravitated towards him.

     “Make any key for you. I'll give another for free,” he said.

     “I don't want any,” I said.

     “Suit yourself.”

     “What are these?” I asked.

     “These are the godheads,” he said.

     “God heads?”

     “Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Pluto,” he said.

     “Where's Venus?”

     He held up a key with a beautifully moulded Venus. It showed Venus' birth as painted by Sandro
Botticelli.

     I wanted it. I couldn't have gone without it. I took out my flat key and told him to fashion it. The very
expression of beauty entrapped in my soul. Delight enraptured me as I saw the key getting fashioned in
front of me.

     “What's this?” I asked.

     “The free key,” said the old key-maker.

     “I don't want it,” I said.

     Seeing the obscure godhead on the free key, my tongue got stuck. It had a marked porosity on it with
pointed parts jutting, making some statement, unfathomable.

     Taking my silence as an affirmation he packed both the keys in miniature case, which in turn he
packed in another miniature polythene, with the letters Any Keys.

     A rising tundra of a skyscraper beckoned me with no lights. Lights were turned inwards to save energy.
Energy which we lose to glitches, the same we need to save.

     I cleaned my apartment in part due to my OCD. There had been women and whenever they had the
fortune to visit they had suspected another woman, who kept the house clean.

     I fished for the key—my apartment key but it wasn't anywhere on me.

     Fool, left it with the key maker.

     Gripes, but I had the newly fashioned one, but not my own apartment key. Removing the freshly minted
key and fitting in the hole, like a smooth of a dress silkily brushing against my ankle.

     I opened my door, and I put the key on the bookshelf.

     As I got ready for office in a jiffy, the next day, I couldn’t find the key which the key maker had fashioned
on the bookshelf. I knew that I had left both the keys on the bookshelf but I could find no Venus. The other
key occupied the place.

     Stephen.

     The voice whispered in my head. Definitely it had come from the direction of the key. The key had
sheen. I tried to get it out, but I couldn't do anything. I drew towards the key like I needed much respite.

     No locking the house today.

     I could only pull the door and go, and bring some key maker again to reopen my house.

     Just pull the door and go.

     The corridor had been spotlessly cleaned. Reminiscing about how I reached this house, I stood still. I
saw the key in the keyhole. It was stunning; I didn't do anything. I pulled the door and locked it.

     The key fitted strangely. In-spite of having OCD, I couldn't remember where I had kept the other key.
While on the way, I'll just get to the key maker & get my own key.

     “Key maker? Where's the key maker?”

     No one seemed to know. He hadn't come here from morning.

     “He's a moving shop,” said a man. “He would have shifted his shop-o'-wheels.”

     I had left my car at the service centre. I jogged over to the service centre. The mechanic showed me the
ready car. I had planned a road trip alone to get away from the incessant monotony and dreary existence.
     
     My Audi 5x112 ran like a dream.

     I decided to have coffee in a local Starbucks and went in.

     I took a take away coffee and started the car and moved away, little noticing what I had.

     I didn’t realize the mistake. My fingers too didn’t inform me about feeling another texture, instantly, but
the gradual sense of differing texture came to me.

     As I looked, I saw the ‘demon head’ in the ignition. As I started to think about it, I didn't realize how it fit
in the ignition slot—how it had metamorphosed into the car key.

     I removed it from the ignition, making my car stop in mid road. But I wasn't able to examine it due to the
honking of the cars behind. I reluctantly started the car and went home.

     The key lingered on my bookshelf—the gobbler, the assimilator.

     It doesn't leave any key on its own for quirks.

     I just left my wardrobe key around it and watched. Nothing happened as long as I looked. But averting
my eyes had the necessary effect. Looking back the wardrobe key had disappeared. To be sure I took the
'demon head' key and tried to close my wardrobe. It worked.

     An all in one key! A key which gobbled up all. A key which would unlock any bank locker for me.

     I can take you to every place you wanna be, the voice said.

     Did it say something? I don't know, but I heard it. I heard the voice.

     The bottle of scotch clutched in my left I sipped it after pouring it in a crystal glass.

     ...every place you wanna be.

     For starters I would like to go to my teenage crush's room

     Daringly possible.

     Grabbing the key, I turned to my bedroom. Putting it in the keyhole I turned it and opened the door. An
elderly woman sat in an easy chair reading. There were more oldies in the room, though not full, the room
had nobody young.

     My eight standard teacher, didn't look up but kept reading her book. Her once flowing raven coloured
hair now looked like a crow’s nest, though with white fibers.

     “Miss.”

     She looked up.

     “You don't remember me?”

     “How can I? I taught thousands of children.”

     A sharp intellect like always, my first crush, my mathematics teacher.

     “See you miss,” I said.

     All the eyes of oldies bored through me, as if one. I wanted to escape, and started back tracking
towards the door. The door had gone more than ten paces away.

     “Wait,” said my former teacher.

     “Yes.”

     “You haven't given us anything.”

     She pricked my hand and a drop of blood trickled out.

     Sucking my thumb, I shrank back, and moved towards the door.

     “Wait. More is needed. A drop for everyone.”

     I started running and came to the door. Thrusting the key in the key hole I turned it, opened the door,
entered, slamming the door behind me.

     Dreariness washing over me I stumbled into the room. A vista of a panorama transcribed the vision of
my eyes. I remembered this room—a room I dreamed of when depression hung over me like a cloud.

     Menthil Baker walked in and said,

     “Good you came. I like my admirers, and as Pinker Drare is trying to put me in another story, I like living
in the 5th book.”

     Taking out a small knife he said,

     “Just give your contribution. A little blood.”

     I fell back and searched for the door.

     A turn, open and slam! I was away from the zombified Menthil Baker.

     What was I thinking? I don't know.
     
     I didn’t hear anything in the room. The room seemed sanitised. Home, I wanted to go home.

     A drop of blood.

     A drop of blood.

     You gotta pay pal.

     The room faded from my view and then again formed in my vision. I heaved a sigh of relief to find that I
had ended up in my apartment.        

     My debit card didn't work and I had to go to the physical bank.

     “I did a favour for you,” said the teller. “Make your payment.”

     “Some blood,” he said.

     I WON'T GIVE IT. I WON'T GIVE IT.

     If everyone asks for it should I give?

     The question stared at me.

     Five days since I had opened the door to my apartment, afraid to go out. Afraid to use the key…

     Seven days since I opened the door…

     I tried calling the call centre, but they all asked me to do the payment first.

     You have used the services, Stephen. You gotta pay, man.

     I had one refuge. Hunger. Hunger made me think of something else other than the key and the door.
Hunger made me think of escape. Satiating hunger became my prime activity, till the food also faded
away. As I stared at the empty fridge I thought of mediocrity, my bane. I felt all the walls closing on me. I
had one refuge, but would that work. If I used the key, then definitely it won’t.

     My bane. My curse.

     Stephen, you can’t escape it. You can’t escape it.

     Why had I taken this free thing? A lesson not to take anything free, even when it is thrust on you. Throw
it away. Let it not curse your life, like my life is now cursed.

     I knew that I had a way. Don’t use a door.

     Don’t use a door. A window—A WINDOW!

     The windows were shrinking or were they?

     I still retained some semblance of my strength and it came to me in this hour of dire need. I had no
weapon but a chair. A plastic chair. A plastic chair with its legs in steel. I flung it with all my strength against
the French windows.

     It took four tries to shatter the window to make a place for me to go through. Then with the falling
trepidation I stepped through the window and went through.

     Janice…Janice…Janice…

     She’ll be my refuge.

     I’d be fine once I reached the floor through the pipe shaft.

     Finally, no doors. No doors at all!

     Janice…Janice…Janice…

     I'd go to my Janice.  Then I would be free. No doors to open and no key to turn.

     "What happened to you Steve?"

     "Take me in," I said.

     She took me in. Walking though the chilly January air I felt cold. My hands shivered, and no blanket
could make it stop. She made some strong coffee, gave me a shawl and sat by me. The coffee started to
have the desired effect.  Then she had made it Irish. It was a good thing which she did.

     “Latches,” I muttered.

     “Latches?”
     
     Yes, latches. Latches. No keys please. The door of her bedroom which had a keyhole I had tied with a
rope, to the window pane.

     “Don’t go,” I said.

     She wanted to go out for some time at least to buy some groceries, but I wouldn’t let her.

XXX

     Reprieve. I was given a reprieve.

     The key to everything.

     The key to everything is the key. The old key maker was Janice. Janice was the old key maker. The
key maker was her. What if, the key was nothing. What if the key was everything?

     I opened my eyes and saw Janice, immersed in a book.

     Had I opened another door? I looked at my hand and there it dangled.

     The key to everything.

     I didn’t know for how long I had dozed. Was it the same Janice?

     Janice or no Janice it was not to be right. The right Janice was there or nearly there. The Janice of
Janices of Janices. She looked two-fold, or she looked three-fold.

     Then she looked at me and the same whisper came.

     Stephen, you can’t escape Stephen.

     In the same whisper she said, “Some blood,” taking out a knife.

     Shivering I got up and made for the window.

                                                                             THE END
About Charles G. Chettiar

I am an Engineer by
circumstance and writer
by choice. I work in
Engineering in Mumbai. I
started writing short
stories when in college,
and have just now
completed my first novel.
My fiction genres include,
horror, fantasy, political
thrillers & historical. I am
looking out for a publisher
at present and working on
my second book.
To read other short stories,
click one of the titles below.