The Locked Door

Submitted into Contest #130 in response to: Write a story titled ‘The Locked Door.’... view prompt

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Adventure Fiction Fantasy

Mysteries had been presenting themselves to me since I was a child. So, I was hardly surprised when I found one in Mrs Pardon’s attic. And I didn’t intend to attempt solving this one either. The door to my imagination was firmly locked.


‘Just bring down my old globe, no need to bother with anything else, Love.’ She’d croaked from her wheelchair as she fingered the black and white picture of her long-lost love. ‘Harry used to tell me about all the places he’d been. You know, in the army and such. Maybe it’ll jog my memory.’


I got up from the kitchen table and mounted the stairs before she could start another story about him. When I took this job, I hadn’t imagined how much listening would be involved. Cooking and cleaning and wiping the old girl’s bottom in return for free board were no problem, but the stories. Oh God, the endless stories.


My parents only read me autobiographical works and textbooks. They limited my consumption of television to the news and documentaries. Films were entirely disapproved of. 'Fantasy teaches you nothing,' my mother would say. 'You're better off learning the truth'. On the odd occasion that I brought home a work of fiction, it would be immediately confiscated. I begged them for a library card, but 'libraries only perpetuate myths'. By the age of 12, I had given up on stories and had no time for the people telling them.


Mrs Pardon was the ultimate test of my patience. I could just about cope with the stories that sounded realistic, but sometimes she went entirely off piste.


The attic door creaked louder than Mrs Pardon’s joints, making me glad that I didn’t have to venture in very often. At least the high beams meant I could almost stand up while I searched for her obscure memorabilia. The relentless clutter crowded around me. In spite of myself, I sparked the idea that the old house was isolated enough to hold multiple undiscovered secrets.


The shelves that lined the walls groaned under the weight of her belongings, forgotten beneath a thick layer of dust and cobwebs. A full set of hard bound Encyclopaedia Britannica was not the only obsolete thing in the collection. I wondered what was more useless, that or the carriage clock with no innards? There were board games, jigsaws, suitcases, plant pots, empty wine bottles, gardening magazines, candle sticks, toolboxes and, perched on the corner of a jutting out brick, a small, glass jar.


If it had been on a shelf like everything else, I probably wouldn’t have given it a second glance, but I’d never noticed that brick before and it looked a little loose. I reached out to move the jar to somewhere more stable.


A bolt of ice shot down my spine as my fingers touched the glassy surface. I whipped my hand back in shock, shuffled closer to the jar and peered inside. Tarnished foreign coins. Nothing more. I shook off my surprise and tried again. As I lifted the jar, I noticed something that didn't belong in it and jiggled the container to expose the imposter. The coins realigned, and a dull key appeared between them.


I fished it out and discovered that it was no ordinary key. It had no head, just two, old fashioned, biting tips, one at either end. Each tip had an apparently identical set of bites. What was the point of having a double key with both ends opening the same lock? I could not imagine a purpose for it, but suspected it was out of place, so I shoved it into my jeans pocket before I searched for the globe.


The globe appeared after a few minutes. I was glad I’d brought a cloth. It was covered in a layer of black grime that didn’t stop it from spinning on its stand, but did make me unwilling to touch it with more than one finger.


‘I’ve found it Mrs Pardon.’ I trudged down the stairs, holding the globe out in front by its cloth-wrapped base. ‘It needs a bit of a wipe.’ I tried not to allow it to transfer filth on to my pale green jumper as I entered the kitchen.


‘He went to Africa and India and all over Europe. An engineer he was, built bridges.’


‘Never once fired his rifle,’ I chimed in, in perfect time with her words.


‘Oh! I’ve told you, Love. Sorry.’ She picked up the photograph again and her eyes went dewy.


‘No, no. I’m sorry. Why don’t you tell me about the Tanzanian puff adders while I clean this up?’ At least that story was believable.


Mrs Pardon regaled me with the tale of Harry running down the hill on the savanna at sunset, believing he was escaping snakes. But actually, the men with the fire at the bottom of the slope were trying to offer him one.


‘”Nyoka!” They were shouting, “Nyoka!”’ she waved her arms, ‘and my Harry thought the snakes were in the grass, but no. Oh no. The two local men had them in their hut!' she giggled. 'I can only imagine the look on his face when he got there and saw he’d been running towards his greatest fear!’ She couldn’t hold in her laughter at the thought of his misfortune.


‘It’s a wonderful story, Mrs Pardon. Reminds me how much my life is lacking in adventure.’


‘Adventure. Harry always said that the greatest adventures started right here in this very house. “Just open the locked door” he used to say, “and they tumble out.” Of course I can’t tell you his secrets but maybe you’ll find the door when you’re least expecting it. Just like I did.’ She patted her atrophied thighs and sighed.


‘What door are you talking about Mrs Pardon? You’ve mentioned it before, but I’ve never understood where it is.’


‘It’s in full view when the wind sings and will open at a backward turn.’ I whispered the phrase word for word as she recited it out loud.


‘Well, your globe is all clean and ready for you to gaze at. The stand could do with a polish. I’ll pick some up tomorrow morning.’


‘Thank you. I’ve never understood why capable young ladies choose to spend their time running errands for a broken old woman like me. If I had my way you’d be off like my Harry, exploring the world and more.’


. . .


I traversed the winding drive at around 11.30am the next day. The sun was approaching its zenith and the birches presented the silver undersides of their leaves. As I shut the car door, the breeze picked up, and the wind chime on the porch tinkled to greet me. I didn’t remember ever hearing it before, but noted a pleasant lightness in the tone. As I carried my shopping up the wooden steps, I studied the front door.


I’d admired those stained-glass panels since the first time I interviewed at the house, but I’d never noticed the compass before. The four panels sat in the top half of the door, each filling a quarter of the square space, with narrow wooden struts between them. They displayed bright moons and stars against a dark blue background. As the wind chime jangled, a subtle change of colour in the glass revealed the four points of the compass, one in each pane. It was as if the centre of the compass sat in the wood between the glass panels and north was pointing towards the top left corner of the door.  


A compass. The symbol of adventure and exploration. I put my shopping down on the porch and took the double-headed key out of my pocket. Both ends looked exactly the same. I compared them to my front door key. They were similar in outline but each had an additional piece cut out of the centre, creating a star-shaped hole in the part that would be inserted into the lock.


I pushed one end of the double key into the front door. I held my breath as I turned it, hoping for the unexpected, against my better judgement. The wind rattled the chimes again and I heard the internal mechanism unlock. With a gentle twist of the handle the door swung inwards and I anticipated something great, though I had no idea what.


On the other side of the door was the hallway, with its dull tiled floor and familiar tulip vase on the sideboard. For the first time in my life, I was disappointed by my own hum drum existence. Perhaps Mrs Pardon's stories were starting to change my outlook a little. But my mother was right, 'There's no such thing as magic and those who go looking for it are fools.'


‘Is that you, Love? Back already?’


‘Yes, Mrs Pardon. I’ve got some Brasso for your globe.’


‘Ooo, lovely, that’ll bring the shine right up. I’ll tell you about Harry’s first night in India.’


I unpacked the groceries and half listened to the tall tale of the spider as big as a melon. Harry had impaled it on his bayonet, only to have it sing such a sad and beautiful ballad that he regretted his haste and revived it with a snifter of brandy. He fixed up the wound with surgical tape and by the next day, it was healed. The spider, grateful for the soldier's mercy, had followed him around for a whole week, remaining loyal until Harry boarded the train to go to his next posting. He was only sad he couldn't take it with him.


‘But you know, Love, the greatest adventures start right here in this very house.’


I could have sworn she winked at me.


After I had put Mrs Pardon to bed that night, I took the double key out of my pocket again and examined it under the reading lamp in the living room. There were some small indentations on the shaft at one end. I looked for matching ones on the other, but the tarnish was such that I couldn’t make them out.


I took the key to the kitchen and pulled the Brasso out of the cupboard. Within minutes both ends of the key were shining under the reading lamp and I could make out two words, clearly indented into the metal.


“Fore” and “Aft”.


‘It’s in full view when the wind sings and will open at a backward turn.’ I whispered.


. . .


It was three days before the wind got up enough to clink the bars of the chime together. I was sitting eating breakfast with Mrs Pardon when it did.


‘I’m just going to check for mail,’ I said, and stood up from the table.


‘I bet you are, my Love. I bet you are.’ She winked again.


I chose to ignore her knowing look and crossed the hall, opened the front door, and stepped out on to the porch. I locked the door behind me with my usual key. A few seconds later the wind picked up enough to make the required music and I watched as the compass appeared in the stained-glass. I took the double-headed key, checked the words stamped into the metal, inserted the “Aft” end into the lock and turned.


This time when I opened the door there was a searing bright light. The house and garden disintegrated around me and tiny particles of them floated away into the air. The very fabric of the universe seemed to evaporate before me as I struggled not to panic.


“Where to, young lady?” came a gruff voice from behind me.


I inhaled sharply and turned to look for the source of the words but there was no one there. I was simply surrounded by light and dust. The first thing that came to mind was Harry and the snakes. Before I could say anything I found myself on the African savannah, running down a hill towards two local men with a fire and a hut. They were shouting.


‘Nyoka! Nyoka!’


As the electricity of excitement coursed through my veins, I began to understand how valuable Mrs Pardon’s stories were.


. . .


I’ve been exploring behind the door for three weeks now, uncertain of how to get back to normality, but not missing it at all. It didn't take long for me to unlock my mind and stray away from the familiar stories I learned from Mrs Pardon. But I did briefly visit India and am now followed everywhere I go by a large, musical, spider. I've named him Harry. He is surprisingly well received by the people I meet - but perhaps that is because I imagine them to be tolerant and open minded.

January 22, 2022 00:00

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17 comments

Ashlyn Cave
00:33 Feb 04, 2022

Great story! Love the idea of a key unlocking wonderful adventures

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Bea Taylor
15:20 Feb 02, 2022

I love this story! <3

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17:33 Feb 02, 2022

Thank you Bea!

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Olivia Jackson
11:30 Jan 29, 2022

She literally unlocked her imagination! It's a great story! :-)

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13:24 Jan 29, 2022

Thank you Olivia!

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Alex Sultan
18:30 Jan 26, 2022

Hi Katherine - on first impression, I do like this story a lot. I think the opening line is very strong and catches attention (I notice a lot of stories on here don't take advantage of the first line, so I'm always glad to see you do) I also like the fantasy/adventure aspect to it. I'll have time for in-depth line-by-line notes later on tonight(early morning your time), but I wanted to say this is good! I'm looking forward to reading through it again.

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19:11 Jan 26, 2022

Thanks Alex! I'm working on a second story this week too. If you have time to look at it tomorrow that would be great, but dont worry if not. Are you posting this week? I'd love to read your entry.

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Alex Sultan
10:12 Jan 27, 2022

I did post for this week - a very short anti-war story. I would appreciate your feedback if you have the chance. Here is what I have for notes on this one: She’d croaked from her wheelchair as she fingered the [black and white] picture of her long-lost love. -I think this is hyphenated to black-and-white, but it is not a big deal. My parents only read me autobiographical works and [text books]. - Textbooks is one word By the age of 12[,] I had given up on stories and had no time for the people telling them. In spite of myself[,] I spark...

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19:33 Jan 27, 2022

Thanks Alex - really useful crit. I've made many changes based on it. If you have time I have written a second story for this week. But no worries if not. I hope all is well.

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Rachel Smith
08:27 Jan 26, 2022

Very charming. I liked the journey she went on to find her imagination, I really didn't like her at first! (I liked her by the end) Loved Mrs Parsons. Good story. Well done.

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10:16 Jan 26, 2022

Thank you Rachel, that's good to hear.

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Tommie Michele
19:07 Jan 25, 2022

Great story, Katharine! I’m glad I had the time to read :). I loved the metaphor at the beginning—the door to my imagination was firmly locked. Such a good beginning, and a really good play into the prompt! I (finally) wrote another story for this week, and I would love to hear any feedback you have—it’s pretty out of my element, since it was born out of a school assignment. Awesome story, Katharine!

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10:29 Jan 26, 2022

Hi Tommie, great to hear from you. I'll try to check in on your story this week. I hope you are well?

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Jon Casper
12:01 Jan 22, 2022

This story is engaging and full of intrigue. I couldn't wait to find out the nature of that strange key. Her relationship with sweet old Mrs Pardon was charming. The door to my imagination was firmly locked. - Clever metaphor, especially when you tie it in with the ending. Shelves lined the walls and, beneath the thick layer of dust and cobwebs, were groaning under the weight of forgotten belongings. - I like this imagery, but the embedded phrase makes this sentence a bit hard to parse. The subject is *shelves*, but it's the *belongings* t...

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15:10 Jan 23, 2022

Thank you Jon! Superbly useful comments as always. Some of what you suggested I was already thinking about but you have forced my hand and made me commit to a bit more character development. I have done an edit and hopefully improved the story if you have chance to re-read. As well as explaining the origins of the character's lack of imagination I have stretched her willingness to believe with a bit more fantasy and hopefully brought something slightly more magical to the narrative. Thank you for your patience with my punctuation. I am...

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Jon Casper
15:52 Jan 23, 2022

Oh, I love the revision! Well done on bringing out her transformation. The back story with her parents works very well to explain her lack of imagination. The bit about Harry the spider is a creative homage to the late Mr Pardon and adds a nice dash of humor. I did notice one other nitpicky thing in the additions: 'Fantasy teaches you nothing,' my mother would say, 'you're better off learning the truth'. - Her mother is delivering two separate sentences here, so typically you'd punctuate something like this as: 'Fantasy teaches you nothing...

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16:18 Jan 23, 2022

Thank you! I've fixed that bit of dialogue. I really appreciate your time! I think I might put this one in the contest.

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