The Key to Life
The Key to Life
Created by The Super Eight
Complied by Lauren H. Brandenburg
Molly stuffed the tattered book into her backpack and left the room. Frustrated and angry, she stomped down the hall towards the unused wing of her school building. What’s a library anyway? she thought recalling Mrs. Wilby’s instructions to return the book to the library. “She makes me so mad!” Molly mumbled. “She hates me. I know it.”
Molly had finished her classwork and was nearly done with her homework when Sarah Bossom had sent a text to her Digi-book. Molly’s device beeped uncontrollably, alerting Mrs. Wilby that someone was passing notes in class. That’s how Molly had been stuck in after school detention and was now storming down the dreary empty hall to the room Mrs. Wilby called the library. “The name will be over the door,” she had said softly, without even looking up at Molly.
The east wing of the school had remained unoccupied for the past one hundred years. Molly didn’t understand why it hadn’t been torn down. There were rumors about it being turned into a museum to showcase what schools in the 21st century had been like, but it looked to Molly to be a dump for old computers, desks, and boxes. It was quite the contrast to the bright white walls and high stools that filled her writing classroom.
The hallway became darker as Molly passed door after door in the dank hallway. It has to be close, she thought. Then she heard a noise. Molly stopped and turned back, sure that she heard someone coming her way, but the day was over—everyone was gone. She walked a little faster, looking left to right for the mysterious library. The click clack of shoes hitting the floor picked up. Molly ran. She didn’t care if she found the library or not, she just wanted a way out. The footsteps increased. The hall grew darker and more filled with discarded junk of school days gone by. Up ahead there was a small light. Molly ran to the door; on the wooden door was the word LIBRARY. She pulled at the handle, but it was stuck. CLICK, CLACK, CLICK, CLACK. She jiggled the handle; her heart raced. With a final shove of her shoulder, the door popped open. The scent of musty paper and dust overwhelmed her. She slammed the door behind her and allowed herself to catch her breath. She peeped out of the small rectangular window that ran alongside the door, but the hallway was empty.
When she finally looked up, she realized flickering florescent lighting dimly lighted the room. That’s strange, she thought. On further inspection of her surroundings, she realized that the shelf-covered walls were completely empty . . . with the exception of one shelf in the far back corner. She stepped slowly to the occupied shelf. There, resting lonely and forgotten was a book much like the one Mrs. Wilby had asked her to deliver. She pulled the book back. Just then the shelf swung open.
Molly was as curious as she was eager to learn, so she stepped behind the bookshelf into the expanse of a black tunnel. There was no light up ahead, just darkness. She knew she couldn’t go far without light, but she had to know what was at the end of the tunnel. She ran her hand along the wall, using the bricks as her guide; when suddenly the texture changed from course brick to smooth cool glass. She squinted her eyes to see the insect etched into the surface. She knew she could see it better if she could take it back to the light. Molly cupped her fingers around the image and pulled it out. At that moment the walls began to shake; bits and pieces of brick rained from above her and a smell like rotten eggs filled the room. She knew that smell; she had learned about it in science. Methane, she thought as she covered her nose and mouth with her arm.
Molly could see the stream of light coming from the shelf she had left open. Just a few more feet, she thought. The smell was overpowering. She tried not to breathe it in, but then she felt it, the intense heat blasting towards her. She knew what methane could do. She tried to run, but it was too late. The flames engulfed her. There had to be a way out. With her hands balled tightly into fists, she slammed them against the brick walls, hoping that time had worn them down. She pounded harder; she was too consumed with the pounding to realize that the flames were not burning her. She threw her hands against the walls once again, desperate and afraid. The wall crumbled in front of her tossing her into an abyss of darkness. She was alone—safe, but alone.
“Hello!” she coughed, thinking that she had stumbled upon another empty section of the school. “Is anybody there,” she coughed again. She tried to feel for a wall. In the distance the rumble of thunder startled her. She looked up to see a clear night sky filled with stars. Panic overcame her. The thunder grew louder. Up ahead she could she lightening streak across the sky. “Help!” she called into the emptiness. “Please! Help me!” A single tear trickled down her face. “Please,” she whimpered.
Without warning a streak of lightening passed across the sky, and then another, and another. Molly turned to see if the flames of the tunnel had died down, but the tunnel was gone. There was nowhere to run, and no way out. She turned back around only to be struck in the chest by a bolt of lightening. It knocked her to the blackened earth. She stared up into the expanse, confused and dizzy wondering if she had passed from this life to the next. In that moment a single shooting star passed across the sky. “I just,” she mumbled, “I just wanted to be an artist. That’s all. I just wanted to doodle, draw and make people happy.” She closed her eyelids thinking that this was her end.
When she opened them it was as if the sun had come up, but she wasn’t home; she was stranded in a desert. Molly looked to the spot where the lightening had struck her. Her clothing showed no sign of being singed from the flames or scorched from the lightening. She crawled to her knees, stood up, and brushed the sand off of her standard issued white dress. It was then that she remembered her backpack. She looked around the sandy area, but all she could see was a hat. She picked it up and examined the oddity. Someone else has been here, she thought. It was a style that she had read about on her Digi-book—a twentieth century male top hat if her memory served her right.
She lifted the hat and placed it on her head. With her hands on her hips she said, “How do you do?” to the emptiness around her.
“You will be fine,” the hat whispered back.
“Ahh!” she screamed, tossing the hat into the sand. Molly crept back over to the black felt hat. She poked it with her finger and then flipped it over so that she could see that there was not a tiny person on the inside. As quick as the fire had started and the lightening had struck, an image appeared in front of her. At first it was only a silhouette, like a shadow mimicking her every move, but she realized the shadow was holding a book.
Molly left the image and searched the area where she had awoken for the fallen backpack. Half buried in the sand, the gray dome of her pack peeked out. She dug inside and removed the book and then ran back to the image. She watched as the shadow swiped its hand across the cover; Molly did the same. She could barely make out the title for the thick-crusted dust that covered it. “The Wilby Guide to Keys and Keyholes,” she read. “Wilby,” she mumbled under hear breath. “It can’t be!” She studied the cover to find underneath the title a small keyhole. With her pinky finger, she dug years of dirt out of the opening. The more dirt she removed, the bigger the hole became. She looked up at the shadow; it was wiping at the book again. Molly did the same by using the back of her sleeve to scrub at the cover. To her amazement, the title changed. It now read, “The Key of Life.”
“What do I do with it?” she asked the shadow, but the shadow didn’t answer. Instead it looked at its wrist. Molly glanced down to see the hands on her vintage replica wristwatch spinning wildly. She looked to the shadow again, but it was gone. Instead, she saw her parents. They looked older, tired and weary, but they were happy. From behind them, a cylindrical cloud whirled up and carried them away. “Nooooo!” Molly screamed as she reached for them, but there was nothing to grab. The image changed and she saw herself still and asleep. Molly leaned in cautiously closer, afraid that the same storm would whisk her sleeping self away. She didn’t look like herself. Her skin was paler, her eyes slightly sunken in and her hands crossed across her chest. An eerie chill swept through her as she realized she was witnessing her own funeral.
Huge tears fell down her face. “I didn’t ask for this!” she screamed into the heat of the desert. “Why me?”
Through tear blurred vision she saw Mrs. Wilby standing in front of the library bookshelf, closed as if Molly had never entered. Molly wanted to call to her, to tell her not to touch the book. “Mrs. Wilby!” Molly called. “Mrs. Wilby!” Mrs. Wilby turned and looked curiously around the empty room as Molly watched her every move. “I’m right here! Can you see me?” Mrs. Wilby jerked around again until she was face to face with Molly. Molly reached out her hand to touch the hand of Mrs. Wilby. Had a barrier of frozen time not been between them, their fingers would have perfectly connected.
Molly watched as Mrs. Wilby pulled a think chain from around her neck. On the end was a rusted ornate key. Molly gasped. She held up the book and pointed wildly to keyhole. Mrs. Wilby stared blankly and then turned away from Molly. “No! Come back!” Molly cried. She didn’t want to be left alone, even if the person on the other side could not see her, she could see them. Molly fell to her knees, defeated. But then she saw Mrs. Wilby studying the book that had opened the bookcase. With the key in her hand, Mrs. Wilby inserted it into the cover of the book on the shelf. With a forceful tug, Molly felt herself being pulled away and then tossed onto the hard ground.
“Darling!” was the first thing that Molly heard. She looked up to see Mrs. Wilby embracing a man wearing the top hat. “She did it, Darling. I knew she could!”
“All these years, stranded in time . . . you waited for me?” the man said.
“I found her,” Mrs. Wilby said, smiling at Molly. “Nearly one hundred years, but I found her!”
Molly stood up. “I don’t understand?”
“Sweet child,” Mr. Wilby said with a grin. “It takes a special person, one who is eager to learn and even more so willing to seek out their curiosity to rescue a man stuck in his own writings.”
Molly turned the book over in her hand again. “You wrote the book.”
“I not only wrote it,” Mr. Wilby said with a wink, “I was stuck in it.”
Molly opened the book and read the first line. “The ancient book sat eerily silent in the abandoned library, waiting, calling, enticing anyone who dares seek out the key of life . . .” Mr. Wilby smiled at the reading of his own words. “You were trapped in your own book?”
“Yes, my dear. And now, you have been written into it. The great heroin who dared to challenge the fire, survived the lightening, and dared to try on an old man’s hat.”
“But I don’t understand, why did you need me?” Molly asked.
“Because I needed a heroin.”
“A heroin, like a character?” she asked thinking back on her past. Her last memory was walking down the hall with the book in hand. She couldn’t think of anything in her life past that moment. The couple looked at her . . . she had seen them before . . . in the desert. They were her parents, her creators, the author of her story. “I’m not real,” she said.
“Of course you are,” Mr. Wilby said. “Characters are as real as the readers choose to believe. Your readers must think very highly of you Molly for I think this reader is about to re-read my book again . . .” She blinked and found herself back in the hallway.
Molly stuffed the tattered book into her backpack and left the room. Frustrated and angry, she stomped down the hall towards the unused wing of her school building. What’s a library anyway?