Thursday, April 15, 2021

The Key by Victoria Huggins

 The train I’m riding pulls into my station, and I emerge into the night air. Artificial 

light fills the space and cold licks at my face. My hands are deep in my pockets. I ascend a 

flight of stairs, enter the ticket office, which smells of piss and leave it again into the bleak 

town and my walk home. My shift at work finished just under an hour ago and 10 o’clock is 

approaching. The evening shift suits me as mornings do not agree with my mental state. 

I take a left and head up the hill, repeating my daily motions. Cars hurtle up, over 

taking me and vanishing from sight. All I need to do is put one foot in front of the other and I 

will arrive home. Left foot, right foot, repeat, counting one, two, three, four, over and over 

again. Un, deux, trois, quatre, and eins, zwei, drei, vier, using multiple languages in an 

attempt to break up the monotony of this walk. I focus on my breath, to stop myself 

hyperventilating, breathing in for a count of five and out for seven. The air is fierce and 

freezing, the hairs inside my nostrils stand on end and I feel a soreness there but it is 

nothing compared to the stabbing pain in my lungs. This walk has not made me any 

healthier. I feel like I am dragging my organs behind me in a net bag, trailing them across the 

pavement. My skeleton is tired without a decent set of muscles to back it up. I just need to 

get to the lip of the hill and the rest is easy.

The hill does have a benefit though. It is well lit by orange street lamps, and car 

headlights. I can see clearly; the buildings are in focus. My house keys are in my right 

pocket, I give them a gentle fondle. They reassure me, but on this road, I do not need them 

yet. A hatchback zooms past me, whipping up a wind that flutters through me. My coat 

seems to be pointless; I try to tell myself that I am warmer for it, but it is almost as if I am 

naked. 

I’ve made it to the top, I’m moments away from turning off the main road and into 

the residential area. My lungs breathe a sigh of relief. I feel my shoulders slump and relax. 

The cold continues to batter me, but I no longer have to contend with the natural incline 

muddied with tarmac. I am by the Citizens Advice Bureau, the cream paint is peeling. I 

wonder, not for the first time, if they used indoor paint by accident. I also wonder if one day 

I should visit this place as a client. My life is held together with spit and hope, wrapped in 

frayed string, ready to snap. I find it hard to believe that these people can help me. They 

haven’t even used the right paint. 

I scuttle past into the thin one-way street that bears a clutch of houses and a pub, 

the First and Last. Such an apt name for this chapter in my life. I have come full circle to this 

walk. There is one street lamp casting a silvery glow, but there are infinite shadows. Less 

than ten minutes until I approach my front door, but a hundred lives separate it from me. I 

hold the key a little tighter. 

To my left is a cobblestone path with hedges overhanging into the walkway. I sense 

something there, in the dark. I force myself to maintain my speed. I want to shout out, to 

turn and look, try and see what I am up against but if I show, even for a second, a change in 

mood the thing in the shadows will react and I cannot predict that. I like to walk in dead 

straight lines, but I will allow myself to deviate to the right, put some distance between me 

and the hedge, at a glacial pace. The key digs into my palm, just in case. 

The key is warm in my hand, I haven’t let it go since I got off the train. In my mind’s 

eye I can see it, gold and unremarkable. I run my fingertips over each of its teeth. They are 

reassuring and sharp. The nose of it has a long fang, which with the right amount of force 

could do some damage. I could drag the key across someone’s throat, stop them from 

hurting me. I touch the circle at the top, and grip it, the teeth pointing downwards. I 

withdraw it from my pocket, like a gun from a holster and aim upwards. An assailant is likely 

to be taller than me, but if I jabbed in this direction I would fail. The teeth need to point

heavenwards so they can meet their target and mutilate. I rotate the makeshift blade and 

retreat it to my pocket. It would be no good if they knew I held a tiny weapon. They’d go for 

my hand first and I would crumble.

I have made it to the last street, I have two minutes before I am at the front door. 

The key is ready to slot into the lock, turn and enter and freedom. My other half is behind 

the door, as is my dinner, probably some freezer food, a veggie burger and wedges. I am so 

close to salvation. There are four street lamps here, glaring silver. I count them, one, two 

and nothing, three is out. Four is lit, but three. Three has died. This is not a good sign. I 

swing my head around, but fail to take anything in. I can see the houses on the ridge, of 

course, but not their trademark features. Though, I know them in my head I am not taking 

them in with my eyes. I hold my skull still, focusing on the shape of it, the hole where the 

eyes and nose sit, the dome of my forehead. Something tangible and internal. 

The dark pool cast by the burnt out third street lamp is ahead. My eyes widen, 

horror clasps my throat, there is something or someone there. I can see my front door, but 

the figure is between me and it. I try to keep moving but I know I have slowed down. I veer 

left, aiming for the silver glow cast by the fourth light, still trying to keep my attention on 

whatever it is I can see. The reality is I can barely see it, but it can see me I am sure. It seems 

to have turned its head to follow my movements. I have seconds to get to my door, but each 

second is a potential turning point. The figure lunges toward me. He is mere feet away and I 

can make him out. He has long scraggly hair, reaching his chin, a tracksuit jacket, which is 

torn and baggy jeans, with a chain. He is almost on top of me now. Fight or flight, fight or 

flight. A wave of heat crashes through me. I yank the key from my pocket, brandish it and 

swing my arm at his throat. I have one shot to connect.

I hear a pop, and feel the key rip through the flesh, pulling it apart creating an 

unnatural hole, like those ones heavy smokers need, but to the right. Dragging downwards 

trying to open the wound further, I pull the key back. Blood spurts forth, covering my hand 

and the key is drenched. It pours down the man’s throat. He gasps, a strangled hiss, an 

attempted scream. Then he drops to his knees and more blood bubbles between his lips, 

overflowing. He is a red fountain, the sticky thick liquid pooling around his body. He falls 

face first to the tarmac.

Action films have taught me to “always shoot him again”. I have no gun, so instead I 

rain down a torrent of kicks to his sides, the softest part I can reach without touching him. I 

am wearing heavy leather shoes, not the best for inflicting injury but if I can get enough 

power behind it, I can ensure he will not get up again. I swing my leg over and over, he 

makes no sound. With each hit more blood gushes from his orifices. He will not be getting 

up again. I wipe the key on his jacket.

I take a deep breath, in for seven out for ten and repeat. I feel eerie, my mind like a 

dark desert, void and at liberty. Statistically, I am now less likely to be assaulted again. I can 

rest easy for now. I step around the now lifeless figure. Walk down a few steps, put the key 

into the lock and turn. Home free. 


© Victoria Huggins

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