“Do you want to add a mystery key?” The screen on the key machine asked.
Anita brushed a lock of jet black hair behind her ear and shrugged. It never hurt to have too many spare keys. The machine whirled back to life depositing another heavily against the rest. Anita reached down shoving the others into her pocket, and paused at the mystery key. It didn’t look like any key she’d ever seen before. The blade extended out twice the length and ended in a set of teeth on either side. Three loops entwined around the bronze bow and along its base a name had been engraved: Wainwright.
“Well, I guess they weren’t kidding about the mystery part.”
Just then, the buzz of her phone reminded her why she needed keys in the first place.
“Hey baby. Yeah, I got the keys. Be home soon,” she answered.
The gravel driveway crunched underneath the car as Anita pulled up. Sasha sat on the porch steps with an exasperated expression on her face. Before Anita could get out of the car, Sasha was already mid explanation.
“ – stuck in the door. And then I tried to use tweezers, ‘cause I’ve heard that works, and then the tweezers just shoved it even further in. Why isn’t everything just voice activated already?! I hate keys!”
Anita smiled, sat down, and silenced her briefly with a kiss, “It’s fine.”
“No, it’s not! This is the third one in a month. A month!!” Sasha ranted, “I’m cursed. I have a key curse, Annie. Don’t give me anymore… Oh! This one is cute!”
Sasha twirled the key Anita had given her between her fingers, pink with a skull imprinted on the base. Her smile turned sour, “This is all well and good, but what about the piece still in the door?”
With a long overly dramatic sigh, Anita pushed off the steps and walked over to the front door. She fiddled with the doorknob for a moment and then popped the door open.
Sasha jumped up, stabbing an index finger out, “WITCHCRAFT!”
“Shut up and get in here. I gotta show you this weird key,” Anita laughed, rolling her eyes.
It took a minute for Sasha to gather up her artist portfolio and scamper into the house. Anita followed. The tiny first floor duplex radiated a comfortable warmth. Sasha’s paintings hung on every wall. They filled the small house with big skies and rolling hills, making it seem much larger. Nothing gave Anita more joy than opening the door and seeing Sasha’s work. As they settled in for the day, Anita entered the kitchen and opened the fridge, setting two beers out on the counter. Sasha came out from her art nook and hopped on the barstool, grabbing one of the beers.
“What weird key?”
A surge of excitement shot through Anita. She pulled out the ornate key and handed it to Sasha.
“Look at this! I don’t know if someone stuck it in the key copier as a joke or if this is some kind of legit mystery key.”
“Hmmm. That is strange.” Sasha squinted at the name on the key, “Who’s this Wainwright fella?”
“I don’t know!” Anita practically squealed, “But I’m gonna find out.”
Sasha tossed the key on the counter and took another sip of beer, “I thought you didn’t like old things?”
“Well, I don’t.. But.. this just feels, I don’t know, important?” She stumbled, unable to find the words to adequately describe the drive she felt. Sasha’s eyebrow rose, “Okaaay. Well, I’m not gonna touch it. I got the curse, you know.” She wiggled her fingers at Anita for emphasis.
“Uh-huh,” Anita replied. She picked up the key feeling the weight in her hand. It felt heavier now. Absently, she traced the engraving with her thumb feeling the individual letters tug at her skin. In the background Sasha spoke, but Anita’s focus remained on the key. The conversation droned into abstract noise until Sasha’s hand on her wrist jerked her back.
“Did you hear a thing I said?” Sasha asked.
“Sorry, no. What?” Anita replied. Her eyes immediately slid back to the key. She didn’t hear Sasha’s response, but the slam of the door a minute later snapped her out of her trance. She rubbed her eyes and texted a quick apology to Sasha. She’d probably be out fuming for an hour giving Anita ample time to order Sasha’s favourite pizza from the vegan shop down the road. The key sat on the counter feeling strangely distant. She stroked the letters of the name again. Better keep it close, she thought, popping it into her pocket, immediately at ease.
“I need to find the lock,” she said. The idea feeling both new and old at the same time. As though she’d always been searching for it and yet had not.
Anita slid onto the shaggy red love seat in the living room, flipped open her laptop, and began her Wainwright search. Surprisingly, there were a few addresses nearby. By the time Sasha returned, Anita had compiled a lengthy list of possible locations. She slipped the list into her pocket next to the key and made sure to give Sasha her full attention for the rest of the night.
Evening slipped quietly in, dousing lamps, and sedating restless thoughts for all but one. Anita lay awake while Sasha snored softly beside her. A single shaft of moonlight sliced through the curtains and across the bedside table, illuminating the name on the key. The ghostly letters shone brightly in the reflective pools of Anita’s eyes, consuming her thoughts. Carefully, she eased out of bed. She made sure to be just as quiet as she dressed and in a few short minutes stood on the front porch.
With the key in hand, Anita felt the weight lessen and a renewed sense of vigor course through her veins. She unfolded the list and started towards the first address. It was a small white house surrounded by a southern style porch. A porch swing and a few rocking chairs lay scattered on the deck. Typically suburban. Cautiously, Anita approached. She flickered her gaze this way and that. The coast looked clear. Quickly, she darted up the steps and pulled out the key. She could already tell that the key wouldn’t fit, but an all-consuming need seized her mind. She jabbed the key into the hole with a loud thunk. It didn’t fit. She KNEW that it wouldn’t. Lights flooded the porch temporarily blinding her. Anita panicked and bolted from the steps, taking them two at a time. She ducked into an alley pressing her back against the cold wall to catch her breath.
“What am I doing?” She asked, “This is insane!” She poked her head out listening for sirens, sure the police must have been called by now. The streets were quiet. Anita wiped the sweat from her forehead feeling very foolish. She had to get home and put an end to this weird urge. The GPS on her phone showed her the fastest way back. It lead right past the second house on her list. She stared hard at the map, fresh sweat beading across her forehead.
“I… I shouldn’t.”
The key in her pocket grew heavy. She sagged against the wall suddenly aware of the smell coming from the nearby dumpster. It’s urine drenched scent forced her to stumble out of the alleyway gagging. As soon as she hit the sidewalk her feet took over. In fifteen minutes, she stood in front of the second house.
Weariness coursed through every bone as she made her way home. Even the porch steps were difficult to climb. By the time Anita reached the last step she could barely breath. Her hand shook as she pushed the front door open and shuffled inside, thankful to be home. Sasha stood up so fast from the barstool it almost fell over. She wiped away her tears, took a step towards Annie, and gasped. Anita looked different. Her eyes were hollow and set deep into a gaunt looking face. Her hoodie lay bulky over a wispy frame that seemed two sizes too small. Anita slowly moved forward as if in a trace, she held the old key tightly in her right hand. Sasha burst forward, recovering from her initial shock, to crush Annie in her arms.
“Annie! Where have you been?! Why didn’t you answer your phone?!”
“I need to sleep. Find the lock tomorrow.” Anita pushed Sasha aside. Like a zombie she disappeared into their bedroom. Sasha stood awestruck. She went to follow, her bare foot crunching into a crumpled up wad of paper. Unfolding it, Sasha saw a list of addresses. The first few were neatly crossed out, but as the list continued the lines grew erratic and rough. All had one thing in common: Wainwright.
“That fucking key,” Sasha hissed.
Sasha slammed the bedroom door open, “Oh, we are NOT done!” She began. Anita lay passed out on the bed, still fully dressed. The key remained in her hands, her body curled around it protectively. Sasha shook Anita’s shoulder roughly, but she wouldn’t budge. The anger drained out of her, a new feeling replacing it. She took a small worried step back. This was all wrong. Annie had always been a light sleeper. Yet now….
If she could only get the key maybe something would change. Clenching her fists, Sasha leaned forward and over Anita’s placid body, deftly snatching the key. Anita jerked awake instantly. Her face contorted into a gruesome mask of anger. She vaulted from the bed with her mouth parted. An inhuman snarl left her lips and she lunged at Sasha. Wide-eyed, Sasha stumbled back clutching the key to her chest. With a yelp of fear, she ducked a vicious swing from Annie’s outstretched hand. Deformed fingernails scraped loudly across the dresser leaving behind large gashes. Sasha panicked and bolted for the door. Something cold and bony slammed against her, bearing her to the ground. Sasha struggled, kicking and screaming, as the thing she thought she loved, clawed its way up her body. Annie tore at Sasha’s arms to get at the key. A sharp snap followed by a high pitched scream sent the key skidding across the maple floorboards. Anita leapt past Sasha’s limp form and snatched up the key. As soon as the metal touched her skin, she quieted. Her shoulders dropped. Her eyes lost their feverish sheen. She turned without a word and walked back to the bedroom. Softly, the door closed behind her, leaving Sasha sobbing in the hall cradling a broken wrist.
Darkness clung to the walls, glaring out sullenly when Anita finally awoke. The clock, unreasonably bright on the bedside table, cheerfully radiated out the time: 7:13pm. Anita squinted against the stinging red glare. Her bones ached and cracked in succession as she sat up. She couldn’t remember ever feeling this stiff. A familiar cold blossomed in the base of her palm. The old key felt heavy again. At first she refused to look at it, but the pull inevitably dragged her gaze downward. Through foggy memories she recalled the endless hunt the key had dragged her on. House after house. Door after door. Lock after lock. None had been right.
Anita gradually stood, feeling a hundred years old. She shuffled out of the bedroom expecting to see Sasha buried in her paintings down the hall. Instead, her desk stood empty. The house creaked grimly while Anita checked room after room, but Sasha wasn’t home. Anita picked her up phone walked back out to the hall, and swiped the screen. 32 missed calls from Sasha all from… two days ago?
“No. That’s not right,” Anita checked the date on her phone. The key clattered loudly to the wooden floor followed by the sound of her phone. The device split at the seams sending the back and the battery skidding down the hall. Slowly, Anita sank down desperately trying to recall what had happened. All she could remember were the houses. The endless houses. She crawled down the hall gathering up the pieces of her phone and put them back together with shaky hands.
“Oh, thank God. Come on…turn on!”
The opening sequence danced across the screen. Anxiously, she listened to the voicemails Sasha had left. Each one grew more desperate than the last. The sound of Sasha’s scared voice made Anita’s heart ache. She pressed her head back against the wall, still listening, hoping that Sasha had left a message to where she’d gone. Instead, an unexpected voicemail from her uncle played between the messages. An old aunt Anita barely knew had passed away. Funeral arrangements were for tomorrow. The break in tone helped calm the flood of emotions. She wiped away her tears and called Sasha. She needed to apologize for being out for two whole days. To explain that she didn’t realize how long she’d been gone. No response. Anita braced a hand on the ground to lift herself up. The tip of her index finger brushed against cold metal. Instinctively, she snatched the key from the ground and clutched it.
“No. Not again,” she hissed. Immediately, desires so strong they threatened to overpower her erupted. She felt compelled to renew her restless search. She clung to the sound of Sasha’s scared voice in those messages. Worried, lonely, loving Sasha. It pulled her through allowing her the strength to pry the key from her fingers and drop it into her purse instead. A small victory, but a victory nonetheless.
Anita left message upon message for Sasha and waited by the phone for a response. The hours ticked away. Night faded into morning and soon she awoke to the warm fingers of the sun on her face. She slid out of the loveseat and stretched feeling more like herself than she had in days. She checked her phone. No missed calls. Sasha must be really mad. With a heavy sigh, Anita rubbed her eyes and glanced at the time. The funeral for her aunt would be starting soon. She still felt foggy and full of cobwebs, but at least family obligations were a welcome distraction.
The cemetery stretched out for miles. Old granite headstones reared up between scattered crypts, many dotted with weeping angels or chubby cherubs. Their cold eyes followed the small funeral procession as it passed between carefully crafted gravel roads to an open plot with a cherry red casket. The ceremony didn’t last long. Few there actually knew Aunt June. Rumors had swirled that she’d had her heart broken at a young age and then became a recluse thereafter. The conversation hit a little too close to home, so Anita drifted from the procession to wander among the old stones.
She stopped in front of a particularly large crypt, disgusted at the ego and money that had gone into its construction. The stone doors were engraved with vines that wrapped around naked ladies. They danced around a tree. No, a Goddess. Her arms the boughs. Her body the trunk. Her face the flowers in the limbs. Anita’s gaze followed the Goddess’s raised arms. Writing curved above her: Wainwright.
Anita fell back with a gasp. Excitement that felt like it had been born a hundred years ago filled her with manic glee. Shakily, she shoved her hand into her purse searching for the cold metal sting. She latched on imagining the key singing as it emerged. Anita rushed forward, barely able to contain her frenzy, she stabbed the key into the rusted keyhole of the crypt.
It slid in smoothly.
She turned it.
A satisfying click sent a shiver through her body. She pressed a hand against the door, momentarily caught off balance as it swung in easily. Light from outside cut through musty air that hadn’t been disturbed in ages. Anita coughed. Her heart pounded relentlessly as she explored the crypt. The shaft of sunlight revealed a large stone tomb in the middle. A painting hung above it. Anita cocked her head curiously. She ventured forward struggling to comprehend. Under the dim light something about the painting looked familiar. She turned the flash of her phone on and angled it up.
“How in the world…” Anita stood enraptured by the image. The only difference between the person on the wall and the person in the crypt were the clothes they wore. Anita stood in the tomb of a woman who looked exactly like herself.
In that instant, the stone door slammed shut. Behind her, a grating noise erupted from the middle of the room. Anita swung her light to the sound, but weariness suddenly overwhelmed her. It flooded her muscles with a deep agonizing ache that shot through her bones. She felt her knees buckle while fear locked her body to the ground. Unable to move, Anita watched horrified as the stone lid slid back. Bleach white bones covered in tattered rags gripped the side of the coffin and climbed out towards her.
Anita tried to run. Tried to scream.
Her mouth grew dry. Her throat parched.
The creature drew closer to its helpless doppelganger on the ground. Bit by bit the monstrosity remodeled itself. Every step muscle fibers flourished. Ligaments branched out. Flesh grew. Simultaneously, Anita’s body began to decompose. Rasping coughs were all she could manage as she watched her skin recede. Followed by the painful decay of her muscles. There came a ripping sensation from deep within as her life force bled out to fuel the reconstruction of this duplicate person. Or perhaps she had been the duplicate all along. The last thing Anita saw, as her sight faded, was her own young face grinning down at her. The phone clattered to the ground, it’s light bouncing off a pile of bones.
A silvery voice cut through the dark, “They don’t make copies like they used to.”
Diane Rockell originally hails from Ipswich, England, but now resides in the beautiful city of Portland, Oregon. When not holed up in her local coffee shop furiously writing and inhaling Chai lattes, Diane spends most of her time laughing with good friends and devouring tasty breakfast bagels.
You can follow her on Twitter: @Helikhana
Our posts are 100% Patreon funded! If you want to see early posts, full resolution art, and WIPs, please consider supporting us on Patreon!
One thought on “The Perfect Cut”
Thank you so much for writing this piece. Reminds me of the vignettes in The Night Gallery, and now improved with progressive ideas like, representation for LGBTQ audiences. I like it especially because you just write it, and don’t explain it.