Note: this is a story I submitted for NPR’s Three Minute Fiction. This is my fifth submission that has not been chosen, which at least lets me post it here when I don’t win haha! Hope you guys enjoy it.
He kept telling himself that he would put it back. He would get in the car, drive back tothat field with the giant oak, and place what he had begun to call the ‘skeleton key’ back underneath the patch of moss where he found it. He thought he might just bring a shovel and bury it as deep as he could so no one could possibly stumble upon it in the first place. That was the plan he had told himself, but he knew that even if he truly wanted to return it, he wouldn’t be able to. He had gone too far already and the point of letting it go and moving on had already passed. It now belonged to him as much as he belonged to it.
Though he referred to it as a key, it was more in the way of metaphor than literal.Physically, it reminded him of a chestnut seed pod; covered in tiny thorns, but bright blue instead of green, which was why it caught his eye in the first place. He had pulled off the road that day to go take a picture of the oak, but each photo he had taken had shown up blurry in the digital display. He felt compelled to examine the tree close up and that is when he found it. His curiosity with it won him over and he felt like it would look neat along his bookshelf. He picked it up and pricked the palm of his hand on one of its spines. It drew a bead of blood and some of the blue coating from its shell came off on his hand. He wiped his hand on the grass and walked back to the car, being careful not to jab himself again.
Later that evening he sat down to read he felt bothered and couldn’t focus on his book, which had up until that night held his full attention. A strange feeling had come over him, like bugs crawling beneath his skin, and no matter how much he scratched or rubbed his body, the feeling persisted. It was then that he noticed that the pod was glowing. Not enough to brighten a dark room, but a small twinge of light was coming from it. When he walked to it, he could see that the thing was changing. It was growing and the light getting brighter. He stared into it deeply and could see something moving inside the light. His body gave way and he passed out, crumpling to the floor.
When he awoke, the thing was in his hands. He didn’t remember touching it, but it was in his hands all the same. He had grasped it so tight that he had to pry the needles from his skin. It was then that the whispers started. First deep within his head but soon loud enough like someone with their lips pressed against his ear. A cacophony of ancient and unimaginable voices were speaking to him, through him, like some choir of the damned. He ran to the bathroom to vomit, only making it to the sink. Looking into the mirror his eyes were illuminated. He looked deep into his pupils and he could see millions of stars.
It had been two weeks since he had picked it up and now found himself holding it day and night (as he didn’t sleep anymore). The whispers were now louder and in the dark he could see everything. The thing was a key and he had opened the door to the universe. It could not be closed.