Lock and Key
For Ross Lane
It weighs more than you might expect but after several years of life, you stop noticing it … or at least notice it less. The lock was made of purest gold, a gold that can’t be found or mined anywhere on the earth, a gold purely ethereal. It hung about her neck, similar to the kind that hung around the necks of many others. It had been there for so long, almost since she was born that she had grown accustomed to it and had learned to ignore it, for the most part.
But sometimes it was difficult to ignore it as it locked away her voice and kept her silent. She’d tug at it relentlessly but of course, it couldn’t just be pulled off. She’d see people twice her age with locks still hung around their necks, held in place by an unrelenting chain.
Her mother didn’t have a lock, not anymore. She’d scold her child every time she tried to break free from it, telling her, “No, not yet. It’s not time.” She promised it would be time, soon, soon, when the lock would fall free but as she sat beside an elderly man on a bench with his own lock still hung about him, she wondered if that was another one of those things that adults just say.
She was walking with her mother through the town, her head hung low as she clung onto a heavy bag of groceries. The lock clanged against her chest as she walked. Then suddenly, it fell silent and began to float up just a little and started to… glow? The girl dropped the bag of groceries on the floor, flabbergasted as the lock had never done this before in all her fifteen years. It floated up further from her chest and started leaning off to the side, as if it wanted to bring her somewhere. She glanced off after her mother, who had yet to notice that her child had fallen behind and chose to turn in the direction in which the lock was pointing.
It began to tug at her, as if in immediacy. She quickened her pace with no idea of what this meant. She kept going until suddenly, she ran into a pane of glass. Having fallen to the ground, the girl looked back up to find that the lock was still pointing forward, directly at the large pane of glass, as if it meant to go through it. I know this glass, she thought. This is the Division. I can’t go there.
As she glared at the glass, contemplating it, another face appeared before her and shocked her into standing up. He seemed just as perplexed as she was. They stared at each other for a long moment and eventually, she saw it. He didn’t have a lock around his neck. It was something else. A … key?
She stepped towards the glass again until her lock, still floating, gently touched it. On the other side, she could see that his key, ornate and golden, was floating before him too. He stepped forward and were it not for the pane of glass between them, they would’ve interlocked.
She placed her hands on the glass, wondering if this is what it meant. The boy smiled back at her and placed his hand in the same place as hers. Their eyes locked once again and they both found themselves smiling, almost laughing.
But then the glass began to grow cold and icicles spread out from where they touched. The boys face grew instantly dark. He knew this feeling, he knew it all too well. He looked at her pleadingly, not wanting to leave but knowing he had no choice. The girl had seen this ice before, but she didn’t want to believe it, she had escaped it, it can’t be back. And then she saw it, that familiar dark shape. She glanced over her own shoulder, certain it must be a reflection in the glass, an old friend come to visit. But no, it was nowhere near her. The dark form was on the other side of the glass, it was behind him.
She thought that it had recognised her, too, as it lingered for a moment before finally approaching the boy. His hand fell from the glass, the key about his neck falling to his chest along with it. She tried to plead with him as best she could, but the dark form had him. It wrapped itself around his shoulders, like the comfort of a parent and pulled him away. He went with it, willingly, deaf to the sound of her hands slamming on the glass.
The lock fell back suddenly onto her chest once more. She glanced up and down the street, noting that not one of the dozens of people milling about seemed to have noticed what was going on. The wall of glass seemed to stretch on forever. She followed it for what felt like hours but could find no end. It was perfect and impenetrable.
She tried to tell herself it didn’t matter. She had been where he was once, and no one had helped her, she had to help herself. She was about to give up and return to her own life before she spotted the crack in the glass wall leading into the ground.
The Division had been there for as long as she could remember, maybe even before she was born. Why it existed, she never really knew. It was a part of life, no one looked at it, no one questioned it … no one noticed that one crack on its surface. She knew that would be her way in, somehow. She puzzled over it for a while, knowing she had no tools to enlarge it and even still, as she looked up above her, she didn’t want to risk breaking the whole thing.
But eventually she noticed that the crack continued, not further up the glass but into the ground. She turned on her heels and followed it eagerly. A few hundred metres later, the crack grew somewhat larger but then suddenly stopped as it ran into a manhole.
With her heart hammering in her chest and her determination stronger than ever, she knew she had to get down there. But she glanced around her and realised that she couldn’t do it now, in broad daylight, people would notice. She would have to wait for nightfall.
When night finally fell, she snuck out of her home, her parents none the wiser about her exploits. She ran towards the crack in the wall, being careful all the while to remain hidden. She had to get to the boy before it was too late.
She found the crack again without much difficulty. The streets were deserted. Nothing but the sound of a flickering lightbulb was there to greet her. She followed the crack back to the manhole, her excitement growing. This has to lead somewhere, it has to. She thought to herself. She glanced around to find a tool that could help her lift up the hole’s cover. Eventually she managed to find a rusty crowbar that had been tossed aside near a construction site area and used it, with some difficulty, to pry open the manhole cover. She pushed it aside as carefully and quietly as she could and waited, certain someone had heard. But no one was coming.
It was now or never. She pulled herself into the hole and down its lengthy ladder. The tunnel was dark but not impossibly so; some safety lights were lined on the wall and offered to show her the way. She followed them forward, knowing the wall was straight ahead and ignored the other tunnels branching off. The crack in the ceiling confirmed she hadn’t become disorientated.
It seemed to be further away than before now but perhaps that was the nerves making her feet feel heavier than ever before and making her take more cautious steps.
As she neared where the wall would be, she noticed that remnants of glass littered the floor at her feet, gaining in multitude as she walked. They cracked under her feet and the sound reverberated through her, making her all the more anxious.
Then she found where the remnants had come from. The glass wall stood before her but instead of a small crack, she had found a gaping hole. Someone had already broken in before. How did no-one ever notice? She glanced back behind her once more to ensure no-one had followed before she pushed her trembling body through.
She left the hole in the wall behind and found her way back up to the surface through another man hole.
This side of the Division seemed identical to where she had come from, but it felt … emptier. It felt desolate and desperate. No one was here either. And she hadn’t the slightest clue where to start looking for the boy.
She began to wander around, no longer concerned about being spotted. She stepped in something sticky and slimy on the ground. She pulled her foot away from the black puddle and realised that several other identical puddles were scattered around. The ground was stained with streaks of black marks covering almost every inch of it. But one streak was distinctly fresher than all the others, yet to dry into the asphalt. She decided that was her best option and started to follow it.
The streak led her through a collection of buildings, weaving and winding its way through the deserted town. The buildings were a lot more dilapidated here, as if someone forgot to finish building them.
She heard something between a cry and a shout in the distance and turned in its direction. A quick shadow passed her view in between a couple of buildings and she realised it was someone running. The lock upon her chest once again began to lift off her skin and subtly glow, moving to point in the direction that the figure had been. She abandoned the streak of black and ran after the figure instead.
Eventually, she caught up with him, crouched on the ground, covering his head. She was certain that it was the same boy as she approached him gingerly and placed her hand on his shoulder. He instantly jolted away, terrified. After a few seconds, he realised it wasn’t who – or what – he feared but the girl on the other side of the glass. He relaxed instantly as the key upon his chest floated before him, glowing in recognition.
But the serene moment was broken by a monstrous sound. The boy jumped off of the pavement, hastily looking around for the source of the sound. The girl felt that all too familiar creep up her spine. She didn’t know what to do, she didn’t know if she could do anything at all. But she knew she wouldn’t leave him to face it alone. Not this time.
He wanted to run but the girl grabbed his hand before he had a chance to do so and held him with her gaze. They would stay. That much she knew. They would stay and fight.
The girls lock, and the boys key were mere inches from each other now, straining to reach.
And it found them. The dark form grew out of the ground right before them and they stiffened in fear. They held their ground, refusing to let go of each other. The dark form began to laugh. It had won, it knew it, it had them now.
But then the boy stepped ever so slightly closer to the girl, close enough to allow his key to reach her lock and the two collided, perfectly fitting each other. An amazing, blinding light began to emanate from them and the dark form recoiled, screaming and howling in pain. The two stood transfixed as the light grew from them exponentially and the dark form shrunk back into the ground. The light receded, and the darkness was gone.
The boy and girl glanced back at each other, not really knowing what had happened. The lock and key – still interlocked – hung between them for a moment more before breaking and falling to the ground at their feet.
And all of a sudden, they knew.
Hand in hand, they left the desolate side of the Division behind and returned to the brighter world.