Below is a short story as prompted by the pic above. We marauders thought it would be fun to feed each other self-specific prompts and see what we would do with them. This was Megan’s prompt for me. I’ll just say, it took a turn I could not foresee… but that’s the fun of it, isn’t it?
The Keyholder arrived one drizzling Friday after tea when Guize Renner was getting ready to pop next door to give Mr. Geary the leftover biscuits she wasn’t going to eat.
She opened the front door to the bony knuckles of a man, raised and ready to knock. He lowered his hand with a smile that made her hand clench around the tin of biscuits.
“How lovely to see you, Guizerica Charm,” said the man through his grey smile.
“How do you know that name?”
No one knew that name anymore, not even her mother, who had taken to calling her Doris when she went to visit. Guize’s free hand found the edge of the door, ready to slam it shut.
“Would you like to invite me in?” the man said, and without pause, Guize’s hand pulled the door open wider and she said quite graciously, “Yes, of course. Please do come in.”
The man swept over the threshold, tall, bony, in pinstriped trousers with a leather case clasped in one long-fingered hand. He was gaunt and he was handsome, and Guize was charmed to lead him to the den where she proffered him her puffiest chair.
Unbuttoning his jacket, the man perched on the edge of the cushion, hardly sinking in, as though weighing neither penny nor pence.
“Would you like to offer me something to drink? Or perhaps something from that tin in your hand?”
“Let me put the kettle on,” Guize said, practically leaping to her feet. “Would you like tea? Here. Have a biscuit.” She unlidded the tin and set it on the low table before his sharp knees.
“Charmed,” the man said, lifting a ginger biscuit to is teeth and snapping off a measure, ginger crumbs littering the carpet.
Guize went to the kitchen and returned a few minutes later with a laden tray, which she set between herself and the man.
“Wouldn’t you like to tell me how good it is to see me?” he said.
She watched a rather large crumb break away at his lips and tumble down, managing to miss his shirtfront and trousers completely to land on her chair, where it was sure to sneak deep into the cracks and get lost.
Guize stood. She shook her head experimentally, as though to dislodge something trapped in her ear.
“I’m sorry. I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” she said. “I was actually on my way out, Mr…”
“Of course,” said the man, moving from his perch in one light motion. “How very rude of me.”
When he leant forward to deposit his undrunk tea on the tray, his jacket fell open in such a way that Guize caught glimpse something. A glint. The shine of gold. Or brass. An ornate filigree something peeking out of an inner pocket.
“I will leave you,” he said, straightening, inclining his head, and turning to leave. “Forgive me.”
“You can come back,” Guize said in a rush. “You can come back tomorrow, if you want,” she said to the man.
He smiled with those greyish teeth and Guize exhaled.
“Very well then.” The man fastened his jacket shut once more, patted it, and made his departure.
Guize moved toward the closet at the end of her short, dim hallway where she kept the vacuum.
It was also the closet where she kept the door.
She had used to keep it in the drawing room, but over time it had migrated. She was seven when her mother had told her not to worry about what lay behind it. Teaching herself to pick the locks of her friends’ parents’ kinky closets or the custodial office at secondary had helped not at all when she had come back to this door.
This door would not be picked, nor its hinges fiddled with, for it had no hinges.
The door refused to be opened.
After each attempt, the door had migrated a few inches along the wall, though Guize had refused to believe it until the door had turned the corner into the hallway.
Now, in the back of the dark, damp closet that smelled of old candles and new metal, pinned behind a box covered with the ginger dust of crumbling brink, the deep blue door sat.
It begged to be opened.
Its tarnished brass knob was decorated in the most delicate filigree pattern and before Guize could grab her trusty old Carpet Shark, she could’ve sworn she saw it rattle.
The phone rang and she ran to answer it.
When she finally returned to the den to tidy up the ginger crumbs, Guize found that they had gone. The tin of biscuits lay empty on the tea tray; steam curled from the spout of her persimmon teapot; and Guize retreated to the kitchen where she thought she would bake another batch of biscuits for the visitor she was expecting next day.
The man returned under overcast skies at precisely the same time the following evening.
Guize met him at the door before he could knock.
“Do come in,” she said.
The den held a lovely spread. Another tin of biscuits. (The same tin, rather, simply filled with more biscuits.) A piping hot brew of Lady Grey. Crustless finger sandwiches and a dish of strawberries. The wrong time of day for this sort of thing, but he was a guest, after all.
The man led himself to yesterday’s seat, Guize poured tea into her mother’s old willow pattern cups, and they sat and sipped for a moment in silence.
The man set his teacup back in its saucer with a porcelain chink and uttered the first words of the day:
“Would you not like to sit closer, Guizerica?”
Guize immediately stood and joined the man, as though she were a wind-up toy with an over-tight spring.
The size of the chair pressed their thighs together. His pinstriped leg burned cold against her own. This close, Guize could see the man’s wrinkles that had been blurred out from afar, as though through a veil. Thin, faint wrinkle rested on top of thin, faint wrinkle, so that if you took his skin off and stretched it out, you could slip-cover her armchair with it.
He smiled, his grey teeth thin and translucent.
“Would you not like to kiss me?” the man said, in a quiet, grey voice.
Guize began to lean in.
The man did not.
Still, he smiled.
Guize leant a little further.
The man’s eyes were focused wide on her. They were grey like his teeth and his hair and the fingernails of his hand that rested coolly on her thigh. His breath and his skin stank like a dirty dish rag trying to smell sweet. He did not blink.
Guize’s lips were millimeters from the man’s when she spoke.
“You have no power over me here,” she said. If she had not known his eyes couldn’t grow any wider, she would have sworn that they did. As it were, they were still wide and unblinking. “I have laced our respective cups with the necessary tinctures to free me and… trap you.” Guize did not lean away, not yet, but she did pry his frozen fingers from her leg. Only when a string of drool began to escape his lips—for he could not swallow—did she stand.
The key from the inner pocket of his jacket was already in her hand. It was not the filigreed brass number she’d glimpsed the day before, but it was the same key.
“I received a telephone call yesterday, telling me to expect you, Keyholder. Warning me. I didn’t need that call to know you were dangerous, but it was useful… in other ways.”
Guize pulled the leather case the man carried with him from the carpet beside his wing-tips and slid it onto the table. She slipped the key into the case’s lock until it gave a satisfying click and popped open.
Inside lay a smaller, shining sliver key. Guize removed it and sat once more beside the Keyholder.
As much as he could watch her, he did. If his eyes could’ve shown fear, they might have now.
Guize lifted the felt porkpie from his short silver-grey waves and set it aside. She parted the hair over his left ear. A keyhole sat embedded in the soft grey-pink flesh behind the pinna, a chrome silver to match the key from the case.
She inserted it and turned.
The Keyholder’s skull cracked open on a sharp horizontal line, hinging like a jewelry box to reveal another glint of metal:
The third key.
Not even this key matched the tarnished brass of Guizerica’s deep blue door, but she knew it would fit. Metallic and black with teeth like a skull, this was a Skeleton Key.
A finger on the man’s left hand twitched. Once.
He made a faint sound in the back of his throat.
Guize clicked her tongue. She hated to do it, but what choice did she have?
She lifted the still-steaming pot of Lady Grey and drained it into the Keyholder’s still-open skull.
If he had been able to scream, he would have. As it were, all he could do was moan, teeter, and fall, grey eyes rolling back in his grey head, still phantom seated in a series of bony ninety-degree angles.
Empty teapot back on its tray, Skeleton Key firm in hand, Guize followed her dim hallway back, feet muffled by grey-beige shag. She pulled open the closet door at the end and emptied enough space to reach the deep blue door.
It rattled in its frame.
(Or was it a shiver?)
Guize crouched before the box at her feet, where is still sat pinned against the old, blue drawing room door. It was cardboard and showing its years, the top flaps flimsy and dog-eared from being tucked together so many times. Water-stained and unlabeled, it was entirely unremarkable in appearence, though if you were to try to lift it, you’d strain your back.
Guize opened the flaps and dropped the Skeleton Key in, where it clicked and clinked against the dozens of other keys. Brass, black, sliver, nickel, even one jewel-encrusted number. The keys—hundreds of them, a sea of them—shifted and settled until they had swallowed the Skeleton Key all up.
Guizerica Charm left her hall closet with a handful of black garbage bags, her spare shower curtain, and a bottle of tried-and-true, extra-strength upholstery-and-carpet cleaner. On her way back to the den, she passed through the kitchen to retrieve a meat cleaver.
By the time she had finished tidying up, it was still early enough to pop out and visit Mr. Geary next door. Guize Renner had a tin of biscuits she wasn’t going to eat, so she stepped out on the stoop with the tin in hand, careful to lock the door behind her.