The Key

The Key

by John A. Vikara

The images danced and whirled through Lieutenant Josh Robert’s mind; the skirts of his wife and daughter twirling in colorful circles, his son leaping and tumbling between the two. The joy, the smiles, the gayety as they celebrated life was pure contentment. He, too, smiled and blew a kiss to his wife and applauded the antics of his pre-teen children. This concocted scene had burst from his heart and into his brain where it played on and on like a never ending home movie, keeping him going, making each stride a step closer to reality, to being able to touch them, hug them, wrap his arms around his wife and passionately kiss her. He was almost there.

He approached the house, key in hand. The one-story ranch looked the same as when he had left for the war; white clapboard with green shutters and overflowing flower boxes. But a house was only an appetizer to what waited behind the red front door. Inside waited a home. He was early; they wouldn’t expect him. He would open the door and step inside, maybe yell “surprise”, maybe just silently smile in anticipation of the love that would be showered upon him.

He stopped at the door and took a deep breath, hesitating, the key hovering an inch from the lock cylinder.

“I said, you have to come back.”

At first he thought it was his son, coming from around the corner to beat him to the surprise, but the voice was too deep, too mature. His mind was so preoccupied with this visit that he had forgotten about having Captain Parks along. A layer of imagination and intellect peeled away from the surface of his thoughts, removing the sweetness of his family and replacing it with a sense of intrusion. But why intrusion? He liked Captain Parks and wanted him there, but yet, didn’t want him there. He turned. His superior officer was off to his right, a grim stone-face punctuating his last statement.

“You’re needed,” Captain Parks said.

No, I… I can’t come this far just to turn around and leave.

“We have our orders.”

No! I’m here to see them and that’s what I’m going to do.

“Lieutenant!”

You’re not going to stop me.

“You’re being insubordinate. Don’t make me write you up when this is over.”

The key slid into the slot.

He turned the key. There was a vibration. Everything shook. Stronger. An earthquake? A roar, muffled but distinct, came from the other side of the door, the door that refused to open. He pushed harder, feeling tremors through the surface. He twisted on the key until his forearm muscle strained.

And then it opened. Another layer of subconscious deceit was painfully torn from his mentality as the door swung inward to the sight and odor of charred ruins; what was furniture now ashes, what were walls now plumes of smoke and… Nothing else.

The image transformed into a control panel of flashing, blinking lights and spinning number counters. The final stratum had disappeared, replaced by reality.

“What the hell was wrong with you, lieutenant? You verified the authorization code but ignored my countdown and then go into a trance? I had to watch your actions to synchronize my key ignition. You…” Captain Parks saw the distant look still frozen on his crewman’s face. “Oh, God. You were thinking about them… I’m sorry.” The captain bowed his head. “Well, the bird is on its way. God help us but this may even the score for now.”

Lieutenant Roberts released his grip on the key. “No, it won’t. It never will.”

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John Vikara
John Vikara was born in New York City and is now retired and living in Pennsylvania. He has self-published a trilogy of novels – The Vandals, Adjuster, and National Defense – and a novella, Auld Lang Syne – as a supplement to complete the series. He has placed third in two short story contests and has had short stories appear in New Realm, eFiction, Heater, the Western Online, Nebula Rift, Jazz and Culture, The Flash Fiction Press and Romance magazines.

4 thoughts on “The Key

  1. ““Well, the bird is on its way. God help us but this may even the score for now.”” To where – who attacked – why?
    Too much is left for the reader to do in this one. I can see how the story itself is viable. However it needs a major overhaul.

    As well as amendments to the construction, there are grammatical and syntax errors which need attention.
    Gayety is a lazy option for the generally accepted and less ambiguous “gaiety”. The LGBT lobby have adopted the former. It also forms a tautology when combined with “joy” as it is. Never ending should also either be one word – as in Neverending Story or hyphenated to indicate that the two words are a combo-adjective.

    I notice this a lot when editing: this habit of splitting combination adjectives into two words which often results in ambiguity of meaning.

    “This concocted scene had burst from his heart and into his brain where it played on and on like a never ending home movie, keeping him going, making each stride a step closer to reality, to being able to touch them, hug them, wrap his arms around his wife and passionately kiss her.”

    A convoluted sentence which could be expressed so much more simply, accurately and profoundly.

    “The one-story ranch looked…” You can have two storeys to ranch land? Thought that was a hill.

    “Another layer of subconscious deceit was painfully torn from his mentality…” Writers REALY need to stop using thesauri synonyms without knowing the context in which they are used: “mentality” is NOT the right word here, and “subconscious deceit” does not carry either.

    Try delusion and mindscape.

    ““What the hell was wrong with you, lieutenant? You verified the authorization code but ignored my countdown and then go into a trance? I had to watch your actions to synchronize my key ignition…” jargon-babble.

    1. Thanks for the constructive(?) criticism, Perry. But why waste it on a small fish like me? With all your editing prowess and great skills with words, you should be going after a James Paterson or even a John Steinbeck. Now there’s a few giants you could kill off and put in your trophy case–along with your ego. But wait–they have or had editors to review their works so you might be in competition with someone who was actually successful in the industry. And, no, I’m not crying about the criticism. I just love to answer back little people like you who have nothing better to do but sit in judgement on others.

  2. An interesting description of an hallucinatory fugue state, a psychological escape from a painful situation. The captain’s empathic understanding seems implausible.

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