MR. KEYS

There’s a hidden door in the school.

Mr. Keys was old. He was the perfect target for Lori and her friends, mainly because they had nothing better to do. Tormenting the old man was a welcomed diversion from the ennui and droll of living out a teen’s existence, and almost anything was better than dealing with the problems inherent in high school.

The old man held a number of keys that jangled from his belt, but there was one in particular that had caught Lori’s eye, and that was the large, plain, iron key that crowned the ancient janitor’s metal keyring. This thing was a throwback to the very old days, the days when doors were big metal things that took some muscle to open, and there was one such door in the school, though no one went near it.

The door in question was at the back of the boiler room in the basement, so getting in that room was going to take more than one key, but stealing the old man’s keyring would not be difficult. It was simply a matter of timing, since the doddering old fool was way past his expiration date, and he fell asleep on the job quite often.

“Why is he even still employed here?” asked Lori, but the others could not give her an answer that made sense.

“Maybe he works for the Mob,” said Sasha, but she was a flighty ditz with the working intelligence of your typical squid, so her suggestions were always stupid.

“They probably just feel sorry for him,” said Denise, and though Denise was levelheaded, Lori seriously doubted that was the reason why Mr. Keys still worked at the school, or anywhere, for that matter.

“I don’t care why he’s still here,” said Lori. “What I want to know is what’s behind that door that supposedly exists in the basement. That key has got to open it…I know it.”

“I don’t know…” said Denise, but Lori would not hear it.

“Don’t be such a wuss,” frowned Lori. “Let’s just grab that ring right now while he’s still in dreamland. The old man’s asleep on the job again, and since we have an early out, everyone thinks we’ve already left the school.”

And now was the perfect time to do it. It was a little past one, and the other seniors were walking out to their cars or heading for a bus, so now was the time to have some rare fun in this educational pit others called school. They could all pile into Sasha’s car after they’d explored a little anyway.

There was no one else around as they brazenly walked into the janitor’s office. The little room was cluttered with all kinds of janitorial crap, and in the middle of that crap was a swivel chair and a desk. In that chair was a sleeping Mr. Keys, his boots up on the desk, the old man snoring away, and in Mr. Keys’ left hand was his keyring, and on that keyring was the key in question.

It was a simple thing to pry his fingers loose from the keyring, a simple task that Lori had no trouble in actually performing, and after that minor dose of stress, they left Mr. Keys to his daily nap and quickly went on their way.

“If anyone asks, we’re picking up some extra credit,” said Lori. “Just be confident and smile, and they’ll believe anything.”

“Got it,” said Denise.

They headed to the first floor of the school to the basement-stairs door. It took virtually no time to get there, but fishing for the right key took some work. Nevertheless, one of the keys fit, so they unlocked that door and journeyed down into an area few other classmates had ever seen.

“This is actually exciting,” said Sasha. “I’m actually shivering.”

“Let’s…Let’s just get this over with,” said Denise, and Lori could tell that her levelheaded friend was scared.

“You’re such a baby,” said Lori. “There’s probably nothing down here. There probably isn’t even a big metal door.”

“There is one,” said Sasha matter-of-factly. “My cousin, Benny, saw it with Carl Richmond.”

“Your cousin, Benny, ate paint chips when he was a kid,” frowned Lori. “And Carl Richmond’s a giant stoner. He said he saw the face of Jesus in his microwavable burrito down at the Busy All…Oh, I believe there’s some kind of door for this key, but not because of some stupid rumor…You know what? Let’s just go. I’ve got exploring to do.”

They walked through the basement-floor hall, but it was nothing special. The boiler room, however, was the prize they were looking for, and they found it without too much trouble. It was the very last door at the end of the hall, its plain wooden form stacked in shadow, its subtle presence stashed away all by its lonesome.

“Now we see if there is a Santa Clause,” grinned Lori as she unlocked the boiler room door.

The first thing they did was flip on the lights. The second thing they did was look around in wide-eyed disgust.

The boiler room was a dusty cobweb-ridden hole where the school boiler was located, though the rusty thing looked as if it had been made in the late 1800s. Lori wondered how it even functioned at all.

“This is what heats our water?” she asked. “I’m going bottled all the way from now on.”

“Isn’t that bad for the environment?” asked Sasha.

“So’s your waistline, but no one cares about that, either,” frowned Lori.

Sasha frowned in return over that obvious insult, but the airhead was also a distraction, so some order had to be handed down.

“Let’s just find this so-called door and get out of here,” said Denise. “I don’t like this place at all.”

“Yeah,” frowned Lori. “Adventure or not, this place sucks.”

They walked past the boiler, past old, wet, moldy, cardboard boxes, past shelves full of old tools and such, but there was only one door at the back of the room, and it was made of wood, not metal.

“This must be it,” said Denise.

“This can’t be it,” scoffed Lori. “There’s supposed to be a metal door.”

“I know,” said Sasha. “I feel robbed.”

“So much for your cousin and his hemp buddy,” sighed Lori. “Oh, well. Let’s open it anyway.”

She tried the old brass doorknob before anyone could protest, but the door was shut tight.

“It’s locked,” frowned Lori. “One of these keys has to open it.”

“I don’t like this…” warned Denise.

“You don’t like anything,” replied Lori. “I’m opening it. I want to see what’s inside…Besides, it’s probably just an old storeroom.”

She tried to unlock the door with the large iron key, but it was way too big to fit. Disappointed, she tried the other keys until one of them opened the door, a hassle in itself to find the right key, much like the hassle in finding the key to the door for the actual basement.

The door unlocked with a loud click.

“Bingo,” said Lori.

They flipped on the light as they walked into the small room set before them.

Lori took her time studying the small space.

The room was indeed small, but it was not like any other room in the school. The overhead lamp revealed what looked like a small study area, complete with a desk, a swivel chair, and a large memo-board one always saw in those police investigation shows. There was a metal filing cabinet with locked drawers in the corner and a large wooden bookshelf right next to it, that bookshelf lined with a number of old dusty books.

“What have we here?” asked Lori in both amusement and wonder.

“This is not what I was expecting at all,” said Denise.

“What is this little room?” asked Sasha.

Lori studied the memo-board on the wall, its rigid paper-tacked form mounted directly above the wooden desk. There were old newspaper clippings, articles of missing persons, many of them, in fact, all tacked upon the board in no seemingly-logical order.

She looked down at the desk and noticed similar articles of old print scattered across its wooden surface.

“This is…” started Denise.

Her voice was shaky, a nervousness beneath the breath that was impossible to ignore.

“Yeah,” said Lori quietly. “This is like one of those true-crime serial-killer dens.”

“Do you think Mr. Keys is…?” trailed Denise.

“Is what?” asked Sasha in stupid reply.

“A psycho, dummy,” frowned Lori. “Look at this stuff. All of these people went missing over the years. Either Mr. Keys has a really weird hobby, or he’s a…Wait a minute…”

Something stood out amongst the articles that had caught her eye. Even Denise had not noticed it.

“Look,” said Lori with a smug grin. “Look at the dates on these. These people all went missing over two years of time…fifty years ago.”

“What?” asked Denise. “How do you fig…Oh, my God…You’re right.”

“Fifty years ago?” asked Sasha. “I can’t even imagine that long ago…”

“You can’t imagine last week,” frowned Lori.

“Stop making fun of me,” frowned Sasha in return.

“Then start being useful,” replied Lori.

“I am useful,” argued Sasha.

“And how is that?” asked Lori.

“Umm…” began Sasha.

“That’s what I thought,” scowled Lori.

“No, wait,” replied Sasha as she cocked her head to one side. “That picture there in the middle of the board. That one has a different year than the others.”

“She’s right,” said Denise. “This one’s from January of 1973. The others are dated from over the course of 1971 through 1972. This must be the last missing persons’ listing…”

“That we know of,” scoffed Lori. “Here, let me take a look…”

She squinted in the dim electric lighting to read the old newspaper print.

“Amanda Keys, age 30, was reported missing by her husband, Desmond Keys, on January 7th,” read Lori. “She was last seen walking through State Road Park after dark, around 8:45 P.M. She is reported to be 5’4”, weighing approximately 135 lbs., with dark hair and eyes, and was last seen wearing a dark-blue parka and blue jeans.”

“Keys?” asked Denise. “As in Mr. Keys?”

“I wonder if she’s his wife?” asked Sasha.

“No, she’s not his wife, you dim…” started Lori, but then she thought better about it. “You know…we don’t know Mr. Keys’ first name, but I bet it’s Desmond. Maybe this is his old janitorial room…Maybe…just maybe…he actually is a psycho…I bet he murdered all of these people, and then his wife found out about it, and then he offed her, too.”

“Or he was obsessed with finding her,” shrugged Denise. “She disappeared, and according to these clippings, she was the last one to go missing. I mean, if I were him, and my wife went missing, I’d look for her.”

“Ugh, you’re no fun,” frowned Lori. “I wanted to scare Sasha.”

“I…I am scared,” stammered Sasha.

“Wow,” said Lori. “That was easy.”

“N…No,” stammered Sasha. “Look at these books, guys!”

“What are you on about?” asked Lori.

Sasha was always finding some way to be stupid, but this time was different. Sasha was peering at the books on the bookshelf, something they had not yet investigated, so Lori pushed her ditzy friend aside to investigate said books on the bookshelf, and the hairs immediately stood up on the back of her neck.

Every book was something on the occult, all in different languages. There were books in Latin, Greek, and some languages Lori had never even heard of. Some of them were extremely old, so old that the bindings were made from leather strips.

“What is all of this?” asked Denise in a shaky voice.

But Lori refused to be scared. She’d come this far, so she wasn’t about to turn chicken now.

“So, he is a psycho,” she said firmly. “He’s probably into some kind of cult or something that sacrifices people to a harvest god or whatever…So, he’s a nutjob. We can turn him in, and then we’ll all be heroes.”

“What?” asked Denise in audible disbelief.

“If we turn in Mr. Keys for murder, we’ll be heroes,” grinned Lori. “All we need is some solid evidence that he murdered someone, and we have him over a barrel. It’s that simple. I mean, this stuff is compelling, but it’s not enough. We need something more solid. Something that will stick.”

“Like what?” asked Sasha.

“Use your imagination,” shrugged Lori. “Look around.”

“I don’t know about this, Lori,” said Denise nervously.

“You never want to have any fun,” frowned Lori. “Just look around already.”

“What about these metal drawers?” asked Sasha.

“Good idea,” replied Lori. “You’re on a roll today, Sasha.”

“Thanks!” smiled Sasha.

“There might be incriminating evidence in one of these drawers,” said Lori.

“Or more information we could use to figure all of this out,” said Denise.

“That’s what we’re doing,” sighed Lori. “Stop ruining the suspense, please.”

She ignored her practical friend and fished through the keys on the keyring again until she found one small enough to actually fit the filing-cabinet locks.

“Let’s see if this one works,” she said as she held up the key.

“Try the bottom one first,” said Sasha. “The evidence is always in the bottom one in the movies.”

Lori gave her the best “Are you stupid?” stare she possibly could before shaking her head in mild disgust. Nevertheless, she bent down and tried the bottom-drawer lock.

There was a loud “CLICK!” as the lock turned over.

“Got it,” she said confidently.

She pulled open the drawer, but it would only open part of the way, only a crack to allow in a hand and some of the arm.

“It’s stuck,” she grunted as she pulled hard on it a couple of times.

Unfortunately, the drawer would not budge.

“It won’t open,” frowned Lori. “Sasha…reach in there and feel around.”

“What?” asked Sasha. “Why me?”

“Because I need Denise’s expertise in case you lose an arm,” grinned Lori.

“That’s not funny, Lori,” frowned Denise. “Come on.”

“I’m just joking, you rube,” sighed Lori in return. “Don’t be such a dink…Anyway, it won’t open all the way, so that’s that. I’m not putting my hand in there. There might be spiders or something crawling around in it.”

“I’ll do it,” said Sasha. “I’m not afraid of spiders.”

“Sasha, you don’t have to—” started Denise.

“It’s okay,” said Sasha as she waved her off. “I don’t mind.”

Lori stood up and stepped out of the way as Sasha bent down and took her place in front of the filing cabinet. The airhead reached into the cabinet with her left arm and felt around.

Her eyes went wide with surprise a second later.

“There’s something in here!” she said in excitement. “It feels like some kind of lever!”

“Lever?” asked Lori in disbelief. “What?”

“No, really!” replied Sasha. “It’s a lever!…I’m going to pull it.”

“Sasha, I don’t think that’s a good idea…” said Denise, but she was ignored yet again.

Sasha grunted as she pulled hard on the “lever” inside the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet. They all heard another loud “CLICK!,” and then the real excitement began.

The wooden bookshelf next to the cabinet groaned and slid on geared wheels as it sidled to its own left, their right. It slid aside to reveal a large black-iron door behind it, that door bedecked with a strange circle of red paint, that painted circle bedecked with its own strange lines and even stranger symbols. Those symbols reeked of the occult, just like the books on the bookshelf that had been hiding the wretched door.

“Oh, my God,” whispered Denise in audible fear.

“Big time bingo,” smirked Lori. “There it is.”

“I told you there was a door,” said Sasha as she stood up and brushed herself off.

In the center of the painted circle upon the iron door was a large keyhole, and Lori knew exactly which key to try first.

She held up the large iron key on the keyring and jangled the keys.

“Moment of truth, ladies,” she grinned.

“I…I don’t like this,” stammered Denise. “If Mr. Keys is a psycho, he might have hidden the bodies in there…”

“I know,” grinned Lori. “I want to see some corpses, don’t you?”

“Lori, wait…” warned Denise.

Lori stuck the key in the lock but did not turn it.

“Now we’ll see what’s behind door number three…” she started, but she was interrupted by a frantic voice.

“STOP!” came a loud voice.

Both Sasha and Denise shrieked at the same time, and even Lori jumped a little at the sudden scare. Her heart leapt into her throat at the sight of old Mr. Keys at the little room’s entrance, the old man’s face a portrait of borderline panic.

Still, Lori would not be intimidated by the old man.

“You can’t open that door!” barked Mr. Keys.

“And why not?” asked Lori. “What are you hiding, old man?…You killed all of those people, didn’t you? All of those missing people up on the wall. You murdered them, didn’t you?

“No…” said the old man as he shook his head. “No, I didn’t…”

“You did, didn’t you?” said Lori. “Then you killed your wife when she found out, huh?”

The old man’s face crumpled inwardly with some private horror at the mention of his wife.

Lori figured her instincts to be right, so she pressed him on the accusation.

“That’s it, isn’t it?” she asked. “She’s in there, isn’t she?”

“You don’t understand,” choked the old man. “I left her in that pit to protect everyone. She’s evil…”

His confession shocked Lori for a moment, but she quickly got over it. It was clear that Amanda Keys was in the room behind the metal door, and that was all the evidence Lori was looking for.

“So, you did kill her,” grinned Lori. “You’re just another nutcase…but there’re three of us and only one of you…Plus, you’re old…Oh, yeah…You’ve been caught old man. You killed all those people and then killed your wife because of some crazy cultist nonsense. How cliché.”

“I didn’t kill those people…” said Mr. Keys as he shook his greyed head in vehement denial. “You can’t open that door…You don’t understand…When I found out why they went missing…When I found out what she was…You can’t open that door…She’s pure evil…”

“Was, Mr. Keys,” frowned Lori. “Was.”

She grunted as she twisted the key and felt the tumblers turn over with a dull clanging sound.

“No…” said Mr. Keys in visible wide-eyed terror. “Not was…She still is…”

The old man turned and ran from the room, running from whatever crazed horror was playing out in his deranged mind, and he was far spryer than he appeared to be for his age.

“He’s getting away!” cried Denise.

“Let him go,” frowned Lori. “He won’t get far. We’ll report him in a moment, and the police will pick him up after that. Besides…I want to see the body.”

“What?” asked both Sasha and Denise at the same time.

But Lori did not give them time to argue. She knew they would only tell her no, so she gripped the short metal handle on the left side of the door, planted her feet, and pulled hard. The huge metal door opened outward with a loud creak as years of rust and dust fell away from it in a small choking cloud.

The three girls stared into a wall of black so pervasive that even the fluorescent lights of the old janitorial room could not penetrate it, a wall of ebony that led into a darkness so pitch that it looked alive.

The hair on the back of Lori’s neck stood up as an absolute chill wafted from the dark before her and reached straight down into her bones.

“What the…?” she whispered in a voice pulled hoarse by the freezing air around her.

She realized her mistake too late as a pair of white bony arms wrapped in the tattered rags of a dark-blue parka, the skin pale and stretched like albino leather on distal twigs, reached forth from the black, and two weirdly long hands with black nails on spindly fingers clutched her shirt and pulled her into the absolute void.

Mr. Keys Copyright © 2021 Matthew L. Marlott

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