The Key

“Do you see that?” Shana’s forehead creased, and she side-eyed Jesse as he stepped beside her.

“See what?” He glanced around, eyebrows raised. His gaze slid easily over the stump in question, and she knew he couldn’t possibly see what she was seeing, but she persisted anyway.

“That stump over there,” she pressed, pointing with a finger that trembled slightly. “Don’t you see anything?

He peered with a slight frown into the underbrush. “You mean, that moss-covered rotting thing that’s half buried?” He turned to look at her, head cooking to one side in that usually endearing little habit of his. Now it just irritated her; if he couldn’t see it, she was definitely hallucinating, and she could not be hallucinating. Not again.

“Yes, that one!” Shana half-screeched and clenched her fists at her sides. She stomped over to the stump and glared at him. “How do you possibly miss something this weird?” She bent down and snatched the key from where it lay on the smoothly cut surface of the wood and thrust it toward him so hard she almost threw it.

But he wasn’t there. Instead, an old man smiled at her and reached out to catch the key as it fell from her nerveless fingers. “Ah, there you are! What luck! I’m never sure I have it right, you know. And you’ve missed it so many times already.”

“Missed it?” Her voice quavered, barely audible even in the quiet under the trees.

“Nevermind all that now, you’re here now and that’s all that matters.” The old man tossed the key and caught it casually before slipping it into a voluminous pocket in his robe. “Come, we must get you settled in and ready to assume your duties.”

He turned and strode off into the woods, leaving Shana staring after him with her mouth hanging open. “Come… where?” She demanded, her voice trailing off as he ignored her completely. She slowly followed him with a wild glance back at the empty, rotting stump.

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