The Locksmith (Part 2)
...the story is continued.
Max didn’t sleep that night. After 10 p.m., when he heard his parents go into their bedroom next to his on the second floor, he pressed his ear to the door to make sure there was no further movement. Skeleton key in hand and with his heart racing wildly, Max slowly creaked open his door and—with catlike dexterity—walked out and closed it behind him. He then snuck down the stairs—being careful to not let his footprints and the woody creaks get too loud—where he once again came eye-to-eye with that painting. This time, he slowly opened the coat closet and flipped on the light switch to see that the closet was already full of his family’s winter coats. He pushed his way through the coats to find—on the wall behind them—there was an old fashioned keyhole. It was just a lock into the wall—it didn’t appear to have a door attached to it or anything.
“Huh,” Max mumbled quietly, as he examined the end of his skeleton key.
He brought key up to the lock and shoved in the shank. It was a perfect fit. He then rotated it, which it did with ease, until it hit 90 degrees. Then, it clicked.
The next thing he knew, Max was in an empty closet. It was dark. Max breathed in and smelled the air. It was so immediately familiar and comfortable that he realized where he was immediately: In the coat closet of old house, 2,530 miles away.
He opened the closet door and peeked out tentatively to verify. He gasped. There it was—it was his old living room. Empty. Just as he left it before heading out to the new house. On the other side, there was the front door. Due to the time and latitude differences, the sun hadn’t quite set yet.
While Max felt an overwhelming sense of comfort and contentment at his sudden return to his old house, he also had a sense of panic. What if he couldn’t get back? He got inside the closet, closed the door, and turned the key back to its original position. Then, sure enough, he found himself back in his family’s new closet, full of coats.
Max took a deep breath. He was overwhelmed with a sense of elation.
“One more sunset,” Max said with a grin.
He re-turned the key, and there he was back in that empty closet.
Quickly, Max ran out the front door, up the grassy hill where he liked to read books, and he sat under his tree. He gazed at the beautiful sunset, and breathed in the air, which seemed as crisp and fragrant as ever.
Over the next few weeks, Max would sneak away to his old house whenever he could, which was often enough. Of course his adventures couldn’t be as long as they were when he lived there, but he nonetheless had plenty of time to walk along the trees, through the fields, sit by the stream, much like he used to.
One afternoon, he did get a bit carried away, though, when he brought over a book to read and lost track of the time. It turned out his family had been frantically looking all over for him for hours—around the house and through the neighborhood. They were getting ready to call the police when Max suddenly showed up. Flustered, he fabricated an excuse that he had taken a walk around the neighborhood and got lost. He had to promise his mom and dad that he’d never let that happen again. They then established strict boundaries around the neighborhood that he had to stay inside.
Despite that one snafu, Max’s journeys to his old house had been going great until suddenly, one afternoon, the closet was no longer empty. It was full of coats. He then heard voices from behind the door—a man and a woman. He also heard a hammer strike a nail into a distant wall. Max’s heart skipped a beat as he gasped and closed his eyes in anguish. Who were these unwanted strangers?
Max creaked open the door to see a couple in their mid-30s, who appeared to be the new owners. Their furniture was already in place—an assortment of hideously modern looking couches, tables and chairs. The man was busy ripping packaging tape off a moving box while the woman was busy hanging up pictures.
Max slowly closed the closet door and huffed. He started to tear up. His days of sneaking around his old house appeared to be over.
But then he heard the couple say something that truly horrified him.
“That order for the fencing should come Monday morning,” said the man. “You want to come with me to the hardware store?”
“Sure,” the woman replied. “I can’t wait for our goats to start mowing down some of that hideously overgrown pasture.”
“I bought enough fencing to do the whole yard including that forest,” the man continued, “even if it might take me awhile to cut down those trees.”
“I did see a stream there,” the woman continued. “We probably don’t want the animals polluting that.”
“Very true,” the man replied. “I’ll have to do some research about that. Maybe I can divert the stream.”
Max’s face turned a bright shade of red. They were planning to completely destroy his yard. Max didn’t know how, but he resolved then and there that he was going to put a stop to it. He put the skeleton key back into the keyhole and turned it 90 degrees.
For the most part, Max had gotten this couple’s routines down. They both went off to bed around 10 p.m. and wouldn’t wake up until about 7 in the morning. He would also eavesdrop on their conversations sometimes and figure out when they were planning to go somewhere for extended periods of time, thus allotting Max a few hours of uninterrupted time to wander his old yard freely in the light of day. However, his eavesdropping almost went too far once when he heard one of them approach the closet door and open it. Almost caught, but he turned the skeleton key and transported himself back home in just the nick of time.
Max had also taken to causing some mischief around their house. It started out with small things, sneaking around at night, moving a candle to the edge of their dining room table, flipping all their coffee mugs upside down. Perhaps the worst thing he did was hide the remote control for their television inside the piano bench.
His rough plan was to give the couple the impression that the house was haunted, such that they would have no other resolution but to flee in panic. However, it turned out the business of haunting a house was rather difficult when you’re not actually a ghost.
One afternoon when the couple were away, Max emerged from the closet and ascended the stairs to visit his old room. The couple had not only unpacked some of the boxes, but there was a brand new crib there. He’d heard the couple talking about getting a foster license, but he wasn’t sure what that meant until he saw the crib. It meant that they were getting a baby. Max thought back to his earliest childhood memories in that room, and he couldn’t fathom another kid—an imposter—making separate, equally as precious, memories there. This was supposed to be his room forever. In a fit of rage, Max grabbed a Phillip’s head screwdriver and hurled it at the crib. It made a rather nasty dent.
Max didn’t want to go too far in messing with this couple’s house, however. He considered writing “Murder” on lipstick on their mirror or finding a dead animal and putting it on their porch, but he worried that would inspire them to install video cameras. He just wanted to drive them slowly crazy. But unfortunately for Max, it really wasn’t working, as far as he could tell. The couple didn’t seem phased much by any of it. Perhaps that was because of many of Max’s tricks could be blamed feasibly on the cat.
The cat was a blue-eyed Balinese whose name was apparently Pearl (despite the multitude of cute, babyish nicknames the couple seemed to call her). Pearl and Max had become so familiar with each other that they had a routine. When the cat sensed Max was about to emerge from the closet, she would hide behind a corner and then suddenly jumped out at him. Then Max would stroke the cat’s fur who would respond by purring loudly.
However, one particular evening, Max whispered to the cat: “No time to play today, kitty—I’m on a mission.” The cat stared back at him with a tilted head.
That was the day when the couple had started to put up the woven wire fence for their goats. Armed with a pair of bolt cutters that he swiped from his father’s workshop, Max carefully opened the front door of the house when automatic porch lights suddenly flickered on. Max gasped and dropped his bolt cutters on the threshold of the door with a loud thud. Those lights must’ve been installed recently. Max then recovered the cutters and blundered his way on tip-toes to hide around the corner of the house. The porch lights flickered off, and Max exhaled. That was when Max realized he was facing a small enclosure containing three small Nigerian dwarf goats, lit by moonlight. One of them bleated.
Max’s conscience was tugging at him that he made too much noise and should abort mission and get himself back to that closet as soon as possible. On the other hand, he also badly wanted to sabotage this couple’s plans to destroy his yard—especially now that he was looking at the goats, its harbingers of doom.
“It’s now or never,” Max said to himself, bravely.
He then slowly made his way to the edge of the yard where there was already a quarter-mile line of woven fencing wire strung between metal, breakaway posts. He took the blades of the bolt cutters and wrapped it around one of the wires. Then—nearly exacerbating the limits of his tiny biceps—he squeezed its handles until the wire snapped. The metallic noise it made was far louder than he expected it to be.
It was then that Max was blinded by a light. It was a spotlight coming from the second story deck of his old house. He then heard a voice yell out to him. Max recognized it immediately as the male half of the house’s new owners.
“Hey you!” he yelled. “Get away from there!”
Max gasped and dropped the bolt cutters. “Oh no,” he muttered to himself. He was busted. But all he could think of at the moment was getting back to the closet and getting himself safely home.
So he bolted for it—he sprinted across the yard, past the goat enclosure, stomped up the porch, blasted open the front door, and ran inside the closet.
“Hey, the kid’s in the house!” the woman screamed frantically. “I’m calling the police!”
He pushed his way through the coats and put his skeleton key into the lock and turned it 90 degrees.
However, nothing happened.
Max tried it again.
“Oh no,” Max said. He frantically tried a few more times before pounding on the closet wall and screaming: “Take me back! Take me back!”
That was then the closet door slammed shut. Then the doorknob rattled and went stiff. Someone must’ve jammed a chair underneath it, trapping Max inside.
“Oh no,” Max said again, tears welling in his eyes. He then lost all strength in his knees and fell to the ground where he curled himself into a ball.
Max sat despondent on an orange chair at the police precinct near his old house. He’d spent nearly the entire night talking to a befuddled detective named Morgan who couldn’t pry much sense out of the child.
Morgan did at least get enough information from Max that they could contact his parents. They reacted the news that their son was back at their old house in a completely horrified and dumbfounded manner. Max’s mother concluded that he must’ve caught a flight there, but how he accomplished that, they had no idea.
He had to spend a day and a half locked up inside an interrogation room, which was flooded with fluorescent lights. That whole time, Max felt just as tiny and empty as that room. The only sleep he’d gotten was whenever he passed out with exhaustion. He was so tired of crying at that point that his lungs ached. He cried not only because he was worried about what his parents might do to him, but also because he was never going to get to visit his yard again.
Then there was a rap on the door. A police officer then opened it, and Max saw a familiar face. It was his mother.
Max gasped at the sight of her, not only because it had come unexpectedly but also because he expected her to be furious.
However instead, she seemed relieved and euphoric. The corners of her eyes were rather pink from having been crying herself, but they nonetheless beamed as she locked eyes upon Max. She also radiated the largest smile that he’d ever seen on her.
“Max!” she cried. She ran up to him and scooped him up in a hug. He started to bawl and reciprocated the hug.
“I promise I’ll never run away again,” he said, sniffling.
“I know you won’t, sweetie,” she replied.
“I-I…” Max started. He had a story prepared to tell her about how he missed his old house so much that he caught a bus. However, she didn’t seem to press him for an explanation.
“Shhhh,” she said. “Let’s just get you home.”
When Max arrived to his new house in the early afternoon the following day, there was a box waiting for him on his family’s coffee table. It wasn’t his birthday or anything—it was a welcome home gift of sorts. Max felt sheepish for accepting it, since it had apparently come as a result of his malfeasance.
“Son,” his father said to him warmly. “We know this move has been rough on you, and we’re sorry for not paying more attention to how you were feeling.”
His mom, dad and older brother gathered to watch him open it. It was a Nintendo Switch, along with some of the latest games. Max’s older brother Chris—who must’ve planted that idea in their father’s head—nodded at Max and then expeditiously whipped out a second controller that he had stuffed in the cushion of the chair he was sitting in.
After an elated afternoon spent playing video games with Chris, the entire family went to a nearby, high-end pizza place for dinner. They didn’t live too close to many restaurants where they lived before, much less one that made pizza as delicious and amazing as that. The family loved it so much that they not only finished their order but purchased an extra one for home. All that time, Max hardly spent any time thinking about his old house and yard. As the family drove home, Max looked at all the buildings and businesses that they drove past. Interesting places were everywhere. He wondered if he would ever get to visit them.
When they arrived home there were a group of five boys around Max’s age nearby playing street hockey. Max had noticed them before but hardly felt the desire to talk to him. When Max shut his car door, one of these boys caught him looking.
“Hey, kid!” he yelled.
Max’s eyes widened, as he assumed he was about to get chastised for staring. However the kid instead said: “Grab a stick! We need another player!”
“But I don’t know how to play!” Max yelled back.
“That don’t matter,” the boy replied, “we don’t know how to play neither!”
“Speak for yourself, Yoyo!” protested his teammate, throwing his hockey stick to the pavement.
Max looked to his father for approval, which he provided with a silent nod. Then, Max jogged over to join his new friends.
Image borrowed from Wikimedia Commons.