The Locksmith (Part 1)
Max Ferguson, 10, hadn’t even stepped foot into his family’s new home and already he detested it.
What could there possibly be to like about it?
It was nothing like his old house that had acres and acres of woods, pasture, streams, and hills. It had glorious views of pine forests, jagged snow-capped mountains, and brilliant sunsets. But most importantly, the yard seemed to exist for no other reason than for Max. It was Max’s kingdom, his sanctuary. It was where he played and where he kept his secrets. He knew it like the back of his hand. But it was also large enough that it had plenty of obscure nooks and crannies that to revisit them felt like a fresh adventure.
He also had special places in his yard he’d visit depending on his mood. When he was sad, he would sit on a smooth, granite boulder by the stream where he could hear the water splash and flow peacefully through the rocks. There was another place he’d go to wander when he wanted to be deep in thought, weaving himself in and out giant pine trees and making trails for himself through the tall, fallow pastures. There was even a place atop a hill under a tree where he liked to read books—as long as the weather was nice, that is. And the way the crisp air smelled and circulated through his lungs was utterly refreshing.
But no more.
Now he is stuck in a horrid, humid climate 2,530 miles away—according to Google Maps. He hated every single one those miles as though it was a mortal enemy. He’d challenge each of those miles to a fight to the death if only he knew how.
Max sat cross-legged on the concrete porch of his new house. His family—his father, mother and older brother—could see him sitting there, pouting. However, they were so busy directing box-toting movers in and out of the house to pay him much attention. Besides, Max had been pouting constantly like that for weeks. Not only had his family thoroughly gotten sick of it, they were beginning to suspect that it was all an act. His older brother Chris even told him “If you get a Switch out of this, you’d better share it.”
But that was no act he was putting on. Max sat on that porch, genuinely struggling to hold back the tears.
He had his hand balled into a fist. He opened it to reveal a smooth, gray pebble. That was the last thing he’d grabbed out of his yard before his family yelled at him to get in the car, where they were to begin their journey to their new home.
This would be an exciting new adventure for the entire family, his father had told him. His older brother said this would be a chance for Max to reinvent himself—before he goes into the 5th Grade. His mother tried to assure him he’d get used to the new house before he knew it.
But Max didn’t believe any of it. His bedroom wasn’t even half as large as the one he had in the old house. And the yard? The yard was a joke. It was just a small plot of green grass. What kind of adventures could he possibly have in a boring yard like that? It was only big enough to stand there and look at. He wondered why adults would lament sometimes about kids not going outside much anymore. If these dinky yards in modern houses were any indication, there’s the answer.
Max could feel a new rush of tears coming. He set his pebble down next to him and buried his head into his palms. It was right then that he heard an unfamiliar voice.
“Not so keen on movin’, are ya?”
It was a man who was working on something on the front door. He looked to be replacing the locks. Max glanced at this man for a second and then looked back down to his lap. He shook his head somberly. Normally, Max would just ignore a grown-up stranger who talked to him offhandedly, but there was something charming and friendly about this man.
“Yeah,” the man continued, as he removed the old lock from the door. “I run across a kid like you every once in a while in my line of work. Usually around your age. The family is all excited about movin’ to a new place, but you haven’t gotten your fill of growin’ up at the old place.“
Max wiped his face dry of tears with the back of his wrist and took a closer look at the man. He had high, razor-sharp cheekbones, long, dirty blond hair, tan skin, and penetrating but warm brown eyes. This was the first time Max heard anyone articulate exactly what he was feeling about this move. He felt especially comforted by the stranger’s claim that there were other kids out there who shared similar experiences.
The man looked back at the boy and raised the corner of his mouth in a smirk.
“Tell me,” the man said. “What was so special about the old home?”
Max sniffed to clear his nose of congestion. He then shrugged and said: “I had such a big yard to play in.”
The man gave a loose, close-lipped smile and closed his eyes for a second.
“I getcha,” he said, then redirecting his attention back to the lock. “I don’t see how people can live in these houses these days—crammed inside a little cube that looks like all the other little cubes around it. You got yourself a nicely primped backyard here, but it ain’t big enough for the dog to roll around in.”
Max’s eyes started to regain some of the sparkle it had before he learned his family was moving.
“Yeah,” Max said. “This house makes me want to puke.”
The stranger gave a short laugh.
“I tell ya what,” he said. “I can see you’re really worked up about this. I have something special I can give ya.”
He reached into his jeans pocket and pulled out a brass skeleton key, aged with patina, five-inches long and ornate. He held it up to Max and gave him a rather stern look.
“You see this?” the man said. “This is a magic key. Now, I’m givin’ to you, but ya gotta promise me one thing…”
The man gave Max a tentative look.
“What?” Max finally said.
“Ya gotta promise you’re gonna use this carefully, you get me?” he said. “Because if you get caught, the key loses its magic.”
He then handed the key to Max who grabbed it and examined its design. Its handle was a circular amulet that looked like an infinitely twisting grape vine.
“What does it do?” Max asked.
The man raised the corner of his lip and said: “It takes you home.”
He redirected his attention back to the front door. The lock had been installed. It was then that Max’s father happened to walk past.
“All the locks are changed, sir,” the man said. “Don’t hesitate to give me a call if there are any problems.”
“Will do,” said Max’s father.
The stranger then packed up his equipment and turned to Max to give him a wink.
Max kept that key closely guarded in his pocket, along with the stream pebble from his old house. When he got some time alone that evening after dinner, he took out the key to examine it further. He wished the man stayed around longer, because he had no idea how or where to use it. Just when Max was beginning to think this was a trick played on him by the locksmith, something caught the corner of his eye. It was at the coat closet near the front door. Specifically, there was a painting he didn’t recognize.
Max walked up to it and touched it. It seemed like a real oil painting—thick globs of paint that depicted a simple scene of grape vines scrawling up a white lattice. The signature at the bottom corner read “Locksmith 22.”
“Huh,” Max said, running an index finger along the edge of the picture frame. He then raised the painting off the wall and looked behind it—it was hanging by a simple wire on a nail. There was nothing but blank wall behind it.
As Max continued to examine the painting, he startled when he heard a voice pipe up behind him. It was his mom.
“That was there when we moved in,” she said. She walked up to Max and ran her fingers along his back. “It’s a little tacky, but I don’t know… maybe we’ll keep it around for now.”
“Huh,” Max repeated, slowly letting the painting down.
“Well, it seems like you’re doing a little bit better,” she said. Max once again resumed a forlorn look and gazed at his feet. She then patted his back and brought him in for a hug. “I know this move has been tough on you. But you’ll get used to this new place—I promise.”
“Yeah,” Max replied, unconvincingly.
“Why not sleep on it,” his mom said. “It’s past your bedtime, anyway.”
The story is continued...
Image borrowed from Wikimedia Commons.