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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Horror/Scary · #2314158
A girl finds a key to open a box...

“The key will come to you, my dear.” So pronounced her grandmother, lying frail and ailing on the ancient, fusty, four poster bed in the darkened room. Her voice was feeble and barely heard amongst the wheezing breaths that seemed so painful to her. “The box I leave in your care until that moment. Hide it well and never try to open it. There is a time for all things. When you are ready, the key will find you.”

Arabella looked down at the box that had been entrusted to her. Similar in size to her jewellery box but heavier, it was made of a very dark wood carved in intricate patterns that hinted at, but were not, star shapes and planets, strange creatures and birds. It was a perfect cube, each side being equally square. One side was pierced with the keyhole but there was no handle to assist in lifting the lid.

She lifted her gaze again to the old lady in the bed. Her grandmother was still, eyes staring at nothing and unblinking. Arabella realised, without surprise, that the spirit of her grandmother had fled, in those few seconds while she examined the box.

They had not been close, although in many ways they shared a familial trait of secrecy and silence. On those occasions when Arabella visited, they had exchanged few words, both being content to sit together in the dim atmosphere of the old lady’s drawing room, while time ticked the seconds away in the old clock on the mantel.

So it may have been only the fact of Arabella’s presence in the room that persuaded the old lady, in her last moments, to pass the box to her granddaughter. The matter of the key finding her was a little more difficult to explain, but Arabella accepted it all in her quiet way. Even after the funeral, when the house contents had been auctioned off and the lawyer transferred the last of the proceeds to her, did Arabella ask regarding the key.

“Is that all?” she asked. “Was there no item that couldn’t be sold, a key or a locket perhaps?”

The lawyer assured her that there was nothing more. “Your grandmother lived a frugal life,” he said. “There was very little furniture, only the bare necessities, and no decorations or mementoes at all. I was quite surprised at how little she owned, since there was plenty of money in the bank.”

“I think she found all she needed within herself,” mused Arabella. It was how she herself felt, after all.

In the days that followed, Arabella gave up looking for keys in unlikely places and, in subsequent years, even the box slipped from her mind. She had often studied it at first, turning it over and over, shaking it to see if it rattled, pressing and pushing at the carvings that covered it, hoping to discover some secret release to the lid. Familiarity taught her that, if it held secrets at all, she would not find them until she had the key as well. The box found a home in the space behind a drawer in her bureau and languished there, forgotten, for many years.

Arabella was in her late twenties, unmarried and not displeased with that, when the key came looking for her.

It was ancient, that was clear, crudely made and lumpy with imperfections in the metal, but solid and businesslike in its approach. Arabella’s hand came into contact with it while searching a dark corner of the topmost shelf in her pantry. She was looking for a jar of pickled onions that she thought she had placed there a week ago. Thinking that it must have been pushed to the back, right into a corner, she was standing on tiptoe, arm at full stretch, when her fingers brushed against the rough form of the key. The contact moved it slightly and the sound, that of something metal dragged on a wooden surface, spoke memory into Arabella’s ear.

For an instant, she was at her grandmother’s bedside again, listening to the words, “When you are ready, the key will find you.”

Arabella stood immobile, frozen by the knowledge that the key had arrived. Had it been on that shelf when the onions went up there, she would have found it. The jar would have clinked and refused to stand upright with that key underfoot, she knew. So it must have appeared in the last week, somehow transported magically from another world to this dark, dusty corner of her pantry.

She was certain that it was the key; the memory of her grandmother had assured her of that. And it did not cross her mind to wonder where the pickled onions had gone to.

Aware that she had pushed the key out of reach, Arabella withdrew her arm, turned, and fetched a stool from the kitchen. Stepping up onto it, she stretched forth a hand again to grasp the key. It came willingly enough, heavy and coarse in her fingers.

Now that she had it in her hand with the light from the kitchen streaming upon it, she could see that it was indeed a key and must, with a certainty that seemed inevitable, be the one she had waited for. Her thoughts turned naturally to the box.

It was a while before she remembered where she had hidden it. But it came to mind eventually and she hurried through to her bedroom to retrieve it from behind the relevant drawer. Dust and a few cobwebs now decorated it in discouraging manner but a swift pursing of the lips and blowing of breath dispensed with these quickly enough.

She placed it on her dressing table and examined it briefly. All was as she remembered.

With some sense of the dignity of the moment, she produced the key from her apron pocket and fitted it carefully into the keyhole. then, with a slow and measured movement, she twisted it in the customary direction. It turned easily enough and she felt the grudging displacement of gears and hammers within, the lock acquiescing reluctantly in releasing its hold after so long retaining its secrets.

The key would turn no more and yet nothing seemed to be happening. Arabella grasped the edge of the lid and lifted it. It swung open immediately.

There was a pause of a few seconds before a faint mist issued from inside the box. This spread and grew in the air and began to coalesce into a figure, huge and looming over the watching woman.

Arabella saw her opportunity and almost shouted the words, “I wish for a good man to be my husband!”

The overarching shape became more solid and detailed and, within a few seconds, became a massive figure, manlike but of a size unprecedented, and covered in tangled, matted hair. Its face was still shrouded in the mists from which it was emerging but a dark hole, presumably its mouth, opened and closed as it pronounced an answer to Arabella’s excited request.

“I’m sure you do but why should it concern me?”

The voice was unexpectedly squeaky, coming from so vast a creature, but Arabella gave it no thought in her haste to explain. “You’re the genie of the box, aren’t you? And that means you have to grant me at least three wishes. The first is for a husband!”

The face that looked down on Arabella was clearing now, still hidden in the main by thick hair but showing now a large, pink nose, completely hairless and reflecting the kitchen’s light. Again the mouth opened.

“I am no genie.”

“Are you sure?” asked Arabella. “I mean, it’s all just as it’s supposed to be, arriving as smoke from a container not opened for years. Surely there’s a chance that you are?” Her voice held a last plaintive hope that he might be persuaded.

“I suppose it might depend on the container,” replied the hairy creature. “I think you need a lamp to get a genie.”

Arabella found it impossible to hide her disappointment. “Well, what are you then?”

The creature crossed its arms and spoke, its high-pitched voice robbing its words of much of their intended portent and impact.

“I am a monster. And a very big and dangerous one, as I’m sure you can see.”

The effect was quite comical and Arabella nearly burst out laughing. The voice really didn’t suit such a huge being. And, as for the glowing pink nose, that destroyed any claim to fearsomeness the creature might assert.

“Well, we’d better be introduced,” she said. “I’m Arabella. And what’s your name?”

The monster moved back a little. “They call me Pinky,” he said. “Pinky’s a nickname but I can’t remember my real one. It’s been so many years…”

The last statement caught Arabella’s attention. She had been about to laugh but a question had arisen suddenly in her mind. “How many years have you been in that box?”

“About five hundred,” said Pinky.

“But that’s terrible. It must have been such a squash for you in there.” Arabella was genuinely horrified.

“You have no idea. But I suppose I deserved it. It was punishment after all.”

“Punishment for what?”

Pinky sighed and his beady little eyes turned to gaze at the ceiling in disgust. “For squishing people. But I only did it because they laughed at my name. That makes me so…” His fists clenched and he spat the words out. “So angry!”

Arabella, who had been responding to circumstances quite irresponsibly, saw now how close she had come to disaster. She resolved to be a good deal more careful in future.

“So what do we do now, Pinky?” she asked.

Pinky shrugged. “That’s up to you. You freed me so you own me from now on. You could think of me as a guardian angel. Only I’m no angel - I’m a monster. You want someone squished, I’ll do it for you. I won’t be a servant or anything like that, but if you need defending or getting out of trouble, I’m your man.”

There was a pause and then he said, “I mean, monster.”

“But no wishes?” Arabella still hadn’t given up all hope.

“Nope. No wishes. Sorry about that.”

Word count: 1,708
For SCREAMS!!! 1.15.24 - 2.14.24
Prompt: A girl finds an ancient key and unlocks a box, releasing a monster imprisoned for 500 years.
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