rusty key

Green and brown smudges zip by the train windows, but Alice can’t relax. She’s been running for months, avoiding contact with people. She actually can’t remember the last time she had a conversation that moved beyond ordering food or buying a ticket. Most people would’ve gone crazy by now, but once she stops talking it’s difficult to start again.

Alice leans her head against the window, her platinum blonde hair sticking to her sweaty forehead. She turns a rusty key over in her hands. She needs it to open a portal home. The world she’s trapped in is identical to her own, but the other Alice died two years ago. Two years ago, this Alice crashed her car on purpose and lived. The other Alice succeeded.

Mirrors are supposed to be portals to other worlds, so people say. Alice didn’t come through a mirror or step through a wardrobe; she visited a fortune teller.

***

“Pick a card. Any card.” The woman said. Bangles jangled on the woman’s wrists. Beads hung from her neck. The incense made Alice’s head throb.

Alice’s father had suggested the trip. He believed in aura, tarot, and spiritual healing. He thought that Alice needed to lighten up. Alice figured it couldn’t hurt.

She tried to pull a card from the deck, but it resisted. “Does this usually happen?”

The fortune teller’s eyes sparkled. “The cards know you don’t believe. They’re testing you.”

Alice doubted that. She wiggled a card free. Then two more.

The spread was simple: a card for the past, one for the present, and one for the future. Alice didn’t remember the exact cards, but she understood the gist. Her past was fraught with struggle. Her present was the calm before the storm, and the future held a great transformation. Then the fortune teller had let Alice out the back way through the garden, and after the gate closed, Alice realized that it was snowing in July. That was the start of it.

***

The train pulls into  a station and stops to let more passengers on. The sun is setting, flooding the compartments with golden light. Alice has twenty minutes until she’s back to the fortune teller’s. The woman refused to help without the key. Alice didn’t see what was so important about it. It was abandoned in the hollow of a tree.

As Alice slips the key into her pocket, a man notices and walks towards her. She gets up to avoid him, but another man is coming at her from the opposite direction. The first one crosses his arms over his wrinkled tie. “Can I see your key?”

She stares out the window. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Fine. We’ll take it from you,” the second man says.

She considers giving it to them. Instead, she sidesteps back into her compartment and drops the key out the window. She’s tired of running.

________________________________________________________________________________

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Fiction

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