Tabatha A. Yeatts

Writer

THROUGH THE KEYHOLE
YOUTH WRITING CONTEST WINNERS

Through the Keyhole #1 by Harry W. Yeatts Jr.

SEEKING THE LOST
By Jennifer B.
Winner, 17-18 year-old category

Janet stares forlornly into the fire. She is in the middle of nowhere with a small group of her friends. She hadnít wanted to come and still didnít want to be here, but her grief counselor insisted that it would be good for her, so she had relented. The light and heat from the flames sear at Janetís eyes, but she still stares, leaning closer toward the fire. Janet begins to see figures dancing in the flames, their small bodies undulating and writhing among the tongues of fire. All of the tiny figures begin to gather on a single, blackened log in the center of the fire. They seem irresistibly drawn towards that one piece of wood, and when they get there, they begin to cry out in pain as their bodies are slowly sucked into the log. The tiny figuresí mewls of pain and terror sear through Janetís mind and she dives into the fire to retrieve the log, desperate to save the little fire imps whoís cries sound exactly like her daughterís did on the night their house burned down. Janet stands in the fire, heedless of her physical pain, and cradles the charred log to her breast like her lost child. The imps had stopped shouting the second the log left the fire, but they were still whimpering and shaking in fear.

ďJANET! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!Ē The harsh cry rings through the night, piercing the silence of nature, but not the turmoil of Janetís heart. Janet is barely aware of her friend dragging her from the fire, tossing her to the ground, and beating her body to kill the flames on her. However, she does notice when he tries to take the log from her arms. Janet begins screaming incoherently, grasping the burnt wood closer to her body. ďJanet, itís still burning! Let it go! Youíre only hurting yourself!Ē Janet simply continues to scream, but her friend is bigger and stronger and manages to pry the log from Janetís grip. Janet screams louder and claws at her friend to get at the log. Not understanding Janetís attachment to the wood, but wanting to help her however possible, he puts out the flames still lapping at the log and carefully hands it back to his shrieking friend. With the burned wood clutched safely against her again, Janet calms down. She looks for the imps she rescued from the fire, but can not find them. Janet starts to panic again. She frantically searched the small log for the place she had seen some of the imps pass through, thinking that the others may have followed.

Just as she is about to collapse into hysterics again, Janet finds a small, keyhole shaped crack. Janet puts her eye to the crack, searching for the imps, only to be confronted with the beautiful vision of her daughter, frolicking in a meadow. ďSamantha!Ē Janet calls joyfully. The small girlís golden curls bounce around her shoulders as she turns her smiling face back, seeking the source of the voice that called her name. Janetís heart leaps with joy at the sight of her daughterís grinning visage, but Samantha does not seem to see her. The small girl shrugs off the mystery of the voice and returns to her ramblings. Janet suddenly notices a familiar voice softly calling her daughterís name. Samantha, apparently hearing as well, quickens her pace and runs into the arms of her father. ďJames!Ē Janet calls out her late husbandís name as he catches their giggling angel in his strong arms. Unlike Samantha, James gives no sign of having even heard his name called. Janet is content to watch her dead loved ones again. She revels in the vision of their smiling faces. The two converse, but Janet can no longer hear anything they say.

Soon after he drags Janet from the fire, Derik relays the tale of Janetís strange actions to the rest of the small group. The friends unanimously agree that something is wrong with Janet and they quickly pack up their camping gear. The group is loaded into their car within two hours, ready to leave. Derik walks over to Janet and taps her on the shoulder. He receives no response, but Janet obediently follows his lead as he gently pulls her to her feet and guides her to the car. Concerned hands reach out to help their grieving friend into the car and buckle her into her seat. Janet sits motionless, apparently content to press her face to the burned log. The only time Janet stirs is when one of her friends takes the charred wood from her unsuspecting grip, endeavoring to figure out what about the log enraptures Janet. The friend hurriedly returns the wood at the piteous sound of Janetís soft pleas and wipes the black ash from her own face. Janet gladly accepts the log and quickly places it back over her eye. Bewildered, the group passes the rest of the three hour trip in silence.

Derik, the driver, goes strait to the hospital as everyone else calls friends and family to come pick them up. Derik signs Janet in and then settles down at her side for a long wait. Janet never once looks up from her log during the entire two hour wait. By the time Janet is called into the nurseís office, Derik is seriously worried about his friendís sanity and refuses to leave her side. After seeing Janetís reaction to having the burned log taken away, the nurse agrees to Derikís presence, as well as that of the log. The nurse quickly settles Janet into a wheelchair and hands her over to an attendant who wheels her to a nearby room. The room has a single metal bench and plenty of sterile white and chrome paraphernalia. Derik shivers. He hates hospitals, but heíll put up with it for Janet. A doctor enters the room roughly half an hour later. Janet still has the log to her eye and is calm, but Derik has started to fidget. Janetís lack of response to the world is really beginning to bother him. The doctor makes quick work of the burns on Janetís legs and body, but her refusal to release the wood she still holds to her face greatly hinders his attempts to dress the severe burns on her face and arms. The doctor is forced to give Janet a dose of a strong sedative after forcefully extracting the log from her desperate grasp. He is now has free access to the remaining burns and promptly cleans and dresses them as well. Knowing she would want it when she woke up, Derik kept the log. He does not plan to give it to her, though, unless she insists. He is positive that this meaningless attachment is not healthy. Janet is moved to a private recovery room in the burn ward of the hospital and placed under special supervision because she had inflicted the wounds upon herself.

When Janet awakes she immediately begins screaming for the burned log. The nurses have no intention of giving it to her, but when Janet yells that she needs to see her family and the only way is through the wood, they relent. The first thing Janet does is put the log to her un-bandaged eye and sigh with relief as she sees her daughter and husband still playing in the meadow. The worried nurse requests a psyche evaluation for Janet. The psychiatrist shows up at Janetís room seven hours later. Allowing her to keep the wood, he asks her questions about her family and how they died, their house, and the fire, but Janet does not respond to any of them. The man suddenly asks what sheís looking at and, surprisingly, Janet answers him, ďMy husband and daughter.Ē The psychiatrist ponders this for a moment and then gently queries, ďMay I have a look?Ē Janet thinks this over and then slowly removes the wood from her eye. She hesitantly hands it to the psychiatrist. The psychiatrist carefully examines the log. ďIím sorry, Janet, but I cannot even find the hole you claim to be looking through.Ē The psychiatrist returns the wood to Janet. The confused woman looks at the log herself and instantly locates the keyhole shaped crack. She tries to show it to the psychiatrist. This time Janet sees it vanish. Janet yanks the log back and faintly hears mischievous giggles that have the same undertone as the cries did on the night she saved the imps and Janet realizes that they must be hiding the hole from others. She tells her theory to the psychiatrist. The psychiatrist nods, smiles, bids Janet farewell, and quickly exits the room. He gives his report to the doctor in charge of Janetís care and then leaves to go visit his next patient.

The weeks crawl by and Janet slowly heals physically. On the Monday of her last week in the hospital, Janet is animatedly telling Derik how she thinks she has figured out a trick to allow him to see what she does in the log. Janet instructs him to rest his head on her shoulder. She then quickly brings the burned log into view. For a split second Derik thinks he sees a small girl playing in a meadow, but then the vision is gone and he realizes that it was only his mind playing tricks on him. That night Janet is awakened by whispers of sound. As she pulls herself from the pleasant dream in which she was in the meadow with her family, she realizes that the whispers are originating from the charred log in her arms. Eagerly, Janet puts her eye to the keyhole shaped crack. At first all she sees is what sheís used to seeing, her husband and daughter, happy. Then the fire imps Janet saw the first night begin to appear. They close in on her family and she cries out a warning, but it goes unheard by the happy pair in the meadow. Suddenly, the imps attack the pair. Shrieks of pain emit from Janetís daughter and husband as, for the second time in Janetís life, they are burned alive as she watches helplessly. As the imps attack, they whisper together, ďYou did this to them. You made us. If you had just been content to watch alone, they would still be playing here.Ē Then the imps giggle evilly and fall silent. When itís over and her familyís blackened bodies lay forlornly on the green grass of the meadow, Janet is overcome with despair. She rakes her long fingernails over the veins in her wrists and up the inside of her arm. She repeats the process over and over, the nails biting deeper into her skin every time, drawing massive amounts of blood.

The nurse does not realize Janetís plight until she comes in with her breakfast, and by then it is far too late. The nurse calls for people to remove the body and clean up the room for another patient. Three men arrive to do the job. One of them has heard about Janet and her claims to see her lost family in the wood through a keyhole shaped crack. He removes the burned log from Janetís dead fingers and, seeing the crack, curiously looks through. He, like everyone else who had heard her story, had thought Janet was mad, but when he looked through the keyhole crack, he saw his young son, who had drowned two years ago, playing in a meadow.

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