Into The Woods
This chapter began on a fine Sunday morning at a quaint little house on a peaceful countryside. The sky was a beautiful shade of blue; the sun gave off pleasant warmth while the birds were singing a merry little song. A young girl, a couple of years short of her teenage years, watered the flowers she had planted earlier in the year, singing along with the birds. This girl had blond hair, tied in two braids with rose-colored ribbons. On her head was a bow in the same color and she wore a white summer dress, which she wore a rose-colored top underneath. At first glance, one would think she was the nicest girl in the whole wide world, the kind of person who would have a permanent spot on Santa’s nice list... Think again! She was the reason a convent school had to close down due the lack of students. The knowledge of what she did to her classmates still horrified her but she had learned to live with it but she was going to make sure it would not happen again.
“Lilli, breakfast’s ready!“, a woman called.
“Coming!“, the girl called back. She put the watering can down and entered the house through the backdoor, coming into the kitchen. This room was filled with the delicious smell of scrambled eggs and bacon. A man sat at the table, reading the newspaper, while the woman, who was calling for Lilli, was filling three plates. Lilli left the kitchen and went to the bathroom to wash her hands, returning three minutes later. She joined the man at the kitchen table.
“Good morning, Lilli”, he greeted her, looking up from his newspaper.
“Morning, Dad”, she responded. It had been easy for her to call her adoptive parents “mom” and “dad”, since she lost her biological parents when she was very young. Her father was lost at sea and her mother died only a year later after suffering from an illness for a very long time. Since then, she had lived in a convent school as Mother Superior’s walking doormat, hated by her – though Mother Superior hated children in general – and most of the other kids, for weird things had happened ever since Lilli came to the convent school.
Yes, some people might ask why this married couple had adopted Lilli of all the children at the orphanage. Fortunately, nothing strange had happened ever since the blond girl became a part of the small family.
“What are you planning to do today, sweetie?“, her adoptive mother asked her as she placed the plates on the table. Lilli shrugged in response:
“I don’t know. Guess I just have to wait and see.”
“We could go to the zoo. How about it?“, her adoptive father suggested. Lilli grinned like a Cheshire Cat:
And so, she happily ate her scrambled eggs and bacon.
When the Key Master woke up, he found Edna sleeping with her arms around him. She had a peaceful look on her face. A strand of hair fell into her face; he tugged it behind her ear. Everything was quiet and tranquil; nothing disturbed the silence of the early morning hours until...
“Edna?“, Tina called from the other side of the door after she knocked. “Are you awake yet?”
The Key Master’s eyes widened; he glanced at Edna, who did not seem to have heard her housemate. What was he supposed to do? Would Tina just enter the room if she received no answer? If she did, how would she react seeing an unknown man together in a bed with Edna? Fortunately, he was a master of voice imitation and Edna’s voice was one he could do.
“What is it? I was sleeping”, he called back languidly, sounding just like a tired Edna.
“Sorry”, Tina said from the other side of the door. “I just wanted to tell you I’ll be gone all day. Oh, and your boss called last night when you didn’t come to work. I told him you were sick and he was about to fire you, but I could convince him to give you another chance. Well, for the next two weeks, you have to work every night. But not tonight; he thinks you’re still recuperating.”
“Oh, thanks for telling me that”, the Key Master replied, still in the voice of the sleeping girl next to him.
“I’ll be off now, bye”, and with that, Tina was gone. The Key Master sighed in relief; a catastrophe had just barely been averted. He glanced at Edna once again, amazed how she could sleep through all this. Was she that exhausted? Whatever the reason, he decided to just let her sleep and got up... or rather tried to, for she tightened her grip around him. Unable to move, he remained lying and waited for her to wake up. He took his time to let his eyes wander around. It was not the kind of room that screamed ‘girl’s room’, as he had already noticed the previous night, though it did not scream ‘boy’s room’ either. If one would ask him, he would call it gender-neutral. But what he liked best about this room, and he could not deny it, were the pictures and clay sculptures. He wondered if Edna had made them by herself; her housemate had mentioned that she had made one.
The Key Master heard groans coming from Edna and felt her stirring. He set his eyes on her, curious to see her reaction when she realized their position. Her eyes fluttered open, slowly but surely. With sleepy eyes, she looked at the Key Master, who smirked at her, waiting for her reaction. Her eyebrows furrowed as her eyes moved around, widening as she realized something. With a shriek, she let go of him and moved away from him, falling off the bed.
“Ow...“, she rubbed her behind, glaring up at the Key Master. “What the hell did you do!?”
“Hey, I’m innocent. I woke up like this, you were the one who put their arms around me”, he defended himself. Still glaring, Edna took Harvey, who was also on her bed and asked him:
“Is he telling the truth?”
Edna sighed a moment later, putting Harvey back on her bed, and stood up and stared at the Key Master as though she only realized something at this moment.
“Wait a minute... why didn’t Tina come running when I screamed?“, she wondered, glancing at the door as if expecting an answer from it.
“She’s not home, she’s out all day long”, the Key Master replied. Edna stared at him, astonishment written all over her face.
“How do you know that?”
“She told me, or should I say, thought she told you? She was knocking at your door earlier”, he added after seeing her confused face.
“What!?“, Edna exclaimed, her astonishment having been replaced by utter horror.
“Calm down, you’re forgetting something; I can imitate voices”, he reminded her and then spoke in her voice: “Everything’s peachy!”
“Please, stop! That’s creepy!“, she shrieked, shuddering. “At least she doesn’t know...”
“Luckily, she didn’t come into your room”, the Key Master pointed out. “I kept expecting her to come in.”
“Yeah, she doesn’t do this unless she gets the permission”, Edna explained while looking for something to wear during the day. The Key Master nodded; he could not remember hearing of someone doing this but he was glad Tina was like this. Who would know what would be going on now? Well, nothing would be calm, everything would be chaotic instead. And, to be fair, Tina had no reason to think anyone but Edna was talking to her.
“By the way, you didn’t go to work last night.”
The Key Master watched Edna’s reaction; she was stooping as she was picking up an article of clothing she had dropped, so she stood up and turned around to look at him. Her eyes wandered around with a faraway look in them. Then they widened and were directed at the Key Master. A gasp escaped her as she let her clothes drop.
“Oh shit!“, she cursed. She looked like she wanted to bang her head against the wall. “I completely forgot about my work! I bet I’m fired now!”
“You’re not; your housemate somehow – don’t know how, though – convinced your boss to not fire you. But you have to work every night for the next two weeks.”
Edna sighed in relief, plopping on her bed. Feeling the need to show her sympathy in some way, he moved closer to her and placed a hand on her shoulder. She turned her head and gave him a small smile:
“Thanks for telling me that. But I bet I have to work tonight.”
“Hey, you had to know. No need to thank me. And no, you don’t have to work tonight”, he said. “But how about you show me the hideout you were talking about yesterday?”
“How about breakfast first? And getting dressed?“, Edna counter-questioned now smirking.
“Sounds like a good idea. You don’t mind of I use your shower, do you?“, the Key Master responded with a smirk on his face.
“Only if you don’t mind smelling like a magnolia”, Edna giggled, then adding: “There’s a store just around the corner. I can buy shower gel for you.”
She studied his face with a thoughtful expression. The Key Master was aware of his five o’clock shadow, although he had not looked into a mirror for a few days. So he actually had no clue about the state of his beard growth.
“And a razor”, Edna added. Thinking he should really shave, as he did not want to look like a young Santa Claus, he nodded. He watched her getting up again, picking up her clothes and leaving her room. Not wanting to sit around, he decided to look for the kitchen and perhaps start on making breakfast.
Edna was currently in the shower, replaying the conversation she just had with the Key Master over and over again in her mind. It was like the incident in the church never happened, like they always got along. The thought kind of scared her and yet, at the same time, she liked the thought. But why? She could not explain it. Was it because he was the only person around who knew how it felt like to be in hiding, to be on the run? Sure, Tina was a great friend and her colleague Anika was one of the nicest people out there, and she got Harvey but with them, it was not the same. She and the Key Master were probably the only ones in the asylum who were confined in a solitary cell. But did Doctor Marcel erase his memories too? Well, she could ask him but she did not dare to. He had no reason to answer the question and, admittedly, she was a little afraid he would remember unpleasant things and get angry at her. No, she would ask him when she felt the time was right. Furthermore, there was another question on her mind.
Edna turned the shower off and got out. She dried her body with a towel before combing her hair and then blow-drying it. Once she was dry from head to toe, she got dressed. Satisfied with her look, she took her pajamas and brought them back to her room.
“Huh? Where’s the Key Master?“, she wondered aloud as she dumped her pajamas on her bed. “Harvey, have you seen him?”
“He left your room shortly after you did. But I don’t know where he went”, he replied. Edna’s eyes widened as one thought crossed her mind. What if he was out, murdering an innocent person? Holding Harvey close to her pounding heart, she rushed out of her room. The former patient of an asylum was about to run out of her apartment when she smelled something. She stopped, wondering where the smell came from.
“Do you smell that, Harvey?”
“How? My nostrils aren’t real.”
“I think it’s coming from the kitchen...”
Edna followed the smell to the kitchen, where she found the Key Master making breakfast. She stared at him in surprise, not believing what she was seeing. He made a big stack of chocolate pancakes and they looked delicious. Who knew he could make such mouth-watering pancakes?
“Hello, Princess”, he greeted her. “I hope you don’t mind; I didn’t want sit around doing nothing.”
“If they taste like they smell and look, I’m gonna kiss you”, Edna said in a trance-like state.
“What!?“, Harvey screamed, but Edna either did not hear him or ignored him. She was too focused on the breakfast. If she had her eyes on the Key Master instead of the stack of pancakes, she would have noticed his dumbfounded reaction. However it was soon gone as he was too busy making the last pancake.
“Can you get the plates and cutlery?“, he asked her as he took the plate with the stacks of pancakes. Edna put Harvey down next to the kitchen sink and got out the aforementioned items, following the Key Master to the living room. She returned a moment later to get a lagomorph friend and syrup. The Key Master had already divided their pancakes in equal portions and taken a seat; Edna sat opposite of him and put some syrup on her portion. She placed the bottle in the middle of the table, so that it was within the Key Master’s reach, and started eating.
Alone. For years, she was alone, not even her ghosts kept her company. She was condemned to sew countless blue stuffed rabbits for Doctor Marcel. At least a quarter of her cell was filled with those rabbits. In front of her was a box full of voice boxes for these plush animals. For some reason, she did not have to sew the eyes on anymore. She was told someone else would do that. But why she had to make them, she did not know. Doctor Marcel never told her and she was forbidden from asking. In fact, she was not allowed to talk to anyone – if they were alive, he never mentioned dead people. However, she needed a campfire to communicate with ghosts and it was impossible for her to light one. While she had more than enough ignitable material in her cell, she was missing a match or lighter. She sighed and put the rabbit she was working on down; she needed a break. It was no easy task to work on hours to no end with minimal light. The only excitement she got during the day was when one of the employees came to her, though it was only to escort her to the bathroom facilities and to bring her food, always consisting of bread and water. Opposite of her was a window, through which she could communicate with other people, if they would come to talk to her. If lights were on, she would be able to see a door.
The door opened and she could see a shadow, moving an arm to the side. A moment later, the room was draped in a bright light. She had to shield her eyes to not get blinded. She heard the person approaching and then saying:
She restrained herself from groaning upon hearing his voice and, when she unshielded her eyes, held them back from rolling. A tall dark haired man in a lab coat had entered the room. If it were not for his cruel, twisted face, he would look rather handsome. But there was something about him that made others fear him.
“Oh, no response?“, Anes asked in mock-hurt. Miranya narrowed her eyes at him. Babbitt, Hulgor and Bladder were idiots but at least not as annoying as Anes. He unlocked the door to her cell, marched over her and gruffly grabbed her wrist. Miranya twisted her face in pain – at least the others did not grab her like Anes did. But she had to endure this; there was no one who would come for her rescue...
Far away from the mental institution, Lilli and her adoptive parents were getting in the car. They had finished breakfast about half an hour ago. Lilli was excited for the zoo, she loved animals. Back in the convent, she used to have a pet cockroach. However, it died because she forgot to stab air holes on the lid of its glass. She also helped termites to find a new home, which unfortunately caused the death of a classmate, though she would not have realized this until much later.
“Everyone’s ready? Does anyone need to do a little business?“, her adoptive father asked.
“Stefan, we all used the bathroom not even ten minutes ago”, his wife reminded him, shaking her head good-naturedly.
“Just had to make sure”, Stefan grinned. Both females in the car giggled and he started the vehicle. Thus, an hour long drive to the zoo began.
Lilli spent her time watching the passing landscapes through the twists and turns. Most of the time, it was just forest, though she saw a large meadow with a cow herd. It was such a beautiful day, perfect to be outside. She loved those kinds of days; they made her feel content and peaceful, and she was glad she could spend the day looking at animals. It was not long until they came on the freeway and from then on, it was just one long straight road.
An hour later, the small family arrived in the next big city and at the zoo. Stefan parked the car at the nearby parking space. A line was forming at the zoo entrance. They joined the line, moving forward slowly but surely. Lilli sighed, she hated waiting. It was like being condemned was one’s time doing nothing, instead of doing something productive. The only comfort she had was that the line was not too long... and that she would see exotic animals soon.
After they had finished breakfast, Edna went to a store to buy a couple of hygienic products for the Key Master. He had noted he was also in need of new clothes but she could not afford to buy some for him. She did not have that much money, though she did promise she would buy some when she was in a flush. Until then, he had to see; he could wear Mattis’s old clothes but Edna doubted they would fit. Her father was far slimmer than the Key Master, although he had lost a lot of weight due the lack of square meals... or anything edible on a regular basis. But whatever it would take her, she would make sure he would live a better life. She felt she owed him that after almost killing him and she also hoped she could prevent him from murdering other people. She was aware the last part would be difficult, with school and work taking up most of her time; nevertheless she would give it her all. And perhaps all the Key Master needed was a second chance... if that really was his second chance...
Edna paid for the hygienic products and went back home. She met no one on her way for which she was relieved. If somebody she knew would have seen her with those products, she did not know how to respond to their questions, especially if it were Heike or Daniel or Gabrielle. They would probably have a blast with her and everyone of her class would know she had a man for a visit by Monday morning. Really, it was none of their concerns what she did or who she spent her time with... even if she spent her time with a murderer.
“I’m back!“, she announced as soon as she entered her apartment. She found the Key Master in the living room, looking at Tina’s movie collection. He turned around and walked over to Edna to take the items she bought.
“Interesting movie collection”, he remarked.
“Those are all Tina’s. Mine are all in my room”, Edna explained.
“Ah, that explains some things. You don’t seem like the kind of person who likes musicals”, he smirked. “There’s something strange about the image of you watching The Sound of Music or singing along the songs.”
Edna suddenly had the mental image of herself dressed like a nun, dancing around a meadow and singing the title song from The Sound of Music. It was strange and yet, kind of comical.
“Well, Tina does sometimes sing the Do Re Mi song from the movie”, Edna noted. “Actually, she tends to sing some of her musical songs whenever she’s cooking or baking.”
“I hope it doesn’t disturb the neighbors”, the Key Master grinned, going to Edna’s room to get his clothes. Then he went to the bathroom; Edna heard the shower running a moment later. She decided to make some sandwiches, with Harvey sitting on the kitchen counter.
“I thought you were only showing him the hideout”, he remarked, watching her putting ham, cheese and tomatoes on a slice of toast.
“Yes, but it does need some work to make it livable, so I’m making provisions. And you forget, he doesn’t have anything there, so the least I can do is to give him food and drink”, she responded.
“But he’s going to need more!“, Harvey exclaimed. Edna shrugged and went to the refrigerator to get turkey sausage, replying:
“Well, until I find a better solution, I just gonna have to give him something from our fridge regularly.”
“Then I hope you find one soon. Tina’s gonna notice if our amount of food’s diminishing faster than it used to.”
“I know... But I want to help him as much as I can. He deserves a second chance...”
Edna continued making sandwiches in silence until she felt she had made enough. She packed them all in several lunchboxes, which were all packed in a rucksack, along four bottles of water. Satisfied with her work, she leaned against the kitchen counter and smirked at Harvey:
“Not bad, huh? Okay, it won’t be as delicious as his pancakes, though we have something edible at least.”
“So, you’re saying the pancakes tasted as they smelled and looked?”
“Um, yeah. Why are you asking?“, Edna’s smirked turned into a quizzical look. Harvey just grinned and told her in a gleeful voice:
“That means you have to kiss him.”
“WHAT!?“, she exclaimed, jumping away from the counter as if it gave her a shock.
“You told him if the pancakes taste like they look and smell you were going to kiss him.”
“I did not”, Edna retorted the moment the Key Master, washed and dressed, arrived in the kitchen.
“What did you not do?“, he questioned. Edna addressed him:
“I didn’t tell you I would kiss you, did I?”
“Um, you did”, he responded, looking rather uncomfortable. Harvey gave Edna a “Told-You-So” look. “But you don’t have to give me one immediately.”
“Yet, I still don’t feel better about this...”
Meanwhile, at the zoo, Lilli and her family made the decision to see the kangaroos first. These animals were actually the closest, which was why they decided to see them first. From then on, they would just follow the path and look at many members of the animal kingdom as possible.
“Look at them bouncing”, Stefan remarked smilingly as they stopped at the kangaroo enclosure. “If only I had a camera.”
“Dad, you keep saying that but you never save up for one”, Lilli responded, following a kangaroo bouncing around with her eyes.
“Oh, you’re wounding my heart, Oh Little One”, Stefan placed a hand over his heart and went down on his knees, making choking noises. Both Lilli and her mother giggled at his act. People walking past stopped and stared, some were even clapping. Stefan stood up, grinned at the crowd and took a bow. The crowd dispatched once the little show was over and the small family made their way towards the koalas. These marsupials were either climbing trees in their enclosure or eating leaves from a eucalyptus tree; then there were some playing with each other or sleeping peacefully. Lilli had to smile at these cute creatures. No matter what they did, they looked simply adorable at it. They were even more adorable than the cockroaches, termites, and spiders she secretly kept as pets in the convent school, and those were already such cuties. So far, she had only seen two animals and yet, she loved every minute she spent her time here in the zoo and she is going to love the countless minutes to come. She and her family went on, stopping at each enclosure the came across, seeing animals from all over the world, ranging from Down Under, Africa, South America over North America and Europe to Asia. Penguins represented Antarctica. Lilli found penguins were weird little creatures; they had a funny way of moving around and looked like they were wearing suits. Other birds were not so formally dressed.
With a heavy rucksack on her back and Harvey in her arms, Edna led the Key Master to a long trek to the outskirts of her hometown and into the woods. He had offered to carry the rucksack in her stead but she refused; she thought it would be unfair if he were to take the heavy weight. Incidentally, he thought the same about her having the rucksack on her back. If they would be able to read each other’s thought or simply speak what they were thinking out loud, they would perhaps come to a comprise. But there was none as neither of them had the ability to read minds and none of them vocalized their thoughts. Therefore Edna walked with heavy luggage under the blazing sun. She was covered in sweat and her legs felt like lead. Yet, she refused to let the Key Master help her. He did not know whether he should be amazed by her determination or be annoyed by her stubbornness. Whatever he should feel, he could not look at this any longer; he marched over to her and gruffly took the rucksack from her back.
“Hey!“, Edna barked, red in her face, although the Key Master could not tell if it was from the heat or from her anger or if this was a combination of both.
“You were about to collapse”, he stated simply, hoisting the rucksack on his back, surprised by its weight. “What is in there anyway? Bricks?”
“Just some provisions”, Edna stated. She then looked at Harvey and added: “Be quiet, Harv.”
“How long is it to the hideout?“, the Key Master inquired. “If it’s still far, then maybe we should take a break.”
“A break really does sound nice”, she replied, leaning against a tree. The Key Master put the rucksack down and sat down next to her. For a moment, they rested in tranquility, only Edna’s heavy breathing and singing birds made some kind of sounds. He was used to the quiet, having spent years in solitude, rarely getting any visitors – and those were always either Doctor Marcel or therapists. However, he was now wary of the quiet after blocking out the noises Edna made because he ended up being covered in bruises and his own blood and he had a broken arm. He never received any medical treatments, so his arm was never properly healed. It was not so bad as long as he did not strain it.
“Hey, Key Master?”
“Hm?“, he glanced at Edna, who was studying his face.
“What’s your name?”
She watched him as he turned away from her, gazing up at the green foliage, which had a tint of gold. His face showed no emotion, he might as well be playing poker. It was like wearing non-transparent sunglasses, she thought as she examined his expressionless face. This was how she had met him in the asylum; everybody else had shown emotion but he did not. Although he came across as normal, she had even then been unsure whether she should trust him or not. At this moment, she was wondering the same thing and wished she still had her polo mallet – she had lost it some time during her time in the convent school.
“Why do you want to know this?“, the Key Master asked at last, setting his eyes back on Edna.
“Well, I can’t call you ‘Key Master’ forever and you have to have an actual name. I would like to call you by that instead.”
“Oh, I don’t care if you keep calling me that”, he responded, once again looking up to the top of the trees. “Names aren’t important.”
“Names aren’t important? How can you say that? A name tells you who you are, it gives you an identity. So, how can you claim th-“, Edna broke off, comprehension dawning on her face. “Do... do you remember your real name?”
“No”, the Key Master admitted. “And, honestly, I don’t care. I’ve been called ‘Key Master’ for so long, it doesn’t matter anymore. Names may have meanings, but does it mean we all live up to it?”
“I guess not...”
“Do you even know what your name means?”
Edna stared at him in surprise. Now that he mentioned it, what did her name mean? She had never thought about this before; all she knew was that her full name was Edna Konrad but she had not once in her life questioned why her parents gave her this name and not any other. For all she knew, she could be named after her great-grandmother or her parents just liked the name. Whatever the reason was, she did not know the meaning of the name ‘Edna’.
“No”, she shook her head. “And I reckon you don’t know it either?”
“I’m no expert on names”, he stated, standing up. He dusted off his pants before offering Edna a hand. “Let’s go on.”
She nodded in agreement and took his hand. He helped her up and took her rucksack, ignoring her protests. She took Harvey in her arms and led him through the forest for another two hours.
It was like any other normal day in the asylum, even if one ought to scratch the word “normal” from the local vocabulary. King Adrian was in his castle, made of cushions and padding, while Drogglejug was standing guard. The Beeman drew a picture of a lonely bird in a cage with the wax crayons he refused to share with others. Therefore, the other inmates had to draw with pencils or were doomed with the curse that turned clay into shapeless blobs, which were supposed to be ash trays – the curse known as occupational therapy. Peter, depressive as always, and Petra, overly cheerful as always, were doing a puzzle. Everything was the way it usually was in the recreation room until...
The unexpected, anguished scream caused Drogglejug, Peter and Petra to look at the doors next to the shelf with the board games. A moment later, a red-faced Bruce Broker stormed through these doors. Both his hands and jaw were clenched, he looked like he was about to erupt like a volcano.
“I can’t believe it! I just can’t believe!“, he ranted, pacing back and forth.
“I spent years of getting back to where I was once before on the stock market! But thanks to that good-for-nothing Professor Nock and his absurd attempts to create a dinosaur army, I lost everything once again!“, Bruce still sounded mad but as he reached the end of his rant, he sighed and gloomily sat next to Peter. He just stared at the broken man next to him, making no attempts in cheering him up. However, Petra gave Bruce a toothy smile and spoke in her perpetual jovial voice:
“See it this way; you can now spend time with your fellow human beings. Money’s not everything.”
Bruce stared at her as if she had grown a second head. His eyes almost popped out of their sockets, his mouth hung wide open. Peter decided to go on the run. Drogglejug stayed where he was but put ear plugs he took out of nowhere in his aural organs.
“What did you say?“, Bruce asked in a strained voice.
“Only that money’s not everything. There are more important things than that”, the oblivious Petra replied.
“Drogglejug...“, he sighed, rolling his eyes and shaking his head. Bruce’s face took an unpleasant shade of red; he narrowed his eyes at the happy blond. Then, so fast it gave everyone in the room a start, he jumped up and started shouting:
“HOW CAN YOU SAY THAT, WOMAN!? DO YOU EVEN KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT!? I JUST LOST EVERYTHING, MY WHOLE EXISTENCE!”
While shouting, he leaned over the table dangerously close to Petra’s face. Even she was not smiling anymore, instead her face showed discomfort and a little fear. Heavily breathing, Bruce moved away from her and started to walk away just as a loud, booming voice rang out:
“What is the meaning of this?”
King Adrian had emerged from his castle. Standing tall, with a bucket on his head, he looked from Drogglejug over to Bruce to Petra and then to a small group playing some kind of board game before he moved his eyes back to Drogglejug.
“Drogglejug”, he explained.
“I see”, King Adrian approached the broken business man. “Bruce Broker, what gives you the right to shout at an innocent person like Petra?”
“B-b-but if she hadn’t told me money wasn’t everything”, he started to defend himself, but he was interrupted by the King:
“Silence! For disturbing the tranquility of the recreation room, I sentence you to two weeks of joke duty! You’ll be my personal court jester for the next fourteen days!”
King Adrian returned to his castle, leaving behind a flabbergasted Bruce.
Everything was in engulfed in darkness, only an infinitesimal amount of light shone through the foliage and branches. Both the Key Master and Edna kept tripping over stones and tree trunks. Once, Edna tripped over a trunk into a bush; twigs and leaves were sticking out of her hair from every direction when she recovered... and still did. The Key Master heard her cursing herself under her breath for not remembering to bring a flashlight. He simply ignored her mutterings; it made no sense to be crying over spilt milk. It could be worse; they could be caught and brought back to the asylum but even if they were to meet Doctor Marcel and his minions, he doubted they would be capable of capturing him and Edna in this thick forest. Also, they had no reason to look for them here; the Key Master and Edna had evaded them for years, so there was no reason they should get caught.
“We should be almost there; I can hear a river flowing”, Edna reported as the forest began to thin out. The Key Master listened closely; he could hear a river too. He hoped people never traveled on the body of water with their boats... or that the hideout was at least out of sight. For the moment, all he could see was a hill. Was the hideout a cave and the entrance was on the other side? If this was the case, he did not know whether he should be glad or not. Then again, he should have expected a one, as he never specified what kind of place he wanted. Therefore, he had no reason to blame Edna. His old hideout was not that bad, either. It was better than nothing.
They walked towards the hill, where the Key Master spotted a little wooden cottage at the foot of the hill. He wondered how he missed it; the house was not that difficult to see. But who built this? And could he be sure no one would unexpectedly come here? Close to the cottage was an old well, like the one people used in the middle ages to get water. Edna walked towards it, beckoning at the Key Master to follow her, which he did. Initially he thought she was leading him to the house but instead they walked up the hill. The ascension took some time as they were both a little tired from walking so much, he more so as he was carrying the rucksack. But at last, they reached the top of the hill and were greeted with a beautiful view of a little spot of treeless land on the other side of the forest, or more commonly known as meadow. It was almost like a small sanctuary for a person who wanted peace and quiet from the world out there... or for a hermit, except that those kinds of people usually hide out in the mountains. Nonetheless, the Key Master was satisfied with the location as he observed the view. Close to the house he noticed a pond big enough to be called a lake, apparently manmade with a channel leading to a nearby river. He was pretty sure it was not the river head because the pond seemed to connect to the river just from somewhere on the side and not from the beginning, like an exceptionally short tributary river.
“I found it by coincidence a few years ago. It was shortly after I moved here, I went exploring and found this place but I haven’t been here often”, she explained. “So, I don’t know if somebody lives there. But it was the only place I could think of.”
“Well, we will see”, the Key Master remarked. “At least it’s an improvement to the cave I hid in.”
He started descending the hill, followed by his female companion and her stuffed lagomorph. It was definitely a gorgeous place to spend their time at, although he kind of doubted he had electricity and heat. But these were not important, except the latter when the cold seasons began. He reckoned he could use water from the pond, river and well when he needed to.
“Well, the door’s not closed”, he heard Edna say and he also heard her saying something to that sounded like “you’re right” to her rabbit. Then she entered the house, the Key Master followed closely behind her. The first thing he noticed was the lack of lamps, everything inside the small building was lit by the light outside, which shone through the windows, though it was not much. In a corner, opposite of the entrance door, was a fireplace and in front of it was a violet bean bag chair, not unlike the one in the cave he had found not too long ago. A bed, big enough for one person, stood in the other corner opposite of the entrance. Unfortunately, both the blanket and the pillow were rather moth-eaten. The rest of the interior consisted of a closet, a table and a chair, all made of wood. Between the fireplace and the bed was another door, which, when the Key Master checked, led to a room that seemed to be the bathroom... from a few centuries ago. Still, there was something each object had in common; they were all covered in a thick layer of dust. Apparently, this place was abandoned by whoever used to live here. With a little work, this might turn into a nice place.
“It looks good, but I could need a few items”, the Key Master told Edna after observing the hut. “Like a new blanket or pillow. Or candles.”
“I could bring them to you tomorrow or later”, she offered.
“And I see no fridge or any other place I could keep food and drinks in. Not to mention we have to brush the dust off everything.”
“Well, we just have to build something for your nourishments, but as for the dust, we could start dusting off now.”
“Don’t tell me you brought a duster with you. Your rucksack’s heavy.”
The Key Master took the rucksack off and leaned it against the closet. He stretched himself, glad to be rid of the heavy weight. Edna had taken a seat on the bed, playing with the moth-eaten blanket while holding Harvey.
“Nope, no duster”, she replied, shaking her head. “But we can use our clothes. It’s just dust, and not poop or something.”
“Well, you can, but I can’t. What I’m wearing are my only clothes! I threw away my gown from the asylum after I stole these!“, he angrily told her. She stopped playing with the blanket and held Harvey close to her chest, her eyes widening in fear. He glared at her, causing her to pull her knees up, so that she sat in fetal position on the bed. Then, slowly, she moved her feet back to the floor and stood up. Edna approached the Key Master and said, standing tall:
“Then I will do this. I don’t mind getting dirty. But you wait outside.”
“And why should I wait outside?“, the Key Master retorted, still glaring.
“None of your goddamn business”, Edna responded, now donning the same facial expression as the Key Master.
“Oh, I think that’s my business!”
“And I’m still not gonna tell ya. Y’know, we could keep up with this all day long and not get anywhere.”
He continued glaring at her but she remained firm. Even though he was angry at her for her poor planning, he was impressed by strong attitude. She was certainly not like this after he killed the reverend; she had appeared like an insecure, frightened child back then. The time when he could come across as the only normal person in an asylum or when he could scare her into being silent was over as was the time he manipulated people for his own gain. Despite having his doubts, he had the hope she would forgive him for all of this.
“Well? Are you going to get out or not?“, Edna asked, looking expectedly at him. The Key Master groaned:
“Alright, I will go outside, but you better be telling me what you are doing when you’re done.”
After receiving an affirmative nod from her, he left the house.
The day in the zoo ended for Lilli and her family around late afternoon, after seeing the elephants. Lilli held in her arms a stuffed panda, which her parents bought her. She decided to call it Huang Li. She wondered if he was as funny as the blue rabbit she encountered several times a few years ago. When she met Mother Superior Ignatz in a cell in some kind of mental institution, she gave the rabbit to her. But after police reinforcements arrived and freed Edna and Gerret, the former somehow got the rabbit from the Mother Superior. She did not know how and never saw either of them again because Gerret put her in an orphanage, where she was adopted from. Lilli loved her adoptive parents and her new life, but missed her only friend from the convent school. It would be great if she could see Edna again and maybe introduce Huang Li to the rabbit.
With her mind on her old friend, Lilli watched the passing landscapes as her father drove the car homeward. After having spent all day walking around, with a thirty minute break for lunch, Lilli was exhausted. There was once a time when she ran back and forth, doing chores for other people, but the time was over. Ever since she had given it to Doctor Marcel straight, she stopped being a walking doormat for everyone. She did not do chores for everybody anymore, just her own... and when somebody she liked politely asked her. Another good thing was that people stopped interrupting her when she wanted to say something and just assumed what she wanted to say. Although they were correct from time to time, it was still annoying.
“Did you have fun at the zoo, sweetie?“, her mother asked her.
“Yes. Yes, I did”, the blond confirmed.
“You know, we could go on an actual holiday once summer vacation starts. How about it?”
“I’d love to go on a holiday!”
Lilli was grinning; she had never been on a holiday before. This was going to be her best summer ever.
Far away from the joyous Lilli was the curmudgeon Doctor Marcel in his office, staring out to the horizon from his office window. His employees had once again shown their incompetence earlier that day. Bladder had left his post in the surveillance room to relieve himself and René was attending a therapy while Babbitt and Hulgor were talking with the security at the entrance about sports. So, with no one to keep an eye on the loonies, two almost managed to escape. It was only his timely arrival back from the village that prevented them from escaping. This caused Doctor Marcel to give his employees an hour-long reprimand about keeping an eye on the resident patients but not before he gave the two would be escapees a shock therapy. He sighed; life could be so much easier if his minions were more intelligent. But the only one whose intelligence quotient was higher than that of a student of a special school had his day off. Still, Anes was the best thing that happened to his institution in the last few years. Doctor Marcel could imagine that he would take over one day. Better him than the other employees or, worse, his son Ruben. He shuddered at the thought. There was no way the walking failure that was supposed to be his oldest son would ever take over his establishment. If Alfred were still alive, he would be taking over some time in the future.
“Curse that Konrad girl”, he muttered under his breath, each syllable dripping with venom. Why did she not die instead of his son? And how did her father suggest Alfred and Edna could have a future together? Yes right, his perfect son involved with a shifty, wild girl capable of murder. If Edna had not killed Alfred, he would have stuck Mattis in his asylum... and his daughter too while he was at it. Why did he ever waste his time with the Konrad family? The daughter was an indomitable wretch of a girl and the father had balls of glass. He should have moved to another house the moment he met the family and learned they lived just next door or, alternately, forced his correction of character method on Edna. Both options were more preferable than what actually happened.
“Enter”, he called after hearing a knock. He did not turn around; he just kept staring out the window and listened to the newcomer approaching his desk slowly.
“Father, I came to tell you that it’s time to see Miranya.”
Doctor Marcel clenched his fist when he heard the voice reporting to him. Had he not told his son to never enter his office? His good-for-nothing son was supposed to remain in the sewers under the asylum. But he had never really listened to him, Doctor Horatio Marcel. The boy – he refused to refer to his oldest son as “young man” – kept lurking around the hallways and rooms of his institution. The only good thing about this was that he scared both his employees and patients, still it also cost him an eye after this Lilli girl pierced a broken chair leg through his ocular organ. Both Doctor Marcel and his oldest son had only one working eye.
“Ruben, did I not tell you to not come into my office or in any other room of this establishment for that matter ever?“, Doctor Marcel asked through clenched teeth; a vein was popping on his forehead.
“I’m sorry, father, but I overheard René and Hulgor talking about this and they’re both too afraid to tell you this”, Ruben explained in a slightly quivering voice. Doctor Marcel refrained himself from sighing, only exclaiming “Pah!” before rolling out of his office, followed by his oldest son.
“There! Looks much better now”, a satisfied Edna beamed. She scanned the interior of the house with her eyes. The thick layer of dust was gone, however there was still much to do. Still, it had improved over the last few minutes.
“I don’t know. I think it looked better with all the dust”, Harvey commented from his seat on the bed.
“Harv, the Key Master is supposed to live here for an unknown amount of time. He should have it comfortable at l- what?“, Edna frowned at the face Harvey made. It looked like he was trying to raise an eyebrow.
“Don’t you think you’re overdoing it with helping him?”
“Why do you think that? Look, I just want to atone for almost killing him. You know I felt bad when I thought he was dead”, she told her rabbit.
“You’re absolutely positive it’s nothing more?“, he inquired.
“A hundred percent sure”, she assured him. Admittedly, however, she was puzzled what her little blue friend meant. Why should there be more than her conscience? She would do the same to anyone who died because of her and then turned out to be alive. It was the least she could do. What else was she suppose to do? Tell the Key Master she was glad he was alive and then just abandon him to his fate? Well, she had to admit that she was annoyed when he followed her the night of their reunion but after some reconsideration, she was still willing to help him. Everything could have turned out worse; he could have killed her and countless other people – well, he did kill people though she doubted it was countless of them – but he did not and he deserved a chance. Yes, everyone deserved a second chance... except Doctor Marcel.
“Well, I’m gonna tell the Key Master he can come back in”, she told Harvey while heading towards the entrance door. She opened it and called to the Key Master, who currently lying on his back a few meters away from the house:
“Hey, you can come back in!”
Edna watched him standing up; he stretched himself and dusted his shirt off. Then he bent down to take the green jacket from the ground and headed towards her.
“Are you going to te- What happened to your shirt?”
The Key Master stared at the aforementioned article of clothing for it was covered with dirt. Edna simply shrugged and gave him a tiny smile:
“I used my shirt as a duster. I told you I don’t mind getting dirty.”
She was met by a dumbfounded stare by the Key Master. It seemed he was momentarily lost for words. Concluding it might take some time until he was able to speak again, she approached the river and held her hands in there to wash off the dirt. After she was done, she returned to the house and opened her rucksack, taking out the four bottles of water as well as two sandwiches. She opened one bottle and took a swig out of it before holding out a sandwich to the Key Master.
“Thanks”, he said, taking it. “So, that’s what you’ve been carrying in there? Just sandwiches and water?”
“Yup”, Edna confirmed with a full mouth.
“But why so many?”
“So that you won’t have to starve or dehydrate.”
Edna sat on the bed and munched her sandwich while looking out of the window. She knew she would have to come here often to give the Key Master essential objects, yet she found she did not mind it. Probably because it was such a nice place and no one would come to bother them. In retrospect, why did she never come here if she wanted to enjoy the nature instead of the park, where Heike and her friends or lackeys, usually Daniel and Gabrielle, bullied her? Perhaps she should change that and come here from now. The Key Master was a much better company than Heike, after all. At least he would never go on a long rant about what makes him perfect and Edna doubted he sounded like a banshee when he laughed.
“Are you planning to go home looking like this?“, the Key Master asked her, nodding towards her shirt. He had finished his sandwich and had opened one of the still closed bottles.
“Yeah, pretty much. Didn’t think of taking another shirt with me”, Edna shrugged.
“When do you plan to get home? If you have enough time, you could just wash your shirt in the river and let it dry in the sun. You could wear my jacket in the meantime.”
Edna thought for a moment; she had planned to be home before Tina was back but seeing she had no watch with her, she was unsure if it was time for her to go. Why was she so scatterbrained today? If she had planned everything ahead, she would not be in such a dilemma. She looked at the Key Master with furrowed eyebrows.
“Well, if you are unsure, then maybe you should just return home”, he suggested, although she could hear something in his voice. She was not sure what it was but her gut feeling told her he did not want her to leave just yet. Even if she was right about this, she knew she could not. She still had school the next day and work, too.
“You’re right”, Edna agreed with the Key Master. “I should better go.”
She stood up and emptied her rucksack; then she packed the bottle she drank from in there. With much lighter luggage on her back, she placed a hand on the Key Master’s shoulder.
“See you. I’ll come visit after school; maybe I even do my homework here”, she said, grinning at the last part.
“Until tomorrow then”, he replied, grinning back at her. As she was leaving, she was aware that he kept his eyes on her until she was out of sight. However, she was not aware that she forgot her blue friend.
Doctor Marcel glared at anyone he came across as he rolled down to the floor where he kept Miranya. Even if his therapy had not really worked like it was supposed to on Lilli, he was still determined to perfect it. For this, he planned to use blue stuffed rabbits to hypnotize the children of the world, but this time he made sure the hypnosis would not be overcome so easily. Ever since Ruben had gotten him out of jail, he had worked on it and he was now sure he had succeeded. Of course, he was still in need of a test subject – preferably Edna, although he would not mind it if it were Lilli. If only there was a way to get them both, then he would be satisfied. These two were a danger for their environment and especially their fellow human beings.
Doctor Marcel stopped in front of the gate that separated the patients’ dormitory and bathroom facilities from the rest of his asylum. Well, he had several dormitories, separated into males and females. They were each behind a gate, alongside the washrooms, a laundry room and a solitary cell. Currently, he was in front of the gate that led to the female patients’ area. However, he could not reach the lock to open it and, seeing Babbitt walking past, he shouted for him.
“You called, Doctor Marcel?“, the mini golf enthusiast nervously asked, playing with his fingers.
“Unlock this gate”, the old man demanded.
Babbitt took his key ring from his belt and, after spending several minutes looking for the right key, inserted it into the lock and turned it. Without even thanking him, Doctor Marcel rolled past him, waving for Babbitt to follow him, and stopped in front of a door. He opened it and turned on the light in this room. Everything in this room looked identical to its counterpart in the male area. In fact, he even kept Miranya in a cell in the male area – the very same cell the Key Master was once stuck in – until René told him of her request to be moved to the female area. Reason for this was an awkward moment involving Miranya being led to the bathroom facilities and entering them while Adrian was using the shower. Doctor Marcel agreed to this as he did not like the thought of what could possibly happen if male and females were kept in the same area. If the costs were not so high, he would even establish gender-segregated recreation rooms. But seeing nothing had happened yet, he found he could invest his money in other projects – namely his hypnosis project.
“Hello, Miranya”, he greeted the redhead menacingly after Babbitt unlocked and opened the cell door for the doctor. The lonesome woman looked up from the rabbit she was currently sewing. Blue rag doll rabbits covered the floor of her cell, making it impossible to walk or roll around without unintentionally stepping on one. Doctor Marcel rolled into the cell, stopping in front of one stuffed lagomorph and picking it up. It had no eyes, just like every other doll in this cell; they would be attached later by Doctor Marcel.
“How are you progressing?“, he asked, not approaching her any further. The medium gulped, replying in a tiny voice:
“Quite well, Doctor. At least, I think I’m doing good progress...”
“Hm, it could be better but you have improved”, the doctor commented, examining another two or three dolls. “I’ll send for someone to pick these up.”
He threw the dolls back on the floor, turned around and started to roll out when Miranya voiced a question she should not ask:
“Doctor Marcel, why do you need so many rag doll rabbits?”
He stopped and turned so that he was glaring at her with his single functional eye. She gulped and looked at him in fear; she tried to make herself small as if she was hoping he would not see her then.
“Have I not forbidden you to ask questions?“, Doctor Marcel asked venomously.
“Then don’t ask!”
He left the cell, motioning to Babbitt to lock the door as soon as he was out.
It was slowly starting to get dark. A pleasant warm orange light bathed the skies as the golden sun set in this part of the world. The trees surrounding the land and hill where the Key Master’s new hideout was located threw long, elongated shadows on the ground. Since Edna’s departure, the Key Master walked around the perimeters of his new hiding place and was now on his way back into the house. He could only hope no unwanted visitors would suddenly turn up. On the other hand, judging from the layer of dust in the house, the prospects of this happening was minimal. Still, he should perhaps cater for these circumstances and build traps – at least he should think about it, whether or nor he would actually build them is an entirely different matter. Although he should perhaps talk to Edna about this as she was going to be his only visitor. The Key Master actually hoped she would return, like she said she would; he liked her company and it felt good to have somebody to talk to. She was the only one with whom he could speak to without worrying she would call the authorities. Furthermore, he just spotted a reason for her to come back. There, on the bed, lay Edna’s treasured rabbit Harvey. The Key Master was puzzled; why would she leave her precious lagomorph made of terry cloth behind? It made no sense to him as she always carried him around, talked to him and was worried about his well-being. He decided he would give him back to her when she would visit him the following day. Until then, Harvey would remain on the bed, where he would not get lost.
“Just what is so special about you?“, the Key Master muttered to Harvey while the former sat down on the edge if the bed. The question had crossed his mind several times since he first met Edna. Was he perhaps her oldest toy? The Key Master was aware that people usually, though not always, tend to treasure their oldest toys. He was one of them too; his oldest toy was an action figure and he treasured and kept it for all his life until he was put in the asylum. He did not know what happened to it, but he would not be surprised if it was thrown away or sold. In fact, he did not particularly care; there were more important matters in his life and it had been so long he last held the action figure in his hands; he did not really miss it. Well, maybe just a little.
“Whatever makes you special, I’ll make sure you’ll be back with Edna tomorrow”, the Key Master told Harvey. Deciding to hit the hay, he took off his shirt and shoes, hanging the former over the back of the chair and placing the latter at the foot of the bed. Then he lay down and closed his eyes, soon falling asleep.
By the time Edna returned home, the sun had set and stars were sparkling in the night sky. The moon hung in the sky like a giant, silver golf ball. She knew it was late but she had the hope Tina had not returned yet. However, her hopes were shattered when she spotted the chubby blond sitting on the couch, eating instant noodles and watching Muppet Treasure Island.
“Edna, where were you? I tried calling you on your phone but you didn’t pi- What happened to your shirt?”
Tina stared open-mouthed at her housemate’s garment. Edna knew she probably looked like she spent hours rolling in dirt.
“Oh, nothing too serious. I’ll wash it tomorrow. Now, I just want to catch some Z’s”, she replied, while heading towards her room.
“Well, alright. But next time, answer your phone. You’re lucky you don’t have to work tonight. Don’t forget you have to work everyday for the next two weeks”, Tina reminded her. Edna waved at her to indicate she heard her. Suddenly, she remembered she did not know at what time she was supposed to start her shift, so she turned to Tina and asked:
“When am I supposed to start my shift again?”
“The same time you usually have to work”, Tina replied. Her eyes were back on the television a minute later. Edna nodded and voiced a word of thanks. She mentally sighed in relief that her housemate did not insist in getting an answer if her first question like an overprotective mother hen. Okay, Tina was just a little older than Edna, so she probably did not think she should be so overprotective. She could trust Edna and she knew it. But would she still trust her if she knew Edna was secretly helping out a murderer? Still, even if Edna told Tina the truth, what would her reaction be? Would she throw her out and call the police? Edna could not risk it.
“Phew, that was a close one. Right, Harvey?“, Edna sighed in relief as soon as she was back in her room. While she took the rucksack off her back she was listening closely for a reply from Harvey. However, it never came.
She scanned her room in search for her blue friend, once again calling out his name. No response. Edna sat on her bed, frowning, and went through her thoughts, retracing her steps in her mind. She knew she still had him when she was with the Key Master. After all, she had a conversation with Harvey after she used her shirt as a duster. Then, she and the Key Master were eating and drinking before she decided to return home. She had taken the bottle of water she drank from and her rucksack... Had she taken Harvey too? Edna’s eyes widened in realization. She had left him with the Key Master! Oh, how could she be so stupid? Harvey was her best friend, why did she leave him behind? Edna paced around the room, mentally slapping herself for her stupidity. The worst thing was that she could not simply go out and get him back. It was late and the way to the hideout was long. They needed two and a half hours to reach this place during daytime; she would surely need twice as long in the dark. Then again, when she led him to the seemingly abandoned house, she had not been entirely sure of the path as she had not been there for some time. If she would visit the Key Master every day, she would perhaps get there faster over time and could even go through the woods in the dark. This was currently not possible yet, therefore she decided to get ready for bed and just go to sleep and get Harvey back after school the following day.
It was dark, safe for a small light coming through a hole, and cramped. She was very light, hanging floppily from something on the ceiling. But why was she so light? And what kind of place was this? She moved her arms to scratch her head but felt nothing, just a thin, plastic thing. Why did she have no head? She lowered her arms to take a look at them, just to see they were no arms at all, instead they were sleeves. She would have screamed but could not, like she had lost her voice. Would the lack of a head and arms explain why she felt so light? If these two body parts were missing, then the rest of her body must be gone too. To test her theory, she moved her sleeves up and down her body. She felt no body, just some kind of fabric and a few buttons. So, she was no human being but an article of clothing. Then this dark place must a closet. No wonder it was so cramped. Still, she did not see any other article of clothing in here, so why did feel so cramped? Unexpectedly, she felt something heavy leaning against her. She looked down to see a little girl. This girl had her knees up to her chest, with her arms snaked around her knees. Her forehead rested against her kneecaps, so that she was unable to see anything in front of her. Well, it was dark, so there was nothing to see... The little girl’s shoulders moved up and down and Edna could hear a faint sob coming from her. Edna wanted to put her sleeves around the girl but did not dare to. What if she thought she was being attacked? So, all she could do was to watch and hear a little girl cry...