by Emmanuel M. Arriaga, January 2014
Labored pants pull Jules forward as he struggles to complete his morning jog. The extra mile he decided to tackle was taking its toll, the physical torment almost too much to bear. With sweat dripping from his brow, Jules lazily takes the corner leading him around the campus administration building. A loud crackle grabs his attention as a ring of keys suddenly appear in midair, hovering for a moment before dropping to the ground with a jingle. The strange sight stops him dead in his tracks, a moment of disbelief striking him as he glances around to see if anyone else had just witnessed the same thing he had.
Without a soul in sight to give him reassurance, the exhausted freshman slowly approaches the keys waiting expectantly for him on the ground. With another glance around, Jules lets out a heavy sigh as he bends down and scoops up the keys. Immediately, the world around him shifts, the ground dropping away as pure terror overtakes him. He finds himself falling from a foreign sky, his lungs finding new strength to power the panicked screams now escaping from his mouth as the air wisps past him in torrents.
Releasing his grip on the keys, Jules collapses to the pavement whimpering as he fearfully glances to the keys lying next to him. Quickly looking around, Jules sees himself exactly where he was a moment before. His eyes lock with the keys as he stares at them for a long moment, his mind trying to process what just happened.
“NOPE!” Jules yells.
He jumps up, breaking into a full sprint away from the keys and back towards his dorm, his body suddenly forgetting how tired it was. He flies through the lobby and up the steps to his room, hurried hands opening the door as he slams it shut behind himself and collapses to the floor. Turning over to stare at the ceiling, he struggles to breathe; the exhausted freshman gasping for air, his heart racing a mile a minute.
Closing his eyes, his pulse begins to slow as he catches his breath, a few minutes rest allowing him to push himself up and rest on his palms. His eyes are pulled to the clock on the wall as he curses, time now against him as he rushes to get changed and jets out to class. All day his mind replays the scene of picking up those strange keys, the experience of falling sending a shiver down his spine. Later that evening Jules tries to clear his mind and work on homework, but quickly finds himself unable to focus as his mind wanders to the mysterious keys. Deciding to turn in early and finish in the morning, Jules collapses onto his bed and allows sleep to overtake him.
A loud crackle wakes Jules with a start as he sits up in his bed, the sound of keys hitting the sheets perking up his ears. His mind immediately goes back to that morning as he jumps out of bed; Jules quickly throwing himself up against the wall as he detects the glint of silver in the moonlight.
“Oh, come on!” He yells.
He clearly makes out the sight of the same keys from earlier resting on top of his bed sheets. Jules glances to the door across the room as he debates making a break for it, but something begins to pull at his core. Curiosity mixed with a hint of excitement causes him to rethink his perfectly rational thought of running out of the room screaming. He stares at the keys for a long moment as reason is attacked on all sides, his instincts slowly smothered by a crazy thirst for adventure. The innocent looking keys appear to dominate the room as Jules finds himself unable to take his eyes off of them.
Before he realizes it, he’s standing mere inches away from grabbing them as his brain takes control, prompting him to quickly pull his hand back. Rubbing the back of his neck, Jules begins to pace the room as he leers at the keys, quickly pulling on pants and a shirt from the clean clothes pile next to his bed. Slapping his face with both hands and going to the floor on his knees, Jules stares at the keys as he shakes his head, curiosity claiming victory over reason.
“…well, what’s the worst that could happen?” Jules concedes.
He wraps his hand around the keys.