Keagan tried to keep his mind on his errand, but his thoughts kept wandering. He was worried about school and homework and bullies. He was also thinking about the latest computer game and how he was going to annihilate his best friend, Ravi, in the online tournament they had planned for this afternoon.
But before anything else, he needed to get the pickles his mum had sent him out for.
He stopped at the crossroads. The main road curved around the industrial estate and led to the supermarket on the other side. He wasn’t supposed to go through the industrial estate. His overly protective mum was worried about all the trucks racing in and out of the factories. ‘Those truckies are crazy drivers,’ she would complain. ‘I don’t want you anywhere near them.’
Today was Sunday, Keagan told himself. Wouldn’t all the factories be shut? Which would mean no trucks. If he nipped through, he could get to the supermarket quicker.
Keagan preferred to play things safe. He always went along the main street whenever he went to the shops. But for some reason, today he had the urge to try something different. It was almost like he craved adventure. Not that there was likely to be any adventure among a bunch of closed factories.
Making up his mind, Keagan took the detour.
It wasn’t long before his eyes were drawn to a shop. A shop? Among all the factories?
He squinted at the little store nestled between two deserted warehouses scheduled for demolition:
He approached it.
The display window was chock-full of weird stuff. Grotesque statues, taxidermied animals, creepy dolls and lifelike portraits with their eyes cut out stared at him through the glass. His curiosity was now battling with his pickle errand, pulling him towards the shop.
Dark, dingy and musty, the shop was cluttered and cramped, liberally decorated with cobwebs and dust. It was a cliché right out of some horror novel. No one answered his timid call of ‘Hello?’, so he decided to have a quick look around.
He found himself drawn to a glass cabinet at the opposite end of the cluttered shop. Grimy and covered in dust, he couldn’t quite make out what was in it from this distance. But for some reason, he had to know.
Keagan began to make his way through the store, circling around a table piled high with coloured glass bottles and squeezing past a suit of armour. A stack of comic books, almost at chest height, distracted him for a moment. Despite his love of comics, the cabinet drew him on.
It stood up against one wall, an empty area of wooden floor in front of it, like a clearing in a forest. The door was latched with a combination padlock. He could see only two items behind the glass, sitting beside each other on the middle shelf – a mangy old stuffed cat and a computer chip. An odd couple of things to have locked away together, Keagan thought.
Keagan reached out and wiped the glass with his hand, smearing the grime. He peered in, wondering if he could get the lock open. There was something else in there, to the back of the shelf, beyond the cat and the computer chip. It was small and dark and he couldn’t see what it was.
‘Weird!’ he whispered to himself.
‘Most things are.’
Keagan almost jumped out of his skin. He whirled around.
On the other side of the dusty shop counter stood a woman. She was old, but her eyes sparkled with energy. Dark, creased skin contrasted with an explosion of stark white hair and unruly eyebrows. Creepy old woman in a creepy old shop? Keagan mentally placed a tick in another cliché box. ‘H . . . h . . . hello,’ stuttered Keagan.
‘Hello yourself,’ answered the woman, the hint of a smile tweaking the corners of her mouth.
‘There was no one here when I came into the shop,’ explained Keagan. ‘So I thought I’d check it out.’
‘And you were drawn to the cabinet, I see,’ said the woman, her voice an odd raspy singsong. She leaned on the counter, watching him. ‘Why, I wonder?’
Keagan shrugged. ‘It kind of caught my eye.’
The old woman nodded slowly and Keagan wondered if this was Matilda.
‘Um . . .’ began Keagan. ‘Can I see that computer chip?’
‘Why?’ snapped the woman.
Keagan was a little taken aback by the ferocity of her response. ‘N . . . no reason,’ he stammered. ‘I suppose I’m curious.’ His mind raced as he tried to make sense of the situation and why, indeed, he wanted to hold the chip. ‘I’m into computers and stuff.’ He paused. ‘So I wanted to . . . to . . . take a closer look at it.’ He paused again. ‘To hold it.’
‘You’re drawn to it, aren’t you?’ She stared at him, her face alight with excitement. ‘Am I right?’
Keagan didn’t respond. He did feel something . . . he just wasn’t sure what.
The woman was smiling now. ‘It’s like it’s calling to you. You have a need to reach out and touch it, don’t you?’
Keagan realised the woman was right. There was a strange feeling deep in his core, connecting him to the computer chip.
‘I was right.’ There was triumph in her voice. ‘I knew it! It is a key.’
‘A key?’ Keagan asked.
‘A key,’ repeated the lady. ‘Yes, it looks like a piece from the inside of some technological monstrosity . . . but it’s not. It is a key.’
‘Um.’ Keagan was puzzled. ‘Right.’
‘It’s disguised.’ The lady huffed. ‘Like a chameleon.’
‘If it’s a key, what does it open?’
‘A door, of course. Duh!’
Keagan looked from the shop’s front door to the one behind the counter, a bit fed up with her talking down to him. ‘Oh yeah? Which door?’
The woman laughed, a mischievous glint in her eyes. ‘Not any of these doors. Not any ordinary door. Not any door that you can see.’
‘So this chameleon key opens extraordinary invisible doors, does it?’ said Keagan, putting his hands on his hips and raising an eyebrow, the way his mother sometimes did when she was poking fun at him.
‘Such a smart mouth you have,’ said the lady, her laughter drying up. ‘Perhaps it’s time for you to get out of my shop.’