I’ll tell you of only one. Jeweled, sparkling, found by a shepherd at the edge of a desert. Sand fell through his fingers as he picked it up, and he wiped the jewels clean with his white cotton tunic. Each little gem was rounded and pink, rosy-warm beneath the glint of the sun, while the golden shaft they were embedded in was cool to the touch. The key splayed long across the shepherd’s calloused palm. He blinked up at the sky then, as if the key had fallen from above, and sheep bleated around him as they drank from a quiet stream.
That is the first key, the one that opens a grand gate. The rest are hidden too, forgotten by time and thought. When you grow older I’ll tell you all about them, and when you’re finally ready, you’ll collect them yourself. You’ll tighten your satchel to travel far from familiar ground, traverse sandy plains as grains roll around in your sandals. Then you’ll meet the shepherd, who will give you the key, but only if you stay to have sweet bread and milk. And you must play with his sons, as he’ll have a family by then, before you wave your goodbyes and set off for the remaining keys.
Those will be harder to find. They aren’t like any other keys. But we don’t have time to talk more about them. This isn’t a bedtime story: it’s a glimpse into where you’ll go and what you’ll unlock. Don’t forget to come back to me when you finally get there. Come back to me and tell me about the floating city you’ve yet to see, the one with the scattered keys, the one that is sure to have grown just like you. Show me your sketches and maps of this hidden world I once knew, the home to which I can no longer return. You’ll tell me now, won’t you? Describe for me the wonders of our kingdom, my darling, and let it play behind my eyes every time that I close them.
Now close your own eyes so I can kiss you goodnight. Sleep tight.
Hana S. Elysia is a professional dancer turned writer with an M.A. from San Diego State University. Her work has appeared in publications including pacificREVIEW, The Horror Tree, Confluence, and others. When she’s not staring at a blank document hoping for ideas, she can be found reading, gaming, or cuddling with her dog. She once broke her wrist pretending to be a Men in Black agent and is terrible at math for no reason.