Raithe leaped down from the ceiling and spoke quickly in her excitement. “Silas is the linchpin.”
Crudgel scratched his head. “I thought Silas the Cyclops was – oh, what’s that word again – a fly morgue.”
“What?” snapped Raithe impatiently. “What on earth’s a fly morgue?”
“I dunno,” Crudgel mumbled sheepishly. “A place where dead flies are kept?”
“Are you really that dim? Who would keep dead flies?”
“Silas isn’t a fly morgue – he’s a
,” Raithe said in a belittling tone. “Yes, Silas the Cybernetic Cyclops is the key to a great plan – a plan that will take down the Five Houses, a plan that will remake them into one, a plan that will make me queen.”
“A plan that will let us stay immortal?” Crudgel asked with a tone of hope in his voice.
Raithe sneered and cackled. “Yes, indeed it is a plan that will break the Hand of DIOS, destroy Mr. Fuddlebee, and let us stay immortal,” she said.
“Immortal forever?” Crudgel asked with the tone of hope rising in his voice, which caused Raithe to sigh irritably again.
“Yes, you gormless git,” she exclaim with even more impatience than before. “Being immortal means not dying forever. That’s why this whole Law of Mortality doesn’t make sense. Immortals are immortal forever. If we are to become mortal again because of some ridiculous Law of Mortality, then we are not technically immortal beings – just long-lived, which is not why I became a vampire.”
“Raithe had the choice to become a vampire?” Key now wondered aloud, thinking about how nice it would have been if she’d had a choice, too. She would have never chosen to live like this.
Raithe’s plan did indeed sound diabolically doubtful and, although Key would have preferred not to eavesdrop, she decided that she should hear more of this plan, fearing that, if she didn’t, it might bring harm to Mr. Fuddlebee, who, while leaving her in Despair, was one of the nicest people she’d met so far – even if he was a ghost. Yet she could not hear anything further as Raithe, simmering with excitement to put her plan into immediate effect, eagerly hurried off, with Crudgel tagging along at her heels.
Although Mr. Fuddlebee had been very kind to Key in many ways, the more she thought about the conversation she had just overheard, the more she began to have doubts in her heart about the elderly ghost. Key had eavesdropped with good intentions, yet something quite rotten was beginning to eat away at her on the inside. Though Raithe and Crudgel’s plotting might have concerned hurting Mr. Fuddlebee in one way, it had begun to hurt him in another way, as question after question began to pester Key like flies. For instance, she wondered, why didn’t he tell her more about Margrave Snick? And why did he abandon her to the City of the Dead? And why did he leave her with vampires who hated her, ignored her, and cast her headlong into a dungeon full of emptiness and loneliness? Why didn’t he change her back into a mortal? He could have done so with the Hand of DIOS. Couldn’t he?
The next time Key saw him, she decided, she would put these questions to him – and she hoped she would do it in a manner more kindly than she felt right at that moment.
— CHAPTER FIFTEEN —
Future Key, Crinomatic, & Gossamingles
Nights in Despair became weeks; weeks became months; months became years. Years became decades. And in all that time, Key did not grow old. She was a vampire, so she had the gift of immortality. She would look like a nine-year-old girl for the rest of her nights.
After ten years in the Dungeon of Despair, she stopped celebrating holidays. After thirty years locked away, she stopped celebrating her mom and dad’s birthdays. And after fifty years of being abandoned and forgotten, she stopped celebrating her own birthdays also – although she knew she should have called it “birth-night” like the other vampires, yet Key didn’t want to, because she wanted to feel more normal, the way she used to feel living with her mom and dad. And so as time slowly passed in Despair, Key soon stopped hoping that her life was only a nightmare, she stopped hoping that things would be different, and she began to accept that she had been completely abandoned to her abysmal fate.
The night Key turned one hundred years old felt like the loneliest of her entire life. She had come to the general conclusion that she would have to live in Despair forever. You see, from her point of view, when all was said and done, she had been in prison for one hundred years without any hope of escape – yes, one hundred years of being chained to Despair, one hundred years of never turning into a ten-year-old girl. Of course, after her first year in prison, technically, she aged from nine years old to ten, but at the time, it did not seem like she had reached that all-important age of ten because she didn’t feel older than nine, and she didn’t look older than nine either, nor did she have anyone to tell her, “You’re in your double digits now. You’re growing up!” No, from her point of view, her first year in Despair was not the year she turned ten, but the year she became one – one year old as a vampire, one year old in Despair. Yes, technically, she was now one hundred nine years old, but she didn’t count her first nine mortal years living with her mom and dad. Those first nine years of mortal life were more like a dream than reality. And now that she was a one hundred year old vampire in the nightmare of Despair, she still felt as though the threshold of being a ten-year-old girl was far, far out of reach.
But it only seemed proper to Key that, while she had not celebrated a birthday in over forty years, she should at least remember her one-hundredth birthday. “After all,” she said to herself encouragingly, “you don’t turn one hundred years old every night.” So, shortly before the Necropolis Clock Tower tolled twelve times, marking the exact moment when one day ended and another began, when she would no longer be ninety-nine years old and finally be one hundred, Key drew one hundred lines in the dirt on the floor all around her, which she imagined as birthday candles that she could neither wish upon nor blow out.
Once she finished, she sat perfectly still for a long time, waiting and listening for the Necropolis Clock Tower to chime the hour of midnight – an hour that most Mystical Creatures called “The Witching Time of Night.” Key listened and listened, yet no chime came. She listened some more and she thought to herself that time in Despair can really seem slow. Key listened for so long that she wondered if the clock had already chimed and she had just missed it.
Deciding that the problem wasn’t with her, and that something must have gone wrong with the Necropolis Clock Tower, Key crawled up the wall to her cell window overhead, and she peeped past the bars. It was then that she noticed something quite odd: Everything appeared to have frozen in a moment of time. Key could see Necropolis Vampires frozen on their zombie steeds, which were also frozen in mid-stride on the drawbridge. They had been charging toward a group of Partly Dead Goblins who were also frozen in a moment of protest, carrying picketing signs, on which was the word GROSS – which meant
Goblin Rights On Spying & Sabotage
Key looked around the Necropolis and, although her imprisonment kept her from seeing much more, she could see enough to tell that many Mystical Creatures were also frozen in that moment of time. She saw a Mostly Dead Troll wearing sunglasses, frozen while tripping over a Not Quite Dead Gnome in a white waistcoat, who was also frozen in a moment of sheer panic. Key also saw a Poltergeist frozen while scaring a Partly Dead Sprite, who was also frozen in a look of pure fright while spilling her cappuccino. Key also saw a Merman frozen in Melancholy Moat – and a Kraken’s frozen hand bursting from the black water to grab him – and a frozen death-guard with zinc on his nose trying to either save the Merman or help the Kraken (Key wasn’t sure which).
Half in disbelief, half in excitement to see if something would happen next – “or if anything would ever happen again,” she told herself – Key came back down to the dungeon floor. Right then she noticed that several Partly Dead Brownie Folk had been coming toward her, and now they too were frozen in a moment of celebration. With wide frozen smiles, the group was carrying over their heads an open box of Snuckle Truffles, filled with exactly one hundred Bloody Bonbons, each one with a little birth-night candle plunged into the top, to celebrate Key’s one-hundredth birth-night.
Key was as touched as she was curious. “What’s going on?” she wondered.
Then all of a sudden, in the same peculiar way that she had seen another version of herself all those years ago on her ninth birthday, that same strange event happened a second time. Now, stepping out of the dungeon’s shadows, there appeared another Key. Yet this other Key wasn’t wearing a shackle; she wasn’t chained to the wall at all. No, this other Key was clearly free of Despair, and Key felt a very sharp sting of envy for this other Key, desiring very much to be her.
This other Key was wearing a black aviator cap, violet goggles, dark green jacket with a stand-up collar, wide sleeves, and tall black and white boots. She was also gripping a gentlewoman’s cane in one hand. Her other hand clutched a brass pistol. She was shouldering a brass backpack that had two large canisters, one filled with red ink, the other with blue. Her eyebrows were covered in tiny silver mechanisms with wiring as thin as hair. And her fingertips were capped in pewter machines that looked a little like thimbles.
This other Key astonished Key, because she had never seen herself look so powerful and confident. And though she could not be sure, Key had a strange suspicion that this other Key was not from the present moment, but from some future moment that Key had not yet experienced. “Yes,” Key said to herself in a flash of realization, “this other Key is from the future.” And so Key accordingly thought of this other version of herself as “Future Key.”
Future Key now smiled at Key, her vampire fangs flashing in the darkness. “Don’t be afraid,” she said.
“I’m not afraid,” Key replied.
Future Key laughed in happy remembrance. “That’s right,” she exclaimed. “I forgot. I wasn’t afraid.”
“What weren’t you afraid of?” Key asked.
“Who are you?”
“The Key you will be,” Future Key said.
Key was almost speechless, now that her suspicion had proven to be true. But she managed to stammer out in utter fascination, “So I’ll be you in the future.”
“Who says you aren’t me now?” Future Key said with a playful smirk.
“I don’t feel like you.”
“How do I feel?”
“I feel alone and sad.”
“I know how you feel,” Future Key said, now becoming a little sorrowful. “I felt that way for a long time.”
“Do you still feel that way?”
“Sometimes,” Future Key admitted, “when I think of you.”
“Who are you?” Key asked, but realizing that this wasn’t quite the question she wanted to ask –
because it’s easier to talk to yourself when your self is not from the future
, she considered – so she decided to say instead, “I mean, tell me who you are! Tell me who I’ll be one day.”
“Be who you are now,” Future Key told her. “Then you’ll know more about me, as you come to know more about your self.”
“But I don’t really know who I am now,” Key said rather piteously.
“You are more than Key the vampire,” Future Key replied. “You are Key growing into a woman.”
“But I can’t grow anymore,” Key objected. “I haven’t grown in a hundred years.”
“Growing also means
“What does maturing mean?”
“It means,” Future Key said rather sagely, “growing up without growing older.”
“When will I grow into who you are?” Key asked.
“Soon,” Future Key said.
“That’s not soon enough.”
Future Key nodded. “Yes, I remember how eager I was to grow up, to escape Despair.”
“I don’t like being in this dungeon,” Key said.
“Neither did I.”
“How long ago were you here?”
Future Key looked around the dungeon with a mixed expression of nostalgia and disgust. “It seems like I was here just yester-night,” she said.
“Can you help me escape?” Key begged.
Future Key turned sad and serious. “I wish I could,” she replied softly. “But I can’t.”
“Is Old Queen Crinkle stopping you?”
Future Key scoffed. “Not anymore.”
“Are Raithe and Crudgel stopping you?”
“They’ll never be a match for who you’ll become.”
“I want to be you now,” Key said.
“I wanted to be me, too,” Future Key responded. “I’m glad I am who I am. But to be who I am, I had to be how you are now.”
“I don’t understand what that means.”
“Neither did I,” Future Key said. “But you can understand it this way: The suffering you’re going through now is necessary and important.”
“It’s not important to me,” Key remarked.
“It’s important to me,” Future Key replied. “If you want to be who I am, then you have to be how I was.”
Key thought for a moment. “How did you get in here?”
Future Key grinned again, her vampire fangs flashing. “You’ll learn soon enough,” she said a little waggishly.
“If you’re not here to get me out,” Key said, “then why are you here?”
Future Key pointed to Key’s birthday dress. “You’ve been wearing those same clothes for one hundred years,” she said, “ever since you turned nine years old.”
Key studied her birthday dress. It was tattered and torn, unwashed and filthy, practically falling to bits. It had lost its white luster years ago.
Future Key then reached into a pouch on her belt and took out a circular device. Fitting perfectly into the palm of her hand, it was silver with black swirling lines carved into it, and a bright sapphire in the center.
She gave it to Key, and Key marveled at it as Future Key pointed to the device and said, “Open it in the evening when you rise from sleep. Wear whatever it gives you for the night. Open it again in the morning before you go to bed. Let it have whatever you’re wearing. Wear whatever it gives you. Use it every day. It will never run out of steam. It will never misread your needs. And it will never give you the same outfit twice, unless you ask it to do so.”