A child with an unknown key will believe it unlocks treasure until proven otherwise.Â Tommy was just such a child, thirteen years old, ready for adventure and romance, and he just happened to come into possession of a great old brass key.
The other children marveled at it.Â Though tarnished and, in some places, slightly green–Tommy insisted brass went green as it aged, just like his father’s aunt was turning slightly yellow around the edges–though tarnished and green, it winked streetlights at them when turned in just the right way.Â Tommy turned it often as he showed it off.
One of the older boys scoffed.Â “I bet it doesn’t open anything.”
But Tommy would not be dissuaded.Â “It opens a cellar door under Midnight, a door that hasn’t been opened in over a hundred years, and inside that cellar is treasure.”Â He gave that last word a great deal of reverence.Â “Whiskey and sapphire and maps and guns–not just any guns, but Peacemakers, honest frontier weapons, the weapons of lawmen and the loot they took back from outlaws and scoundrels.”
Midnight, of course, had a wild frontier past, complete with shootouts and saloons, card playing and hand-rolled cigarettes.Â Ask any child, they’d tell you.Â This let straight into the era of gangsters and private eyes and sexy nightclub singers.
The older children, mostly, laughed it off and went away, and the younger children, mostly, were too frightened of zombie cowboys, so when everybody went away Tommy found himself alone with one of the girls, Sandy, a cute, older girl with blonde curls and dimples.
“I believe you,” Sandy said.
“You should,” Tommy said.Â “It’s true.”Â Then he asked, “Why do you believe me?”
Sandy smiled.Â She leaned close to whisper, and nobody else heard.Â “I’ve been to the cellar door.Â And I’ve been looking for a key just like yours.”
So down they went, into the dark, into the depths, to a subterranean alley running alongside the basements of places that no longer existed, delicatessens and bakeries, the Popcorn Poppery, Old Possum’s Kitty Supplies.Â It narrowed and twisted and darkened even more deeply until Sandy and Tommy stopped in front of a staircase.Â The steps were steep, uneven, set inside a tiny alcove, and they led down to aÂ set of angled cellar doors.Â Rusted chains still locked the two doors together.Â The padlock itself was old as the key, and equally as tarnished, covered with grime and dust and spider webs.
Tommy shuddered briefly, an involuntary fear of the Spider Dragon they said lived down here.Â He’d seen enough web to believe in that, too.
“Whatever’s inside, we split it,” Sandy said.Â “Evenly.Â Half yours, half mine.”
“Then what are you waiting for?” Sandy asked.Â “Open it.”
So Tommy shoved the key into the lock.Â It resisted, a little, and he got it all the way in, but then he tried to turn the key and open the padlock but nothing happened.Â It refused to turn.Â The grooves weren’t catching, the teeth were misaligned.Â Tommy struggled with it, tried to cajole it, to soothe it, and when that didn’t work he tried to force it, and he pounded the lock on the door, and then he scowled at the lock and the key until Sandy put her hand on his.Â She said, “That’s not the right key.”
“Or that’s not the right lock,” Tommy suggested.
There, in the stairs in the underground, in a hole within a hole, Sandy, slightly older and filled with all her own adventure and romance, kissed Tommy briefly on the lips.Â It was his first ever kiss.
As Tommy suspected, the key led to great treasure after all.
June 19, Thunderstorm Books starts accepting pre-orders for Once Upon a Time in Midnight.