When I was the Key (4800 words)

Filed in Gather Writing Essential by on October 24, 2013 0 Comments

There is an ancient legend, to be more precise a fragment of a larger tale; it states with great pomp that the sun, born of the moon, will bear forth the warrior and the key.  It appeared on a peculiar looking map (origins unknown) of which scholars from civilizations of old could not decipher.  Some believed its meaning was powerful while others dismissed it as utter nonsense – a start of a fairy tale to lure the young to sleep.  Since no scholar, priest, or poet could interpret it, it fell to insignificance and thus forgotten by the larger world.

That is until I stumbled upon it.

After much contemplation, I concluded that my mysterious grandmother was the moon, my bright warm mama the sun, my brave sister Kitten the warrior, and I…well, I was the key.

We had been living at Gravelseed Farm since early spring.  That summer the Earth Angels captured me.  There had been word some Lakota warriors had been scouting nearby and Kitten wanted to see if she could find them for reasons, I’m sure, that only made sense to her.  Of course she didn’t tell Mama her plans but she could not hide such things from me.  Despite knowing that Kitten’s idea of an afternoon lark might take a dangerous turn I followed her anyway.  Truth is that I wanted her attention and followed her like a puppy hoping she would take notice of me – even if that notice was to tell me to scat.  Kitten warned me she would not slow down just so I could catch up.  She said that if I was clumsy enough to be captured at least she could console the loss of a sister knowing she no longer would have to share a room.

As prophesized I fell behind.  Kitten was so sure footed she easily climbed a nearby ridge and did not look back.  Perhaps hoping I would give up and go home, which was exactly what I was thinking of doing when I heard a sharp cry that I would later recognize as song.  It surrounded me in a way best described as if I were in an echo chamber.  I held my hands to my ears until I felt the blood ooze onto my fingers from my bleeding ears.  Then the ground under me started to erupt.  I would have run or even crawled but was too disoriented by the sound.

From the corner of my eye I saw what I thought was a snake coming at me.  It was long and coiled and turned as if doing a dance, all peacock blue with shades of gold and silver.  I had never seen anything so beautiful.  I was sure it was aiming to bite me until I noticed it wasn’t a snake at all but a hand with seven fingers and a thumb.  It paused as if to strike and then grabbed my ankle.  It was such an odd sight that my first instinct was to study it but when it started to pull me into the ground I realized it was too late to fight back.  That was when the other blue hands emerged from the earth to pull me toward what I was sure was an early grave.

I called them Earth Angels because they proved to be of the earth and not. For a millennium (which passed as mere minutes in my earth bound life) they educated me in a massive cave which was a type of museum for universal knowledge neatly tucked under what was then Montana Territory.  I was told to study various myths in order to best understand my purpose.  After hundreds of years of reading I came upon the legend of the moon, sun, warrior and key.  It drew me despite the lack of detail which I took as a sign.  Earth Angels were big on signs (I think they would have been confused by idiom that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar).

My maternal grandmother Clarice Morgan was a cryptic character in my family.  Although she left my mother’s life when Mama was a girl of eight, our little family could still feel the ramifications of her actions as if they had taken place a week before.  What I knew of her was that she had a talent to both charm and repel.  According to Grumps, the man who raised Mama whose actual name was Dean White, she was untrustworthy at best and evil incarnate at worst.

Grumps did not talk about her much, but at least he would speak of her (mostly when he had too much Tennessee bourbon).  Mama deflected all inquiries about Grandma, be they innocent or not, as if she didn’t hear them.  I wouldn’t press the matter because I knew she had her reasons and sensed that some of the things she survived as a child could break her still.  Kitten did not share my mindset and although she didn’t bring Grandma Clarice’s name up every day she was not shy about trying to satisfy her curiosity.  Kitten complained that Mama could stick her head in the sand all she wanted however at some point she would have to tell her tale for the sake of us all.  I swear if Mama did not love Kitten as much as she did I am sure my only sibling would have been sent packing to some school located in the outer regions of the world where the winters are harsh, the nuns harsher, and your hair freezes when you bathe.

Grumps confessed he knew something wasn’t quite as wholesome about Clarice Morgan when she showed up to the infirmary to nurse the Confederate wounded.  He said she acted as if she knew how the war was going to turn out before the generals.  It was his friend, Saul Reynolds, who was infatuated with her beauty and Grumps just followed Saul’s led because… honestly, I don’t think he had anything else better to do.  Everything in his life had changed after the Civil War – he had sold his Kentucky farm before enlisting.   The girl he had fancied in his youth had married another and had died long before from childbirth fever.

Grumps was not shocked that Grandma Clarice seemed to vanish from the Earth.  However he was mighty angry that she disappeared leaving her only child stranded in the depths of the Amazon jungle.  Poor Mama had to dig deep within herself in order to survive the journey back to civilization by herself.  Grumps let it slip once that afterwards, when she was finally back on the Phoenix, she wouldn’t speak for a year.  From then on Grumps never referred to Clarice Morgan by her Christian name, only referred to her as “That Damn Woman.”

It was the void that Clarice Morgan left, along with Mama’s silence about her, which made me believe she was the moon in the legend.

Mama had to be the sun because all things seemed to gravitate around her.  By merely moving to a community she became the toast of the town.  She was smart, beautiful, but most of funny – so funny that even to this day when I feel out of sorts I can think of jokes she told and my mood lightens.  On top of everything else she could cook like no other I have ever met, it was as if magic was a secret ingredient.  Many an evening my little family feasted like royalty to then enjoy a song and dance.  Mama would swing us children around the room whirling us around until we felt dizzy with joy and invincible against sorrow.  Before the Earth Angels took me, I thought of her as pure light.  She was the warmth that scared my shadows away.

Kitten was very much like Mama except bolder in her approach to life.  She was always quick and clever; which are attributes a good warrior needs.  Mostly she was my hero because she was never afraid to challenge an injustice or champion an underdog.  Sure she could be abrasive, but overall she was a girl who was admired wherever she went.

This left me as the key.  I accepted this role for it gave me purpose and made my loneliness seemed like a means to an end.  It confirmed that I would never be like my older sister no matter how hard I tried.  A warrior is a person of action and a key just is until there is something to unlock.

The legend further made sense because as key my talents had to be hidden.  I learned very young that I had to be guarded for a slip could result in questions that could not be answered and too many of those meant leaving for yet another home hoping those pesky questions wouldn’t follow.  While Mama was afraid for me (and at times of me) Kitten was not.  She was confident in her ability to confront and defeat any demon or angel who might drop by in order to better make my acquaintance.  That is the way of the warrior.

Though admittedly dissimilar, my humanity isn’t so different; as I grew older I grew wiser.  The beliefs I was so certain of in the bluster of my youth proved not quite as precise.  After living for 108 years I realized I was wrong in my interpretation of the legend.  Did the Earth Angels purposely lead me astray? Not that it changed anything beyond my perception…and maybe hurt my pride a tiny bit.  However I never told my sister the truth, even as Kitten lied dying surrounded by her children, their children, admirers and so forth (oh, the seeds she had scattered).  I didn’t know how she would react to my revelation and that persuaded me to keep my own confidence.  She was always proud to be the warrior.

Fact is I am the warrior and she the key.

The answer was in her blood.  Mine is too pure, the frequency too refined, but Kitten’s was just right.  In medical tests the abnormalities that flowed in her veins were masked thus no abnormalities were detected when she donated blood throughout her travels and impasses.  I don’t know if she knew what she was doing or if it was instinct, but for years she gave blood on a weekly basis to the point that she never stayed in a hotel that was too far from a Blood Bank.    Now I can see in others what she brought forth and I pray that whatever spiritual plane she finds herself she too can see the impact.

I believe as her body was dying, the linage that made us different from the rest of the human race became much stronger within her.  It was she who first heard the presence.  I was the only one at Kitten’s hospital bedside that afternoon.  The doctors had told the family it wouldn’t be long and even though she rarely woke I wanted to spend every last moment I could with…my sister, my best friend, my last connection.

I was trying to fight off the impending sadness but the TV blaring in her room did not help matters.  I’ll tell you true, I can do things that modern science cannot explain, however finding a damn remote, even one tethered to a hospital bed, confounds me.  I experienced a brief sense of victory when I found the wayward thing tucked under a pillow.  However the quiet lasted only a moment because Kitten’s heart rate quickened making the machine she was connected to spout all sorts of sounds.  She sat straight up and her eyes popped open, “What is that?”

Her heart monitor stopped its racket but her eyes were still wide and her posture was such that she looked as if she were ready to spring to action.  Then I heard it too.  It is hard to describe the sound a soul makes when it decides to reject what fate has given it to pursue something not planned in the stars, but once you hear it you know the miraculous exists.

Amazed by what I was witnessing from my sister I replied timidly, “That’s the sound of someone shattering the universe.”

Kitten turned her head and with a childlike glimmer in her eyes, “So that’s what it’s like in your head.”


While still listening to the shattering Kitten nodded her head as if she finally understood a piece of me that had left her mystified until now.  She asked for a glass of water and drank it as if she had not been at death’s door moments before.  I could read a distinct change in her aura.  She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and used what must have been a previously dormant talent to follow the presence.

“She is close by…emergency room…fourteen…maybe fifteen.  She was shot while walking away from an argument.  I sense her mother is a drug addict whose whereabouts are unknown.  The girl has known for a long time that her mother fuels her addiction by working as a prostitute.  No father.  She lives with her aunt who is somehow involved with the shooting.  This girl is tired…so tired…always being disregarded.  She wants more from life but doesn’t know how to go about it.  She is angry at God.  Everything around her is collapsing…sinking into darkness…fear that her life will not be worth living, yet she is living it just the same.  The only thing keeping her afloat is a cornel of hope.  It is hope which is compelling her to reach for something she dreams of but doesn’t understand.  She isn’t silly like others her age.  She doesn’t want fame or fortune.  All she wants is to matter.”

Kitten grabbed my hand and held it to her heart, “Bunny, do you feel her potential?  The power within her could split the atom!”

It must have been the combination of Kitten and me holding hands because the words of girl’s anguish echoed into the room – it was both prayer and statement.  “I MATTER!  I MATTER!  I MATTER!”  The room started to shake and I was reminded of a time many years prior when I was grabbed and consumed by a community of blue hands.

“Bunny, we have to find her…” Kitten smiled but had tears in her eyes, “she matters.”

Tasked with a dying wish I went to the emergency room to investigate and that’s when I first laid eyes upon you.


Here’s how I remember it.

“Jackpot!” someone yelled followed with horns, bells and bright lights.  I looked up to spy my reflection in the bar’s mirror; a ragged looking me framed with bottles of booze.  I must have drifted off because it took a minute to realize Mrs. Talk-a-lot was done chatting me up.  I had been listening off and on to this woman’s tale not giving it much credence since I suspected she was a combination of extremely lonely and mentally ill.   After all she was talking to a stranger in a forgettable named third rate casino tucked into the Flint Foothills.  Because of my commitment to nonstop drinking I would occasionally nod in her direction as if I was giving her encouragement to keep on yaking when in fact I hoped she would slip away and gamble what remained of her last social security check on the slots.  Yet I couldn’t resist one aspect of her tale that I thought I heard clearly, “Blue hands with seven fingers and a thumb?”


I looked at her, really looked at her, for perhaps the first time since she sat next to me at the bar.  I thought she would appear earnest, but she didn’t, I couldn’t read anything from her, a complete poker face.  “Your life story included creatures with eight digits and I was wondering if they played a mean piano?”  I laughed at my obnoxiousness.  I would need to drink much longer and harder to finally make it down the rabbit hole.

“They played a lot of musical instruments, most not identifiable.  I don’t remember a piano, but then again it was a long time since I have visited them.”

“That’s right, you claim to be really old.”  I rolled my eyes and caught my disheveled reflection agreeing with me.   Little did she know I am, no was, a heart surgeon.  But one doesn’t need medical training to know that anyone who claims to have reached beyond their hundredth birthday would not look like they were in their early sixties – liar, liar, pants on fire!  However such thoughts were distracting me from my new purpose in life, “Hey barkeep, another round and keep them coming!”  I glanced at my new best friend who held the same poker face expression, “Oh, I’m sorry, name your poison, it’s on me!”

“That is unnecessary.  Speaking of extraordinary beings, you seem to have missed the very last part of the story.”

The bartender kept cleaning glasses as if he hadn’t heard me. So I pulled out one of my remaining Ben Franklins and waved it in his face, but no response.  This put the fear of sobriety in me and I was about to request aid from my favorite story spinner when I felt a slight heat radiate from her.  That was when I knew that somehow she was responsible for the bartender acting as if I didn’t exist.  In my gut I felt I had encountered someone like her before but could not recall the specifics.

I wish I could say I was awed or even afraid of her, but her special abilities didn’t impress me as much as piss me off.  However it did make me want her to know that I was onto her game.  “Okay, let’s put all of our cards on the table.  What do you want from me?”

She gave me a Mona Lisa smile, “I would like you to go to Africa.”

I waited for her to elaborate but got nothing so I played along, “Okay, I give.  Where, pray tell, in Africa?”


For the first time in weeks I let slip a genuine laugh.  “My death wish is about drinking myself to death, not being raped and then riddled with bullets.  _____ is a war zone with war lords and war casualties…and that’s just the good stuff they put in the travel brochures.  That place is hell on earth, I don’t think even any humanitarian aid can get through.  Those people, that nation…no, that part of the Earth is royally fucked up!”  Drinking in the privacy or my room sounded like the perfect refuge from this conversation.  “It was nice meeting you…I’m sorry I never caught your name but I’m leaving now so you don’t have to tell me.”

“Grace Hope Morgan, but I always go by Bunny.  Before you ask it was a childhood nickname.”

“Oh yes,” crazy lady, “from before the Civil War.”

There was warmth in her eyes, the poker face gone, “Not that far back.”  She pulled out a card from her bag and gave it to me.  Printed on good paper stock it just said Bunny Morgan and gave her number.  “Honey, before you kill yourself,” I stiffened, “which I know is the reason you drove here,” she touched me on the shoulder as if she knew all my sins, “please meet me for breakfast tomorrow.  I want to explain why I need you…or at least explain as much as I can.”

I looked down at her card and then at my empty glass to mull over a proper response.  Did she know I killed a mother and two children while driving drunk?   I didn’t deserve to live.  When I looked up she was gone.

I went back to my room.  I wanted to forget everything except the reason why I had driven sixteen hours straight.  I had a gun but didn’t know if I would use it or try something else.  Maybe hanging.  What I really wanted was to get shitfaced and never wake up.  I have been here for three days now and haven’t bathed since leaving Atlanta.  Perhaps it was time to proverbially shit or get off the pot.  My days shad consisted of waking up, thinking about that night, going to the bar and drink until I can no longer think then go back to this room and debate about the best way to oft myself.  I shouldn’t have run, but facing my downfall was too much for me.  I never thought of myself as a coward until recently and now I think that was all that I ever was.

Perhaps the reason I pushed myself through less than ideal circumstances in high school, college and medical school wasn’t because I wanted to do something that mattered but because I was afraid of proving my family right.  But why did I care what they thought of me?  The last time I saw any of them was at Mom’s funeral and then they only wanted to know if I could give them money.  Jesus, I was nineteen attending my mother’s funeral and living on a student loan and money earned working the line at Pizza Hut.

Aunt Carmen was the worst.  She kept reminding me that it was she who took me in after Mom really lost it.  Good ol’ Aunt Carmen painting things to make herself look like the Second Coming.  Did she think that I would forget how she defended her pimp boyfriend for shooting me all because I refused to work for him?  I was fourteen and the only thing I knew for sure was that I didn’t want to be a prostitute.  Whatever lie she told the police seemed to work because pimp boy wasn’t prosecuted – such is life for a young poor African-American girl in the hood.  Yup, that gun must have accidently gone off and hit me in the right shoulder!

I went to pour myself another vodka tonic but paused to think that this is the reason I am in my predicament in the first place.  The only person to blame is myself.  Perhaps I wasn’t cutout to be a doctor because my karma was already too hard and heavy to let my ego run amok.  Instead of drinking I pour the bottle down the drain.

“Well that is a step in the right direction.”

“What the…”  I turn around to find a white girl with long blonde hair of nine or ten is sitting in a chair.  “Who the hell are you?  How did you get in here?  Get the hell out of here now or I’m going to call security!”

She picked up the TV remote and started clicking through channels.  “There is a lot more of a selection than there was in my day.”  She turns the volume up loud and then lowers it.  “I always liked the sound loud.  I don’t know why.  It used to drive others nuts.”

“Get out!”

“So are you going to have breakfast with my sister tomorrow or not?”

I was making moves to physically drag her out of my room when her words stopped me cold.  “I don’t know what game you two are playing but you are going to stop now!”

“I’m going to have to stop because you will do what exactly?  Tell the staff that you are being haunted by the apparition of the sister of a woman who claims to be 128 years old?” She laughed,
Good luck with that!”

“You’re not a ghost!”

“Olivia Faith Morgan,” she came up to shake my hand but I didn’t move so she shrugged her shoulders.  “I’m not a ghost in the traditional sense because real ghosts tend to not know they are dead or are just hanging around causing havoc because they feel there are things they have left undone.  I don’t fit that category and if I was into haunting,  believe me, I wouldn’t pick a rundown casino hotel room to do my boo-hoo-hooing.  But since it is obvious you won’t believe me otherwise allow me to do something ghostlike and then we can move on to other business.”

She faded away until she was completely gone.  I stood still for a minute before walking to where she had just stood.  I waved my hands back and forth into the empty void.  I was on the verge of thinking that everything that had just transpired has been part of my drunken imagination when I felt her poke me in the back.  I screamed and jumped.

“Calm down will ya?  I’m sure there are people on this floor trying to sleep.  Dreaming their blessed little hearts out for a big win which mathematically probably won’t happen, but if it does then they will most likely purchase things they shouldn’t.  Then the money will run out and they end up living very near the same lifestyle they started out with.  Oh well, that’s life until it isn’t.”

“If you are not a ghost, what are you?”

“That’s a really good question.  I wish I could answer it in a way you could understand but I can’t.  Some questions you literally have to die to find out the answers.  But hey, don’t rush anything because there are a whole bunch of folks who realize that they jumped the gun…get it gun…on things and have to come back to relearn a lesson they should have learned before.”

“What are you?”

“Oh my, I thought I just explained everything.  I thought you were faking it with Bunny but maybe your listening skills aren’t up to par.”

I was done with silly banter, I was tired, I was a fugitive, I was a murderer who only wanted to exit this world before I did more harm, “Please, leave me to die in peace.”

With that she looked slightly miffed.  “You know, I get it, you had a rough life.  You buried your mother, never knew your father, and the rest of your clan are scattered to the four winds primarily because most weren’t born with your focus, brains, and ability to move beyond the bullshit.  You overcome all of those obstacles only to drink too much one night and slam your car into another which caused the deaths of a mother and her two young children.  You end up in jail and are bailed out only to drive to this God forsaken hovel of bedbugs and unidentifiable carpet stains in the desperate belief that the world would be better off without you in it.  Apparently you feel such guilt that the only right solution is to die for your sins, but instead of a cross you are going to crucify yourself with cheap vodka.”

I flinched.

“You know they had names.  The family that died.  The mother’s name was Rachel Hockley, her kids were Madeline and Chase.  They were survived by James Hockley, husband and father.”

“Stop it!  I know their names!  Why are you torturing me so?”

“Because you think that this is all that is.  You are willing to abandon all of your potential so you can grovel in your guilt.   It is as if you think the best way to rectitude their loss is to snuff out your light!  Your death won’t bring them back.  It will just mean that four people died because of that night.  Listen, I’m not trying to excuse wrong doing, I’m just pointing out that there is a possibility to learn from a mistake and to honor them by doing something extraordinary with your life.  Do it because they can’t.  Do it because you can.”

I looked in the mirror but all I saw was her looking back at me.  “Are you suggesting that I go back to Atlanta?  If I do what your sister wants I’ll be a fugitive.”

“It is your choice.  Hell, even taking your own life is your choice.  I know my sister needs you to fulfill an important task, but if she can’t use you she will find another.”

“Can I sleep on it?”  She nodded her head.  I don’t think I have ever felt so tired.  “Will you be here when I wake?

“No, it takes a lot of energy for me to enter your earthly plane.  If you choose to go to Africa I request that you don’t tell my sister of our conversation and ask you to take this box with you.”

She handed me a lunchbox from what looked like the seventies.  On it is said “Keep on trucking” and was decorated with a bunch of eighteen wheelers.  At another time on a different occasion I would have laughed at the thing.  “What do you want me to do with it?”

“Bury it, it contains my ashes.”


Westerfield © 2013

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