The Key to Freedom — Part One


“Suddenly, his face went pale… He had been in a rush, after all. He couldn’t be expected to remember everything.”

Emily Stocksdale, Staff Writer

Mel Garner stared drearily out the rain-streaked window, carefully avoiding the letter that lay on his desk.  Perhaps if he ignored it, it would go away.  Mel strained his eyes until he could make out the silhouette of the Chrysler Building off in the distance.  Behind it, Mel knew, was the river, and a thousand people crammed into a few square blocks.  His mind wandered towards the harbor, towards his small apartment off 2nd and 49th street, but those thoughts scattered in an instant.  The white paper, stark against dark brown wood, glared back at him.

Sighing, he turned his chair back around and picked up the sheet.  At a glance, it was not too impressive.  Black lettering on a flimsy page, the image of an eagle faded into the background.  Indeed, it was only upon skimming over it that Mel Garner had even realized that the letter was not, in fact, written by his boss in reprimand of his poor work habits and shoddy financing.  It was not his secretary writing to inform him that, once again, she felt the work he gave her was demeaning and that he was a selfish, repulsive pig.  The letter had not even been written by Benjamin Geralds, who enjoyed posing as various coworkers and sending prank letters around the office.  No, upon closer inspection, the letter was none of those things, and oh, if only it had been.

It had not been such a simple, innocent letter as it first appeared, and Mel knew that no amount of wishing would make it so.  Instead, he adjusted his glasses, which often slipped down on his nose when he grew irritated, and reread the document for what must have been the fifth time.  It read:


Mr. Garner,

Of the Associates Government Procedural Firm and Reinforcement Office

New York Branch:


In recent weeks it has come to our attention that some most incriminating evidence has been leaked in regards to certain confidential matters.  As we are sure you are well aware, the United States Government and several other concerned parties, who would be best left unnamed, have been handling a rather sensitive crisis that arose over the last several years.  This issue has been kept well-hidden from the eyes of the public as of yet, but certain developments may soon arise to test that silence.  Our sources have identified the source of this information leak as being from somewhere within your firm.  This is a very serious problem, Mr. Garner.  It must be eliminated.  Our recommendation is to deal with this leak at your own discretion, sir, with one consideration: complete secrecy is highly advisable.  Failing to do so may result in deportation of a most unfortunate nature.

Act posthaste, Melvyn Vaughn Garner.  Posthaste.



  1. S. Birch

Associates Government Procedural Firm and Reinforcement Office

Washington D.C. Branch


Mel’s brow furrowed.  The message seemed rather cryptic, and he wondered if it had truly been meant for him.  He had been trying to wrap his head around it since ten that morning but had come up blank as to its possible meaning.  “Sensitive crisis?” “Information leaks?” “Handle at your own discretion?” Somehow, the letter seemed slightly menacing, as though all the anger and frustration had seeped from the computer and onto the inky black words.

Vaguely, an image of his uncle came to mind, sitting across from him at a table in one of the shoddier restaurants of New York.  Mel’s uncle was not a bad man in the least, but he was generally written off as “not quite right in the head,” to put it nicely.  The man was taken to fanciful theories and nervous habits, to be sure, but Mel had always liked him.  That evening had been one of the last times he spoke to his uncle.  Something about a government conspiracy, a plot to do whatever, nothing that was out of the ordinary.  Mel had heard it all before.

Without thinking, his hand slid down to fumble around in his pockets, searching for the cold, reassuring feel of the metal in his fingers.  A key.  His uncle, he was told at the restaurant, had bought a storage container.  He would not tell Mel why, only saying that his favorite nephew should hang onto the key, “Just for a bit.”  Until his uncle had gotten back on his feet or something like that.  Of course, he hadn’t gotten the chance to reclaim it.

Mel sighed sadly.  Best not to dwell on those memories.  They were all in the past, where they belonged, and that was all there was to it.  Mel set his shoulders, ran his fingertips along the key one last time, and turned back to stare out the window.  It was raining.

Three hours passed, and Mel had nothing to show for the time that had drifted by except his jumbled emotions and a crumpled letter lying forgotten on the floor.  His mind whirred and skipped with confusion.  Suddenly, the door creaked open, and Mel’s secretary strode into the office with a false smile plastered over her ever-present look of disgust.  A pile of paperwork soon cluttered his desk.  With a sigh, he began to work, and any further anxieties drifted away with the monotony of his current task.

He worked until late in the evening.  By the time he left the office and headed out, there were only a handful of people left in the building.  He stepped out into the chilly, wet air and wondered why he had not brought an umbrella.  Puddles splashed beneath his shoes; rain was pouring down in a torrent, flooding the sidewalk.  The only thing he could do was keep his head down and trudge home.

The elevator in his apartment building was out of service, as it had been for around five months.  Sixty-eight steps to climb.  Key in the lock: it stuck for a few annoying seconds before finally turning.  The door creaked open with a sound akin to fingernails scraping down a chalkboard.  Mel was not surprised by that.  He had been meaning to get that door looked at for a while.

Stepping inside, he worked to juggle several folders, leftovers from lunch, and a briefcase as he groped for the light switch.  He was so focused on making it to the table without dropping anything that he failed to notice that the lights had never turned on.

He set down his things and turned around.

It was dark.

All other thoughts fled from him.  All there was, all that mattered to him in that moment, was the darkness.  It was all-encompassing, complete in its paralyzing effect on him.  Anxiety sank like a rock in his chest.  The darkness was strangling him.  He gasped for breath, scurrying to the nearest lamp, clawing at the switch.  Desperate.  It was a feeling he had never experienced before, and never wanted to experience again.  Utter terror.

And then, it was gone.  The feeling of fear dissipated, and life turned back to normal.  He turned on the light.