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The Key

        “Allie, you’re gonna be late for school!” Ansley yells for her sister to come down-stairs.
         Ansley and Allie live by themselves after the arresting of their drug abusing parents a few days prior. Ansley has been taking care of Allie for years so not much has changed since their parents were arrested.
         “I’m coming, I’m coming,” shouts Allie as she races down the stairs with only one of her shoes on.
          While Ansley drops Allie off at the school she rolls down the window and hands Allie a brown paper bag with her lunch inside.
         “Don’t forget I’m working late tonight. so you might have to order a pizza. I left a twenty on the counter for you,” exclaimed Ansley.
         Allie goes through her day like any other day She doesn’t care much that the other kids are talking about her parents being arrested. She’s been dealing with this ever since she can remember. Her parents started on drugs a couple months after her second birthday. They tried anything you can think of, but their drug of choice was heroin. In Allie’s opinion, they were better off gone anyway. She loves living at the house with just her sister, and thinks to herself,
         “Maybe now that they’re gone, people won’t talk about me anymore. Maybe I’ll be able to make some friends for a change.”
         After school, Allie runs out to the bus like every other student whose parents work during school. It takes the bus about half an hour to finally drive by Allie’s house, and she tries to get her homework done on the bus to watch her favorite show at four o’clock every day. Allie jumps off the bus and hurries inside to grab the remote. As she runs through the door, Allie notices something different. She could feel the breeze from the back door that is cracked open just enough to feel the wind in the kitchen. Allie doesn’t think much about it. Her sister is always forgetting something and today it just happened to be too close the back door. She shuts the door and sprints up the stairs to turn on her show before it starts, but Allie doesn’t make it to her room.
         The door wasn’t open because Ansley forgot to close it. The door was open because a man had broken into the house in search for her parents. The man is working for the one who sold them the heroine that got them arrested, but he didn’t know that yet. They had only paid his boss half the amount at the time and had promised the money that morning. When he hadn’t heard from them, he thought they were avoiding him. While the man searched through the rooms upstairs to find clues to where they might have gone, he heard the front door open. He peeked around the corner to see Allie darting up the stairs, pulls out a 9mm pistol, and shoots Allie almost point-blank. The bullet strikes her in the head, mercifully sparing her any pain. He hopes this will send a message to her parents. After he had murdered Allie, he races down the stairs and out the back door before anyone had the chance to notice him.
         “Allie, I’m home. Where’s the pizza I’m starving?” Ansley shouts while she raids the kitchen for the box of pizza. As she closes the door to the fridge, she notices the twenty-dollar bill still sitting on the counter.
         “Allie? Did you not order a pizza?” she mutters as she sauntered to the top of the steps.
         When she finally reaches the top, she sees her, helpless Allie, lying in a pool of her own blood.
         “Allie!” she screams while shaking her body in an effort to wake her. She knows it is too late and there is nothing she can do to help her now, but she has to try something. She tramples back down the stairs to call 9-1-1 hoping that they can save her, yet knowing they will not succeed. On autopilot, it’s all she can think to do.

         The air is cold and the sky is dim the gloomy day she has to identify her sister’s body. There she is, lying there, pale and cool to the touch. Ansley’s tears are too strong to hold back. She sobs uncontrollably as her world disintegrates around her. Minutes went by, but no one comes to ask how she is doing. Ansley jumps, she is startled by a strange man lurking in the morgue. Ansley isn’t quite sure why he is there. He has no name tag, no uniform, just a middle-aged man with an odd look on his face tapping on her shoulder.
“I might know a way I could help you, ma’am,” the man mumbled, “come with me.”
Uncertain of the man’s intentions, she follows him into a dark, slender hallway that leads to a small door at the end. The man motions his head towards the door and back at Ansley,
“After you my dear.”
She squeezes through the opening of the doorway and finds a peculiar, rusty cupboard against the back wall. She gives the man a confused look and chuckles,
“Well? Is this what you brought me to see?”
Right as she begins to march back towards the door, she hears a loud grumbling noise coming from the cupboard. She isn’t sure if it’s curiosity or desperation, but something causes her to open that cupboard.
“Wh… What is this?” she stutters trying to force the words from her mouth.
The man holds his head up proud, “Why it’s a time machine, my dear. Told you I knew a way I could help, and you’re lookin’ at it.”
She is in shock. How is she even supposed to believe him? For all she knows, he can be the one who hurt Allie. Nonetheless, the old man has an air about him which leads her to trust him anyway.
“How does it work?” she wondered.
The man informed Ansley of the rules of the time machine. “The first one is simple. Get inside, and press the blue button. The second rule is to not let anyone find out who you are.”
Ansley nods, unsure of why she is agreeing to the man’s instructions.
“The third and most important rule is you may change one thing, but DO NOT CHANGE ANYTHING ELSE!” exclaimed the strange man. Again she nods, unaware of what she is getting into, but she doesn’t care. All she can think about is saving Allie and finding out what bastard shot her sister. Ansley has seen Back to the Future and figures it can’t be much different than that. Maybe it will be easier since she is going backward.
The next thing she remembers is waking up in the alley beside her sister’s crime scene, also known as her house. She feels weird, but she isn’t scared. Ansley knows what she has to do and quick. She only has a few days to find the murderer and stop him from killing Allie.
“Why don’t I just find Allie and keep her from the house the next couple of days?” Ansley thinks aloud, but the man in the morgue had told her quite firmly that no one can know she is from the future. That means even Allie. She needs a plan, one where no one will find out who she is and one that prevents that awful man from murdering her little sister.
“What’s the best way to make myself hard to identify?” she asks herself.
Ansley gets onto the bus and heads straight to the nearest hair stylist in a part of town she never frequented.
“What can I do for you today ma’am?” snarls the younger lady at the counter. She is a skinny little thing with the body of a crack head, not the typical type of lady you would see at the hairdresser. She knows this place is perfect. No one will recognize her and even if this lady did, who will believe her. Ansley walks into the shop as a brunette with long curly hair and leaves with short blonde hair. It may not seem like a big change, but it’s enough to keep people from being curious.
Ansley begins trotting down the street when she realizes something hard and cold in her packet. She pulls her hand out and sees a silver key with the number 32B scribbled in black sharpie. She thinks for a moment and then it clicks, but how could that man have known. Ansley starts running towards the old apartment she used to live in when she was younger. Her parents had just got an eviction notice from their landlord and had to rent out apartment 32B in Bristol, Virginia. She only lived there for a year before Allie was even born. How did the strange man know that?

“First thing’s first”, Ansley yawns as she opens the laptop she has found lying on the kitchen table.
For about an hour, she googles her parent's arrest records and tries to find anyone who is connected that could have killed Allie. By the time Ansley gets started, it is already well past sunset and the sound of her stomach grumbling is making it hard to concentrate. She makes her way to the fridge not expecting to find anything worth eating, but it’s packed with food -- eggs, sandwich meat, vegetables, fruit. You name it, it’s there. Ansley grabs some bread from the pantry, makes a quick PB&J, and starts back on her research.
Her parents have been arrested more times than she can remember, therefore, finding anyone connected to her parents who also wants to get revenge on them is going to be more difficult than Ansley imagined. She decides to call it quits. Ansley hops in the shower and lies under the many blankets piled high on the bed. As she closes her eyes, the image of her sister lying in her own blood keeps seeping its way into her mind. She can’t sleep with that horrific image in her brain, thus Ansley lies there, staring at the ceiling for hours until finally drifting off to an elusive sleep.
Ansley awakes at the sound of the screeching house alarm and runs to grab the baseball bat from the corner near her bed. She hears flower pots smashing and something keeps bumping into the walls and tables. Frightened, Ansley slowly creeps into the kitchen, leans over the sink, and flips the light switch on.
“Holy cow lady you about gave me a heart attack, swinging that bat all around,” the intruder shrilled. “You’re gonna kill somebody if you ain’t careful.”
Ansley grips the bat even tighter as she remarks, “I’m sorry? Who are you?”
“The names Jackson,” he replies. “I heard someone new had moved in next door and I 
wanted to check ‘em out, see how they’re doing, but if I would've known that my life was going to be threatened by a crazy person with a metal bat...” 
Ansley sets the bat down on the table and slides into her chair, “Well next time you’re planning on making an appearance, I would appreciate the heads up.”
“Will do!” Jackson shouts as he walks out the door.
Ansley, although annoyed, sees something special in this guy. The way his nose crinkled when he grins and the generosity of stopping by, even if it is early in the morning, gives her butterflies she hasn’t felt in a while. With her parents the way they are, taking care of Allie was always her top priority. Ansley had no time for a social life, especially boyfriends. For years her routine has always been the same -- school, work, cook dinner, and the occasional PTA meetings she attended at Allie’s school. She daydreams about what it could be like to be in love, but quickly snaps out of it and realizes why she is really here.
More countless hours spent researching, yet nothing out of the ordinary. Just your average heroine attack criminal records. She takes a deep breath and starts to wonder,
“What if it had nothing to do with the arrest? I’m looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack!”
She needs another break, she trots across the hall and knocks three times on Jackson’s door. Ansley can here Jackson moving around and calls out,
“I know you’re in there Jackson. I can he…”
Jackson flings the door wide open before she can even finish her sentence. He looks a lot nicer than the day he had barged unannounced into her apartment. His hair is freshly cut, his beard neatly groomed, and he is wearing a button up collared shirt that looks as if it has been crisply ironed.
“Well don’t you look nice,” exclaims Ansley and she looks him up and down. “I am in the need of a lunch break and I would love to have some company.”
“Well, what are you waiting for then?” Jackson replies while grabbing the keys.

While waiting on their hamburgers, Jackson asks,
“So what is this your working on anyways. You always seem to have that laptop with you. It must be really important huh?”
Ansley glances up at him from her computer and smiles,
“Yeah, you could say that.”
Ansley isn’t quite sure if she can completely trust him yet. She wants to tell him, but she can’t mention the time machine, thus, even if he can be trusted, Ansley had no clue how she would tell him.
They finish their hamburgers and start heading back to the apartments. When they reach Ansley’s door, Jackson places his strong hand on her shoulder,
“Well, it looks like you gotta lot to work on today. I’ll leave ya’ to it.”
Before Ansley can stop him, Jackson is already inside his apartment. She plops down onto the dusty sofa and begins searching for the murderer once again. She has no leads, nothing that ties anyone to the murder. She begins to think why her parents were arrested and remembers her father whispering something to her mother a couple days before,
“He’s gonna come after us if we don’t give him what he wants!”

While Ansley is pondering over that statement her father made, Jackson is inside his apartment doing the same. However, Jackson is thinking about a decision that could change his life and the lives of a few innocent people.
“And you promise that’s all I have to do and the money will be mine?” Jackson muttered into the phone.
A raspy voice answers through the phone, “I assure you, once the action is complete, the money will be transitioned into your account. However, if you do not succeed, the money will be gone and your mother will have no other chance.”
Jackson’s mother has Coronary Artery Disease and neither of them can afford the surgery she needs to survive. The only way to help his mother is to do what the man on the phone had suggested. Jackson has three days to complete this mission, otherwise, there will be no money for him or his mother. He doesn’t want to think about it right then. Jackson grabs his coat and begins towards Ansley’s door.
Jackson knocks softly, “Hey, are you busy?”
Ansley opens the door and motions for Jackson to come in. She is somewhat confused to why he is here after they had just talked an hour ago,
“Is everything alright? You look tired.”
“J...just talk to me will you?” Jackson stutters, trying not to show how scared he is at the moment. “Tell me what it is you’re working on.”
Ansley hesitates to tell him, but Jackson looks rough and she feels he can be trusted.
“Someone is trying to murder my little sister,” she sighs. “I’m not sure who exactly, but I am starting to understand why.”
Jackson looks puzzled, but continues to listen.
Ansley continues, “You see, my parents are heroin addicts, and I think they owe someone money or something. They must have got arrested before they could complete the payoff. Whoever it is, wants to kill my sister to send a message to my parents, but I’m not sure why since they’re already in jail. I guess it’s their twisted way of getting even.”
After hearing this Jackson got quiet and starts to realize what is happening. He can’t tell her. Jackson stands up and rushes out the door yelling,
“I have to go, umm, take care of something.”
The people Jackson is working for are the same people who Ansley’s parent owe money to. He is the murderer she has been looking for. Jackson is distraught over the idea of choosing between his mother and an innocent little girl -- the sister of the girl he has come to love. He shakes his head, grabs his gun and an old ski mask, and runs out his door. His mother is all he has left, he has no choice.

Ansley has no clue what just happened. One minute she’s talking about her sister and the next Jackson is freaking out. Today is the day her sister was to be murdered -- 3:42 pm. She has to figure it out, and she doesn’t have much time left.
Ansley keeps wondering, “Why would Jackson have freaked out after I mentioned Allie. Unless…”
She wonders if it can be him, but she knows Jackson doesn’t look or act like a guy who can murder. He doesn’t even look like a guy who sells drugs. Jackson has a heart, but she doesn’t care about Jackson anymore. She has to save Allie and that’s all that matters to her.
Ansley sprints down three flights of stairs. There is no time for the elevator. She glances at the clock in the main lobby -- 3:34. The bus should be at the house any minute now and so should Jackson. She doesn’t think, just runs. She gets to her house at 3:43. It’s too late. Ansley’s knees drop to the ground and she begins sobbing. She couldn’t do it. She had a second chance and blew it.
Ansley feels a hand on her shoulder. She looks up, tears still falling from her eyes, and she sees him.
“Jackson! How could you!” She screams. “I trusted you.”
Ansley tries to run away from him, but he grabs her arm.
“I didn’t. I didn’t do it,” he cries. “Once I realized it was your sister, I couldn’t do it, no matter how much I needed to. I couldn’t stand to see you hurt. She’s safe inside.”
Ansley pulls her arm out and looks at him still crying, “Why? Why would you need to do something like that?”
Jackson takes her hand and explains everything. He tells her about his mother and how the money was going to fix her. Ansley realizes that he sacrificed the life of his own mother to save Allie, a girl he barely knows. He sacrificed his own mother because he loved her.
Ansley knows the strange man will bring her back into the present soon. She wraps her arms around Jackson and whispers in his ear,
“I can help you. I’ll be back in a couple days don’t worry.”
She rushes behind the house to keep anyone from seeing her disappear. As soon as she stood still, she’s gone.

“Well, my dear, you did it,” exclaims the strange man as he taps her on the back. “I wasn’t sure you had it in you.”
She smiles at the man and replies, “I appreciate everything you did to help me, but I have a favor to ask.”
The man nods, “I had a feeling you would want to help the boy’s mother. Jackson is it?”
Ansley gazes at him in shock, “Umm yes sir, but h… how did you know?”
The man in the morgue laughs, “Oh honey, did you think I was going to send you back in time and not watch what you were doing? But don’t worry dear, I have already sent someone back with the cure. Go see for yourself.”
Ansley thanks the strange man again and begins to hand him the silver key to the apartment. The strange man enclosed her hand around the key.
“It’s all yours,” the man proclaims. “You deserve it. Now go see your sister and that boy of yours.”

“Allie! Allie where are you?” Ansley yells from the kitchen door.
She looks up the stairs and there she is. Ansley runs up the stairs, skipping most of them, and almost tackles Allie with her arms.
“I missed you so much Allie,” she sniffs.
Allie mumbles squashed between Ansley’s arms and chest, “I was only gone for a few hours? It’s called school!”
“Pack all your things and hop in the car. There is someone I would like you to meet,” announces Ansley ecstatically.
Ansley and Allie arrive at the small apartment complex where Jackson lives and gets into the elevator. When they reach the third floor, she knocks on Jackson’s door with excitement. Jackson slides the door open and smiles bigger and brighter than ever.
“I don’t know how you did it A, but you did it,” exclaimed Jackson.
He invites them inside and introduces them to his lovely mother and gets to know Allie. They talk for hours until it is time to get some rest.
Ansley handed Allie the key, “This is ours now.”
Allie hurries inside the apartment and into her room with all her belongings while Ansley follows behind her. She tucks her in, kisses her on the head, and slowly closes the door behind her. Ansley grabs her coat and returns to the morgue where she met the strange man. She wants to thank him again, but he is gone. She asks around, but no one knows of a man with those descriptions. She finally gives up and rides a taxi back home. She kicks off her shoes, grabs an old blanket, and drifts into the most peaceful sleep in years.






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