Guide The Key: A Short Story

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Okita Souji.

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The Key to Writing Great Short Stories

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Stretching out her hand, she reached for my arm. Would she fall? Tackle me? I searched wildly for a nurse, an aide; frankly, anyone under seventy would have been a Godsend at that moment. I watched her hand reach out—and she patted my arm. I managed a squeak. Just glad I can still get around.

I looked at my arm, where she had patted me. Had she seen my panic? Was she comforting me? The flowered-shirt nurse trotted up, a satisfied smile alerting me to her success. Next week? Come back? I marched to the double doors, shoved the handle, and promptly set off every alarm in the place. I thought I had accepted that long ago. But now, I was a mystery to myself.

The key to writing a great short story

When the manila folder was thrust unceremoniously back into my hands, I drove back to that parking lot overlooking the prison yard. Squaring my shoulders like a soldier facing combat, I marched myself through the doors, breezing right by some old guy sitting in a wheelchair by the front glass doors, his gaze searching the parking lot. Must be waiting for someone. Maybe a son with grandkids—something like that. In a moment, I stood before the throng of elderlies, searched for the flower-topped nurse, but instead a large man in blue lumbered over.

Taking my manila envelope like a precious charge, he snail-paced away. This week? Any card catalogs I could peruse? I skirted by the Elderly Abuse notice. Weakening, my gaze traveled the room. A woman on my right sat at a table and gazed up at me, her eyes wide and frightened. Was she afraid of me? A man rocked in his chair—back and forth—while another woman talked and talked though not a soul was listening. The woman on the right cleared her throat. She leaned in, shoulders hunched, using every bit of courage to speak.

Without warning, her gaze plunged into my own. My heart stopped. Or it jumped to my throat. One of the investigators realizes that the message means "go to Earth", or more exactly, "go to Urth". Jennings was a former student of the extraterrologist Wendell Urth.

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He died of a stab wound from Strauss, but not before rendering Strauss insane using the power of the artifact, and then going to some unknown place to hide it. The mysterious paper was found inside a spacesuit gauntlet. When the investigators contact Wendell Urth, he recalls Jennings was a man who liked bad puns.

Urth professes to enjoy a good pun, but found Jennings' efforts irritating.

Short Story—The Key

Reading the paper clue and listening to the audio log, he concludes that the symbols are mostly red herrings. They are too ambiguous and contradictory to be useful. Instead he tells the investigators the story of the astronomer Christof Klau , a German Jesuit mathematician and astronomer who modified the proposal of the modern Gregorian calendar. His audience is puzzled until he tells them that in the recordings of Strauss's ravings there are frequent mentions of the artifact as "the key" to the future of the world.

He tells them that, with his brain activity heightened by the artifact, Jennings achieved his greatest pun by linking the words "clue" and "key".