Short Story, ‘The Keys’

empty forest
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Following, I’ll include two sections of a creative writing university assignment in which I had to complete a ‘freewrite’ exercise based on a prompt before writing a 750-word piece founded on content produced through the ‘freewrite’ exercise.

In case you don’t already know, ‘freewriting’ is the process of writing continuously for a set amount of time without stopping to re-read, edit, or change what you’re writing. For me, ‘freewriting’ is a fantastic tool to help combat writer’s block 🙂

© D.E. Kendall

Freewrite

There, on the forest path, lay a bunch of keys. Their metal glinted in sunlight as it broke through the canopy of trees above. I halted my horse, dismounted, then bent down to pick them up. Suddenly, an inexplicable wave of anticipation overcame me – my horse must have felt it too, as she spooked. Holding tightly to her reins, I comforted her, placed a hand gently on her shoulder so she knew everything was ok. Her muscles stopped tensing, and within moments she’d returned to nudging the pocket of my fluorescent riding jacket in hope of a treat. As she snuffled expectantly at my hand, the keys jangled. I assumed they belonged to someone who’d been hiking or something, since most horse riders didn’t live on the livery yards at which they kept their horses – these were not car keys, they most definitely opened doors of some description. Judging by how clean the keys were, I assumed they hadn’t been on the forestry floor for more than a few minutes. Though I would have a look around for their owner, first I thought I’d better take photograph in case I’d need to hand the keys over to the police and launch a social media search for the keys’ owner – I’d definitely forget exactly what the keys looked like and I’d expect whoever they belonged to to send an exact description before handing the keys over or connecting the person with authorities to collect the keys. However, when I got my smartphone out to take a photo, the battery had died. Strange, since it had been on 76% just before we set off twenty minutes ago.

Short Story

Moments before leaving, I’d reassured my boyfriend I’d charged my smartphone. After getting lost for hours on a ride a few weeks previously, when my smartphone battery ran out and left me without maps or means to contact anyone, he was worried.

I didn’t dwell on the fact my three-month-old smartphone had stopped working and stuffed the keys into one of my jacket pockets, not forgetting to give my noble steed a treat before zipping up the pocket and mounting once more. We trotted quietly along the path in search of the keys’ owner. The footfall in that section of the forest was usually substantial, since the area was as accessible as it was beautiful. I expected it to be busy on a gloriously crisp autumn morning as that one was; however, all was silent. No crowds, no birdsong, no breeze rustling the canopy of browning leaves. Odd.

We increased our speed to a canter as I hoped to find someone near the entrance-exit point of the forestry car park a small incline away. As Belle and I emerged over the brow of the hill, we were perplexed to find nobody there either. I slowed Belle to a walk, and she relished the opportunity to snack on brambles laden with blackberries as I looked around in attempt to find someone.

I managed to direct my horse away from the blackberries, stifling a giggle as I noticed her muzzle was covered in dark purple splodges. Suddenly, something stole her attention. Her every muscle tensed in response to whatever she could sense. As I leant down to pat her neck, I could feel how rigid her muscles had become – something must have really frightened her. Soothing my panic-stricken horse as I best I could with my voice, I tried to urge Belle onwards. Even scratching her favourite itchy spot beneath her flaxen mane didn’t snap her out of it.


‘What’s the matter, girl?’ I asked, hoping for some sort of positive reaction.


The second I sat upright, Belle snorted, spooked, and took off at a flat-out gallop – completely out-of-character for her. My attempts to deter Belle from her determined dash away from whatever upset her were in vain. With knuckles as white as my complexion must’ve been, I held onto the reins more tightly than I ever had before.

Adrenaline coursed through her veins as Belle thrashed her way along paths we’d never encountered. She seemed lacking in her usual sure-footedness, slipping and tripping now and again – almost flinging me from the saddle twice.

Belle’s thundering hooves tore through muddy forest bridleways and crunched orangey-brown carpets of fallen leaves. I ducked instinctively, barely escaping low-hanging branches that came at my head faster than I could think.

We reached a brand-new bridlepath accompanied by the sounds of rushing water – in all the years I’d ridden Belle around the forestry, I’d never come across a river. Fear rose exponentially within me as we galloped onto a terrifyingly narrow pathway with a sheer drop to the left and vertical rock slope to the right. I kept trying to stop Belle, which made the situation worse as she stumbled a few times, almost unseating me. Belle never normally stumbled.

I made the mistake of looking down into the chasm below. Watching water gush alongside us as we continued our uncontrollable charge was like staring death right in the face. That’s the moment I decided to say, ‘Not today.’

Taking deep, cleansing breaths, I chose not to let fear control my actions any longer. I lightened my hold on Belle’s reins and stopped panicking, giving myself time to remember that my horse was initially trained using voice commands.

As if by magic, Belle slowed to a trot, then gradually calmed to a walk. Leaning over to check how sweaty she’d become, it was quite the shock to discover that Belle hadn’t broken a sweat whatsoever.

At that moment, a wind-chime-like sound jingled from my pocket. I rummaged for the keys, and as they emerged, I noted there was one missing – though it couldn’t have slipped from my pocket. So, I inspected the remaining keys more closely.

There was a word engraved on each key; Adversity, Comparison, Doubt. And on the pristine white keyring binding those keys was text that read, ‘For happiness to your life fulfil, inner-conflict you must kill.’ Beneath was a list containing each word engraved on the keys, along with the word Fear – which had a strikethrough.

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