The keyhole was something new.

Toby was pretty sure it hadn’t been part of the door yesterday. Not that he ever noticed the door. It stood, stolid and silent in the hallway, discreetly decorative; thoroughly unremarkable. The door had never caused Toby to be even slightly curious about what lay beyond its impenetrable exterior. He’d never seen anyone open or close it; nor had he seen or heard, smelled or sensed any activity in the room or closet or stairway it may have masked. Flat, bland, vaguely brown, it had never seemed worthy of Toby’s attention.

Until this morning.

When he returned from the park, his eye was caught by a flash of brass that announced itself like a trumpet call. He turned around to peer down the dark hallway. Yes there was a shiny object affixed to the door. It reflected light back from the adjacent room and wonder of wonders, from within.

This was also new –– at least he thought it was. Come to think of it, wasn’t that a sliver of light at the bottom? Had that been there yesterday? Why hadn’t he seen it? Now Toby’s interest was piqued. What was it the door was covering-or hiding? Clearly, further investigation was warranted.

Toby fancied himself something of a sleuth, to be honest He was good at hunting down and ferreting out the truth of the matter in most instances. He’d often been praised for his persistence.

Well then, he would uncover the mystery of the keyhole and what lay behind the door.

Nonchalantly, as if nothing were at stake, Toby glanced over his shoulder and then started down the hall. The keyhole was a peculiar size and shape, not quite eye-level, but he managed to swivel his head just so in order to peek through the tiny aperture. Rats! He couldn’t make out much, except the space was bathed in a soft yellow light. So it was a room, he thought. A room behind the door. A door that was closed and now, apparently, locked.

With a quick look back to confirm he wasn’t being watched, Toby crouched low to the floor and tried to see under the door. The exercise proved futile, so he stood up and tried again to see through the keyhole.

What was in there?

He looked around once more, then very carefully put his shoulder against the door and pushed.

Nothing happened.

He tried again; the door remained resolutely closed.

With a quick shake of his head, he backed up; then charged the door, hitting the solid wood with a resounding thump, ignoring the brief pain in his shoulder.

A shrill cry pierced the air, followed by a long wail.

Toby nearly jumped out of his skin. He turned to run, then turned back. He was no coward. He would face this demon, this unseen monster-though the unearthly sounds emanating from the room made his skin crawl.

Then, from the next room: “Toby! What are you doing? No! Stop it! Stop it now!”

She came running down the hall, shiny brass key in hand, pushed him aside and unlocked the door…

…to reveal a pastel room bathed in soft sunlight filtered through slatted blinds. The furniture was unlike anything Toby had seen, brightly colored with rounded edges. There were toys everywhere, even hanging from the ceiling and a patterned rug covering the floor.

“Well, Penny is up now, so I guess you two might as well meet,” she said with a smile as she headed towards what appeared to be a crate set above the ground. Reaching down, she lifted up the tiny bundle that had a moment earlier made such hideous noise and reduced it to mewling with nothing more than a rocking motion and the “shh”-ing sound she sometimes used to quiet Toby when he got excited.

What was that exactly?

“Are you ready to meet the newest member of the family?” she asked with a little smile and bent over to offer him a closer look.

Toby wasn’t sure what he expected, certainly not the wrinkly, red-faced, wispy-haired doll she presented to him. With a sniff he edged closer, leaned in and stuck out his tongue.

“No, no, Toby, no licking the baby,” she said with a laugh, pulling back her bundle. “There’ll be plenty of time for that later. Skillfully balancing her bundle with one arm, she bent down to ruffle Toby’s ears and stroke his head in the way that made him love her.

She gently set the baby back in its bed and shut the door softly. “Don’t worry, Toby,” she whispered to her faithful companion, “you’ll always be my good boy.”

Plainsboro resident Nikki Stern’s newest book, “Hope in Small Doses” (www.hopeinsmalldoses.com) has just been released by Humanist Press. Stern’s non-fiction work has appeared in national and regional publications both in print and online. Nikki posts regularly at www.nikkistern.com and just opened a Twitter account (@DoseofHope).

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