Of Keys and Shadows

People had the strangest things in and around their houses. Most likely, they weren’t even aware of those in most cases.
This one house had a rather peculiar feeling of shadows, like it should smell of frankincense and bergamot, a faint trace of anise seed dancing on the edges of amber light falling through tinted lamp glass.
She put the solid latchkey belonging to the front door back into the pocket of her thin coat and let her hand explore the seemingly empty space in front of her, fingers combing the dusty air for something.
An area of warm tingling, dark greenish brown to the touch. Interesting. She tried to trace the outlines of the sensation, get an idea of the shape while listening for potential trouble. The old dog still was busy with its dinner in the kitchen. From her spot in the hallway she couldn’t see it, but the sounds told her it was a slow feeder, not too messy. All the more time to have a look at this anomaly.
The shape was not completely regular, but roughly portal shaped. Carefully, she put the palm of her hand against the invisible not-quite-door. The green and brown solidified into a misty vision of a greenhouse. It didn’t look like someone had taken care of it in a while but it was not too shabby; from what she could make out, the glass panes where all intact.

In fact, it reminded her of the garden she had salvaged some years ago while its negligent owners spent the summer in France at the beach, having left her with the instruction to mow and water the lawn, and maybe prune some bushes, don’t let the weeds take over more than they already had. She had spent more time on that garden than the agreed payment would have been worth, but she had enjoyed the task she had set for herself. A stray cat had kept her company, and together they had found some really interesting things wile hacking her way through the overgrown brambles behind the small pond and its cracked marble fountain with that creepily grinning fish. One of the first things she had found had been two shards of pottery, sticking out of the bone-dry ground and covered in symbols she had vaguely recognized even back then as something definitely not belonging in that place. Then, there had been a blown glass bottle, tiny, more of a vial, of a pale, dirty blue and chipped, but beautiful. A piece of crumbling paper inside of it, one of her first clues to what was now her secret pastime.
In the end, she had left that job with a now well-fed cat by her side and a small shoe box full of dug up artifacts definitely stemming from past inhabitants in her satchel, while leaving the owners with a very nice garden. They even had sent her a thank-you letter a week later, with a tip more generous than she would have expected and – to her mild horror and then delight – a necklace, “I think you lost this when working on the rose bushes”; it had not been her necklace but its markings around the center cameo matched the ones on the pottery shards now resting on her window sill, so she had kept it and still wore it almost daily, along with the ancient keys she had since collected on her jobs.

Taking note of everything she could regarding the greenhouse vision, she made a mental list of what she would need to bring the next day to stabilise the doorway and track the real location. She wasn’t sure she would be able to actually cross over in this spot, but the greenhouse tasted of real world when she tried to reach in, tried to touch one of the leafy vines, so visiting it the normal way should be possible.
Pulling away her hand, the doorway turned back into the invisible sensation. She would have to be careful with this one; such an intense shadow might be known to and even be used somehow by the man for whom she was dog sitting. He had an unassuming air about him, but there was something about him …
She focussed her thoughts on the dog again, joining it in the kitchen to give it the attention it deserved. If she made the old husky mix happy enough and earned its trust, it might even give her the clues she needed, maybe find her another key for her growing collection.

Word quickly had spread she was a marvellous and diligent caretaker, that gardens flourished under her hand and pets all but glowed with love and content after a week or two in her care; so despite people whispering about her being a little spooky, they kept hiring her far and wide. It wasn’t the most profitable job, but with her reputation she could now make a small living from it and it allowed her to pursue her self-imposed mission to study those shadow doors and the fragments often to be found in the surrounding area of one.
She truly loved both the gardening and taking care of the animals entrusted to her, so the main tasks came easily to her; and she rarely felt guilty for using the trust of pets to guide her on her side quest.
Taking artifacts was another thing, making her tread carefully and only keep what was definitely beyond the awareness of her employers, things found in the clutch of old roots and exuding the strangeness, the something she had come to recognize, this scent of colours and the shadowy taste of a language she still couldn’t read, staring at her corpus of shards and amulets, the far too few slips of paper and parchment in between.
The keys accumulating on her belt and necklace were an easier part of the mystery to solve; it was just a matter of matching them to the right place behind a doorway. Most shadow places didn’t provide new clues, but all of them spoke of a love for plants, for nature and its creatures, of someone or someones having cared deeply about some forgotten knowledge about them.
She kept following the thread of riddles, silently, head down, hoping to find answers to the something and someone, and to herself.