Through the crowded streets they'd weaved, down a path unfamiliar to Lin. Rina had known it all too well- in a town with few places for youngsters to congregate, young adults had to find their own nooks and spaces to meet.
Rina's friends didn't think much of Lin- she was baggage, a child brought along with them on the one day they were free to roam the streets. But they let her tag along. Rina quickly fell into line with one of the farmer boys, one she'd seemed to know too well. Lin had been wide eyed as she'd watched her kiss him, and let her put his arm around her.
She'd followed the teenagers meekly as they discussed idle gossip- one had sworn that his uncle was friends with a Stranger. They discussed others their age. They talked about their work.
Eventually, they came back from the outskirts of the Woodland to the winding, terraced streets of the town. They set about quickly into joining the throngs of other children who were feverishly trying out their new-found keys. One cuffed another for trying his luck opening one of the many doors with a red cross on it.
Rina and her friends had laughed at him.
Lin joined other groups of children her age trying to open doors. She waited, patiently, for one party to finish trying every key they had on a door, and watched as they walked away dismayed.
Clumsily, she tried to open the lock. Rina caught her.
"No, no- Lin, look, a key goes in like this."
Lin tried again. None fit. She moved on.
They'd worked their way through the streets, trying doors, joking with one another, Lin tagging behind. They briefly stopped to open their Mother's old den, Rina's group cawing with success as they opened the door.
The "Den" itself was an old house like any other, but it had signs that once it was loved and lived in by young people. Favourite things had been stuck to the wall, blankets and odd furniture dotted the floor. Rina and her friends had explored a while, but were now eating and planning how else to spend the empty day.
"Do you wanna try the Gate?," suggested one.
"There's al'ways such a queue, and no one's opened it yet," mused Rina as she chewed. "S'all excited kids thinking they will be the one to open the town gate. Better to try your luck another day, 'slink away when no one's lookin'."
"I suppose. Do we stay here then, or keep trying doors? Get near the gate for when there's food?"
And so, they'd continued back onto the streets as the clock struck 11. They'd whooped as one of their number managed to open a door near the town centre- pot luck- but it was only a cupboard with some tools in it.
The crowd was thickening as it grew closer to 12. At 12, food was thrown into the crowd and the celebrations commenced with music and singing.
Quarter-to. They stood on the cusp of the town square, listening to the speech drone on.
Lin was growing tired and restless. She hadn't opened anything and honestly wanted to go home- so she tried to do just that.
Walking away from the crowd, on to a cobbled side-street, she spied a small keyhole in the wall.
She sniffed, thinking she'd practice her lock opening skills here.
One key...two keys...
Finally, she'd reached the shiny key.
It fit. Bewildered, she turned the lock- and behind it were...
She didn't understand. It was some sort of small safe, that was true. But there was nothing but sheets of white pulp and small, sharp wooden sticks. Looking at the pulp, she realised she'd never seen something cleaner in her life.
She picked one up, examining it.
At that exact moment, a woman ran past her, bolting and panting for her life.
The dream winced and colours muddled.
There were shouts from somewhere nearby. The woman looked back, wild. Lin remembered she was beautiful. Clean.
Lin's eyes squeezed tighter shut.
"...I...jesus...is it possible? Lin? That...that is your name?"
Lin had stood there confused.
"I need to go now, Lin. But listen, if they ever turn on you, you're going to need this."
Why did it always come back to this memory?
The woman threw a key in her direction. It thunked onto the cobbles.
"Pick it up! Dammit...I need to...dammit. I'm sorry."
Lin reached to pick it up, and the woman was gone. Scared and confused, Lin had ran home.