The Outer Ring

By Arabella Kirk

Ashala wandered through the dark streets, her high boots splashing in the puddles of who knows what, her satchel thrown across her shoulder. She could see the glistening fairy lights down the lane and the shouts of happy people drinking down at the old bar. Ashala quickly dodged to the right, following the string of lights thrown across the houses. She knew she was nearing closer as she rounded the corner of the old orphanage which, although was still no longer functioning, was forever lit up by the dull flickering lights. 

Ashala continued on for five more minutes, when she rounded another corner street for, hopefully, the last time. She could feel hundreds of eyes staring down at her, as she passed the small graveyard across from her parents’ clock shop. Finally, she could see it up ahead of her. The grand doors were so high they seemed to be higher than the building itself. As she stepped in front of it, the mechanism on the door started to turn, the building began to shake, and as soon as it opened up, the streets were drowned with the sound of music and the sour, musty smell of antique stores.  

Ashala couldn’t believe the thousands of items she was staring at. There were potions, keys, robots and plants. But these were no ordinary items. The Night Bazaar was by far the most dangerous place in all of Clockwork City. Ashala knew that it was at her own risk to buy these items, as well as to make sure that no one picked her pockets, or tripped her over into a cabinet of dangerous potions, or, even worse, to fall into a brewer’s pot of poisonous soup. 

Ashala picked up a strange key off the shelf; she had been glancing at it for quite a while but had been hesitating to pick it up. It seemed to be shifting forms over and over, like it could never choose which form it wanted to take. Ashala found it somewhat beautiful and strange. She touched it with the tip of her finger and, to her surprise, it was rather warm. 

“Well, hello there.” Ashala was so startled by the lady’s voice that she quickly drew back her hand from the key.

“Oh, hello.” Ashala held her satchel close to her chest, and, unsure what to say, she smiled at the lady, only to get no smile in return. The lady shuffled over to Ashala, picking up the key which she had been looking at.

“Ah, yes.” The lady turned and examined the key in her hand, making sure not to get her hands caught in the mechanism. “Any key, that’s what they call it.” 

The lady knelt down to whisper into Ashala’s ear. 

“It can break into any door, in all of Clockwork City.” 

Slowly slipping the key into Ashala’s pocket, she shuffled quietly off. She left Ashala with confusion, for she had never encountered such a strange yet kind person. She wondered why she would have slipped the key into her pocket, as if the lady had known what great things Ashala could do with it. 

Or perhaps she just wanted her to buy it.