The Key To Life

“I bet that old man has a million dollars stashed in one of those steel lockers down at the Trailways Bus Station. I see him down there all the time,” said a young teenage boy to his friend.

“I bet he wears the key to the locker around his neck. I saw him pull out a purple bag several times when he was sitting on top of the heater vent down by the Florida Theater.”

“If he has a million dollars why would he be living on the street?” his friend asked.

“He’s crazy and he’s all messed up in the head. That’s why.”

I had been standing in the alleyway, for more than two hours, waiting for a chance to steal a new pair of shoes from the shoe store located across the street from the alley. Once again I had runaway from the orphanage; as tomorrow was my ninth birthday I was going to steal something new as a birthday present.

The old man had passed me several times going in and out of the alley. He was very old, walked all hunched over, and always walked with his arms wrapped around himself.

“BOO!” said someone from behind me. Being almost dark, I jumped and quickly turned around just as the old man passed me. He winked, smiled at me and then headed back out into the street.

All at once, the two young teens grabbed the old man and began dragging him back into the alley. He let out a horrible scream as the two of them began to beat him with their fists. Within seconds the old man was down on the ground and the two boys began kicking him as hard as they could. Rolling up into a ball the old man continued to yell. I was less than twenty yards from the man, yet I could hardly hear him the sound was so muffled.

“Give us the key, old man,” one of the boys kept yelling.

“It’s my key to life. It’s the key to life. Leave it alone, Please,” the old man kept screaming.

The two boys just kept beating him.

As I ran out of the alley, I saw a Chinese man running back into the restaurant. I ran inside and began yelling at the man to call the police. He stood there waving his hand at me.

“No involve here. No involve,” he yelled at me.

I ran back out of the restaurant, crossed the street and into the shoe store.

“Call the police,” I screamed at a woman, near the back of the store.

I ran outside and back into the alley where the two boys were now wrestling with the old man.

“Give me that key, old man,” one of the boys was still yelling.

I ran past them and hid behind several large trash cans located about half way down the alley.

In the distance, I could hear sirens heading in our direction. The two boys jumped off the old man and began running out of the alley. Several minutes later, people began walking into the alley. Two men walked up to the old man, who now lay motionless on the ground.

“I think he’s dead,” said a heavyset man, as he knelt down to look at the old homeless fellow.

“He’s dead, alright,” stated another man beside him. “He’s not breathing,” he continued.

Several minutes later, police cars came from every direction. There were flashing red lights everywhere.

“Call an ambulance,” yelled one of the policemen to one of the other officers, at the end of the alley.

The police began to question people in the surrounding area to see if they could find out what had happened. Being a runaway, one well known by the police department, I was not about to come out from hiding. The woman from the shoe store told the policeman that two boys were beating on the old man and kept yelling at him to give them their keys back.

“I think this is what they were after,” said the officer, as he reach down and tried to remove the purple bag from the dead man’s grip.

I stood; my body tightly pressed against the cold brick wall which ran the entire length of the alley. I watched as the policeman continued to try and remove the small purple sack from the old man’s hands. The small gold rope finally broke as the officer pulled it free from the homeless man’s grasp.

Spreading open the top of the bag, he turned on his flashlight and looked inside. The officer stood there slowly shaking his head, back and forth. Dropping hands to his side, he called for the other officers to come and take a look.

I had hoped that the policeman would take the “key of life” out of the bag so that I could see what it looked like. One at a time, the officers looked into the bag and as they did each one slowly shook their heads.

I saw the ambulance lights turn into the alley so I moved behind the large trash cans and continued hiding from view. Several attendants, dressed in white, quickly took a small bed from the back of the vehicle and rolled it over to the dead man. I turned away because I did not want to see them pick up the old man. Dead people’s arms swinging freely about always seemed to bother me.

Several minutes later, the ambulance left and the officers continued to talk for ten or fifteen more minutes. As they returned to their individual cars and began to pull away, the officer holding the small purple bag tossed it into one of the three small trash cans, sitting behind the Chinese restaurant.

When all was quiet, I slowly came out from behind the large trash cans and walked over to the back of the restaurant. Looking from can to can, I finally saw the small, purple pouch with the golden rope. I reached down, picked up the pouch and just stood there. It felt strange to know that someone who was now dead was alive an hour before and was holding this bag in his hands. Holding up the bag with my left hand, I began feeling the bottom of the bag with my right hand. Sure enough in the corner of the bag was the “key to life”

‘I wonder why the police did not keep this key if it is truly the “key to life,’ I thought to myself.

Slowly, I turned the bag upside down causing the “key of life” fell into the palm of my right hand. I tightly closed my fingers around the key and carefully moved down the alleyway and into the streetlight. Opening my hand, I looked down to view the “key to life.”

What I saw absolutely amazed me. I too had once owned a “key to life.” I had found it on a dirty, wooden floor in a small country grocery store several years before. It had been attached to a small can of meat the grocery man told me they called Spam.

~ Roger Dean Kiser, Sr. ~

The books, stories and CDs of Roger Dean Kiser, author, child advocate.

[ by: Roger Dean Kiser Copyright © 2008 ( -- submitted by: Roger Dean Kiser ]


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