THE KEY KEEPER


Alice did not have to run very far before she came to a large building that looked like a very modern hotel. "Maybe I can find someone who will treat me like the very special little girl that I am," she thought.

Without hesitation she pushed open the door and walked into the building. She found herself before a reception desk. Behind the desk was a large board with many numbered hooks. Hanging on each hook was a large key.

"Hello," called Alice, "Is anyone here?"

There was no answer.

"HELLO," Alice tried again, but the response was still total silence. "This is a silly way to run a hotel," Alice thought. "How can a guest register if there is no one around?"

Alice was about to give up, turn, and walk out the door in despair when she spied a small bell at one end of the desk. "I'm certain that wasn't there when I came in," she said aloud as she walked over and gave the bell a big ring.

"Who's there? Who's there? Who pushed the control gee?" came a voice through a door at the other end of the desk—a door Alice was quite certain was not there earlier. As she watched the door an old gentleman slowly shuffled toward her.

"Well, what do you want?" he asked as he spotted Alice.

"I was just looking...," Alice replied rather timidly.

"Hrumph, you shouldn't bother me." he interrupted.

"Please, Sir. I am hungry and so very tired, and...."

"Speak up, speak up! What do you want?"

"Please Sir," Alice repeated as loudly as she thought she could without shouting. "I am hungry, and was wondering if you had...."

"Do I look like I have anything to eat? And if I did, do you suppose I would give you some? Anyway, you must never have any food around here! Oh my, no, never. It is forbidden."

"Why not?" Alice asked, a little dismayed.

"Why not? Anyone who is the least bit intelligent knows why not! Things to eat and drink can get all over the place. They will mess up my beautiful orderly work. No, no, no! I can't have food in here!" the man almost shouted at Alice.

"Well, maybe there is some place I could sit down for a while," Alice pleaded. "I have been walking for ever so long."

"No, no! It is quite impossible. You can't stay here. Now run along. Leave me alone." The old man turned back toward the door he had just come through and started to walk away from Alice and the desk.

"There is no need to be grumpy!" Alice blurted out. "And this is no way to run a hotel."

"A hotel? What gave you the idea that this is a hotel?" asked the old man as he turned toward Alice once again.

"Well, it looks like one," Alice replied. "And this desk and the board with all the keys...."

"A lot you know," he said. "This isn't a hotel at all. Now go away. Go to your program."

"But I don't have a program," Alice tried to explain.

"Nonsense, all characters have a program. The users push the keys and the characters get sent to a program. It is all very simple. Now off with you! I have pressing work to do." The old man started to turn again to leave.

"Well, I guess I am a character, but I don't have a program," Alice said slowly, then brightened and finished, "Perhaps if you let me look at one, then I could tell who's who."

"I don't have a program!" the old man snapped. "Do I look like I have a program? Stop wasting my time. And don't be such a pushy young thing." He paused and scowled. "Say, you're not a user are you?"

"I don't believe so. No, I am definitely not!" Alice replied confidently. "I am a girl."

"So? Users can be girls as well as boys. That does not prove a thing," the man said with a frown. "In any case, it doesn't matter. I don't have time for idle talk."

With that he took a large watch from his pocket, examined it, and returned it to his pocket. "See, you have already made me late. I have far too many things to do. The buffer is getting full. Now go!"

Alice was becoming quite curious, so she asked "Exactly, what is it that you do?" then added, "Sir?"

"What do I do, you ask?" the man cried, and peered over the desk intently at Alice for a few moments. Then he lifted his eyes upward and continued to no one in particular, "She asks, 'what do I do?'! Why did I get 'blessed' with this character who doesn't even know what I do. Everyone knows what I do. If it weren't for me nobody would enter. I am so important, I shouldn't have to explain. And this character asks 'What do I do?'"

With this the man stopped, leaned over the desk and squinted right in Alice's face. She was a bit frightened, and stepped back at least one small step. "Please, Sir, I didn't mean to upset you," she managed to say.

"Are you a mouse?" he finally asked.

"Oh my, no!" Alice exclaimed with a smile. "But I do love mice with their little tails, whiskers, and bright eyes...."

"Aha, I thought so!" he interrupted.

"But my mother doesn't at all like them," Alice added quickly with a frown.

"That's why you're here to create trouble. You're one of those mouse lovers. You want to retire me, put me out of work, make me feel useless and neglected. Just find me a proper inventor, and I will lead the world in beating a path to his door!"

"Oh no, Sir," Alice added somewhat confused. "I...."

"People are always pushing me around. They send these shiftless characters to control me."

"Please, Sir," Alice pleaded. "You don't...."

"Well, I am not going to stand here and talk with a mouse lover. I have too many alternate things to do." With that the man turned and grabbed a key labeled ESCAPE and promptly disappeared. There was not even a puff of smoke or a sound. He was gone, and Alice was left alone once more staring at the place he had been standing.

"What a grumpy old man!" she pouted out loud and turned and walked out of the building, glad to be away from him even if she was still hungry and tired.



BACK        CONTENTS         NEXT