Have You Lost Your Keys?

Have you lost your keys? If so, they may be waiting for you in a walkway that passes nearby our house in Falls Church, VA. I first spotted these key hanging from some landscaped shrubs bordering the walkway while taking out the trash and recycling bins for pickup a few weeks ago.The keys were hung on a branch of the shrub, not quite at eye-level. Someone had probably found them nearby and hung them there so that they owner would come and claim them.

So far no one has claimed these keys.

The keys move around. They started out hanging from the shrub, but the other day I saw them hanging from the railing of a staircase. Maybe someone thought the keys weren’t visible enough from the shrub, and that they’d be more visible from the stairs. Still, there they are, orphaned and ignored.

I’ve become fascinated by these keys. They were most likely found nearby, which means they were most likely lost nearby. By hanging them up, the assumption is the person who lost them would pass through again, see their lost keys, shriek in joy at the discovery, and rush home with them. But then why hasn’t that person passed through again and discovered their keys? There are other scenarios I can imagine.

  • The keys are part of some elaborate dead-drop. Someone passing through “lost” the keys so that another person would find them. Being a neighborly group of folks, those of us who live nearby have become an unwitting part of this cloak-and-dagger affair. The reason the keys are still there today is because the person for whom the keys were meant has been smoked out and had to make a run for it.

  • The keys were placed there by a time-traveler from the future. They are intended for a specific person at a specific time. The reason the keys are still there is that the time in question is still in the future, and the person for whom the keys are meant has not yet arrived to “find” them.

  • The keys are a prop in a social experiment conducted by local college students to see how long they will be shuffled from place to place before they eventually disappear.

Given their proximity to the staircase, however, I have another, much more likely theory. To understand it requires some background. First, the staircase in question can be very dark at night. There used to be a spotlight that brightened the walkway at night. That light was repositioned, and the staircase can be deadly to navigate in the dark.

Second has to do with the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. In those books, the secret to flying (a la Superman) was to throw one’s self at the ground… and miss. In order to miss, one needs to be suitably distracted. In one scene in the book, the main character is dashing down a mountainside on a distant planet, and on the verge of falling to his death, when suddenly, off to one side, he catches sight of some luggage he lost in Heathrow Airport many years earlier and goes bouncing off into the sky, safe and sound, suitably distracted to avoid being smashed into the ground.

I think the keys are positioned for just such a distraction. One dark night, someone will walk down those stairs, and trip, tumbling forward toward a certain broken neck, when suddenly, they will spy the keys that they lost in the dorm laundry at a college in Oklahoma City fifteen years ago hanging from the staircase railing. And off they go into the sky, the shock of the discovering lifting them by the seat of their pants, much like the Lorax.

I’ve been thinking about taking those keys and putting them on top of the mailboxes, but on second thought, I’ll probably leave them on the stairs. They may save someone’s life.