"The Secret of the Key" was a story printed in the fourth issue of The Twilight Zone comic published by Gold Key Comics.
Rene Noir was a French rogue that stole to pay up his frequent gambling debts. One night, he spotted a very special key framed in Monsieur Le Clef's locksmith shop and overheard the owner mention how valuable it was. Sure this would clear up his debts, he stole the key. Little did he know he would soon find out just what purpose the key had. It would unlock a doorway...into the Twilight Zone.
Cast of characters
- Monsieur Le Clef
- King Louis XVI
- Marie Antoinette
- Rene Noir
- angry mob
- royal guards
- royal servant
- wealthy customer
"This innocent-looking locksmith's shop is an unlikely place to find the unexpected, yet, for one man, it holds. the key to the Twilight Zone. The place is Rue Morte, a cobblestoned side street in Paris. The date: January 20, 1893. Inside, Monsieur Le Clef, owner of the shop, talks with a customer."
On the evening of January 20, 1893, Mr. Le Clef, a Parisian locksmith, was entertaining an unusual customer. The man was dressed in an elaborate purple suit with matching bow tie and a top hat, very much giving the impression of wealth. He pointed with his gold-tinged cane at a large key Le Clef had framed behind his desk. Le Clef called the key "The Gold Key" and said that he regretted to inform the important man that it was not for sale. This only made the man desire the object more. He asked if he might at least examine the key and Le Clef obliged. On the key was an enscription in Latin that read, "With me, a wise man can unlock the secrets of life, but a rogue will find only the door to death." The item's allure grew even stronger for the gentleman and he offered 50,000 francs for the key. Again, the locksmith declined. The rare key had been in his family for over a century and was more valuable to him than the gold the it was cast from. Finally, his customer relented and left the shop but asked Le Clef to contact him if he changed his mind.
Unkbeknownst to the two men, someone had been eavesdropping on their conversation. The man with a thin moustache, dressed in a black cloak, had his interest piqued when he heard of the incredible value the key possessed. The man was Rene Noir, a notorious gambler with bad luck, deeply in debt. The key, if as valuable as Le Clef claimed, could be the solution to all of his financial problems. After the locksmith had closed up his store, Rene Noir pried the window open and snuck into the shop. The key, back in its glassless frame, was easily removed and the thief made a hasty exit. A little too hasty as it turned out, as Noir's cloak brushed against the old locksmith's desk and knocked a few loose keys until the floor. The keys jangled to the floor, the noise awakening the shopowner asleep upstairs. El Clef rushed down the stairs, still in his pajamas, but only in time to see the thief run off into the night. He went to summon a gendarme to chase after the thief.
Noir, in the meantime, was trying to put some distance between himself and the shop. He ran down street after street until one wrong turn finally brought him into a cul-de-sac with a wall covered in ivy. He looked around for another exit but could find none. Then he heard footsteps approaching. He turned to the deadend wall and began to rip the ivy from it as he attempted to scale it in desperation. He could not gain leverage, but he did manage to remove enough of the ivy from the wall to uncover a huge metal door! The door would not open, but then Noir noticed a keyhole! With nothing left to lose, the authorities closing in, key in hand, Rene Noir tried the Gold Key in the keyhole. The door opened! Noir jumped inside and slammed the immense barrier shut behind him. Le Clef and the guard caught up to where the man had been but were unable to find the man. The locksmith was certain that he had watched the thief slip through a doorway, but at the end of the street all they had found was a solid wall! However, the stolen key lay on the ground, discarded. The men were confused, but Le Clef took the gendarme's advice and returned to his home with the recovered property.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the door, Rene Noir had found a passageway. The tunnel emptied out onto a serted street. The gambler felt relieved that he had lost his pursuers. Yet, he was also unsettled by his surroundings. This other side of the door seemed strange and unfamiliar to him. He assumed he was lost and went off in search of someone to point him in the right direction to get back home.
Ahead of Noir, he observed a group of what he had assumed were demonstrators gathered on the street corner. He began to approach them for directions, when the demonstrators began to shout, "Look! There is one!" and "Down with the tyrants!" Noir watched in horror as the angry mob turned and began to rush toward him, intent on his death! He immediately fled into the nearby wooded area and ran until he could go no farther. Again he found himself in a postion with no seeming means of escape. His only hope was to hide himself in the undergrowth. From beneath the cover of the shrubs and vines, Noir witnessed the mob pass by him. He knew it was only a matter of time before they returned. From his hiding place, he saw a grand chateau standing on the other side of the tree line. If he could find entry into the building, he felt sure he could escape the hostile mob.
As he approached the outer edge of the chateau, he noticed that guards were posted outside the doors. They did not appear to be associated with those searching for him, but he felt it better to avoid them anyhow. Instead, he went around to the back of the estate and found an open window. Quietly, he slipped inside.
"I did not hear you enter. You are early, my husband, but I am almost ready," announced the woman dressing her hair at the mirror as Noir entered. Then, suddenly, she realized that the man who had come into the room was not her husband! She was startled, but he calmed her fears and appeared to win her sympathy when he related his narrow escape from a group of cutthroats. She offered him brandy and excused herself.
Secretly, the lady went outside and urgently instructed her servant to fetch her husband. The woman returned to her room and poured another glass of brandy for her new guest. She informed him that her husband would be joining them soon and that he would be "delighted" to see the new arrival. In moments, he was there. Noir overheard the couple use their first names to greet one another. The lady's name was Marie and the man's name was Louis.
Rene Noir had become lightheaded by the alcohol, but he could swear that the man named Louis bore a remarkable resemblance to himself. The similarity was not unnoticed by the couple, either. Marie commented that the two men could be twins as Noir drifted into drunken unconsciousness. It was then that Marie revealed to her husband that she had drugged the man's drink, resulting in a temporary paralysis. Her husband was overjoyed. He quickly began to trade clothes with the man. Rene Noir was to stand in his place. Rene Noir was about to become the ill-fated king of France!
"History records that on January 21, 1793, Louis XVI of France, husband of Marie Antoinette, was beheaded. But who really died that day, the king or a petty thief who stumbled into the Twilight Zone?"
Response and analysis
Occult | Time travel | Crime | France | Royalty | History | 18th century | Fate | Justice
Notes and annotations
- A gendarme is a France French medieval or early modern cavalryman, but is more commonly heard used—incorrectly—in the English language to refer to any French policeman.
- Louis XVI (August 23, 1754–January 21, 1793) was the ruling monarch of France from 1774 to 1792. On August 10, 1792, the Insurrection occurred and the king was arrested, tried and found guilty of treason against the French people. He was executed by guillotine on January 21, 1793, becoming the only king of France to be executed.
- Marie Antoinette (November 2, 1755–October 16, 1793) was an Archduchess of Austria, the fifteenth child of Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor, and of Maria Theresa, Empress of Austria. She was married at age fourteen to Louis-Auguste, Dauphin of France, who would become the future king of France upon the death of King Louis XV in May 1774. She would serve as queen until the time of the Reign of Terror, during the height of the French Revolution, when she and her husband were imprisoned by the people of France. She would be executed nine months after her husband met his fate, on October 16, 1793.
- Alex Toth - Penciler
- Alex Toth - Inker
- Ben Oda - Letterer
- Originally published in color
- Printed on newsprint, 10 pages
- Reprinted in Mystery Comics Digest 03
- Rene Noir translates to Rene Black in English from French.
- Rue Morte translates to Dead Street in English from French.
- "Do Not Touch Exhibit", another story of a thief that faces retribution thanks to the Twilight Zone
- "The Bridegroom", story of a swindler whose resemblance to another likewise delivers justice from the past
- "Execution", story of an outlaw that trades places with someone from the future on execution day
Notes and references
- Bob Klein and Mike Tiefenbacher. "The Twilight Zone no 4 (1962 series)." Grand Comics Database. Retrieved: July 26, 2009.