He adjusted his seat and looked over to the house. The street itself was dim apart from a few low level streetlamps; one flickered in and out of life until it sparked out into darkness. It was close to ten p.m., the ideal time for what he did. Without looking away from the house he reached into his pocket and pulled out the key. As he held it up to the sky, it was dimly lit by the stars. It looked rusty and unremarkable, although nothing could have been further from the truth. Along its edges were scuff marks and nicks where it had touched a hundred houses, none of which were home.
The trick itself was simple enough to be almost perfect. He would walk up to a door and fumble the key around the edges of the lock. Inevitably, after a minute or two, the sound of footsteps would putter along hallways and there would be the pause of the chain being unhooked. The door would open and then both their lives would change, for better or for worse. The procedure was a matter of extreme routine and aided by the internet, his research studies were faultless. The look on their faces as they unsuspectingly came face to face with him, this pure stranger, was something that was worth a thousand dreams to him. It was an utter, total, sensation that he felt in those first few flickers of contact.
It was never a simple thing, what he did. Until he stepped up to the door, he never knew what would follow. On several occasions he would leave the house, the occupants filled with tears of joy, clutching the money he gave them. Similarly, some of the older men and women would beg him to stay, wanting to talk longer, desperate for company. He would leave other houses with men and women in tears but there was no joy in them, only fear and pain and anguish at what he had visited upon them. For those people, he would stay longer, far longer, than the visit itself. In their nightmares, in their future, in the times when rooms grew dark and their swollen eyes finally closed.
No man was truly good and no man was truly bad; the ones who claimed either could be proclaimed as nothing more certain than a liar. In times of crisis bad men helped selflessly, and in times of opportunity, the good took either fortunes or flesh. He was simply a man who explored both and denied either. If he believed in it, he knew hell would wait for him, but believing only in science, he took every experience that he engineered for himself. He was damned in his own eyes, for what he did, as much as other men were damned for what they chose to deny themselves.
He closed his eyes for a moment and savoured the feel of the rough hewn key between his fingers. His life had become so pared down that all that mattered was the sensory pleasure of the key and what it offered to him in terms of experience and later, memory. All human life is here, he thought to himself as he slowly pried his eyes open. He set the key down, wiped it and then slipped on the gloves, breathing hard. As he stepped out of the car and crossed the street, he began to feel the sensation run through his skin. It could soon all be over, it could all begin anew. He stepped up to the porch and began to brush the key against the contours of the lock.
He made his way to the car and slipped the gloves off. Above him, the stars were burning brightly in the sky. For a second he looked at it, the stars, the moon, all of it, before setting the key down and flipping the dash open. As he framed the house in the lens there was just the sound of his breathing and nothing more, ragged and thick and perfect. The shutter came down and satisfied, he began the car. He drove out with the windows down, his breath settling and peered out into the night, the moon, and the stars. Already, his thoughts had started to turn to the next town.