You have been trapped in a jail cell of an evil mastermind!
The cell has a locked door with a keyboard with the letters a to z and an enter key.

(Original image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The evil mastermind gives you some clues to escape, as he does this as a pastime:

Only one person has escaped.

They had a box of clues, which you currently don't have, so he tells you about them.

This is the tale of my first escapee:
They discovered the clues to the password in a box.
In the box they found a red herring and a butt.
The red herring was way past its time.
The butt was only part of its body, with the rest long risen above.
That was the fate of both of those items.
Using these clues begot the solution to the escapee:
What could've happened to one item to prevent its fate
that would've happened to the second to make it reach its fate?

Note: "they" is used as a gender-neutral third-person pronoun. Can be replaced with "he" or "she".

• Is the spelling of it's intentional? Mar 15 '15 at 20:34
• No. I still don't get apostrophes in its :/
– user10203
Mar 15 '15 at 21:13
• Is the German keyboard layout of any significance? Mar 15 '15 at 21:25
• @MarchHo Could not find an English one. No significance.
– user10203
Mar 15 '15 at 21:26

I suspect that the answer is

smoking.

The "butt" being referred to is

the butt of a cigarette. The rest of its body long rose above in puffs of tobacco smoke.

And the red herring is

one that has been rotten "way past its time". If it had been smoked, it would have lasted longer, "preventing its fate" so to say.

• I feared that if I did that, my entire answer would essentially be a giant spoiler tag, which is against the principle of this site.
– user88
Mar 15 '15 at 19:42
• I've edited in order to spoilerise what's essential to the solution without making the entire answer a giant spoiler tag. Feel free to rollback if you object! +1 by the way. Mar 15 '15 at 21:27
• Won't a better interpretation be that "the herring was rotten, and had it been smoked, its fate (rotting) would have been prevented"? Mar 15 '15 at 21:27
• @MarchHo That was the intended interpretation.
– user10203
Mar 15 '15 at 21:38
• @Reticality You should probably remove your comment if you're really worried about spoilers... Mar 15 '15 at 22:53