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The Box
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The Box

by Keith Crews

It was an ordinary thing, something you’d overlook without even realizing it, the type of obtuse object that could elude a search from both the mindful and uneventful eye alike. The Box was like that, a flat tin chameleon in a shade of lackluster black that could hide itself quite well amidst the clutter of anything…or that was until it needed something. Then and only then would it seek out a victim by weaving its mystical web and snag a person’s hapless attention like a witless fish being caught up inside a fine mesh net. But what those wants generally were was something best left unspoken of, because to dwell on such ideas might invite the Box to cross one’s path, and that was something no one of a sound mind dared to challenge.

Yet to know the why of it would be to explain the thing’s enigmatic nature, that malevolent process surely scripted by a fiendish design that in itself was cunningly shrewd. How often had it been said that there in lies the answer, and perhaps if one were to gaze deeply into the black recess beneath the thin metal cover for long enough, or reach a hand in betwixt the Box’s creaky hinges, then perhaps they’d come away with just that…an answer. But such courage had never been shown to the cursed object, and considering the Box’s immense age, it was doubtful that that kind of valor would be forthcoming any time soon.

It had survived a great deal of tragedy during its journey down through the eons. Wars, famines, plagues, and even being lost at sea, but as with all things inherently evil the Box had simply lied dormant like a colony of lethal anthrax spores, waiting for the right time to emerge and infect an unsuspecting host with a slow cumbersome death. Of course it had eventually been brought back topside after being cast aside like a common article whose purpose was supposedly mundane. And then from there it had traveled by various mediums and questionable circumstances to venues far and abroad along a network of global trade routes. So it was of little surprise to learn that it spent an undefined amount of years inside a few houses’ attics, and a few months inside an office building’s basement, and from there into a church’s steeple of all places, (each of those stopovers are replete with their own tragic tale by the way, but who would ever think to suspect an inconsequential Box?) and from there it finally settled into a troubled teenage boy’s bedroom by the name of Lance Pedersen. He’d been the one who’d plucked it from the pigeon dung encrusted bell tower of the abandoned Catholic Church, which was now a New Orleans swamp property. It was that encroaching marshy condition, which was responsible for driving God out of the bayou with its stubborn moss, frequent flooding, and inhospitable wildlife…a parley of Biblical plaques so to speak. In any case it was irony at its best, and that was something the Box enjoyed as much as any minion of the dark nature would, because for any temple to be abandoned due to that unruly natural force that was purportedly under the exclusive domain of The Almighty God, well…that was something to be snickered upon openly.

However, it had been removed from its stagnant home by the usually destructive hands of misunderstood youth and placed upon a kid’s corner desk next to a crummy laptop computer, a stained playboy magazine, a packet of cigarette rolling papers, (funny cigarettes that is) and last, but certainly not least, a nine millimeter automatic handgun. To the Box’s sense of sadistic mischief, the gun was the grail of sour accessories and far better than any household hammer, butcher knife, or medieval sword could ever hope to compete with. This invention put murder at a distance, and when something could do that, then implementing a person’s demise was made all that much easier in the doing. Here, the gun could shave a split second off the contemplation of a macabre task, and in the realm of choice that’s an important acreage to cut down on. Little to no hesitation was indeed an appealing aspect when expediting souls to the hereafter, and that potential for instant gratification was taunting the Box with all sorts of rousing possibilities.

It would have to play to the boy’s desires in order to gain control of his adolescent mind, just like it had back in the swamp, because if there was one thing the Box was good at, it was manipulation, and unfortunately for Mr. Death Metal, the Box already had a firm handle on what made a dip-shit like Lance Pedersen tick.

It had changed its visible persona back at the chapel to an oak cigar case when it first felt Lance’s ratty sneakers shake the paint peeled stairs outside the hall’s failing timbers. It could taste the boy’s aesthetic preferences riding atop his potent hormones as he entered in through the church’s rotted doors, just like it could smell the bad intentions oozing out of his oily cratered skin, and it also knew intuitively that wood was what the boy coveted at heart, because he liked to work with his hands. So by assuming this deceptive visage it knew it would save itself from the mindless heel of random vandalism and raise its value up to that singular status of a treasured keepsake. And so it had, and now it was among a trove of other bizarre collectibles, and had become an object that was second only to the gun, but that social slight was just fine according to the Box’s sense of self-worth, because it too had a thing for the gun.

Lance was a Death Metal aficionado, whose favorite band was a blood spraying, pyrotechnic wielding, guitar grinding trio named Raped Angels. Needless to say this too sat well with the Box’s sense of how things should be, and deep down inside its black pit that lay rank and vile under an eternity of misdeeds, it was quickly growing attached to this latest tool of a boy, and so it didn’t mind in the least when the rowdy punk slapped a Raped Angels band sticker across its deceptive construction. In fact, it kind of looked at the bloody logo letters as a sort of badge of honor for past transgressions served. There was very little in the universe that wasn’t vain to one extend or the other, and this too could be said about the Box…although it really cared more about voyeurism and trickery than what was laid upon its ever changing skin.

Priorities have and always would be the successful strategy of any anarchist. Even chaos had to subscribe to a certain degree of order before preparing to bring down the house, and as for the Box, it was always calculating its next move like a general surveys a battlefield. The gun would be the key, and soon Lance would wield the smoke wagon as surely as if the Box were holding it inside its own metaphorical hand.

The question as always, was when?

The answer to that would be sooner than expected, because Lance was not unlike the church he’d found the Box in…ready to collapse under the weight of his own dark fantasies, much like the failing hall rafters were preparing to fall from the ceiling down into the musty basement beneath the aisle’s decaying floorboards.

The constant equation in happenstance was and always would be ninety nine percent coincidence, and one percent destiny, but for those with an inclination towards the horrific, fate was invariably inclined to give sway to a sick mind’s need for purpose, as though good’s nemesis had hand picked them for a task that could change the balance of power throughout eternity itself and bring Karma along with its kit-and-caboodle down to its very knees. Lance, however structurally unsound, still believed himself to be omnipotent, and as with all megalomaniacs, subscribed to a self-righteous train of thought, which always set others around them on an equal footing with the common cockroach. This detachment was obviously unhealthy, but to a thing like the Box it was an incredible source of power, because it could feed that gluttonous furnace called Lance’s ego with falsehoods dredged up out of its black heart until the boy became dependent upon them. After all, he was still a child, and wasn’t it true that all children needed reassurance?

The door opened and in strolled an awkward lanky boy, carrying a cartridge clip full of bullets that’s he’d stolen from his father’s den. He sat his willowy frame down before a white Formica desk and then set the ill-gotten armament next to the gun, which of course lay next to the all seeing Box. It was late, midnight, and a strong wind had started blowing from the south and promised to deliver a rainstorm within the next few hours if it bothered to keep it up. But those things were meaningless to the distracted boy with the black and blue shiner swelling beneath his left eye, trivial to that throbbing pain that shot out around his head like a ripe melon succumbing to the crushing weight of an elephant’s foot. All that mattered right now was the indignity that accompanied having had his ass thrashed by a high-school football jock, Jake Holland, out in front of the local McDonald’s a half hour ago…that and not surprisingly the ‘church’ Box.

Lance let his twig like fingers caress the smooth polished finish, enjoying the Box’s cool surface and subtle angles. There was comfort to be had here, and it took his murderous mind off the ache that was pounding nails into his bruised cheekbone. It was during this subtle connection that the Box’s lid unexpectedly sprung open, allowing a slither of darkness to peek out upon the boy’s injured iris. Lance however, did not flinch or question the how or why of it. Instead, he acted as if this were to be expected, because on a subliminal level he somehow knew it would happen. As was said before, the Box could read the boy and the monster inside the boy’s soul could read the Box, and as for that hard evil blackness seething beneath the oak lid, it had just consummated their connection like a warped mirror telling shit that it didn’t stink.

A crooked lazy grin fell over the boy’s sallow lips, because he could see the humor inside this yet to be resolved situation. He could see the insanity of what was, and what was worse, what was still to come, because his thoughts and the Box’s were becoming one, and it knew just what buttons to push with the boy, and that powerhouse breaker switch was retribution. Yes, the gun would even the score tomorrow out on the Commons where John Bradley’s senior high students smoked and played touch football, and then Mr. Field Goal Kicker with the golden locks and wide shoulders would loose a pair of nuts and giggle stick somewhere in between history and geography class…POW!

From behind Lance a large figured stepped abruptly into the room, his commanding presence looming over the boy like a dark cloud.

“Where the hell were you tonight asshole?” asked Lance’s father, Edward Pedersen, his plump balding head flush with anger. “See you got a reward for your troubles.”

“I was over at Colin’s house listening to…”

“I know,” interjected Edward. “Gay Angels right.” He said this with a spiteful grin, which fit his disapproving face a little too comfortably.

“Raped Angels,” corrected Lance, suddenly finding his hand reaching for the gun.

“Boy,” said Edward, placing his forklift driving hands aside his ample hips. “You’ve got to dump your boyfriends and get yourself a girlfriend, cause you’ve got fag written all over your pole smoking face. People are starting to talk, you know.”

Lance’s frazzled eyes searched the desk’s top to find the gun had mysteriously vanished and that was a damn shame, because that thin support beam holding up his Christian Judaic thou shall not kill social conditioning had just collapsed under the pressure of sixteen years of Edward’s wanton neglect.

“Are you listening to me, princess?”

Lance checked the floor, the desk again, and then the…

“Give me that!” snapped Edward, seizing the Box off the desk with a hateful grab.

“What you got in here…a dildo?”

Edward flipped back the lid and Lance held his breath, fully anticipating his old man’s automatic to come tumbling out onto the floor like a live grenade, and what was worst about that was not the beating he’d receive for having taken it in the first place, but that tomorrow Mr. Football would get to keep his nuts right where they were. Except nothing fell out of the Box, and that too on a subliminal level was also to be expected, because deep down Lance knew that the Box had hidden the gun and that it would protect him from his father finding it.

“Where’d you get this?”

“Found it out in the woods,” replied Lance, wondering where the gun could be, but even more fascinated by what the Box actually was. Perhaps an enchanted object that once belonged to a wizard or conjuror of satanic spells.

Edward tossed the oak container onto the floor and then kicked it so it slid under the bedroom dresser bureau. “Piece of junk.” With that said, the old man turned and headed back out the door, but before leaving Lance alone he stopped to say one last thing. “I’ve got to work tomorrow night, but your mom’s still going to parent teacher meeting. For your sake she’d better bring back some good news.”

Edward slammed the door and headed back downstairs to get drunk, watch sports, and then fall asleep in the living room recliner

Meanwhile, Lance fell down on all fours, clambered across the bedroom rug, and dug the Box out from beneath the dresser to find that the once light container was now weighted down with something that didn’t belong inside, something solid. Yet there it was, that damnable nervous apprehension holding him back, keeping the lid down, and perhaps he may never have opened it if not for that subliminal whisper tugging on his thoughts like a gentle dog yanks on its master’s pant leg. It was letting him know that everything was cool kiddo, so don’t sweat it, for the time being the coast was clear.

The top yawned back upon its brass hinges, and for a brief second a dark light seemed to flicker out from the inside. It was here that Lance’s curiosity was met by a smell rising out of the dimness, and it was unlike anything he’d ever sensed before. It was the sent of something ancient maybe, like the dying breath of a dragon or perhaps the sweat from a unicorn’s hide. Whatever it was that blew out of the black abyss beneath the past’s doorway, it was bittersweet and from a time long since forgotten, but as for its relevance if any, it was immediately lost upon the sight of the now returned gun.

As for the Box, it enjoyed the gun’s flavor, what with its exotic taste of senseless deeds gone by, and judging by the salty tang still lingering on the barrel, it had killed an animal just recently…a raccoon and a squirrel if it was not mistaken. But there was also something else, and it was a sensation that filled the Box with utter delight, because it knew undeniably that the gun had taken a human life once before, and that miserable soul had been none other than Lance’s grandfather. Suicide could taste an awful lot like good Chablis. But whatever had motivated the old codger to jam a bullet into his own cap, it didn’t really matter to the Box. All it cared about was the smooth texture, and the subtle aftertaste of a crisp Chablis tantalizing its ethereal taste-buds.

Lance eased a hand into the Box’s dark nook and withdrew the gun, along with the magazine clip he’d taken from the den earlier. He mated the two parts together with a metallic click and then drew back the chamber as to let a slug find its way into the nine millimeter bore. The engagement of mechanics and chemistry was power personified, and in the presence of the all seeing Box, the boy felt righteous and confident, because the Box’s unconscious mantra had told him he was, and that was the kind of reassurance the child longed to hear.

As mentioned before, the Box could read him.

Lance stood, cradling the weapon inside his slender hands, and for a brief moment he thought about going down stairs to even the score with the old man. The urge to do so was nearly overwhelming, because the boy believed the mean spirited prick deserved it, and perhaps he did, but for now cooler heads prevailed. After all, tomorrow was going to be a big day out on the Commons, a day when a local football hero got his nuts blown off by a social outcast. Then it would be score one for the little guys, those unsung underdogs who always stood in the shadows while the beautiful people gossiped, laughed, and listened to their bubble gum pop music. Yes, tomorrow would indeed be a big day and it would be entirely about reckonings. But for now, sleep beckoned both the boy and the Box, and so the gun found the Box’s interior once again, while the boy found some bedcovers.

Meanwhile, outside that rainstorm finally swept in from out of the south, and as Lance slipped into the dark nocturnal oil of troubled dreams, the Box fed on death’s residues while it sang to its latest victim in a voice that was not actually there…but for all intends and purposes in a voice that sounded a lot like a child’s music box lullaby.

Copyright Keith Crews 2005

Keith Crews has written six novels and is currently on his seventh. (He is still looking for a publisher!) He has two short stories on the internet titled, "The Dirt Patch Watering Hole" and "Mad Avenue.".

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