This isn’t a recent flash fic challenge, but it was so intriguing that I had to try something for it.
There are ten empty boxes on the shelf. On either side of the row of boxes is a candle. I reach into my pocket and pull out a quarter.
There are nine empty boxes on the shelf, and one with a quarter in it.
It’s bitingly cold, the kind of cold that seeps in through your clothes, doesn’t mind about the skin, and burrows its way down into your bones. I’m sitting on a bus stop on the top of a mountain where a bus has never stopped.
A bus pulls up. “Where to?” the driver asks.
“No,” I say, “I just need a transfer ticket. He hands me the flimsy piece of paper and I tuck it into my pocket as I step away from the bus. He drives off.
I turn around and walk down the mountain.
There are eight empty boxes on the shelf.
“You want fries with that?” the perky Midwestern teenager asks me. She’s wearing too much makeup. I shake my head. I pay her and take the bag.
Inside is a small, paper-wrapped parcel that smells of grease. I open it and take a look. They got my order perfectly. I toss the top bun to the side and dig the pickle slice out of a tomb of melted processed cheese. It pries free. I hold it up to the light of a streetlamp and look.
It glimmers in the white light, casting a prismatic array of dancing rainbows on the pavement next to me. I tuck it into my pocket. I eat the burger and immediately regret it.
There are seven empty boxes.
I wake suddenly with a violent feeling that I am going to be ill. The contents of my stomach are inscrutable in a pile next to my bed. I clean them up. It’s getting hard on me, the searching. I drink some water and swish with Jack Daniels.
In the middle of the lake in the middle of the state is a hole. The water just plummets. I stare into it, perched on the edge of a great cliff of water in a rented rowboat. The sparkling blue walls of water seem to go on until the reach a point at the bottom. I pull out a coil of rope and tie it to the prow of the ship. I tie the other end to my belt, and then climb over the edge of the boat. My hands shake.
I no longer wear a watch, but it takes forever and a little bit longer to climb down to the bottom. When I’ve retreived the shell from the bottom, I have to climb back up, my hands burning against the rope. When I heave myself back into the boat, I feel a wriggling in my pocket and pull out the shell. A tiny hermit crab pokes his head out. I pick up a screwdriver and remove him and return the shell to my pocket.
Six empty boxes.
The next one is easy, but it takes me the better part of a day to find someone to shoot me. I run my tongue over my teeth. It aches where I caught the bullet. I drop the bullet into my pocket.
I sit in the dark room, staring at the wall I can’t see, hearing nothing but the sound of my own breathing. I go a little mad and then come back.
I reach into my pocket. It’s there.
It’s a thing of unspeakable horror, but there’s no one to whom to speak of it, so that doesn’t matter. But it really is dreadful. I face it. It blinks.
“Sorry, you’re not delivering a pizza, are you?” it asks, somewhat sheepishly, and looks around me.
“No, they always take longer than you think, don’t they?” I say. “Do you mind?”
I pry the number 7 from the thing’s address plaquard and put it in my pocket. For good measure, I shoot the thing and leave it, twitching, on the stoop.
I fill another box.
When I wake, I don’t know where I am. It’s clean and smells good, which is my first clue. I look around. There’s a woman in the bed with me. And a table next to the bed. There is a stub of a pencil on the table. I take the pencil and put it in my pocket.
I’ve lost count.
I run and run and run and still hear it chasing me. I have to stop. My lungs burn. It catches up to me, and when it does, it throws itself at my body and licks my face. I tell it it’s a good dog and to go fetch.
When it returns with the stick, I put it in my pocket.
The last time I am going to see these damned boxes, I think as I dig in my pocket for the lighter I found in a trashcan outside the club owned by something that looked uncomfortably like an angel. I drop it into the box, the last one.
Ten filled boxes sit on the shelf, and on either side, a candle. Two candles, lighting the boxes filled with the product of my journeys.
My task completed, I sit back in the chair in the center of the room, and enjoy the feeling of a job well done. I don’t even mind when I see the flames of the candles grow, the light obscuring the boxes from my vision. All I know is that I’m done. I take a little nap.
When I wake, I find that there’s something on my bookshelf.
Ten empty boxes sit on the shelf, with a candle on either side. I shift in my chair and hear something crinkle.
I reach into my pocket and pull out a list of instructions.