Black Petals Issue #75 Spring, 2016

The Boxlike Object

Home
Mars-News, Views and Commentary
The Big Well-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
The Boxlike Object-Fiction by Charles C. Cole
The Enemy of My Enemy-Fiction by Roy Dorman
Virtuality-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Virtuous Reality-Fiction by A. M. Stickel, Editor
Walking to Class-Fiction by George Economou
Whispering Ghosts-Fiction by George Economou
Churchyard watcher-Two Poems by Chris Friend
August Nights-3 Poems by Dr. Mel Waldman

boxlike2.jpg
Original Art by Cesar Valtierra © 2016




The Boxlike Object


 


By C.C. Cole


 


Deadly cultural differences



 
        The ritual began with an abandoned boxlike object on an empty park bench in the middle of Central Park. The ornate container, about the size of a jewelry box, was generously adorned with bright flower petals, broad leaves and small downy feathers, glued all along its surface, like an exotic nest or a fragile papier maché art project.


 To Keith Odderstall, divorced unemployed videogame developer, the primitive nature-smothered box looked like it needed to be protected from the rough world around it, to go back to its owner fast before an unforeseen and irreversible accident.


Couples walked by, noticing and slowing, but not daring to touch it. Dog walkers and young women with strollers, as they neared, quickly moved to the far side of the running path. But Keith, estranged father, worried for the sad child-owner who’d forgotten the box and would never see it again, at least undamaged. He wanted to return it to where it belonged. Maybe there was some identifying information on it: “property of” and a phone number.


Wiping the sweat off his hands onto his pant legs, Keith delicately picked up the object and was shocked to find it wasn’t a box at all, but a large heavily-decorated, hinged skull. When he opened the “box,” he found a dead frog inside, dried and flat, resembling a wide slice of shiny turkey skin, with eyes of small black ceramic beads. They seemed to follow him as he turned it from side to side, judging him for his carelessness and naiveté.


The thought dawned on Keith that this was a setup. This was something intentionally left behind to be found by some unsuspecting do-gooder like himself, maybe while a webcam caught the candid reaction and broadcast it to the world. He curled his lips and shook his head, refusing to look around. Keith closed the lid gently and put the box back, interesting though it was, leaving it precisely on the bench where he’d found it.


Later that night Keith was startled awake by the sound of an intruder: the unexpected creaking of his bedroom door opening and closing.


“Who’s there?” he yelled, bluffing, “I’ve got a gun.” He reached over the side of his low futon bed for the aluminum Louisville Slugger he kept conveniently on the floor. In the dim glow of his nightlight, Keith could just make out the discomforting silhouette of a thin, half-naked, teenaged boy. The boy was out of breath.


“Who the hell are you?”


“I am Coati.”


“This is private property, Coati. Understand? I could shoot you where you stand, and no jury in the city would hold it against me.”


“You have a bat.”


“That’s right. So what? It’s still gonna hurt like blazes when it comes down on your puny head.”


“You would do that?”


“What are you doing here? Are you alone?” Keith asked.  “And where the hell’s your shirt?”


Coati said, “Tonight I become a man,” and reached for a large knife sheathed on his hip.


“Easy now. We’re just getting acquainted. No reason for violence just yet. I don’t want to hurt you, but I will if I have to.”


“You are a warrior?”


“I was in the Air Force for four years; I can take care of myself. You mind telling me where you’re from? Your accent’s a little exotic, even for these parts.”


“Once I lived far away in a small village in the jungle. It is gone now, scraped flat by giant metal machines.”


“Sorry for your loss, but that stuff happens around here, too. If you’re looking for money, you picked the wrong apartment. My ex-wife’s already fleeced me.”


“Money is nothing to me.”


“Good for you. That explains why you have no shirt. How do you feed yourself? Soup kitchens and dumpster-diving, I bet.”


“We are a proud people.”


“You mean there are more of you? Don’t tell me: you live camouflaged high up in the trees in Central Park. Am I right?”


Wordlessly, the boy unsheathed his knife.


Keith felt faint. He quickly connected the dots. “Hold on a minute. So that was your bait on the bench, the artsy-fartsy skull.”


“It was.”


“And you left it there on purpose?”


“I did.”


“Why?”


Coati explained, “In my village, a boy becomes a man on his 13th birthday when he spends the night alone, conquering his childhood fears and killing his first worthy prey.”


“A cool tradition,” said Keith, “though a little suicidal. Anybody ever go off and not return?”


“Some. We know they died well. We honor them with song and prayer, and hope to one day meet them in the night sky where the ancestors go.”


“But now, it’s bye-bye village and bye-bye the old ways, right?”


“We make new ways.”


“Good for you. You acclimated, sure. I bet you can find a junkyard dog that would be a worthy opponent. Watch the teeth. They’re ornery as a shortchanged cabbie.”


“We hunt bigger prey, like you.”


“In this country, that kind of thing’s frowned upon.”


“The person who opens the box,” Coati patiently explained, “becomes the prey.”


“But I didn’t take it. I left it right where I found it. Besides, there was nothing in it. Or was there?”


“We have a powerful herb that smells like home to us, something too subtle for a man confused by the chaos of the city, but a strong scent trail for a skilled tracker.”


“Here’s what’s gonna happen: I’m gonna start screaming.” Keith fell heavily back against his pillow, suddenly very tired.


“You will not.”


“My neighbor...has a gun,” Keith gasped. “He’d love an excuse...to practice on a living target. Get me? Leave right now or face an honest-to-goodness New York City vigilante. What’s it gonna be?”


“I put poison on your bat. You have no energy left to yell.”


“That’s not fair! I was trying to help. So what’s the knife for?”


“To make another box. That is our tradition.”


 


The End


 


Charlie C. Cole, charlie_c_cole@yahoo.com, of Windham, Maine, wrote BP #75’s “The Boxlike Object” (+ BP #74’s “The Kilkenny Man”; BP #73’s “Please Remember Me”; BP #71’s “Pioneer Justice…”;  BP #70’s “Deep Time Salvage” and “The Substitute Husbands”; BP #69’s featured “Cosmic Bull’s-eye,” “Midas & Medusa,” “The Return of the King,” and “The Second Mrs. Brindle”;  BP #68’s “Ice Dreams,” “Lady of the Lake,” “Methuselah,” & “The Tenant Inside Me”; BP #67’s featured “The Far,” “The Telesthesians,” & “Transmigration”; BP #66’s featured “The Subtle Hydropathist,” “The Cruel Season,” & “Wet Coriander”; BP #65’s “Performance Art”; BP #64’s “Calendula and the Other Man,” “Holiday Greetings from the Witness Protection Program,” “The Last Day of the Ugly Man,” and “The Monkey Who Talked Too Much”; BP #63’s featured “Mirror Twins,” “Remembering Hyperopiac-Man!”, “Rules for Civil Disengagement,” and “The Rug Man”; BP #60’s “Larva Speaks” and “Personal Contact”). He loved his undergraduate years at a small, rural Maine college where he could concentrate on “being a writer” (and magazine editor). In the summer of 2011, he “awoke” much older when he noticed the internet had made publishing so much more accessible. He lives with his family in Maine on land once owned by his great-great grandfather. He is previously published in alongstoryshort, bewilderingstories, The Blue Crow, The Sandy River Review, and The Café Review.




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