Looking out the windshield at the mirage-shimmering roadway, you remember how someone once said glass is, in fact, a liquid. It just moves very slowly. Imperceptibly. You always wondered, if that was true, then why did this liquid rip and tear and cut when one tried to dive into it?
You pull into the general store’s lot. The only sort of grocery for what seems like a thousand miles in any direction. Maybe, if the day was cooler, you might drive further, in search of somewhere else to stock up. Somewhere with a bit more civilization. The very thought gets you to laugh. You’ve not had much use for civilization for a very long time now. Coming down for supplies and whatever’s the PO box, to maybe grab a beer at the roadhouse, is about as close to civilization as you can stand.
As you get out and grab your shirt, you see the only package you received for the week at your PO box; a beautifully ornate black lacquer box. The box alone is enough to upset, stirring up things you try so very hard to forget and zen away with meditations out there in the desert. It’s the note that came with the box, which made you feel blindly angry;
It took quite some time to find you. We’d ask how you’ve been over the last five years, but maybe you’re not ready to talk to us again. That would be unfortunate. We did decide you needed to have this. Please, PLEASE, PLEASE, contact us soon. We miss you and worry about you. Five years is far too long. You’re in our prayers.
Love and health,
Martha and Lawrence MacAleister
The note is crumbled on the floorboards. You wanted to burn it. You wanted to punch the man who handed you the parcel, just because he was there. Rationally, you know neither of those actions would’ve helped. The package would’ve still been there. As you look at it, all you can think of is classic mythology.
What’s in Pandora’s box?
Pain. Pestilence. Suffering. Death.
Pain. Pestilence. Suffering. Death.
Annabelle Leigh Schultz is standing outside the general store watching you pull your shirt over your sweat-soaked trunk. She’s barely sixteen and fascinated by your build. By the scars that crisscross your arms, chest, and back. She once got bold enough to ask you how you got them, and you told her everything from a street fight to being attacked by a dragon to a scarification ritual you did to be accepted by the natives.
“They don’t do scarifications, Ryddle!” She exclaimed.
“How do you know?” You asked her.
“’Cause my family’s been here forever, and my grandma woulda told me,” she reasoned.
You let it drop. Annabelle Leigh likes to help you get your things. She likes to ask you questions. Sometimes, you might give you an answer, though it’s rarely a straight one.
“Shara Little Feather calls you a trickster, Ryddle,” Annabelle Leigh told you once. “She says you’re Anansi.”
That memory of that gets you to chuckle. Anansi; the spider-trickster of west-African folklore. It’s especially ironic, thinking about it, when you think of how Shara’s hands are so spider-like when she shuffles the cards in an attempt to tell the future.
“Anansi,” you chuckled when you were told. “must be a black thing.”
Annabelle Leigh laughed uncomfortably. Only because you did. She was afraid of being seen as a racist. Sometimes you almost tell her it’s okay, and not to be so high-strung around you.
“Hello, Miss Schultz,” you say as you approach the door. “You going to help me shop whether I want it or not?”
“You bet!” Annabelle Leigh shouts. She starts to reach out to touch your arm, but hesitates. The scars there seem to stand out because of the sheen of sweat.
You indulge her, because you want to forget about the package you received in the mail. More to the point, the note attached to it. Maybe, if you’re lucky enough, when you get done with the stocking up, you’ll find someone will have broken into your truck and taken the package.
When everything’s been bought and bagged and you start back out to the truck, you see that no such luck exists. At least not for you. Annabelle Leigh looks into the cab as you toss your shirt in. Her eyes light up with youthful curiosity at the sight of the box.
“That’s really pretty,” she says.
“You don’t want it,” you tell her.
“How do you know?”
“Because I know what’s in there,” you reply with a little more edge in your voice than you mean to. Annabelle Leigh shirks back a little, like she’s afraid you might strike her.
“What’s in there?” She asks in a small voice.
“Dead dreams and other nightmares,” you say, and then you hand her some money, so she can get herself ice cream as thanks for her company on a hot day. You smile as she skips away, almost forgetting about the package waiting in the truck for you.