The Boxes by Rick McQuiston

Lee glanced at his watch.

5:32 p.m.

He took a deep breath, followed by another, and yet another. He had to relax, he thought. Must clear his mind, cleanse it of distractions and complications. Only a clear mind could cope with the delicate and vital situation he was now in.

He wondered where Danny, Bruce, and Sherry were. If only he could contact them somehow, find out if they were all right. See if they were as nervous as he was. Part of him hoped they were, misery does love company after all, even in a situation as important as this one.

Sherry’s silky voice echoed in his head. It sung like a nightingale, flowing smoothly between verses that were almost hypnotic in their beauty. She was calling his name, saying she loved him, and didn’t want Bruce or any other.

Was he imagining it, or did she really love him?

His thoughts snapped back to attention. Distractions; complications, he must focus on the job at hand. Surely the others were doing the same. He pictured Danny with his sandy blond hair jutting straight up like some punk rocker. He envisioned Bruce, his tanned and muscled body flexing with anticipation underneath the army fatigues he always wore. Then he thought of Sherry. Her smooth, tanned complexion and piercing eyes wrapped around him like a blanket. She was a petite thing, small and feminine almost to the point of being frail, but in an attractive way.

Too many years had passed between them with little or no showing of affection other than the brotherly-love type that was not acceptable to him.

Random memories of them rolled through his head, each vying for recognition: the time he first saw her wear makeup; the games they’d play in Danny’s basement; the trips up north to her parent’s cottage. They all were ringed with true affection, far beyond mere infatuation.

Distractions again! More complications attempting to divert his concentration from his mission.

5:47. The time stuck to his brain like velcro.

Not much time left now he thought out loud eliciting more than a few stares from passersby, including a stocky, blond-haired security guard who seemed to dislike troublemakers in the mall.

Lee straightened up and smiled weakly at the guard. He couldn’t risk any problems now, not when it would be 6:00 p.m. in 9 more minutes.

After the guard walked past him, Lee decided it was time to bring out the box.

Sweat trickled down his forehead as he reached inside his coat and pulled out the center of his universe: a small, silver container that was trimmed with gleaming gemstones. At its center was a pentagram composed of a dark red substance that resembled dried blood. It contrasted strikingly with the overall polished look of the box.

As a whole, it was a very attractive antique, probably priceless to wealthy artifact collectors and archeologists.

But he knew its true worth, its real purpose.

6:00 p.m., November 14, 2004. It didn’t matter which part of the world or what time zone as long as it was 6:00 p.m., November 14, 2004 somewhere. That seemingly common day and time that, unbeknownst to mankind, would be Judgment Day…Armageddon…Ragnorak…Holocaust…whatever one wished to call it.

Admittingly, Lee was unsure of the whole thing. He never did have an interest in religion, much less Satanism, and as far as he knew neither did Danny, Bruce, or Sherry.

Sherry, even her name cut through his heart like a blowtorch.

Distractions again! He vowed to himself to concentrate even harder on his destiny.

It wasn’t until Danny found his box, the last one to do so, that the dreams started. All four of them began receiving strange images that they eventually interpreted as instructions.

Each of them was to transport their box to an assigned location on the aforementioned day. His was Friarwood Mall in Cleveland. He was lucky, he at least got to stay in the U.S. Danny had to go to Brazil. Bruce was somewhere in Germany. Sherry was in Australia, near Sydney he believed.

The boxes provided them with adequate cash, passports, and even plane tickets to allow them quick and easy passage to their destinations.

It was all too easy. Their parents were the only ones who would miss them right away, and by the time they realized they were gone, it would be too late to anything about it.

It was the boxes that showed them what their real destinies were and how to fulfill them.

Lee glanced at his watch: 5:58 p.m.

His head swam with images of glory and fame. Their names would go down in history as saviors, messiahs…as gods. The boxes promised them this, and much, much more.

He wondered if Sherry was uncomfortable in Australia. It had to be hot and dry there. He knew she didn’t like hot weather, and hoped she didn’t give up and turn herself in. As for Germany and Brazil, he didn’t know what the weather was like, nor did he care, Bruce and Danny could handle themselves.

A wry smile formed on Lee’s face. Surely their parents had noticed they were gone by now. They probably had the local police searching for them, but it wouldn’t be in time, because now it was half past 5:59 p.m.

Only thirty seconds to go.

Quickly, Lee fumbled in his coat for his pocketknife. The small but sharp blade gleamed in the fluorescent lighting in the mall.

Trying his best to be inconspicuous, he covered it with his left hand, and then quickly glanced around to make sure no one saw the knife. Satisfied, he plunged it into the palm of his left hand. The burning pain nearly caused him to pass out, but he bit his lip and managed to stay conscious while stifling the intense urge to scream.

“Oh my God!” the elderly woman said. “What happened? Are you all right young man?”

Her genuine concern for a complete stranger touched Lee’s heart, but he suppressed the feeling and quickly looked away from her.

Only ten seconds left, he had to hurry now.

He slammed his hand down hard on top of the box. The blood seeped out around the edges and dripped down its sides, eventually coating the box completely in a crimson sheen.

“Thy might will be done. Oh see the plate of the world at thy feet, Scourge of God. Taketh what thy need, Fallen One. Mouthat silg stha deccos.”

His watch was stopped dead at 6:00 p.m. He felt the box grow cold beneath his throbbing hand as a strange substance began to ooze slowly and methodically from it. It resembled pea soup, although much thicker, and speckled generously with bulbous lumps that looked like bloodshot eyes.

The nauseous stench that emanated from it was like decayed flesh. It filled his nose and burned his eyes.

Lee yanked his hand away and pushed the box off his lap. He jumped up as fast as he could and started to sprint down the walkway, but it was too late. The substance was spreading like wildfire, coating everything in sight.

It engulfed the old lady who asked about his hand in less than a second, and enveloped dozens of shoppers who were passing the early evening in the mall.

Moving up the walls of the nearby stores, it insured everything had a sickening coat of green, and blotted out the skylights above. Screams began to fill the air, only to be silenced immediately afterward.

Lee was held fast by the substance, completely at its mercy. It was rapidly crawling up his legs, producing intense, burning pain as it did so. “My God,” he screamed, fully aware that it wouldn’t help.” What have I done?”

And before he could utter another word…he went under.

His final thought was hope that the others had somehow failed in their missions, although he knew it wouldn’t make a difference.

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