Short Story: Magic Box

He’d been by that street a thousand times… no, had to be more than that, perhaps one times 10 to the thousandth times… but he couldn’t remember its name.

He tried to ask several people he met along the way, but they kept crossing the street whenever he approached.

He needed to make a trip down to the beach and take a shower, but just thinking of the sheer number of people sent a shiver snaking up his spine. If he still had his lab, he could sneak in and use some liquid nitrogen to break the lock.

But first he needed to remember the street, so he could find the Gospel Mission. His stomach ached and his eyes sagged like old age, and Flo — or maybe it was Jo — would let him eat and sleep at the mission. She kept a cookie hidden in her desk just for him, even though she always told him he had more than enough crumbs in his beard to make a whole batch.

Her name was Flo, definitely Flo, he needed to remember; she would give him a cookie. Someone else would be there too; he knew it; another woman. He scratched his head and then put his hand through a hole in his jeans to scratch his crotch. He could smell the hand before it ever made it to his nose to sniff. His tight white underwear stank; he needed to be washing them.

Washing them?


That was it, Washington!

He ambled off and only needed to pass three dumpsters before he saw the mission.

He slowed as he approached, the huddled group of jean jacket and dirty T-shirt wearers clustered around the entrance making him nervous. Flo didn’t like them like she liked him, and they were jealous.

He tried to shuffle through them, but ended up bumping into a dark man whose green-and-yellow sideways John Deere cap matched his green and yellow sideways teeth. “Hitler’s gone get you,” John Deere told him, but he kept shuffling. Hitler was dead, he was sure of it.

He pushed through the revolving door and smiled as he entered the dim lobby. He didn’t mind the cracked tile and faded… well, everything. The Mission was the closest thing that he had to a home.

“Mr. Dermott,” said the portly nurse behind the counter he knew to be Flo. He knew it. She looked side-to- side, as if she were a conspirator in a children’s spy game, before waving him over. “Are you ready for your cookie?” she asked, pulling a chocolate chip cookie from beneath the desk. “Still warm from the oven.”

He loved Flo; she was nice. He missed people being nice to him. They used to stand and cheer for him; he remembered that, he knew it.

He couldn’t help but close his eyes, biting into the gooey cookie; he knew he would get crumbs and chocolate in his beard, whatever.

“I believe you have someone waiting for you,” said Flo, pointing behind him to a chair where a young lady sat. Then Flo took out another cookie and turned towards another shuffler from the street, there to engage her in a conversation about a vast government conspiracy.

Mr. Dermott followed the finger towards the young lady, who stood up, walked towards him, and wrapped her arms around his neck.

“Hey, Daddy,” she said. “I have great news! It’s already up in your room.”

Mr. Dermott didn’t return the hug, but he knew her, he was sure of it. “You’re the one,” he said. “That one. You’re the one.” He tried to find more words, but they didn’t come, and he let her lead him by the hand up the stairs and into the room he had at the Mission. She chatted the whole way, but he didn’t really catch much of it.

“I know how long we’ve been working at it… I just couldn’t get the variables to line up. Your theory was brilliant, but I couldn’t quite make it practical. The mice finally responded, though. It’s so good to have you home. Dad, what do you know today?”

Mr. Dermott turned towards his daughter. “I know Flo,” he said.

She sighed, and he thought she might cry. “Jo, daddy. Her name is Jo, but that’s okay, it doesn’t matter anymore,” she said as she swung the door open.

The room was like a 1980’s freshman dorm, except a purple box sat on that bed, festooned with an array of wires. He cocked his head to the side and considered the strange contraption; he knew there was something important about it, something that should trigger a reaction, but he couldn’t place it.

“That’s, that’s the one?” he asked, pointing a shaking finger at the box.

“It is, Daddy, and it’s our last shot. We’re out of money. Michael might even leave me if he finds out how deep we’re in,” she said, letting out a big sigh. “But it’s worth it. It will work this time.”

She grabbed his hands and walked him over to the box, releasing him only long enough to open the lid to reveal what appeared to be water underneath.  She flipped a switch on the side, and a whirlpool began to form in the box.

“That’s the one,” he said, as the swirling motion made his eyes droop all the more.

“It is,” she said, and plunged his hands into the water.

He felt as though he’d jumped into a heavy, cold black curtain that had fallen on the ground. He needed to get out, he had to get out; he couldn’t stay here! He felt claustrophobic, like he was being pulled in two directions, one circling slowly down a whirlpool drain and the other punching, kicking, fighting its way up through the curtain. He kept struggling until he saw light, and he threw off the blackness and saw his daughter smiling down on him as he lay on the floor.




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