A shop owner receives a mysterious box that he just can’t help opening…
I didn’t know what I was getting into when I agreed to mind the box for Frankie. If I’d known what would happen—if I’d realized the terrible consequences of doing so—I would’ve told Frankie to take his mysterious box and get the fuck out of my shop right now. But when Frankie flashed his wad of cash, all I could see was green. No red for danger, which I should’ve seen, considering who was giving me the box in the first place.
Frankie was notorious around the city for his dark dealings and his trading with demons and god knows what other kinds of monsters. Sometimes, for whatever nefarious reason, these demons and other monsters needed a special artifact, and Frankie—being somewhat dark of nature himself, as well as shady—was always there to provide these artifacts whenever they were needed.
Frankie had a talent, you see. You might call him a finder of sorts. Whatever it was—an artifact, a person, your missing socks—Frankie could usually find it. I say usually because Frankie is also something of a junky, as a lot of other people are in this city, most of them, including Frankie, mainlining the local Dragon’s Blood that’s going around at the moment. Not actual dragon’s blood, but some manufactured shit that the vampire gangs are selling. There might even be vampire blood in the stuff for all I know. Going by the strange trips it puts people on—a good deal of which end in some kind of violence—it wouldn’t surprise me none.
But as I was saying, when Frankie isn’t tripping the light fandango on Dragon’s Blood, he’s out there uncovering shit most people don’t even know exists. Hell, he doesn’t even know half the shit exists himself until he hears about it from a client. But once he knows its out there, he works whatever magic he possesses, and he always finds whatever his client needs. For this service, Frankie charges a good wack, depending on what he has to do to find whatever it is he has to find. He’s so dedicated to his job—or so enslaved by his talent, I’m not sure which—that once he sets his sights on finding a thing, he doesn’t stop until he finds it. A few times, this dogged determination has nearly gotten him killed. Quite a few more times, he’s found himself seriously injured for various reasons. Once, that I know of anyway, Frankie even ended up in Hell in pursuit of an artifact.
I’ve known Frankie for years now, ever since he started coming into my shop, shortly after he moved to the city. I’m a dealer in artifacts myself, you see, but a legitimate one. Most of the artifacts I sell are non-magical, stuff that a normal human would buy to decorate their home or there high-rise office. I get a lot of those guys—big city lawyers and finance guys—buying what they think is cool shit for their offices, stuff they can display in glass cases to make them seem sophisticated or whatever. Sometimes I get more magically endowed items, and those I sell to select buyers—people in the know; mages, witches and any other supernatural who knows the real nature of the object in question.
Frankie started bringing me these rarer, more magical items when he first moved here. I refused to see them at first, but Frankie had a way about him that sort of gently reeled you in before you even knew what was happening. He’s the best the salesman I ever met, and he doesn’t even try. He just lets the object—whatever it happens to be—do most of the talking. Next thing you know, you’d agreed to sell the thing and split the money with him. Then you got used to the money, so that even when the artifacts started getting more dangerous and riskier to handle, you still agreed to find a buyer for the damn things, even if finding a buyer meant dealing with some shady and often scary as hell people.
On occasion, though, Frankie would walk in with an object that he didn’t want me to sell because he already had a buyer. He’d just want me to hold onto it for a while—usually a very short while—until he was ready to meet the buyer. Being a junky, Frankie didn’t trust himself, you see. He was afraid something would happen to the artifact or object while he was of cloud surfing in La La Land. Frankie knew I had a safe in the back of the shop, and so I would lock the object up for him, keeping it…well, safe. Most of these found objects were harmless enough, at least to handle. Once they were activated however, or used in some dark, crazy ritual, then that was a different matter. These objects then became pretty fucking dangerous, or at least they made things more dangerous than they already were.
But I was never around to see any of this shit being used, nor did I inquire what the object was to be used for, if it wasn’t obvious enough already. He hands you a dagger, you can be pretty sure it’s going to be used to kill someone or something. He hands you a book full of spells, you can be certain someone is going to cast one of the spells and bad shit is going to happen. I knew all this, and I didn’t really care. It was easy money as far as I was concerned. When your main business is going shit and failing to pay the mounting bills, and when you’ve got mouths to feed at home, you’re not going to turn away easy money like that are you? Besides, if people got hurt either by using these objects or by being on the wrong end of one, then shit, they probably deserved it as far as I was concerned.
So when he came into the shop with the box and placed it on the counter between us, I figured this was just another transaction. He tells me he needs me to mind this box for him and I don’t ask why. The only thing he says to me before he leaves is to handle the box as little as possible. Get it in the safe and leave it there until he comes back, probably tomorrow night, which is when he’s supposed to meet his client, the person who wanted the box in the first place. All I do is nod and say no problem. What do I care? It’s just another item that’s going to pay my mortgage this month.
So when Frankie goes, I close up the shop and just leave the box on the counter. I’m in no rush to put the thing in the safe yet as I’ve got stuff to do, like packing a few items for mail order and making sure my website is up to date with the lastest stock, since that’s where I get most of my trade these days. God bless the internet, I say. And god bless Frankie too, for without his regular transactions, I’d be fucked to put it mildly. I’d probably have to declare bankruptcy and close the shop, and then the wife, she would leave me, taking the kids with her, I know she would.
And speaking of the old ball and chain, she calls me right after Frankie leaves to ask what time I’ll be home. I tell her I shouldn’t be too long, and that I’ll pick up a couple of steaks on the way. The mention of steaks made her happy, for she knew it meant I’d be getting paid from Frankie, which also meant she would have money to put on her online games. If I was lucky, she would show her appreciation later that night when the kids were in bed and we’d had a few glasses of wine each. So I tell her I love her and I’ll see her soon.
I was feeling pretty good by this point, what with steaks on the menu for dinner and the likelihood of sex afterward. An otherwise shitty day was beginning to look up. With a smile on my face, I sat down behind the counter and used the old desktop computer to log onto my website. As I did so, I was aware of the box still sitting there on the counter, barely two feet away from me. While the website was loading up, I glanced at the box, giving it a good look for the first time since Frankie had brought it in. As boxes went, there was nothing fancy about. It seemed to be made entirely out of wood; very old wood that was beaten and weathered, cracked and splintered in places, indicating the box had been more than just hid away or put on display over its life. It had been handled, and handled a lot. Which made me wonder what was inside it for so many hands to have opened it over god knows how many years—hundreds probably.
A good few minutes went by before I realized I was doing nothing but staring at the box. When I tore my eyes of the thing, I looked at the computer screen instead, at my website. But that’s all I did was look because I didn’t take any of it in. In my mind’s eye, I could still see the outline of the box. It wasn’t long before I had to turn my head to look at it again, this time wondering why I had developed a sudden intense interest in it, as if I now wanted to know what dark secret lay within it.
Eventually, I found myself moving my chair across until the box was directly in front of me. I also positioned a small desk lamp to shine a light over the top of the box. Under the light, the foot long box now held a rich brown color that was almost reddish in places. It also had a shine to it that it shouldn’t really have had given its age. When I tentatively touched the wood itself, it felt mostly smooth, but after a moment of rubbing my fingertips over it, I soon began to feel the myriad lines and indentations in the wood, as if the life of the box had somehow been etched into it, with every mark and dent representing a key period of the box’s existence.
There was no denying that there was also a strange power emanating off the box, which transmitted itself through my fingertips, and seemed to fill me with a burning need to open it up to see what was inside. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I could hear Frankie’s voice telling me not to handle the box, and to make sure it stayed locked up. But that voice was drowned out by a kind of low humming sound in my ears that was so deep and resonant, it also resulted in a slow vibration running through my entire body in waves. It wasn’t an unpleasant sensation, but I still found it vaguely alarming. Magical items can sometimes have an effect on you when you touch them, as if the magic itself isn’t content with its current container and wants to spread itself outward into whatever happened to touch it. I should’ve let the damn thing go right then, but I didn’t. I couldn’t. The need to know what was inside had now become so great that it felt like the only important thing in the world to me now.
When I opened the box, I was immediately blinded by a fierce white light that practically attacked my eyes. I cried out, but I didn’t let go of the box. Somehow I knew that this blindness, whether it was temporary or permanent, had to happen. Suddenly I knew that this was part of the process, whatever the hell the process was; and whatever it was, I couldn’t not continue with it. The compulsion to know what lay within the box was all consuming, to the point where I didn’t even care that I couldn’t see anymore.
In a world of darkness now, I moved my hands up the sides of the box, and then let them drop slowly inside until I felt something stop them from going any further. A smile of delight and excitement crossed my face as I allowed my hands to explore this new object inside. Whatever it was, it was cylindrical and made of metal. A very smooth metal, with no grain in it whatsoever, giving it a feel of polished silver. It was also warm to the touch, enticing, as if the object itself wanted to make my fingers comfortable so they would stay a while, which by this point, I absolutely wanted to do. Feelings of pleasure arose in my body, feelings that were mildly orgasmic, causing me to caress the metal object rather than just touch it.
It wanted me to know it, and know I would.
It wasn’t long before I discovered the cylinder seemed to be made up of separate discs that were maybe a centimeter in width and which rotated on a central core. I counted twenty-six of these discs, and each one seemed to have raised parts like small bumps under my fingertips. After a few moments, I realized the bumps were embossed symbols of some sort. The more I pressed them with my fingertips, the more distinct each one of them became, until I was able to distinguish six different symbols on each of the twenty-six discs.
Another smile crossed my face. This was beginning to feel like a puzzle, a challenge I simply couldn’t resist and ached to solve. Completely intuitively, as if guided by some outside force, my fingers began to turn the discs one at a time, making one symbol the top one before moving onto the next disc.
It was a combination, I soon realized. The key to a lock. I was so caught up in trying to open that lock that it never even occurred to me that the chance of finding the right combination was infinitesimally small. All that mattered was that I keep trying until I succeeded in opening the lock. If it took me the rest of my life to do it, then so be it.
So I kept at it for god knows how long. It could’ve been hours, or it could’ve been days. In my world of darkness, there was no time. There was only the present, and my fingers as they worked the discs, lining up the symbols as I worked my way through countless different combinations, thousands of them it felt like, but never once did I waiver in my determination to find the right one. Never once did I feel like giving up either. The thought didn’t even enter my head. I was like a machine, my only purpose to keep turning the discs until…what? What did I expect to happen? I didn’t know. I just knew that something would.
And something did happen.
At some point in my lightless, timeless universe, something monumental happened. As my fingers deftly turned the last disc in the row for the umpteenth time, the cylinder suddenly grew very warm and then an energy of some sort began to pulse through my fingers and into my hands, which then travelled up my arms to fill the rest of my body with what can only be described as the light of the holy spirit. There was nothing else it could’ve been. Such purity I had never felt in my life before. It could only have been the light of god.
Once this light had filled my entire body, I suddenly began to see it in the darkness. Symbols began to manifest themselves in front of my eyes, the same symbols that I knew to be embossed on the discs inside the box. They appeared one by one before my eyes, eventually forming a perfect circle which then began to fill with light as well.
This circle of light was like a doorway, and it was gently but firmly beckoning me to it. My whole body was made up of nothing but light now, that’s how it felt, so I knew all I had to was merge with the light in front of me and I would soon be in paradise. The only word for the beautiful light before me was heavenly.
I was going to Heaven. I had no doubt of that now, nor did I fear going there. The fact that I would be leaving a wife and family behind didn’t even occur to me, and if it did, I tell you now, I wouldn’t have cared. When god calls you, you go. That’s all there is to it.
And god was calling me. I knew that now. I was wanted in the garden of Eden, though for what purpose I still didn’t know. I just knew that I was about to find out.
As I merged with the light before me, I soon had the sensation of traveling through time and space, to a place that I knew in my immortal soul was Heaven.
Indeed, when that sensation of traveling at light speed finally gave way to a sense of inertia at last, that curtain of light before me began to part slowly. A beatific smile seemed fixed permanently to my face as I waited for Heaven to reveal itself.
Until finally it did, coming into view all around me now, forming a panorama that my senses had trouble comprehending at first. The vista was so vast that my eyes couldn’t take it all in, and for some reason I couldn’t hear any sound either.
Then my vision stabilized and everything came into focus at once. What I saw before me ripped the beatific smile from my face and slapped an expression of pure horror on there instead.
I was looking down upon a vast wasteland that seemed infinite in size. It looked like a natural paradise that had been sprayed with napalm, scorching the very ground until it cracked, turning everything a charred black. Fires still burnt everywhere, and parts of the land glowed they were so hot. The sky I appeared to be floating in was dark and thick with smoke, the air itself hot and hazy, harsh on the lungs.
The landscape was bad enough, but what was worse was what was happening in it. Down below I saw people, thousands of them. Many of these people were running around aimlessly, but most of them where in dire shape, broken, beaten, torn asunder in some cases, arms and limbs ripped off, heads torn from shoulders, innards ripped from stomachs, eyes gouged from sockets, skulls cracked open like fallen birds eggs. I had never seen such bloody horrors in even my worst nightmares, and on such a vast scale that I could barely comprehend it.
And the worst thing about all of it was that every one of these people still seemed to be alive. No matter how dreadfully mutilated they were, they still found a way to move, to scream, to claw their way along the charred ground as if there was any escape from the nightmare they were in. And as I watched closer, I soon began to see that the injured were healing up within minutes, the dreadful injuries inflicted upon them disappearing. Then they would get up and run again.
When my hearing suddenly returned all at once, my ears were tortured by the deafening chorus of screams coming from the people below me. I wanted to shut my eyes, to cover my ears, but I couldn’t as I had no bodily form anymore. I was nothing but light. Not only that, I was stuck, trapped in the very fabric of the world I found myself in, which I was now convinced was Hell. It had to be. Only Hell could conjure up such abject horrors.
I could even see the demons down below. Scores upon scores of them soaring above the terrified people like massive birds, their wing feathers stained with blood and blackened by ash. They didn’t look like the demons I saw in books and such, but I knew they were demons nonetheless. Only demons could commit such atrocities, such horrors upon man.
On the ground, scores more of them marched around with great swords in their hands, killing whatever human they happened to come across, stomping them underfoot. Which they could easily do, because these beings are ten times bigger than any man. They were like beacons of light that moved through the darkness, their only purpose to deliver terrible violence upon the humans running around them like frightened rats.
Having absolutely no means of escape, I was forced to continue to look down upon this gruesome landscape of blood and violence, wondering over and over why I was here, and why such a beautiful object as the box had taken me to such a horrible place as this.
But before I could contemplate these questions any further, I suddenly found myself falling from the sky, now back in my human form and naked as a newborn babe. I fell hundreds of feet with the wind rushing past my ears until I finally landed on the hard, blackened ground.
Then there was nothing after that.
* * *
I awoke some indeterminate time later, the terrible noise surrounding me rushing into my ears, followed by the sheer fear of seeing all those people running around trying to avoid the glowing giants with swords. As I sat up in terror, I had never seen such horrors in all my life. From high above, it was all bad enough, but from ground level where it was all up close, it was many times worse. Everywhere I looked, people were getting grievously injured or outright killed by swinging swords and stomping feet. And even though I could barely make out the faces of the demons, their rage was palpable. Such burning rage and hatred; a hatred of mankind.
I screamed when a massive sword impaled me to the ground, which then got pulled out, taking half my guts with it. The cacophony of screams continued as I lay there with the life running out of me, until finally everything went black once more.
* * *
I woke up again. The horrors rushed in once more. My body had somehow mended itself. I got up and ran, even though there was nowhere to run. Or so I thought anyway.
I’m not sure how much time passed—or how many times I died and was brought back again—before I realized that most of the people around me where constantly moving in one direction, as if they were trying to get somewhere. After they were resurrected, certain of the people would immediately get up and run as fast as they could, all of them seeming to move in the same direction. I, of course, had no idea of where these people were trying to get to. Shit, I wasn’t even sure if they were trying to get anywhere at all. It could’ve just been some survival instinct causing all these people to head in the same direction. Or a kind of mass hysteria had gripped Hell’s captives, I don’t know.
The point is, these runners appeared to have a purpose, a goal amidst all the insanity that went beyond just trying not to get killed by the demons over and over. So you can bet your ass that I latched onto this collective goal with both hands. Suddenly, I had a reason to want to stay alive, whereas before, it had got to the stage where I couldn’t even bring myself to run anymore, and I would just lie there, waiting on some random demon to kill me, which they always did.
But now my broken mind had a goal to focus on, and in a place of mindless suffering and unending violence, this was a huge thing. Pretty soon, I started to stay alive for longer and longer periods, eventually getting fairly expert at avoiding the giant demons and their rage-fueled violence. So did a lot of other people as well. Eventually, there was a group of us, all working together to reach this mythical destination that promised an end to the suffering we were going through. We ran and ran for I don’t know how long, dying many times along the way. We ran like our lives, or rather our souls, depended on it. Ridiculous, I know, given the situation we were in, but we were humans and still running on instinct.
At some point, after what seemed like years of running in the same direction over featureless, charred earth, we finally had to stop when we reached a great chasm that was as wide as far as the eye could see. We had effectively reached a dead end. When we took in the gigantic black hole in front of us, most fell to their knees in despair, their minds completely snapping if they hadn’t already. They lay down and waited on the demons to find them, which they inevitably did. Though the demons didn’t kill the people there and then. Instead, they picked them up and threw them as far as they could in the opposite direction, as if they didn’t want anyone near the chasm. Those of us who managed to avoid, temporarily at least, the grasping hands of the demons, we found this damn curious that people were getting thrown so far back the way they came. Most of us began to wonder why the demons didn’t want us anywhere the chasm. It was just a black hole after all, a virtual sea of darkness with nothing it.
Unless there was something in it.
One or two of us had this idea, and we stepped to the edge of the chasm. I stood there looking down at that seemingly bottomless pit, somehow getting the crazy idea that it offered a way out. Perhaps, I thought, the chasm offered a final death. If I jumped in there, maybe there would be no coming back. Maybe I would cease to exist and the demons couldn’t keep torturing me then. I’d escape this hell I was in.
Believe me, when you’ve been killed over and over in the worst ways possible, thousands upon thousands of times, and end to the suffering was to be positively fucking dived upon.
You can bet your ass I jumped right into that chasm like a man on a sinking ship jumps into a life boat.
Only this was no life boat. This was a death boat, a boat to carry me away into non-existence, which is the only thing I wanted right then.
After jumping, I remember a sensation of falling at great speed for what seemed like a long time. There was nothing around me but pitch blackness. Then at some point, my consciousness began to slip away, and I knew this was it, this was the blessed escape I had wanted. I gave myself over to it, until finally, I was gone…
* * *
Or so I thought, because I woke back up again to find that I wasn’t falling anymore. I was back lying on hard ground, though it didn’t feel like the scorched earth I had grown accustomed to. Darkness still surrounded me, though.
Too much silence.
In a mild panic, I started to shout hello, to see if anyone answered me, but no one did.
At least not at first.
But eventually, a voice answers my hoarse screaming. “What is it, human?”
I sat there in shock for a long time after the voice answered, not sure whether to be grateful or terrified that there was someone there, though exactly where, I didn’t know. The voice seemed to come from everywhere at once.
“W-where am I?” I asked in a trembling voice.
“Your eternal prison. Where else?” It was hard to tell whether the voice was male or female, not that it really mattered.
The voice laughed cynically before answering. “In Heaven.”
I started shaking my head like an idiot. Heaven? No, this can’t be Heaven. This can’t…”I don’t understand. How can this be Heaven?”
“Sorry to disappoint you, but it is. The Heaven you deserve anyway.”
“Isn’t obvious? You killed God.”
“You all did. Your evil has infected all of creation. It cannot be stopped.”
“But God is…all powerful.”
“So is evil.”
“Evil killed God?” My mind was going nuts trying to understand.
“No, you stupid human fool!” the voice roared suddenly, causing me to cower and cover my ears, though I could still hear the voice all too well. “God chose not to exist anymore! God could no longer live with knowing that evil came from your kind, and your kind came from…God.”
“So God is…dead?” It was more of statement than a question.
“What about the angels? Are you an angel?”
The voice snorted slightly. “I am an archangel.”
“Can’t you do something?”
“If God couldn’t, why would I or my brothers be able to? Idiot…”
“I still don’t know…”
“Why you are here?”
“In your case, you opened a portal that led straight here. At one time, that would’ve been a great gift. Now, it is a punishment.”
“We will punish you as you punished yourselves, and God, with your evil ways.”
“Keep your worthless words to yourself, human. From now on, you will know nothing but darkness. You will be fully awake at all times, for eternity, or for however long it takes for evil to destroy the universe. You will hear no one, see no one. You will have only your weak little mind for company. Enjoy eternity, human…”
“Wait! Don’t go!”
I screamed for the archangel to come back until I couldn’t scream anymore, then I whispered it, but to no avail.
I was now completely alone.
* * *
I don’t know how much time has passed since then. What does time matter when you have an eternity anyway?
I have wondered many times in my new world of darkness if Frankie knew what the box really did, or if he knew somehow that Heaven was burning, and that’s why he told me just to lock the box away and not touch it. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. What did it matter now anyway?
As the archangel said, I am trapped in darkness with only my mind for company. As I form these thoughts, hoping perhaps that someone on earth may hear them, I can only hope that my mind will give up the ghost at some point, with the result that I will end up in some sort of coma. Maybe then I will escape this waking nightmare, when my mind shuts down altogether and I can no longer comprehend the horror of my situation.
But until then, if you are receiving these thoughts of mine, do me one favor:
Pray for Hell when you die, not Heaven.