by Kelda Crich
An hour of out the city centre – down dark, twisting country roads caged in the bare arms of leafless trees – the house was a beacon, with lights blaring from the windows like nasty eyes.
“This is it,” said Samuel. He killed the engine and the music died.
Janine stared at the house. “This is a big, old house, Samuel. You’ve done well for yourself.”
“This house has always been in my family.” Samuel reached over and squeezed her hand. “Let’s go inside.”
The furnishing were old fashioned, but quality. Dark heavy wood, made to last lifetimes.
“It looks like the last rehab place Ma sent me to.” Janine ran her hand against the polished surface of the bureau.
“Oh yeah? Still sticking to the program?”
“What do you think?” Janine grinned. “It was a good place. They thought I was cured. Heck, I thought I was cured. But when I got out, all that brain-washing just slipped off me. Easy as pie.”
“That’s often the way, girl.”
Janine took a step closer to Samuel. She brushed her hand against his face. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “You smell good, Samuel.” Her body was an invitation.
Samuel grabbed her hand. “Come upstairs. I want to show you something special.”
Up the creaking wood stairs, to an old, metal door, padlocked shut.
“Very mysterious. What’s inside?” asked Janine.
“My secret.” Samuel produced a key from a chain around his neck. “Do you want to open it?” He passed the key to Janine.
“Sure.” Janine unlocked the door.
Wallpaper from a different age, flaked like dried skin off the walls; a wash of debris on the floor; in one corner, a red wooden box with a closed lid.
“There’s no mattress,” said Janine.
“Do you like the box?”
“Sure.” Janine stared at the box. “What’s in it?”
“It’s a phreaking box.”
“I know it’s a freaking box, but what’s in it?”
“That’s what I call it: a phreaking box,” said Samuel with a smile. “They used to use phreaking boxes to make a special noise that fooled old-fashioned phone boxes into giving you free calls.”
“You couldn’t get that into a phone box,” said Janine. She ran her hands along the wall, scratching a line in the rotten paper.
“It’s just the name I call it. I ask the box to make stuff, and it does. Nobody knows the difference.” Sameul walked to the box and opened the lid, with a snap.
“No. Where do you think I’m going to get the powder from for my deal with Sach?”
“From the box?” said Janine doubtfully.
“Do you want to see it work?”
“You having a laugh with me?”
“Take a look inside.”
Janine strutted over to the box and peered inside. “It’s empty,” she said.
“Stand back and watch this.” Samuel touched the side of the box. He closed his eyes. “Now what do you see?”
Janine gasped when a packet of powder, tightly sealed in cling film materialised in one corner of the box. “Is this what I think it is?”
“You’re looking really pretty tonight.”
“There’s a grand’s worth.”
“Yeh,” he said.
“All for nothing.”
Samuel shook his head sadly. “Nothing’s for nothing, girl.”
“And the box makes it? You’re not messing with me?”
“It makes it alright. It’s real.”
“So how come you don’t ask it to make money,” asked Janine.
Samuel shrugged. “I don’t know. It just makes white. Anyway, I like the deals.” Making deals was all he had ever known.
“You’re good at it.”
“Not really.” Samuel’s rubbed his hand along his beard. It hurt him to say it, but it was a good time to be honest. Janine deserved the truth. “I’m no good at fancy words and stuff. Every time I make a deal, it always seems like I make a mistake and it turns out no good. But with my box, I make enough to get by.
Janine wrapped her arms around his neck, trapping him in the scent of her perfume. “You’re smart enough to own the box, Samuel.”
“My Daddy always said that the box has been in our family a long time. There’s nothing smart about inheriting something.”
“Does he live in this house?” asked Janine.
“My Daddy’s gone,” said Samuel.
She kissed his throat. “I think you’re smart, Samuel.”
He saw that her eyes were fixed on the white packet.
“Can I pick it up?”
“If you want.”
Janine reached into the box. She smiled as she weighed the packet in her hand.
“That’s the last gasp,” said Samuel. “It’s not enough to for my deal with Sach.” And if he didn’t make the deal with Sach, there would be trouble. Samuel had made promises and Sach always got what he was owed– one way or another.
“Oh,” she said. “But can’t you work the magic again?”
Samuel took the packet from her fingers. “It’s a good box,” he said. “Trouble is, every now and again, it needs feeding.”
“Feeding?” asked Janine.
She didn’t weigh much. It was easy to pull her off her feet. She didn’t even struggle. Samuel had thought that there might have been some hesitation with Janine. She was so pretty, he liked her a lot. But the box needed feeding and Sach needed paying. He lifted her higher, and dropped her into the box.
He’d always remember her face. He’d remember then all. She fell through the wrong angles. The box was so much bigger than it should have been. Samuel grasped the sides of the box and watched Janine falling: down, down. He watched for a long time until she vanished out of view. Was she still falling, perhaps she would keep on falling forever
With a deep sigh, he let go of the sides of the box. Each time he fed the box, his curiosity grew. Each time he felt it growing inside: the hungry worm of his curiosity. Maybe they fell to some other world. The junk on the floor with the unreadable writing had to come from somewhere. Maybe one day, when he couldn’t bear it any longer, Samuel would crawl into the box, just like his daddy had done.
The lid slammed shut.
Samuel continued looking at it for a few more minutes.
Maybe she’d last for a month or two. Daddy had lasted the longest; the box hadn’t needed feeding for a whole year. But it seemed that the intervals between feedings, were getting shorter. The law of diminishing returns, or some such.
It was a shame. He’d liked Janine. Hadn’t even known he was going to do it, until the last minute. He’d hoped that he’d feel something more, feel some pity for her. But no, Samuel thought as he slipped the packet of powder into his jacket, the box needed to be fed.
“Nothing’s for nothing, girl,” he said. Samuel closed his eyes and made a wish. When he re-opened the box, four packets of powder were waiting for him.