Wish list, p.1
Wish List, p.1Derek Powell
Copyright © 2012 by Derek Powell
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
First ebook release: March 2012
By Derek Powell
(A story from Infinite Dimensions)
The box was about as unimpressive as they come. Scuffed from shipping, about the size of a shoebox, it bore the patriotic red and blue “Priority Mail” markings on all four sides. The most interesting thing about it was the return address from Aladdin's House of Mystery in Big Sky, Montana.
The box sat on Tom's coffee table like a centerpiece amid a clutter of remote controls and paperback books. Tom sat on his couch with a paring knife from the kitchen.
He was afraid of the box. Afraid to slit the tape, afraid to know one way or the other if the thing inside was real.
He knew he was being stupid. He knew it was just a box, and the contents had to be a hoax. It couldn't possibly be real. He knew these things, and yet his hand actually trembled as he slid the knife under the cardboard. The tape was the industrial-strength stuff with strings embedded in the plastic, but Tom forced the knife through. Chinese plastic and adhesive was no match for good German steel.
Despite that, the little blade slipped, and Tom drove the point of the knife into the fleshy part of his palm, just below the thumb. Blood welled up, dripping onto the coffee table.
Cursing, Tom cupped the wound and sprinted toward the kitchen. He managed not to drip onto the carpet, but the amount of blood that poured into the sink was alarming. It took him a long time to staunch the flow with cold water and paper towels.
Tom felt his heart hammering as he paced in front of the oven. He knew he was pacing, back and forth, but he couldn't force himself to stop. Maybe it was adrenalin, but he had to keep moving. He told himself he wasn't trying to outpace the bad vibe he was getting from that little box.
It was insanity, but he was convinced the box didn't want to be opened. The box had made his knife slip, and maybe next time it would find an artery.
It had to be a hoax; something perpetuated by a drunken college kid on a dare.
But what if it wasn't?
He was making it worse. He was feeding his own anxiety, getting himself worked up over nothing.
Tom opened the cupboard above the sink, took down a bottle of Johnny Walker, and splashed some into a glass. He drank it and poured another before the first one even had time to start warming his empty stomach.
“It's just a box,” he told the little Scotsman on the bottle.
The little Scotsman didn't answer, which was most definitely a good thing.
Tom carried his glass back into the living room, and used the paper towel wrapped around his hand to clean up the few drops of blood from the table.
He was more careful with the knife this time. The tape parted under the blade, and he was rewarded when the box flaps opened up like a flower in the sun.
Tom gingerly put the knife down. He turned it with the blade facing away from himself on the far end of the table. He took a gulp of Scotch.
The box was filled with foam peanuts in a pastel assortment of pink, green, and white. There was a Post-It Note taped to the inside of one flap.
“Have a care. He is more deceitful than you can imagine,” it read.
It looked like it had been written in a hurry, maybe as an afterthought. Tom ripped it off and shoved it into the pocket of his jeans.
Now he knew it was a hoax. No one would write the words, “Have a care.” They'd write, “Be careful,” or “Take care.” Maybe even, “Caution, warning, danger.”
Packing peanuts spilled out as Tom reached into the box and pulled out his prize.
A corroded twist of metal stuck out from a cocoon of Lone Peak Lookout newspapers. Tom hesitated, staring at the pencil-thin curve that he thought was the handle. Brass or copper, he couldn't tell, but years of corrosion had coated it with an unappealing patina of green rust.
Tom brushed peanuts onto the floor as he ripped at the newspapers.
What emerged was the perfect stereotype of a combustible oil lamp. With a pot belly and a decorative spout, it could have lit a nomad's tent in the desert a thousand years ago. It was in horrible condition, making its age easy to imagine. Scaly rust flaked off in a green and white shower as Tom put it down on the table. One side was dented in, and the lid didn't quite fit straight.
If he had bought it just as a decoration, just for the sake of having a lamp, it would have been an utterly disappointing purchase, and yet, he found himself wiping a sweaty palm against his jeans as he stared at the thing.
It still made him nervous.
“Okay,” he said, unsuccessfully trying to convince himself that it was, indeed, okay.
“Here we go.”
Tom pulled on the lid. It stuck, probably because the dented side had warped the thing all out of whack. He had to put some muscle into it before it came free, but he finally managed to wiggle the lid off.
Tom put both parts down on the coffee table and waited.
He wasn't sure what he had been expecting. A flash of light, a puff of smoke, or Barbara Eden in puffy pink pants.
He got nothing.
Almost a full minute passed as he stared at the lamp with many of the same emotions as a kid who opens a Christmas present and finds socks inside.
He'd known all along it was a hoax.
Tom picked up the lamp to shove it back into its packing box from Montana.
A wisp of grey smoke curled up from the spout, barely visible. Tom tipped the lamp and looked inside. It was empty. No combustible oil, no batteries for a smoke machine, no tricks that he could see. The inside was just as corroded as the outside, but it was definitely empty, and it was definitely smoking.
The smoke grew. After a few heartbeats, it looked like it could be coming from a lit cigarette, but it carried the greasy stench of burning lamp oil.
It kept coming, increasing, intensifying. Within seconds, smoke billowed from the spout of the lamp, filling the room like fog. It burned Tom's eyes. Breathing made him cough.
The kitchen smoke alarm began making an obnoxious noise. Tom jumped up, bruising his shin on the coffee table, and ran for the kitchen. Standing on a chair, he wrenched the smoke alarm from the ceiling and yanked the battery off the wires.
The smoke kept coming, getting thicker and thicker, shrouding everything in a heavy mist. Tom started coughing. He moved toward the back door to open it up, to vent some of the smoke, but it was impossible to see anything in that dark veil.
He heard the two smoke detectors upstairs go off, but they sounded far away and unimportant.
Tom fell to the floor, clutching the back of the kitchen chair. Eyes streaming, lungs and throat burning, he wheezed like an asthmatic in a marathon. He tried to crawl toward the back door, to get out of the house, but he couldn't see to find an exit.
From the living room, he heard a single slap, like someone clapping their hands together. The smoke melted away, burned off like fog within the space of a second.
The upstairs smoke alarms stopped. Tom drew in a breath of clean, fresh air, clearing his lungs. He stood up, wiping away tears with the corner of his T-sh
His house looked like it always had, except for the naked man in his La-Z-Boy.
The man was old. His skin was pale and thin, his hair grey little wisps that looked like afterthoughts on his spotted head. He made no move to cover his nudity, but sat with the chair reclined, the very image of unconcerned comfort.
Tom couldn't help but notice that the man was quite well-endowed.
“You summoned me?” the man asked. His voice was an old man's rumble.
Tom blinked and stammered, trying to look at anything except the man's exposed privates.
“I... I guess I did,” Tom said.
“You guess you did, but you're not certain?”
“I... Well... It's...” It was absolutely ridiculous, was what he wanted to say, but Tom found his brain and his mouth wouldn't quite cooperate with one another.
“I see,” the man said. “Let me help you by clarifying things. Are you the owner of that sad-looking oil lamp, and did you remove its cover?”
There was an accusation in his tone, the kind a cop might use to interrogate a known thug, and Tom saw no choice but to answer. “I am, and I did.”
“Very good, then. That makes you my master.” The man made no move to get up for a handshake. There was no formal bow or any other courtesy.
“Are you a...” But Tom couldn't finish. The very question sounded childish and stupid, even in his own head.
The man, however, was nodding. “Yes. Yes, I am. Bona fide, genuine, straight out of the story books, not your imagination, one hundred
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