The Skulls

Skull on the crown of Lord Shiva at Hoyseleswa...
Skull on the crown of Lord Shiva at Hoyseleswara temple, India (Photo credit: Rohit Rath)

Once upon a time there was a carriage rut on a London street.  It wasn’t wide enough to fit new cobblestones, and it was constantly getting filled with water, so it hadn’t been repaired.

It was the ideal place for a boy with a quick wit and quicker hands to idle a day away.  Sometimes carriages would bounce into the hole and nothing would happen, but sometimes things fell off the top or fell out the window.  In that case, a quick lad might grab the thing and be off around the corner before the carriage could stop.  It wasn’t a great living, but it was better than some.

Sammy was the sort of boy who hung around the carriage rut.  He’d won it from another boy in a game of marbles, and now it was his until someone else won it off him.

Today was a good day.  A carriage came rumbling past with way too much luggage piled on top.  It hit the rut, and a black case slid out of the pile.  Sammy caught it on the way down, and it never made a sound.  He was gone around the corner, but from the sound of the carriage it wasn’t even slowing.  This was his lucky day.

Sammy hid back in his alley and opened the case with shaking fingers. Maybe there were clothes he could pawn, or maybe even some jewelry.

The hinge snapped open, and Sammy got a shock.  Inside the case were two human skulls!

Sammy snapped the case lid down quick.  The initials on the outside read C.D.  Probably a madman who carried his victims around in cases after he done them in.  Sammy remembered with a shiver how much luggage had been on top of that carriage.  Was it all victims?

Doing what every good street boy should do, Sammy buried the case under some garbage in the back of the alley and tried to forget about it.  He figured the carriage rut might not be safe, so he took a job as a newspaper boy for a few days.  At the end of the day you kept any papers you didn’t sell, and Sammy used them to line his cubbyhole.  One morning he woke up and read a little advertisement.  “Lost, black case, reward.  C.D. “ and it gave an address.

Sammy tried to ignore the advertisement, but it shook him that C.D. was looking for his case.  How far might such a desperate man go to find his victims?  Wouldn’t it be better to plead ignorance and return the case?

After a sleepless night when every noise sent Sammy to the back of his cubby, Sammy took the next day off and dug up the case.  He hiked his way across London to the address in the advertisement.  It was a great old house, with a long, shadowy lawn and a great dark door with one of those glowering lion’s head knockers.

It looked spooky enough, but Sammy wanted his reward, and he wanted this C.D. character to be off his trail.  So he marched right up to the door and lifted the knocker.  Before he could let it fall the door opened.

A wisp of a fellow, old enough he should have been dead already, stood in the doorway.  He was all in his Sunday best, tie and tails.  “How may I help you?” His voice sounded like a rusty hinge.

“I-I’m here about the case.” Sammy held the case between them as if the old fellow would spring out at him.

“Very good, sir.  Please come in.”

Sammy was having second thoughts about this plan.  Maybe it was better if he dumped the case and scarpered it. But then maybe this C.D. would hunt him down like a rabbit.  Better to stand his ground and have it out.

The old fellow left him in the hall.  Like every smart lad, Sammy saw a door open a crack and went for it.  No telling where a spare piece of jewelry might be lying about.  He creaked open the door and nearly lost it.  Something was staring right at him!  He closed the door right quick and stifled a scream by biting on his knuckles.

An old man came out of the room down the hall.  He walked funny and he had a big old beard that stuck out from his head.  Despite his white hair, he bore down on Sammy pretty quickly.

Sammy stuck the case out before him.  “Here’s your case.” He really wanted to get clear of this house in the worst way.

Great, great.”  The old man laid a heavy hand on Sammy’s shoulder and steered him toward the door where the thing had been staring.  Sammy tried to back pedal away, but the old man had a fierce grip on his shoulder.

“Really, sir, I don’t need a reward.  I’d best be going.”  Sammy tried his best to twist away, but the old man held him fast.

“Nonsense, young man.  Let’s just make sure this is the right case.  Then you’ll get what is coming to you.”

The old man opened the door and Sammy stifled a shriek.  The eyes behind the door belonged to a stuffed monkey.  Inside the room other creatures stared at Sammy from high on the walls.

Taking the case from Sammy, the old man clicked it open.  He turned to Sammy slowly with a wide smile and froze Sammy’s bones.  “These are my skulls!  This one is a Neanderthal  and this one is a Cro-magnon.  Still in excellent condition.  Thank you lad.  Here’s a crown for your reward.  Charles Darwin always remembers his friends.” Sammy bowed, a bit in awe,  to the old naturalist.


Once Upon A Time: The Desert

English: Sahara desert from space. Русский: Пу...
English: Sahara desert from space. Русский: Пустыня Сахара из космоса. Українська: Пустеля Сахара з космосу. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Utah desert Mist
Utah desert Mist (Photo credit: Loco Steve)

Once upon a time there was a desert. It wasn’t just an expanse of sand, like some deserts. This desert was dotted with cactus plants, and had quite a few rocks still amongst all the sand. There were even some stubs of trees here and there.
But the desert had little water, which is all that mattered to Sidney Carmichael of Fresno as he walked through the desert. Sidney’s car had overheated just south of nowhere and at least a hundred miles from anywhere but here. His cell phone couldn’t pick up any towers out here, and then the battery had died. Sidney had wasted a few hours trying to get the car battery to recharge his cell phone. He’d thought about staying with the car but thought it through and realized that no one would be looking for him for a few days.
The problem wasn’t that Sidney drove used cars between states to make a little cash. It was that Sidney liked to party, and would often be a few days late to the next dealer. They’d learned to use him only when a car could take a little time getting from one place to another. So no one would come looking for Sidney for at least a week. And all they would be looking for is Sidney’s car, not him.
People cared about Sidney. His on-again off-again girlfriend cared about him, but she knew he was off working. His mother cared about him, and would start to worry when he didn’t call on Sunday. But even then he’d been known to not call for weeks. So no one would be looking for him in the sort of time frame he needed to get water to save his life.
Sidney had liquid in the car. Three beers and a zero-nothing-fake-sugar cola that he’d grabbed by accident at the last gas station. The beers he’d drunk while waiting for his cell phone to charge. He brought the cola with him, looking like a deranged sightseer wandering the desert with his beverage of choice.
The desert went on to the horizon. As Sidney trudged along, he thought about dying. Maybe the most disturbing thing was that he wasn’t too terribly upset about the whole death part. He wasn’t looking forward to the being really thirsty part. But a perverse part of him was sort of looking forward to the delusions and seeing hallucinations part.
Sidney saw a gas station up ahead. He was almost certain it hadn’t been there before. But he broke into a trot even as he thought to himself that he was hallucinating.
In Sidney’s pocket, his cell phone rang. Even as he thought that his battery was dead, Sidney answered it: “hello?”
“Don’t go into the gas station, Sidney.” Said the voice at the other end.
“Who is this?” asked Sidney. “Can you send help? Do you have my GPS location?” The line went dead.
Sidney slowed down to a walk. A strange warning. Maybe this was one of those B-horror film gas stations with some sort of killer in the back. And maybe the caller would send someone to get him. “And maybe,” said a small voice in the back of his mind, “I’m just hallucinating like crazy while I’m walking down a deserted desert road.”
There didn’t seem to be anything to do but go into the gas station. Sidney approached it with caution, but it looked like a very normal gas station. It wasn’t decayed or full of tumbleweeds. The attached minimart had lights on inside, and there was even cleaning fluid and new squeegees in a bucket next to the pumps.
Sidney pushed open the door cautiously. The man behind the counter seemed about middle aged, with glasses and slightly balding. He looked up at Sidney. “If you keep going this way, you’re going to die.” Sidney backed toward the door hastily. “Now,” said the man, “if you went back to your car you’d die too. So I understand why you made the choices you did so far.”
Sidney stopped, his hand on the door. The possibly crazy gas station guy stayed seated behind the counter. “Now,” he said to Sidney, “if you head out that door now you’ll likely run into some giant scorpion or something. The hallucinating brain tends to play up the melodramatic. What I’d recommend is getting yourself a shovel over there in the corner, then going out and whacking at some of that cactus. There’s moisture inside, and you can eat the red bits if you peel off the outside. It will be hard, but I’d do that and stay with your car. You know they’ll be along for you eventually.”
Sidney walked over to the corner and pulled out a shovel. When he looked back at the counter, there was no counter. It was just desert. Looking down at his hand, Sidney saw that the shovel was still there, just as new as the day it was made.
They found Sidney sleeping in his car a week later. He was crazy from thirst and full of cactus bristles, but he was alive. His friends wondered at his foresight, bringing along a new shovel like that. Sidney never told anyone about the gas station. It had just been an hallucination, after all.