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May 28, 2013 / josephesque

Fiction: The Wormhoudt Memorial Prize for Fiction

I recently won a Cal State prose contest for graduate students with a piece titled, “Four Faxes from the Desk of Benjamin Stout.” Now, this piece is out for review at a publication that does not allow it to be posted elsewhere, so instead of posting that piece, below is a piece I wrote hastily (in about 25 minutes) for a short fiction contest that I have no plans to do anything with it–so here it is for your reading pleasure?

The Collector

Dmitri passed sign after sign posted to street lights and trees throughout the quiet neighborhood, ignoring each one. Hand-written on weathered sheets above a picture were the words, “Lost Cigar Box: If Found Please Call. URGENT.” A phone number was scrawled below in crimson letters.

No, he thought, It’s my cigar box now.

For two weeks, Dmitri passed approximately 120 of these fliers on the way home from his supermarket job, and each day he grew more calloused.

Dmitri finally reached his home and let out a deep breath.

He went inside, and without turning on a lamp, despite the hasty fading of daylight, he walked to his closet. He pulled one of many cigar boxes out—the same from the fliers.

The owner cannot be a collector like me, Dmitri reasoned, I deserve this, not him.

However, Dmitri hadn’t been able to open the box. It was sealed with something invisible. He tried again with a butter knife, but afraid of ruining the striking rarity, he again relented.

A knock came from the door, and Dmitri carefully set the box back in the closet atop the stack.

“Old man, you home?” A panicked adult voice came through.

Dmitri closed his closet and sat on his tweed sofa, now in the dark.

“I saw you come home.”
Dmitri said nothing. He could hear the man panting.

“I think you have what I’m missing. You’re the collector, right?”

Still, he remained silent.

“Damn it! Open up.”

Dmitri strolled to the bathroom while the man pounded.

He flushed the toilet and shouted back, “I was in the john, hold your horses!” Dmitri turned on the living room’s dim light and opened the door.

“Can I help you,” he coldly asked.

The man was middle-aged but completely gray. Even his skin was gray. He was bent over, resting hand-on-knee, breathing heavily. His other hand rested on the bricks above the doorbell.

“This is very important,” His words were broken by his panting.

“Yes?” Dmitri scowled.

“You’re the cigar box collector, right?” The man stood up and looked him over, but appeared in pain.

“I don’t have your box.” Dmitri turned, leaving the door open and sat on the arm of his sofa.

“It’s not the box I need. It’s what’s in it.”
“Well, you’re out of luck. It won’t open,” Dmitri’s face paled realizing what he said.

The gray man grinned. “Bring it to me, please.”

“First tell me what’s in it. And promise not to damage the box when you open it. It’s very collectible.”

Dmitri limped slowly to the closet. He didn’t have a limp, but he liked looking vulnerable when making a deal.

Retrieving the box, Dmitri ran his fingers across the engraved initials, “F.E.L.D.”

“The box contains my soul.”

Oh, so this guy’s a nut. Dmitri smirked and brought it to the man.

“Thanks God,” nervousness and relief painted the man’s expression. “I was so afraid I’d get stuck on earth eternally.

“Open it,” Dmitri said, intrigued and handed it to him.

With ease, he unclipped the lock and opened the cigar box.

Inside lay a kangaroo mouse on its side, shallowly breathing. Dmitri noticed the mouse’s and man’s breaths were in sync.

“What the?“ Dmitri let out.

“There’s no time!” The man gently grabbed the mouse and let the box fall.

“Careful!” Dmitri miffed. He picked up the box and watched as the man put the mouse in his breast pocket and hastily walked off.

“Now that you’re sticking around,” Dmitri shouted, “take all those signs down. They’re polluting our town.” And he closed the door.

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