Tony Caption sat at the folding desk, watching his contact saunter closer.
Idiot boy, he thought.
The man gripped the briefcase with manicured hands. The teenager cradled a heart-shaped box in one arm, swiveling his wire-topped head to take in the graffiti on the walls of the parking garage; he smiled at a particularly perverse piece of art. The only light was streaming from the man’s truck; the only sound that of prayer, filtering down through the overhead duct work.
“You have the box,” said Tony.
The boy watched him for several seconds. He turned the other chair around, and straddled it, facing the older man. He cracked a grin, producing a burnt out cigarette butt from the recesses of his mouth.
“Derp,” he croaked. The cigarette butt bounced once. The boy drew a yellow string of mucus from his nose, and flicked it aside.
Tony drew his lips into a thin, gray line, and lifted the briefcase to the table. He spun the metallic locks, opened it, and turned it around. The boy whistled appreciatively, reaching out to stroke the crisp bills.
“Would you like to count it?”
The man closed his eyes while the boy closed the case.
He heard the case scrape as it slid off the table.
The boy’s clothes rustled.
Tony opened his eyes.
The youth was standing over him now, his dank odor invading. On his left arm, a tattoo spread, spider-like. He leaned closer.
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” he whispered. “I hope it’s everything you wanted.”
The boy turned and left, whistling.
Tony sat transfixed, hands shaking as he touched the box in front of him.
“Eternal life,” he said.
No one heard him. His Ford rumbled its diesel-induced appreciation from behind.
“And now, it is mine.”
He opened the box.
Inside lay a tiny, gray rat. The foul odor of rot struck Tony in the face, and he recoiled, wrinkling his nose. The rat’s body was flat and stiff. Bones protruded at rough angles.
In its head, a beady eye, still moist, swiveled to meet his gaze.
Tony’s eyes grew wide.
The rat, inheritor of the box’s dark power, was immortal.
“It can’t die!” His voice echoed, faded. The melody of “Rock of Ages” mixed with the rumbling of the truck. He wondered if the rat could hear it, too.
Tony felt dizzy. His heart tightened in his chest, and pulsed in his ears.
The tiny eye followed him as he staggered. The box clattered as it struck the pavement. A sharp pain gripped his left arm. Instead of a scream, a harsh wheeze squeezed from his throat, and he felt himself falling.
As he lay on the garage floor, the terror did not subside.
Tony felt himself dying, his nerves reporting the encroaching numbness, his eyes still fully functional. The rat watched him. Its bulbous eye shivered.
Tony screamed silently.
Eternal life. And now, it was his.
Three blocks away, the boy who was not a boy dropped the briefcase into a sewage grate. A new web appeared on his arm: an ever-growing tattoo.
He looked up, his eyes focused on a point above the clouds.
“What a pig,” he said. Then he laughed.
© Paul Turnberg
Paul Turnberg is a winner of the Scholastic North American prose award. His story “Windsongs” appears in Amazing Journeys Magazine #9.