A chilly wind brushed Debbie’s hair back from her shoulders and caused her eyes to water as she stared down at the box in her hands. Children and their parents milled around her, exploring the items strewn across the tables at the yard sale. Low thunder rolled across the gray sky and Debbie’s mother appeared at her side.
“Whatcha got there, kiddo?” Debbie’s mom asked.
Debbie successfully repressed the urge to roll her eyes at her mom’s use of the word “kiddo” and replied, “It’s some kind of weird box.”
Without asking, Debbie’s mom took the box from her teenage daughter’s hands. Thunder cracked again and the wind picked up. Her mother squinted at the box, a rectangular chest that looked like it could’ve been built by a high school shop class dropout. It was composed of ill-fitted, matte black planks of wood held together by tarnished silver corners, hinges, and clasps. Both the sides and top were adorned with symbols that leapt and curled in bright, sparkling purple. Painted in pink cursive, the proclamation “Debbie’s Box” was plopped down into the scrawl of symbols that covered the top of the lid.
“Huh, look at that,” Debbie’s mom said, pointing at the lid. “It already has your name on it.” She added sarcastically, “It was meant to be.”
This time Debbie let her eyes roll while her mother laughed at her own joke.
“You want it?” Debbie’s mom asked.
“Yeah, I can keep my tapes in it,” Debbie said.
Debbie’s mom chuckled. “It’s 2020 and cassette tapes are making a comeback. I didn’t see that one coming.”
Debbie frowned. “It’s an underground movement, mother.”
Debbie’s mom smiled and handed the box back to her daughter. “I’m sure it is.”
Another clash of thunder reverberated overhead. Debbie’s mom looked up. “That one was closer. We better settle up and get back home before the rain hits.”
Twenty minutes later Debbie was sitting on her bed, staring at the box, wondering what -if anything- might be inside, and who the other Debbie was; what was she like, and what did she do? Where was she from and where did she go? The woman running the yard sale hadn’t had had any answers to the questions that Debbie asked her. She’d claimed she didn’t even know where the box had come from and assumed that one of the other three yard sale participants must have brought it. There wasn’t even a price tag on it so the lady had just accepted Debbie’s mother’s offer of five dollars.
Debbie reached out and flipped the dull silver clasps. She lifted the lid and leaned over to peer inside. A putrid stench wafted up out of the box. Debbie coughed and recoiled, covering her mouth and nose. With eyes watering from the odor, she slowly moved closer and looked into the box.
There were teeth. They covered the bottom of the burgundy velvet-lined box. They looked human. Debbie’s brow crinkled. She looked closer. Mixed in with the teeth were locks of hair, all blond and all held together with pink bows. Debbie counted the clumps of hair. There were thirteen. Beneath one of the locks of hair was a folded square of notebook paper. Debbie brushed the hair aside and picked the paper up. She unfolded the square and read.
If you are reading this note, you have found the box and been led to open it. That also means you have been chosen and you are now the new Debbie. The burden and chore which were mine are now yours, may you carry them well until the time comes for you to pass them to another.
All my love,
“What in the…?” Debbie gazed at the box and its contents, confounded and bewildered.
Footsteps echoed in the foyer. Debbie’s mom called her name from the bottom of the stairs.
“Yeah, mom?” Debbie answered.
“Soup’s ready!” Her mother yelled.
“Okay, I’ll be right down!” Debbie replied, even though she thought it might be difficult to eat with so many questions brewing in her mind.
The soup was terrible, as Debbie’s mom’s homemade soup always was, but Debbie choked it down and felt grateful to have a mother who would cook her something warm to eat. An hour later she was hungry again. She found her mom in the den watching TV and told her she was heading out to the supermarket to get her favorite, frozen cheese pizza. Her mom told Debbie that she was nuts to go out in the storm but handed over the keys anyway, gave her a kiss, and sent her on her way.
The supermarket was empty. The standard pop fare flittered out of dull, hidden speakers. Debbie stood in front of the frozen pizza selection, wondering if she would try a new brand or just go with the usual. She heard a voice next to her. A man. He said, “Can’t make up your mind?”
Debbie turned and their eyes met. He’s cute, Debbie thought, looking into his blue orbs, taking note of his clean, blond hair. She smiled.
Holy fuck I can’t wait to get this one back home and take my hacksaw to her filthy baby maker, the man thought.
Debbie gasped. Her face hardened. “Excuse me?” She said.
The man grinned and held up his hands. “Woah there, I was just saying it looks like you can’t make up your mind on which pizza to get.” You dirty goddamn slut.
The man’s thoughts and intentions invaded Debbie’s mind, heart, and soul, cutting her, bleeding her spirit. She felt tears well in her eyes. She remembered the note. The burden and chore which were mine are now yours.
Debbie cleared her throat. She chuckled nervously. “Oh, yeah, just trying to decide if I should try a new brand or stick with the old reliable.”
The man grinned again. Suddenly, Debbie saw the smile through the eyes of another woman, and another, and another, and still yet another and another. Blood dribbled from the thin lips, trailing down the chiseled, handsome chin. The smile widened and revealed sickeningly white teeth. Debbie saw what the teeth had done. She blinked. The visions faded.
“I think it’s healthy to try new things,” the man said, still smiling.
Debbie’s mind focused. A bright, new power bloomed inside her. She felt a smile of her own growing across her lips. She opened the freezer door and grabbed the first cheese pizza she saw. It was a brand she’d never heard of before.
“You know,” she said. “I think you’re right.” She dropped the pizza into her basket. “How do you feel about frozen cheese pizza?”
The man seemed to smile even wider. “I think I love it.”
“Good, because I don’t like to eat alone,” Debbie said, simultaneously marveling at the words coming out of her mouth and the confidence with which they were being spoken.
“We can go to my place, it’s just around the bend,” the man said.
“Wonderful,” Debbie replied. “I just need to swing by the hardware section and pick up one last thing.”
“Oh, what’s that?” The man scoffed.
“A hammer,” Debbie said.
Debbie let her own smile widen and fill with mischievous glee. “I’ve got some work to do.”
The man shrugged and followed Debbie out of the frozen foods aisle.