Death is Like a Box of Chocolates

Fraser Sherman

Story image for Death is Like a Box of Chocolates by

Dec. 17, 1983

G reg Haughton believed in the importance of big brass balls the way his grandparents believed in the inerrancy of holy scripture. That’s how he got himself killed and released kalon kakon, the beautiful evil, back into the world.

Greg’s balls and his willingness to promise whatever bullshit would close a deal had made him the top salesman at Hal Lightner Ford in the Florida Panhandle for three years straight. He felt he had a lot in common with Ronald Reagan, who’d just invaded some island a couple of months earlier to stop the commies taking over—they both had the balls to take big chances.

Hal held the company Christmas party at his condo in Seastar, a beachfront tourist town a half-hour up the coast. The Eurhythmics were on Hal’s stereo, booze flowed freely, cocaine flowed discreetly, so Greg was buzzed when a reporter from the Seastar Journal showed up to interview Hal. Pershing Jackson was a bespectacled brunette rocking the hot librarian look, so as soon he could, Greg cornered her alone, copped a feel, and told her how totally fuckable she’d look if she only showed more skin.

The bitch bent a couple of his fingers back until he almost screamed, then made some sneering remark about the size of his dick. She walked away before Greg could explain that he’d just been joking around and hadn’t meant anything. His attempt to score with Hal’s attorney went even worse and left him sulking and drinking the rest of the night.

His mood wasn’t much better Monday when he drove his sister to the county airport, walked her to the gate, and watched her jet off to her fiancé. Greg headed out past the crowd at the baggage carousel, fuming over the total injustice of the previous night. The crap a man had to put up with to stay out of trouble… and in that moment, the beautiful evil crooned its silent song, and he listened.

Greg had always worried that if he wasn’t at the baggage claim right when his luggage came out, someone could just walk off with it. Suddenly it hit him: he could be that someone! With a crowd of three, four dozen people, nobody would realize he hadn’t been on the flight. Stealing some loser’s luggage would prove his dick was big enough for any woman, and if the owner caught him he’d pretend it was a mistake.

He pushed his way to the front of the crowd and watched the luggage go by. Backpack. Suitcase. Suitcase. Duffel bag. Cheap suitcase. Suit bag. And, poking out from beneath the suit bag, a bright yellow box of Stuckey’s pralines.

Without hesitating, Greg plucked it from the carousel with one hand and walked out to the parking lot, heart hammering. Nobody objected, nobody demanded their pralines back—who the hell would check candy as baggage anyway? Sure, it was free, but what were the odds it didn’t get crushed or stolen?

But who cared? With one macho move, he’d proven his balls were still the biggest in the Panhandle. He wanted to do that thing Sly Stallone did at the top of the steps in Rocky, but it was smarter to play it cool, just in case.

Only, now what?

As he got into his car, he wondered if he shouldn’t put the box back, because it wasn’t like he was a thief or anything. But that would draw attention, and if the owner had already missed it… Ah, screw it. Celebrate your brass balls by having some pralines!

At 2 PM Central Time Dec. 19, Greg opened the box, unleashed kalon kakon, and doomed himself.

Orbit-sml ><

P ershing Jackson parked her Beetle at Fran’s Furniture Store, well back from the half mile of Highway 97 traffic paralyzed by the accident at the airport entrance. After snapping a couple of photos, she drew her notebook and pencil out of her shoulder bag and advanced up the median on foot. Ignoring the inevitable catcalls and wolf whistles she scribbled details of the scene in shorthand as she approached the cluster of police cars, fire engines and rubberneckers up ahead.

Beyond the rubberneckers, a small Gremlin with a crumpled front end lay overturned on the median; a larger car lay in the road, too smashed to identify the model. God, I hate covering accidents. If Max had just waited a few more hours to quit… Pershing photographed the scene, took some discreet shots of the crowd, then approached a deputy who didn’t seem to be doing anything. “Pershing Jackson with the Seastar Journal. What happened?”

The woman, brown-haired and freckle-faced with a badge that said Dep. Dane, raised an eyebrow suspiciously. “Where’s Max?”

“He quit, a few minutes before we got the call about the accident.” The only explanation he’d given was that he had an idea for a sure-fire, guaranteed bestseller and he needed all his time to write it.

Dane still looked suspicious. Pershing realized she’d left her press badge in her blazer pocket and pulled it out. “Sorry, deputy. Everyone knows me on my regular beat.”

“No sweat.” Dane turned and gestured at the totaled car. “Driver ran a red light, the Gremlin hit him, he died, the other driver’s getting flown to St. Mary for hemorrhaging. Can’t let any cars through till we’ve checked out the death scene.”

“Dead guy drunk?”

“Probably, or higher than a kite, but that’s off the record until we know for sure. Women behind him at the light said he was screaming something about his big brass balls before he got hit. Name was Greg Haughton, car salesman. Died 2:07 PM.”

Pershing flinched a little. “Haughton. I… met him once.” No need to share the details. “Anything else?”

“No, but I can call once the autopsy and the blood work’s done.”

“Thanks. Deadline’s at two tomorrow for Wednesday’s paper, but I can always do a follow-up for Saturday. And let me know when you’ve contacted his family.”

After a quick interview with the woman who heard Haughton yelling, Pershing was headed back through the crowd playing with openings for the story when a harsh voice snapped her out of her reverie. “Punishment is only just if it’s appropriate.”

The speaker was an elderly woman in a shapeless black dress, talking to a second old woman in an identical shapeless black dress. “We have to end this, Tis, it’s been going too far for far too long.”

Scenting a possible quote, Pershing was about to ask the woman’s name, but the two crones saw her listening and glared. Pershing forced a smile, turned around and resumed walking. Something about the women’s hard, cruel eyes… she glanced back, but they’d already moved off.

Pershing turned around and bumped into a massive chest in a green turtleneck. The man jumped back with a startled bleat, so Pershing apologized quickly and walked on. Knocking on the window of a few drivers she got some choice quotes, a few even printable.

As she reached the Beetle, she saw the big guy—Jeez, he must be seven foot-something—emerge from the crowd and stare at her intensely. He didn’t move any closer, but she wasted no time getting inside the car, locking the doors, and driving off.

Back at her desk, Pershing banged out a first draft on her typewriter—the Journal would never have the budget for word-processors like her last employer—and got an update on the Gremlin driver from the hospital. She told her editor, Walt, that she’d check with Deputy Dane tomorrow and finish up, “but until then I’m getting back to my own work.”

“Honey, it’s all your work until we can replace Max.” Walt stubbed out his cigarette in his FSU-logo ashtray and shrugged apologetically. “That might take a while.”

“I’m local-government beat, I hate covering breaking news.”

“People’ll read it.”

“Yeah, I know.” Tonight’s county budget hearing would affect more people, but death and destruction grabbed more eyeballs. “One reporter for the whole county—”

“We’re a quiet county, Pershing. If we have another accident this week worth more than a one-paragraph brief, I’ll be astonished.”

Pershing nodded, returned to her desk, and checked her answering machine. She’d expected some return calls from the county staff, but the first call was Dr. Ryder. As soon as the taped voice finished, she told Walt goodbye and ran to her car.

Orbit-sml ><

“D ad, you can’t drop out of chemo.” Pershing handed her father a coffee and took a seat on the couch next to his recliner. “If you do, you’re going to die.”

“I’m sick of the chemo, pumpkin, you know that,” Dad said in the Virginia accent he’d never lost.

“I know how horrible it is for you.” Helping him through it was why she’d quit her job at a Richmond daily for a lower salary in a nowhere county. “If you’ve decided you can’t— but you’ve been so determined and you’re winning. This coming year, you’ll be cancer free.” Has he been hiding how he really felt? No, I know him better than that… don’t I? “Are you really choosing to— to—”

“Honey, it’s not as fatal as you think. You ever hear about the guy who cured himself just by watching comedies and thinking happy thoughts? I decided this afternoon that I’d try that.” Dad squeezed Pershing’s hand. “I’m an upbeat person, if that man can do it, I certainly can.”

That wasn’t at all what she’d expected. “Dad, you used to be a science teacher. You’ve always taught me to trust medicine, not miracles. Look, did someone suggest this to you?” If Dad had been conned by some quack, she’d make the guy sorry he was ever born.

“Nope, it was inspiration—almost like a divine message, if you believe in that stuff. Hit me just as General Hospital started, I called the doctor as soon as it was over.” He chuckled, half-embarrassed. “Much as I laughed at your momma about those soaps, Luke and Laura are kind of cool.”

“I don’t—” No, yelling won’t do any good. It never does with Dad. “Obviously it’s… it’s your decision, but don’t you think you should at least talk with Dr. Ryder about your prognosis?”

Dad didn’t. He ended the talk by putting a Duck Soup cassette into the Betamax to start his laughter-based therapy and invited her to watch with him.

Pershing left the house with her guts clenched in a knot. He’s sixty-two. Too young to die. And I’m twenty-seven, too young to be an orphan. And dammit, dammit, this came out of nowhere! What could have happened— It struck her that General Hospital started at 2 PM, the same time Max quit. But that was coincidence, obviously; probably thousands of people all over America were making stupid decisions at that same time. At any given time.

If she hadn’t had the meeting that night, or if Max were around to pinch-hit for her, she’d have found somewhere to get drunk. Instead, she went back to the office, found nothing from the county staff, but Deputy Dane had left a message on the answering machine. She didn’t really give a crap about the accident just then, but calling her back was better than thinking about Dad. “The autopsy find some drugs?”

“No, but in Haughton’s car we found—look, you’ll find it easier to believe if you see it for yourself.”

Despite her worries, Pershing’s curiosity stirred, but she sighed. “I don’t think I have the time before the commission meeting.”

“Tomorrow then. No matter how tight your deadlines are, this is going to be worth it.”

Orbit-sml ><

I t was 8:05 the next morning when the deputy opened the door for a yawning Pershing. “Late night, huh?”

“Very.” The county budget manager had projected a 75 percent boost in county revenue without raising taxes. The commissioners had grilled him for an hour without making sense of it. “And then I got called out of bed at 4:30 after a brawl at Donuts Divine.” Screw you, Max!

“I heard about that. Biker beat up a CPA, something like that?”

“Other way around.” As they went down the hall, Pershing sipped her 7-11 coffee hoping it would rev her up. “The accountant came on to the biker’s wife, then challenged the guy to a fight for her.” The CPA was a quiet, super-shy guy according to his companions, but he’d been acting weird since caught in the airport traffic gridlock yesterday afternoon. “I’ve seen lots of guys act crazy about women, but taking on an ex-Marine who outweighs him by a hundred pounds?”

“Maybe it’s something in the water, Ms. Jackson. Guy at Food World tried kidnapping a cashier from her smoke break yesterday, around the time we met at the accident. When he got busted, the guy said he just knew the girl would love him if he showed her he cared.”

“Were there bad sunspots or something yesterday? It seems like there was a—a lot of freaky behavior going on. Now, what do I need to see, and please call me Pershing.” She saw the usual question in the deputy’s eyes. “Grandpa served on Black Jack Pershing’s staff in WWI. My Dad’s Pershing Jackson, he decided it should be a tradition. Won’t be.”

“Call me Jenny then.” The deputy opened the door on a small office with two or three empty desks, a praline box from Stuckey’s sitting on one of them. “We found this next to Haughton in his car, thought maybe he kept his coke stash in it.” She flipped the box open, showed it empty. “Looks normal, right?”

“Jenny, just tell me what was in it, no games, please.” Pershing pulled out her notebook. “I’m guessing you didn’t find drugs?”

“Didn’t find nothing, it was empty just like this. We were a little surprised it didn’t even look scratched from the accident, but then Fre—well never mind who the dumb-ass was, he dropped it in the parking lot and the mail truck backed up over it.”

“No jokes, either.” Pershing closed the box, tapped the lid. “No way a car drove over that.”

Smiling Jenny handed Pershing a Swiss army knife. “Stab the sucker.”

“It’s evidence!”

“Trust me.”

“Fine.” Pershing raised the knife, then drove it down at the big S in the logo. The blade skated off the box as if it were hardwood and twisted out of her hand. Baffled, Pershing reclaimed the knife, thrust it at one corner of the box, felt the same impact. “It’s not even scratched!” She ran her hand over the box. “It’s just cardboard, that’s not—”

“Watch this.” Jenny clenched her fist and brought it down on the box as soon as Pershing withdrew her hand. The lid didn’t break or even bend. “Arlene says it must be some kind of government experiment, but nobody’d hide that in a candy box outside of a James Bond movie.”

“Any idea where it came from?”

“Haughton was at the airport dropping off his sister. Someone remembered him picking up the box from the baggage claim, then walking out.”

“He stole it?”

“Looks like.”

“From who?”

“Nobody. Box wasn’t checked onto the flight.”

Pershing pulled the lid off the coffee cup and guzzled. “Level with me—I’m not just finding this confusing because of lack of sleep?”

“I wish. You met the guy, right, you got any idea why he’d rob a baggage carousel?”

“All I know about Haughton is that he was big on copping feels. And if he’s that into pralines, there’s a Stuckey’s store at every intersection on the Interstate.”

“Folks at the dealership said he was as big a jerk with women as he could be without getting into trouble.” Jenny gave Pershing a quick once over. “Guys hassle you a lot? I notice that you dress pretty conservative.”

“I try to look professional, leave it at that.” She’d found the sweet spot the first year after college: still attractive enough to get a job, but not drawing more crap or catcalls than the average woman. “So, what’s next?”

“Well, Brian—Sheriff Chandler—has been trying to think of who we should report this to, but in the meantime, he figures we might as well go public, see if anyone knows anything. You interested in covering this?”

“Oh, hell, yes.” Pershing began wondering which of the stories due that afternoon she could convince Walt to set aside for this one. “So is the sheriff available for an interview?”

Orbit-sml ><

W ednesdays were a lot easier than Tuesdays.

With no deadline until Friday, Pershing didn’t have to rush to finish anything. Sitting above the harbor on the upper deck of the Swordfish Grill, with Islands in the Stream coming softly over the radio speakers, she alternated bites of red snapper sandwich with going over her pile of notes. So much for “a quiet county,” there’s enough here to fill the Journal’s front page for the next three weeks.

Two local retirees had called that morning to announce they were challenging Reagan for the 1984 Republican nomination. Neither had ever held political office; both said they’d made the decision sitting in that Monday traffic jam. A woman who’d jumped off the Kelly Bridge at the same time had regained consciousness Tuesday and explained she did it to “blow the mind” of a man she claimed she loved but had never spoken to. Grace at the county confirmed 2 PM was when the budget manager had come up with his new revenue projections.

Pershing had actually called a chemistry teacher at UWF to ask if there might have been a gas bomb in the box. He’d assured her there’d be a pattern: people at the site affected first, then maybe people further away, but only so far. Instead, it was all over the county, completely random, and more cases kept popping up.

A retired, 65-year-old admiral had called Pershing that morning about his plans to re-enlist and lead a naval first strike on Iran. Three more presidential hopefuls and one aspiring senator had called her since Tuesday morning. When she’d brainstormed with Dr. Ryder about her father—he had no suggestions—he mentioned two more patients had abruptly stopped chemo and he’d heard of a half-dozen psychiatric patients who’d stopped taking their meds. Five major accidents had resulted from drivers taking reckless chances. And the minister at St. Paul’s Lutheran bet the church’s construction fund at the Ebro greyhound races “because I have faith God’s given me a sure thing.”

None of them individually unbelievable. No more than the half-dozen accounts of people making unexpected, unwanted proposals of marriage that morning were individually unbelievable. Lump it all together and it was damn unbelievable, especially for 48 hours in a county of under 40,000 people.

And it’s all the same kind of crazy, really. Insane, irrational optimism. Hope without anything to justify it. Starting when Haughton tried to beat that light, carrying the magic box. Which almost made her think of something, but…

The story in the Journal that morning had generated a flood of calls, but nothing useful. Just babble about UFOs, divine wrath, or Russian secret weapons. According to Jenny, nobody who’d called the Sheriff’s Department had anything better to offer.

“I found you.” The bald hulk from Monday sat down abruptly opposite Pershing, dressed in a sweater and jeans. The chair sunk under his weight. “I read your story, I can help. And you can help me.”

“Ah—which story?” God, he was huge. Dangerously huge. One hand slipped into her big shoulder purse and groped around for the can of Mace. “What’s your name?”

An agonized look crossed his face before he replied. “Eppy. Better just call me Eppy.”

“First name or last name, and how is it spelled?” She found the Mace and carefully kept it ready. It was probably irrational but—

“Just Eppy.” He laughed nervously. “It’s about the box, I know what was in it. Kalon kakon, the beautiful evil, it escaped when that man opened it.”

“It did?” Pershing began gauging escape routes—if retreat was an option, it was always better than confrontation—and whether anyone inside would help if she screamed. “Ah… what kind of evil?”

“Hope. Kalon kakon, the dream that looks so beautiful but ends very badly. You already know the box cannot be destroyed by the hand of man, it was in your story.”

“Hope. In a box.” That’s what I was trying to remember. “Like Pandora’s box in the myth?”

“I’m so glad you figured it out.” Eppy drew a big sigh of relief. “Yes, it’s her box. My wife, Pandora, the first beautiful evil. I’m her husband, the titan Epimetheus.” Oh god, he is crazy. Where the hell is the waiter? “The only way to seal hope up again is with the blood of kalos kagathos, the beautiful good. That’s you.”

“My blood.” Shit. Shit, shit, shit. “Mr.—er, Epimethius, do you mind if I uh, go inside and use the little girl’s room? It’ll just take a second.”

“No, of course not. I’ll wait right here until you get back.”

Yeah, you do that. Pershing ran inside, found the waiter, paid the bill, wondered what to do about the man who thought he was a Greek myth. He hadn’t threatened her exactly, hadn’t done anything cops would take as a danger sign but still… blood. But he says he knows about the box, that’s a good reason to catch him and question him right?

Keeping her eye on Epimetheus through the glass door to the deck, Pershing asked the waiter about the phone. Then Eppy jumped up, cringing in a way that looked ridiculous for a man of his bulk, and vanished down the stairs. A second later, the two old women from the wreck showed up with a third identical woman in tow. They followed in the big man’s wake.

Orbit-sml ><

“E pimetheus.” Jenny repeated. Fortunately she’d been there when Pershing called the sheriff. “Epimetheus the titan?”

“Do you know any others?” What kind of deputy is this? “I’m surprised you know the name.”

“Epimetheus, brother to Prometheus. AKA Afterthought, brother to Forethought. Read lots of that Greek stuff after I saw my first Hercules movie.”

“Any of them explain this beautiful evil/beautiful good stuff?”

“No, but maybe he just made that up, whatever makes his delusion work. You’re somewhere safe right?”

“I’m still at the Grill, but I’m heading home.”

“Wait, could he know where you live?”

“That’s just it, I’m P. Jackson in the phone book but Dad’s Pershing Jackson, and he’s home alone laughing at movies.”

“I’ll send a car by.”

“That’d be appreciated.” She’d thought about taking Dad to a hotel, but her father would veto that. “The weird thing is, if it were Pandora’s box, it would make sense. Hope was the last thing left in the box—”

“Pandora didn’t have a box of pralines, Pershing, and Greek myths aren’t walking around in Florida—or even Greece these days. Crazy people have very self-consistent stories, they’re just built on crap.”

“Yeah, I know, it’s just—” If Eppy were telling the truth, maybe my blood would get Dad back on chemo. “I’ll head home, thanks for taking this seriously.”

A deputy was parked on the curb when Pershing arrived, and assured her nobody had entered. Once inside, Pershing locked the door and called for Dad. “I know it’s early but I thought—”

“Pumpkin, would you come into the living room please? There’s someone I want you to meet.” At Dad’s words, Pershing froze, wondering if she should get the deputy. “They’re really very nice, not at all as furious as you’d expect.”

“They?” Pershing ran in, saw the three old women standing around Dad in his recliner. “How’d they get in here? Who are you?”

“Oh, you’ll be glad they’re here, honey.” Dad gestured at the trio. “They’ve been explaining things to me—it’s just possible that stopping chemo wasn’t really a good idea.”

“I— I—” A weight lifted off Pershing’s chest. “How’d you convince him of that?”

One of the women smiled mirthlessly. “We’re very persuasive when we want to be.”

In an instant they changed. Scaly batwings on their backs, snakes hissing through their tangled hair, what looked like cat o’nine tails in their hands, and something vicious in their posture that would have made Pershing retreat if they hadn’t been close to her father.

If not for all the Greek mythology, she wouldn’t have thought of it, but… “You’re the Furies?”

“They prefer to be called the Kindly Ones,” Dad said helpfully. “I know I raised you to be skeptical, but I think we can be open-minded about this.”

“Alecto, Tisiphone, and Megaera,” the one who spoke before said. A second later they were back to the old biddies she’d first seen, though still holding their whips. “But call us Ali, Tis, and Meg. I’m Ali. I do the talking.”

“And you’re here because—?” It can’t be anything good, the Furies were all about vengeance! “My father doesn’t deserve punishing. He hasn’t killed anyone, that’s the kind of people you go after, right?”

“We’re here to help,” Ali said. One of her sisters grunted. “Exactly, Meg. We really are being kindly.”

Pershing sank onto the couch. “So are you after Eppy? Is he responsible for this?”

“Only for being stupid,” Ali said. Two more grunts from her sisters. “Never realized Pandora was trouble. Never realized what a dick Zeus was.” She cracked the whip for emphasis. “We scourge people who deserve it, people who’ve damned themselves by their actions. Zeus’s little hissy fit, inflicting evil on innocent people with that box—well, it’s time to put a stop to it. The big doofus keeps boxing Hope back up but it always gets out again. With your help, we can fix that.”

“You mean—” Here it was, the big decision. “My blood. But if you take it, it’ll restore Dad to normal?”

“Why do you sound so dramatic?” Ali looked baffled. “We only need three drops.”

Pershing stared at them. “That’s all?”

The Kindly Ones gave a collective groan. “Doofus blew it again. I’m sure an hour later he realized he’d said the wrong thing.”

Afterthought, right. “But I don’t get this ‘beautiful good’ stuff, I’m—”

“Very beautiful,” Dad said. “Your Momma always said she couldn’t believe you hadn’t gotten married—”

“Dad, not now. Alecto, Ali I mean, I’m not particularly good.”

“Well, we’re talking ancient Greek horse-shit, remember. They were pricks about women, just like Zeus. You don’t deceive men with your beauty, you tell people the truth instead of twisting it, by Greek standards you’re a living saint.”

“Three drops.” Pershing glanced at her father. It sounded like he’d been shocked back to normal already, but would it stay that way? “Let me call Jenny.”

Orbit-sml ><

A fter seeing the Furies transform in the Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Chandler and Jenny looked as stunned as Pershing probably had. “But hang on.” The sheriff tapped a nicotine-stained finger on the box. “They didn’t have Stuckey’s in ancient Greece. Did they even have pralines?”

“He’s got a point, ma’am,” Jenny said to Ali. “Wasn’t it originally an urn, not even a box?”

Ma’am.” Ali chuckled, which sounded like angry gears grinding. “I like this one. And yes, it was an urn, but it’s been other things. A leather briefcase in Athens, a cigarette case in Sarajevo, a steamer trunk in Peru, a hip flask in Pretoria, a bento box in Hokkaido. Whatever will convince someone to open it.”

Pershing was about to ask what a bento box was, when there came a loud hubbub from the department’s front office. “Ah, it’s Doofus,” Ali said. “He can probably feel something’s happening with the box. Somebody get him and convince him not to just run whimpering when he sees us.”

Pershing flinched slightly as Epimetheus’ hulking form entered the room a few moments later, flanked by a couple of deputies. His eyes lit up when he saw her. “It’s only three drops of your blood. I guess I should have explained that better.” He eyed Ali warily. “You’re really not here for me? If I hadn’t married Pandora—”

“You’ve been working ever since to fix things,” Ali said. “Can’t hold that against you. But this time we’re keeping the box, to make sure kalon kakon doesn’t get out again, ever.”

“What about the other evils,” Jenny said. “Wasn’t there plague, war, all that stuff?”

“No, that part is a myth,” Ali said. One of her sisters made a grunt. “Okay, sometimes hope did start a war or two. Just another beautiful evil, looking good and hurting soooo bad.”

“Can we just do this, please?” Epimetheus said. “The longer it’s out, the more people get hurt. I want it done.” He reached over and lifted the box from the desk. “Miss Jackson, you have to spill three drops of blood on it. Then it opens for you, but you mustn’t eat any pralines. It’s a symbolic thing.”

Sheriff Chandler glanced at Pershing, stroking his mustache. “You don’t have to do this. I mean, we still don’t know for sure—”

“Eppy is right, this has to stop,” Pershing said. “So do we need some sort of ritual knife or—”

“Let Meg do it,” Ali said. One of her sisters shuffled forward, took Pershing’s hand and held it over the box, which looked small in Eppy’s palm. The Fury thrust her index finger out, Pershing saw a sharp, gleaming talon, then cried out at the stab of pain in her fingertip. Both Chandler and Jenny started forward, but Pershing shook her head, simultaneously cussing under her breath.

Meg positioned the cut finger and squeezed. One drop fell on the box and disappeared. Then a second. Then a third.

The box popped open.

It was full of pralines, and despite being wrapped in plastic they smelled good. Amazingly good, and Pershing wasn’t even that fond of pralines.

But she wanted them. Every last one of them.

And if she ate them, she knew the world would change. Her dad would be fine, no need to stay in town and watch over him. Pershing could stop worrying about money, backpack around the world like she’d fantasized about in college. Have sex with anyone she wanted, no worries about pregnancy or her reputation. All the risks that had ever scared her off, she’d face them and win, if she ate just one praline.

She felt the plastic under her hand. So easy to tear. And then the fun would start. Backpacking across France first…

Then Pershing thought of Dad, of chemo, of cancer, and yanked her hand away. The urge didn’t fade and she stood there for what seemed like eternity before the lid swung closed. One of the Furies plucked it out of Epimetheus’ hands.

“Didn’t think you had it in you,” Ali said.

“Neither did I,” Pershing replied softly. “Dad’s going to be back to normal?”

“Yep.” Ali’s nod was curt but she almost had something like a smile. “Devotion to family. We respect that, you know.”

“Then what about the box?” Pershing asked. Dad’s going to live. I’m not an orphan. “Where do you dispose of somewhere like that?”

“Ideally up Zeus’s butt,” Ali said, “but we’ll settle for a different kind of cage.”

“You’ll settle?” Jenny held up her hand. “No offense, but if this thing gets out again, it ain’t going to hurt you any. Maybe it’s time us mortals started looking out for ourselves.”

“And where would you put it?” Ali hissed. “Do you think a jail cell can hold kalon kakon?”

“It was a god who made this, the big guy who let it out, why should we trust you?”

Epimetheus held up his hand. “I’ve had the most experience seeing what doesn’t work securing it. Maybe I should keep it one more time.”

As the three of them argued, Sheriff Chandler leaned over to Pershing. “Never mind the box, I have to figure out what do with people like Pastor Grimes. It sounds like it wasn’t entirely their fault, but how could I explain dropping all the charges?”

“Once we run the story, maybe everyone will understand.” Yeah, right. Who’s going to believe this? Will Walt even let me print it? But she got out her notebook and began jotting shorthand as Ali, Jenny and Eppy debated solutions, reminding herself to stop and get photos at some point.

Much as Pershing hated breaking news, this was one story that had turned out pretty damn cool. Max would probably want his desk back soon enough, but in the meantime…

“So, Ali,” she started, “can you tell me what happens to the world if the beautiful evil doesn’t get out again?”


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Fraser Sherman

Author image of Fraser Sherman Fraser Sherman loves writing fantasy and film reference but takes time away from them for the accounting and business articles that pay the bills. He’s had four film reference books published, most recently The Aliens Are Here, and his self-published steampunk novel Questionable Minds came out in 2022. Born in England, he lived in Florida until relocating to Durham NC in 2010 to marry his dream woman. He’s online at

© Fraser Sherman 2022 All Rights Reserved.

The title picture was composited using an image generated by Micah Hyatt using Stable Diffusion plus an original image by New Africa.

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