The damp soil snaked its way under Eric’s fingernails, but it didn’t bother him. He had grown accustomed to it while digging for worms in the fields over the years. It was merely a bill to pay for securing fat bait for the fish.
Wet knees were another bill that had to be paid. A couple of handkerchiefs tied around his kneecaps curbed that one though, as did cotton up his nose to stifle the smell. Muddy ground had a rather unpleasant aroma to it that he never could get used to. Kinda smelled like his dad’s garage after he worked on the truck.
But even these were minor penalties. Fishing was the main objective. And to fish he needed bait. And to get bait he had to dig.
It seemed to Eric that he had just about turned over the entire area during the course of the summer. Everett Pond and its various-sized kin beckoned to him constantly with their alluring array of fish. His dad and Uncle Red had caught a couple of walleye the size of canoes about a week earlier, and he was bursting to try his luck in the same spot.
He only had a spade with a cracked handle, a small gardening shovel he swiped from his mom’s garden shed, and his two hands, but lack of equipment wasn’t going to deter him. It never had in the past.
After failing to locate any worms with the gardening shovel, he resorted to the spade. He smiled in anticipation as the blade sliced through the soil with ease. Rain had softened the ground nicely, but still to no avail, he couldn’t find any worms. A new location proved futile as well and he felt his desire begin to wane.
Wiping his brow, Eric cursed. Where the heck were all the worms? He never had this much trouble finding any. And so, finally conceding defeat he gathered his tools and headed for home. Maybe he just wasn’t meant to fish this time.
* * * *
Alternative plans for the day swam through Eric’s head. He could hang out with Josh at Applebard’s. Or maybe do some carving on his slingshot. Not as good as fishing, but enough to pass the day.
Then he noticed a new area that he hadn’t seen before. It was a small patch of soggy foliage that had recessed slightly. A huge oak tree loomed ominously over the patch as if keeping guard.
The spot intrigued Eric for some reason. He felt compelled to dig there.
Planting the spade directly into the center of the patch, Eric was surprised to find how hard the ground was. But his determination for worms was not to be denied, and within a span of twenty minutes, he had managed to excavate an area six feet by six feet, to a depth of roughly twelve inches.
Eric smiled and felt confident about this newfound spot. It would surely yield many plump worms; just the ticket for hungry fish. He sank the blade into the center of the hole and stepped on it with all his weight. It descended three inches before abruptly hitting something metal.
Something buried…out here? How?
But the questions quickly transformed to demands of curiosity. He must
uncover whatever it was, before it got too late.
As he worked feverishly at the task, excitement crept into his mind.
What if it was a box of treasure buried by long dead gangsters? Or maybe valuable antiques from some senile collector who had died before recovering them.
The possibilities were endless.
The shovel was pushed in farther and farther until eventually the hidden object surrendered itself to Eric.
It was a box. A large box roughly three feet square and made out of some strange metal resembling copper. Only it wasn’t copper, at least as far as he
could tell. Copper would have looked aged, stained from years of dirt and water. This looked virtually new. It gleamed with a freshly-polished look and was dotted with bits of what appeared to be diamonds. At its center was a strange-looking lock mechanism in the shape of a hand…a hand with only four digits on it.
Whatever it was, Eric knew it had to be worth something.
But what if he couldn’t move it or even get it open?
Not a problem though. His dad had a large collection of crowbars and hammers back in his garage. He’d get it out one way or another.
Concentrating on the lock mechanism, Eric noticed it was surrounded by tiny, red-colored stones that were neatly set in beds. All but one of the stones was in place.
The missing stone must be the key to the lock!
He frantically began searching the neighboring dirt for any sign of the missing stone.
His persistence eventually paid off as the last stone was found underneath a corner of the box. He snatched it up and was about to place it in its bed when caution jolted him back to reality.
Did he really want to? What if the box exploded? What if it unleashed some horrible thing rejected from another world? How could he be sure it was safe?
But his adventurous side reasoned him on. This was the only anomaly in his
dull life. And how could he continue living without knowing what was inside? The
curiosity would kill him.
He decided to take the chance.
Slowly, the last stone took its place with the others.
Disappointment sapped Eric’s remaining energy as he slumped to the ground.
But wait! The hand imprint! What if he put his hand on the imprint? That would surely open it.
But it had only four digits to it. His hand wouldn’t fit just right, but it would have to do.
The metal felt slightly warm, like a sidewalk on a summer afternoon. Eric’s hand didn’t fit perfectly but it did feel somewhat gratifying to finally make some progress, however small it might be.
But nothing happened so he removed his hand.
Then a curious feeling begin to overtake him. It started in his hand and rapidly spread throughout his entire body. It wasn’t an unpleasant feeling; in fact it felt rather good: refreshing; invigorating. As if he was being reborn in some way.
He let the feeling flow through his body, occasionally taking deep breaths to
speed or prolong the process.
He grinned as he felt the strength of ten men circulate through his veins.
He moaned when his head expanded, stretching his cap.
He signed when he felt his crotch broaden and grow.
He grimaced when the pinky finger on each hand withered and fell away.
Finally, the process was complete. He surveyed his surroundings as if for the first time. His senses had grown keen.
He detected the movement of a prairie dog over fifty yards away.
He smelled a crow as it circled high above.
He noticed a large spider preparing its web for prey more than a quarter mile distant.
He was a machine. Nothing could escape his notice. Nothing could sneak past him or scurry away without being detected. He was advanced. He was powerful.
Reveling in his newfound strengths Eric suddenly realized that his hand would now fit in the lock mechanism on the box. Cautiously, he placed his right palm in the designated area on the box.
It fit perfectly.
Thoughts of advanced civilizations or alien life forms planting the box eons before flitted across his mind. He would be the one to reveal to the world proof of other beings. He, Eric Othed, would go down in history as . . .
His daydreaming was interrupted as the lock mechanism clamped tightly around his hand. It squeezed tighter and tighter, literally stopping the flow of blood at the wrist. But before he could scream, he felt another curious feeling begin to overtake him. . . one of peace. The new feelings overrode any pain, and he felt himself sway between reality and euphoria.
While in this dreamlike state, however, he failed to notice the thin apparatus that was silently extending from the left corner of the box. It spiraled its way directly toward Eric’s forehead, and upon reaching his brow, split into three appendages, each of which drilled into his flesh and directly to his brain.
He did not notice, however, until the symbiotic connection was complete.
Then he began to receive a message. A message from an individual with a high-pitched voice and a desperate tone.
Greetings. My name is, or will be by your perception, Oorth of Tantt, ninth level Extractor from Berium Enterprises. I am a mostly carbon-based life-form delegated to the development of technology to aid in the recovery of ancient religious artifacts and literature.
On date A-31h, 9197 a.d. by your calendar, I uncovered a most unique talisman in the Southern Plainslands.
Suffice to say, I should have never done so. But uncover it I did. And then spent a vast amount of effort to send it back to oblivion.
But certain factions of the Central Brain desired its possession, so I sealed it into my time frame container and launched it into the distant past, which is your present.
Which brings me to you. Obviously, you have uncovered my container and
managed to open it. Otherwise, you would not be receiving this message, which would
undoubtedly be better for your world…and my conscience.
So now I implore you to seal it yet again. Seal it and bury it deep within
the bowels of the Earth. I must assume it did not reach very far into the soil, for I was
forced to send it before my final calculations were complete. But you must bury it deeper, so deep that no one will ever find it.
Do as I say and you will revert back to your original form and function. You were merely ascended to one in my time so that you would be capable of receiving this message.
So please, I beg you to heed this message and forever hide the blasphemy that you have unfortunately uncovered.
The lock released its hold on Eric’s hand. Quickly, instinctively, he yanked it
away, cuddling it to his chest.
What should he do? The curiosity was killing him, but fear also had rooted itself deep within him. Fear of mankind’s oldest apprehension: fear of the unknown.
Torn between the two powerful emotions, Eric carefully weighed the situation. How could he possibly pass on an opportunity such as this? How could he ever go on with his life, knowing what was buried in the fields?
But on the other hand, what if this Oorth guy knew what he was talking about? What if opening the box would unleash some unholy evil on the world?
But, he didn’t exactly say what would happen if he opened the box. Maybe he could control it. He did have impressive new powers. Maybe he could even use whatever was in the box to his advantage.
Or to benefit mankind.
Or to end world hunger and poverty.
To eliminate disease and war. To enlighten with knowledge and peace.
But, first he could use it to help himself.
Eric Othed wouldn’t be a nobody anymore. He could rule the country. Kings and presidents would bow before him. He would direct the fate of millions.
But first he must open the box.
Nervously, Eric placed his right hand in the lock mechanism. He felt it loosen slightly in his palm, allowing him to turn it slowly to the left. The lid unhinged and slid back, and he leaned in to see inside. His eyes strained to see anything so he gingerly pushed the lid back another couple of inches.
Nothing but a thin, black void greeted him.
Impatience gripped his mind and he pushed the lid completely off the box. His heart raced and a cold sweat formed on his forehead.
Peering inside, he saw a single object. It was small, about the size of a half- dollar, and rather old looking. Any signs of its malevolent origins remained hidden from view, and he couldn’t help but marvel at the talisman. It was circular in shape and appeared to be made of some type of metal, possibly bronze. At its center was a horned abomination that defied any possible likeness to any living or previously living animal.
Possessing a sickening combination of every nightmare ever dreamed, the thing had scales of a reptile, talons like a bird of prey, and leering, bloodshot eyes. It blindly scowled in its personal tomb, unaware of its newfound freedom.
Hideous as it was though, Eric felt compelled to pick it up. He had to hold it. It felt slightly warm in his hands, as if it had been lying in the sun. How this small trinket could endanger the world was beyond him. It was only a bizarre piece of jewelry, no larger than a wristwatch. It couldn’t possibly cause any…
It moved! It shifted in his hand!
Eric dropped the artifact immediately, and it fell back into the box, face up, daring him to pick it up again.
A sudden chill swept up his spine. He must bury it. He must send it back to its grave.
Quickly, and yet carefully, Eric replaced the lid back on the box. He engaged the lock mechanism and smiled in relief as the lid sealed to the container. Despite his new strength, he struggled to rebury the box. His arms ached and his stomach grumbled in protest. But eventually it was completely buried. A few additional touches and it appeared as if nothing had ever been uncovered at all.
Now he could get on with his life.
But first, he had to return back to normal. What would his mom say if he strolled in the front door looking like an extra from a science fiction movie?
He checked his hands (still only four digits), but he did feel his senses returning to normal. He could no longer see for miles or hear tiny animals scurrying around in the fields. He also felt his strength lowered to that of a normal, teenage boy. His head decreased in its girth, and his crotch area reverted back to its previous, if not unacceptable, size.
He had all but forgotten about fishing by this time. Now his mind was becoming occupied with a far broader spectrum of priorities, such death and pain; war, hatred, and despair. And the most prevalent one: world domination.
Eric felt the door handle crumble in his talons. His mother screamed and dropped the casserole she had been preparing for dinner.
The last thing she saw was Eric’s leering, bloodshot eyes.