William found the box out by the dumpsters on Verona beach. He was tossing bags of trash from the day's work cooking and selling hot dogs out of his and June and Craig's Van. It was just a small black shoe box hidden behind the dumpsters covered partially by sand. Minutes before, as he was carrying the bags, he'd heard a woman's stifled scream. He thought nothing of it,since the beach was crowded, someone was having fun. But he saw a black man in a suit walking a young woman to his Impala and making sure she got in the car. She turned, gave William a look, then sat inside the car. The black man power-walked to the driver's side, opened the door. He stood for a moment, also gave William a look. He jumped in the Impala and sped off.
William picked up the box with both hands. He felt how warm it was. Almost like a living thing. That's when he almost dropped the box, he felt a heart beat. He opened the lid slightly, peaked in. Quickly, he placed the lid back on. He looked around, carried it under his arms as he walked back to the van.
June had already closed the blinds and locked the back where they sell the hot dogs. Craig was outside the van cleaning the windshield. Craig yelled at William and slid down the hood to the ground.
“What do you have under your arms, William?”
“Shh! Get in the van! You'll see!” William said in a short burst.
Craig moved a few long blonde strands from his eyes and scrunched up his nose. “Huh?”
William rushed inside the van, leaving Craig confused. June was cleaning the grill and every few minutes taking a rest to place a hand over her growing belly where her unborn child was restless. It wasn't known at the time if the child was William's or Craig's. It was thought for the best as of then not to know.
“This child is possessed, I know it,” She said to William. She threw the sponge down on the grill and waddled to the bed, sat on the thin mattress.
He just stood over her, not saying a word, almost fuming. She sighed, tied her short brown locks in a ponytail. “Okay, William. What's under your arms?”
The door the van slid open and Craig entered in his stoned manner, standing next to William. “Yeah....William. What's under your arms?”
William ran a hand over his face. “A box,” He said. He sat next to June. She scooted over to find a comfortable spot. “You two will not believe what's in here,” He finally said in a whisper.
“After the last five months, William, nothing could shock me.” June said.
“This will,” He opened the lid. A shimmer of light captured June's small Barbie nose and large hazel eyes in vertical blinds She lift up, looked in. She cupped her mouth in her hands.
Craig's eyes widened when he peaked in the box. “What the hell was that?”
“You saw what it was,” William stood and carried the box with him.
“I know what I saw,” Craig said. “But what the hell was it?”
William became exasperated. As long as William had known Craig he always played the part of the stoned blonde surfer, even before Craig had started smoking weed. He felt a slight migraine in between his eyes. “If you know what you saw, Craig, then you what the hell it is----”
There was a knock at the door. The three of them looked at the door, then at each other. William ran and hid the small black box under the bed. He opened his mouth to speak to the other two, thought about it. There was another knock at the door, he went to it, put his hand on the handle.
William turned to them. “Just act natural,” He told them.
“That's ridiculous,” June said.
“Yeah, God, William. You could be such a dick,” Craig said. He was even surprised by what he said. Dirty looks were directed at him. Craig looked away from June and William. The knocking grew louder and rapidly.
“I just mean let me do the talking,” He pointed at them with a finger. They nodded in unison.
William slid the van door open and that black man he'd seen earlier appeared. William was lost for words. The man smiled, lift himself up in the van without being invited. He was intimidating. Standing at Six-seven, and had small piercing eyes that jumped around. He removed William's hand from the handle and closed the van's door. Smiling the whole time.
“My name is Thomas. It's not important if you know if that is my first or last name,” He said, unbuttoning his blue suit jacket. “What is important is that you have something that belongs to my employer.” The black man stepped toward Craig. Craig took a few steps backwards into the grill.
“We don't know what your talking about,” William muttered.
Thomas turned to William, almost laughing. “Oh, no, you stupid fucking hippie. You know better than to lie to me. Give me the box---and before you say what BOX---think about how nice I can be...and how mean I can be.....” He flashed a smith and Wesson in his holster.
“There's a problem with what you just said,” William muttered.
“How's that?” Thomas voice became thicker.
“We're in with her,” William said bluntly.
“You're in with who, boy?”
“I saw you put her in the car earlier.”
“In with who? William---”
Thomas laugh was loud and it echoed in the van. William stared at the man. “If you harm us, you'll never find the----”
“The BOX,” Thomas cut William off. “Your so fucking cliched. Okay. All right. I'll tell you something.....I'm sure all three of you looked in the BOX. Right?”
No one answered Thomas. Their eyes met. Thomas laughed again.
“You saw what was in the BOX. You read the epitaph---”
“What? I didn't see anything written on that---” June said.
“I didn't either,” William's eyebrows lowered.
“You actually didn't take the time to read your epitaph?”
“I did,” Craig spoke up. He swallowed dryly. He spoke to Thomas. “I read it. I read it and---” He looked at William. “ ---I asked you what the hell was it---you didn't seem to see it. Everybody always assumes I'm the dumb one, or always stoned. It's not always true. I just take my time. I always....have.”
“What did you see, Craig,” June said gently.
“I'll show you,” Craig ran to the bed, dropped to his knees and reached under the frame. William screamed at Craig to stop, but Craig already had the little black box in his hands.
Craig was ready to show June when Thomas stepped in front of him. Their eyes met, Craig cradled the warm breathing box in his arms.
“I'll tell you what,” Thomas stroked his chin. “I'll call my employer, tell him I think he should pay you kids something.”
June didn't hesitate. She jumped right in. “Tell your employer we want two more things other than money.”
Thomas smiled. “Sure. I can see your the one who runs things round here, even in your shape.”
“Your employer will pay for all hospital and doctor bills from now on.”
June licked her lips, then continued. “We want twenty-five thousand dollars.”
“Lastly?” Thomas raised an eyebrow.
“We want to know the story behind this.....thing in the BOX. Who was the girl?”
William wanted to speak. But he knew when June was in charge, not to interfere.
Thomas nodded. “Fine. Let me call my employer.” He took out his cell phone.
It was a silly looking contraption. Obviously purchased in the early 2000's, the man never upgraded. The other three watched Thomas leave the van.
“Don't say anything, William,” June barked.
William threw his hands up. “I'm not. It looks like you've handled the situation.”
Thomas reentered the van. “You get the story. Here it is. You ready?”
“Just tell it,” June said.
“Bossy...the way I like my women....means there’s always a chance for a fight and make up.” Thomas clapped his hands together. “That girl you saw with me.” He cleared his throat. It's my employer's daughter. Who had ran away. And took the Box with her.”
“What's in that BOX.....is that thing real?” William asked.
“You saw it. You feel it breathing in the BOX...BOX is moving with it.”
“What about that epitaph?” June felt her baby kick, took a moment to take it in.
“Ah, yes. Well, it's like it tells the future of those that look into the BOX, if they actually look in. That's why my employer wants it back. I think my employer likes to know the future from a day to day basis. You can imagine this ordeal has been driving him nuts.”
Thomas reached into his jacket. “I guess now, I will do as my employer instructed.”
Thomas whisked out his Smith and Wesson and shot June three times in the chest. He leveled the gun to Craig and fired. Craig was already mobile and bumped Thomas in the midsection. His aim was too high and fired into roof of the van. Craig opened the door of the van and jumped out, falling to knees. He hopped to his feet and ran hard. William tried to perform the same act as Craig, but caught a bullet in the forehead.
Thomas stepped out of the van. The sun had set and the beach had already become empty. He didn't see Craig anywhere. He cursed under his breath, made tracks to his Impala.
Craig had already hit the streets. He'd walked in mobs of people, made sure he stayed with crowds. Several street corners turned into business districts. And finally, when the crowds had disappeared, Craig found an empty warehouse to take refuge.
He sat in the darkness. Made sure no one was around before he looked inside the little black shoe box. A glowing light lit his facial expression rather harshly. He saw the fetus of a child swimming in the light, an umbilical cord attached to the box. Upon the child's red, wrinkled skin, was Craig's epitaph written scarred tissue. But Craig could read it plainly.
Keep running. Keep running. Keep running.....