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Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Fantasy · #2247914
Told from the perspective of a young girl . . . her story.
The ARROWBOUGH Lantern Box

In my former life a part of my happiness was an old lantern box. I don't recall whether it was a Coleman or an ARROWBOUGH box. I just know I was imprisoned there without the benefits of a trial. I did not even know what crime I had been accused of. I was innocent. The only crime I was guilty of was being a young girl called Maria. I was thirteen years old on the day of my imprisonment. Yes, I was happy there in the lantern box, but I was also sad. You see, through no fault of my own, I have taken on the appearance of a tintype photograph. A two by three, framed tintype photograph to be exact. How I came to be in this box, I will try to explain as best as I am able. You see, before I was incarcerated in this box, I was a normal thirteen year old girl with happy dreams of my own. The light who formerly lived in my eyes is growing dimmer with each passing moment. At the present time, a part of my world is hell itself. The remaining part brings me happiness, but I miss my Mama.

          The lantern box was not the worst of places for a girl to be. Although there were the four of us confined in the box; I was the only one who could faintly smell the final vestige of the kerosene lantern who had formerly lived in the box. We led a sheltered life, tucked safely forgotten among all the accumulated keepsakes one might find in an old lantern box. Betty Sue, the broken and halfway discarded *ADORNO pencil sharpener, was my closest friend. Betty Sue is beautiful. Maganda! To see her move and dance is the sum of elegance and simplicity. True magnificence . . . Betty Sue's most fervent wish is that one day she will become whole again. Her fond ambition is to return to the old, wooden schoolhouse in South Dakota and sharpen the pencils of another generation of school children.

          A misplaced package of multicolored rubber bands surrounded us, spilled unknowingly by the hand who had not known they were there. To my left I could see an old Lincoln penny coin from 1921. In 1922 Mister Lincoln was still brilliantly copper colored. Now, he sits there in his private corner, aged a light chocolate brown and streaked with a pretty green and turquoise color from being exposed to the elements at some point in his life. Although he had lost most of his luster, I believed he was happy there in the box.

          As for myself, I dreamed constantly of being absolved from the crime I had not committed and being released from the lantern box, but it was only on a seldom occasion I received a glimpse of life outside the lantern box. My memories of the outside are few, and sometimes I felt a close kinship to Mister Lincoln. Like the patina he had acquired, I sat there brokenhearted, collecting dust and feeling my colors slowly fade. Whether or not I am human, you may decide for yourself, but I can cry as humans can, and I am alive.

          One day, perhaps I will file a writ of habeas corpus, or some other remedy, if I can employ a lawyer willing to take up my case. Alas, Mister Lincoln is the only money I have access to. Dear, sweet Mister Lincoln! I don't think Mister Lincoln would mind sacrificing himself for a case such as mine, but will I be able to hire him for one cent? And of course, another problem presents itself. I must escape from this box in order to file any legal case in a court of law. I wonder . . . Is pro bono worth considering? I mean, how can I offer to pay Mister Lincoln with the only coin I possess, when that same coin is Mister Lincoln himself? You can see my quandary. And Mister Lincoln? He is not the sort of coin you might receive in exchange when you have made a purchase. Mister Lincoln is a coin of some distinction. He is alive. Just like myself, Mister Lincoln can walk, talk and breathe. I wonder if Mister Lincoln is aware I have claimed him as my own? Maria thought.

          Our fourth companion was an old-style, horehound candy stick. If I recall correctly, he informed us he was born in the year 1908. His skin was somewhat withered and hard with age. I like to think that one day it will become soft and pliable once more. He is so sweet. We call him Delicious. Delicious is not your normal horehound candy stick, he says. His genetic makeup consists of a preponderant amount of DNA from the original recipe, and something else. Delicious' attire is resplendent. On either side of the centerpiece of his silvery colored shirt the word Horehound is printed, along with a U. S. patent and registration number. The centerpiece itself deftly catches the focus of the eye. Horehound Candy, it proclaims.

         There is not much for a girl to do here in the lantern box. Most often it is dark and lonely here. Betty Sue and I do the best we can to cheer each other up. Our lives are mostly spent waiting for the dawning of Thursdays. Days to us are those moments when the lantern box has been jostled, leaving the lid partially askew. Sometimes the lantern box is actually opened, giving birth to other Thursdays. It is in these moments the precious light of Thursday comes spilling through the crack in our sky. The dawning of day here in the lantern box invariably occurs on a Thursday. I haven't yet realized why that is, but in those moments our hearts come alive. We sing and dance as we reminisce of other days. Too soon we hear a familiar, hated, grating sound as the lid of the box is nestled back into place. Are we resigned to our existence as our hearts crumple and we slowly sink back to our former places in the box? Betty Sue may be, but as I am contemplating, I become aware of a coming to birth in my heart. Whether or not Betty Sue will come with me, I have decided. I will extricate myself from this situation. My happiness is that Delicious says he will follow me anywhere.

          Imagine a girl walking into a courthouse accompanied by a horehound candy stick named Delicious and rolling a homespun lawyer named Mister Lincoln. I can just hear the judge grilling Mister Lincoln about his qualifications to practice law and making innuendos about eating Delicious.

         "Tell me sir, what exactly are your bona fides that allow you to have yourself rolled into my court and presume to be a lawyer? And you there, you smart-aleck horehound candy stick, thinking is against the law in my courtroom. Wipe that smug look off your face and show some respect. By the way, this here judge has himself a sweet tooth for all things horehound."

          "Why your honor," Mister Lincoln will say, "I read Blackstone for seven years in a Springfield office and on an occasion at Miss Grace's Emporium afore I obtained my certificate of a good moral character." And in my estimation, Delicious will grab his ire and hold it back from knocking the smirk off that fellow's face. Since Mister Lincoln is the only lawyer I know, I think I better hurry up and ask him if he will take up my case. I know it's a rather complicated case, but Mister Lincoln is up to it.

I was born in Virginia, and I have spent most of my life here. If a girl can love a piece of this earth, then I love Virginia. Loving Virginia and living in the lantern box are not two pieces of the same apple, though. All that has kept me alive in the lantern box these past few months have been my memories of her, the other Maria. Alas, those memories are second hand, things which Mama has spoken of. Revenge is a terrible word, but sometimes I find myself wanting it.

          Seldom does a day go by that I do not speak of her to Betty Sue. Betty Sue can not answer my questions though. Sometimes, in the dark, Betty Sue will tell me what she thinks. I can feel Betty Sue's whisper reaching for me across the darkness. "Ain't it a shame?" Betty Sue says. "Just think Maria, in another time or place, the two of you could have been sisters." Vaguely, I acknowledge Betty Sue's whisper, and I have heard it so many times I can comfortably predict her next words. She will say, "You know what? I think you must be a tintype photograph."

         I know in my heart Betty Sue is only teasing me. Even though my appearance strongly suggests I am close akin to a photograph, Betty Sue and I have the certain knowledge that I am human. That's the way Betty Sue and I are, like two fingers crossed. "For goodness' sake," I will say. "Betty Sue, you and I both know I am not a tintype photograph. You know how I suddenly appeared in this lantern box and how the other Maria disappeared as you were looking at her. Why don't you just hush up about it and get some sleep? I have a feeling tomorrow is going to be another Thursday." Then I will hear the echo I hear every time Betty Sue and I have this conversation, the echo I myself might utter.

          "Dear God," I pray. "Please tell me that I am not just a photograph. I realize from the chitter-chatter of Betty Sue that she and I have a similar appearance, and Betty Sue seems so certain, but tell me this please God. If I am a tintype photograph, why do I feel like crying, and why do I have memories?"

I remember the first time I saw her, the other Maria. It was due to be a Thursday, and the box was frightfully dark. I could feel little goosebumps crawling across the pale, white skin of my arms as I listened for the sound of Thursday. Suddenly, I heard the lid of the box being lifted, and there she was, peeking into the lantern box. Sticking her tongue out at me, she laughed, dropped the lid back into place and left. Mama thinks that girl is me, I thought. Don't worry, Mama. I will escape from this box and come home.

         On the other side of the box I could hear Mister Lincoln encouraging Betty Sue. That's the way Mister Lincoln was, he didn't like it a bit if someone was depressed. "Elizabeth Susan," he was saying, "Keep your head up, honey. One day you will be an ADORNO pencil sharpener again." I could almost hear Betty Sue's smile across the darkness. I remember the little goosebumps had crawled to the backs of my arms and were inching, tickling me, upward. The tiny, onyx, pearl colored cat dangling from the silver chained necklace I wore spat out little sparks of static across the darkness as my gaze followed their seeming to be cat's spit across the arc of my sky. Extra thick slices of tension and despair clung to the air as if they were loaded spring traps waiting for the right moment to unspring in my heart, but I staved this action off as I anxiously awaited the dawning of Thursday.

          Last night I dreamed. As I await the dawn, I relive the most lurid moments of the dream. Wednesdays are not my best nights, last night I dreamed I was a tintype photograph. Although the thought is unwelcome and I would flee from it if I could; I am not ashamed to admit I am beginning to become uneasy. The feeling is thinking of purchasing itself a condominium in my heart and moving in permanently. But my heart is not inclined to put any space in its domain up for sale. Even though the dream seemed so real, I know deep in my heart the dream was a lie. I must keep it to myself. I can not even tell Betty Sue. The girl on the outside posing as me is the tintype photograph, and me? I am called Maria. I can cry, I can laugh and I can suffer.

          "Mama, Mama, I am in your ARROWBOUGH lantern box. Mama?"

It is the darkest part of night, and a figure slices its way slowly through the darkness. It is Delicious. He pauses. The casing has been removed from the ADORNO pencil sharpener, and she lies on the floor beside Delicious. She is partially bathed in the minute glow of violet light entering the lantern box through the aperture Delicious has created when jamming a green rubber band into the space between the lid of the lantern box and its side. A red rubber band has been attached on the end of the green one and trails down the side of the lantern box. Another day, Delicious thinks. Maybe Maria will smile for me this morning. "Ummm," he mutters to himself. "That right there ain't much of a rope." Delicious is tired, extremely so, but for only the second time in his life he is thankful for the DNA of mint syrup and palm oil flowing in his veins. I will rest a moment, he thought. Then I will finish this before morning comes.

          The night still slept soundly as Delicious looked up at the rope again, or the ladder as he was now calling it. Two more rubber bands had been interlocked, and the lower end of the ladder now rested against the floor of the lantern box. Delicious looked over at Betty Sue. Still asleep, he thought. He remembered how he had climbed on top of her to jam the first rubber band into its place. Even in this black impostor of a grave it had felt so good to touch a woman once more. Yes, he knew she was an expensive ADORNO pencil sharpener, and he was only a three for a penny candy stick, but maybe there was room for talk after he had put her together again. He hoped so. Maybe there could be talk of stepping out together.

          Aloud he spoke as he looked at her, "Your lips are akin to the most delicate rosewood. Mahogany is the primary color of your eyes. I smell the alluring scent of an Appalachian white pine as I look at you, and is it the sweet fragrance of oil of myrrh you have rubbed behind your ears?" As he turned from her, Delicious thought he detected the mere hint of a smile upon her face. Behind him, Betty Sue smiled. It seemed as if she had been waiting a day past the end of forever, but he had at last spoken. I think Delicious really likes my raisins, she thought as sleep took her again. And I love the taste of his horehound.

          Delicious smiled as he stood there contemplating. Betty Sue was sure a fine woman. He wanted to take her in his arms and taste the rosewood of her lips. It was coming on for dawn, but he still had a few hours left before she started to fall. Turning once more, Delicious approached Betty Sue. As he did so, he pushed his memory toward the one part of her anatomy it needed to be dwelling on in this second. Having mastered the true wish of his mind, Delicious reached for the part of Betty Sue he must now take in his hands. He wanted her lips caressing his. He wanted her full embrace, and most of all, he wanted her heart, but it was with this part of her he must be content.

         Betty Sue was aware in that moment Delicious came toward her, though she was not fully conscious. At first, she thought he was going to kiss her. But no, he was actually reaching for her cutting edge, that part of her which defined her very being as an ADORNO pencil sharpener. It's okay, she thought. He already possesses the heart of my mind, he will now carry with him the heart of my body.

         Delicious slowly examined the mechanism he had obtained from Betty Sue. Ummm, he thought. I begin to see the reason Betty Sue thought she was broken. This rotating shaft is so bound with rust it can not turn to perform the duty of a pencil sharpener. I will clean it properly and give it a taste of oil before I return it. Nevertheless, the cutting edge has not been hampered by the rust. Yes, it will execute the task at hand effortlessly.

          Delicious was thinking of Betty Sue as he walked toward the ladder. Maybe I should put her casing back on her and climb on top of her again to reach the lid of the lantern box. I am not confident the ladder is securely jammed into place. What if it falls? The rubber bands have previously shown they are not to be trusted. A horehound candy stick with a broken leg will have a difficult task in saving Maria.

          Reaching into the pocket of his jeans, Delicious felt for the small penknife he carried there. Removing it, he opened what he knew to be the sharpest blade. Of course, perhaps he could have managed the freeing of Maria with the penknife, but it would have consumed days, whereas Betty Sue's cutting edge could accomplish the same results in a matter of minutes. Using the penknife, Delicious began to scrape the rust from the shaft of the cutting edge. At first it came off easily enough until he reached the mother layer, which was pitted and scarred with age. Diligently, Delicious scraped, polished and rubbed till the shaft began to shine. When he was satisfied with the appearance of the shaft, Delicious walked to where Betty Sue lay on the floor of the lantern box.

          "Betty Sue," he spoke in a low voice. "Betty Sue?"

          Betty Sue sensed the approach of Delicious and wished she had some more myrrh to splash behind her ears. Perhaps she could send Delicious to obtain it, she thought. He, he. No, that would not do. But all the same she wished for it.

          "Betty Sue, I need your assistance. I will put your casing back on you and climb on top of you to reach the lid of the lantern box."

          "It's okay, Delicious. I trust you."

          A few moments faded into the past before Delicious and Betty Sue were moving toward the side of the lantern box. In his left hand Delicious firmly held the cutting edge, his right hand held the hand of Betty Sue just as firmly.

          "Delicious, kiss me one time before you go up there."

          Delicious' legs trembled as he kissed her. Her lips were sweet and warm, the color of pink rosebuds, Delicious thought. Despite being composed of tin and steel, Betty Sue is herself delicious, a woman of the first kind.

Maria does not know how the girl on the outside of the lantern box did it, neither does she know why it occurred. However, that girl was the one originally confined to the world of the lantern box. I must remember. I must make plans for my escape, she thinks in that last moment before falling asleep, before she begins to dream.

          As Maria's dream begins, a young girl is sitting at a kitchen table. The incandescent light bulb in the fixture overhead is casting tiny bits of light across her face, revealing for Maria's eyes, piece by piece, the intricate puzzle of her face. Her face is the color of a well-aged river pearl. Her lips are four pale, red rose petals. Her hair is smooth jasmine, flowing silky brown ribbons toward the small of her back. Her forehead is immaculate, as smooth as red obsidian. Her eyes are the sweetest blue sky color, highlighted near the pupils by the color of fragments of pure golden honey.

         These eyes seem to stare at Maria from a haunted, steel blue glow as if seeing her for the first time. Her rigid, sharply defined cheekbones bear the imprint of an importation from the land of Thor five centuries earlier, perhaps augmented in more recent times by a mere hint of the blood of the Cherokee people. She wears a cotton slipover, long-sleeved shirt decorated by alternating bands of red and white dyes. In the hollow of her throat, seeming to be about to meow Maria's name at any moment, rests the sister of the pearl-eyed cat Maria wears around her neck. Beside her, leaving no doubts as to the girl's origin, sits the mold she was fashioned from. These two can not be other than mother and daughter. The features of the young girl are sharpened by their intensity and made more beautiful to the eye by maturity when transferred to the face of her mother. The young girl's name is Maria. At this juncture, Maria stirred in her sleep momentarily. She is me, she thought as the sand dunes of sleep rolled over her.

          The woman sits modestly beside her daughter, hands clasped across her knees, perhaps not knowing the depth of the beauty she radiates across the room. The dress she is wearing complements the ivory-pink paleness of her skin. The dress is blue, sky turquoise blue with splotches of Sweet William blue interspersed at irregular intervals. The neckline is a graceful rounded arc baring her slim, white collarbones. The sleeves extend to just past her elbows, guiding the path to her left wrist where rests an unnecessary ornament, a thin, silver bracelet displaying a delicately inlaid butterfly.

          "Mama," the girl's lips move distinctly in the dim light. "Could we look at the pictures now?" The exquisitely beautiful woman glances up, a look as of deep thought locked momentarily on her face. A smile begins to tug softly at the corners of her eyes, and a thin line makes its way across the depression separating the hollows of her eyes from the high ridges of her cheekbones. Her lips part, completing her smile.

         "Yes, honey, let's look at the pictures now. Would you bring me that old ARROWBOUGH lantern box that belonged to my mother?"

One and twenty months, this is what they have amounted to, the days of my life since the autumn of 1977. I have counted off each day on my fingertips, and each day I have reminded myself that my name is Maria. The box and my life are much the same as they were in 1977, with the exception of a few changes. I have become resigned to the possibility that I may be imprisoned in this box forever, but my heart is strong. My determination to escape will never diminish. The desire in my heart to get out of this box grows stronger as each day passes. I truly am a girl called Maria. Yes, yes, I do not deceive myself, I am human! I am coming home, Mama.

          On this day, in my mind I am outside. The bantam rooster crows as the dim, orchid light of dawn wavers in my eyes. It is early March, and the bones of previous snows lie slushy and scattered among the fields of slowly emerging Stars of Bethlehem. Do I dream? Am I awake? Where is Mama? Is my heart released from this pain I carry constantly? Mama will soon awaken, and I will hear the sound of the chain unwinding from the pulley as she draws morning's first water from the well. The spit of quarter-frozen bacon frying on the wood stove, hickory smoke . . . The faint, imagined smell of freedom wafts herself from my heart as suddenly as she has appeared. And I am hearing the voice of Delicious.

          "Good morning, Maria."

          Yes, I dream. My heart clutches at the breath of life lingering inside me, and as the grains of autumn wheat scratch at the corners of my eyes, I promise myself this will be the last time I will dream. I awaken later, and standing there beside me is Delicious. In this manner a new day begins and soon passes into oblivion. And another . . .

Maria is thinking. Another day is done. Time herself has become erratic for me. We were once like sisters. Now that I have come to this, she has betrayed me. Am I asleep? Do I dream despite my promise, or is it truly a voice I hear? The vague sounds stir my awareness gently. I imagine in my heart that I hear a midnight violin making conversation with a piano. Or is it the duet of two cave crickets alternately chirping, accompanied by the steady ping of water droplets striking the surface of a cave pond? Yes, my heart! The soft, steady murmur of voices fiddle through the cardboard barrier pressed against my left ear. I realize the night still sleeps, curled like a snoring caricature of itself around my body. And here in the middle of midnight, after all these months of sameness, is something new! I hear a voice in the night! A voice from the outside!

          As I cast my seine across blackness, little pieces of sound cling to my net. Snatches of conversation and incoherent words flow in and out of my ears like the the sounds of a distant katydid fading and rising. Oh, I am trying so hard to hear! Tears squeeze themselves from the corners of my eyes and roll down across my cheeks, leaving a wet trail of static dancing erratically across my face. I strain to hear as a violin speaks hesitantly from somewhere quite near, "Amelia, should we give this one to James?" I hear the sweet tinkle of a piano as it replies.

         "Rosalee, I think there is a better one in that ARROWBOUGH lantern box over there. We'll give that one to James."

         Stuck in the center of the middle of midnight I cry as I have never cried before, tears of happiness. It is them! I know it is! Words, a violin, a piano, two women . . . As I cry the voice of the piano begins to play. On a hill, far away . . . The violin sings sweetly across my mind. My mother, my aunty, I think as the voices fade.

Yes, yes, I remember, Maria thought. She had been standing by the closet near the lantern box, and as she had every Thursday as far back as she could recall, Mama had asked her to bring the lantern box to her so she could reminisce. Maria could see it all unfold.

          She had lifted the lid of the lantern box to peek inside, and before she had been aware, an object had hit her on the forehead. It had hurt rather badly and had blinded her as she had fallen to the floor beside the lantern box and tumbled to a rest inside it. Slowly her mind had regained its former place, but she had not been the same. In the beginning she had only been aware of something different, as if she had been another person, not herself. She had tried to stand up, but her legs had wobbled the way they had when she had first tried to walk with stilts. She had closed her eyes to fight the pain in her forehead. Upon reopening them, her heart had jumped in her chest, and a little scream had worked its way out of her. Standing before her had been something so strange she had not been able to imagine whether her eyes had been seeing what her mind had been telling her they were seeing. A pencil sharpener. Yes, a pencil sharpener, but one unlike any other she had ever seen. The pencil sharpener had smiled and spoke. Of a sudden, in her mind Maria was standing there beside the pencil sharpener again, listening.

"Hello," the pencil sharpener said. "My name is Betty Sue. I do hope we will become friends. I see you are looking at me strangely. Oh, it's okay. I am an ADORNO pencil sharpener. Aren't I cute?"

         Oh yes, she was certainly cute, Maria thought. Betty Sue was only about six inches tall, but she was stacked. She had it all, thought Maria. Betty Sue was ornate. To Maria it seemed as if Betty Sue had simply stepped from a page of a Montgomery Ward catalog from the year 1910. She was perfectly proportioned. With her mahogany eyes of the deepest color, lips a plenty, hair of black cut short and centerfold legs, Betty Sue wasn't just ornate, she was perfection. On top of this, her skin bloomed with the color of light walnut veneer.

         "Have we met before, Betty Sue?"

         "No child, I thought you were someone I knew, but kindness stares back at me when I look into your eyes. Decidedly, you are not Maria."

         "But I am, Betty Sue, but I am. I am Maria."

         "Yes, yes. I can see it now child. You are Maria, and on the other side of the fence, you are not Maria. Had I not seen Maria leave the lantern box, and had my eyes not been fastened upon you at the same time, doubt herself would be clinging to me at this very moment like dried red mud. You see child, the Maria who formerly lived here with us possessed another name. We called her Maria Carlotta. You are so like her in your facial appearance. You see little one, what has happened? Maria Carlotta vanished from the place where you now sit, just as you appeared there."

         "Where am I, Betty Sue?"

         "Don't worry sweet child, you are among friends. You and I have already introduced ourselves, but these two standing on either side of me are Delicious, and Mister Lincoln. As you can see, Delicious is a horehound candy stick. And Mister Lincoln, why, he's first and foremost a lawyer, but he has admirably succeeded at other occupations in his life. Those rubbery things in the corner over there are rubber bands. You will want to be wary of them. They aided Maria Carlotta when she assumed your life outside. I know in my heart they are evil."

         At this opportune moment a loud scoff worked its way out of Betty Sue and flung itself into the air of the lantern box. Hereon, she continued speaking as if she had never paused. "As for where you are, you are with us. We live here in this lantern box. It's not so bad here. It's rather pleasant at times, but each of us residents have our own hopes and dreams. Me? Far away from the lantern box in a small village in South Dakota I used to be mounted on a wall in a rural schoolhouse. I was so happy there. Someday I would like to return."

         "Delicious is happy with his place in life. It's supposed to be a secret, but all Delicious yearns for is to be beside the woman of his heart. Mister Lincoln tells us his own ambition is to win the most difficult court case ever filed. Delicious, Mister Lincoln, why don't you boys step up and tell Maria a little bit about your lives? And Maria, time is different here in the box. Our sun rises only on Thursdays. Our days are inconsistent here in the lantern box. Thursdays sometimes occur twice a week, then there are the lapses, the times Thursdays happen only once a month. One time a period of six months passed between Thursdays. Don't worry, soon enough you will become accustomed to our time."

         "Oh, Betty Sue, You are so cute, so splendid. I think I will like it here."

         "Of course you will child."

         Delicious, Maria could see, was a little shy, but he stepped forward, bowing low. "Pleased to make your acquaintance Maria. My name is Delicious. I can sing and dance, but most folks tell me the thing I am best at is being delicious."

         "Yes, yes, he's the best thing since peppermint candy sticks, but he has a tendency to cry and get a little sticky," Mister Lincoln interposed.

         Delicious looked askance at Mister Lincoln. "Least I ain't got a stovepipe a sitting on my head," he mumbled.

         "Thank ye, son. I believe that's the first thing in the way of a compliment you ever uttered in my presence." Both protagonists hereon felt a smile of satisfaction begin to creep across their cheeks.

         Both of you are as cute as you can be, and I am pleased plumb up to my eyebrows to be here looking at you, Maria thought. Aloud she spoke, "Delicious, Mister Lincoln, take my hand and show me around. You say it's a lantern box? Where will I sleep? Do we have a clock?"

          Mister Lincoln stumbled in his hurry to reach Maria's side before Delicious could get there. Nevertheless, both he and Delicious grabbed one of Maria's hands at almost the same moment, and they began to walk with her around the lantern box.

          "It ain't a thing like the comforts of home nor a fancy hotel on the streets of Paris," Mister Lincoln drawled as he removed from one of his pockets a plain, unornamented pocket watch. This right here is the closest match to a clock in this here box. She'll be alright as long as she ticks."

          Mister Lincoln was fetching, delightfully so, thought Maria. It was hard for Maria to discern his features in the dull, gray light of the lantern box, but Maria could see that his complexion was a vague copper color, overlaid in places with turquoise. He looked just like his engraving on the penny, and he had a way of seeming to undulate as he walked. Although his legs were long and well proportioned, it would be appropriate to say Mister Lincoln rolled rather than walked. In this manner, Mister Lincoln and Delicious introduced Maria to the confines of the lantern box. Constantly trading banter, the two of them escorted Maria throughout the lantern box.

Delicious could not regain control of himself after kissing Betty Sue. Again he kissed her, and once more he tasted her sweet lips. The permeating scent of myrrh wafted its way between them and clung to them much the same as passion as their lips joined for the fourth time.

         Betty Sue thought she was in heaven as Delicious kissed her, kissed her, kissed her and kissed her. Now I am his, she thought.

         With a measure of reluctance seeded in his heart, Delicious parted his lips from Betty Sue's. Trepidation knew his name at this moment. Yes, thought Delicious. He and trepidation had encountered each other more than once in their lifetimes. Out of common courtesy they might even speak to each other if they by chance were to meet on the street. But friends? Naw, to him trepidation was just another hell living in this world. Memories rolled through Delicious' mind as he hesitated, and he recalled his first meeting with trepidation. Ain't no thing, I ain't a scared of him nohow. Delicious thought.

Yeah, trepidation sure made an entrance on the day we first encountered each other, Delicious thought. It was in the year 1908, close to the day I was born. I was still in the factory wondering what would become of me, all bundled up in a horehound candy box. Speaking of boxes, I reckon I was born with an uncommon dislike for them. Anyway there I was, sitting on a shelf waiting to go to Kokomo, Indiana or any other place which might appear on the shipping list. Against my will mind you, but having not much of a choice in the matter at hand. Never mind the fact I was currently not in the mood for travel or sightseeing. It was then that Mister Trepidation snuck up on me. Yeah, he was swift-footed and sly. He grabbed himself a hold on my mind with a grip so strong I began to experience a measure of nausea.

         Yeah, of a sudden, Mister Trepidation shifted his left hand to my throat and began to squeeze. I countered his measure by placing my hands on this throat and commenced to throttle him. We fought back and forth, wresting and rolling till finally his image began to fade from my vision. Mister Trepidation screamed as he fled, "I'll be back. Don't you worry yourself none about me, once I lay my hands on someone they belong to me. I'll be back. I'll be back."

         "Ain't no thing," I said to myself. "I ain't a scared of him nohow." But maybe I was . . .

         There I was, sitting in a box on a shelf with seventeen other horehound candy sticks. I was the only misfit of the whole bunch, which puzzled me. I sat there wondering what was to become of me. "How will I get myself out of this box?" I questioned my self aloud. I have no intention of being shipped to Kokomo, Indiana nor any other place which might appear on my shipping label. How will I get myself out of this box?

Delicious shook his head to clear his thoughts as he stepped away from Betty Sue. But the shaking of his head was ineffective. His thoughts rushed quickly back into his mind. Wonder if Mister Trepidation is lurking in the lantern box? If I get my hands on him again I'll do him in. Yeah, Mister Trepidation is messing with the wrong horehound candy stick. I ain't a scared of him nohow. I've got to get myself together and finish this for the sake of Maria. But alas, memories crowded into his heart . . .

Delicious lay in the candy box thinking, What is my first course of action to get myself out of this box? Should I try rocking it back and forth? Yep. He took himself a glance toward the seventeen other horehound candy sticks. He was thinking about asking for their assistance, but he noticed then they were plain, old, normal horehound candies. They didn't look back at him. They didn't smile. They didn't do a thing except grace him with their presence. Alas. Maybe it was only his imagination, but he felt in his heart and in his mind that he was something more than a horehound candy stick.

Delicious was somewhat calm after the battle with Mister Trepidation. He still lay there in the box undecided. Of a sudden, his body began to roll from side to side, each roll accelerated his momentum till in some small amount of time the box began to move toward the edge of the shelf. Elated, Delicious increased the thrusts of his body in relation to the side of the box which lay closer to the edge of the shelf. Delicious did not know precisely where this edge lay, but he sensed its presence.

         For a short second Delicious felt in his heart that Mister Trepidation had surreptitiously reentered the candy box. His heart jumped in his chest as he sought to ready himself for the fall over the edge of the shelf. He slowed his breath.

         "I ain't a scared of him nohow. I ain't a scared of him no how. I'll throttle him. I ain't a scared of him." Delicious was muttering.

It occurred of a sudden, in the midst of a determined roll to his left. Delicious could not in all truth accurately describe the occurrence. He had began what he believed to be the final roll toward the edge of the shelf . . . One second before he began that roll toward the edge of the shelf his appearance to the casual observer might place him as just one of eighteen horehound candy sticks in a box. Albeit, the casual observer could not peer into the innermost parts of his head and realize he possessed a brain, they could utilize their eyes and tell themselves he was a horehound candy stick.

         In that one sudden moment, he suffered his second baptism. This one by trial, the first having been accomplished in error. Oh, what a baptism! He had began that roll and was in the midst of its completion, when his head somehow burst its way through the top of the box. Sensing this tiny bit of daylight, he sprang into the stuffy air and landed on his feet. Not having the leisure of thinking about what had just happened, he catapulted himself over the edge of the shelf and landed stiffly on the concrete floor. He was jarred into horehound tea by that landing. Well, not quite, but close. He did fetch up in a jujitsu stance, ready to fight anything which moved. Nothing moved.

          Delicious knew that before this moment his appearance had not set him apart from other horehound candy sticks, but now his thoughts were accompanied by all the other things which mortal man possesses. Eyes, hands, legs, arms . . . Not that he considered himself a man in any circumstance, rather his heart had etched upon it the undeniable knowledge that he was a horehound candy stick. He was.

         Delicious stood there for a few minutes as his eyes became accustomed to the darkness of the small factory. A part of this time he used to acquaint himself with the sense of newness which pervaded every cell in his body. Darkness surrounded him, and in his eyes it was a good thing. After all, it was not a common event in most people's lives, seeing a horehound candy stick wandering around in the night. Delicious' senses picked up the moan and rattles of a train hugging its railroad tracks somewhere in the far yonder.

Well, thought Delicious. Perhaps me parting company with this hellhole section of New York is exactly what I am in the need of. After all, New York and I are not on the best of terms. Locking someone up in a box has certain drawbacks when it comes to establishing a relationship. Goodbye, New York! I am going to set me down some tracks in a more affable local.

         Delicious began to make his way through the thick darkness seeking a way out of the factory. Momentarily he discerned what appeared to be a thinner spot in the darkness, and began easing his way toward it. I need to catch myself a ride on that train, he thought. Yeah, no nevermind where that train's bound for, just set me down somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon line. Got to catch that train, got to catch that train, got to catch that train . . . His feet picked up the rhythm and advanced toward what Delicious could now see was a window.

         Delicious hurried through the gloom. "Gonna catch that train, and take me a ride over the Mason-Dixon line. Gonna catch that train-n," Delicious sang. "Catch that train . . ." Delicious slowed as he neared the window. He could faintly make out by the pattern of light coming through the window that it was covered by a window blind, complete with an intact cord. Delicious took the last few steps to the window, grabbed the cord and began to climb.

         Right about then the blinds opened, and Delicious sank back to the floor, cord in hand. Unperturbed, Delicious started his climb again, and this time he fetched up on the windowsill. Without delay Delicious took a two-handed grip on the cord and swang away from the windowsill. Back he went, and crashed feet first through the glass of the window. Lightly, Delicious landed on the ground below the window. Freedom, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Delicious, Delicious thought as he stood there with the ripped out window blind cord in his hand.

The sounds of the train seemed closer now, and Delicious knew he needed to prepare himself for what would come next. The silhouette of a small structure rose toward the sky a few yards away, and Delicious began to make his way toward it, pocketing the window blind cord as he walked. Might be useful, he thought. Delicious advanced close enough to the small structure that he could now read the sign hanging on its side. The words on the sign were, Erie Railroad. In smaller letters just below these, the sign announced: Haulers of freight and other goods, with connections to the Norfolk and Western Railroad. High stacks of firewood were piled next to the depot, and close enough to touch, a water tank waited patiently.

          For no apparent reason, other than wanting to, Delicious began to sing. "Gonna catch that train, catch that train-n-n, take me a ride south of the Mason-Dixon line-e. I hereby designate myself as other goods, executive privilege you understand. Other goods-s-s, ha ha ha. Yeah, I am part mint syrup and part palm oil, with just the right amount of sugar thrown in, and a drop of root beer. They call me Delicious-s. Oh, yes they do, from Saskatchewan to Bermuda-a and out California way."

          Delicious began to wonder as he looked at the sign, whether he should catch a ride on the engine or the caboose. Of course, he knew he should ride under the train regardless of which part of the train he chose to transport himself. He touched the window blind cord in his pocket. Yeah, he thought. I'll use you to tie myself securely beneath the caboose. With the choice of accommodations settled, Delicious set about obtaining his boarding pass.

          Having never held money in his hand, Delicious could not in any manner afford to pay for a train ticket, and he knew freight trains did not take on passengers anyway. Therefore, reaching in his pocket, Delicious withdrew the principal ingredient toward the procurement of a ticket, the window blind cord. Yeah, you are my ticket out of New York, Delicious thought. Once I am beneath the caboose you and I will settle in snugly and take us a ride. I don't expect to hear any complaining about our berths. After all, the seats are without cost. The window blind cord seemed to cast a glance at him as if it had read his mind, but held its tongue.

         Delicious waited for the train to approach. A little nervous, he fidgeted around, back and forth till his anxiety dwindled. The approaching train sounded as if it might be a steam driven locomotive to Delicious. "Choo choo, choo choo choo-o. Choo choo choo-o-o," the train hollered and moaned. "Choo choo choo." Delicious could see its headlight wavering as the tracks delivered it over uneven ground. On it came, splitting the night like a fault line. "Choo choo choo-o."

         Occasionally bevies of sparks took flight from the train wheel's caress of the railroad tracks. Delicious positioned himself in what he hoped would be an advantageous manner about thirty yards up the track toward the train, and waited as the train shifted its gait to a trot toward the depot. Delicious had never seen a train trot before. It was a peculiar sight, a train imitating a Tennessee Walking Horse and doing a passable job at it. Clump, clump. Moan, moan. Trot, trot.

         Light was becoming more plentiful now, but still patchy. Delicious ran into some clumps of Jo Pye Weed bordering the railroad tracks to keep his presence unknown. He recognized the plants as Jo Pye Weed by their fragrance. The train engine passed him by, then the freight cars, trailed by the caboose which came to a halt about thirty feet beyond his position in the Jo Pye Weeds. Delicious readied himself for a second, then crept swiftly through the fading darkness to the side of the caboose and disappeared beneath it.

         Delicious hesitated a minute in the sparsely lit darkness beneath the caboose, then made his way toward the right side foundation beam of the caboose. He then used one of the supporting struts to climb onto the beam. Removing the window blind cord from his pocket, Delicious securely fastened one of its ends around his left wrist. The remaining end he tied to a steel strut. Thus comforted, Delicious sat on the foundation beam and waited for the train ride to begin. Delicious shifted on the beam to find the most comfortable position. Stretching out, he lay down to rest a while. It was mildly comfortable, but it was definitely not a Pullman car.

The train was moving when Delicious awakened. How long he had slept Delicious did not know. It was much lighter beneath the caboose, so Delicious suspected he had slept an hour or so. Delicious realized he needed to stay awake now, as he needed to change trains somewhere around Elmira, New York.

         "Gonna catch that train, gonna catch that train, take me a ride south of the Mason-Dixon line," Delicious sang. The train galloped onward. The wheels cried, and the rails strummed.

         Delicious hadn't really planned what he would do in Elmira, New York. The safest thing, he thought, would be to exit the caboose somewhere short of Elmira, find somewhere to hide and wait till nightfall to enter Elmira. Yeah, he sure didn't wish to find himself stuck in a box with Mister Trepidation again. Mind you, he was not scared. The idea just didn't appeal to him. Facing Mister Trepidation had been a formidable task, albeit a long overdue one. He just didn't cotton to the notion of an immediate rematch so soon after his victory.

         Delicious knew there were a few uphill grades on the outskirts of Elmira, and he decided to exit the caboose as the train slowed. As Delicious sat there thinking, he became aware of a sound emanating from somewhere beneath the caboose. It was a sound he was not expecting, a sound that he had not heard before. It was a humming as if of song. It was a low pitched sound, and of a sudden Delicious recognized it for what it was. A woman's voice . . .

          Delicious was startled. If he were making a list of all the places for a woman to be, he would have never put underneath a moving caboose on his list. He roved his eyes around, from one end of the caboose to the other, and from side to side.

Continued in Part two

*ADORNO, exact name of pencil sharpener co.

Copyright Jasen Holloway

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