The Box

The old woman heard footsteps approaching her doorway. Soft and gentle, but loud enough to wake her. She lay quietly in the dark waiting for the knock, and after it came she listened as her visitor scurried off into the night. She slowly moved the heavy deer-hide covers aside (it seemed as if everything she did was slow now) and sat up, reaching for the oil lamp on the table by her bed. She found it, and soon there was enough light in the small stone dwelling that she could see.

She wrapped herself in a leather robe that she had dyed red and decorated with blue leather stitching. Since it was still cold she pulled the hood over her head before adding some sticks to the embers in her stove. Finally, she lit a small lantern, made her way to the door, and opened it. The small box was waiting in front of the door, as always. And as always, there was no one in sight.

The woman leaned over, again slowly, and lifted the box. As she moved it she heard scurrying and scratching noises coming from inside. They seemed louder than usual. Oh, she thinks as she carries the box inside, this one must be from someone terrible.

She set the box on the table and examined it carefully. Yes, she can see now that this one is special. Many of the boxes left at her door are simple; plain in fact. Others are carved, painted, or decorated in many ways. Over the years, she has learned that she can tell something about the person that she is about to cleanse by how much effort they put into decorating the box. Most folk had simple boxes, but the more evil they were the more they tried to make the box special. And this box was the most special she had ever seen: it was intricately carved, made with gold hinges, and inlaid with colorful stones. The woman sighed as she prepared to open the box. She was not looking forward to consuming this person’s evil deeds.

The scurrying and scratching stopped as soon as the woman opened the lid. The small lizard stood frozen in place and looked past the woman toward the open room. Just as it decided to leap from the box, the woman’s hand swooped in and snatched it up with practiced speed. She held it close to her face while it moved its head left to right looking for another way of escape. She did not like to let the lizards suffer any longer than they already had. She did not know how the mystics were able to transfer the sins of the dying villager into the lizard – that was their job. Hers was to consume the life of the lizard, and with it the dying person’s sins so that they would not be punished by the gods who tended the dead.

As quickly as she had snatched it from the box, the old woman bit the head off the lizard and swallowed it whole. Then, as she sucked the cool blood from the small reptile, she could feel the sins flow into her own soul. Yes, she thought as she set the drained carcass back into the box, these were the sins of a very bad person. But now their way is clear.

As she felt the fresh sins blend with those of countless others, the woman took the three gold pieces from the box, closed the lid, and set it in the stove to burn. It would keep the cabin warm as she settled back into bed and slept the sleep of the dead.

The prompt that inspired this piece of flash fiction can be found here.


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