A Small Red Box

Captain Vampire Serial appears below, after A Small Red Box

A Small Red Box

by Kent V Anderson

Tonight’s our office holiday party. Not a big office, not a big party, 7:00pm at Applebees.

I arrive early and start drinking right away.

We drew names last Friday, who we would gift. I picked Sara’s name. The gift’s supposed to cost 5 to $10. I got something cheap that looks like it cost $5, at the Dollar Tree store. Everything is a dollar at Dollar Tree. I love Dollar Tree!

These ‘holiday’ parties are awkward for me. I’m Jewish and everyone knows these really are Christmas parties. I also know that the foreigner we just hired, Farouk, who obviously doesn’t like to spend money on clothes, has a similar situation as I do. I know Farouk’s a Muslim. I know this because of his funny name, and we had a ‘discussion’ at lunch.

Actually, I gave him my honest opinion on what I thought about Muslims killing people. But Farouk said that Islam is actually a peaceful religion and includes many of the same tenets as the Jewish and Christian religions. He said the terrorists aren’t Muslims but are really ill-bred fanatics who defame Islam.

I should have expected him to stick up for his religion, even when someone points out what’s wrong with it.

I told Farouk, “Islam’s a hate cult.” I have a way with words when I get going.

Farouk said, “Seth, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Muslims aren’t that different from Christians or Jews. Someday you will come to realize this.” He was turning red and getting quite upset. Finally, Farouk raged out of the office. And he didn’t come back even though it was only 3pm.

Sometimes, I think, perhaps I shouldn’t have said what I said. My mother used to tell me that, pretty often. Anyway, that was yesterday, Friday.

Right on time at 7:00, William, the other divorced guy in our office, arrives at Applebbees and says, “Hey Seth, you really lit into Farouk yesterday. Don’t you think you got carried away?”

I tell him, “That’s your opinion, but with all the terrorist stuff going on, I couldn’t hold back.” Then I add, “If Farouk were a good Jew or even a good Christian, he would forgive me for what I said, right?.”

William doesn’t have an answer for that. I’m a pretty good debater, especially after I have a few beers.

Finally at 7:09 Sara, Kelsey, and our boss, Roberta arrive as well.

When Roberta goes to the bathroom, I tell them that they’re late.

Well, everyone’s here except for Farouk. I don’t think anyone expects him, after how he acted on Friday. We leave the bar area, go to the private party room, and sit at a long table. We put the gifts at the end next to the condiments.

The waiter comes over, wearing a Christmas sweater with the most unrealistic reindeer. I point it out to him.

He asks if we are ready to order.

Sara tells him to please give us a few more minutes.

Well, surprise! Farouk shows up, kind of like my ex-wife did when I took our kids to the gun range. And just like my ex, he looks rather unhappy.

He comes over to my end of the table, sits across from me, and reaches inside his worn winter coat.

Due to the Friday incident, I lose my breath for a moment.

But I’m relieved when he pulls out a small red box.

Farouk wastes no time with salutations to the others, “Hey Seth, I picked your name. This is for you.” He fakes a grin, “Happy holidays, Seth.” Then shoves the box right at me.

“Um, thanks, Farouk.” I can’t help but think that what if Farouk is one of those crazed terrorist killers, then the red box might be a bomb, just because he can’t take a little constructive criticism about his religion.

Perhaps Sara has similar thoughts, she blurts out, “Hey guys, I really can’t stay. I’ll just take my gift and go home to my sick hubby if you guys don’t mind.”

I didn’t know Sara was married; who would find her attractive? I hand Sara her gift from me, she grabs it without even saying thank you, and she leaves.

I wait for someone else to mention how rude Sara is.

But instead, Kelsey says, “Um, I’m not feeling too well. I better go. See ya.” He hands his gift to Roberta and jumps up and away.

William looks at Roberta, who says, kind of fast, “It’s not really an office party without Sara and Kelsey, let’s reschedule this. Good. See you on Monday.” She makes her exit.

William says, “Fine with me,” hops up, grabs his coat, and runs away like it’s 5:00 o’clock on Friday.

Farouk looks surprised, “What happened to our holiday party?” But adds, “Well Seth, at least you and I can celebrate the holidays, as well as our diverse religions.” Then he glares at me, like my mother often did, and says, “You know Seth, in some ways you and me are alike.”

I’m thinking, just momentarily, how the hell could me and a foreigner wearing ten-dollar shoes be alike. But presently I’m more concerned that I’m alone with a guy who I argued with, about a subject people say that you shouldn’t, my co-workers felt an urgent need to vacate, and that this same foreigner has just handed me a small package which might explode.

Then Farouk stands up and points to the red box that I’m unfortunately still holding to my chest. “Open the box, Seth. That’s really why I came here tonight: to give you something special.”

I gulp. I sweat.

Then I speak, with a rather fast paced, now high voice, “Farouk I’m sorry about what I said yesterday it’s just that we hear about these terrorists all the time and I’m sorry but you’re a Muslim and so are they but maybe I was wrong to say some of those things um just like my mother used to tell me pretty often.” I take a breath, but I’m not able to lower my voice, “I can be a jerk sometimes Farouk I know I don’t seem that way to you cuz you’re new but maybe you can understand that I’m really sorry and please forgive me like religion says people should.”

Farouk tells me once more, sternly, “Box, open the box, Seth.”

I can’t even hear his accent any more. The room seems small with dark edges. I think I’ll run. Or maybe I’ll stand up, hit Farouk on his ass, and throw the box. Or maybe throw the box, then hit Farouk, but either way, run for the exit.

But it’s like Farouk hears my thoughts. He leans forward, puts his hands tightly on my shoulders, and commands, “Open the box Seth.”

I start to whimper. I feel bad about everything I’ve ever said bad about anyone. My mother was right.

I swallow hard. I open the box.

Um, there’s no wrapping paper in it. I can see what’s inside.

It’s a small brass menorah.

It still has the tag on it.

And it’s from Dollar Tree.

◊ ◊ ◊

Kent V Anderson writes a variety of short stories, most of of them are rather whimsical. Lately Kent has been writing even shorter short stories, to conserve his vocabulary. His stories have appeared in 101words.org, Espresso Stories, Short Humour Site, and A Story in a 100 Words.



Planet in blaze of stars

Captain Vampire

a Serial in Seven Parts
By CJ Alexander

Episode 12

Episode 3

There is nothing inside the irradiated canisters, crafted by sentient beings, floating on a planet entirely covered by salt water. My mind works overtime to parse out what this means. Did the trusty old Hubbell Telescope receive bad data, were the promising signals from Alpha Centauri somehow tainted by space debris? Was the planet a sort of deep space dump for nuclear waste? I have no idea. I will have to contact NASA for guidance. And I will have to inform the Hierarchy that our mission is in jeopardy.

Nagging doubts surface. I don’t know why, but I’m finding it hard to trust my first officer. Is she competent? A hidden agenda of her own?  Maybe I should have sent another crew member along to inspect the canisters. Well, too late now. I have kids to feed and then, myself.

* * *

A whoosh, a swish, the slightest hint of a shadow. Ensign Natalia Abrams shakes off the eerie sensation of being watched. She goes rigid, forces herself to peer in both directions down the dimly lit corridor. No, there’s nobody there. Nothing moves. She keys in her room code. The shadow slips unnoticed into her quarters, the door shudders shut. Anyone passing by would hear a muffled tussling, like someone cursing to herself over a stuck zipper. Inside, the vampire flings back its cloak, clasps Natalia to its breast, and bares its elongated, sharp fangs. A fetid stench issues from its mouth. Natalia faints. The vampire stretches its lips wide and jams its incisors into her neck.

* * *

A bit of exploration on a habitable planet would have been a welcome diversion, wouldn’t it, instead of the bloody ruckus I have to quell.

I summon the Chief of Security to my conference room. “Report!”

“Captain, the crew are worried and restless. I’ve been told they’re forming cliques, but really, it’s more like gangs. The brig’s been full of repeat offenders for days.”

“Because of the body?”

“Yes, sir.”

I’ve noticed some of the crew eyeing each other suspiciously. A murderer on board…so much for background checks. Still, the neck’s puncture wounds could easily pass for vampire bites. But that couldn’t be. I’m the only vampire on board, and I am the epitome of self-control.

So who – or what – left the Ensign with the delectable AB blood drained and … dead?  Everyone’s spooked.

I’m worried, too. There are only six people aboard upon whom I can dine, and sparingly at that. I dare not turn the ship around and return to Earth, or I’ll risk losing my grandchildren. So now that we’re on our own out here in deep space, with no other solar systems in sight, we must conserve rations. Death…I shudder.  It mustn’t happen again.

To be continued

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