The package sat on his grubby knees. It had the suspicious air of the Tooth Fairy just as older sibling explained quite matter of factly the truth. Open it now and face disappointment? What did he have to lose? Rick considered all the thoughts criss crossing his mind, like a migration of manta rays gone mad. He looked over at Mary. She looked at the package, with an almost inscrutable expression on her face. She bit her lip.
Rick tried to remind himself to breathe, it couldn't get any worse. That was the problem with hope: it offered as more pain in disappointment than it did joy in relief.
He ripped open the package with shaking hands. Underneath a few cotton balls, a few more styro-foam popcorns, was a green piece of paper. It looked like it had been folded and refolded hundreds of times. It had the air of something stuffed and restuffed into someone's jeans as a lucky charm. On it was written:
“Look below you.”
Rick and Mary both looked at it. Mary, in a flurry of speed, snatched up the piece of paper and read it again, once under her breath, once out loud, like it was the warning label on rat poison. Rick looked at the paper, then under it.
The park swam. The sick feeling of being let down from such, admittedly unreasonable, hope wasn't entirely unlike running full speed into a cement wall. He couldn't breathe.
Then the ground rumbled. A great roiling burp of a rumble. Rick remained perfectly still. He was pretty sure he'd been poisoned or something from whatever was in that box.
The ground churned. For a good five seconds it churned, buckled over like a drunk being mugged in a dark side alley by a hood with too much follow through. Mary sprang to her feet. This was probably a sign it wasn't poison, thought Rick. Or, that they had BOTH been poisoned.
Yellowy and sad, the park lamps gave one last sputter, and went out.
A thin sheen of cold sweat slicked on Rick's neck. He couldn't look at Mary, worried that fear was finally showing on her ever stoic face, and light reflecting glasses.
The ground beneath the park bench thrust up, the lawn beneath them turned into a cascading fountain of dirt and dead grass. They were thrown like kittens off a hand grenade. Rick banged his shoulder then his head, a high pitch rang in his ear.
He scrambled to all fours and looked over to where the bench was. In it's place floated, hovered -- whatever it was doing, it wasn't touching the ground -- a six foot tall glass ovoid. Tall and thin. It hummed a low rumble, sounding like a car with a large engine and outrageous insurance premiums. Then the rumbling stopped, and a high whine slide through the air and was gone, just as the whine faded, a light came on inside. The capsule was filled about halfway with a clear, deep blue liquid. And sitting in that improbable sea, personal pond, was what could only be the '#34 Dark-Lighted Penumbrian Fang Monger'.
It was covered with a deep green fur, and had the shape of a pear with a head at one end and a lazy, undulating flipper at the other. Around its neck was a fringe of white fur. As if there wasn't enough oddness about it, it also had a yellowing moustache. Its eyes were gigantic, and placid, it looked at the two, then flashed the widest, most terrifying grin Rick had ever seen.
Mary only sat and stared. Rick slowly got to his feet and walked towards it. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Mary start slightly, as if she wanted to stop him, but suddenly decided the better of it.
The Fang Monger and its capsule cast a blue haze over the darkened park. The sounds from the streets seemed very far away as Rick approached it. It kept looking at him with its placid eyes and drooping yellow moustache. It seemed to be holding its breath, but its eyes looked like it was a hiding a knowing, deathly mischievous secret.
Rick kept walking towards it.
He pulled his eyes away from the Fang Monger and noticed that the floating capsule had glass handles on either side; as if it was meant to be pushed around. He motioned to Mary to grab one side. She hesitated. He grabbed a handle and looked back to her as if to say “see, nothing wrong here.”. She get up, dusted off her threadbare dress, and walk over.
They pushed the large, glowing capsule back home. No one was on the streets. They lived in the sort of neighbourhood where no one was on the streets after a certain time. Not even the hoodlums.
That night Rick heard a familiar voice in the hallway. It was Mr. Simons. It was a clean name he had, a last name that belonged to a shopkeeper that let you keep a tab, or a principal that was tough but fair. Mr. Simons, in a fit of cosmic confusion, was anything but. Rick had caught sight of him once, coming out of the apartment. He had the face of a mortician who was terrified of corpses. It was sunken and slow, and his entire body slumped along with it. He drawled all his words, taking as long as it took to say what he had to say. Between each phrase of importance sat a massive pause. Far too long to be a normal conversational pause, almost long enough to be a conversation ender.
Ms. Krenshaw, from what Rick could hear, never complained, she suffered the stop and stuttering, the galloping and limping pace of Mr. Simons conversation as if he was the most natural chatter in the world.
That night, that voice had echoed into their bedroom. There was some discussion. Haggling,by the tone and banter of it. Ms. Krenshaw had gotten shrill. By the end of it, even Mary was up. They both pretended to be asleep, though, when soft creak of the door cut the air, and a head poked in, seemed to survey the room and its occupants for a little too long, then disappeared.