“Welcome back to the land of the living, my dear.”
I looked around the little room furnished with objects from another century. Warm woods and fabrics in earth tones dominated. Lace doilies covered every flat surface and the arms and backs of the couches and chairs. I’d never seen or heard him talk about a Mrs. Looper, but there was a picture of him with a woman both a good deal younger than he was now. It had been taken somewhere snowy with nothing in the background. Both of them had immense smiles on their faces and she looked to be holding a rifle of some sort, though it looked like one from really old science fiction movies.
“Thanks for…” I stopped, still not sure what role he played in saving me. “For your help. What was that thing on the roof?”
He patted my hands and then stood, not gaining much height in the process. “Just a little helper I built.” He looked to the picture. “I’m not as spry as I used to be.”
I looked more closely at the eight by ten. He had a bandolier across his chest, filled with ammunition that looked fatter than shotgun shells. He also had an odd looking set of goggles strapped to his forehead, like the night vision ones on television, but bulkier. More like the ones the Ghostbusters wore.
I finished the tea, more for the warmth than the taste and put the mug down. “You built that? I’ve never seen anything like it.”
He looked and nodded at me. “Most of my creations are unique. It’s a… gift I was given.” He moved to the chest of drawers that the picture.
I stood and looked for a clock, suddenly remembering that I was long past due at home. “Well thanks again, Mr. Looper. I should really be getting on home now.”
He opened the top drawer and pulled out a box wrapped in plain brown paper. “I called your father, Ms. Perez. He was alarmed, but I set his fears to rest. I told him that I would return you safely home later this evening.”
A tiny warning gong went off in my head. I didn’t know for a fact that he had talked to Dad. He could be lying. I wasn’t sure that he would be satisfied with someone else bringing me, even someone I had worked for for the last year. Mr. Looper was hardly a family friend and while neither of my parents would admit it, the fact that he was white probably deepened their distrust.I trusted my gut though.
He sat the box down on the couch beside me and returned to his place directly across. “I have a gift for you, Ms. Perez.”
The warning gong got louder. They warned us kids about taking gifts from men, even those we knew somewhat. There were often strings attached. I glanced to the door, gauging how quickly I could leave and if I could make it past him.
Mr. Looper sighed deeply. “I know, my child. I’m a strange, little old man and am not to be trusted. I would say that this world has become a dark place where such things are questioned, but it was no different in my time. We just did not talk about it.” He gestured to the box. “Unwrap it. It will not harm you and neither will I. I will make no demands of you.”
I looked at him, really examining him closely for the first time. I was young and likely more than a little naive, even for a kid with a dangerous amount of street smarts. And I don’t mean dangerously broad or deep. Still, I saw something in his bearing and in his eyes that I hadn’t noticed before; a core of steel that even now I don’t expect from most people, let alone people of his age and stature. Here was a man that was used to being not just trusted, but entrusted. It probably explained why I had been less worried about him over the past year than I should have.
I took the box in my lap and unwrapped it. The paper crinkled, the noise filling the room. I didn’t know what to expect but the plastic box wasn’t it. I turned it over in my lap a few times, looking for a button to press or some other release. I didn’t look up until I heard Mr. Looper’s chuckle.
“It’s not that sort of box Ms. Perez. I was given this by some friends of humanity, from a very long way away. Rather than you unlocking the box, it unlocks you.”
I felt my eyebrow slowly crawl up my forehead.
“Look at it again the way you looked at me a few moments ago.”
I did as I was told and noticed a blue light pulsing at the box’s core. It gradually drew me in until my whole world was the light.
Here There Be Dragons by Scott Roche is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at www.scottroche.com.