LEOPOLD KELLY’S MAGIC BOX
by John Turner
I knew there was trouble the moment I saw the faded green truck pull up alongside me. My old friend, Leopold Kelly, with a mess of tangled, brown hair; and wild, hazel eyes, leaned out the truck’s window. A horn blared, and someone in the halted traffic shouted a profanity at him. “Come on. Get in” he said.
I looked around at the line of cars behind him. The coffee shop was right there, thirty feet away. I could see Mr. Sashi standing at the counter. But Leo hadn’t stopped by in two years. How many chances would I have to see him? The next think I knew, I was in the truck’s backseat, slamming the door behind me.
The ceiling fabric drooped, and the metal was dented as if someone had beaten it with a sledgehammer. The passenger seat was torn, and bits of cotton spilled from several slashes in the leather. The window rollers were missing, and instead there were money wrenches tightened around the nubs that turned the gears. A strange smell hung in the air. Cologne? Air freshener? No, it was too nasty. I stood to make my way up front and say that I had been sitting on a web of green filaments.
“Dude, there’s mold back here,” I said.
“That’s not mold,” he said.
“What is it then?
“Lichen or moss or something?”
I took a second look at the seat. There was no way that it was either of those things. Leo turned to look at the seat.
“Hey, watch the road,” I said. “What’s with the beard?:” Last time I had seen him, it had just been a chinstrap. Now he had a goatee with stray hairs sticking out at funny angles.
“Broke up with Emma, so I didn’t shave for a while. Then I decided that I didn’t like the full-beard look,” he said with a shrug.
The truck rattled down the road at an alarming speed. It jolted every time it hit a bump or crack. A normal person would have worried about the police, but Leo could drive eighty in a sixty and somehow avoid being stopped. He had done it several times before.
I clambered forward into the passenger seat. I put my feet down, but felt something hard blocking their path, so I reached down and picked the obstruction up. It was a polished, yet simple, wooden box about eight inches long, six inches wide, and three inches deep. A brass lock guarded its latch.
“What is this?” I asked.
“That,” Leo said, “is a magic box.”
“You remember the last mysterious box we brought somewhere?”
“Of course. But the cops didn’t catch us, so we’re fine.”
Our sophomore year of college, we had illegally brought a box of black power over the state border so we could fire blanks off a replica musket.
I chuckled. “Seriously, Leo, what is it?”
He swallowed and stared out the window.
“Really? You won’t tell me what it is?”
“You’ll see when we get there,” he said.
“And where is that” I asked. “I have stuff I need to do today. I was going to an interview when you showed up.”
“Oh shit. Sorry about that.” He paused for several seconds. An eighteen wheeler moaned past us. “Can you reschedule?”
“Yeah…I guess I can. Just ask next time before you show up. Even a single text would be nice.” I pulled out my phone and dialed the number.
“Hi Mr. Sashi…yes, something came up…family emergency, but it might be a false alarm …yeah, Tuesday afternoon works for me…sorry again. Thanks for accommodating.” I hung up and glared at Leo.
“You’ve gotten better at that,” he said.
“At lying? Yeah. I’ve hung around you enough to pick up on it.”
The car drifted towards the exit onto Interstate 195. Behind us, I saw the shallow, island-speckled stretch of water of Buzzard’s Bay. Gulls swarmed around the beaches, pecking at seaweed and washed up crabs.
“Providence?” I asked.
Leo didn’t respond.
“Jack,” he said, turning to me, “we’re about to do something crazy, even by our standards.”
My heart sank. Was he driving us to TF Green? Perhaps hiding tickets to some remote country on the other side of the globe? “Do I need my passport?” I asked.
“No. Not this time.”
“Is it a bomb?”
“No. It’s not a bomb.”
We continued driving towards Providence, but the moment I saw the silhouette of Fall River on the horizon, I knew where we were going.
“Why Fall River?” I asked.
“There’s a church I want to visit.”
“And why do you need me?”
“I’m not religious. You are. It feels wrong to do what I’m about to without someone who feels comfortable in a church.”
“But if you’re not religious, why do you care if you’re by yourself?. Who’s stopping you?”
Leo shrugged. “No one, I guess.”
I imagined myself sitting at the table in the coffee shop and talking with Mr. Sashi about the job position. Sure, he had let me reschedule, but I knew that I had ruined my chances. There was no way he’d take a shot on someone like me–someone who couldn’t even keep an interview.
Twenty minutes later, we pulled up in the parking lot of a church with flying buttresses and stained glass windows built into pointed arches. The gothic style contrasted with the surrounding mill town. The place was anachronistic, and I felt as if I had stepped back in time several centuries.
Leo popped open his door. “Come on,” he said.
I followed him into the church. The door was open, but the building was empty. The walls were lined with paintings of Jesus in various scenes. A massive crucifix hung above the altar. I looked around for the tabernacle, but I didn’t see one. They must not have wanted to leave a big gold box out for someone to take.
“Where are we going in here?” I asked Leo.
“How do you know this place?”
“I scouted it out.”
We walked down to the altar, but took a right just before we reached it, but after the pews ended. There was a table with several pamphlets and a staircase in the small chamber. Leo made for the stairs, and I followed. We hustled down, out footsteps clacking against the stone. We reached the bottom of the stairs and found ourselves in a large presentation room that had several rows of chairs, all of which were empty, lined up. Leo walked to the door on the room’s left side.
About half way down the hallway, a bookshelf sat against the wall in the space between two other doors. Leo stopped and stared at it. “What now?” I asked. “You came here for a book?”
He chuckled and said, “no. This is cool. Watch.” He pushed the bookcase out of the way. It screeched against the tile. I cringed; someone must have heard it, and we weren’t even supposed to be down here.
To my shock, there was a crawlspace in the wall, just large enough to allow us to crawl through. It was like something out of a movie–the hidden passage in the old church. “How did you know about this?” I asked.
“My dad did work out here a few months ago and told me that he found it while redoing the doorframes here.” Leo pointed at the trim. “I decided to check it out.”
We dropped to our bellies and slid into through the gap. As skinny as I was, it was still cramped. We emerged in a small room with ceilings no higher than six feet. Leo had to stoop to avoid hitting his head. The only light came from the hole in the wall. I had a terrible thought that someone would come and replace the bookshelf and leave us in the dark. Would we be able to push the bookshelf over if that happened, or would we be trapped? At the back of the room sat eleven boxes. Some were smaller than Leo’s, and some were bigger. They all had the same brass lock.
“Here,” Leo said, handing me the box, “you’re Catholic. Do it.”
He pointed at a spot in the middle. Sure enough, there was a gap just wide enough to fit one more. I walked over, blessed myself, and set the final box down. I turned back to see Leo nodding.
“Okay,” he said, “We’re done.”
I paused and looked him in the eye, then nodded too. “Yeah, we are,” I said. And I knew that we were.
About the Author
John M. Turner was born and raised on Cape Cod, and his experience growing up in southeastern Massachusetts has influenced his writing. He is currently studying English and professional writing at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. When he’s not writing, John runs half marathons and plays the guitar and trombone.
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