The older man walked into the center of town and stopped in the middle of the street. He lifted his walking stick to the sky, then brought it down and struck the asphalt. The lighting crashed across the sky as the thunder shook every building. People poured into the street to see what had happened.
The man turned and looked at each of them. “One of you took what is mine. You have three hours to return it.”
Sheriff Tom walked out to the man. “What are you looking for?”
“A golden box hidden and buried not far from here.”
Tom looked at the crowd of people, then back at the man. “What if we can’t find it in three hours?”
The man struck his stick on the asphalt again. The sky was alive with lightning. The man whirled his stick in the air as a haze of fog descended on the town. When the fog reached the children, they collapsed. The man stopped the motion. The fog dissipated.
The man turned to Tom. “Every child in this town will die in three hours unless the thief returns the box to me.”
The man plunged his walking stick into the pavement and drew a circle. “Do not move the children. Place the box in this circle and they will arise. Move a child, they die. You have three hours.” The man sat inside the circle and closed his eyes.
Tom turned to the crowd. People panicked as they tended to their children. One mother picked up her seven-year-old boy. His body melted in her arms.
Tom turned to the man. “Stop this shit now.” Tom pulled his sidearm out of its holster. “I’m only going to ask once.”
The man opened his eyes. “Pull that trigger and half the children will die.” The man pulled out a small sand timer. “When the last sand runs out, the children die. Bring me my box.”
Old man Lucas walked out of his pawn shop holding a golden box. “I bought this box this morning from Jared Taylor.”
The man looked at the box. “Jared must bring me the box.”
Tom looked at his deputy. “Jared’s probably at the station farting around on his truck. Go get him.”
The deputy took off on foot toward the other end of town. The deputy returned within ten minutes, with Jared in handcuffs. “He tried to run Tom.”
Tom smiled. “Jared, see all these kids laying on the ground. They are counting on you to do the right thing. You need to return the box you stole to the man sitting over there.”
Old man Lucas held the box out. “Jared, you can keep the money. Just give him the box.”
Tom unlocked the cuffs. “You’re not in trouble, Jared. Just take him the box and everything goes back to normal.”
Jared rubbed his wrists as he looked at the man sitting with his eyes closed in the middle of the road. He turned to Lucas. “I get to keep the money?” as he reached for the box.
Lucas nodded. “Yes son, just do as you’re told.”
Jared turned to Tom. “And I’m not in any trouble?”
Tom put his hands on Jared’s shoulders. “None.”
Jared turned to the man, who now stood. Jared walked over to the man. “I’m sorry, sir. The box called to me, I swear. That’s the only reason I dug it up.”
The man placed his hands on the box. A strong wind rushed through the street that pushed everyone else back. Lightning rained down from the sky, forming a barrier between the townspeople and them. The man’s eyes glowed. “My name is Zebadiah. I have watched over the box for three hundred years. I pass the box on to you.”
Lightning struck Jared, imprinting symbols on his arms. Lightning struck Zebadiah, his markings floated in the air and landed on Jared. Zebadiah’s body jerked and contorted as the process continued. Zebadiah fell to his knees as the transfer finished.
Zebadiah looked up at Jared. “Do you understand what you have, son?” Zebadiah picked up his walking stick and slid it over to Jared. “You saw the seven demons, right?”
Jared nodded. “I know everything you know.” He grabbed the staff. “I will carry this honor and fight the darkness. If the day comes, I will open the box and end this world.”
Zebadiah laid down on the ground. Jared kneeled next to him. Zebadiah smiled as his body evaporated. Jared stood and turned to the crowd. He struck the stick on the asphalt. The children awoke. The pool that was once the child that had melted swirled as his body reformed. He smiled as his mother picked him up.
Tom walked up to Jared. “What the hell was that?”
“This box has many names. Pandora once protected it. It is as old as the universe and is now my responsibility.” Jared looked at Tom. “I need to leave before the demons come. I love you, dad.”
Jared turned his back to the town and walked out. Tears ran down Tom’s face as he watched Jared disappear around the curve. There was a loud roar and the crashing of thunder. Tom’s first instinct was to run to Jared. Tom stood as he listened to a battle beyond the trees. Silence broke over the town, only pierced by the sound of a walking stick striking the asphalt.