Runner-up No. 4.
Prompt No. 12
Your main character finds a box of scorched human hair. Whose is it? How did it get there?
The cardboard box squatted on the card table, daring Jack to say anything.
He didn’t. Instead, he used the kitchen counter to pop the cap off another bottle of Killian’s and drained fully half of it before returning to his place at the table.
“Dude.” Jack wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and turned to Chris, who was staring at the box as if it held a piece of the true cross. He was also on his third beer, and Jack wondered what his priest would have to say about that. “Dude,” Chris repeated, awestruck, and venerated the box with a half-hearted toast before taking another swig.
“That is some seriously weird shit,” said Ryan, who was sitting opposite Chris around the card table. Ryan had been the only one to open the box for a second look, and Jack could see the wheels turning behind his eyes. Ryan had only consumed one beer. Chris called him a pansy until Ryan threatened to dump the contents of the box on him, and then Chris shut up about the whole affair and settled back into a state of meditative nonsobriety. “Where’d you get it?”
“Attic,” said Jack, pulling up to the table but maintaining a respectful distance from the box.
“You have an attic?”
“News to me, too,” he shrugged. “Trapdoor’s in the spare room. I’ve got so much crap in there I’ve lost sight of the floor.” He drank again and squinted his eyes closed. “Thought I’d move some stuff up there, maybe get a pool table …”
“I’m moving in,” said Chris.
“… and, you know, make a rec room out of the place. So I get into the attic, right?”
Ryan nodded. Chris drained the last of his beer and set off in search of further supplies in the garage.
“And there’s a bunch of boxes. First one’s a stack of Playboys.”
Ryan cocked an eyebrow. “Any good?”
“If you want to see what your mom would have been like as a centerfold, yeah, they’re decent,” said Jack. “Second box is a nest of Christmas lights and a dead squirrel. Third was this.” He tilted the bottle toward the box on the table and grimaced.
“The hell would you label it?” Chris’s voice drifted in from the reserve-supply stash. “‘Hair, do not discard’?”
“Just curious,” muttered Ryan. “Anything … you know, attached to it?”
“I haven’t been digging, if that’s what you mean,” said Jack. “No way I’m putting my hand in there.”
“Weenie,” Ryan sighed, and opened the box a third time. Chris, who had by then discovered the Heineken, glanced up and moaned, “Aw, man.”
Using Jack’s grill implements like salad tongs and working over the last garbage bag in the house, Ryan emptied the contents of the box onto the kitchen floor and ascertained, to the unspoken relief of all present, that the charred hair wasn’t currently attached to anything.
“Could be a burned wig, right?” said Jack, examining the mess in his kitchen.
Ryan lifted a forkful to his nose and sniffed. “No. Besides, if this were synthetic, it would have melted or something. It’s just crispy.”
Suddenly, Chris jumped off the counter with a look of horror on his face. “Dude,” he said, backing away from the blond pile. “You guys know that play? Sweeney Todd?”
“Yes,” said Ryan, not looking up from his investigation.
Jack looked at Ryan, then back at the hair. “Aw, man. You had to bring that up, didn’t you? Shit.”
When Chris and Ryan arrived at the pool hall the next evening, Jack was in high spirits and had just won $20.
“You see that?” he beamed, thumbing at the pool table.
“Beautiful,” said Chris.
Ryan put a hand on his shoulder and leaned in. “What about you-know-what?” he whispered.
Furrows creased Jack’s brow for a moment, then he slapped them both on the arm and grinned. “That. Right. I talked to the agent this morning …”
“The agent with the ass or the agent who looked like Mrs. Pendleton?”
“… and she put me in touch with the previous owners. They’re out in a garden house now. The one with the ass.”
Chris nodded sagely, and let his mind wander out of the conversation.
“So I stopped by their place, right?” said Jack, turning to Ryan, who, while sharing Chris’s feelings for a certain ReMax agent, could at least pretend to listen. “There’s an old guy planting flowers in the front yard, and I introduce myself, and ask him about a box of hair in the attic. You know what he said?”
Ryan waited for it.
“It’s his daughter’s! There was a fireworks accident years ago and she just about set her head on fire. They had to cut it all off, but she didn’t want to get rid of it, so they stuck it up there and forgot all about it.”
Ryan took a drink and nodded. “Better than I’d previously thought. Still some pretty nasty shit. You want a beer?”
“If you’re buying.”
They wandered toward the bar, Jack’s winnings tucked away, and left Chris sitting at a table by himself, dreaming of real estate.
The next morning, Jack found a box containing a severed human hand, also slightly charred. After that, he stayed out of the attic.