The Thief

The Thief

By: James G. Boswell

Judy sipped her beer at the bar and listened while the man behind her spoke into his phone. Country music played from the stereos overhead as pool balls clacked together. A dank, skunky smell hung in the air. The man whisper-shouted and slurred his words as he said, “I have a copy of the key. All you have to do is go in there, get the money, and walk out with it.”

Glancing behind her, she saw that he sat alone in an old wooden booth. Two empty plastic beer pitchers rested on the table in front of him.

“I told you already. My ex-wife’s mother just died, and she was sitting on a pile of cash. I know because one time I saw her hide a wad of bills when she thought I wasn’t looking. The money’s in that house outside of Booneville, the one with the weird neon green trim. We’ve got to get it now before she sells the place.”

He paused, then said, “Because I need your help, that’s why. If I get caught snooping around there, they’ll revoke my probation. I’m not going back to jail for anything, man.”

He paused again, then said, “Look, nobody even knows it’s there. My ex doesn’t even know about it, or else she would’ve said something. Her mother was the most secretive person I’ve ever met. It makes sense that she’d hide her money from everyone, even her own daughter. They were never on good terms, anyway.”

He paused once more, then said, “Fine, I’ll do it without you.” Then he hung up and said to himself, “As soon as I have another beer.”

The man stood and lurched over to the bar, tripping over his own feet. The bartender looked at him and said, “I think you’ve had enough, buddy. Let me make you some coffee, instead.”

The man scoffed with disgust, then turned and wobbled out the door. Its rusty metal hinges whined in protest as he pushed it open. Judy followed him into the parking lot which was orange-lit in the nighttime darkness. She looked all around for him, but he was gone.

Sighing in disappointment, she shook her head and started to walk towards her car. But then something glinted on the cracked pavement in front of her. It was a key.

“Welcome to Booneville, Population 500.”

The cracked, faded sign appeared in Judy’s headlights. The gravel road ground beneath her wheels. Skeletal tree limbs seemed to swipe at her from the darkness as she drove past.

She spotted a small wooden house set back from the road. She would’ve missed it if not for the strange neon green paint that covered its trim. She continued on a couple miles past it before pulling off to the side of the road.

She got out of her car and a warm breeze enveloped her. Crickets chirped while small animals scurried through the brush unseen. Moonlight illuminated the road. She giggled with excitement and began walking back toward the house.

The breeze grew colder and colder as she went on, and the nature sounds became quieter and quieter. Finally, she stepped into the house’s front yard and everything fell silent. Shivering, she could see her breath in the air.

Large windows with open shutters covered the house’s front wall, allowing her to see that it was dark inside. With slow, cautious movements, she stepped up onto the porch and towards the front door. Her footsteps made hollow clicking noises. The sound reminded her of a chicken bone wind chime her brother had made when they were children.

She cupped her hand against the door and listened. Hearing nothing, she took the key out of her pocket, slid it into the keyhole, and turned it. The latch unlocked, and a tingle ran down her spine.

The door made a wet popping sound as she pushed it open and stepped inside. The air felt warm and humid and smelled like money.

Moonlight spilled through the windows, illuminating the living room where she now stood. The walls and floors were wooden, as were a bench, a chair, a coffee table, and a bookcase. The room was otherwise devoid of furnishings or decorations.

Judy saw two recesses against the far wall. One led to a small kitchen with wooden cabinetry, a round table, and four chairs. The other led to a tiny bedroom with a wooden bed frame, a nightstand, and some shelving.

She walked toward the kitchen and the floor bowed beneath her. The sensation reminded her of walking across a trampoline. She touched the wall to steady herself. It was warm with a texture more like leather than wood, and it seemed to pulsate.

Out of breath from the walk, she decided to rest a moment. She tried to pull out one of the chairs from the kitchen table, but it didn’t move. She tugged at the chair next to it, but that one didn’t move, either.

Looking at the chairs’ legs, she found them fused with the floor. The same was true of the table legs.  She went back into the living room and pulled at all the furniture, finding it merged with the floor as well. Everything she touched felt warm and leathery, despite the appearance of wood.

Disconcerted, she headed for the front door. She glanced into the bedroom as she went and noticed a bill of currency laying on the ground. While she stood there looking at it, the money smell in the air intensified. As if on impulse, she walked over and picked it up.

When she did, she noticed another one laying nearby, then another, and another. She followed the path to a shadowy corner in the room. There she found a wooden chest a meter across and a half-meter tall concealed in the darkness. A chain extended straight out from its right side.

She ran her hands along the chest, and it was warm with a leathery texture like the rest of the furniture in the house. Then she knelt down to undo the clasp and raised the lid. Inside it was an enormous pile of cash, and she gasped in awe at the sight. The smell of money became overwhelming.

Her hands shaking, she scooped up two handfuls of cash and pressed them to her face, inhaling their aroma. But then she realized she couldn’t see the bills’ denominations. She went over to the window and held the money up to the moonlight.

With surprise and confusion, she saw that there were no numbers on the bills. Instead, there were only squiggly lines resembling numerals. The designs on them were nothing but shapeless blotches.

Then she realized that the cash didn’t feel right. It was too thick and rubbery, more like dead skin than money paper. She noticed a patch of hair growing from one of the bills and dropped them in revulsion. Their once-alluring scent now made her nauseous, and she vomited.

Feeling weak, she stumbled toward the exit, but the door closed in front of her in one slow, fluid movement. Then the window shutters closed, leaving her in total darkness. Behind her, a huge tongue protruded out of the chest as it sprouted rows of shark-like teeth.

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