's 2014 Horror Write-off:

" Anodyne "

Submitted by Vague1

We buried it on my tenth birthday, my father and I. His present, unlike all the others, the assorted action figures and itchy clothes, was an enigma, apparent in neither provocation nor purpose. A long, brown box, like an overturned locker, stood tall among swaths of eviscerated wrapping paper.

Itís a time capsule, he said.

He must have seen my disappointment, the confusion in my face.

Weíll bury it in the backyard tonight and in a few years, weíll go dig it up, you and me, dig it up and see how much things have changed, was how he explained it.

So, we spent the night gathering relics. A piece of string as tall as I was, coiled small and tight, a few things from my bedroom, a worn pair of socks, the dayís newspaper, five dollars, a bundle wrapped in cloth, a short letter I wrote, and a set of photographs. The photographs were his, mostly. Old and faded, a muddy color. People Iíll never meet, faces lost to time. I was in a few. We took a new one of us both right then, and we put it in with all the others, and he took a big latch and snapped it tightly through the lock. He took a hammer and tapped it a few times. Said it was good luck. He took a piece of tape and spread it over the top, wrote something on it with a black ink marker which I couldnít read, and scratched a bit into the side with a little knife Iíve never seen since. Once he was done he turned to me and said in a few years after youíre all grown weíll come back dig it right back up again, but weíll need a key, and I know that I can trust you, so you keep this and keep it close. The thing he took out of his pocket was small and it glinted in the evening light. He held the key outstretched for a few seconds and I reached up and took it from his open palm. I put it in my pocket as he turned around and disappeared into the basement, and he returned carrying two shovels, both as tall as I was, and said, well, get digging, we donít have much light left and I donít want you up all night. He handed me a shovel and set to work.

That sundown set in with a long, beautiful blaze, shining crimson streaks and roiling fire-tinged magenta, and as the earth sank from one to two to five feet beneath, faded softly to a simmering dark blue glow over the peaks of houses beneath. The dark came slowly in upon us and the moon waxed high with beams of pure white light and hung at heavenís dead center as the shovel struck down for the last time and father declared that we had dug enough. We wrapped the box in heavy brown paper and, slowly, he lowered it down into the hole. Its metallic surface glinted faintly in the moonlight. He began to shovel the dirt back in, and I said that I was tired, he said go inside and get some rest if you like, Iíll take it from here it youíre too sleepy.

He was still working when I went to bed.

The next day when I woke the house was quiet and empty and I went out to see the hole we dug and filled back up but when I walked outside there was nothing but the hard, even ground to show for all the effort. My father went off somewhere, probably to work, I thought, heís gone and got a head start on the day and heíll be back soon. It was a bright summer day and the heat hung in the air and wrapped around it all and the world hung still and sweltering and I went back inside. I donít remember what I did the rest of the day but when night fell and my mother came home she asked whereís your father and I said I donít know, I thought you did and she looked at me like a stranger and said well heís probably here somewhere.

He wasnít. He was gone. Not just him but what he wore and where he worked and most anything we saw of him. His papers, his suitcase, shaving razor, the newspaper snippets, the corkboard, the desk, even the radio he brought home one day the year before that he stayed up listening to every night, not a trace of them was left, but the car was still there and the trail led nowhere.

The search didnít last long as the days wore into weeks and months and his return seemed less and less likely but I kept some bit of hope even when my mother stopped setting the table for three and listening for his footsteps up the front walk, I know that he wouldnít have left like they said he did and she knew too, so she said he had to but it seemed impossible. Few people cared but some offered their condolences and that didnít help at all. The summer wore on into fall and we went back to the grind. There was a drought that summer and the grass dried and shriveled in great swathes across the swaying croplands. The leaves browned and fell, most of them, a few leaves hung on but most fell, and the walk back home was lined with piles raked to the curb. The skies were mostly gray, but some evenings, they yellowed the whole outdoors.

Autumn wore on and winter came as the snow fell sparsely, thick and wet and mixed into the dirt along the roadsides. Most of the crops failed that year, corn, beets, fruits, what have you, and we fell back on our defaults, wheat and grains to fill ourselves and nuts in between.

A project started in our neighborhood. Next to it, really. The workmen said it was for a new development that they leveled the forest and dug up the dirt but the foundations were laid deep and wide in the upturned earth and soil piles were excavated all across the plains with nothing to show for it but the potential for another sprawl of identical beige houses in neat rows along the long, straight streets. They uprooted things Iíd known all my life and tore down the old houses in the forest and built new houses on top of them to last until theyíd be torn down again. Their roofs were as brown as the dirt they rose out of and the forest leveled and above the treeline where it used to be I remember I could see more houses still on the horizon stretching over to bridge the gap and meet them all together. More and more the people moved in and my mother said I had to leave someday soon because it was late for me to stay and so I went off to another town and another city and another neighborhood in a house unlike my home where I lived alone for some time. The drought came and scorched it all in the summer and froze it in winter and the springs were dreary with thick gray rain but in the autumns you could simply see it die its slow, brown death as the new neighbors who had never known anything else moved in along with them all. And they had children and childhoods, yes, but their children had the odd new look in them and in their dull eyes and thick tongues which became the usual sort of life.

It is strange, the things which can slip by unnoticed in the background. A feeling, a person, a color. Youíd never think that it could seep in through the background like that, but here it all is, the color that stained the whole world. I lived and saw the things I lived for rot away before my eyes as days progressed and the world mixed and changed and knew no better than it had ever known before but carried on despite itself in the slow long going on of time in years and decades. And now, after some time, I found it was my thritieth birthday, and I had no family left to celebrate with, and my home was far away.

I remembered that night twenty years ago. The night we buried it, my father and I.

I walked out of my house and climbed into the car waiting outside. The key fit into the ignition and it sputtered to life and drew on in a low steady whine and I drove for miles in silence. The world rolled by my windows in shades of brown and gray, from farmland to suburb, suburb to plains. The land was vast and empty, or it was full and boring with houses. I drove down that long, straight stretch of road for hours. I saw only brown. We no longer bleed red.

I neared my home. The land was level. It stretched dry, barren, and brown to the horizon. At the center of the drought-cracked plain was a patch of raised earth, darker than the rest. I took my shovel out of the car trunk.

The dirt around was hard and tough and came up in thick clods but as it deepened, it returned to its former softness. I dug for hours as the sun burned on through the monotone sky.

At last, I struck metal.

The time capsule was as I remembered it. Long and metallic, like an overturned locker. Here was the tape he had written on. Here was the etching he made with the knife. Here was the lock.

I pulled the tarnished golden key from my pocket.

It slid smoothly into the deadbolt and, with a click, it released its grasp. The door swung open.

Inside was a piece of string scarcely half my height, coiled into a little ball, clothes I had outgrown, a few useless rags, a historical relic, half an hourís salary, a bundle of cloth, some crude scribblings, and a set of photographs.

There were more photographs than I remembered.

My father in the forest behind our neighborhood.

My father sitting out by the fields.

My father and I sitting together, before I moved away from home.

My father standing by me as I unearthed the time capsule.

All in brilliant color.