Cartons (Ginger Man 14A)

Charlie hesitated before entering the tent. To revisit the location where he and Mike had spent so much of their childhood together . . . the fact that his friend was dead had never really left his mind the past week as he re-discovered Mike’s stories, re-read them to find out if they could help him make sense of what he and his friends had been experiencing. But standing now in front of Mike’s tent, — the devastating accident, the sudden and violent and most of all, senseless death of his friend, hit him like the runaway car that Mike had rammed into that tree on Pete’s Elbow.

He swallowed, feeling the dryness in his throat. Charlie knew he had come too far, not just physically but emotionally, to turn back now. He drew back the flap of the tent’s opening, bent forward, and shuffled inside.

The interior of the tent smelled damp and mildew-ridden, with a hint of spoiled meat. Exactly as Charlie had remembered. In the darkness he made out the shape of the two plastic cartons Mike had brought to the tent five, six years ago. The one on the right, Charlie strained his eyesight in the dim light and after a moment saw that this was the clear one, and with further concentration he made out its contents, the shapes of comic books and magazines stacked unevenly, like pancakes flipped haphazardly onto a plate. The one on the left, Charlie remembered it being opaque (green, he thought, but there was no way for him to make out colors in the forested darkness). His curiosity suddenly inspired, Charlie crawled over to the container, and opened it. He had no idea what he expected to find — perhaps more comics and magazines, or notebooks.

The interior was pitch black, but Charlie could make out the shape of the objects inside. No way  . . . he grabbed the sides of carton, lifted it an inch above the tent’s canvas floor, lurched forward and pushed it outside. He nearly ripped the tent’s opening as he rushed out, eager to discover whether in the soft moonlight he would be able to verify the contents he thought he had just seen.

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