The sagging walls did little to prevent the drunken hollers on the street from soaking through the water-damaged wood. Mavin hardly noticed, lost in thought atop the box spring mattress he rented at the Wayhouse. He saved up two months' rations—two months of finding new places to stash his water, and two months of paranoia over losing it—for just one night of privacy. One night of quiet.

A wooden box rested in his lap, fastened shut with a small brass clasp. Mavin traced the stained walnut woodgrain carefully with his waterlogged fingers, feeling along until they reached the centuries-old latch. He let out a long breath, closed his eyes, and unlocked the box.


The room door burst open, engulfing the small bedroom with morning sunshine and the think stench of onions and rotting flesh.
"Rise and shine, m'boy, the stew's waiting for ye in the kitchen," called the inkeeper, Maggie, through her gapped teeth. Mavin flailed in alarm, flopping off the bed in the process. "Eat up, on the house!"

Maggie shuffled back to the kitchen as Mavin picked himself up off of the floor. He latched his wooden box shut and tucked it under his arm, thanking Maggie in the kindest way possible for her generous offering of rancid meat and overdue vegetables, on his way out the door.

Mavin was on edge the whole way across town. Amos couldn't find out he was using again. He pulled his collar higher and kept moving north. Mavin looked toward the sun overhead. Sadie wouldn't wait for him all day, he thought, and opted for a shortcut he'd heard about from some old river dog a few years back. Sadie had a way out, and promised him a one-way ticket up North. It was only a matter of time before Amos would discover he was made off with 4 bottles of Sludge, and Mavin wasn't going to be around to find out what he would do once he found out.

- * - * -

A child chases a butterfly through young summer switchgrass. She laughs and skips through the long grass, oblivious to the growing distance between her and the painted structure of the Noah's Ark church. Her foot catches on something mid-stride, and young Beth topples over. Losing her footing isn't unusual for Beth, but this time the flattened grass revealed something peculiar. Curiosity drew her closer. Beth brushed aside the remaining switchgrass and found a dark, wooden box sunken into the soggy ground. A glint of yellow metal caught her eye, and Beth instinctively reached to open the dirty clasp.

"Beth! Elizabeth Werner where are you? What did I say about running off without telling me? Beth!" her mother, Kate, called between panting breaths, searching for their adventurous daughter. Relieved to finally discover her daughter among the sea of grass, her mother asked, "Beth, is that you? What have you got there?" Kate shrieked and snatched a glass bottle full of black fluid from the little girl's hands.


"She was trying to get the bottle open, we were lucky to find her when we did. Can you imagine? Our little girl, youngest sludge-hound in Columbus." Kate laughed weakly, stroking her forehead.

"As long as she's a paying customer!" Wade chuckled. Kate shot him a look. Wade fidgeted at the shop counter and coughed. "So, uh, how much are you looking to get for this here piece of junk?" Wade's customary sideways grin returned to his tired face.

"I don't care, I just want to get rid of it!"

Wade handed Kate a few odds and ends that had been sitting on the shelf for a while and thanked the young mother for her business. He chuckled once more to himself. Wade could only dream of what Marvin Conway would pay for the old box at his old-world junk "museum." A buyer's a buyer, he resolved with himself, and placed the box on a shelf behind the counter. Wade opened the lid gently for display and loped off to the back room.
Alone among the widgets and junk, free from prying eyes and callous hands, long since the last dying echoes of worlds past—a click.

Long after Conway never arrived and Wade had forgotten anyway, the old box sat patiently upon the shelf. Although no ear would hear it, a faint, delicate melody floated along the thick summer air. The tired bells sang their final song.

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.
You make me happy when skies are grey.
You never know, dear, how much I love you.
Please don't take my sunshine away.