Sean first saw the large yellow box through the bus window on the way to school one Monday morning. It was as tall as his father and as squat as his mother. With a hinged door on top it looked like a metal collection box of some sort, but it didn't possess the name of the organization sponsoring it or a list of items to be collected. Sean studied the large yellow box until the school bus carried him away from the street corner it dominated.
Later that morning Sean sat at his desk in his fifth-grade class staring out the window. He couldn't concentrate on his lessons. Being spring and close to the end of the school year was bad enough, but he kept thinking about the large yellow box. It had not been on the corner of Juana Way and Kings Mills Road the previous Friday when he came home from school. Yet it didn't look new. Who put it there? What was it for?
On the bus ride home Sean pointed the large yellow box out to several of his friends. Only Aaron seemed interested.
"I'll find out what it is," Aaron said, dashing to the front of the bus. Sean heard the driver's stern admonition for Aaron to return to his seat. He barked his usual outrageous laugh as he dashed back. "Mrs. Carter says it's a collection box. Like Goodwill."
"It doesn't say Goodwill," Sean said.
"She didn't say it was Goodwill. She said it was like Goodwill."
"But it doesn't say anything," Sean insisted.
"Shee! What's the big deal?"
The big deal was that a large yellow box had suddenly appeared in his neighborhood. Sean knew his neighborhood. There was the doughnut tree (an oak tree with its center cut out to allow the passage of power lines). And Deadman's Cliff (a sharply eroded hillside where despite its name no one had actually ever died). And Smitty's Pond (who Smitty was he had no idea). There was the wooded area of the old farm behind his house that had never been plowed because it was too hilly and rugged. Now there was this unexplained large yellow box.
Sean had to learn more about it. So he asked his father. "Sean, I'm watching the news."
Then he asked his mother. "I didn't see it, Sean."
And he asked his thirteen year old sister Celia. "Who cares, pond scum?"
Every day going and coming from school he studied the large yellow box. He never saw anyone around it. He stopped talking about it with his friends because nearly everyone made fun of him for his obsession. When he described the large yellow box to his teacher she came up with the same answer his bus driver had given - that it was probably a collection box. But what did it collect?
Sean had to find out. One day after school he rode his bike to the street corner opposite the large yellow box. It appeared harmless. But mysterious. Like the Hanover house, which everyone said was haunted. It was only a house, but what a house it was. This was only a box. But boy, what a box.
The next day after school Sean returned to the same street corner with Aaron. "Why don't you go look inside?" he said. Sean shrugged. "Chicken!" Aaron taunted as he raced across the intersection on his bike, ignoring the screeching brakes and blaring horn of an irritated motorist. Sean grinned as he followed. This was just what he had hoped for. Aaron was fearless.
Aaron jumped off his bike and kicked the box. The metal rang dully.
"Don't kick it!" Sean said as he stopped several feet away.
"Why not?" Aaron kicked it harder. "It's already beat up." He walked around to the back. "It's a piece of junk."
Sean had never been this close. It was dented and scratched up, and rust showed beneath the cracked and peeling yellow paint. Maybe Aaron was right. It was just a piece of junk.
Aaron screamed! From behind the box!
Sean jumped off his bike and ran around back. "What's wrong?" he yelled from a safe distance.
He found Aaron leaning against the box laughing. "Did you think the box got me?"
Sean was too relieved to be angry. Until he noticed some markings by Aaron's right shoulder. "What's that?" Sean asked, pointing.
Aaron turned to look. Then he reached up high to peel off a long strip of flaking yellow.
"Don't do that!" Sean protested heedlessly. He grew quiet as the peeled-off paint revealed a crude drawing. A woman was laying on her back across a table. On one side of her was a large man in robes that looked like a priest. On the other side was a monstrosity with a gaping fanged mouth and long clawed tentacles - something out of a nightmare.
"This is nothing," Aaron said. "I've seen better graffiti in the girls’ bathroom. Give me a boost." Sean stared fearfully at the drawing without moving. "Chicken? Really? Of this hunk of junk?" Aaron pounded the side with his fist.
"Okay, just quit hitting it." Sean got down on hands and knees. Aaron stepped up on his back and grabbed hold of the handle. The rusty hinges creaked and groaned as he raised it to look inside. "What do you see?"
"Nothing." The metal door banged shut as Aaron hopped down. He picked up a sharp rock and made a long jagged scrape across one side.
"Aaron, don't!" But Sean could not stop his friend from scratching his initials on the front of the box, and Sean's initials, and a colorful four-letter word. Then Aaron barked his usual defiant laugh as he threw the rock against the box and jumped on his bike and sped away. Sean quickly followed.
Aaron's defacing sapped all the mystery from the large yellow box. Sean lost interest in it. Until late one Friday night he was returning home from seeing a movie with his family. He was gazing out the car window imagining the vampires from the movie climbing in through his bedroom window. When he saw it. In the light of the full moon shining brightly in the cloudless night sky. A large man in flowing black robes standing next to the large yellow box. There was something in his hands. As he raised it up to the door of the box Sean saw it move. The man opened the door and shoved it through, then disappeared into the night.
"Did you see that?" Sean exclaimed to Celia, sitting next to him in the back seat.
She looked up from her phone. "See what?"
"That man just dropped something into the box back there."
"It is a collection box, bobble-head."
"But it was moving! Whatever he put in there was alive!"
"You inbred! Are you going to start on all that moronic stuff again?"
Their mother turned around to glare. "Celia! Stop calling your brother names." Then she turned toward Sean's father. "I told you we shouldn't have taken Sean to see that movie. He's too young."
"He'll get over it," Sean's father said.
"Yeah? When he wakes up tonight with nightmares, you deal with it."
His sister was right, though. He was going to start again. And his mother was right, too. Sean had nightmares that night. But they weren't about vampires. This was the first time he had ever seen anyone put something in the large yellow box. And it had moved. Sean lay awake in bed, shivering. Several of his friends had reported pets missing. And there were a large number of notices, many more than usual, posted in his neighborhood concerning lost dogs and cats. And whatever that man had dropped into the large yellow box had moved. But why would anyone drop a live animal into a collection box?
Early the next morning Sean went to see Tammy, a girl in his class who lived in his neighborhood. She answered the door in her pajamas. "I saw the notice about your missing dog," Sean told her.
Her face lit up. "You found him?"
"No. But I know what might have happened to him."
Her six year old brother ran up to join them at the open door. "He found Trouble?"
Sean looked to the boy, who was also in his pajamas, and shook his head no. Then he looked back to Tammy. "We need to talk."
"About Trouble?" Tammy asked.
"About a lot of things," Sean said.
Tammy stepped back and motioned Sean to enter. When she led him to the stairs to the second floor, her mother called out, "Breakfast will be ready in ten minutes."
When they started up the stairs her brother followed. Tammy stopped to admonish him. "Paul. Go back down and watch cartoons."
"No. I want to hear about Trouble."
Tammy gave up and continued to her room. As Sean walked in behind her he saw a shelf lined with trophies and awards and team photographs. "Are all those yours?"
Sean looked them over. Basketball. Softball. Gymnastics. Archery. Volleyball. Swimming. He turned to look at her. "You're some athlete."
"I've got some, too," Paul said.
"Not now," Tammy said.
They all sat on the floor and Sean told them everything he knew about the large yellow box.
Tammy was skeptical. "So you think some man is dropping pets into it? Why?"
Sean shrugged. "A lot of pets went missing after that box showed up."
"Then call the police."
"Yeah," Paul agreed with his sister. "Stranger danger. Nine-one-one."
"You don't believe me," Sean said. "Do you think a policeman will?"
"Then what do you want to do?" Tammy asked.
"Stake it out," Sean said. "Tonight. Catch him in the act."
"Okay," Tammy agreed.
Sean was surprised. "I thought you didn't believe me."
"I don't," Tammy replied, smiling. "But it sounds like an adventure."
Late that night after Celia had finally turned off her light, Sean rose from bed and dressed. He loosened the screen in his window and climbed out. A nearly full moon in a once-again cloudless sky made for a bright night. There was a curfew for kids his age, so Sean crept through backyards. The fences were no problem, and he easily dodged the dim solar landscape lighting. But a motion detector spotlight in one backyard came on so suddenly and brightly he nearly screamed. He did scream at a large ferocious dog that charged him, but it only chased him out of its yard.
Sean was relieved to arrive at Tammy's house. He threw a small rock at her window like he had seen done in movies. Hers and Paul's faces appeared. She opened her window and, agile as a cat, sprang down to the ground. Then did a cartwheel for good measure. Paul tumbled out after her. Sean and Tammy pulled him out of the shrubs.
"I said you weren't going," Tammy admonished.
"I want to find Trouble," Paul insisted.
"And you," Tammy turned her ire on Sean. "You're wearing a white tee shirt."
Only then did Sean realize Tammy was dressed in black sweats. He shrugged. "I was afraid you'd be asleep."
Tammy remained belligerent. "How could anyone sleep with the Dunlap's dog barking at you?"
"I outran it," Sean shrugged again. His shoulders were getting tired from shrugging.
"Yeah, right. They have an invisible fence." Shaking her head in dismay, she ran off. "Try to keep up."
Tammy raced off into the night. Paul grinned at Sean. "Be a cheetah." Then he ran after his sister. Sean lagged behind. Tammy led them on a much less perilous route than Sean had taken to her house. Obviously, she knew the dark terrain of their neighborhood much better than Sean. He needed to get out at night more.
When Sean caught up with the sister and brother they were squatting behind a bush across the street from the large yellow box. "There's nothing going on," Tammy said.
"Just wait," Sean replied.
The large yellow box appeared even more ominous in the jagged shadows and silvery light of the still night. It was late. No cars passed, few houses burned lights. But Sean took little notice of this. He stared only at the box. It sat as still as an undetonated bomb.
Several more houses went dark. Sean's legs went numb. Still, he stared at the box. The only time he looked away was when Tammy whispered a police car was coming. They all three huddled in tightly behind the bush as the cruiser eased down the street. Once it was out of sight his eyes returned to the large yellow box.
Later, Sean was startled by Tammy's harsh whisper. "I'm going home. Nothing is happening."
"Don't leave," Sean pleaded.
"I have to go to the bathroom."
Seeing how Tammy squeezed her legs together convinced Sean she was telling the truth. "Go to the bathroom here. I won't look."
"No way," Tammy huffed.
Sean was getting desperate. "Then leave Paul here."
"I can't leave Paul," Tammy insisted. "He's six."
"So?" Sean said. "At least I won't be alone."
"He's asleep anyway." Tammy nudged her brother with her foot, but it didn't rouse him as she had hoped.
Sensing his opportunity to learn the truth about the large yellow box slipping away, desperation seized Sean. "Wait just another minute while I go look. Okay?"
"Alright. But hurry."
Sean looked up and down the street. All the nearby houses were dark and everything was quiet. He sprang upright and scurried across the street. Sean skidded to a stop before the large yellow box. He glanced back over his shoulder at the safety he had abandoned. He could not see Tammy or Paul. Had they left? Was he alone? Or were they still behind the bush watching him?
Sean froze. He heard something. A low moan, a soft rumbling. From inside the box. The sound chilled his bones. What was in there? Again he heard it, very low, very soft, drawn out. There couldn't be anything in there. Aaron looked. But it had been dark inside the box, and daytime. Perhaps if something was inside it slept during the day and was awake only at night. That hushed growl went on and on. Sean pressed his ear and fingertips to the side of the box. The metal vibrated with the deep throaty inhuman noise. A sudden thought slid down his spine. The missing pets. What if there was something in this box, something alive, a nocturnal thing, that had to be fed, at night?
"What are you doing, boy!"
Terror crippled Sean so badly he could only turn his head a little, to look up. Towering above was the same man he had seen beside the box the night before. He was huge. His face twisted into a horrifying scowl. His long black robes and dark skin seemed well-suited to the nighttime, as if he, too, were a nocturnal creature. Sean believed the darkly-camouflaged man could move unseen through the night. And that voice! It had the same deep guttural quality of whatever was inside the box.
Two powerful hands seized Sean. The fingers dug painfully into his soft shoulders. He could not scream, could not fight back. He could only stare up into that death mask of a face. Then he felt himself lifted off his feet. Sean managed only a low moan. He nearly fainted when he realized what was happening. The man was raising Sean up to the swinging door. He was going to drop him into the large yellow box. Food for whatever creature dwelled within.
"Put him down!"
Sean looked in the direction of the shrieking voice. Tammy and Paul had come out from behind their bush. Tammy continued to scream, and Paul threw rocks. Sean heard several of them hit the side of the box. Then he saw a light in the house behind the collection box come on.
Sean hit the ground with a jarring thud. Dazed, he looked around. The man was gone.
Across the street, Tammy gestured frantically and shouted, "Come on!"
Sean clambered to his feet. He staggered across the street to his friends.
The trio ran away. This time Tammy didn't race ahead. She stayed at Sean's side and held his hand all the way back to his house.
After helping Sean in through his window, she peered into his face with concern. "Are you okay?"
"My shoulders are sore."
"Let's see." Tammy reached in through the window to help Sean peel his tee shirt off. Both shoulders were deeply bruised. She studied them.
While Sean studied Tammy. "You saved my life."
"Me, too," Paul said, from behind his sister. "I threw rocks."
Tammy looked up from his shoulders. "That was so scary."
"What was that thing?" Sean asked with a shudder.
"I don't know," Tammy replied as she probed his bruises with care. "But I'm telling my dad about it tomorrow."
"He won't believe you," Sean managed between winces. His shoulders were sore.
Noting the winces, Tammy released his shoulders. "He'll believe me. I’ve never lied to him. He'll tell the police. And if they won't do anything about it, he will."
"He's got a cutting torch," Paul said with six-year old finality.
But there was no need for the police or for Tammy's father's cutting torch. Sean couldn't sleep that night, so at first light he rode his bike to check on the box. It was gone. Still, he approached the corner on tip-toes. To his amazement there was no trace the box had ever been there. Even the grass that had been underneath it was as green as the rest of the grass on that street corner.
Sean said nothing about his adventure to his family. He knew they would not believe him, and that Celia would ridicule him. He did tell Aaron, but even he scoffed. Yet Sean felt a powerful bond with Tammy and Paul. The three of them had saved the pets of Shadytown, and Tammy and Paul had saved him from being eaten alive by a monster.