art by Tais Teng
C is for Crate
by Tim Pratt, Jenn Reese, Heather Shaw, Greg van Eekhout
Once upon a time, I was a college dropout living in a studio apartment so small, I could use the oven to heat the entire place. I spent my time picking up odd jobs, bouncing checks, and avoiding my landlord.
Or... maybe none of that is important. What I was before doesn't matter. I should start with "Once upon a time, I found a crate." Because, really, my story before that was so ordinary, so usual, that it bored me even while I was living it. It wasn't until that summer, when I was volunteering at the Reseda Animal Shelter for the free lunches and the ability to touch other living creatures without being arrested, that things got... interesting.
The crate was small, only a foot long on each side, and solid black. No air holes. No labels. Just a simple warning taped to the top and printed in a neat, even hand: EATS DREAMS.
I asked my boss Lindsey about the crate on my first day, and she said it had always been there, going back at least thirteen years to when she started. All anyone knew was that we weren't supposed to open it. Not ever.
I could hear something inside. The tiniest of scratches, so soft as if they were the memory of sound, not sound itself. Sometimes, late at night, when I slept at the shelter for the free A/C, I heard mewling. Tiny whimpers. Like a kitten so young its eyes were still closed, calling for its mother in the darkness.