“This sounds too good to be true,” Judy thought, listening to the man behind her speak as she sipped her beer at the bar. A dank, skunky smell hung in the air. Pool balls clacked together. Country music blared from the stereos overhead.
“No, you listen to me,” he said, slurring. “You were supposed to be here an hour ago.”
Glancing behind her, Judy saw that he sat alone in an old wooden booth. Two empty plastic beer pitchers rested on its laminated tabletop in front of him.
“Don’t back out on me now,” he said, whisper-shouting.
“My ex-wife’s mother just croaked, and she was sitting on a pile of cash. I saw her hide a wad of bills in her secret stash once when she thought I wasn’t looking. It’s somewhere in that house outside of Booneville, the one with the weird neon green trim. We’ve got to get it now before she sells the place. You don’t even have to break in because I have a copy of the key. All you have to do is walk in there, find the money, and walk out. It will be like nothing happened.”
He paused, then said, “Because I need your help, that’s why. If I get caught snooping around there, they’ll revoke my probation. I’m not going back to jail, man.”
He paused again, then said, “Look, nobody even knows it’s there. My ex doesn’t even know about it, or else she would’ve said something. Her mother was the most secretive person I’ve ever met. It makes sense that she’d hide her money from everyone, even her own daughter. They were never on good terms, anyway.”
He paused once more, then said, “Fine, I’ll do it without you.” Then he hung up and said to himself, “As soon as I have another beer.”
The man stood up and lurched over to the bar, tripping over his own feet. The bartender looked at him and said, “I think you’ve had enough, buddy. Let me make you some coffee, instead.”
He scoffed with disgust, then turned and wobbled out the door. Its rusty metal hinges whined in protest as he pushed it open. Judy walked out into the parking lot, orange-lit against the nighttime darkness. She looked for him there, but he was gone.
Sighing in disappointment, she shook her head and started to walk towards her car. But then something glinted on the cracked pavement in front of her. It was a key.
“Welcome to Booneville, Population 500.”
The cracked, faded sign appeared in Judy’s headlights. The gravel road ground beneath her wheels. Tree limbs reached out from the darkness like creatures beckoning from the abyss.
She passed a small wooden house set back from the road. She would’ve missed it if not for the strange neon green paint that covered its trim. She continued on a couple miles past it before pulling off to the side of the road.
She got out of her car and a warm breeze enveloped her. Crickets chirped as small animals scurried through the brush unseen. Moonlight illuminated the road while she walked back towards the house. She giggled with excitement.
The breeze grew colder and colder as she went on, and the nature sounds became quieter and quieter. Finally, she stepped into the house’s front yard and everything fell silent. Shivering, she could see her breath in the air.
Large windows with open shutters covered the house’s front wall, allowing her to see that it was dark inside. With slow, cautious steps, she walked up onto the porch and towards the front door.
Her footsteps made hollow clicking noises. The sound reminded her of a chicken bone wind chime her brother had made when they were children.
She cupped her hand against the front door and listened for movement. Hearing nothing, she took the key out of her pocket and slid it into the keyhole. Then she turned it and the latch unlocked.
The door made a wet popping sound as she pushed it open. She stepped through the door and found that the air inside the house felt warm and humid and smelled of money.
Moonlight spilled through the windows, illuminating the living room where she now stood. The walls and floors were wooden, as were a bench, a chair, a coffee table, and a bookcase. The room was otherwise devoid of furnishings or decorations.
Judy saw two recesses against the far wall. One led to a small kitchen with cabinetry, a round table, and four chairs. The other led to a tiny bedroom with a wooden bed frame, a nightstand, and some shelving.
The floor bowed beneath her as she moved. The sensation reminded her of walking across a trampoline. She touched the wall to steady herself, and it felt warm with a texture more like leather than wood.
Out of breath from the walk, she decided to rest a moment. She tried to pull out one of the chairs from the kitchen table, but it was stuck. She tried to pull out another, but it didn’t move, either. They both felt warm and leathery to the touch as well.
Looking at one of the chairs’ legs, she saw that they weren’t nailed down. Instead, it was as if they’d somehow fused with the floor. She found that the table affixed the same way, as was the furniture in the living room.
Disconcerted, she headed for the door, glancing into the bedroom as she went. There, she noticed a single bill of currency laying on the ground. While she stood there looking at it, the money smell in the air intensified. As if on impulse, she walked over and picked it up.
When she did, she noticed another one laying nearby, then another, and another. They were like breadcrumbs leading to a shadowy corner of the room. She followed the path, picking up each bill until she reached the end. It led her to something she’d overlooked in her initial search.
A wooden chest a meter across and a half-meter tall sat concealed in the darkness. A chain extended straight out from its right side. She ran her hands along its exterior and found that it too emanated warmth.
She knelt down to undo the clasp and then raised the lid. Inside was an enormous pile of cash, and she gasped in awe. The smell of money became overwhelming.
Hands shaking, she scooped up two handfuls and pressed them to her face. She inhaled the intoxicating aroma of wealth. But then she realized she couldn’t see the bills’ denominations. She went over to the window and held the money up in the light.
With surprise and confusion, she saw that there were no numbers on the bills, only squiggled lines that resembled numerals. What first appeared to be the portraits and figures on the bills’ design were instead shapeless blotches. The cash didn’t feel right in her hands, either. It was too thick and rubbery, more like dead skin than money paper. Then she noticed a patch of hair growing from one of the bills and dropped them all in revulsion. Their once-alluring scent now made her nauseous, and she dry-heaved.
Feeling weak, she stumbled to the exit, but the door closed in front of her. The window’s shutters closed, leaving her in total darkness. Behind her, a huge tongue protruded out of the chest as it sprouted rows of shark-like teeth and began to drool.
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