Start at chapter 1.

My Dad used to listen to old vinyl LPs when he was feeling nostalgic for his boyhood or whatever I guess. He’d pour himself a drink of Pepsi with ice cubes, sometimes he’d add a splash of rye, but usually he just had the Pepsi. The music had a warm, regal sound.

I could go in there and sit with him but I wasn’t supposed to talk. Our dog Marsh would always whine to get in if the study door had been closed. He’d lie there at Dad’s feet with his head on his paws, looking attentive and relaxed and as though he could be in no better place.

After Dad died, Marsh and I used to go in there and listen to the records together. It was kind of our ritual to remember him by. Gradually, though, I stopped listening to the records. I guess it kind of seemed like a waste of time since I wasn’t really into the music anymore.

I don’t think this is important or anything, nothing you need to know. I don’t think it has much to do with my story at all. But maybe it does. Maybe when people are reading this, searching for clues, this will shed some light. I just think about him now. I wonder what he’d say. I wish I was back in the study with him and Marsh, listening to those old tunes.

I had time to kill before Brian’s hockey game so I headed back to the apartment to sleep in my bed for once, even if it was only for like an hour or so. Naps are good. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

I got there and saw that the elevator was working. So, of course, I decided to take it. There was a box inside, a big box with the label This Is A Box written on it and air vents in the top. Monster’s box.

I wondered why it was in the elevator. When I got to my floor I took it with me down the hall to Monster’s door. It wasn’t that heavy. I resisted the urge to shake it. I knocked on Monster’s door, then texted him when there was no answer.

He was still in class. Apparently, he’d put the box in the elevator before they’d decided that the elevator wasn’t working and had turned it off. It’d been stuck in there since.

I took it into my room to wait until Monster got back. I tried looking through the air vents but couldn’t see anything. What would need air vents anyway?

The sides were taped. If I undid the tape to open the box, Monster would be able to tell. But what if I took a picture of the box with the tape and then taped it up the same way after I’d looked inside?

Or you could just ask Monster what’s in the box, the voice of reason said. So I did that because I am a reasonable person. His reply was mysterious and frustrating, but mostly frustrating. One word: Albert.

Something called Albert was in the box? I thought about asking for further information, but I had a nap on my schedule, so I left Albert sitting in its box on my floor and lay down to try and sleep before I had to go to Brian’s hockey game.

This is really important, okay? I did not open the box. I swear to all the gods and goddesses that I thought about it, but did not. However, when I got up from my nap. The box was open. What was worse, it was empty. Albert, whatever Albert was, had gone.

So there I was freaking out about this empty box that I didn’t open when Monster arrived. I think I was kind of incoherent when I told him that I hadn’t opened the box, but someone had snuck into my apartment and opened the box—and now Albert was gone. “Poor Albert,” I said, not even knowing who or what Albert was.

“We’ll find him,” Monster said. “It’s not a huge problem.”

“I have to call Brian,” I said. “I have to cancel so I can help you look for Albert.”

“Oh, you don’t have to.”

“Yes,” I said. “I do. It’s my fault Albert is lost. Don’t argue.”

So he didn’t. He didn’t say anything, either, about how implausible it was that someone would have snuck into my apartment just to open a box. I was too chicken to actually call Brian. I just sent him a text saying a small emergency had come up and I couldn’t make it after all.

Then we started searching for Albert. Albert, it turned out, was a snake. A corn snake, one of the non-venomous kinds, thank goodness.

I wasn’t nervous about snakes or anything. But it would be hard to find Albert. Monster had some mice he suggested using to bait Albert with. But fortunately he let me convince him that this was probably a bad idea. Instead we started by doing visual checks of the entire floor, starting with my room and proceeding into the hall, down the hall, checking cracks that were big enough, vents and other tight spaces a snake might crawl through.

When we got to the elevator we realized we had a real problem. The elevator door had not closed completely and there was enough room for a determined snake to wriggle its way through the small space and down into the shaft. Basically, Albert could be anywhere in the building.

“See,” Monster said. “There’s still a problem with the elevator dor. It wasn’t working before and that’s why Albert got stuck in there. I’m going to go grab the mice.”

“Okay no! That’s a really bad idea.”

“I won’t let them free. Maybe Albert will hear them squeaking, or smell them, and get hungry.”

The rest of that evening was spent on a wild snake hunt. We paused for sub sandwiches, but apart from that…

We had no luck at all. WE got funny looks from the other tenants. Nobody questioned us, though.

“he’ll turn up,” Monster said,” when I for one had lost all hope.

“yeah,” I said, thinking about all the inopportune times Albert might decide to show up. In the dark, for instance.

There was one place we hadn’t check because the door had been locked. Unlike most of the living units, there was a sizable crack below this door, more than enough room for Albert to crawl beneath. It was down in the basement. Neither of us had liked being down there. It smelled and the lights were pretty dim. I had an idea though that if I could steal the key from the manager’s office and sneak down there, I might find Albert. I felt responsible. I knew it was an ill-considered plan, and I didn’t really ever mean to go through with it. It was kind of a half-hearted daydream. It wasn’t like I’d be able to get keys for that door anyways.

So imagine my surprise when I found on my counter the next morning a single key, liberated from its key ring and there waiting for me. What’s that? You can’t imagine that? Neither could I, and yet there the key was on my counter, mocking me. Scaring me.

You are losing it, Laura I told myself. I put the key in my pocket and went to class. I hoped the key would disappear during the day. It could go back into the depths of my imagination where it belonged. There was no way I was going through that basement door after a stupid snake. Not a chance. Nope.

Edmonton-based writer of scifi, fantasy, horror, and other weird fictions. No publication credits. Read at your own risk.

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