It’s too late.
The bell is tolling.
Heinsdorf Rickenrauser clutched the pillow. He squeezed it like an accordion, it expanded and contracted with each breath.
The hotel room was plain if not a little worse-for-wear; and worse-for-wear if not a little grimy. The wallpaper (green) was peeling in places and the single bed looked like it had been stolen from a prison. There was a communal bathroom down the hall, but it always seemed to be occupied by the same man.
Still, Rickenrauser hadn’t thought much about where he was checking in. He only knew that it needed to be close to the church; the church where he was supposed to have delivered a very important package before the bells tolled.
It’s too late.
Despairing, playing his accordion pillow, Rickenrauser glanced about the room. There was a painting on the wall of tiny men fighting against something big with spears. It seemed oddly out of place. And then he looked at his briefcase, which was open on the floor and the small package wrapped in black plastic that he was supposed to have delivered.
“What is it?” he’d asked.
“Important,” the man in the business suit had told him.
“They’ll be safe,” said the man. “Deliver the package in the morning. Make sure it is in the hands of the priest before you leave—do not leave it sitting on a pew. And the most important thing is that you deliver it before the bell tolls.”
The bells were silent now, but in Rickenrauser’s head they were still ringing. How had he missed it? He’d woken early. He’d kept vigil by staring out the grimy window at the row of identical buildings across the street. And yet somehow, around 5am, he must have inexplicably fallen asleep in his chair, dozed with his head against the window and woken when the bells had started tolling…
Now he was alone, all alone and the hotel room seemed to be closing in around him. The wallpaper was suffocating him. He dropped the pillow.
Nothing for it, he thought to himself. Might as well find out what’s inside…
So he went to his briefcase and he took out the small black package and he sat on the side of the lumpy bed and turned it over between his hands. It was hard; solid, like a brick.
“What are you?” he said out loud in the empty room and at that moment there was a flurry of knocks at the door. Rickenrauser dropped the package in surprise and stumbled towards the door. “What is it?” he asked before he drew it open.
“Bathroom’s available,” said a man as Rickerauser half drew the door open. The man’s stench—rot and shit and who-knows-what-else was already creeping in the gap in the open door.
“Thank you,” said Rickenrauser and closed the door in the man’s face. The stench lingered and Rickenrauser glanced at the window. Of course it was bolted closed. Haplessly, Rickenrauser waved his hands about in an effort to clear the smell, but it was futile.
Grimacing, he went back around to where the black package had fallen on the floor and he picked it up.
He sat on the edge of the bed for a while, turning the package over in his hands. “What are you?” he said to it. His fingers sought the edges of the package where he could strip the black plastic away and find out what was inside. He thought back to the man in the business suit. He thought back to the reason he was doing this in the first place—to save the people he loved.
“Please, don’t hurt them,” he had said to the man who had given him the package.
“I can assure you that we want nothing less than to hurt your family,” said the man in the business suit. “It is simply an unfortunate consequence of this line of work. Collateral must be obtained in order to ensure compliance. Are you compliant, Heinsdorf Rickenrauser?”
“Yes, yes,” he had said. After all, the only thing he needed to do was deliver a package. What harm could there possibly be in that?
Rickenrauser tore the package open before he realised what he was doing. He half hoped it was a bomb, designed to explode when the package was unwrapped. Then, at least, he’d not have to worry about this sensation in his guts anymore. But it was not a bomb.
In fact, it was another box and when Rickenrauser turned this one over in his hands he saw that it was made from rigid plastic that unclipped at the center. He unclipped the plastic box and found yet another box inside. This one was small and velvety, the sort of box you’d put a ring in.
“What… are… you?” said Rickerauser as he opened the ring box.
Inside was something tiny and brown and… it was a human tooth.
Rickenrauser stared for a moment. The tooth—if that’s truly what it was—looked to be very old. As he moved towards the window to study it in the light a small piece of paper tumbled down and Rickenrauser snatched it from the air. It said:
Saint Elgaron, 886
Rickenrauser’s thoughts raced. Why so much secrecy? It just didn’t make sense. Perhaps he was a smuggler. Perhaps the relic had been stolen from some rival church. Is that who the man in the business suit worked for, the church?
Rickenrauser was on the floor, he couldn’t hear. The floor undulated beneath him and the thick glass windows cracked across the middle. There were noises in the distance that might have been screams, sirens, or both.
The tooth had fallen out of its container and now sat on the floorboards, ancient and insignificant.
Rickenrauser stared at it as he clung to the floor.