I’m either just feeling really drained right now or I’m purposefully making the title as painfully obvious as possible because, honestly, the whole thing is just absurd anyway. So, why not give people an early taste of what they’re in for? So yes, this piece is for Featured Fiction and this time I only very loosely followed the guidelines. I went more for a spy story but, because this is me, it’s only the first part of a much larger story… a story that I shan’t be finishing because I have too many going on right now already.
On that note, although I did write one more scene that came after this one, I decided not to include it because this little piece ended up being just under 2,000 words and I wanted to keep in the word limit this time. But NEXT TIME… next time you may not be so lucky!
Either way, this either isn’t my genre or I was just having too much fun playing around with the idea of a head in a box for me to take this prompt as seriously as I did the fantasy one.
Regardless, hope you enjoy it~
The morning dew hadn’t fallen yet, but I could feel it start to form like a soft little raincloud just above my head. Either way, a little bit of water wouldn’t kill us. “Move fast and work fast,” I said to Alex, taking a seat on the park bench. I was playing decoy and recon that night, to my mild annoyance. “I doubt the Syndicate will be stupid enough to try to reach us here but underestimating them is what got us into this mess in the first place.”
Alex nodded, fixing his glasses. He fingered the gardening trowel at his belt. “You don’t have to tell me,” he said. “But since when are we spies also gardeners?”
“Since other spies started to bury things in gardens,” I said, giving Alex a light kick on the shins. If I was being honest with myself, I was more than happy to play lookout for Alex after all of the exhausting work our dear Secretive Diplomacy Agency had been putting us through recently. After the Syndicate managed to hack into our network, our S.D.A. higher-ups had been running us ragged all along the Midwest trying to track down more vulnerable hotspots.
Tonight’s different I guess, I thought as Alex went to work behind me. Alex was mostly inside of a bush and with the bench and myself in front of him plus the cover of night, he would be hard to spot. The Boss gave us an easy job it seems- just dig up some package left for the S.D.A. and go on our way.
The job was done within the hour and we had moved ourselves and the package somewhere discreet, as per our instructions.
“You said this assignment would be a walk in the park, Cat,” Alex said. Then he punched me in the shoulder. “I punched you for making a stupid pun then and I’m doing it again.”
“How was I supposed to know that… this would happen?”
“Excuse me,” came the voice from inside the opened steel box, “but I am still in the room. I would prefer to be referred to as a ‘he’ and not a ‘this.’ Incidentally,” the voice continued in its calm, confident voice, “what year is it?”
“2016,” I said, walking over to the box. I thought I saw Alex cringe a little bit when he saw me walking its way. “How long do you think you were down in that box?” I cleaned off the remaining dirt and mud that clung to the box and reached inside. The box had a freezer apparently built into it which kept the interior almost cryogenically cold. Even after Alex dug the box up in the park the cold was eating through the insulated walls. Still, I think my hands had grown used to the cold a little bit because when I reached in again, I didn’t immediately start shivering. Either I was used to it or I didn’t expect the contents of the box to be so… warm.
For being just a head, I didn’t expect him to have the warmth of a full human body. But he did. And there I was, holding a severed head that blinked, looked around, and just as talked fine as anyone. The head’s narrow grey eyes scanned the room, as if he was taking in every detail. “Why is the year important-“
I stopped when a long stick appeared out of the corner of my eye and started jabbing into the head’s temple. I wheeled around and saw Alex holding a stick that he had likely taken with him from our time digging in the park. Neither of us had brought weapons- this was supposed to be a very simple, quick, and quiet mission: dig up a box, unpack it in a discrete location. Everything had gone according to plan, but Alex apparently saw fit to arm himself anyway.
Suddenly the head jerked around in my hands, turning to glare at Alex. “You’re a menace to society with that stick. You there,” the head said, obviously aiming his bullet-like words at me, “remove that weapon from this man’s possession.”
I reached for the stick, but Alex slunk back, holding the little twig against his body. “You’re going to listen to a talking head instead of your friend? What if he’s just trying to disarm us, Cat?”
“It’s a stick, Alex,” I said. “not Excalibur.”
“You just wait,” Alex said, throwing his stick away with a frown. “It won’t be long until it’s telling us to start shutting our eyes and dropping our pants.”
I think both the head and I shared the same expression of disbelief and confusion.
“It’s the principle of the matter,” Alex said, only getting more and more frustrated. “This head is trying to deceive us- disarm us and weaken us.”
“It’s a head,” I said, grabbing the head. “From a box. It’s not going to eat us, maim us, murder us in our sleep or-“ I paused when I caught myself shaking the head for emphasis. I set the head right again once its annoyed grumbling stopped. “Also,” I said, “this head is kind of important to us. The Boss wouldn’t have asked us to get it otherwise.”
“He told us to get a box in the park. Maybe there’s a dozen buried boxes out there in the park!”
I just waited for the stupidity of Alex’s own words to sink in and, as per usual, he shut himself up a little bit later.
“Well,” Alex said, trying to keep up the momentum of his emotional torrent, “the Boss did tell us to pick up this package right? Don’t you think he would have mentioned what was in it if it was… you know, a severed talking head?”
I had to admit, Alex kind of had a point. A random package pickup was hardly similar to finding a still-living human head.
“The Boss is the head of an international spy organization for a reason,” I said. “If he wasn’t good at keeping secrets he wouldn’t have gotten the job in the first place. I think we just gotta trust him. We always have.”
Alex crossed his arm and grumbled. Then his eye seemed to catch something and he quickly clambered over to the head and I.
“What’s that thing on his head… which is also his body I guess?” Alex said. He sounded a bit calmer and more curious than anything else, but there was still a hint of accusation in his voice.
The head started to complain as soon as I started to turn it over. “What are you- hey!” he shouted. I ignore him as I combed through the head’s thin brown hair, searching. I eventually found a square lump of gold metal sticking out about half an inch. I don’t know how I didn’t notice it before but I reasoned that digging through hair is probably one of the last things any reasonable person would do when they were faced with a talking head. And I often considered myself to be a very reasonable person.
I followed Alex’s lead for once and poked the metal cube. I had to give him credit for being cautious- the lump could have actually been some kind of tracking beacon or recorder, but it was too obvious to be either of those. If the Syndicate had already bugged the package, they wouldn’t have been so sloppy. It just wasn’t their way to do anything that could be considered “clear” or “expected” or “sane.” Still, I had to ask myself why somebody would install such a device onto a head in the first place.
“I’d rather you not poke at that,” the head squawked. “I may not know entirely how I ended up where I did and how I suddenly became five feet shorter, but I am fairly certain that little metal cube is keeping me alive.”
“Oh,” I said, looking more closely at it but keeping my fingers at a safe distance. “So that’s what it’s for.”
“I’d guess that it’s also what’s letting him talk,” Alex said. He had somehow snaked behind me and was peering over my shoulder. I could see that he was staring at the head with notably less murderous intent now. Although Alex’s specialty amongst us spies was sometimes seen as a liability- he was the man who solve problems after all other stealthy methods had been abolished. His usual choice of weapon was shaped roughly like a brick and made the volcano at Pompeii look like a haywire elementary school science experiment. Still, he knew a few things about computers, usually small ones like the one installed on the back of the head. “I think I recognize this, actually,” Alex said. “It’s a miniature life-support that shocks the brain to keep it running and siphons off neural impulses to understand speech.”
“Sounds expensive,” I said. The head nodded in my hands.
“It is,” Alex said. “But if I remember correctly, this is actually one of the first models. It came out only about six years ago, just a year before we became spies. The newer models are much higher quality now. No offense.”
“None taken,” the head said. “I’m just happy the thing is attached to me or I wouldn’t even be here.”
I had to wonder if he really was happy. I couldn’t imagine that being just a head, a head that was previously in a box underground, could be something worth being happy over.
“Are you sure about the date, Alex?” the head asked. I turned the head around to face Alex. I don’t entirely know why I did it, but I thought that maybe it would help facilitate some better conversation between the two. Or it would just give Alex a better chance to jab a stick in the head’s eye.
“Pretty sure,” Alex said. “Sometimes they’d strip explosive detonators for electromagnetic wave receptors to act as the receptors for brain waves in pieces like yours. But they only do that when older models are being manufactured to keep their production prices down. I followed just where old detonator scrap went one time just for the giggles. Turns out bombs end up making life-support mechanisms.” Alex shrugged and made a little chuckle. I responded in kind.
The head fell into thought for a moment and then said, “I see. This makes sense, then. If the year is indeed 2016 then… I think it is time to formally introduce myself. Cat, please hold me up so I may speak to the both of you.” I did so, shifting the head so it could get a clear look at both of us. “My name is Fredrick Toteliden. I was the Boss of the Secretive Diplomacy Agency for eighteen years until my death six years ago. After the Syndicate was successful in killing me, I suspect my body was lost, by my head remained intact. My life was preserved using the life-support machine and thus, I have remained as just a head.”
It didn’t help that I was holding Fredrick at such an odd angle because mixed with my stunned disbelief; I almost dropped one of the most important people in the S.D.A.’s history face-first flat onto the floor.
“Close your mouths, you look ridiculous gawking there like pigeons,” Fredrick said. “You both are agents of the S.D.A. and there is work to be done here!”
I would have loved to point out that a severed head shouldn’t shouting and squirming around like he was because A: Startling the person holding said head was a singularly bad idea and B: Fredrick might still have been able to fire me. Oh, and I had gotten over the whole ‘a head shouldn’t be moving around on its own’ thing. After all, stuff was just getting stranger and stranger anyway.
I hate that I had to court the Exposition Monster a little bit in the beginning there but whatever, it was worth it for the chance to write about a HEAD IN A BOX. Take a wild guess what my favourite part of writing the story was. Correct, making Fredrick’s last name. What did you expect me to say?
Anyway, good luck in your literary adventures you brave writer folk!