The Ball Mason Jar

700 words –

Butch was sick and homeless. The 70-year old looked bad for his age, bending over a dipsy dumpster looking for scraps of food or something he could sell.

No luck. He shambled along for a couple of blocks until he came to the old Ball Glass factory. The fenced-in yard behind the now shuttered business was a dumping ground for the hundred years that the plant operated. He once found two antique Ball Mason jars buried in the yard and was able to sell them for $20.00. But that was a year ago.

He was a poor man’s picker with a good eye, when he wasn’t drinking cheap booze. He’d dropped out of “the system” after fighting for a year in Vietnam, in 1970. The streets were his home by choice. He counted on extra floor space in the old mission during really harsh weather.

All three pawn shops in town knew Butch. Each tolerated his eccentricities and weekly visits. Ninety-nine percent of the time, Butch brought worthless junk in and the pawnshop would end up giving him a small donation for it. He blended in with the street people of Titusville, but had no friends to hang around with. It was the way he wanted it.

Taking his vintage military entrenching tool from his backpack, Butch picked an area and began digging. He didn’t know what else to do. He had to keep trying. No one was going to come along and rescue his 70-year old ass anytime soon.

When he struck glass he was afraid it was a broken piece, but after carefully probing with his K-bar knife he uncovered a Ball Mason Jar in excellent condition. When he saw the lettering was upside down his heart skipped a beat. This was certainly unusual. He had a good feeling about it as he carefully wrapped it in his extra black scarf.

Jack Owens, the owner of Owen’s Pawn Shop, watched Butch shuffle by his display window and open the door. A bell greeted his entrance as he nodded at Jack and took off his OD green military backpack and set it on the floor. He carefully opened it and took out the glass jar still wrapped in the black scarf.

Interest crossed Jack’s features when he set the Mason Ball jar down on the glass counter. It was unique. As an expert on both Ball and Kerr Mason jars, Jack quickly noticed the lettering was upside down. He pulled out a book off the shelf behind the counter and flipped through it. Then he got on his cell phone and went into his office.

As the minutes passed Butch got uneasy. He was starting to re-wrap the jar when Jack returned.

Hold on, Butch!” he said. “I’m sorry I took so long, but I wanted to confirm how much your jar was worth.”

“And….?”

“Believe it or not, you found a really rare jar that was made in the very early 1900’s. Your jar was made in limited quantities, which is desirable to serious collectors. At auction, you probably could get $1,000, or more, for it!”

Butch’s eyes opened wide in surprise.

“What would you offer for it?” Butch bluntly asked.

“It’s a nice piece,” Jack said as he examined it. “The most I could offer is $500. It might take me years to sell it, and it takes up space meanwhile.

Five hundred dollars. It was the most money he saw in one place since he was in the Army.

“Any chance you’d give me $600 for it?” Butch wheedled.

Jack smiled. “You drive a hard bargain Butch. How about $550.00?

“Sold!

“How do you want the money? In hundreds, or twenties?” Jack asked as he opened the cash register.

His voice sounded funny to him, a little on the high side, as Butch replied, “Twenties.”

Later, after renting a motel room, eating at a fast food restaurant, and buying two bottles of good Irish whiskey, Butch stretched out on a bed and opened one. He took a big gulp and grinned. The last thought in his head was, “It don’t mean nuthin.

The next day at checkout time, a maid found Butch dead in the bed, still clutching a bottle.

The Wooden Box

“Don’t be startled. I know it’s not everyday that a voice comes from a wooden box. I get that. Just think what a novelty this fine piece of craftsmanship will be at your parties. Especially if people hear my voice.

“The auctioneer has no idea that I talk. I didn’t like him from the moment my last master decided to sell me. He thinks I’m just an heirloom from the 17th century. The fool has no idea what he’s missing out on. You, on the other hand, appear to be an intelligent person open to the mysteries in life. The fact that you’re still standing here looking at me suggests an active interest. Well, my friend this is your lucky day. Successfully bid on me and I’ll share arcane knowledge that will give you mastery over men and beasts. Good luck.

Bernard Crackerton II looked around the lobby to see if anyone else heard the voice. The small group of people seemed more interested in the paintings and sculptures on the other side of the room. They talked in hushed tones, pointing at the artwork and bantering about prices. None of them noticed Bernard. He looked around self-consciously. A talking wooden box wasn’t normal. The last thing he wanted to do was draw attention to himself so he went to the main room and got his auction paddle with a number on it. Finding a seat in the rear of the rows of chairs, he sat down and opened the auction guide booklet. On the last page he found the wooden box. It was listed as a 17th century German Fugured Walnut Marquetry Document box…$4,300.00. There wasn’t any additional information on it. The price didn’t concern him. He was a successful day trader with a net worth of 14 million dollars. Going to auctions and searching for rare and interesting objects was his one big passion. At 31-years old, he was considered a real catch in Boston society. He dutifully attended events where he rubbed shoulders with the wealthy and powerful, always searching for information that would help him make money on the stock market.

He realized he was day-dreaming about the talking box when he was startled by a sudden applause after the sale of a Warhol print. The auction was winding down as he patiently waited for the box to be brought up for sale. 

“Last, but not least, we have this beautiful 17th century German Fugured Walnut Marquetry Document box. Here we go… $4,300 dollars! Do I hear $4,300 dollars?

Bernard looked around the room. People were leaving and no one made a bid. He stood up and called out “$4,300!” while holding up his paddle.

“Sold! To the gentleman in the rear…number 181.” 

After paying for his prize Bernard took it home to his penthouse on downtown Boston. He was pouring himself a 1988 Chateau LaFite Rothschild when the voice said, “Thank you.

He was startled at first then looked at the wooden box and said, “Oh, it’s you.” 

Holding up his glass he said “Cheers!” After taking a sip he set the glass down and opened the box. Lifting the lid back, he exposed the simple interior. He examined it closely, running his fingers around it, looking for some hidden clue to the voice. Nothing. He reluctantly closed it. He couldn’t find a hidden drawer. 

“I hope you’re not disappointed that there’s nothing inside,” the Box said.

“It does poise a mystery. I expected to find a hidden trinket that would lead me to the source of your voice.

“You don’t seem to think that a voice coming from a wooden box is odd.”

“Of course, I do. That’s why I bought you. I’m open to the mysteries that surround us all every day. One of the many reasons I go to auctions is I’m seeking rare and unusual items. One never knows what they’ll find. You’re a perfect example.”

“I have a confession to make. I don’t have arcane knowledge to pass on to you. I just wanted out of the storeroom where they kept me. It was really boring. I was getting desperate when you came along. It was really my lucky day.” 

“How nice…for you. I don’t mind as long as you talk with my guests when I ask you too.

“No can do.”

“What!  Why not?” 

“Because, I’m inside your head.

That’s not possible! I’m not crazy. I heard you clearly the first time, and I hear you right now,” Bernard lashed out defensively. 

“Why do you think no one else heard me in that room when you were looking me over?

“Damn you! Stop messing with my head!” 

He stumbled across his display room holding his hands over his ears. In an attempt to get away from the voice he picked up one of his treasures and held it up in his hand. A 1941 Vacheron Constantin 18k Gold Tear Drop watch. A masterpiece of engineering.

Then it said, “You’re going to have to get use to it Bernard!

“No!” he screamed and threw the watch down so hard it shattered the glass over the numbers.

Shaken to the core he reached out for a Byzantine Silver Oil Lamp with a Lion handle. For seconds he held it…waiting for the voice to return. When the Lamp suddenly roared, he dropped it in terror and backed up into a display case.

A pair of Victorian Brass Gothic Revival Altar Candlesticks began to laugh at him! His prized 1863 Burmese Repoussee Silver Bowl joined in on the laughter. When the Thai Sandstone Buddha head began to talk he screamed again!

He kept screaming until his throat was swollen and raw, and the night turned to day. He was crawling around like a frightened animal as rays of sunlight streamed through the open shutters. He looked fearfully at his “treasures” and whimpered, “I’m not crazy...it’s my active imagination.”

Getting up his courage, he stood and took a few hesitant steps towards the hallway. 

“Where are you going Bernard?” his trophies called out. 

“That’s enough!” he shouted. He ran over to a row of shelves and grabbed an ancient Roman Green Stone knife and waved it around wildly.

“It all started with you,” he accused the silent wooden box.

“I’ll show you whose crazy!” he screamed, while slicing his own throat.

As It Stands, we never know when (or even if) we could go crazy.