Fourth in a holiday-season series of posts that will reprint short fiction written — by twelve HiLobrow contributors — for the collection Significant Objects: 100 Extraordinary Stories About Ordinary Things, eds. Rob Walker and HiLobrow’s Joshua Glenn (Fantagraphics, August 2012).
The following story is by Mark Frauenfelder. Enjoy!
Matt saw the tiny blue bottle on the third step of the main entrance to the Los Angeles Central Library. It was next to a sleeping man, obviously homeless. A $100 bill, rolled-up, was protruding from the bottle’s open neck. Matt slyly scooped up the bottle on his way into the library. He hid the bottle in his fist until he got to a desk with side partitions.
A chipped decal on the bottle read, “Arrow De Luxe Apricot Flavored Brandy.” He pulled the rolled-up bill from the neck. When he unrolled it, it was a just note printed on what looked like a $100 bill. He’d picked up these phony bills before. They were religious tracts. What kind of religion tries to win members by pulling a dirty trick? he wondered.
Matt dropped the note on the ground and pocketed the bottle. It looks like an antique, he thought. I might get some money for it. He barely made it to the computer card catalog when the bottle appeared in his mouth. The oddly ribbed neck protruded from his lips, while the rest of the bottle uncomfortably occupied his mouth, pushing his tongue down and preventing him from closing his jaws completely.
He pulled the bottle out, tossed it on the table. It spun and skidded across the table, clanking on the floor. He walked quickly towards the exit. In five seconds, the bottle reappeared in his mouth. This time he yanked the bottle and threw it on the ground. It made a loud noise when it shattered. The other library visitors looked at him, startled. Matt ran. The bottle returned to his mouth, intact, before he was outside. He looked for the sleeping man, but he was gone.
He ran down 5th street, throwing the bottle onto the sidewalk every time it appeared in his mouth. After nineteen attempts to get rid of it, it felt like it had gotten bigger. What had the note said? He went back into library to look for it. It wasn’t there. People stared at the crazy man with the blue thing sticking out of his mouth, crawling on his hands and knees. He finally found the note under the shelves near the desk.
This time, he read it:
This bottle is going to appear in your mouth in two minutes. If you pull the bottle out of your mouth, it will reappear in your mouth in five seconds. If you attempt to prevent the bottle from reappearing in your mouth by filling your mouth with another object, you could choke or burst your cheek when the bottle returns to your mouth and displaces the object. In addition, every time you remove the bottle from your mouth, it will grow in size by one tenth of one percent. Unless you sell the bottle to another person and money changes hands, the bottle will remain in your mouth until you die. When you die, it will go back to where you found it. You must reveal this paragraph verbatim to anyone you attempt to sell the bottle to.
In the days that followed, Matt stopped going to work. His wife left him, even after he demonstrated to her the bottle’s cruel magic. He drank yogurt, applesauce, and blended food though a straw. He couldn’t sleep. He was afraid to pull the bottle out of his mouth again. He did it one more time, though, setting it next to a penny on a black tablecloth draped over a chair. He snapped a photo of it with his cell phone camera. He rushed, not giving the camera’s autofocus enough time to do its job. The photo turned out blurry, but it would have to do.
Maybe if I write the description as a work of fiction, he thought, someone will buy the bottle.
Original price: $1. Final price: $23.