"Jack! Ryan! We've got mail!" Micki's cheerful voice echoed into the back room where the two men were pouring over the Manifest, trying to decipher Lewis's crabbed writing. They hadn't had a good lead on a cursed object in a month. It had been a much needed rest at first, but now they all worried about who was using the antiques to take lives while the three of them slept in comfortable beds every night.
Trying to make sense of Lewis's records wasn't getting them any closer to locking another object in the vault, so Ryan and Jack gratefully took a break to investigate the mail.
"Bills, bills, junk mail, bills, oh, here's a card! Never mind, wrong address. I'll take it up the street tomorrow. More junk mail." Micki sorted envelopes into piles while ignoring the only item of real interest on the desk.
"What's in the box?" Ryan asked, popping a fresh stick of gum in his mouth.
"My X-ray vision is on the fritz again. I guess we'll have to actually open it to find out."
Ryan rolled his eyes and pulled the box toward him. Taking his keys from his pocket, he awkwardly sliced through the packing tape and pulled the flaps apart as Jack walked into the room.
"What's in the box?" he asked, coming to join the pair at the desk.
"My X-ray... no, I'm not going through that again," Micki sighed. "Ryan? What's in the box?"
"So far, newspapers. Oh, they seem to be wrapped around something heavy."
"Ryan!" Jack and Micki scolded together.
"It's a lovely hunk of red rock. What luck."
Ryan set the rock on the desk. Jack picked it up to examine more closely. "It's more than just a rock, Ryan. It seems to have some carving on it." He squinted closely while Micki peered over his shoulder.
"Carvings? Are you sure, Jack? They look so natural."
"You can see the tool marks here, around this line," Jack pointed out. "And the cuts are too straight to be natural. I'm sure I've seen this sort of carving before." His brow wrinkled in thought.
"Yeah, that's cool and all. But who sent it to us and why?" Ryan asked, distracting Micki and Jack.
The three of them looked at each other, then Micki grabbed the empty box. "There's no return address, no note. Just 'Curious Goods' and our address. Oh, the postmark is from here in Toronto."
"We'd better check the Manifest. Maybe someone's sent something back to us," Jack suggested.
"Yeah, that's likely, Jack. Have you not noticed the lengths that we've had to go to in order to collect some of the objects?" Micki asked.
"I got stabbed in the leg with a pitchfork, Jack. And you think some conscientious person is going to say 'well, this rock can grant wishes. Obviously, it must be cursed. I'll send it back to the place I got it.' Stabbed! With a pitchfork!"
Micki and Jack ignored Ryan's dramatics and went back to check the book. After a few minutes, it was obvious there was nothing that matched its description. "Well, there's nothing here to explain why it was sent to us," Micki said. "Are you sure there wasn't a note mixed in with the newspaper, Ryan?" The two went back to the front of the store, bickering about Ryan's attention to detail. Jack stayed behind, forehead still wrinkled. "I'm sure I've seen those marks before..."
"Hey, Micki! What's shaking?" Ryan came into the store, tossing his scarf onto the evil-looking horned coat rack. Something about his bright red and blue striped scarf made it much less intimidating. "Whoa."
The shop was a mess. Tables and chairs were moved and overturned, bottles and jars shattered, scattering and oozing their contents on the ground. Micki glared at him from where she was bent over putting things into a garbage bag.
"You aren't funny at all, Ryan."
"Are you okay? What the heck happened here?" he asked as he rushed over to check her out.
"Shaking? Earthquake? You going to try and tell me you weren't being a smart ass? I know you too well to believe that," Micki scoffed.
"There was an earthquake? Are you freaking kidding me?"
"Well, it had to be. They aren't talking about the news or anything?" Micki looked confused when Ryan shook his head. "It felt like the whole building just... jolted. I could hear things falling, and when I came downstairs, well, you can see what I found. And of course, Jack called to say he wouldn't be in today and hung up before I could tell him what happened."
Ryan placed a gentle hand on her shoulder, then knelt to help her clean up. Neither of them noticed the red stone on the counter, completely unaffected by whatever event had caused such chaos and damage to the other artifacts.
Bad luck had been dogging Micki and Ryan for three days. After cleaning up the store, Ryan had taken his cousin for lunch. When they got back, Ryan realized he'd left his wallet behind at the restaurant. He walked back to find it, but it never turned up. When he got back again, in a terrible mood and trying to figure out what cards he now needed to cancel, he found Micki looking pale and weak, suffering from a rapid case of food poisoning.
Ryan had knocked over one of the few surviving glass vases in the store, then cut his hand badly when trying to clean it up. Micki fell down the stairs and was still limping around. The compressor on the fridge went out and everything in it went bad, leaving them with an expensive repair bill and the faint smell of sour milk. Ryan had been stood up, and Micki wished she'd been after the disaster her hairdresser had made of her usually lovely red curls.
"This has been the worst week ever," Micki pouted. "I absolutely refuse to go anywhere or do anything. It'd be like asking for something else to go wrong."
The bell jangled at the front door. "We're closed," they shouted in unison.
"It's me," Jack answered back.
They jumped to their feet to greet him. "We haven't seen you in days! You just tell us you won't be in, then nothing! What were you thinking? Where were you?" Micki and Ryan spoke over each other.
"You two look like you've had a hard week." Jack said. They just glared in response. "The store looks nice, though. Clean up a bit?"
"We had a freaking disaster, Jack!" Micki said. "We needed you."
"I was doing research on our little friend here."
"What are you talking about?" Ryan asked.
Jack pointed at the red rock they'd received in the mail. "Forgot all about it, didn't you? Well, I didn't. I've spent the past three days trying to figure out where I'd seen that carving before."
"Was it worth abandoning us to our miserable week?" Micki said.
"Well, I think I know how to make the misery stop, so yes. It's not too surprising I couldn't remember where I'd seen the carving before. This stone is part of a much larger pattern found on the side of the Ayers Rock in Australia. I saw it thirty years ago when I was travelling. The thing is, there's a legend that stones removed from Ayers Rock are cursed."
"What is it with us and cursed objects?" Ryan asked rhetorically. "So someone really did hear about us and sent it so we could take care of it?"
Micki was more interested in getting their horrible luck to stop. "So we stick it in the vault and everything is back to normal? We can do that." She reached to pick up the stone, but Jack stopped her.
"Putting it in the vault would be a very bad idea. Once I figured out where it came from, I called a friend in Australia. It took some doing, had to talk to about six different people before I got to speak to someone who actually knew, but I finally got some answers straight from an aboriginal witch doctor. This stone is quite unlike the cursed artifacts we are familiar with. We deal in Devil cursed prosaic objects – Ayers Rock is sacred. Removing the stone angered their gods."
"And the vault wouldn't keep out angry gods," Micki realized. "So what can we do?"
"There's only one thing to do," Jack replied. "Do you have a box?"
"Grandfather, the package from Canada has arrived." A slim youth slipped into his grandfather's room.
Covered in stamps and addressed in Micki's careful writing, the brown cardboard box was opened and the red stone within carefully placed in the old man's hands. At the feel of the coarse sandstone, the witch doctor smiled softly.