It was just after noon when the boys discovered the box.
An ugly overcast churned above the dark Atlantic, where the Barrier islands peppered the North Carolina coastline. The three boys, all just past thirteen, had been shooting off fireworks. Small bottle rockets screamed through the air, spinners burned in phosphorus glows of red and green and shrieked like banshees. Now they stood on the dune in the tall marram grass, staring at the box in the gray sunlight.
The box was spray-painted black. Long strands of strawberry-blonde hair were caught in black electrical tape and fluttered in the salty breeze. Flies filled the air in thick, humming swarms. Crawling over the box and buzzing in the boys ears.
A silence hung between the boys that was heavy with dread. They all understood it. But no one had to say it. No one said anything. Not even when they pulled back the soggy lid.
When they discovered the dismembered body of the young woman, it wasn’t the death of the girl that had frightened them. Not that her pale dead skin had turned to a bloated mushiness that reminded them of the underbelly of a fish. And it was not her cloudy and hemorrhaged eyes staring out from her severed head, nestled in a twisted, bloody knot of limbs and flies. Nor was it the sickly rot that filled their sinuses. It was her teeth that would haunt them.
Her teeth had made it real. And not the mannequin they argued over on their panicked escape from the island.
“I saw her teeth.” One boy said. “She was real.”