Reilly's father had a brother, whom Reilly had met once over the summer break when he was a kid. The man had stayed for three or four days, and even eleven-year-old Reilly had felt the tension in the house that week; for some reason Uncle Pete was persona non grata with Reilly's folks. But Reilly loved Uncle Pete, who was full of dirty jokes, rude stories, and fun times.
So unlike Mom and Dad.
He hadn't seen Uncle Pete since the day he'd departed for parts unknown, but for some reason he retained some of the little nuggets of wisdom the man had offered up that week. One of them (and Reilly could still hear the phlegmy rasp in Pete's throat as he'd spoken to him) was: “If it looks too good to be true, get the hell out.”
Reilly held back, his arms still crossed defiantly at his chest.
A cloud of annoyance passed over the emcee's face, brief but there nonetheless. He grumbled, “There ain't a shot clock, kid, but this is live entertainment. We can't edit out the dead space. So do you think you could make up your damn mind sometime before we lose our sponsors? Hmm?”
“Whatever,” Reilly said and started for the line of doors. It was luck of the draw, really, as he was unable to tell what was behind them, anyway: eeny, meeny, miny, moe. There was a little voice in the back of his brain which was still strategising, however, and it told him that nobody ever picks Three because the prize inevitably sucked. And One just seemed too obvious, so Reilly approached door number Two and stopped. He looked at the emcee and furrowed his brows, “Should I knock?”
Any grievance the emcee had with Reilly seemed to have passed, and the man's shark-like smile nearly dripped with anticipation, “It's your door. Do whatever you want.”
Reilly froze and thought, Hold on a minute. Is this ass---- trying to push me toward Two? I refuse to play that game, buddy. With that in mind, he took two steps to his right and opened door number Three, all the while staring defiantly into the emcee's good eye. Reilly awaited some reaction but none was forthcoming, evidently. Whatever. He stepped through the threshold and squinted into the darkness.
There was a table, of sorts, in the middle of that tiny room. Little more than a nightstand really, something which looked to have escaped the junkyard. It had three-and-a-half legs and leaned terribly, resembling the Titanic at 1:30 am on that fateful night a century ago. There was an indistinct form atop the table, and Reilly squinted into the shadows to make it out. He couldn't, however, and took another step forward.
He stopped as suddenly as if he had run into a wall, his breath a strangled gasp in his throat. He brought a hand to his neck to ward off some unseen strangler, perhaps, and his lips moved but no sound came out; he resembled a beached fish gasping for life. His heart beat at a motorcycle pace within his chest but his eyes never moved, they remained fixed directly on the table before him.
Upon that table was a dirty stuffed animal, a panda bear, no more than eight inches in height. It sat placidly atop the splintered tabletop, grubby but uninteresting in most respects except one.
It was the same stuffed bear Reilly had put in his daughter's casket.