Canned to Death
Minerva stood on top of the ladder, dust mask in place, nitrile-gloved and terrified. There were four very good reasons she’d always avoided going into the small exhibit of Aunt Hattie’s Kitchen and she was staring right at them. Four large Ball jars sat on top of the kitchen hutch their metal caps bulging and powdery with… something. The original contents of the jars was hard to gauge. One seemed to have been cherries. Maybe grapes? Or eyeballs. Whatever it had been it was brown and diffuse in shape now.
The exhibit had been put together sometime in the 50’s. Originally there’d been a female mannequin in here wearing a bad gray wig and gingham dress. It’d been removed by the last director in an attempt to superficially update some of the exhibits. The jars of… God, she really hoped it was fruit. Fruit was the least dangerous thing it could be. Fruit was acidic and unlikely to harbor botulism. The jars probably dated back to the creation of the exhibit, making them at least 50 years past their “Best By” date. She tried not to think about how botulism could be absorbed through the skin.
She took a deep breath and held it as she nudged the first jar forward. The contents jiggled but the jar seemed stable. She held it exactly level and backed carefully down the ladder. Minerva drew a shallow breath through the dust mask when her chest began to ache. She stepped off the ladder and tensed as the liquid in the jar shifted with the jostling movement. The metal cap seemed to be intact, if swollen as she slid the jar on to the table within the exhibit. She really should have brought the folding work table downstairs for this. If the jar started leaking she was going to be cleaning historic brown goo off of a lot of historic silverware.
Minerva tried to breathe normally for a few minutes in the doorway to the exhibit, then collected herself to go back up the ladder for the second jar.
“Just two more after this,” she told herself. This time she tried to keep breathing but it was hard to overcome the urge to hold her breath at the top of the ladder. She thought this one might have been peaches. It had a thick coating of black mold at the top of the jar that indicated the seal had failed. It also meant that the contents weren’t quite as sloshy. She set it on the table next to the first and went immediately back up the ladder. The sooner she finished this the sooner she could go home for lunch.
The third trip up the ladder was easier, and the third jar looked almost entirely dehydrated and fibrously solid in nature. It was quickly set on the table beside the first two. She was half-way up the ladder when she heard the hissing. Minerva turned around just in time to see the cracks form on the third jar and throw her arms over her face as it exploded.
The jar lay in about four pieces on the table and the unmistakable scent of decaying flesh permeated the room. Jarred meat. Maybe venison or elk. Minerva started to head for the door. Shock was starting to set in. She should probably find one of her coworkers before…
She realized there was a stinging sensation in her right arm near the elbow. She turned the arm so she could see and found a shard of glass sticking out of the fleshy part of her arm.