Since the package arrived there have been many times when I wished my curiosity had not been piqued. I should have told the postman that I did not accept unsolicitored gifts, I should have closed the door and gone back to enjoying my Saturday morning, but of course I didn’t for who wouldn’t be interested in an unexpected parcel? In these days of emails and electronic bills when the postman has so little to deliver, who can resist a physical gift? So I signed for it and thanked the man.
After I had closed my front door I stood there for a moment, turning the small box over in my hands. It had none of the machine folded, stuck with just the right amount of glue, look to it that a shipment from an online store has. This delivery was secured with too much tape; the corners were scuffed and bent. The impression that it had travelled far was confirmed when I looked closely at the stamps and post marks.
“Hong Kong,” I mumbled to myself. “Who do I know in Hong Kong?”
In the kitchen I heard the toast pop up. The sound pulled me away from the parcel. I headed for coffee and orange juice.
Seated at the breakfast bar I hacked away at the tape as I took sips of bitter tasting sustenance. I was eager and therefore careless. Twice the knife skipped. The second time it caught my hand, nicking a small hole. Blood welled up and annoyance mingled with pain. Drops of red fell onto the counter top and the box.
Once the flow was stemmed I returned to the task at hand. My attempts finally prevailed. The cardboard flaps were set free. I peered inside to see what prize awaited the victor.
A book. Concealed beneath scrunched up brown paper. Not held tight in the straightjacket of plastic wrap one usually sees. I had not ordered a book, nor was I expecting one from a friend. When there are eBooks, eReaders, iPads, electronic paper and sheet screens that downloaded the latest news, no one buys books. Certainly no one in the West. Maybe in Africa they still printed words on paper. But even the furthest recesses of China had discovered smart phones. They knew what the internet was as well as everyone else.
I reached into the box and took it out. The cover was soft and black. It felt warm and natural to my touch. It felt old and comforting. Those impressions could not have been further from the truth, but at the time I was not to know.
I flipped it open. The leather creaked.
It was blank. Each of the thick, heavy gauge sheets of paper was crisp, white and bereft of print. I leafed through them, double checking that I had not missed anything. Nothing! No writing on the spine, no blurb on the back. Who on Earth had sent this thing and why?
Further study of the box turned up little. Hong Kong was not the first place it had been to, there were layers of stamps beneath. Then I noticed the other addresses that had been scrubbed out. None were legible, but it answered the question of why so many stamps. I was not the first person to receive this.
I could shed no light on what it was for, or who had sent it to me, and now time had moved on. I was due at the gym. It would have to wait until later in the day. I placed it next to the open box and turned to leave the kitchen. That was when I heard the noise: a scurrying.
That first time I heard it I thought it was a cockroach. I stopped and listened, but there was nothing more. The next time I was getting out of the car at the gym. It was a dry, scratching. I checked under the seats.
They never went away again, those noises. At first they only cropped up a couple of times each day, but as the week went on, the illusion that was my life progressing as it always had, they grew more frequent; from daily to hourly. They filled my nights as well as my days. That scratching accompanied me wherever I went. It became the nervous tick I had never had.
It has been three weeks since those sounds started to plague me. It took me days to work out what they were, for who uses a fountain pen now. Everyone writes with keyboards, touch screens and voice recognition.
Now I have used the long thin tip of a pen I bought to fill the pages of that cursed book. My sins have been exposed, scrawled on the thick sheets by my unsteady hand. They will be absorbed, sucked from the paper and to God knows where.
I can only hope it is The Lord who chose me as the most recent recipient. Certainly the knowledge of what to do has been given to me by a power greater than Man. Those little scratches reached deep into my brain. They became words and sentences; instructions I was compelled to follow.
Now that I have done what the book has told me I must, I am completing one last task. The next recipient has been chosen. I have purchased a new box and written their address on the front. In a few minutes I will place this damnable object inside and mail it on. Then my task will be done.
I should feel elated, my soul has been unburdened, yet I do not. Now I know all the wrong that I have done to others. Now I know that I should not inflict this world with my presence any longer.
2 October 2009
This week is Banned Book Week in America. What the cause stands for may not be as relevant in the West as it is in other parts of the world, but there is nothing wrong with highlighting those books that people fear.
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