Brown Paper Box
Jane awoke to find a carefully wrapped box at the end of her bed. Who left it and what was inside?
"It was just there when I woke up. Sitting on the end of my bed."
"So someone came in your apartment in the night?" Ryan replied with a look that was somewhere between horror and disgust and a pitch higher than helium.
"Well, yeah," I reply, picking up my spoon to stir my coffee. This was definitely a morning that called for sugar. I suddenly shake my head. "No. They couldn't have. My apartment is ridiculously secured. And alarmed. I even checked if the code had been entered to disable it. It hadn't. It's not possible that someone came in. Except...well, they must have. I'm so confused"
Ryan looked horrified. His flamboyancy was providing me such entertainment that it managed to distract me from the alarming reality that some stranger must have been in my bedroom. His emotional outburst was plenty enough for both of us and allowed me to feel calmer.
"Oh. My. Gosh. Jane," he said, allowing each word to ring out to its fullest capacity. "So what was in it?"
"Well, I don't know. I didn't open it."
"YOU DIDN"T OPEN IT?" Ryan was so animated that he had drawn the attention of every other customer in our pre-work coffee spot.
"Well, no. I was really freaked out. I just put it into my bag and came to meet you. I didn't want to run late, you know I wake up in just enough time for our coffee meet."
"Jane. This is insane. We have to open it. I have to know. Like, how is your mind not exploding right now?"
I took the suspicious package out of my handbag, carefully placing it between us on the table. We both silently stared at it. Ryan's enthusiasm had momentarily turned to fear.
"What if its anthrax?" He asked with an exaggerated face of terror.
'It's not anthrax!" I laughed. But even I could hear my laugh turn to nervousness. I had no idea what was inside. I mean, it could be anthrax for all I knew.
"What stories have you been working on recently? Anything controversial?"
"No, nothing like that at all. It was a boring piece on Bitcoin."
He looked relieved. "Well, in that case it's probably not anthrax. Let's open it! We need to know!" Ryan spoke with a desperation that clearly conveyed he needed to know.
I pulled tentatively at the ribbon, allowing it to fall to the table around the brown paper box. I looked to Ryan just before opening it. His face was the perfect mirror for the fear and anticipation I felt. I prised the lid open as slowly as could be, scared that something would jump out at me. An awful flashback of childhood jack-in-the-boxes came to mind and brought a bead of sweat to my brow. I took a deep breath, the deepest I had taken all morning. I closed my eyes and threw the lid open, pointing the box towards the open side of the table.
Realising there were no screams from Ryan, I opened my eyes to see a dazzling smile over his face. He had already pulled out the contents and appeared to be reading something. What was that?
"Jane! JANE! It's a treasure map! A TREASURE MAP!" He was practically jumping on the table with excitement. Everyone in the coffeeshop was definitely staring at us. Staff included. Staring in a way that said "Shut up, get out and stop disturbing our 6am coffee,".
Ryan put the map on the table to show me. "Look - we are here..." he pointed "and this is only about 30 minutes away".
"This is crazy,"
"This is the forest we talked about hiking in last year," his finger trailed to a hilly area of greenery on the map. "And X marks the spot here. Well, a star in this case. Look! Jane let's go now." "
We can't just go! I have work! As do you, actually."
"Who cares? They won't miss us for one day. Besides, you hate your job" he retorted.
"I don't hate my job. I hate my boss. Well, I hate the way he treats me. And speaking of which... I don't want to give him an actual reason to have a go at me today, so we need to get moving!" I say, gathering the many things I had sprawled on the table, confused by how it all no longer fit into my bag. "Come on, I'll drop you at your work first." I said in attempt to motivate Ryan as I tried to prise the map from his hands. He had the look of a child who was just told Christmas is cancelled. I took the last gulp of my coffee, hoping it would ignite some will in me to face the day ahead.
Ryans work was just around the corner. I dropped him off and then found myself stuck in roadworks. As I watched the lights loop from green to red to green, I was thinking about work and becoming increasingly angered at how my boss treated me. Just yesterday he had embarrassed me in front of everyone again. The more the scene replayed in my head, the more I considered the treasure map in my bag. Maybe there was gold at the end of it. Or maybe the man of my dreams was? Perhaps it was a beautiful waterfall where I could swim, or an old barn filled with treasures of yesteryear. Whatever was at the end of it, the adventurer in me needed to know.
I U-turned the car away from my work and towards the forest. I drove for miles on autopilot, deeper and deeper into the stunning scenery. It felt like I was being pulled towards the greenery, towards the roads that marked the beginning of Scotlands "Big Tree County". The longer I drove, the bigger the scenery around me grew. It was so far from the concrete jungle I had been immersed in for the past decade of my life. It was hard to believe that this was on my doorstep and I had never explored it before.
I arrived as close to the star on the map that I could guesstimate. I abandoned the car in a passing place on the single track road and began to walk through the trees towards the sound of falling water. Perhaps one of my guesses was correct. The walk was a little wild as there was no established path. Thankful for the fact it was winter and the branches did little to prevent my passing by, I adventured my way towards the trickling sound. Was that a word, Jane? Adventured? You are a professional journalist for goodness sake. Writing is what you do. You would think you would know the appropriate word. Well, not today I thought. Today I am no longer Jane with a Masters Degree; today I am a bold explorer with a treasure map!
Silencing the chatter in my head, I paused to attune myself again to the water. I felt like a predator on a hunt. There was something beautiful and primal about my present moment and I was loving every second of it. I knew I was close. I could smell it. The excitement in me was growing increasingly stronger. I really did feel like a child again. As my giddiness increased alongside my pace, I felt one of the thousands of branches tear my expensive designer coat. I laughed, realising that yesterday this would have infuriated me. Right now, I was fully immersed in my inner child and my inner child couldn't care less if I just ripped a $2000 jacket.
The undergrowth was getting thicker around me. Twigs and leafs were jammed in my hair. My heels were finding it more difficult to navigate the moss covered rocks underfoot. Okay, maybe this wasn't the smartest of ideas. I'm sure I could have found a path if I had looked for one. I could feel all of my new found good energy drain away as negative thoughts began to grow louder and more intrusive. What are you doing here Jane? You've completely lost the plot. What kind of grown woman does this? A flash of fear suddenly radiated through me. What if the person who left this map was waiting to harm me?
The scream escaped my lips before I was even aware of it. I had slipped on a moss covered rock and to break my fall I reached out to be met with a fistful of thorns. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. So much noise inside my own head was exhausting me right now. I needed to find a moment of calm. Breathing deeply and slowly, I was reminded that I just need to exhale properly and the inhale would take care of itself. Gathering myself back together I rotated my wounded ankle to find that it wasn't in too much pain. Thank goodness! My adventurising would definitely have been quickly over if I couldn't walk!
I looked up and began to carefully plan my next steps through the thicket. I brought myself to my feet again, this time more cautious of the yellow flowers with thorny branches that surrounded me. "Bad flowers" I said to them aloud, just as a stroppy toddler would. I took each step with more caution now, wary of having another fall. I was unaware of the time but it felt like another half hour or so passed by before the undergrowth began to thin out. The sound of water was now the only thing I could hear and my next glance up told me that I had arrived.
I was standing before a waterfall that must have been over 60ft high. Water cascaded down from the giant rocks above, crashing with great force into the lagoon below. It was utterly breathtaking. I felt the corners of my lips upturn with a smile that melted its way to both my eyes and heart. Even from this distance I could feel the coolness of the misted water in the air. Stumbling out of the bushes and brushing down my twiggy, leafy coat, I couldn't take my eyes off the water. I was literally inside one of those instagram posts that everyone wants to be photographing. But I was here. Me. Like, actually here. I wasn't in bed scrolling on instagram. I was in the outside world and it was beautiful. I had no idea why I was here, or who had sent me. But in that moment, it didn't matter. I was grateful to be there and I just knew I had to swim.
As I pulled my frozen body out of the water, I realised that this was the most adventure I had experienced in years. I barely did anything for fun anymore. Everything fun kind of stopped when I was overwhelmed by uni work and then life became so busy throughout my twenties. From my internship to the career ladder, maintaining friendships and starting new relationships; there was never time. I thought about how I used to sing and dance around the house just because I felt good, when did that last happen?
I decided to make a commitment to myself right then and there. "With the forest as my witness I swear to myself that I will find my joy again. I will find my joy and I will live it." I put my hand to my heart, feeling its deep beat attempting to circulate my frozen blood, and inhaled as slowly and deeply as my nose would allow, releasing fully through my mouth. I was feeling more calm, inspired and in love than I could remember ever feeling. I batted my eyes open and
"Aaaaaargh.... What the..." I grabbed my clothes in attempt to shield my naked body from the man in front of me.
(To Be Continued.)
Thank you for reading!
If you enjoyed this short story, please continue to "Naked Encounters" or "Chasing Waterfalls". I have written two alternate endings to Jane's adventure. If you enjoy those, please consider leaving me a dollar. It truly does add joy to my day :)