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Brown Paper Box

Short Thriller

By Kale BenderPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 14 min read

Boston Massachusetts, 2022

Zachary is sitting in the driveway inside of his idling, government issued, green Ford Fusion sedan smoking a cigarette and listening to the Dave and Chuck the Freak morning show. Satisfied with their discussion on asshole of the day, a crude discussion about another billionaire calling himself an astronaut after making a quick fifteen minute visit into space, he kills the radio as well as the car. Removing the dangling keys from the ignition, he pulls down the sun visor and removes a laminated memorial prayer card clipped to the mirror flap. As he stares hard at the old face on the card, he reaches down into a secret compartment beneath his seat and pulls out a silver flask with a faded Marine Corp sticker on the front. He unscrews the tin cap and takes a long gulp. With a heavy sigh he twists the cap back onto the flask, returns it to its hiding place then stares hard at himself through the mirror of the sun visor. Slamming the visor shut he reaches into his pants right pocket, removes a pack of evergreen chewing gum and pops two pieces inside of his dry mouth. Chewing vigorously, he gathers his cellphone from the magnetic dashboard dock, stuffs the prayer card into the breast pocket of his blue button-down dress shirt and exits the vehicle.

Zachary enters his father’s house through the front door. The door is old, heavy, red and makes a horrendous squeaking sound when shut. He tosses his keys into the wicker basket which sits on a flimsy wooden shelf mounted on the wall beside the coat hangers. He makes his way through the front hallway passing two rooms on each side. One opened into a large living room filled with nauseating lampshades, unplugged lava lamps, and molded plastic furniture. The other was a full bathroom adorned with tacky paintings of seascapes and a repulsive avocado green bath tub sitting in the corner. At the end of the hallway Zachary enters the outdated kitchen, the whole house looks like it's stuck in the 70's. Especially the kitchen. The solid wood cabinets along with the peeling wallpaper, the canary yellow tiled floor and the harvest gold and olive green appliances gives Zachary the chills every time he steps into this house. He shakes his shoulders, as if shaking off evasive insects and makes his way to the refrigerator. He opens the heavy refrigerator door which is decorated with old Marine Corp photos of young men holding machine guns and a Support our Agents magnet. To his surprise, it is filled with fresh Budweiser beer bottles. Grabbing two, he quickly twists the cap off of one and downs the entire bottle. He tosses it into the red recycling bin resting on the floor beside the refrigerator then twists off the cap to the second. Taking small sips this time he grabs one more bottle from the fridge, stuffs it into his back left pants pocket, then makes his way out to the front hall, mounts the staircase, and heads upstairs.

In the cluttered office on the second floor Zachary opens a splintered, white, wooden door leading up to the cobweb infested attic. As soon as he steps over the threshold he lifts his muscular right arm to the ceiling, blindly searching for the dangling chain link light switch. Making contact, he pulls down hard on the chain. Light depressingly begins to illuminate the creepy and narrow stairwell, showcasing the horribly old, burgundy shag-carpet stair liner. "I can't believe this rug was ever popular," he mumbles to himself.

Zachary cautiously makes his way up the narrow staircase, molesting each carpeted step with his dirty work boots. At the top, he is greeted by a second door. This one is even more pathetic than the previous one. Missing the handle, he quickly chugs the rest of his Budweiser then wedges the empty bottle, neck first into hole where the knob used to be. Using the bottle as a makeshift knob, he shoves the door open.

The door swings wide as Zachary’s silhouette stands in the frame. Dust swarms him as he steps forward into the large, cluttered attic. The room is dark, but has adequate lighting installed. His left hand scans the wall for the switch. Finding it, he switches it up. A series of light bulbs ignite, booming the room to life. Taking in the hoarders stockpile, he mentally inventories the room. Most of the brown boxes had the words MISC written across their faces. But he was searching for the prized possessions, the secret stashes of old cash or expensive jewelry. One box had the word FORTUNE scribbled across its face in a barely recognizable script. This box drew his attention but was buried beneath three plastic bins all filled with various holiday decorations. Once the box is finally dug out, he unfolds the cardboard flaps and begins sifting through its contents. Quickly disappointed, he doesn't find the fortune he was hoping for. This box was filled with old journals, folded and unfolded handwritten letters scribbled in an impossible cursive, waterlogged photographs of young men in military outfits posing with large rifles with a familiar, foreign landscape in the background.

"Vietnam? -- He was a soldier? He looks just like me."


"So I ended up following in your footsteps after all."

Zachary continues to meticulously search the brown box. Beneath the cache of journals and letters, he finds a small, rectangular glass case with a Navy Cross resting inside. Beneath the medal was a ragged, old, folded American flag. Realizing what he was looking at, he carefully removes the medal from the brown box, grasping it firmly with both hands. Standing up, he lifts the case high to one of the blazing light bulbs to inspect the engraved sailing ship on the rough waves.

"He was a war hero. A goddamn war hero."

Zachary's mind starts to wonder into the past as he reaches his left hand behind him to rub the left side of his lower back. He loosens his brown leather belt, untucks his navy blue dress shirt from his beige khakis and lifts his shirt to reveal a large rib tattoo of the words We The People along with a large section of scar tissue hiding underneath the tattoo indicating a severe war wound.

"So much for my Purple Heart."

Behind the pile of musty brown boxes, he finds a medium sized black folding table and chair. He engages the legs on the table and places the flag and prestigious medal down onto it. He removes the final bottle of Budweiser keeping his ass cheek cool from his back pants pocket, twists off the cap, takes a generous sip and places it down onto the table. Preparing to stay for an hour, he proceeds to remove his cellphone, holstered Glock 9 millimeter pistol, a set of steel handcuffs and a golden badge with the letters FBI engraved on its face and sets them all down onto the now cluttered folding table. Rolling up both sleeves he continues his investigation and inventory of the time warped attic. After rummaging through ten plastic bins of clothes, boots, shoes and socks, Zachary accepts the fact that he will not be finding any lost treasure among the clutter. Walking back over to the overflowing table to do one last walk through of his findings, his left foot suddenly drops into the floor.

Letting out an aggressive shout which sounds more annoyed than painful, Zachary curses at himself for falling victim to the house he hates more than any other house on the planet. He tries to wiggle his foot free but he's stuck pretty good and wiggling doesn't seem to be working. He's close enough to reach the folding table and the large screw driver which he had found in an old tool box inside one of the bins filled with old work boots. He reaches out and with his thick fingers, delicately grips the screwdriver between his pointer and middle, then swings it into the palm of his right hand. Bending down, he wedges the screwdriver into the exposed floor board behind his left heel and lifts up. With the precise angle of the screwdriver and the aggressive wiggling, the floor board begins to loosen then finally gives way. A loud crack stuns his eardrums after being confined to such silence. The floor board lifts and his foot is freed. He kneels down to inspect his foot and ankle for any injuries. Relief washes over him as his inspection comes up all clear. No breaks, no sprain, no punctured nails or screws, no injury. He is about to stand up when something deep beneath the broken floor board catches his eye. He gets down on both knees, places his face as close as he can and tries to make out the shape of the hidden object. He goes back to the table, grabs his cellphone, engages the flashlight feature and aims the light down into the open crawl space. Two feet in front of his face a shrouded, rectangular object stares back at him. Well protected by thick spider webs and tiny mounds of rodent droppings, the object was just as undesirable as it was desirable.

Flashing back to his three tours in Afghanistan he musters what he needs to, reaches his hand into the abyss and snatches the mystery object from its resting place. Lifting it free from the floor, he gives it a powerful blow. Dust and webs go flying through the attic air and a few of the webs float their way onto one of the burning light bulbs and a slight singe rings out across the room, raising the hairs on the nape of his neck. He didn't scare easily, but he was beginning to get creeped out. Taking the cloaked container back to the table, he clears a spot and places it down. He set up the folding table directly beneath one of the light bulbs for maximum lighting. Like a doctor in his lab, Zachary pulls up the chair, sits down and begins to unwrap the cloth. It felt like silk. His large fingers delicately worked the folds until its contents were exposed. Wrapped inside of the dark burgundy silk cloth was another brown paper box. Yet this one was different from the rest of the boxes he had already purged. This one was flatter, only about three inches thick and about a foot wide and a foot long. His mind instantly went to cash or jewelry. Considering its hiding location and the shape of the box, he was convinced he'd found his fortune.


The brown paper box was old but in relatively good shape. It had no markings other than a small hand scribbled heart in the center. That's weird, the thought. The edges had slight water damage but the box had no holes, so whatever was inside had not yet been damaged by time. It had one flap for an opening reinforced by two pieces of scotch tape. He reaches for the screwdriver and uses the sharp edge to slice through the tape. Sitting in absolute silence, his nerves begin to act up. His hands start shaking as they rest on top of the mystery box. Seeking relief, he reaches for his beer, which is surprisingly still decently cold and chugs it. Letting out a Marine sized burp he shakes away the nerves, takes a deep breath, separates the folds and lifts the top of the box open.

As he stares into the box, he's frozen in place. His cellphone begins to buzz on the table next to him with an incoming call but he ignores it. He is still staring into the box when his phone immediately buzzes again, another incoming call. Ignoring the second call as well, he reaches into the box and removes a digital photograph. Still in shock, his phone begins to frantically buzz again from a mass of incoming text messages with the name AGENT SINCLAIR blazing across the screen.

"Zachary, answer your phone!"

"We have new information on the serial killer."

"Call me back ASAP!"


Still in awe, he does not notice Agent Sinclair's frantic stream of text messages. Finally snapping out of his trance, Zachary speaks for the first time since finding the box. "Son of a bitch," he says drawn out. The photograph in his trembling hands has two familiar faces on it. One is the same face from the laminated prayer card he has stuffed in his chest pocket, the other, his own. This was the last picture he had ever taken with his father before he left to fight the war in Vietnam. He he hasn't seen this picture in years, completely suppressing its existence. Probably because he hated his father and had always thought that his father had hated him as well. So finding this photograph here and now truly infuriated him, along with ample amounts of confusion. His phone continues to buzz and he continues to ignore it. Placing the eerie photograph aside, he searches the remaining contents of the paper box. To his disbelief, Zachary finds a cache of macabre photographs depicting mutilated bodies. Two of the photographs showcased two men hanging upside down from heavy meat hooks with their entrails spilling out of their stomachs, hiding their faces. The other two photographs in the brown box displayed two other men tied to separate steel bed frames, bleeding out from missing limbs. But the most shocking photograph of all was the one of a man who was still alive. The fear in his eyes for what was about to happen to him was a thousand times worse than looking at the already dead corpses.


"Zachary, we know who is responsible for murdering the four retired Army rangers. We were able to connect the DNA found at the crime scene to DNA found last month in Quincy where a retired Marine vet was murdered outside of an AC Hardware store."

"Zachary, answer me, please!"

As Zachary rifles through the grisly photographs, an old, mud coated Jeep Cherokee pulls into the driveway and parks behind Zack's green Ford Fusion, blocking him in.

Zachary had hated his father for leaving him and his mother to fight in Vietnam. He loathed him for being overseas fighting a foreign war when his mother was struggling to survive a battle with breast cancer. He despised him for missing her funeral. After losing his mother, he vowed to create a successful life without his father having any involvement. That path led him to a career in the Marines and eventually a dangerous life as an FBI agent.


"It's your father, Zachary. The DNA analysis took a few weeks to complete but the lab has confirmed a 90% match. We finally got the hit when we ran the DNA through the military's DNA databases. Your father's Army enlistment file popped up as a viable match."

"His death, the wake and funeral you attended this morning were all staged! Do you understand what I am telling you, Zachary? Your father is the serial killer we have been looking for."

"Zachary, your father is ALIVE!"

Lost in waves of hatred and sorrow for the innocent victims claimed by his deranged, war-driven monster of a father, he starts to panic. Hands now shaking violently at this new discovery, he shuffles the photographs back into the box, upset with himself for not wearing any protective glove wear. This gruesome evidence was now covered with his fingerprints. He folds the box shut, locking away every photograph except for the one of him and his father, that one he keeps and stuffs into his back left pants pocket. His phone buzzes again, except this time it wasn't Agent Sinclair, this time it was just a timer. He had allowed himself exactly one hour to complete his treasure hunt which had just reached its dreadful end. Lifting his phone from the table he takes in the mass of impossible text messages from his partner at the FBI. He wraps the brown paper box back up with the silk cloth, dumps out one of the plastic bins which had old Christmas decorations and places the shrouded brown paper box, the Navy Cross and the flag all into the bin. He latches each side of the container's cover to ensure the evidence is properly locked inside. Preparing to exfil, he re-clips his FBI badge to his belt and holsters his sidearm. As he clips his Glock back to his waist, a distant floorboard creaks. The sound is debilitating yet Zachary manages to shift his eyes to the noise. Standing ten feet away from him is a large scruffy figure with the same face as the man in the photographs stuffed in his pockets.

"Hello son."


About the Creator

Kale Bender

Using a poetic foundation to scribe thrilling shorts that become the building blocks for mysterious novellas which evolve into adventurous novels!

Find my published books here!

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