Home or Away
Mysterious Brown Package Short Story
I stumbled across the slick wooden floorboards in my soggy boots, trying to keep my head down as I made my way towards the Lieutenant's gruff voice calling my name.
"Yes, Sir", I could see my breath appearing in front of me in little white puffs and pulled the wool collar of my jacket higher.
"Do you know what this is, soldier?"
I shuffled closer to the group of damp, sweat smelling men huddled in a circle around something I couldn't see. They were all murmuring about what it could possibly be and I finally broke through the crowd. There, sat on a small wooden table was a box. Wrapped in crinkly brown paper and tied with string that was quickly becoming as wet as the rest of us. I carefully slid out a piece of paper that was strapped in by the string and made out my name in horrible handwriting.
"I don't know what this is Lieutenant, sir", starting to panic, I stepped back as did the rest of the soldiers around me. If a suspicious looking package arrives on the front line and the only writing on it looked like it was done by someone whose first language wasn't English then you didn't want to be anywhere near it, just in case….
"Everyone get back!", the lieutenant called and immediately everyone scurried back, scrambling in the mud and ducking around corners and barrels, pulling their tin helmets down, hiding like sea anemones after being poked, until all I could see of them was a few eyes peeking curiously from their safe spots. A few even raised their guns, though that would do little if our suspicions were correct about the mysterious box. I was pushed back when I tried to escape. Someone had to open it, and, badly or not, my name was written on the label, so the task was given to me.
My tongue felt dry and heavy in my mouth as I pulled my collar back down again, anxiousness and fear heating my numb body like a furnace. The group of soldiers around me were eerily quiet, their usual cheerful jokes and stories silent for once, ready to watch me get blown to bits. I lifted shaky hands and fumbled with the well tied knot, trying not to knock against the brown paper too much for fear of what might happen.
I managed to get the string undone and gave a quick look behind me before removing the paper. All eyes were on me. My pal, John, from school, was biting his lip as he watched me with his head poking around a corner and gave a small nod of reassurance. Turning back, I took a deep breath and removed the paper, closing my eyes tightly as I lifted the lid. For a moment everything was silent, as if even the lice in our hair held their breaths.
After a moment, when I realised I hadn't been blown off the earth by an enemy bomb, I cracked my eyes open again only to laugh in delight. Immediately I was surrounded by soldiers again, shoving their faces in close for a peek inside the box. Jars of homemade jam, boiled sweets and biscuits, tins of tobacco, plum pudding and sardines sat on top of a layer of books, fresh clean shirts and holeless socks as well as a dry deck of cards. The men around me cheered with delight, smacking me on the back in a series of "Lucky, man" 's and "Happy as Larry" jokes. Trying to get on my good side in hopes of receiving a boiled sweet or two. Grinning, I passed them the jar and they cheered louder, only shushing at the Lieutenant's disapproving glare, though a mint humbug pushed into his hand cheered him up quickly. I found a letter tucked between two pots of jam and shuffled back from the group to find a little peace to read it.
We all miss you here very much. Josie has been learning to write at school, she insisted on writing your name on the front of the parcel herself. Did you see it? She is being sent away to the country soon for safety and I fear the house will be too quiet with you both away. I hate the thought of you starving over there so I thought I'd better send some of my jam and clean clothes for you. There is some lavender tucked into a sock as well to help you sleep.
You said that you would only be away for a few months which means you must be coming home soon. I look forward to seeing you again and holding you tightly in my arms. I don't think I will ever let you go again. We love you dearly, always remember that.
I smiled, my eyes watery as I kissed the top of the letter lightly before folding it and tucking it safely away in my jacket pocket. The closest one to my heart. I'll be back soon.