No Boxes for Old Women
It might be the Russians.
Darlene was wrist deep in soil when the machine flew over her head. It was barely audible, though she knew her hearing was fading. Lately, she had to turn the television up to twenty just to hear it.
The machine was black and had two whirring propellers on either side. It didn't seem to be struggling to fly, even carrying the large package that it dropped carefully onto her front porch. There was a brief flash of light, like an old camera, and then it flew out of view.
“Well now, that’s odd,” she said to no one. She’d been talking to herself a lot the past year. No one else to talk to.
Darlene removed her soiled garden gloves and left her petunias half buried as she walked over to the box. It was plain cardboard, like any other package, but completely unexpected. She hadn’t ordered anything.
Her first instinct was to call Eddie, her son, and ask if he’d ordered anything for her. He’d never done it before, he always brought things to her during his visits-- groceries, flowers, appliances she needed replaced. But Eddie had been dreadfully busy lately, so a delivery wasn’t out of the question.
She brushed a bit of sweaty hair from her temple and stepped around the box into the house, reveling for a moment in the sweetness of the AC. It had been a hot summer.
Eddie had “gifted” her a smartphone last year after his father passed away. “It’s time you got with this century,” he’d said. But she couldn’t figure out how to use the damn thing and still preferred her old phone, tan-colored and corded, hanging on the kitchen wall next to a sticky pad for writing down messages. The smartphone lay forever charging on her bedside table, occasionally used to play solitaire, but nothing more.
She dialed Eddie’s cell from memory and hung on the line until his voicemail picked up. “Oh hi, darling. Listen, I’m here in the garden and some little helicopter has dropped off a package. I was just wondering if you’d sent me something. And also, about what time were you going to pick me up to run to the grocery store? Call me back, hear? Love you. Bye now.”
She hung up the phone and sighed. She hated relying on Eddie for everything, but what could she do? Her husband, Vinny, had died last year, so she had to remain thankful that Eddie was a good boy who helped his mother. Not like Caroline Adkins’ boy, who lived in England and only called her once a week.
Darlene walked back out to the porch and examined the box again. It was taped up well on every side and had a shipping form with her name and address. There was no return label, which made her instantly nervous. How rude to not put a return address on a box!
She almost opened it then, but she hadn’t been expecting anything. And what if it was a mistake? Her hand went to her chin the way it always did when she was puzzled. She wished Eddie would have answered.
“I should call Caroline,” she mumbled to herself, and went back inside to do so.
Caroline answered immediately, she spent most of her time hovering around the kitchen, where her own landline hung on the wall. Her husband had been dead a lot longer than Darlene’s.
“Oh, hi Caroline. It’s Darlene. Listen, a little helicopter delivered a package to me and I’m not sure I should open it.”
“Does it have your name on it?”
“Well, yes it does.”
“But you didn’t order anything?”
“You know I never order things.”
“Maybe it was Eddie?”
“Could be. I couldn’t get a hold of him.”
“I’ll be right over.” Click.
Darlene grabbed a pitcher of lemonade, Crystal Light, from the fridge and two cups from their sleeve on the counter. She carried them out to the porch and placed them on the little glass table. It was too hot to not serve lemonade.
Caroline came walking up the sidewalk, she only lived next door, and waved at Darlene. She didn’t have her cane today, which was a good sign her hip replacement was healing well. She was wearing tight blue pedal pushers and a floral top that exposed one of her shoulders. Caroline was always a little much for Darlene’s taste.
“Hi Caroline, thanks for coming. Lemonade?”
“Yes, thank you dear. It’s far too hot to not have a cold drink.”
Caroline guzzled her lemonade down and then had another, and peered down at the box, which came up to her knee in height. “This the box?”
“Do you see another one?”
“Has your name on it. No sender though, that’s odd.”
“That’s what I thought.”
“You know,” Caroline scratched her head. “I saw something on the news about the Russians sending a bomb in a package like this.”
“Caroline, that was to a government building. Why would someone send a bomb here?” Caroline could be such a worrier. Once, Darlene remembered, she'd sworn cars were following her home from the grocery store and veering off as soon as she’d parked. It never came to anything.
“Didn’t Vinny hate the Russians?” Caroline looked over the rims of her glasses.
“Well sure, but lots of people hate the Russians. You’re saying they target every person who hates the Russians?”
“I’m just coming up with theories, that’s all.”
“I should just open it,” Darlene said. “Where’s the harm in opening something with my name on it?”
“By no means should you open a package you didn’t order! It’s your property as soon as you open it, Darlene. Remember anthrax? Remember how horrible? The Russians have biochemical weapons too, you know. I saw a documentary about it.”
“The Russians, the Russians,” Darlene rolled her eyes and waved Caroline off. She knew the Russians wouldn’t be sending her anything. Of course not. She was beginning to wonder why she’d invited Caroline over at all.
“Well, let’s at least examine it a little more before we get hasty,” Caroline said.
Darlene bent over the box and ran her fingers along the tape. She gave it a little kick and heard something roll inside along with the crackling sound of paper.
“Sounded like paper and something heavy, didn’t it?” Caroline said.
“It did. And look at this, there’s something stamped on the other side. It’s faded though, hard to read. I’ll need my glasses.”
“I have mine.” Caroline walked over to the side with the stamp and peered down at it, her gray eyebrows meeting just above her nose. “It says ‘K.... G.... Oh my lord!” She covered her mouth and hurried away from the box to the other side of the porch as if she’d spotted a mouse.
“K, G, what?” Darlene asked, squinting herself to try and read the letters.
“It says KGB! It says KGB! Darlene, you need to get rid of this box!"
“I’m getting my glasses.”
Darlene grabbed her reading glasses from the kitchen counter and came back outside to Caroline bracing herself against the porch column and fanning her neck with a handkerchief. “Don’t get too close, Darlene, I’m telling you.”
“Oh, nonsense.” Darlene bent over the package again and pushed her glasses onto her face, allowing the shapes and colors of the world to make sense again. “For goodness sake, it does look like it says KGB. The B is a bit smudged though, we could be wrong.”
“What store has those initials, Darlene? Think of just one!”
Darlene couldn’t think of one at the moment, but she also knew there must be an explanation that didn’t involve the Russians.
“Think about it,” Caroline was still fanning herself, little pinpricks of sweat glistening on her foundation, which was the wrong color for her skin tone. “If it were a normal package, why wouldn’t a delivery man drop it off? I see those giant Amazon trucks all the time and there’s always a person who brings the boxes to the door. What kind of package is too dangerous for a human being to carry, hm?”
She had a point there. The tiny helicopter that dropped it off made the whole scenario strange. Any normal delivery would be delivered in the standard way. Darlene’s fingers found her chin again and she stepped away from the box, though not as far as Caroline.
“You may be right that it isn’t a normal delivery. But it can’t be the Russians. That’s too much.”
“I know what it is!” Caroline said and tucked her handkerchief back into her pocket. “Debbie sent me an article on the electronic mail just last week. It was about drug dealers that deliver packages to unsuspecting people and then pick them up after they’re delivered. There could be drugs in there!”
“They’d get caught as soon as someone opened the box.”
“Once the package is in transport, the postal service owns it until it gets to the address. Then, you own the package! It’s foolproof for them because if you open it, it has your name on it, and you’re the one responsible. And if everything goes right, they pick it up and no one’s the wiser.”
“Oh my lord,” Darlene said and bit her thumb nail nervously. “I did see a news segment where human traffickers were putting little initials on peoples doors to target them. Only other traffickers know what they mean…”
“KGB? You think it's a signal to help the drug dealers tell this package from a regular package?”
“It makes sense.”
The ladies looked at each other and shook their heads in disbelief. Oh, how dangerous the world had become in their old age. How bizarre and tricky! Drugs, on her own front porch! Just horrible!
Caroline looked up and down the street and started fanning herself again. “I don’t see anyone out here. They’re probably waiting for us to go inside so they can grab it!”
“What if the police already know and they’re coming to catch them?”
“Well, you’d better not be caught red-handed!”
“Oh, what do I do!” Darlene was on the verge of tears now, her blood pressure rising, sweat clinging to the gray hairs falling out of her bun and sticking them to her neck.
“Only one thing to do,” Caroline said. “We have to burn it.”
“Yes. This package is a huge problem, Darlene. In the hands of the criminals, it will destroy peoples’ lives. In the hands of the police, it will incriminate you… and me! We need to burn it right now, before things get out of hand!”
Caroline was right, and Darlene knew it. She wished Eddie would call now and tell her the best way to dispose of a drug package. He would know what to do. But he was so busy, and would probably be cross that she’d taken so long to do what needed to be done. She was a grown woman, wasn’t she? Surely, she didn’t need her son to tell her how to do everything.
“I’ll get the lighter,” Darlene said and went into the kitchen. She rummaged through the junk drawer where, buried under layers of old batteries and coupons, was the lighter Eddie’s father had used to light the grill. She prayed there was still fluid in it after all these years.
She gave it a click and a tiny blue flame emerged from the tip.
“I’ve got it!” she called through the open door to Caroline.
“Should we use some oil to get it going?”
“Good idea. I’ll get some.”
The ladies knew they couldn’t light the box on the front porch, that would be disastrous. Kicking it earlier had shown it to be a heavy old thing, so they certainly couldn’t carry it to the backyard themselves.
“We’ll have to push it off the porch, down the walkway, and onto the sidewalk,” Caroline said. “It’s the only way to make sure nothing else goes up with it. Here, I’ll fill the lemonade pitcher with water in case it gets out of hand.”
“No, get the fire extinguisher out from under the sink.”
“Do you know how to use it?”
Darlene paused. “No.”
“Me neither. Water it is.”
It took a good ten minutes for the ladies to push the box off the porch, panting and sweating as they went. Darlene told Caroline to take a break, her hip and all, but she was waved off. “The longer we wait, the worse it’s going to be.”
After the first few pushes, they’d realized something inside was leaking, and it made a wet trail as the box scooted along. All Darlene could think of was drug residue draining into her flowerbed and killing everything.
“I’m going to have to wash drugs off my front lawn! This world is going straight to hell!” Darlene was filled with a righteous rage. Today was supposed to be planting day.
Finally, the ladies managed to get the box all the way to the sidewalk. They wiped their foreheads with their handkerchiefs and caught their breaths. They were no spring chickens, that was for sure, but Darlene held a moment of pride for their efforts. She’d done, without the help of her son, what needed to be done. And she’d handled it herself.
“Alright dear,” Caroline said. “Douse it with the cooking oil and I’ll light it.”
Darlene did what she was told, soaking the thing in oil, careful that none spilled onto the sidewalk or herself. Then she stepped back and watched as Caroline clicked the lighter on and held it to the drenched package. The flame caught quickly and spread over the surface of the box, emitting trails of spiraling gray smoke, burning yellow at the bottom and orange at the tips. The cardboard began to fold and bend, curling around itself as it tried to escape the flames. The tape burned blue when it caught, and like a ribbon it twisted and writhed as the glue came undone.
The ladies looked on, smiling a little as they watched the destruction of everything that was wrong with society.
“Do you think the smoke will get us high?” Darlene asked.
“Depends on what kind of drugs are in there,” Caroline said. “We should step back a bit more. I don’t think there’s much danger of it spreading.”
They stepped back from the sidewalk and it was good that they did. As the box continued to burn, they started to see bits of paper and plastic rising up from the flames. And suddenly, there were loud popping noises, like BB pellets or fireworks.
“It’s going to explode!” Caroline screamed. “Get inside, Darlene! Right now!”
They both turned and hurried up the sidewalk to the house, ignoring their arthritic knees as they flew up the steps and slammed the front door. The popping sounds multiplied, they could still hear them from inside the house.
“Call the fire department!” Caroline cried. “I’ll keep an eye through the window!”
Before Darlene could reach the phone, it rang and without hesitation, she picked it up. “I’m sorry, I can’t talk right now. There’s an emergency!”
“Emergency? Mom, it’s me, what’s happened?”
“Oh, Eddie,” Darlene said. “They left a box of drugs outside the house. I need to call the fire department right now!”
“Box of drugs? You mean the Kroger delivery? Mom, I sent you a box of groceries. Didn’t you get my text? It should have been delivered by drone this morning.”
“Drone? The little helicopter– ”
“Yes, mom, the little– wait, why do you need to call the fire department?”
“It said KGB on the side! It didn’t say anything about groceries! How was I supposed to know what it was!”
“It’s Kroger Grocery Delivery, mom. KGD. Don’t call the fire department unless there’s a fire, you know that.”
“There is a fire!” Darlene put her hand to her forehead and tried to breathe. “Oh God, Caroline! They were my groceries!”
“Groceries don’t explode, Darlene! It’s going crazy out there! White stuff is flying everywhere! Call the police!”
“White stuff is exploding out of the box, Eddie!” Darlene cried into the phone.
“That would be the popcorn,” Eddie sighed. “Hang up and call the fire department. I’m leaving the office now.”
About the Creator
Grew up on a steady diet of Anne McCaffrey and Stephen King.
Published in DreamForge Magazine.
A mixture of fiction and insights from the perspective of a writer, business owner, and casino person.
Very well written. Keep up the good work!
I love your story. Always keep the older people informed, Avoid this happening.