The package was small, beaten to hell. It was bruised, with bits of tape holding it together. It appeared like any normal package that could fit through my door, but the strange thing was there wasn't a single label on it.
The thought of not opening it scratched at my bones like a fly I couldn't swat away. I kept thinking it was some mistake, that maybe someone had accidentally delivered it to the wrong address. "It could be for whoever used to live here before I did; I mean, I've only been here for the better part of a month," I thought aloud, a nervous tick I never grew out of.
While in deep conversation with myself, I heard a faint knock, like something being tapped against the wood of my door. It was loud enough to thrust me back into reality, and I stood up, walking with haste towards the door.
With each step I took toward the door, my heart rate increased, and my chest tightened as if an invisible hand was squeezing me. The wood slats of one-hundred-year-old hardwoods creaked under my feet, echoing through the empty halls of my home. I reached for the cool metal handle of the door and, with a deep breath, prepared myself to look out into the unknown.
The door swung inward toward me, hard and with a violent rush of December wind. The evening air was frigid, but a strong waft of dampness hung in the air. I could feel my eyes widening as I looked out onto my doorstep: nothing.
"Hello?" I belted as if I were trying to be the truest horror movie cliche. No answer. "Figures," I muttered to myself. "When did you become the type of person to go check on the mysterious noise outside?" Head shaking, I smirked, knowing how absurd I must've looked to anyone watching.
"You've always been the type," I answered myself, almost condescendingly. It's true, though. Between the anxiety that courses through my veins every moment of every day and the obsessive need to control every situation, I was born for this.
My eyes dropped, and I looked at the package again. It sat there looking like some kind of illicit delivery, one that could be found shivering in the trunk of a car belonging to a serial killer. "Am I the helpless victim?" I asked the anxious twenty-something inside me, "No, I'm the final girl for sure-- All the self-care over the last month, introspection, meditation. I'm a different person," I said to the curtains, pretending not to peek through, just in case.
I mean, my inner (outer, in this case) voice wasn't completely wrong. There has been an abundance of trauma healing since I moved here. That was the point of moving here- to get away from the chaos that was my life.
"Wait," I said, catching my wandering mind (a new skill I've developed.) A literal blank, unopened box is sitting in the middle of the living room floor. "Why are you wandering around doing anything but opening it?"
I gingerly picked up the package, trying to decide what to do with it, when I felt a sharp pain in my hand. With a gasp, I dropped the parcel and flinched back, looking at the source of the sudden agony. There was blood on my index finger, gushing out from under my skin like a dam that had just been broken. "That's why THAT is why!" I yelled. I knew I was right to avoid the box.
After grabbing the closest piece of fabric I could find to stifle the bleeding and deciding yet again not to listen to myself, I cautiously cut through the thick tape. It cut like- a car key- through butter, allowing me to peel back the dingy plastic wrapping. Inside, there was an old wooden box. Its contents were still unknown.
"Alright. This is the universe giving you a stopping point." I'd never been the type of person to listen to signs, the universe, god, or whatever you want to call it, but this was an omen that I could not ignore. It was time to stop, take a breath, and figure out what the hell was going on.
I carefully grabbed the box, careful not to touch it with my other blood-soaked hand, and carried it into my bedroom, where I tossed it on a chair in the corner. With trembling hands, I tied a makeshift bandage around my finger (because, as a grown man, I don't own a single band-aid) and looked around the room.
After searching through a few drawers, I found what I was looking for: an old pocket knife that had been tucked away in one of them as if it were waiting for this exact moment. I opened the blade, and as if possessed by a higher power, I slowly inserted it into the lock of the box.
My heart raced as I heard the click that signaled my success. Gripping the sides tightly, I lifted the lid to uncover a sea of darkness. A small piece of paper sat on top, with one single word written in dripping, black ink.
"First of all," I said in disgust, throwing the box on the sofa, "I'm not running anywhere." At this point, all I can muster is the audacity to laugh. Humor is my single greatest strength. My second is doubting myself.
"It could be real, though," I convinced myself.
"No, there's no way. This type of thing could only happen in a movie. It's a prank. End of story." A solid rebuttal.
The package almost certainly couldn't be for me. I didn't tell anyone I had moved yet. I stopped mid-thought to update my to-do list. I hadn't told my parents, my sister, or any of my friends, what little of them were left.
So I did what any rational adult would do- I googled it. The only thing that came up was a local delivery company in the area. Nobody else delivered this fair into rural Montana, especially in the dead of winter. At least, this was something I could work with.
I rolled my eyes and grabbed the box, ready to march downtown and demand answers. But before I could take a single step toward the door, the phone rang. Under the crack in my screen, it said: unknown number.
"Hello?" I answered cautiously.
"Hey, Dan," A chilling voice on the other end said in a robotic monotone, "This is your wake-up call." And with that, the line went dead.
I slowly lowered the phone from my ear, suddenly aware of the cold sweat forming on my forehead. I had no idea who this person was or what they wanted with me- but they knew my name and had my number.
My mouth went dry as I realized what was going on. The box wasn't a prank, after all. It was my fate delivered to my doorstep, and this person on the phone had all the answers. With fear coursing through me, I sat down on my bed, anxious about what would come next.
"No, you're crazy. This is not real," I said aloud, attempting to calm the other, more nervous, half of my psyche. I took a deep breath and shook my head.
"I'm in control," I repeated to myself. I had to take charge of the situation before it got away from me. Suddenly, my phone buzzed with an incoming text. I'd gone into a full panic, downward spiral, and mental breakdown in the course of maybe 20 minutes. Reluctantly, I looked down at the ruined screen of my phone, in my bandaged hand, to see a text from my mom. It read:
"Did you get my package, Dan?" complete with a laughing emoji.
The thing about family is that you can never really hide from them, especially if you can't stand them. I sighed, laughed, and thought about changing my name and moving to an island in the Caribbean.
"At least you didn't reach a full psychotic break, Dan," I said, heading back to the window, just in case.