With the ringing of the bell I was on my feet, and by a brace of pattering I was at the door.
At my command, it opened.
Before me was a drone, perfectly centered within the frame, hovering in wait above its payload. Clasped in each imitation claw was a string, and as my arrival processed within its circuits, it rose in turn, and disappeared. The strings were liberated as its grip achieved critical mass. If they had been shaped into anything resembling a bow, the sight had been lost on me. Surprise had kept my eyes glued to the mechanical marvel across every critical moment, and as such, any initial evidence as to its sender was lost.
As I regarded the new arrival curiously, the wind fell to its own fumbling liberties with the strings, as if working in tangent excitement towards the impending revelation.
I knelt to read the packing label, inspecting all sides carefully for it. The package was quite heavy.
For that reason and more, my excitement blossomed considerably.
But my investigations were ultimately fruitless. Save for a bar code I simply had no way of interpreting, the container was bare. No, I would need Benny to—
I began to cry.
I had told myself I wouldn't...
But it was no use.
I was powerless to kneel any longer. I promptly eased into a sitting position before the inner threshold. I held my face in my palm, and wept. My thoughts tended images of him in caustic procession, spilling like snapshots from a camera of doom.
My poor baby. He was so young.
I raised my eyes beyond the surrogate gift and pierced the scene there with sorrowful contempt. He had been just a little boy. And no little boy should ever die.
The trees swayed mindlessly in the breeze. The flowers teetered limply, as if ashamed. There were no squirrels, no birds...no cardinals. There was nothing but an empty street.
I watched it now, like a deer caught in the headlights of a truck.
But, in time, the feelings once more passed, and the passing time brought placid reality back as the baseline of my senses. Hurt paved the way for emotions of excitement to come flooding back, and I rose delicately first to a kneel—then to my feet.
I regarded the box with a surrendering smile and retreated, inching my way back through the vestibule and a step beyond the stairway banister. I rotated around. At my command the stoop began to rise and gently tilt. In one smooth motion, the package slipped onto the floor and lay still. At my next command, the stoop reset, the front door slipped shut, and locked.
The package would be safe there for now.
I turned my attention to my afternoon tea and scones. Philip, God rest his soul, had been one to indulge in such things. Only after his death had I developed a real taste for them. It had been a learning experience, certainly. Just as it was now with our little Benny up in Heaven with him.
At least they'll keep each other company for a good long while until I get there, I thought, and smiled a little.
I glided ritualistically into the kitchen, on direct course for my tea cabinet. Still, I was of the mind to mix it up a little bit today. It was about time I opened that box of lemon balm tea that Joyce had so often recommended.
I removed the plastic wrapping, worked open the cardboard flap, and—
I put the box on the counter. I was getting a little ahead of myself, wasn't I?
I filled the teapot, placed it on the burner, and set the knob to high. I moved to the kitchen table and lowered myself onto the chair. I began back on the grocery flyers, clipping coupons habitually. This morning had been quieter than usual, and I had made my cuttings in record time.
Ahh, I thought, arriving at a coupon for hamburger that I had been hoping for for some time. I was planning on making shepherd's pie in memory of my boys. Benny had taken a shine to it even as a baby, and it was something that Philip and he had shared on countless occasions. It was my way of keeping them together, I guess.
I clipped on, feeling accomplished and satisfied. Soon the teapot was whistling, and I made my usual ritual of feet and walker. I shut off the burner then took down a mug and set it on the counter. I placed two teabags in and doused them. I brought it back to the table and, folding one of the tattered flyers as a temporary coaster, left it to steep.
I fell once more into my groove, sipping tea sporadically. It was a bit tart for my tastes, but it felt like a welcome change today. As I finished my clippings, I realized I had all but forgotten about my mystery package. I supposed there was no reason in delaying any longer. I likewise felt steeped in excitement.
I journeyed once more to the vestibule, holding the scissors carefully. I knelt before the package again and cut through the tape. I pulled back the flaps and looked inside. It was chock full of packing peanuts, in three colors: blue, red, and green.
Christmas colors, no less.
But I was puzzled, all the same.
There was something so elemental about their hues; as if they had been hand-picked just for me. I didn't know how I knew...I just knew.
Sky blue. Strawberry red. Neon green.
More like tear blue. Heart red.
But I paused. The green wasn't exactly neon, either. In fact, it was unlike any shade of neon I had ever seen; at least...outside my imagination. And I'd certainly never described it to anybody, either. Least of all for the dyeing of packing peanuts.
I felt almost terrified to find out what awaited me beneath them.
And then...the music came.
As if on cue, it rang out from somewhere beneath the yuletidal stuffing. And as I listened— stunned as I was— my mind and heart felt gently eased deeper and deeper into submission. If only for the fact that it was a melody I recognized, too. It was the lullaby I had played for Benny...and for his mother. Once upon a time.
Weeping inconsolably now, as if toward an ultimate release, I plunged my hands deep into the mass and felt...plastic. I worked my hands blindly over it.
I gripped the object in both hands, then pulled it up and out. I felt as if I were liberating something that was precious beyond words.
A gem, perhaps. Or a child.
I removed the wrapping feverishly, and looked its contents over.
It was a picture frame. A lovely one, no doubt.
But at its center...
I couldn't believe my eyes.
Benny, Philip, Judith, me...
Oh, Heavenly Lord...
But...it couldn't be. Simply couldn't be. Age and memory were leaving their mark on me, there was no doubt about that. But they didn't change the fact that I knew this picture had never been taken, and that it could not have been taken. Jonathan. He didn't look a day over fifteen. And that had been nearly two decades ago. This photo looked like it had been taken yesterday.
And that wasn't all.
Philip and Benny were wearing the same clothes as they had on the day they had died. The same with Jonathan. The same exact clothes.
Unsure of what to think— or feel—I could only turn the frame around in my hands.
An engraving on the backing board caught my eye.
It read, quite simply:
May this unexpected treasure heal your broken heart. They may be gone, but they will never be forgotten."
And then, below...the lullaby I had spoken to them all; for the first time; long ago.
So long ago.
In the years that followed me from that strange arrival to this hospital bed, where I now lay, near the end, I never discovered its sender; though in my heart, I think I always knew. It had surely been the work of an angel.
Or a ghost in that machine.
AN AFTERWORD: STORY MEANING, REVEALED (SPOILERS)
The following is a syntax of notes, edited toward a manner that details my intentions in both the earlier and the later stages of my writing. I think half the points are obvious in my writing--and prove that I'm probably talking like Mr. Ventura here--whereas the other half are perhaps less so.
Of course, the final version of the tale has its own story to tell. But regardless of what lens you ultimately end up perceiving it through, I hope it was one you enjoyed.
So, without further ado
(And with the confidence that the following words will only appear to those who have sought them out...)
the basis of this tale is as follows:
The drone, anonymously, delivered the mysterious package. It is the will and bidding of the so-called "ghost in the machine" that is unfolding. The photo was algorithmically created by the program that sent the drone to her door, or perhaps the drone itself. The box was heavy because of the machine's technical conversion of the logical heaviness of what she is/has been going through and the likewise emotional weight of the photo and frame.
About the Creator
Hello all! I am an aspiring vocalist, filmmaker + writer. I hope you gain something personal + inspiring from my work here. You are also welcome to subscribe to my YouTube Channel: Ad-Libbing With The Zman.