I hope they catch me, I really do, so I can explain my motive in a rational, informed manner. I’m not crazy, you know. To catch me in act, however, someone would have to look over my six-foot fence to see into the backyard, and who is going to do that? Not sure why I’m so paranoid about it. I stopped for three years. Why did I start again this season?
Maybe it’s the coming holidays, and my memories of the grief we got from the HOA over my Ex’s holiday decorations four years ago, our first, her last and only year in this house. I am still flabbergasted, maybe somewhat pissed-off even though I very silently agreed with them. They think the outside of the house puked Christmas (my words, not theirs)? That’s what they were rightly saying in the notice we received, though they used the phrase “Excessive Décor.” Well don’t come inside y’all unless you have a Holiday Hazmat suit on. I both miss and don’t miss that meaningless glitz, the constant visual chatter. It was kinda like “Seinfeld,” you know? That TV show that was about nothing, nothing at all, and yet it was something you looked forward to along with the rest of the mindless masses. It was like that.
But I don’t give a crap. I’m raking my leaves into the garden beds. The landscrapers that they’ve hired maintain the front lawns and xeriscaped flower beds, so I’m going to do what the hell I want (within reason) in the back yard. Screw them, you know? I mean, why go against nature and remove the habitat and hibernating cover for all the good bugs - the pollinators and others that keep nature in balance come spring. Well, I could do without the earwigs and squash bugs, to be honest. And I can relate, I mean, who wants their home swept away on a whimsey, because someone is more concerned about appearances?
Hell, the raking I’m doing now is bad enough so I’m not going to throw these inhabitants out with yesterday’s trash. And they’d hang me in the basketball courts for all the association to see if I let the lawn die or suffer in any way. Idiots, those uninformed people on the HOA committee, what with their perfectly manicured, plastic looking yards that look like they came from an accessory kit for Barbie’s Dreamhouse.
Flipp’n mainlining suburbia. I need outta here, man. I don’t feel at home here, never really did. It’s somehow both too big and too small. But I got the place in the divorce, Goldilocks moved to Ohio and left me here in Boise. Beautiful country but a shitty growing season. And it’s just not just right anymore. Wasn’t for her either, obviously. And though it was sort of by default that I got the house, I took it as a small win. Dumbass.
I work for myself from home in tech support, slipping in front and back doors to all sorts of high-end computer systems, finding and fixing big problems, as I’ve done for more than a half a dozen years before the time of the covid. We moved here to Boise soon after we got married, about five years before buying this, our second house here, and because of the luck of timing and such, we were able to get this place for cash, so no mortgage. Janet (the Ex) was offered a position at BSU, and I could take my work anywhere, so no real reason not to move here.
It’s okay, I guess. We made friends with a couple of couples, and I became close to Matt, the husband of one of Janet’s collegiate colleagues, Raquel, so he’s my only real friend here, and has remained so even after Janet basically ran off with the “rock-star” Econ Professor she met at some week-long symposium. But during covid’s height Matt, who works in robotics sales, and I have mostly just chatted online through text or face to face, and went out for a cold beverage a couple of times this past summer. Lately he’s been bugging me to come out again, and to get back into “the game.” Well, he likes to read sport biographies, and I’m into mysteries, detective or spy novels – always have been (you know, problem solving). What he thinks is a game is a fucking mystery to me, that being the world of dating. So, now, I’m a certified hermit, or a Hobbit, I guess (but without the hairy feet, though I’m not big on adventures). I’m okay with that. No, I am, really.
Anyway, here I am, late morning on a windless, sunny Saturday, taking some time after a bike ride to rake the leaves somewhat guiltily into the garden beds in the back, all worried and shit that someone was watching, waiting to report me. The rest of the plans for the day involve a shower, a bit of grocery shopping, a couple hours of work, and then some quality time with something streaming on the idiot box. But then, interrupting thoughts of my exciting schedule, and over the somewhat rhythmic scratch-scratch-screech of my rake, I hear a humming like a loud and lovely swarm of honeybees. And it's getting closer, slowing down, my big, doppler radar ears are telling me.
Then I see it, a black drone that sort of looks pregnant, coming in from the west, just over the trees that are the literal source of my growing paranoia and work today. It seems to be following the street line. My first thought is, “Okay, someone is looking over our fences!” Then I realize there's a box in the underbelly clutches of the air beast, and think, “Oh, cool! Someone is getting actual airmail, and it is about to deliver!”
It's the first time I’ve seen one of these newfangled deliveries in action, and I'm curious and hoping it's for a close neighbor so I can watch. So, leaf rake in hand I slip out the gate, quickly closing it behind me to hide the evidence of my rebellious behavior, and slide out front to see, but not wanting to look like I was watching, you know? I really can’t pull off nonchalant very well, never has been part of my posture skillset. You know, so much like Kramer rather than Jason Bourn.
I see the flying thing, passing between the maples on either side of the street. It is whirring softer now, slowing down between my house and the Carlson’s across from us – ah, me – and I’m wondering what Margie bought this time (they get lots of deliveries). But it turns my way, heading to my house. Huh? What? My house? What the hell? I didn’t order anything recently.
I almost go to defend my two-story castle with my trusty, plastic rake, but don’t really feel as threatened as all that, yet I keep Excalibur in a firm, two-handed grip, the blade resting on my shoulder in feigned bravado and nonchalance, but battle ready. Well. I chuckle at myself thinking it is more of a fly swatter than a sword, waiting for this giant fly to get near enough to swat, and I wish I had spent $7 more and bought the metal one. Curiosity takes back over and I relax my choked-up grip, stepping closer, yet still on the perfectly coiffed, buzz-cut lawn to watch the multi-winged insect slow and drop lower as it hones in on my driveway.
I watch with fascination as this bug-eyed thing, camera scanning while it lowers to only about 20 feet up or so, checking to make sure to stay clear of anything that could interfere with its flight or landing zone. Damned thing does look like a big-assed bug from some sci-fi movie. It picks a spot and lowers itself to just inches off the ground over on the walkway, and softly releasing the box which gives a slight and hollow-sounding "plop."
Then the delivery dragon rises to eye level, suddenly pivots towards me, its camera raising its cyclops eye to look directly at me. It inches closer in this very creepy manner, stopping about eight feet away. Then the whole thing pivots back and forth several times, camera dropping down like a human bending at the neck, shaking their head in some sort of humorous or sarcastic judgement, “Oh, Bradley, what are we going to do with you?”. Then it looks at me again (I swear I hear it chuckle), turns and quickly flies off reversing its course. I don’t even have a chance to smite it or to follow it any farther than to the middle of the road.
It's then that realize I hadn’t noticed any sort of company name or logo, nothing tattooed on its underbelly; no clever smiley-faced arrow, no American Eagle, no shield, nothing. Interesting, maybe ominous. And very, very fucking curious. I keep looking down the way it came, half expecting to see some big black SUV or non-descript white, paneled van speed off, but the air beast of burden is just gone, baby, gone. Guess I need to stop watching so many formulaic cop shows because my slightly over-dramatic imagination silently shouts, “Oh shit, maybe it’s a burner phone in the box, and someone’s been kidnapped!”
I quickly dismiss that idea since I don’t know anyone who is particularly worthy of being kidnapped (sorry, fam). And though I’m very solvent, I’m not the guy you’d come to for a bunch of money, for some payoff with a bag of unmarked bills dropped in a garbage can on the corner of 12th and Main. But it's a fun thought, for a moment. Leaning my rake against the garage as I approach the package, I can see that the box appears rather plain, unmarked, just like the black stork that delivered it.
It's about eight inches on each side and just has my name written on it: “Bradley” is penned diagonally in about two-inch letters by permanent marker over the clear tape that seals it. That’s it. No address, bar codes, QR, no paper labels of any kind – nada. So, I pick it up, more carefully than I normally would any other package on my doorstep, and as I rise I see the Carlson’s front drape fall closed. “Hi Margie. Yes, I get deliveries too, you old nosey-Nelly.”
It is rather light, and the weight seems evenly distributed and about that of, well, a cell phone. And still, inspecting the rest of the box there isn’t anything else denoting who it's from, or who carried out the delivery. It doesn’t even make any kind of noise when shaken. I have no damned clue. Which, of course, seems to be the point.
Box in hand, I grab the rake and go back through the gate and into the house through the side garage door, not even putting the rake back in its hangy-hooky-thingy. I sit the box on the kitchen island counter, snag a sparkling water from the fridge and the kitchen shears from the holder. Sitting on the stool, I examine the box again. Nothing. The box is new, I can tell, but otherwise non-descript, generic – just a frigg’n box you can get anywhere. And the weight of the contents still feels about like that of a phone.
I carefully open the box and discover bubble wrap. How surprising. But it's like a bundle of it, all nicely rolled up protecting the object in the center. So I unroll it, several layers worth, until I get to its center, finding a brown paper lunch sack, it too all nicely rolled up a bit. It's like some big hard candy with a surprise caramel center. I pour the contents onto the bubble wrap I had sort of folded, and out plops not a cell phone but a zipper sealed sandwich baggie with what looks like a brown, sort of oblong rock inside, about the size of an eggroll. Well, shit, what the hell is this crap? Someone is sending me a rock?
Sure enough, it feels like a rock, but upon closer inspection, I can see it isn’t granite, or sandstone, or – well, those were the only two kinds of rocks I know or can think of – but it isn’t like those. I take it out of the baggie, feeling the weight of it in my hand. It seems quite dense, solid, and a bit heavier for its size than one might expect, yet it's somewhat segmented, as though it might break at those points if I'm not careful with it. And, well, it's ugly as shit, kind of looks like shit, but it's definitely a rock.
I absolutely can not think of anyone that would anonymously send me a rock, just no one. But I know whoever sent this to me wants me to figure out what it is, or I wouldn’t understand the message. This puzzle is personal and meant for me to put together.
Well, how does someone figure out what kind of rock their rock is? I took zero earth science in school, though I’m sure I must have had some in general science courses in high school, but that was ages ago and I don’t remember shit. I’m not out-doorsy that way, so my knowledge base is an empty file folder that was created, forgotten, and purged. Guess I'm going to have to consult the Grand Oracle.
So, I take the lump of brown stone to my desk, open my browser, and call up a search engine. Keying in “how do you identify a rock,” it filled in for me “or mineral.” Click. I know there'll be a ton of results, but I go with one of the top ones as those are usually for novices, like I am. People who don’t know what they don’t know. That's me.
Oh geeze, I didn’t know there were so many things to consider. Who knew rocks had “cleavage,” or “luster,” or “specific gravity?” Yeah, not me. And how do you figure out or test those things? I don’t want to break it into pieces if I don’t have to, at least not yet. However, I do find something that might point me in the right direction, the “hardness” of the specimen, which, according to someone named “Mohs,” I can test with ordinary objects, like my fingernail, a copper penny, a knife or a nail. Well, my fingernail doesn’t make a scratch, but they seem almost like equals. So, I move on.
A quick rifling through the kitchen junk drawer nets me my next three tools. The penny is first, and that seems to leave a little mark, but I'm not completely sure if it is scratching the rock, or if the rock scraped material off the penny. But my pen knife, that I never carry with me, it does make a scratch, quite easily. So, I try the penny again and am pretty sure this time that it is scratching the rock. So, I try my thumbnail instead of my index finger this time, and with a bit more elbow grease it does make the tiniest of marks. Okay, how freak’n simple is that! This is fun!
Okay, feeling a bit like some cool scientist that I don’t know any names of, I go back to Mohs Hardness Scale and see that I likely have something between calcite and apatite. Well, duh. As my feeling of great discovery are leaving me, I feel a movement between my legs. It's Master Johnny, also-known-as "Jon-Jon," my cat. I reach down to scratch his head, he graces me with a meow, and then trots to the sliding-glass door. He must have decided it was time to go outside and poop, and I hadn’t released the cat door latch yet. He prefers to do his thing outside when the weather doesn’t suck, but otherwise he’s content to hang and crap inside, leaving me to clean up his little litter rocas.
Back to the search, taking me too many ways this time, getting lost as I discover that these minerals are found everywhere, in most every kind of rock, even in fossils. Merde! So, I take a thinking break, trying to add up what I do know. I grab some cold, leftover pizza from the fridge and decide I'm complicating this too much.
What do I know? Completely anonymous package, delivered by a black drone, eggroll-sized rock in a brown sack. Taking a bite into the hard, cold crust of my two-day old pizza, my mind skips back to fossils.
This time it takes me less than 90 seconds to search “kinds of fossils” to find "Coprolites" – petrified poop, fossilized feces, crystalized crap. How did I not see this? This is all I needed. Someone sent me a literal sack of shit. And I know exactly who that is as they have taken to calling me that lately (but in a buddy-buddy, friend way), “Hey, Bradley, you old sack of shit, let’s grab lunch this weekend, eh?” I should have caught on sooner. Bonehead.
I dial Matt’s number, and he picks up right away, and all I can hear is laughter, obviously on speaker phone in his car (a small, black SUV). I laugh too, and ask, “Time and place? I’ll be there, I promise.” “Tonight,” he says, “6:30 for dinner at Poco’s Grill. Raquel will be there too. Turns out her divorced sister is in town and will be joining us. Imagine that.” My head down, shaking it from side to side, all I can say back is, “Asshole.” Laughter.