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A mystery involving a misaddressed package

By Wilkie StewartPublished 3 years ago 3 min read

The birds in the harbour swooped and dived as if flight was something new, a skill they had invented only this morning. Boats bobbed on the water as boats invariably bob on water. It was sunny, not too hot yet, but with the few clouds thinning, the day was losing the battle against the summer heat.

At the sound of the door closing Ellie turned away from the mystery parcel she had been touching and smiled in spite of the shadow before her. She prepared herself for difficulty. "What will it be today, Mrs Bright?"

The old woman narrowed her eyes to match the black dash of her hat. She took a postcard out of her bag. The card was plain - just the address on one side and a message on the other - no cuddly pets, smiling children with sandcastles, or sea views at sunset for the widow. "I want to send this to my sister in Canada," she said. "The cheapest option please. And no-one is to read the message."

Ellie was about to say that she couldn't guarantee privacy as the writing was in public view but decided she would not contradict. "We'll certainly do our best," she said.

The widow paused, money in her hand, as if this answer was insufficient.

"We treat all mail as confidential," Ellie said, "but perhaps you should put your message in an envelope. Then you could be certain that no-one but your sister could read it?"

"Wouldn't that be more expensive?" The widow's lips grew ever grimmer.

"Yes, but not by much."

The widow's eyes narrowed again. The gaze made Ellie feel like a cheat. The widow paid the cost of the postage stamp and left. As Ellie neatly positioned the Queen's head in the top right corner and put the card in the sack she noted the funeral arrangements the old woman wanted when she passed. 'Cremation. No ornaments on the casket, no flowers, and no mourners.' Poor old cow. It must be sad to sit at home waiting on death like that without even a cheerful funeral at the end of it all.

There was not much for the post van to pick up today. Just a few letters and the postcard. And that parcel. It had lain on the incoming shelf for four days, addressed to someone unknown in the town. She had thought a person might ask for it, a holiday maker although there were few even at this time of year, or just someone expecting something. She had tried to match the street name to another town but none of the online suggestions seemed likely. She gave it a shake - nothing rattled or rustled.

With no further customers, and nothing pressing for her attention, Ellie's curiosity got the better of her. She carefully undid the brown paper packaging. Inside was a wooden box of some sort. She lifted the lid.

On the hill the widow felt the blast push at her back like a firm hand. She turned. The tiny post office was burning, windows blown out, door hanging in pieces. Black smoke coiled into the air. For a second she thought she saw something move in the fire but the roof collapsed, and flames curled into the air. There were men running from the harbour, their fishing boots thumping hard on the wooden pier. The widow turned away again, feeling faint, afraid to look anymore. She continued up the hill, the smell of the smoke catching up with her. In her cottage, she closed the curtains, and sat in the gloom. Later she turned on the light, addressed another postcard and started to write out her wishes again.


About the Creator

Wilkie Stewart

Writer of strange little tales living in Glasgow, Scotland. A former IT professional who loves literary fiction, poetry, Eurovision, art-house film, post-crossing, and comics. Walks daily with his camera when he can. @werewegian1 on Twitter

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    Wilkie StewartWritten by Wilkie Stewart

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