A Short Short Story – The Box

Short Short Stories give your your daily dose of fiction in a thousand words or less.
box
U.S. National Archives

The Box

A man receives a box in the mail, with no return address. A plain brown box, wrapped with even browner tape, his address handwritten on the front of the box in an unfamiliar hand; scribbled in magic marker, almost childishly. He takes the box from the front doorstep and brings it inside. Then, the man is distracted by an urgent telephone call. And so he forgets all about the box. Soon, it is late afternoon, and soon enough, his wife and children come home. So it is early evening, stars blooming into view, before he gets a chance to look at the box again. His wife and children are in the living room, watching TV, the children gathered on the carpet, in probable cancer-causing proximity to the television, will meanwhile, his wife sits primly on the sofa. The box sits there on the kitchen table. He stands there in the kitchen and stares at the box. “What are you looking at?” his wife says. “Nothing,” he says. “Just a random package.” “…How bizarre,” he almost adds, but instead falls silent. There is something unsettling about the package, with its childish, almost illegible script written on the front: his name and his address. Rectangular, dull brown, about ten inches by eight inches by sixteen inches. What could be inside it? A bomb? A boring stack of paperwork? An old antique sent by a distant relative? Why doesn’t he just open it? He rubs his forehead in distress. Who the fuck sends  things without a return address? He hears the crackle and fizz of the TV from the other room. “At low annual rates!” the television says. One of the children coughs. He reaches his hand toward the box. Anything could be inside it, really. Why doesn’t he just open it? But to open the box, he knows, would collapse all the waveforms. Anything could be inside it, and once he opens it, he will know, and knowing this then there will be nothing left to know. Whatever is inside it could be awful or boring or wonderful — a bomb, a dead fish, a parcel of grapefruit sent from Florida…. A single flower. A handful of slugs. A mysterious letter. A deed to a haunted house. Really, it could be anything. Really, he should just open it and then rejoin his family in the living room, what is keeping him from doing that, really. The longer he stares, the less he knows what to do. In the living room, his wife yawns. “Consider the advantages,” the TV says. …Somewhere in the city, he thinks, madmen dance on rooftops — somewhere lovers kiss, men walk down cursed alleyways, travelers groan at traffic jams, friends reunite, doomed moments happen, wonderful minutes happen, last seconds pass, and somewhere maybe perhaps someone else is opening another strange box at this exact same moment? Or maybe not. He wonders and rubs at his forehead. From the living room, the crackle of the TV. The man stares at the box and wonders what to do. TC mark

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