The Package

Septemer 20, 2010

This is a short story I wrote for a challenge from NPR called “Three Minute Fiction.” It’s a series of challenges to write a story that can be read out loud in three minutes.

This one had to start with the line, “Some people swore that the house was haunted.” And it had to end with the line, “Nothing was ever the same again after that.”

If you’ve read anything on this blog, you understand that I picked up my pen immediately.

 

The Package

Some people swore that the house was haunted, that the windows flickered with light, an occasional crash heard from the gate. I had never seen these signs of life from beyond, or any life at all.

I rode my bike by the old house every day, sometimes stopping at the gate to squint into the distance. Legend had me watching for a ghost, not the squatter that my instinct was demanding.

I found it on a Friday in Autumn. The air was so crisp it sharpened all five senses. Mostly hidden by fallen leaves, a plain brown package tucked securely against the black rails. It must have gone unnoticed for days. The only sticker was almost all white, black streaks on the edges.

The gate wasn’t locked, but I still couldn’t open it. Decades of rust had replaced any working latch with a solid, orange block.

It took a portion of my afternoon, but I made my way to that crumbling front porch. I heard a voice coming from inside the house. I put my ear on the wooden door, hoping it would work like a stethoscope. I could hear two distinct voices.

With no warning at all, my sinuses gave out to the old dirt and mold. The two voices came to an abrupt stop. Hard footsteps made their way down a stairway inside. I heard things being dragged across wooden floors. The sounds got closer and closer to the door until they were hitting the door itself. Two locks were unlatched. The doorknob squeaked a half rotation. The door ripped out of its frame. It sounded like parts were breaking the whole way open.

A man stood in the doorway. Long, unkept hair hanging down his back and off his face. He was wearing a battered flannel over a once-white-t-shirt, sweatpants, and black socks. No shoes.

“Yes?”
“Hi. I– I, uh…”
I looked around the porch, down by my feet. The package! I left it at the gate!
“What is it?”
“You got a package. I found it outside your gate. I meant to bring it with me, but it’s right there.”
I pointed to the sidewalk. My bike was propped up, with the brown box next to it.
He started to close the door.
“Everyone thinks a ghost lives here.”
The door stopped.
“I’ve been called a ghost for a long time now. It’s hard to help someone who’s looking for a ghost.”
The man was senile.
“Alright, well, I can tell everybody that you live here. Is that O.K.?”
“Tell them what you like. What’s important is that you know I’m here.”
I jumped off the porch and looked back at the poor, crazy man.
“I’ll toss your package over the gate.”
“Don’t bother. There’s nothing in it. But I’m glad you found it.”

I couldn’t think of anything else for the whole weekend. I had so many questions for the old man. Whose voices did I hear? How long had he been there?

On my way to school on Monday morning, there was a huge machine with a wrecking ball in the yard of the haunted house. There were two men standing in the yard shaking hands, one in a suit, the other wearing a hard hat. The one in the hard hat saw me riding by. He smiled and winked at me, then climbed into the machine.

Nothing was ever the same again after that.

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