Happy Saturday! Our writers have provided some fun, sometimes creepy, reading for your Saturday morning.
This week’s prompt was: You open your neighbor’s mail. What do you find?
I’d known there was something not quite right about my next-door neighbor. Oh, she was always perfectly polite. She waved when we saw each other in our neighborhood. Maybe that was part of it. She was always perfectly polite. Like she was following some script for being a good neighbor. But that, by itself, wouldn’t have been enough to make me suspicious.
And it wasn’t just that she came and went at odd hours, disappearing sometimes for days at a time. Never for too long. She never asked the post office to stop her mail, and she always made sure to get back before her mailbox became too full.
It wasn’t really the fact that no one ever came to her house. Though I did think it was strange that she apparently had no family or friends whatsoever. And when I tried to offer her my friendship, she politely but firmly rejected it.
It wasn’t even that she lived alone but drove a huge SUV with extremely dark windows in the back. I’d tried to glance inside once, wondering what she could possibly need such a large vehicle for, but the darkness of the interior was impenetrable.
It was all of those things, and none of them. There was just something off about her.
So when she’d been gone for a few days that week, I decided to figure out just what was up. I told myself it was for the sake of the neighborhood. We didn’t want any undesirable elements living there, after all. Like drug dealers or thieves.
That’s how I convinced myself that it was perfectly acceptable to sneak over to her mailbox that night and riffle through her mail.
At first it all looked boringly innocent. The same advertisements I’d received the past few days. A few magazines. Although, American Handgunner, Tactical Weapons, and Soldier of Fortune weren’t your normal suburban fare.
Then there was the grungy envelope with no return address. It had my neighbor’s address, but the addressee was someone I’d never heard of. I. M. Good. Who the heck would name their child I. M. Good? Was there someone else living in my neighbor’s house? Someone I’d never seen and didn’t even know was there? This was getting…stranger…by the minute.
The envelope had clearly gone through a lot of travel. It had several postmarks and notations of no such addressee and addressee unknown crossed out. It was creased and ragged. And when I turned it over to look at the other side, I could see that it was barely sealed shut. The slightest pressure would open it.
I didn’t actually decide to apply that pressure. I would have sworn that the stupid thing opened on its own. I did swear it. In fact, I didn’t even take the paper out of it. I just peeked inside.
Dear Sir or Madame,
Your name has come to our attention as someone who can help us resolve a problem of some significance. We would of course make it worth your while to take the time to contact us. We understand that you do not do face to face meetings, which is preferable to us as well. We would need to know if you will require assistance getting your equipment into the country, or if you have special necessities in order to perform the functions of your work
That’s all I saw. It meant nothing to me. I would have sworn that. In fact, I did swear that. Repeatedly.
Even when I woke up in my neighbor’s basement, my head aching where something had struck it.
Even as I fought the ropes that tied me to the rickety chair that rocked on one short leg every time I squirmed.
Even as my neighbor covered her work bench with all her terrifying tools; various pliers and small sharp picks and scalpels and hand saws.
Even as she turned toward me, her voice devoid of anything except the slightest bit of exasperation as she said, “I truly hate moving, you know. And here you’ve made it necessary for me to move again, so very soon.”
And none of my swearing made the slightest bit of difference. No matter how loudly I swore…
I study the square, paper-wrapped package sitting on my coffee table. I probably should have just left it where it was, sitting outside the door of my across-the-hall neighbor’s apartment. But I rarely see that neighbor, and there the package was, with the big, bold words PERISHABLE and OPEN IMMEDIATELY written across it. It would be a shame, if there was something in there that needed immediate attention, and my absentee neighbor just left it sitting there for days. So I’m being helpful, really, by rescuing it.
I lean a little closer, studying the heavy pink calligraphy flowing across the top of the package. You don’t often see packages addressed in pink. There’s the apartment building’s address, and above it the name Oreson Smith. What an odd spelling for Orson. Or maybe I’m misreading the calligraphy?
There’s no return address. I pick the package up, just to see if it’s written on the bottom. As I bring the box closer to my face, I’m suddenly hit by the most delectable scent—like warm cookies, and cinnamon, and the best birthday cake I ever had on the best birthday I ever experienced. I swallow, suddenly ravenous.
I obviously shouldn’t tamper with my neighbor’s mail. But it would be a much bigger crime to let whatever this delicious thing is sit there and spoil. I’ll just…put it away in my fridge. Out of sight, out of range for temptation.
I manage a couple of steps towards the kitchen, that scent wafting around me all the while, before it occurs to me that maybe the food should be frozen. Maybe it’s ice cream cake. I wouldn’t want to put it in my fridge, and have it melt away anyway.
But I can’t know, can I, unless I open the package up to see what’s inside, so I can store it appropriately. That’s perfectly reasonable, perfectly logical. Surely my neighbor will understand.
And the longer I smell that amazing smell, the less I care whether he does or not.
I get a knife from the kitchen, cut through the paper to reveal a wooden box with stars carved in the lid beneath it. Strange container for food, but I’m past caring. I lift the lid, expecting a glorious feast beneath.
I am not expecting a miniature living room, complete with windows in the sides of the box showing a distant, dizzying landscape, with a three-inch tall woman sitting on a couch and looking up at me indignantly.
“You’re not Oreson!” the tiny woman snaps, hands on her hips.
I reel backwards, stunned. “But you’re…you’re…” Impossible! Incomprehensible! Tiny! That gorgeous smell hits me again, and I breath out, “…beautiful.”
Because she is, glaring at me with shining blue eyes, red hair bouncing in curls on her shoulders, pink wings shimmering up from her shoulders. I never believed in love at first sight, but now my knees are weak and my heart is pounding and I never felt anything like this before.
Some distant part of my mind finds this all especially odd because I’m not usually attracted to women, and there’s still the little matter of her being three inches tall…but mostly that seems quite unimportant. Because she’s the most exquisite, most delightful person I’ve ever seen.
“You are so beautiful,” I repeat, unable to put a more eloquent thought together and yet telling her so seems like the most important thing in the world. She should know how wonderful she is!
She just sighs, and I am consumed by sorrow at the thought that she might be sad. “Serves me right,” she says, “for not keeping up on my magical attraction dampening.”
She lifts her hand and before I can say another word, a spray of pink sparkles hits me in the face. I gasp instinctively, and feel the world spin around me, awash in pink and glitter.
I slump back on my couch, my heavy eyelids sliding closed.
I drift in and out of awareness, with little sense of where I am and even less sense of time passing. Now and then I awake just enough to realize I’m in my apartment, before everything dissolves into sparkly, hazy dreams again.
On one of these times, or maybe it’s all part of a dream, I think I see the tiny woman again, standing on my coffee table. My neighbor is there now too, a short, bearded man. They seem to be arguing.
“This is a good apartment,” my neighbor growls, “and stunts like this will force me to move!”
“Don’t blame me,” the tiny woman says, hands on her hips. “You should have been here to accept my package!”
“And I’ve told you, mailing yourself to me is a stupid way to come visit!”
“Do you know how much airfare costs these days?”
“Never mind, we can argue about it later. Hit my neighbor with enough glam to make sure all this gets forgotten.”
But I don’t want to forget—this is much more interesting than anything I ever found in anyone’s mail before!
I barely think the thought before another wash of sparkles sprays over me, and the world drifts away.
R. A. Gates:
“I’ll be right out,” Kody called down to Laney from his upstairs bedroom window. They had plans to go harvest Crystal Lotus flowers in the valley about a mile outside of town. The flower, popular in some of the more exotic potions, only bloomed for a few days in February. Laney had planned to go alone since harvesting the flower was pretty boring, but Kody had insisted on coming.
“Don’t forget to bring two pairs of gloves,” Laney yelled back up to him. The first pairs always got soaked with melted snow and packed with thorns.
“Oh, hey,” Kody said, head poking out of his window. “Can you grab the mail for me?” He nodded toward the mailbox at the edge of the yard.
“Sure,” Laney said. The snow that fell the previous day had already turned to ice, so she stepped carefully to grab the mail from the box. There were a couple magazines that she assumed were for his mom, unless Kody had a secret talent for knitting he hadn’t confessed to yet. The usual utility bill, grocery ads, and what looked to be a greeting card addressed to Kody.
Laney stopped in the middle of the walkway leading to the front door and stared at the envelope. It was pink with little hearts and Xs and Os all over it in neat, flowing handwriting. A pair of lipstick lips sealed the back flap. The scent of gardenias wafted off the piece of mail.
Laney frowned as she stared at the obviously feminine handwriting. Why would some girl send Kody a car—Valentine’s Day. The holiday was a few days away. Angry, jealous pixies stirred in her gut, making her grip the envelope a little too hard, making it bend in the corner.
Laney blew out a long breath. Why was she acting like this? She had no claim on Kody. He was a very attractive guy with his dark hair that liked to hang over his smoldering blue eyes, and that dreamy smile that pulled up in one corner.
Her heart throbbed, bringing her out of her head. Lots of girls in school stared at him in the halls, and during class, and at lunch…on the way home. It really shouldn’t bother her. It wasn’t like she and Kody were an item or anything. They were just friends. Just. Friends.
Laney glanced at the envelope again, wondering which skank at school sent him a Valentine’s Day card. She held it up to the sun but couldn’t read anything through the paper. She shouldn’t want to know who sent it so badly, but curiosity was getting the better of her.
Laney glanced at the front door to see if Kody was ready yet and when she saw the door still shut, she pulled out her wand. There was a revealing spell she could use to find out all the people who had touched the card. If she could remember it. She closed her eyes and concentrated on the words of the spell. “Revealos contactos,” she muttered. The scent of smoke shocked her, and she opened her eyes to see the corner of the envelope ablaze. “Oh, no!” She dropped the burning card and stomped on it with her boot to put out the flame. “Oh, man,” she said as she picked up the singed letter. “I don’t think that was the right spell.”
The flap came half unglued thanks to the fire and ice, making it easy for Laney to peel it up to peek inside. She skimmed over the Hallmark poem and directed her gaze to the bottom where the signature sat. Her jaw clenched as she read what looked like ‘Ginny’ directly under a heart. Who the hell was Ginny?
“Whatcha got there?” Kody asked as he stepped through the front door.
Laney jumped at the sound of his voice, dropping all the mail. “Oh, uh, I was just bringing you your mail. Like you asked me to do.” She scooped up all the wet mail and handed it to him in a big heap. “Here’s your mail. That you asked for.”
“Thanks,” he said as he brought the messy stack into the house and dumped it on the entryway table. He left it there and headed back outside.
“Aren’t you going to go through it?” Laney asked. She wanted to see his reaction when he read the card. Would he be happy, or embarrassed, or indifferent?
“It’ll still be here when I get back,” he said with a shrug. “I’ll go through it then.”
That wouldn’t do. “But there might be something important?”
Kody scrutinized Laney for a moment, long enough for her to wish she’d never seen that stupid card, and then sighed. “Fine. If it’s that important to you.” He picked up the pile and tossed each piece back onto the table after looking at it for half a second. When he got to the card, he frowned. “What happened to this?”
“The mailman must’ve dropped it,” Laney said, heat creeping up her neck.
“In a fire?”
Laney merely shrugged.
Kody opened up the card, read inside, smiled, and then set it back down without a word. He grabbed the doorknob and pulled the door shut behind him. “All right. Let’s go harvest some flowers.”
Laney stood there, watching his back as he walked to the front gate, his cane tapping along next to him. That was it? A little smile? No explanation on who sent it to him?
“Laney, are you okay?” Kody asked as he stood on the sidewalk, watching her with a crease in his brow.
“Whose Ginny?” The words jumped out of her mouth before she realized what she was saying. She wanted to take them back, but they were out there, drifting in the wind, waiting for his reply.
The crease deepened in his forehead. “Who?”
Laney sighed, not wanting to confess to snooping through his mail but it was too late now. “Ginny. The girl who sent you the Valentine card.”
“Ginny?” Kody’s face softened as he glanced from Laney to his house where the card in question sat. A smile bloom across his face as he said, “Are you jealous?”
“What? Me, jealous?” Laney waved him off and tried to walk past him. “We should really get going. We’re going to run out of daylight if we don’t hurry.” She prayed that they could leave the whole conversation behind them.
“You are jealous,” Kody said with too much humor as he caught up with her.
Kody chuckled. “Don’t worry. You have nothing to be jealous about. My Grammy sent me the card, like she does every holiday.”
Laney kept her gaze forward so he wouldn’t see the relief on her face. “Your grandmother?”
They walked in silence for a few more moments before Laney said. “I wasn’t jealous.”
“Of course not.”