AERYN MCAWLEY - SHORT-STORIES
THE MYSTERIOUS BOX
A soft sigh escaped Myrtle’s lips as she noticed that the flag on her mailbox was down, causing the steam from her tea to billow outwards as she drew it away from them. Myrtle was hoping that the post wouldn’t have made it through today, it usually didn’t during such weather conditions. Looks like she was in for an expedition through the icy wasteland that was her downward slope driveway.
Joy she thought to herself slipping into her boots and putting on her coat. She begrudgingly opened the side door that led from her kitchen to the end of her driveway. Myrtle started her trek, inhaling through her clenched teeth each time she felt herself slide. One wrong move could send her flying on her ass down her driveway and into the snowbank that separated the field from the road across the street. Finally, with much struggle, Myrtle reached her mailbox. Prying the lid open with a grunt as the snow and cold had all but sealed it shut, she peered inside only to find nothing. Myrtle exhaled through her nostrils, flaring them like an angry mare as she snapped the lid shut and started the journey from hell that was traversing back up her empty driveway. She had risked breaking her neck for nothing. Damn wind probably blew it down Myrtle thought to herself in regards to her mailbox flag. She never sent anything out, it just made it easier to know when the mail had arrived if she didn’t take the time to listen for the sputtering truck.
Only a minute had passed since she had kicked her boots off and locked her backdoor when the sound of her doorbell chimed throughout her house. Myrtle froze, eyes locked on her front door as the chime rang out once again. There was no way someone would’ve been able to reach her door without being detected while she was outside. The third time the bell rang seemed to break Myrtle out of her stupor. She approached the door, legs stiff with hesitation, as she fixed her fingers around the knob handle. It might be someone looking for some help she thought to herself. Don’t be that asshole who doesn’t step in. With those words fresh in her head, Mrytle twisted the knob and pulled expecting to see some bloodied individual looking for aid, only to see nothing at all. She poked her head out and looked left and right. It wasn’t until she dipped her gaze down did she see something. On her welcome mat sat a plain looking box. Myrtle lifted an eyebrow as she stared at the box. It reminded her of those old fashioned shipping crates they used to store produce, only on a much smaller scale. Myrtle was still suspicious of it and she knew that it probably wouldn’t be the wisest decision to pick it up. After all, it could’ve been laced with something. However, curiosity had gotten the best of her and before she knew it, the thing was sitting on her coffee table. Myrtle sat back on her cheap couch and observed the box. The wood on the outside was soaked with a light dusting of snow still resting atop its closed lid. The thing had certainly done some traveling. There’s no way that it would be this wet from the short amount of time it was sitting on her doorstep, but Myrtle hadn’t seen anyone around all day. Not even a single car passed her house. “Where did you come from?” she mused aloud, fixing her fingers on both sides of the box’s lid. Myrtle hesitated for a moment, the slightest possibility that this box wasn’t meant for her lingered in her mind, until Myrtle remembered that her nearest neighbor was well over an hour away. Prying the top of the box off with some difficulty, Myrtle dropped the lid next to the box and looked inside, furrowing her brow in confusion at the contents.
THE TRUCK RIDE
Arlo wasn’t sure why he felt so tense. He had been walking along this road for miles, lost and tired as hell, before the headlights of the rusty old truck appeared on the dirt road. Maybe it was those horror stories getting to him, crazed drivers and serial killers putting a facade of a kind stranger. Arlo felt a lump grow in his throat as he recalled listening to those stories while working the night shift with nothing but the dead flies in the buzzing fluorescent lights to keep him company. Suddenly, the fear of death was gone as he shot his thumb out extending upwards until he heard the truck come to a screeching halt. The sound of the old brakes made his teeth grit as did the sound of the window crank rolling the grimy glass of the passenger side window down. “Hey there!” the driver, a gangly old man wearing a tattered brown farm hat, barked in a thick country accent hoarse with age. Well, at least if things go south I’ll be able to put up a fight. he thought to himself. “Uh, hi,” he said. “Well, whatcha doin still standin there boy?” The man, who clearly was not buckled in, shot his leg towards the passenger door and kicked it open. The door managed to just miss clipping Arlo’s nose. “Y’had that thumb pokin out for a reason didn’t ya?”. Arlo uttered an anxious response, “Uh, yeah, my car broke and I’m lost. Do you know where the nearest town is?”. The old man nodded. “I’m headin there right now, hop in stranger!”. Arlo hesitated for a moment, unsure whether to touch the stained cloth seat let alone sit on it. With the beckoning of the old man’s gesturing hand, he finally managed to lift himself into the truck. Closing the door, the rusted hinges emitted a protesting shriek as it clicked shut. “Soooooo!” the old man began as he slammed on the gas pedal. “What’s a boy like you doin way out here?” He eyed Arlo’s attire and Arlo didn’t blame him. Sweaty business casual would be eyebrow-raising where he was from too. “I was just passing through actually,” Arlo replied. “Don’t get many strangers just passing through,” the old man mused. “What for?” Arlo shifted nervously on his seat, “I got a little lost. I was on my way to another city for a job interview,” The old man exclaimed, “Ah! That’s why you’re dressed like that! You’re a city boy!”, he smiled a yellow-toothed smile at Arlo. “Don’t normally get city people in these parts, much less strangers. Don’t your type usually fly?” At that moment, Arlo wished he had splurged on a plane ticket. “Well, yes but I couldn’t afford it.” The curiosity about the man’s accent was getting to him. “Are you from around here? You don’t really….”, his words drew off until the old man finished his sentence. “Sound like a local? Nah, never did pick up your Northern tongue.” “Why’d you move all the way out here then?” The old man shrugged his shoulders. “Dunno, same reason why yer takin a look at another job. Lookin for a change or more in life. I found all of that in Hearthglade.” ”Hearthglade?” Arlo repeated. “That’s where we’re headin boy!” This left Arlo confused. “My GPS didn’t say anything about Hearthglade being nearb-” He was cut off by the old man. “Yeaaah, she don’t show up on many maps. Damn shame, too! She’ll be the prettiest patch of civilization that you’ve ever seen.” He then took one hand off the steering wheel and offered it to Arlo. “Name’s Miles, by the way!” Arlo accepted the gesture. “Arlo, so how long until we reach this Hea-” He was cut off again when the truck suddenly swerved to the right, causing him to slam against the door with a grunt. “Here!” Miles announced proudly. “Sorry bout that Lo-Lo. He chuckled as the younger man swung open the door and tumbled onto the grass. “Lo-Lo?”, Arlo asked through a groan of pain. “I give everyone I meet a nickname,” Miles said as he hopped out of his truck, taking him by the arm. “I’ll show ye the Inn and we can talk bout your car troubles in the morning.” Arlo opened his mouth to argue but found that he was simply too tired. The thought of being able to freshen up and lay down was enough to silence any idea of protest.