Colton Bennett wrote advertisements for the radio channel, AM 1450 The Source in Frederick County, Maryland. He moved from there to Orlando to study creative writing. You can follow him on twitter at @CBennett417.
The roommates looked over the cardboard box sitting on their carpet. It was no bigger than two fists pressed together, and it lacked in any decoration aside from the two labels across the top.
Ross loomed above the tiny cube, arms crossed and eyes glazed over. Calvin was down on all fours with one cheek against the floor. He had been scanning every side of the box over and over for almost five minutes, and Ross had been forced to supervise.
Finding the end of his rope at long last, Calvin sat up on his knees and sighed.
“Yep,” he said. “I got no idea what that is. It smells kind of funny, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing.”
“Why is it on the floor anyway?” Ross asked. He breathed the words out more than he articulated them.
“Because it’s a mystery box!” Calvin said, as if it was the most simple thing in the world. He extended his hands toward the package and gave Ross a wide-eyed glare. “I’m starting to regret even bringing it inside.”
“Don’t those things come with a label? Like a return address?”
“You think I didn’t check? It’s just got one big one that says ‘To: Calvin’, and then under that is our address,” he retorted. He shuffled where he sat, crossing his arms and squinting at the box. “Why’d this gotta happen today of all days? On my special day?”
“What’s so special about today?” Ross asked.
“You already forgot? Some friend you are.”
He shrugged. “Why don’t you try, you know, opening it?”
“Are you insane?” Calvin said, slack-jawed. “I’ve seen the movies. We open up an unlabelled mystery box and we’re gonna unleash… I don’t know. Something horrible.”
“You’re being paranoid.”
“I’m absolutely not being paranoid. Now think, do we have enemies? Do I have enemies?”
“You’re being very paranoid. Lemme see it,” Ross said. He extended a hand and gestured toward himself. Calvin rolled his eyes and gingerly handed him the box.
Eyes still half-lidded, Ross gave the box a once over. He moved on to shaking it next to his ear, and he heard a series of thumps as the contents smashed against the sides.
“Ross!” Calvin shouted. He leapt up from the floor and snatched the box back in the same motion. Backing a pace away from Ross, he cradled it against his chest.
“Sounds soft,” Ross said.
“Are you trying to get us killed?”
“I’m trying to prove that you’re being ridiculous.”
“It could be a bomb for all we know! Or poison!” Calvin hissed the last word. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be responsible for a plague.”
Ross blinked a few times in quick succession. He tried squeezing his eyes closed after that. No luck.
“What are you doing?” Calvin asked, squinting at him.
“Praying that I’m in a nightmare, and you aren’t actually this stupid,” Ross answered.
“Oh ha ha.” Calvin said. Shrugging off the comment, he held the box up to his ear while keeping his hands as steady as possible. “I don’t think you set anything off. I hope you didn’t set anything off.”
“There’s nothing to set off, Cal,” Ross said, pinching the bridge of his nose. He exhaled and approached Calvin with one arm outstretched. “Give me the box. I’ll open it.”
“No.” Calvin said with a cold look in his eyes. He set to guarding the mystery package with his forearm.
“Calvin, I just woke up, and I want to move on with my day. Give me the box.”
“No! I’m not letting you screw us over!”
Calvin bent his knees and jumped backwards onto the coffee table. He didn’t stumble for a second, and he landed with both feet flat on the top. Standing a head and shoulders higher than Ross, he raised the box as far over his head as he could manage.
Ross sighed and shook his head. He stepped off to the side and kicked the table’s leg with his heel.
“Ah!” Calvin gasped as his platform shook. The sudden motion was enough to make him drop the box right into Ross’s open palm.
He couldn’t help but shoot a smile up at Calvin, who had gone pale as a ghost.
“Don’t you dare.” Calvin warned.
With as little care as possible, Ross jabbed a finger through the tape sealing the cardboard. Calvin steadied himself and brought his hands up to his face.
In the long seconds that it took for the box to be peeled open, Calvin mentally checked off all the worst ways to die.
There was no explosion, swarm of killer insects, or puff of toxic gas.
Ross looked down at the mess of plastic wrap, icing, cream filling, and chunks of vanilla cake. In the center of it all, crumpled and stained from being shaken, dropped, and jabbed, was thank you note from the surprise-order bakery.
“Oh. I did order this, didn’t I?” Ross asked himself. He gave the destroyed cupcake back to his speechless roommate.
“Happy birthday, Cal.”