hwango: (hermit crab)
[personal profile] hwango

I received a mysterious box in the mail the other day.

Technically, I received a mysterious box inside another mysterious box. I order a lot of stuff online, and it was mixed in with a bunch of normal boxes so I didn't immediately notice that it was mysterious. But after I opened it and shoveled aside a sea of Styrofoam packing peanuts I discovered that it contained an intricately carved black wooden box that I didn't remember buying. That's when I thought I'd better check to see if it had the right address on it, and discovered that it didn't have any address at all, nor in fact any printing of any kind. No address, no return address, no postage, postmark, or even that stuff you normally find printed on the box by the box manufacturer.

So, mysterious box. And inside, another mysterious box. I don't know what kind of wood it was made from, but it was totally black, and didn't seem to have been painted or stained to get that way. It was square, about a foot on a side and half that deep. It had all sorts of weird symbols and designs carved into it on every side, and at the bottom it had little hoofed feet to stand on. Eight of them, actually - the four one might expect at each corner, but also one in the middle of each side. Once I had it out of the packing peanuts and got a good look at it I decided that it looked pretty evil.

I considered whether or not to open it. Some people might not have even opened the original unmarked box that mysteriously showed up on their doorstep. I must confess that even if I'd realized it was an unmarked box before I opened it my curiosity probably still would have gotten the better of me. But, faced with the mysterious evil box even I had to pause for a moment or two.

And then of course I opened it anyway. The lights in the room flickered and dimmed, my phone started making weird noises like it was in pain, and I could feel the wooden surface of the box vibrating slightly against my fingertips. I slammed the lid shut again before I really got a good look inside, but I thought I caught a glimpse of something. The lights went back to normal and my phone shut up, but my fingers still felt a bit tingly.

Yup, definitely evil.

I'm embarrassed to admit that it was only at this point that I realized the box was probably Bernard's. He lives next door to me, and I think he's in some kind of cult. Actually, I think he leads some kind of cult.

It used to be that you knew your next door neighbors pretty well. When someone moved in you went to say hello, or maybe they even had some kind of party to meet the neighborhood. I don't know if the times changed or just this town, but I didn't know either of my neighbors at all until I suddenly found myself in need of a cup of sugar.

I had always thought that whole "borrowing a cup of sugar" from your neighbors thing was a little weird. If you were out of sugar, why not just pick some up next time you were at the store? Why the heck would you borrow it from the person next door? I figured it out one day when I was half way through mixing ingredients and had the oven already preheating and only then discovered that I was going to come up short for the recipe. Ah. That's when and why you turn to your neighbors for help.

In a mild panic, I stumbled out my front door holding an empty measuring cup and looked up and down the street. The house to my left was dark, but the one to my right had lights on, so it wasn't a hard decision to make. I rang the doorbell and stood there feeling like an idiot and mentally preparing what I would say. After a bit, the door opened and my carefully scripted speech disintegrated and all I could think was "I live next door to Santa Claus." It's not my fault. He had the huge white beard, the kindly eyes, and was even wearing a pair of those tiny round spectacles. I mean, he wasn't wearing the red fur coat, but it was summer.

"Can I help you?" he asked, and I realized that I had been staring at him in silence for an uncomfortable length of time.

"I'm sorry," I said, "I live next door, and I don't know if people even do this kind of thing anymore, but I'm in the middle of baking brownies and have come up short on sugar and I was wondering if you could spare a cup? Oh, I'm Chris by the way. Sorry." Brief pause. "This is incredibly embarrassing." But he laughed what I could not help think was a merry laugh, held out his hand for my measuring cup, and said that it would be no trouble at all. I waited on his doorstep as he fetched the sugar, and did that thing where you turn a bit to look around outside so it doesn't look like you're snooping and looking inside the house.

"I'm Bernard," he said when he came back. "It's nice to meet you. Best of luck," he said, as he handed me my sugar. I thanked him and hurried back to my baking. All in all, my impression of him was that he was a jolly (damn it!) old man who was kind to strangers in need. So the next occasion I happened to speak to him came as something of a shock.

I remember that it was a full moon. I had woken up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, and there was so much moonlight spilling through the windows that at first I thought it was morning already and the sun was coming up. Maybe my body got stuck on that idea and expected me to make it breakfast, because when I went to go back to bed I discovered that I was rather hungry. I went into the kitchen to scrounge for something and noticed that there seemed to be something going on at Bernard's house. Lots of extra cars in the driveway and parked on his lawn, strangely colored lights flickering in the windows, and in the otherwise dead quiet of the evening I thought I could hear some kind of chanting. I suddenly felt cold, and then for some reason my eyes were drawn up to the moon, and I could have sworn that it started to grow dimmer and dimmer as I watched. And then the chanting sort of stuttered out, the moon went back to normal, and I stopped shivering. Weird.

Soon, however, I was to revise the scale by which I measured weird. A few minutes after the chanting stopped I heard a knock at my door. I don't ordinarily receive visitors at three in the morning, but I think I was still only half awake and more or less automatically went to see who it was. It was Bernard. He did not look like Santa Claus.

I mean, he still had the beard and the glasses, but he was wearing...well, regalia, I guess would be the right word. Calling it a "robe" and "jewelry" would do it a great injustice. That, and I tend to think of jewelry as being made of metal, and an awful lot of the stuff draped over him seemed like it might be bone or horn or something. Also there were odd symbols drawn on his face in what I assumed at the time was paint. Really, if it weren't for the beard I'm not sure I would have recognized him at all. The whole outfit positively screamed "High Priest."

"Hi Chris. I'm so sorry to bother you at this hour, but I noticed that your lights were on."

"It's no trouble, I was already awake," I said.

"Chris, I realize that this is a long shot, but we're in a bit of a jam and I figured there was nothing to lose by asking. You wouldn't, by any incredible stroke of luck, happen to have on hand a copy of Abominable Adulations of the Black Goat, would you? We seem to have run into a bit of a snag with our copy." He then held up an enormous, ancient-looking book and opened it to a page he had marked with his thumb. The paper (parchment? vellum? ...something else? probably best not to dwell on it) was covered in spidery letters much like the ones drawn onto his face. None of it made any sense to me, but I could I see that there was a column of letters that was badly smudged and presumably illegible even to someone who could read whatever crazy alphabet the thing was written in. Just looking at it made my eyes hurt, and I flinched away from it blinking furiously.

"Sorry, I wasn't thinking," Bernard said, and closed the book hastily.

"Uh...no. No, I'm sorry, I don't," I said. I thought a little more about how it had seemed a few moments ago that the moon was being blotted out by some sort of cold otherworldly shadow, and wasn't sure how sorry I actually was that I couldn't help him. He shrugged.

"Not to worry, as I said, it was rather a long shot. Well, have a good night then," he said, and he left.

The next day I would have loved to believe I had dreamed the whole thing, but I could see the mess some of the visiting cars had made of his lawn, and there were muddy footprints up and down my front steps.

Anyway, back to the present, and the evil box. Having reasoned that it was probably Bernard's, I found myself in a dilemma. For any normal parcel, the right thing would obviously be to bring it over to him. In this case, however, I was unsure if giving the evil box to the (presumably) evil cult was really the "right" thing to do.

In the end, I admit that I was selfish. It occurred to me that when it failed to appear he might come looking for it. Best to avoid that possibility and just bring it over now.

I buried the box back its Styrofoam grave and brought the whole mess over to Bernard's. He answered the door, looked at the big cardboard box in my arms with a quizzical eye, and asked "and what's this, then?"

"I was thinking maybe it was delivered to me by mistake, and might be yours," I said. He looked skeptical.

"I'm not expecting anything, but I let's take a look. Come along inside," and he stood aside to let me pass.

I was not keen on this development. I had really hoped to just hand off the parcel and then disappear. I couldn't see any graceful way out of the situation, though, and trundled in. He led me into the kitchen and waved for me to put the box on the table. He started to fish around it the Styrofoam as I looked around. It seemed like a perfectly normal kitchen. Perhaps some of those knives were a bit larger than normal...and that one was a rather exotic shape, and the screaming fanged goat maw on the handle of that one was -

"Oh, my!" Bernard exclaimed, and I had a small heart attack. I turned back to see the he was holding the box up to the light and admiring the workmanship. "It's lovely," he said, with apparent sincerity. He placed it on the table and gently lifted the lid. His lights didn't flicker, and my phone stayed quiet this time. Maybe I was imagining things.

It turned out there was a book inside. Nowhere near as big or as old as the Adulations, but looking at it still made my skin crawl.

"Why, it's Maledictions of the Key and the Gate! And in remarkable condition!" Bernard said, carefully turning the pages.

"Well, I'm glad you got your book," I said, and started edging back towards the door.

"Oh, this isn't mine," Bernard said, reverently placing the book back in the box and shutting the lid. "I can't imagine who would send me such a thing. It must be yours after all." He picked up the black box and held it out to me. There didn't seem to be anything to do but take it, though I wished he'd at least put it back in the cardboard box first. It felt somehow heavier when it was touching my bare skin. And the little hooves were sharp.

I followed him back to the front door in a bit of a daze.

"Thanks for thinking of me, though. It was nice to see you again. And good to know you have a copy of Maledictions, should the need for it ever arise. Have a nice day!"

I think maybe I should consider moving.

Date: 2015-10-20 09:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] urb-banal.livejournal.com
I loved this! And damn, don't you just hate when that happens, you find out you live next to a cult leader and he is NICE.

LOL.

Did you know there is actually a company called, "The Mysterious Package Company"? They have a website by that name. I Googled "The Mysterious" and found them. I find I get all my crazy story ideas by Google-ing.

Date: 2015-10-21 06:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hwango.livejournal.com
Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed it.

The Mysterious Package Company sounded intriguing - looking at the website...it seems like it could either be awesome, or a mysterious cult. Or both.

Date: 2015-10-23 03:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] darlinleo.livejournal.com
Where's my "thumbs up" sticker! :D :D

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