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The Halloween Project 2018 Story 7: The Box

It was delivered by UPS. The truck geared slowly up the long, circuitous drive of the many-roomed mansion. The driver managed to turn the truck around maneuvering back and forth, back and forth, pointing the headlights down the quarter mile entrance, as if for a quick escape. Malcolm, always slow to answer any unseemly bell, wavered, partially out of fear, partially annoyance. Eventually, after several rings, he pulled the heavy door ajar. "Yes?" he asked, his voice controlling, with difficulty, his consternation. "A delivery, sir. You need to sign for it." A fairly sizable box was being held in both hands by the delivery person. About the size of a loaf of bread. Malcolm tried to recollect whether he had ordered anything, but had no knowledge of anything. For that matter, he never ordered anything. "What is it?" Malcolm pursued. "It's from a funeral home. It came from...," the driver paused, quickly glanced at his handheld tracker balanced on the top of the box, already knowing the answer, "Louisiana. Metrairie, Louisiana." Malcolm's voice had flattened to a bass note. "A funeral home? In Louisiana? But what is it?" "I believed it's ashes, sir. Someone's ashes." "Ashes? Did you say ashes? But whose? What?" Not one to speak, often seeing as there was no one to speak to, Malcolm surprisingly found himself lost for words. "I believe there's some mistake. I will not accept this delivery. These can't be meant for me." "My apologies, sir, but I've been doing this for awhile and the funeral parlors, well, they don't make mistakes. Perhaps you're not expecting them, but they're supposed to be delivered here. To you," he added. "If you would just open the accompanying message on the attached envelope it may give some explanation. If at that time you still think there's been a mistake, then you can refuse delivery." Malcolm looked at the man, resigned himself with a smooth shrug of his shoulders and tore the envelope from the box. He opened it smoothly, read it thoroughly, and glanced at the man's face as if hoping for a further explanation. His eyes widened in the encroaching darkness of the October twilight. "Sir?" the UPS man asked. A moment passed. Malcolm looked out beyond the forest of maples. "Yes, yes, it's meant for here. I'll sign." Within a short span, the truck made it's way down the rutted, stone driveway, vanishing onto the main road. Autumn silence had crept back, enveloping the yard, the house; Malcolm stood with the box in his arms not certain exactly what to do. Finally, he turned, the house folding around him once again. He moved to the library, cavernous, his echoing footsteps tapping back at him from the empty walls. He placed the box on the mantle and walked away diving deeper into the house. Saturday proved to be wet and windy as leaves flew from the trees. It had been a week since the box arrived. He had not returned to the library since. With a thought prompted by nothing more than curiosity he crossed several back rooms and made his way to the mantle. The box rested, or at least poised, on the mantle, stolid as if a rock or stone. He lifted it and found it light, much lighter than he remembered since its delivery. His brow furrowed and he hefted it again. It was definitely lighter than his first encounter. Barely weighted at all. Snatching a letter opener from the desk he made three quick swipes across the top and sides, piercing the packing tape. Tossing open the flaps, he saw that another, sturdier box made of heavy cardboard rested inside. He lifted that from it's confinement and set it, decorously, on the desk top. Lifting the top, inside he found a heavy plastic bag. Empty. Within was the finest silky remnants of the remains lining the plastic, but the bag itself was empty, a vessel containing nothing It was then that he noticed the film of dust. A thick, gray, chalky residue completely covering the desk and all the implements upon it; pen holder, tape dispenser, typewriter. He looked about and noticed that the film covering all the nearby surfaces of the room. On the rug, on his favorite leather chair, on his Tiffany lamp. The bust of Emerson on the side table now wore a toupee of gray dust. He ran his fingers across the desktop and felt a textured combination of talc and soft grit. The more he looked he realized that the gray composite was everywhere. On every curtain, on the enameled door stop, on his figurines, on every book on all the shelves. There was a distinct odor and smell in the air and he coughed with a dry phlegm. He parted the curtains and a cloud of gray dust raised into the rooms. Motes of grayness danced before his eyes making it difficult to see. He looked toward the door but felt as if the distance might be too far to travel. He took a step and could feel the dark powder beneath his feet, raising little pillows of foul air around his knees. He stood and wondered, then considered, and finally resolved. Moving just a few feet he settled into the large broad armchair that served as his best reading spot. Clouds of ash raised next to, above and around him. He breathed it in sensing a sweetness that clogged his breathing. "Oh mother," he said aloud to the room, "what has become of you?"