The Perplexing Package ⁠— A Short Story

The story below is a letter that Tobias Hrothgar found on his travels. It was in possession of a man who had his eighteen year-old daughter disappear soon after its arrival. He gave it to Tobias. Upon inquiry concerning the package mentioned in the letter, he claimed to not know anything about such a thing. There was no box in the attic of such a description. We’re not sure what happened, but it is certainly an intriguing matter.

The package arrived unexpectedly and mysteriously. No one knew who it was from or when it arrived. It was just there. We didn’t open it for five years and no one can recall why. All we knew is that there was a box in the attic, unopened and unnoticed.

Curiosity is a strange and powerful force. You can stand against the callings of curiosity, but rarely do people even attempt to do so. So, after five years of not knowing what was in the box we were bound to be curious; and as curiosity peaked we fell under its power.

I wish you remember that day, when we finally opened it. But some things are forgotten, no matter how tightly we try cling to it. Though you have forgotten, I still remember. Thus I will tell you about the day.

You were nine and a half and I was eleven. Mother and father had been separated for three years already, but we still lived down the same street. I lived with mother and you lived with father. After school we would climb up the tree-house in the woods and spend the whole afternoon together. Sometimes we would be vikings, raiding villages and pillaging fortresses. Sometimes we would be astronauts, flying to Jupiter and discovering new alien species. We would talk, we would play, sometimes we would just sit together and read stories. You were my only friend and I was yours.

But the package was something that intrigued me more than you. Father kept it in the attic where he forbade us to go. He never said this rule had anything to do with the package⁠—in fact, he hardly mentioned the package⁠—but I had a feeling the plain old box was the primary reason.

One day, when we were sitting in the tree-house reading, I put down my book and turned to you. “Em, I need to know what’s in that box.”

I’d said this on multiple occasions before so, without putting down your book, you responded the way you always did. “You know we’re not allowed to go up there Ethan. Besides, it’s probably just a box of old records or something like that.”

“No, I mean it this time. Tonight, after mother and father are in bed, we can sneak out of bed and into the attic. I need to know.”

It took a while but I finally got you to give in. So, that very night is when it all happened.

As soon as mother fell asleep I slipped on my shoes and coat and stepped out onto the starlit street. My feet hardly made a sound as a I tiptoed down to your house. When I arrived you were already at the door waiting.

“We’d better do this quickly,” you whispered. “We don’t want to wake father.”

We took off our shoes and tiptoed up the stairs until we came to the door which we never dared pass before. I wish I had stopped there, decided it wasn’t worth the risk. I could’ve turned back and gone about my life without a thought to what was in the box, but I didn’t, and here we were.

As soon as the door was open, I turned on my flashlight and shined it about the room. A thick layer of dust coated old books and boxes. Cobwebs hung from a positively ancient sofa. But I pushed all these things aside and looked first for the package. It was exactly where it was when we’d been in this room with father five years ago, the time we first saw it.

The box was not like the other, simple, cardboard boxes scattered about the room. It looked older, like a wooden chest you might keep treasure in, but smaller and more subtle.

You walked up to the box with me right behind and we grabbed either side of the lid.

“This is it Emily. Here we go.” We pulled the lid off together and looked into the box expectantly. It was completely empty, but not empty like you might think.

“Empty” is a word we use casually to describe something having no visible objects in side, but we have never seen empty in reality. Empty is when there’s no air, no light, no direction, no time; absolutely nothing.

This is what we saw—or rather, didn’t see—in the box. There was nothing inside at all.

“Ethan, what is it?” you asked me, leaning over the box. I tried to catch you, but you fell in, into the emptiness. I screamed your name, but the sound was snatched away from me as I fell in too.

I do not fully remember what happened after that. There was nothing to happen, nowhere to go, no time to pass. I remember (or I think it’s a memory) whispers, but I couldn’t hear them. I remember a barrier to something that felt real, but I was trapped on the wrong side. I was lost, but I had gone nowhere. I grasped desperately for something real, then I finally found you.

You were the only thing I could grasp onto, the only thing I could take into my arms. I could hear your fearful sobbing and I tried to comfort you.

After that, the first thing I remember is standing in the hospital next to your bed. You were asleep and quiet, but I knew that something had changed, that you were not quite the same as you had been before. You had forgotten. You forgot the box, you forgot the games we played and the memories we shared. Worst of all you forgot me.

Mother and father didn’t let us play together anymore. They feared us each to be a danger to the other. Besides, you didn’t even want to hang out with me anymore. You made new friends and you grew up the rest of your life with them. You grew up happily and oblivious to all that had been before. I, however, never forgot, and I never will forget.

And here we are, together again. Do you remember me now? Do you remember at all? I can help you remember. If we can’t any other way, then I will go back to the box and take them back again. I will return to the emptiness that lies between all worlds.

The package is in the attic, and it’s waiting for us.

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Ever onward,

Jacob Unger.

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