Creative writing · indie writers · Short stories · weekly fiction · Writing prompts

Exercising the craft—April 20, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

Prompt: It all started when I found a box under the floorboards.

https://promptuarium.wordpress.com/2020/04/12/mystery-box/

*****

I’d been living in my little house for all of four days when I found it.

No one ever tells you that moving is hard. That packing and then unpacking boxes gets really boring really fast. And how did I manage to accumulate so much stuff anyway? All this crap—did I really need it?

So there I was, on the fourth day of “the big move,” which was starting to feel more like “the big pain,” when I found it.

I was lying in the floor in the space I decided to call my living room. Not family room; you have to have a family to give it a room. The room where I put the TV. Whatever.

I made sure the TV connection went in the day I moved; otherwise, god, can you imagine the carnage of my boredom by now?

Anyway, I was on the floor. I wasn’t going to start the new job for another week. So smart of me, right, to move in long before work began? All that extra time to sit around thinking about how I was a loser.

Okay, a loser with a job. But still. I knew the definition of the word; I fit the bill.

Right, so, on the floor. Watching TV. Poking at the last of the frozen dinner that seemed so interesting in the store but left me mildly disappointed now that I’d eaten it.

My eyes wandered from the dinner to the hardwood. It was the one thing that still made me smile. The real estate agent had said the floors were original to the house, and I believed it. There were a few scratches, but otherwise they looked great. And they were old, I could tell.

I followed the whorls and patterns of the wood grain from one board to another. Sort of like a visual hopscotch that didn’t require and moving. I made it to the farthest corner of the room against the wall when I saw it: a small doorknob.

Why hadn’t I seen it before? And who would put a doorknob in the floor of all places? Did the agent know about this?

I wiped my fingers with my crumpled napkin and crawled to the wall. Reaching for the knob, I stopped with my hand in the air. Was this going to be the part of the movie where I let a bunch of ghosts out and I spent the rest of my days possessed and forced to steal canned tuna for cats long dead?

See, what did I tell you? Total loser.

“Oh, what the hell,” I muttered and pulled on the knob.

To my surprise, it opened pretty smoothly. I discovered this was because it was on hinges, like a little door parallel to the floor. Staring back at me was a box.

I rubbed my palms on the back pockets of my jeans and pulled the box out. On the TV, some whiny, stuck-up brat complained that her boyfriend had dumped her for another whiny, stuck-up brat. Join the club, sister, I thought.

The box looked as old as the floors. It was one of those old wooden jewelry boxes. I wondered if it would play a melody when I opened it, but it didn’t. Instead I found a whole bunch of envelopes inside, addressed and stamped. It was like someone had been on their way to the post office and then…accidentally forgot to take them and put the letters in the floor instead?

“Loser,” I muttered to myself.

I pulled out the envelopes and leafed through them, as if I knew any of the people who’d written whatever was inside the envelopes or the people getting the mail. I didn’t know anything about the house, other than the fact that it was a family home. The agent said the family no longer wanted it, but she didn’t tell me why. Just said they preferred to have the money it brought instead.

That didn’t bother me, because I needed a house at a good price and that’s what I got. It was in a nice, clean neighborhood, a respectable part of this new town that would be the place I loved and worked now. I could have cared less about the previous owners or their neighbors or anyone.

The letters, though…

They made me think of Grammie and Pop. They used to write letters to each other. Grammie said those letters kept her going when Pop went to fight in Vietnam. Her parents had lived through World War II, and she was terrified all the worst war stories would come true with her. So she waited every day for the mailman to bring the mail and reread every single letter Pop sent.

She wrote him too, but what with the war slowing everything down sometimes stuff came and went between them out of order. It didn’t matter to either one. The letters kept them going, especially when people all over the country just seemed mad a lot, with everything.

I had no idea how old the letters under my floor were, but I was willing to bet someone wanted them.

*****

The next day I followed the GPS to the nearest post office and explained the situation to the patient woman behind the counter. She frowned at the envelopes, hit a few keystrokes on her computer, and pulled out some stamps.

“These don’t look like U.S. stamps,” she said, tipping her head toward the envelopes, “but they look pretty old.”

“How old?”

She took a closer look at the stamps and the handwriting. “My best guess? Several decades.”

I ran my fingertips across the envelopes I still held. The paper seemed to stiffen. Like someone who’d been hurt and was offered a gentle touch, but they didn’t know whether they could trust the other person.

“If you want, you can put fresh stamps on them and drop them in the mail.”

I scoffed. “Do you really think they’ll end up where they’re supposed to go?”

She shrugged. “Worth a try. Worse comes to worst, the person on the other end will just do a Return to Sender.”

I thought about it. Thought about Grammie and Pop. I hadn’t opened the envelopes, had no idea who was sending them or who was waiting for them, but when I held them in my hands they gave off this sense of…expectation.

“Okay,” I said, “do it. Send them.”

“You’ve got it,” she said. “That’ll be eight twenty-five.”

I gave her a ten-dollar bill, waited for the change, and then bid her a goodbye. Nothing else about my life had changed, but, somehow, sending the letters made me feel better. As if I’d done something right with my life for once.

And then, three weeks later, I got a letter back.

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