Tuesday, May 28, 2013

FreeWriting: The Package

Work sucks 😞 It's an inescapable fact of life. I'd say my work sucks worse than yours, and I say that with confidence. Hard to match working 17 hours a day with no downtime and no respect for my job, plus no off days, not even weekends. There is no way they can pay me enough to continue to do this shit.


So, here I am. Escaping into a world I make by myself. Hey, it means more fiction for you when you're bored somewhere. I wish I had the time to be bored.


Before we start, I should note that I used a prompt to write this, and I will be updating almost-maybe-not-really-i-don't-know-definitely daily. And the next part will be on this very same post. Helps the latecomers get up to speed.

EDIT (28/5/2013): Added more today!
29/5: Added parts 2 and 3!
31/5 : Added more!
4/6 : Wow late update. Added more today!
25/6 : Wow, two weeks.I am so glad I didn't commit to saying daily for realsies up there. Anyhoo, did some edits, caught some typos, added one or two sentences. Functionally similar. Oh, and added a few things after the line: My phone rang again...

This is the prompt:



And this is the story.


THE PACKAGE

Of course I opened it.

It was sitting on my doorstep, after all. It was wrapped in brown packaging, string tied around it, and a postage stamp that had my address on it. No tag. No name either. I was the only one living in this apartment and have been for years. Was it so wrong to assume it was for me?

Apparently, yes.

I was working night shift that time and had just gotten up after about a million insistent texts from Stefanie that I get off my lazy ass and get ready to take her out. We could only do lunch those days. No dinners. I was already at work by then. No movies, either. I was at work when she was home and I was home when she was at work. Talk about your scheduling conflicts.

I got up, yawned, scratched my ass and walked up naked to the kitchen to find something strong to knock my morning breath into submission. It was almost noon, actually. The sun shone through the curtains, illuminating the bare floorboards. Specks of dust and coils of stale smoke danced in its rays, making the room seem fuller than it actually was. Outside people were halfway into their days. Trains rumbled past, shaking the windows. Car horns blared. Criers shouting. I gave it no thought. Years of living in the city numbs you to the ambience.

I settled on a bottle of whiskey I had left in the fridge, its only other companions a tupperware of lasgana the neighbour lady sent last month and a bottle of mustard from the Mesozoic era. I sighed. Booze run after the date tonight. Probably can't afford the whiskey. Payday's not until next week.

"Blue Ribbon it is," I told the sparse fridge. I took a long swig from the bottle and opened my door to get the newspaper.

It was then that I saw the package, sitting neatly atop my copy of Star of The Nation.

It was as I had described it earlier. Didn't weigh much. I just took it in before anybody could catch me in my birthday suit in the hallway and threw it on the counter. I stared at it a good long while, wondering who could have sent it, before Stef again texted me, probably to tell me if I wasn't up by then we're going to be late. I didn't bother to check. I just took another long swig and headed to the bathroom for a shower.

Later, dressed in my black "DARTH VADER IS MY FATHER" T-shirt that I know Stef hates and my blue jeans, which despite being so faded and worn out, Stef loved, I regarded the package again. I wondered if I should open it then. Stef had apparently texted to say she might be late, so I had more time. I thought, why not? No harm in it.

So I opened it.

Inside was a rubber mask. It was the kind you'd get cheap at a costume shop. This one was a chicken head. A rooster, to be specific. I took it out, examining it. On the inside was a crumpled up piece of paper, the only other thing inside the box. On it was a phone number, not one I recognised. 

Already I had a bad feeling about that mask. I tried to downplay it, tried to guess it was meant for someone else. Probably a practical joke that got sent to the wrong address. But no matter what I couldn't shake off the feeling. All I could do at that time was put the mask and the number back in the box and go out for lunch with Stef.

Had I known what that box meant I would have jumped out the window.
---------------------------------------

"Dick," Stef said, as I sat down at the table. She was halfway through her sandwich and I could see she had already gotten me mine.

"Look, you said you would be-"

"I called your name, Dick. As in, Hello, Dick."

"Oh." I sat down. Stef was the only one who called me Dick. She thought it was funny. "Your tone didn't sound like a greeting."

"Sorry," she sighed. "I am pissed, but not at you."

I unwrapped my sandwich and took a bite. Italian BMT, my favorite. Could've used a little less mustard, though. "Is it Phil again?"

Stef put down her sandwich and sighed again. "Yup, it's Phil again."

"What is that dude's problem? It's like he goes out of his way to make your life a living hell."

"I don't know. Every day, it's something new. It's a constant struggle just to keep up with his demands and all of his bullshit..."

I let Stef vent. I nod and go 'Uh-huh' every once in a while, let fly a comment just so she knows I'm listening. It's not that I don't care how her day went, you know, it's just that she needs to vent, she needs somebody to talk to. Otherwise she'd probably go postal, no thanks to that jerkwad supervisor of hers. This allows her to let off steam. The alternative method would be to spend us both into overdraft on retail therapy. So I let her talk.

Fifteen minutes later and Stef stopped, sighing, and picked her sandwich up again and took a huge bite. 

"Done?"

"Yeah," she said with her mouth full. She looked at me and smiled this really sweet smile that made me feel guilty for tuning her out. "Thanks for listening, babe. You're a real good listener."

I smiled, feeling like Stef's nickname for me. "You're welcome. That's why I'm here."

She picked up the newspaper she had been reading and flipped to a page, then put it down on a table between us. "You seen this?"

I looked at the article she was pointing out. The headline read, "DRUG DEN MASSACRE: VIGILANTES AT WORK? POLICE REFUSE COMMENT". I took some time to read it. Apparently, an old tenement house that was also a heroin dealer's hideout had been broken into, and everybody inside had been killed. This was the third time this month that a criminal hideout has been attacked, according to the paper, after a nightclub and an apartment building had been similarly struck last week. Both were thought to have connections to the Russian Mafiya. Police were investigating all possibilities, it said, including a hit by a rival gang. They were mysteriously mum on the subject of local vigilante-ism.

I looked up at Stef. "Wow, that's nuts."

"Isn't it?" She said, almost exaggeratedly. I knew at once that she was worried. "First we have the Russian mob in our city and now this?"

"Relax, Stef, whoever's doing this is only after the bad guys."

Stef's eyes widened. "How could you know that? Maybe once they're done with all the, 'bad guys'," she did the air quotes thing with her fingers here, "they'll start to go around killing innocent people? How am I supposed to know I'll be safe?" She poked me in the chest. "How do I know you'll be safe, Mister Night Watchman? Who watches you?"

"You, baby," and I try to steal a kiss but she just pushes me away with annoyance. "Listen, I guard a chemical factory. That makes frikken fertiliser. No loser is crazy enough to attack a place that smells like goat shit."

"Maybe your factory is a front," she said, making exaggerated shocked faces. "Maybe its the center of the entire Russian heroin racket, and you're secretly a gangster!"

"Ha ha ha. No. Nothing to guard there at night except buckets of fertiliser."

She pouted. "You're no fun. It would be awesome if you were secretly a gangster. That would make me," she gasped, and put her hands to her cheeks, "a gangster's girlfriend!"

I laughed. "You're a watchman's girlfriend. A very, very lucky watchman who has no fucking clue what a beautiful accountant sees in him."

Stef smiled that sweet smile again. "I love you, Dick."

"And I love you, Stef."

---------------------------------

Later, after I had walked Stef to her car, refusing a ride since I could use the exercise, I walked over to the nearest 7-Eleven for more smokes and some beer. I figured a long walk back to my apartment, smoking all the way would be nice. Well, as nice as walks in the city could be, anyway.

Inside the 7-Eleven a shock awaited me.

The cashier looked up when he saw me and smiled. He waved and called out, "Hey there, Richard!" I could have sworn I have never seen this dude in my life.

"Do I know you?"

He smiled. "Nawww, man, but I sure as hell know you."

The guy was getting creepier the longer I looked at him. He had on these horn-rims that were all the rage with hipsters in those days. His hair looked not out of place on a caveman. Probably was last washed in that era, too. His beard was the same colour as his hair, shit-brown, and his crooked teeth were yellow and probably held back halitosis. Nope, don't recognise him.

I tried to play it cool. Probably some junkie the shop hired to fill in for the regular. I headed to the fridge and took out a six-pack of Blue Ribbon, and headed to the counter.

The junkie just kept smiling that shit eating smile. It was like he knew something that I didn't. Like he knew about some practical joke I was going to be a victim of. I made a mental note to never show up at this particular 7-Eleven again.

"Pack of-"

"Dunhills, man, I know, I got it."

Fuck you, I thought involuntarily.

He placed my smokes on the counter and looked me dead in the eye, still smiling as if his face had been frozen. I noticed he didn't look high. 

"Nice work, last night, Richard my man."

"What?"

"Ohhhh, right, sorry man, all hush hush right. Riiiiighhhhtttt." He said that last one winking, as if we were co-conspirators on a high school prank. "Of course, man, of course. So, nice work on that job you didn't do, Richard my man."

"You need help, buddy." I said, handing him my money. Junkies didn't scare me as a rule, but something about this guy just seemed off.

To my surprise, he held his hand up, refusing my money. "On the house, man. Least I could do." Then he laughed. And laughed. And laughed.

I was thoroughly freaked out by then. I muttered a thanks and grabbed my stuff, determined to get the flying fuck out of there. Before I left, he yelled out, "Same thing tonight, Richard?"

I didn't answer. I just left.

-------------------------------------------

Maybe fifteen minutes of walking later I arrived at my apartment building. Inside, the desk clerk Johnson was sitting reading a magazine behind the counter. Latest issue of Top Gear, from the look of it. He had a radio playing old 80's tunes, the music trying to and failing to drown out the yawning silence of the lobby.

I paid him no more attention than I do every day. "Hey Johnson," I said, and walked towards the elevators to get home.And I needed to get home. That 7-Eleven junkie had me frazzled, and I needed to get the last of the whiskey and the first of the beer inside me fifteen minutes ago.

Johnson's typical answer was either a wave of the hand or a single grunt. This time, however, he looked up, put his magazine down and called out my name.

"Richard! Hey, Richard!"

I looked back, confused. "What?"

"You didn't happen to get a package this morning, did you?"

I stared at Johnson, really looking at him for the first time in years. "Why?"

"Come over here, man, I don't wanna be shoutin' all day."

I walked towards the counter, my heart racing. "What's this about?"

"Courier guy came in while you were out. Says he thinks he made a delivery mistake."

I sighed, relieved - at least something made sense today. "I knew it. Did he want it back? I can go get it."

"Nah, didn't say that. Said he'd come back when you were most likely to be home. Went off to double check with his office, see if he'd made a mistake."

"It'll be a mistake. Nobody could've sent this."

Johnson raised an eyebrow. "You sure?"

"Positive. Only child, dead parents and all my friends are way back home in Buttfuck, Arizona. Nobody knows I'm here 'cept for my girl, and I know she didn't send it."

The door opened then, and Johnson turned to see who it was. "Heyyy, there he is! Yo, dude, this here's Richard!"

I turned to see a tall man, barely into his thirties, walk into the lobby. He was dressed in a biker's suit and still had his helmet on, the straps somehow highlighting his sharp, bristle covered chin. He was muscular, and looked like he cycles for fun as well as for a living. He took one look at me and asked, "Is your name Richard?"

"Yeah, that's me, I guess."

He pulled out a few pieces of paper and a pen from his waistpouch, spread them on the counter next to me and handed me the pen. "Gonna need you to sign for the package."

"Whoa, wait, what? You sure it's not a mistake?"

"Just sign here, please. Need your initial here, phone number here-"

"Are you crazy? That's not my package!"

He shrugged. "It is now, I guess. Sign, please."

I could just shake my head in bewilderment. I took the pen and reluctantly filled out my details on the forms. "Can I at least know who sent the damn thing?"

"No return address on the package?"

"No. Not even a name."

The man shrugged again. "Search me, then. I'm just a messenger."

I put the pen down and slid the forms back to him. "Okay. We done?"

He took one glance at the papers and nodded. "Yup, that'll do 'er. Good day, Mister Richard." And with that he left as abruptly as he came.

"Well, that was unexpected."

Johnson shrugged. "Maybe you got more friends than you know in this town."

I sighed and walked back to the elevator I was heading to. I wouldn't know if I had any friends. At least, not the kind that would send me rubber masks on no notice.

----------------------------------

Back inside my apartment I dropped my cigarettes on the counter, put the beer in the fridge and sat down on my bed, the opened package in my lap. The rooster head looked back at me as if daring me to try it on. I stared back at it, wondering who sent it and why I felt uneasy with it.

I picked it up out of the box. It was thin, made almost entirely of rubber. There were two small holes in the chicken's eyes to see through and two smaller holes to breathe through. It was pull-on, and I guess it would fit snugly around my head, if I put it on. I tried to search it for something, anything that would give me a clue to who sent it. An initial, maybe, or a hidden note. Nothing.

Nothing, of course, except for the slip of paper with what looked like a phone number on it. I had left that in the box. I took it out and stared at it, wondering if I should call the number.

Suddenly my phone rang. I jumped. I guess I was a little to absorbed in the mask. I put the mask down and walked over to the phone.

"Hello?"

"Caught your work yesterday, Richard you fuck."

That was unexpected. The voice coming through the speaker was gruff and distorted, probably using a cheap distorter. He needn't have bothered, as I told Johnson I didn't know that many people in town. "Think you got the wrong number."

"Oh I know you, you little rooster piece of shit. I've got you now. And you're going to learn not to fuck with me anymore."

I almost had a heart attack. Rooster? I turned back to look at the mask lying on my bed. The rooster head looked as if it knew what the fuck this guy was talking about. Maybe I should let it answer...

"Gettin' scared, huh Richard?"

"Look, man, back the fuck off. I don't know what the fuck you're talking about!" I was yelling by this time. In my defense today was incredibly weird.

"Don't play dumb with me, asshole. Don't insult me. Took me ages to find this number and now, I have it. When you least expect it-"

"Look, asshole, I am NOT playing dumb. I don't know who you are, what you think I did but this is all a huge fucking mistake, you get me? And if this is some sick fucking joke, it is working, okay, so back THE FUCK OFF!"

Unexpectedly, the voice on the other end started to laugh. "Got you good, huh? Didn't expect me to get your number, did you? Thought you were untouchable. Well guess what, chicken? You're not."

He hung up, leaving me staring at the wall with the dial tone in my ears. I stood there for a while, not able to register what just happened.

Was it just me, or had the whole world gone crazy all of a sudden?

My hand was shaking as I put the phone down. He was right; he got to me good. My palms were sweaty, my breathing got heavy and suddenly I couldn't stand in the same spot. I paced around, trying to figure out what the fuck was happening to me and how the fuck I was going to get out of it. That guy sounded like a gangster. Maybe he thought I had something to do with something that pissed him off or something, I don't know. Gangsters were human, they made mistakes too, didn't they?

All the while the rooster mask just stared at me as if expecting me to do something.

"Fucking chicken head mask. The fuck are you?"

My phone rang again, and my heart nearly stopped.

I stared at it like it was a bomb going to go off. I barely get a call a day, and if I did it was usually Stef. Suddenly, two phone calls in rapid succession, the first a threat on my life. I kept staring at the phone, wondering if I should pick it up. I wanted it to stop ringing, I wanted this damned chicken mask away from me, and I wanted to wake up and find that I'd slept through my lunch date and Stef was pissed off at me. That would be normal. This is anything but. But it didn't stop. It just kept ringing.

So I picked up.

It was a different voice on the other end of the line, this time. A rough, growling voice, but slow and polite. "Hello, my name is Tony."

"Hello, Tony. Did you call me earlier, you son of a bitch?"

"No, I didn't. I assume somebody called you and blamed you for something you didn't know about earlier?"

(To be continued)

By Hafiz Tajuddin with No comments

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