Outside The Box

Entry by: Tauren

3rd November 2017
Michael stooped down to pick up the paper that, miracles of miracles, had actually made to the front porch for a change. He did this slowly, not only because he was a little hung over, but because he knew that old Mrs Cooney across the road would be peering out from behind the sanctuary of her net curtains, waiting for an opportunity to be morally outraged, and after all he wouldn’t want to disappoint the old gossipmonger.

He had taken to wearing his bathrobe untied every Saturday morning, with only his briefs to cover his modesty; after Julie had told him the old woman had harangued her in Aldi at the top of her voice a few months earlier about how. And here his wife adopted a high shrill tone, almost perfectly mimicking their neighbour, simultaneously wagging an index finger in Michael`s face as she did.

“Your husband is a disgrace, waving his unmentionables about in public like that, has he no shame. If he doesn’t dress appropriately in the future I`ll report him to the Gardai,” a threat she had yet to follow through on.

It was as he slipped the paper under his arm, raising the coffee mug to his lips to take a sip as he did, that he noticed the crate sitting in the middle of his driveway.

“The Fuck….?” he muttered to himself.

Carefully, mindful of the fact he was barefoot, and that the Thompson`s Labrador `Patches` was not averse to crapping on their lawn; he went to investigate.

He judged the box to be about three feet tall, the top was level with his waist; as wide again, and maybe two feet deep. As he circled the box he saw it had the words “This Way Up” stencilled on all four sides, the only problem was they were upside down.

“Typical delivery men,” he said aloud, thumping the top of the box, “Good thing you don’t have fragile stamped on you or they`d`ve probably backed over you for good measure.”

He was scratching the stubble on his cheek; a man of habit he always had a cup of coffee before tackling that chore, and wondering where the shipping label was; probably on the lid, he thought. When a voice from inside the crate said, “Top a the morning to ya.”

Startled, Michael took a backward leap, splashing hot coffee on himself, while stepping in a skin crawlingly, freshly deposited pile of dogshit.

“Jesus, Fuck, Ah Fuck, Fuck Fuck Fuck, Oww Oww,” he yelled, hopping around on one foot, uncertain what to do next, the occasional loose stone biting into the tender sole of his unshod foot.

“I`ll kill that motherfucking dog,” he snarled, hopping over to his own lawn, wincing as he wiped his soiled foot on the dew soaked grass. Oh God, he thought, it`s gotten between my toes, bile rising in his throat as the stench hit him. He dry heaved, spitting out the bitter liquid that filled his mouth, momentarily forgetting the voice in the crate; until that is, it piped up again.

“Are ye alright there?” it enquired, once again in that Oirish “Darby O`Gill and the little people” accent unheard anywhere outside of Hollywood, and utterly despised by Irish people everywhere.
He ignored the voice until he had gotten his foot as clean as was possible, then, giving the now flattened dog poop a wide berth; he went back to the crate.

For the first time he noticed there were regularly spaced holes, each about two inches in diameter, drilled into the lower third of the box. Upper third, he mentally corrected himself, remembering it was upside down.

Crouching in front of the nearest row of holes, tugging the sides of his robe tightly together as he did, suddenly aware of how exposed he was, he leaned close enough for his forehead to touch the timber and shouted, “HELLO, IS THERE SOMEONE IN THERE!”

There was a moments silence, then the voice quietly replied, “Jaysus, there`s no need ta shout, I`m old, not deaf.”

“Oh sorry,” Michael said, lowering his voice, “I wasn’t sure you could hear me.”

“I can hear ye fine, what was all that commotion about, were ye attacked by something?”

“What no I….” Michael trailed off, feeling his face redden, “I.. I`m barefoot and stepped on something sharp,” which was half true, those stones had been quite pointy. “Um if you don’t mind me asking, why are you in this box and what is it doing in my driveway?”

“If it`s all the same ta you, would ya mind righting the box first, only there`s not room enough ta swing a cat in here and I`ve been sitting on me head fer that last wee while.”

“Oh Jesus yeah, sorry, what was I thinking...”

He straightened, leaned against the top edge, which was of course the bottom edge, braced himself and pushed with all his strength. The lightness of the crate took him by surprise, toppling easily onto its back, an unprepared Michael, unable to stop himself, sprawling onto it.

“Oww; Jaysus," the voice inside the crate complained, "take it easy lad, ye obviously don’t know yer own strength.”

“Sorry, sorry,” Michael murmured as he struggled back to his feet, “Almost there, just gonna..”

This time he tested the weight, pushing up on the top edge with his left hand until the lower edge had cleared the ground enough to allow him to slip the fingers of his right under it. And again, surprised at how little it weighed, easily hefted it upright. Finally all the stencilled words were right way up, but there was no delivery address on the top of the box.

It dawned on Michael that this might all be some elaborate prank, perhaps one of those gotcha T.V. shows that had gone out of fashion years ago. Looking around for suspicious vans with blacked out windows, he hastily tied the sash on his bathrobe.

“AAhh Jaysus thanks lad,” this was accompanied by loud cracking, sounds Michael was only too familiar with, his own back made those same noises more and more these days whenever he stretched.

“You were going to tell me how you got in there, and why you`re in my driveway?” Michael said, making no attempt to conceal his mistrust, still scanning the suspiciously empty road, though he saw no vans of any description.
Because of how light it was, he was three quarters convinced the box was empty, except perhaps for a microphone and speaker.

“Well how I come ta be in this here……. Coop. The thing is ya see, I has friends who has as ya might say, peculiar senses of humour. And they thought it would be a great jape ta pen me up in here for no reason whatsoever, I never did a one o em a bit a harm, and if they says otherwise,” there was a spitting sound from inside the box.
“As ta why I`m sittin in yer.. what was it ya called it…. yer driveway? That I couldn’t say; them friends a mine has queer ideas as ta what might be funny. But when I gets out, I`ll show them what funny truly is.” The venom in the way that last sentence was announced sending a shiver own Michael`s spine.

“Now if ye`d be so kind as to unlock the box and let me out…” he said, his voice saccharine sweet once more.

“Unlock?” Michael examined the top of the crate and saw a hasp fastened with a heavy brass padlock “Unlock it with what? I don’t have the key.”

“Tcchh,” the voice in the box said, “If it t`weren’t fer the string I`d forget me head, of course ye don’t have the key.”

Completely thrown out of sorts by what was happening Michael asked quite innocently, “Your head is attached by string?”

After a moments silence the voice said, “Me heads not attached by string, where would ya get such an idea.” A finger poked out of one of the airholes; there was a piece of string, tied with a neat bow around the second knuckle.
“Have ye never tied a piece a string around yer finger ta remind ye not ta forget something important. And what might I ask, is more important than yer head?”

Desperately trying to get this surreal event over with, and a little relieved, though still perplexed that there was a man in the box, Michael, trying not to sound petulant, repeated, “But I don’t have the key.”

“Oh I have that, here,” and the end of a piece of brown twine emerged from a side-hole, twisting and wriggling as it was fed out.
Gratefully Michael snatched it, wrapping it around one finger so it wouldn’t slip out of his grasp and yanked on it, the key clunking against the timber as it rattled out of the hole. Relieved that this was nearly over, he snatched the lock and almost rammed the key into place, twisting it so hard he thought for a second it might snap in the barrel, then the shackle sprang open and he slipped the padlock free, flipping the lid back on unseen hinges.

Michael had no idea what he`d expected to see, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t this. An elderly man was shoehorned into the space, his hair sparse and white, as was his beard, which, when Michael helped him to his feet, to the accompaniment of more cracking of joints; he saw reached almost to the man`s waist.

He was impeccably dressed in a grey tweed suit and green bowtie, and when he very gingerly swung first one leg and then the other out of the crate, Michael couldn’t help notice the gleam on the man’s brogues.

“Aahhhh it does a body good ta be able ta stretch once more,” he arched his spine backwards, supporting himself with both hands on his hips; to more popping and cracking.

“How long were you in there?” Michael asked in astonishment. Now that they were face to face, he saw the man was a tall as he was, and he was pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to fit in such a small space.

“Long enough and too long,” the man said, and it only occurred to Michael then that he didn’t even know the man`s name.

“I`m sorry,” he said extending a hand, “I forgot to introduce myself, Michael, Michael O`Riordan.”

The other man looked down at the hand but made no attempt to take it, instead putting his right hand into his pocket, “Patrick… ” he said, “Patrick Shaughnessy, nice ta meet ya Michael. Yer a scholar and a gentleman; and fer yer trouble.
He pulled his hand from his pocket and Michael saw he was holding a large yellow coin; he manipulated it until it rested on the back of his thumb and crooked forefinger, then without warning he flicked it into the air.

The coin pinged loudly as it took flight, the way they do in movies, though never in real life; disappearing into the early morning sun as it tumbled into a high arc, Michael watching it all the way, snatching it out of the air while it was still above his head.

“I can`t….”
He looked around, he was alone, the man calling himself Patrick Shaughnessy was nowhere to be seen. All that remained to prove he`d been there at all was the now empty crate and the coin.

Michael opened his hand, the coin was nearly as big as his palm and surprisingly heavy, embossed on one side was an image of the old man, and when he turned it over he saw a woman`s head in profile imprinted on the other.

He was just thinking how beautiful she looked when she turned, winked at him, then turned away again, and he was reduced to finishing the adventure with the two words he`d started with.

“The Fuck….?”
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