A Package Marked "Return to Sender"
My neighbor is one of those annoying wannabe YouTube personalities. Over the years, I've seen him cough out cinnamon, lay flat on the hood of his car as it slowly creeps down the driveway, and douse himself in lukewarm water, all the while screaming epic win, epic fail, or, fuck, epic maintenance of the status quo, for all I know. It can get tiring to watch him go about his shenanigans in the pursuit of viral fame. So, when he knocked on my door the other day, told me he was going away for a few weeks, and asked that I get his mail, honestly, it was a relief. I can't explain the peace of mind I had knowing I didn't have to brace myself for any of his stupidity for a while. I was always afraid his stunts would wind up bleeding over into my life.
Things were pretty normal for the first couple of days. He received a few bills, a bit of spam, and what I could only assume was a birthday card. Then, one evening, I got home to find a cardboard box waiting on his front porch. In big red letters was written, "Return to Sender".
I'm no small fry, but I admit I had trouble lifting the box on my own. It was really freaking heavy. Lugging it across the road to my house was even harder, and I quickly realized there was no way I was going to drag it up the stairs and through my front door. I decided I'd leave his package in my garage. It wasn't like I kept my car in there: the garage door was a piece of shit that refused to open without a good thud and a whack. It was less trouble just leaving the car in the driveway than it was to fight with the garage door every morning and night. In hindsight, I should have set the package down while I struggled to open the tricky door, but you know how it is when you've got a good grip on something, no point in setting it down if you don't have to.
It was as I kicked the door for a third time that I lost my grip on the package, and it fell to the ground. I heard a light crack inside.
"Shit," I cursed.
I hoped I hadn't broken anything important, but figured I just wouldn't tell my neighbor about it and let him assume the break happened en route.
Hands free, I finally managed to get the garage door unstuck, and boy did it screech in protest as it rolled up and over me. I dragged the box the rest of the way, setting it in the corner for whenever my neighbor would come back to claim it. And then, I forgot all about it. Until a few days passed, that is.
I'm not sure exactly how long it took for the smell to waft in from the crack under the garage-to-house door, but it came in in slow progression. It was a sickly sweet odor similar to a skunk, and for the first few days after I smelled it, I genuinely assumed that's exactly what it was: roadkill that had left its mark on my house. It was only when I realized the scent was growing more intense instead of fading that I went looking for a source. That's when I opened the garage door, and that's when the odor knocked me back, holding my nose.
The culprit wasn't hard to identify. The only change in my garage was the box in the corner. I remember thinking it must have been one of those meat-of-the-month subscription boxes. The meat must have gone rancid from being left out of the fridge for so long. How much meat could have been in there for the box to have been so large and heavy? An entire freaking cow?
I covered my nose as I approached the box, a pair of scissors in my hands. I probably wouldn't have needed them to open it, as it had become soggy enough at the bottom to poke through with a finger, but I wasn't about to poke my finger into spoiled meat juices. That soggy bottom was the reason I had to open the box in the first place. If I tried to drag it out whole, everything would spill onto the floor. I was going to have to dump the pieces of meat one garbage bag at a time, and take them down to the dumpster, a process I wasn't looking forward to.
My scissors tore through the tape along the top of the cardboard box. I thought the smell couldn't get any worse, but as I flipped the flaps open, I discovered a whole new gamut of stink. It was like opening a burning oven, but instead of a heat wave, I was met with waves of piss, sweat, shit, and putrefaction. It was so bad that I staggered back and had to force down the puke begging to guzzle out of me. I don't think I could have handled that scent mingling with the horrors coming out of the box. I'm not ashamed to admit I ran out the door for a breath of fresh air, but in the short time I'd spent in the garage, the smell had become so ingrained in the fabric of my clothes that it clung to me like a shadow.
Nothing I tried could keep the smell out of my nostrils. Not air fresheners, not a face mask, not three showers and a change of clothes. Every second that box lay open in my garage was another second the smell was allowed a foothold into my home. I had to bite the bullet.
I returned to the garage, the flaps of the box still open as though inviting me to look. I was prepared, a clothespin pinning my nostrils shut, a garbage bag in one hand, the strongest cleaner I could find in the other, and long rubber gloves to keep my skin from having to touch what was inside. But, as it turns out, I needed none of those things.
I wouldn't have to touch or clean the contents of that box, I would only have to suffer the nightmares every night. You see, there was meat in that box, but it didn't come from a cow or a pig. No, it was worse than that. It was my neighbor. Dead. Still in one piece, but dead.
I called the cops, and naturally, they took me in for interrogation. It's kind of hard not to suspect the man with a corpse in his garage, after all. Thankfully, they soon realized I wasn't involved. My DNA might have been all over that box, the smell might have left a mark throughout my house, but there was one piece of irrefutable evidence in my neighbor's own hands that proved my innocence: a vlogging camera.
They showed me the footage only once. I'm not sure if they were allowed to, or if they felt so bad for me they figured it couldn't hurt. Either way, I saw it.
My neighbor was sitting in the box outside of a shipping facility, laughing as he told the world how he was going to mail himself across state lines. He'd brought pee bottles, food, a pillow, and a few flashlights. His friend – a guy I'd seen at his place several times to help with his stunts – closed the lid and presumably dropped him off for shipment. Throughout the next couple of hours… or days, I'm honestly not sure, my neighbor recorded a few short clips about his progress. "I think I'm in a truck now, I can feel it moving." "Must be in a warehouse. Pretty warm here. Still got plenty of food!" That kind of stuff. And then, on the last entry, the box toppled over. He broke his neck, and that was it. The camera recorded until either the memory card got too full, or the battery died.
There's one thing I didn't tell the police after they showed me the video. One thing I heard in the footage that will haunt me to the day I die. Just after the tumble that broke his neck, I heard the familiar screeching sound of my garage door.