Maybe a second glass of wine will help my nerves, thought Kerry Jensen as she changed channels for the umpteenth time, finally settling on a cheesy horror movie. Must be from the 70’s, judging from the bell bottoms and big hair the girl being chased sported, she mused.
She splashed a few more ounces of cabernet into her glass and set the bottle down on the side table with an audible thunk, which echoed through her sparsely-furnished studio apartment. The sound startled her a bit, as she had muted the television’s audio several channel flips ago. The apartment was small, as suited to a single woman new to the area, but tonight, with the thunder outside the window and the anticipation building inside her, it felt cramped; claustrophobic, almost.
She checked her watch. Ten more minutes, she thought, her stomach churning a bit more. She picked up her wine glass to take a sip, when a knock sounded at her door.
“Oh shit, early. Here we go,” she said out loud, her last syllable echoing off the plaster wall. She stood from the couch, punching the Off button on her television remote, and walked to the door.
Kerry was new in town, having just transferred from Springfield two months ago for her job. The only people she knew in Waukegan were the twelve people she worked with in the new office, and her overbearing, borderline sexually-harassing boss. Her cousin knew some people in Waukegan from years past, and had convinced her to give a blind date a shot; a friend of an old friend, she had called him. Thomas. Sounded harmless enough. Thinking back to the movie she had just turned off, she thought, No undead or serial killers would ever be named Thomas, right?
She reached the door, and with one last straightening of her new blouse, she turned the knob and opened it, and was greeted by a dazzling smile.
“Kerry?” the man asked, extending his hand.
She was caught off guard by his gentle voice, his crisp shirt and muted tie, and his whiter-than-white smile. And his gorgeous green eyes.
“Ah, yes, sorry,” she stammered, taking his hand. “Thomas?”
“Yes,” he said, his smile growing inconceivably wider. “Pleased to meet you. Mag told me so much about you.”
She felt herself blushing, and tried to turn aside. “Only the good things, I hope.”
“Are you ready to go, or am I too early?”
“No no, this is fine, let me just grab my coat,” she said.
Thomas dipped his chin to the carpeted floor next to him in the hallway. “Is this yours?” he asked.
Kerry looked down and saw a large package, wrapped in plain brown paper with a small handwritten mailing label on it. She narrowed her eyes and leaned down slightly. No, it couldn’t be…that doesn’t make any sense.
“That’s bizarre,” she said, cocking her head. “That looks exactly like the package I just dropped off at the post office.”
Thomas leaned over and read the label. “It’s from Heffernan Corporation, to a Liberty Media?”
Kerry shook her head, trying to clear the fuzziness. “That is the same package I dropped off. That creepy little woman behind the counter kept giving me a hard time because it wasn’t in the proper box for Priority Mail. She kept on and on about it. ‘White box only’ and all that. And she had this weird eye that kept looking up at the ceiling.” She giggled. “I think she saw me staring at it too.”
Thomas chuckled. “Maybe she was a witch, and sent this back here as a punishment for making fun of her.”
She laughed in return. “Yeah, maybe! I guess I shouldn’t have made the ‘going postal’ comment either.”
“Ooh, be careful with that one,” Thomas said, holding up a finely-manicured hand. “My brother worked in a post office. Joking about going postal is something they take very seriously. Here,” he said, bending over to pick up the box. “Let me bring it inside for you.”
Kerry was about to tell him to not worry about it when she saw Thomas’s body go rigid as his hand touched one corner of the box. A groan escaped his lips.
“Thomas, are you okay?” she asked, taking a step forward.
His groan became a growl, and he began to shake. Kerry looked on in horror as his eyes rolled into the back of his head, and he collapsed onto the floor, white froth bubbling from a corner of his mouth. A last gasping breath wheezed from Thomas, and he was still.
“Oh my God!” she screamed, stepping back. Her eyes grew wide as she watched the man’s body begin to disintegrate, skin sloughing off his face, exposing bloody bone and muscle tissue. She covered her mouth, frozen to the spot as if witnessing a train wreck in slow motion.
Thomas’s eyes bulged from their sockets, extending farther and farther, until they dropped from his face with a wet popping sound, a sick green vapor rising from the empty holes. More green vapor was coming from his formerly-starched shirt collar, which was already seeped through with bodily fluids.
The hallway was beginning to fill with the green haze, and finally Kerry snapped from her hypnotic state. She turned back into her apartment and slammed the door behind her, sobbing uncontrollably.
“Omigod, omigod, omigod,” she said in a high-pitched tone, frantically searching her apartment for something, anything to latch onto, anything to make the nightmare end. Looking down at her feet, she saw a wisp of green vapor slip from under the door.
“No!” she screamed, running from the door to her kitchen. The panic was really beginning to set in, and she felt it. She was shaking and crying, tears streaking down her face, leaving rivulets of beige foundation in their wakes.
She grabbed a large kitchen knife from the wooden block on the counter and backed up to the refrigerator, watching the green haze seeping into her apartment. Looking down at the knife, it dawned on her that it was most likely going to do her no good against vapor. She dropped it with a clatter.
The sound of the knife falling crystallized her mind. Out, she thought. I need to get out.
She spun, heading for the back door, the one that led to the complex’s alley entrance. She ran through her study, knocking over a flimsy bookshelf on the way. Reaching the door, she flung it open, only to be knocked backwards at the sight that greeted her.
On the landing that led to the stairs sat an identical package to the one in the front hallway.
She screamed, holding both hands to her face, staring at the package. It lay motionless, waiting, she thought. Watching her. Out, she thought again, logic once again cutting through her fear.
She slammed the door and ran to her bedroom, towards the window that led to the fire escape. She had come in that window several times over the past few weeks, having forgotten her apartment keys on more than one occasion, and knew it was an easy way out.
As she entered the bedroom, her heart leapt into her throat. There, propping open the window, sat the package. Waiting. Her scream this time could have woken the dead.
She stumbled back into her kitchen, the mind-numbing fear now taking control of her body. Her vision was growing gray as she struggled to maintain a grasp on reality. She saw the phone sitting on the end of the counter. Help, her mind said as she reached for it. I can get help.
She picked up the receiver from its cradle, but instead of a dial tone, soft instrumental music was playing through the speaker. It was the overhead muzak from the post office, she realized, the dread now nearly overwhelming her.
She threw the phone down onto the counter, watching more and more vapor oozing under the door. Her front living room was now almost completely enshrouded in the green fog. She frantically looked around her kitchen, now the only safe haven from the haze in that section of her apartment. She saw her purse on top of the wine fridge. Cell phone, she thought, her spirits rising.
Kerry covered the ten feet in two long bounds, snatching her purse and spilling the contents onto the counter. Spying her phone, she grabbed it, swiped to unlock, and hit the phone key. A pop-up notification appeared, and upon reading it, she nearly fell over in shock.
“No service. Phone has gone postal.”
Her crying intensified and she dropped the phone onto the floor. Between sobs she heard a faint creaking sound, and she looked up for the source, hoping beyond all possible hope that someone was here to help.
The creaking seemed to be coming from the large white plaster wall adjacent to the kitchen. She squinted through her tears. The wall appeared to be changing color, taking on a brown shade. The creaking intensified, and she rubbed her eyes to try to clear her vision. No, she thought. It couldn’t be.
A handwritten label appeared where a small painting once hung. The wall had become the package. And it was moving towards her.
She backed away, knocking over a fruit basket and stack of mail as she scrambled towards the far side of the apartment. She turned to run that direction, but stopped dead in her tracks. She gasped as she saw the far wall had also turned brown and was bulging outwards.
The dread and horror finally got the best of her, and she collapsed onto her knees, crying and sniffing. She held her head in her hands and began rocking back and forth as the walls closed in. She heard pieces of furniture sliding and crashing into each other as the walls pushed inexorably towards her.
As the walls approached their final destination, Kerry Jensen heard an echo of her boss, the last thing he had said to her as she left the office.
“Make sure to use Fed-Ex.”
A big thanks to Al Boudreau for shooting me the prompt and the motivation. It was a fun write to go way outside my usual genre. As a scifi/technothriller author, it was a tough leap to go into a scary horror story, but after reading R.A. Evans’s Asylum Lake, I thought maybe I’d give it a shot. I know I’ve got several horror writers as friends (including R.A.), so if you read this, be gentle on me…
Here is the prompt Al gave me:
Kerry Jensen’s blind date arrives at her place. She opens the door and sees her evening companion lean over to pick up a package left for her at her doorstep. No sooner does he lift it off the porch floor, when he is stricken and falls to the ground dead.