A Box Full of Faerie
by Jody Wallace
Wham! Wham! Wham!
A thunderous pounding on the door disrupted Rachele’s daily yoga workout. Startled, she froze in the ‘cat’ segment of her cat-cow sequence for warming up the spine.
She leapt to her feet. The hair on the back of her neck prickled a warning, like some kind of intruder alert. Her brain rapidly assessed threat responses—knives in the kitchen, vase on the table near the door, hand to hand, straight-up hiding.
None of that would help if they had a gun.
“Who is it?” she called, voice cracking.
When there was no response, she crept silently toward the front door of the cottage. Gene sat on the foyer table beside the vase, long, black tail curled around his paws.
Displaying zero alarm after the sudden racket, he swiveled an ear as she approached. Cats often sensed danger before humans, so if he wasn’t anxious, maybe she shouldn’t be either.
“You’d better not break that vase,” she chided him. Gene was her destructo kitty. The blue willow vase was the fourth one to occupy the spot of honor in the foyer. This one, she hoped, was both heavy enough that Gene couldn’t knock it over and that it would make a good weapon.
Because that was the perfect criteria for interior decorating choices.
Gene blinked. The tip of his tail flicked an acknowledgement.
Reassured, Rachele pressed her eye to the peephole. A man in khaki clothing with a clipboard waited on the porch. A cap shaded the top half of his face from view.
Rachele laughed to herself. A delivery person. If khaki guy were a gun-toting villain, he wouldn’t have bothered to knock. She’d never get used to the way people here traipsed onto your porch like they were allowed on your property without an invitation, but that didn’t mean everyone meant you harm.
Not like where she’d grown up—not at all.
Which was exactly why she’d relocated to Shawnaville, North Carolina, in the first place.
Checking her clothing to make sure all the important ladybits were covered, she unchained and unbolted the door and swung it back. Pleasant afternoon sunlight streamed through the opening, warming her exposed arms and face.
“Can I help you?” she asked the man.
“Delivery for 802 Danube Street.” He tapped the clipboard. “Are you Rachele Waters?”
She peered past him to the medium-sized truck parked at the curb. Two other men busied themselves at the rear of the vehicle as if her delivery weren’t a small box or overnight envelope. She didn’t recognize the company name on the side of the truck—Summerland Express.
“I didn’t order anything,” she said automatically, although it was quite possible she had. She hated shopping— wearing clothes and shoes, going outside around all those strangers, in the stores, leaving her cats alone in the house when who knew what mischief they could get up to? The internet was her friend.
The man lifted his chin to look at her. The bored expression on his brown face didn’t flicker as he extended the clipboard and a large ink pen. “If you could just sign at the X?”
“But what is it?” she asked.
“I just drive the truck, ma’am. I don’t know what’s in your parcel.”
Bemused, Rachele accepted the paperwork. She glanced over the tiny print. Everything looked standard. The sender appeared to be an internet retailer she often accessed. Huh. Was it time for more cat food? Craft supplies for her online business? Oh, maybe it was that new yoga mat.
What a nice surprise. She loved presents.
Balancing the clipboard in one hand, she scribbled her name awkwardly with the pen. It was slick and unusually heavy, as if weighted inside. The pen slipped out of her grasp as she was writing the last letter. The sharp clip pricked her finger like a cat’s claw.
“Ouch!” A tiny bit of blood dripped on the signature line. Embarrassed, Rachele snatched her hand behind her back. “Sorry. I got a smudge on your paper.”
For a former...well, for a person whose employment used to involve slinking around and eavesdropping, she was so clumsy sometimes.
The delivery guy shrugged and handed her the customer copy. “As long as we get the signature.”
The two other guys pushed and tugged a large carton out of the back of the truck--a brown box about as tall as they were and almost as wide. They hoisted it between them easily—apparently it wasn’t too heavy—and toted it across her yard. Large arrows on the sides indicated “this end up”.
What in the miaow was that? Not a yoga mat, that was for sure. The box they supported could hold a refrigerator and a half.
“Do you need us to bring it inside, ma’am?” one asked.
“No.” She didn’t know what it was. No way was it coming in her house. “Just leave it there.”
They looked at each other as if she was dim-witted, set the box down near her stepping stone pathway, and returned to the truck.
The guy with the clipboard tipped his cap at her. “Have a nice day, Ms. Waters.”
She waited until the men drove off to fetch a box cutter, slip on her hated shoes, and head out to the yard to inspect her new possession. While she didn’t want it inside until she could figure out what it was, that didn’t mean she wasn’t dying of curiosity.
It wasn’t a fatal flaw...considering she was still alive...so why curb it when so many fascinating things awaited discovery?
Her name was clearly marked on the box, as was her address. Nothing was misspelled. Didn’t seem like a mistake. Hm, was it that new predictive delivery she kept hearing about?
She gave the box an experimental shove. It moved half an inch through the close-cropped grass. Probably too heavy for her to carry by herself, but she had several nice neighbors. Next she shook it.
Something inside, something large, thunked against the cardboard.
Rachele jumped back, box cutter held low. The better to slash with.
When the contents of the box didn’t thunk again, she straightened, smoothed her long, black hair, and casually glanced around to see if anyone had noticed her freak out over a box.
“Mrow!” Shona, her long-haired, grey tabby, minced through the flower bed. Her tail waved like a plume behind her. She was not accompanied by the jaunty jingle of a bell.
Well, turd buckets.
“Where have you left your collar this time, puss?” Rachele knelt and buried her fingers in the cat’s warm fur. Four collars, just this month. She didn’t want to keep the cats locked inside, but roaming the streets could be dangerous for critters. Even these streets. The least Shona could do was leave her collar on.
The cat rolled onto her back, purring. Guests to her home had been certain Shona was a Maine Coon, but she wasn’t. She was as mixed-breed as all of Rachele’s cats.
They were her kitties. Her charges. Her babies. She might be a bit of a crazy cat lady, but what did she care?
It was better than what she had been. Before.
In fact, everything was better than it had been before except Jacques, but he would never be okay again.
Never mind that. Never, ever mind that.
“Let’s see what’s inside.” Giving Shona one last pat, Rachele pushed thoughts of the past aside and felt around the edges of the parcel, looking for seams and tape. If Gene was her destructo kitty and Shona was her gorgeous wanderer, Luiken was her box lover. This box, however, was a touch larger than the shoe and paper boxes he favored.
She stuck the box cutter into the crack along the side of the box and sliced downward. Cardboard and glue parted ways with a long, dry rip that sent shivers up Rachele’s spine. Ack! It was nearly as bad as daggers on a chalkboard. She continued along the bottom, stood, and sliced along the top.
The front of the box eased open like a door. Inside the parcel was something she had definitely not ordered for herself.
A person-high wardrobe with a single door rested inside the box, no Styrofoam cushioning. Well, that didn’t seem like a very sensible packaging technique. The wardrobe was shaped oddly, almost triangular, with a bottom as wide as the box and a top that came to a point. Intricate carvings covered the aged wood—vines, fairies, unicorns, and other mystical creatures. The door, like the wardrobe itself, had three sides.
She took a step back and frowned. Cocking her head to the side, she realized it wasn’t a triangle.
It was an upside down heart.
Graceful swoops at the bottom rested on the ground, giving the wardrobe more stability than one might assume an upside down heart would have. The doorknob was also a heart, iron filigree and very fancy.
It looked expensive. And old. Leaning forward, she gave it an experimental sniff. Beeswax mixed with spice and hints of pine, though the wood itself appeared to be oak. The combination reminded her of something, perhaps something from her past, but she couldn’t recall what.
Whatever it was, it made her sad. Since she had no more room in her life for “sad”, she shrugged it off and continued her inspection.
She ticked the door with a fingernail. Solid. Next she rapped on it. The hollow clunk seemed to verify it was empty.
How lovely. Who’d sent it to her? And why? It wasn’t her birthday, and nobody in her regular life knew when her birthday was. Just the cats, who didn’t really care, but they did enjoy the fact she served them ice cream on her special day.
As for the wardrobe, she could place it in her craft room and fill it with yarn and beads and more yarn. She grabbed the doorknob and pulled it open, eager to see if had shelving inside.
A loud crack, like lightning, resonated across the yard. Bright blue light blasted out of the door. Rachele yelped. Stumbled. Fell on her bottom. Shona hissed and scampered toward the house in a flash of bushy tail.
After a moment, the blue dimmed until there was just a phosphorescent glow around the door edges.
Cautiously, she inched toward the wardrobe and stuck out a toe. She nudged the bottom corner of the door until it swung open on creaky hinges.
A swirling, glimmering portal greeted her stunned gaze.
Hastily she slammed the door. It had no lock but stayed shut.
Well, dammit! Dammit to Frell and dammit some more. Who had sent her a dog-damned door to Faerie?
After all she’d done to get away from that place.
To be continued in the HEART-SHAPED BOX anthology!
Find out more about Jody Wallace!