Estimated reading time — 12 minutes
I’m a bit of a penny-pincher. I try to stick to the bare essentials when grocery shopping and I spend most of my free time earning money in other ways. I sell things, look for odd jobs on craigslist, and take surveys online. It’s more than likely due to these surveys that I even received a mysterious package in the mail. Allow me to explain.
I take countless surveys online that range from questions about my shopping experiences to very intrusive, personal queries. After roughly thirty surveys or so, most sites will send you some money, anywhere from $1 to $5 (I mostly get $2 bills). It’s tedious work, but if you have nothing else to do, why not make some extra cash? And like I said, I’m a penny pincher. It’s not that I’m greedy or anything, I just feel more comfortable knowing that I have a good chunk of money to fall back on in case of an emergency.
Now, because of these surveys, I’ve typed my address into a lot of websites. As such, I receive an overwhelming amount of junk mail. I don’t mind all that much. Between the money from the surveys and never needing firewood in the winter, it’s worth it.
One day, however, I received a package.
The package was wrapped in leather, something I’d never seen come through the mail before. Embossed in the upper left corner was a rather impressive logo. It seemed that the mystery package was from a company called “SynthetiCorp”.
Initially, I thought there was some sort of mix-up at the post office, but my name and address were right there on the package – embossed, just like the logo.
I asked my wife what she thought of it, but she offered no insight. After seeing it, she grew excited and tried pressuring me into opening it. In her defense, the thing did look… important? I guess? Like whatever was inside was at the very least, expensive.
After fending off my curious wife and mulling it over for a few moments, I decided it would be best not to open it just yet. I assumed that this “SynthetiCorp” accessed my home address in the same manner that all of the other junk mail companies did. After all, I did give my address away to various outlets, daily. Perhaps the package was a more elaborate form of the usual scams that made their way into my mailbox. It was more than likely harmless. However, normal junkmail is one thing. Packages are another.
I chose to do a little research before tearing it open.
In googling “SynthetiCorp”, I found that there were multiple agencies using the moniker. None of them seemed like scam-manufacturers, but then again, they never do. I decided to call each of them and ask about the package.
A few phone calls later and I was back at square one. None of the SynthetiCorps I called were the one that sent me the mystery box. One of the guys who answered the phone even seemed angry that I was calling, as if the number should not have been widely available. In any case, I was still dumbfounded by the package. I so badly felt the need to open it, but I wanted to also feel safe doing so. For all I knew, it could have been a bomb. Not likely, but not completely out of the realm of possibility, especially in this day and age.
I spent the next couple of hours on google, looking for the company that sent me this damned thing. I needed anything that would put my mind at ease – just enough to cross that threshold, allowing me to open it and reveal its contents. After scouring thousands of results, I found something.
There was one complaint on one review site for a company called SynthetiCorp. I scrolled down to the comment in question and this is all it said:
“Don’t open it.”
What? Don’t open it? Did they mean the package? I couldn’t wrap my head around what this meant. Aggravated, I threw my keyboard aside and went to bed.
A few days passed. After reading the alleged complaint from the random review site I visited, I was more than a bit hesitant to open the thing up. In fact, I almost put it out with the garbage. Out of sight, out of mind as the old saying goes. The only thing that kept me from doing this was my curiosity. Because of this, I left it in my car.
I tried one more time to forget about it, but this was not a simple task. I kept wondering about what might be waiting for me inside the package – an invitation to a secret society, a priceless oddity passed on from stranger to stranger, or some other type of treasure. I couldn’t help but fantasize about it. I did this so much that opening it became an inevitable conclusion.
Noticing that my car hadn’t exploded yet, and thinking a little more clearly about the situation, I decided that taking a peek inside the package would be a harmless venture. After all, the complaint I’d seen could have been about any one of the dozens of Syntheticorps out there, or, more likely, it was a fake review. Either way, it was nothing more than an eerie coincidence. At least that’s what I told myself in an effort to justify my desires. My curiosity demanded placation.
On the day in question, I arrived home from work and brought the leather-bound box inside. I placed it on the kitchen table and stared at it. I had told my wife about my plans to open it and she demanded that I wait for her to get home before doing so. I told her that I might. Truth be told, I couldn’t. I needed to solve the mystery, if only to satisfy my hunger for answers.
I grabbed the damned thing and attempted to rip it apart. The leather was tightly bound, but with some brute force and a little bit of sweat, I was able to penetrate some of the hide. I fought with it for a few more moments, tearing off pieces at a time. That’s when my wife walked in.
“I knew you wouldn’t wait for me, you impatient bastard.” she exclaimed.
“You know I can’t wait for anything You think you could give me a hand over here?”
She scoffed at me, but rushed over to help, just as curious as I was. It took us nearly a half an hour, but we managed to get most of the leather off. Beneath it was a small, wooden chest. Excited, my wife jumped the gun and attempted to open it. Her actions were futile, as it seemed to be locked.
It looked like we were back at square one, but I noticed something etched into the wood, below a keyhole. It said “House Key”. My wife and I looked at each other in confusion. I thought about it for a moment, and hesitantly reached for my keys. I looked over at my wife and we chuckled, but it quickly turned into a nervous laugh and then silence. I tried the key and to our utter disbelief, the lock popped open. There was only one thing left to do.
I opened the box up and looked inside. My wife and I stared, equally dumbfounded by the reveal. I could neither surmise its meaning, nor did I know what to do next. It was baffling.
Inside the box was a live rabbit. A live, freaking rabbit. Next to the rabbit was a scrap of paper. I picked it up and read it:
-DO NOT READ ALOUD OR YOU WILL SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES-
“You have one minute to act. Go to the kitchen and grab a large knife. Proceed to kill the rabbit or your wife will die. That is a promise. Do not tell her about this note. Burn it after completing the task. The clock is ticking.”
Below the text was a picture of my wife, sleeping in bed. I had never seen that picture before.
Without hesitation, I ran to the kitchen, grabbed the largest knife I could find, and hurried back over to the rabbit. I stabbed it multiple times until I knew it was dead. I expected my wife to scream, but she didn’t. Instead, she asked a question.
“What are you doing?”
I looked over at her, apologetically.
“I can’t tell you. Please, just trust me. We’ll have to bury it in the yard.”
“Bury what in the yard?” she asked, sounding a bit confused.
“The rabbit.” I said.
“What rabbit?” she asked.
“The one right here!” I gestured towards the bloody carcass in the box.
My wife shot me the weirdest look before speaking again.
“Hon… the box is empty.”
I slowly handed my wife the scrap of paper. She looked down at it then back up at me.
“There’s nothing on it. It’s blank. Hon, are you okay?”
All of a sudden I felt dizzy. I looked at the paper in my wife’s hand and it was indeed void of any writing. I then looked over at the box. The rabbit was gone. A knot formed in the pit of my stomach as my legs gave out. Light-headed and confused beyond all measure, my body hit the kitchen floor with a loud thud and I involuntarily shut my eyes. I passed out within an instant.
I awoke in the comfort of my bed, feeling groggy and sore. My wife was sitting beside me with a troubled expression on her face. She was more than likely worried, both for my physical and mental health.
“Oh, thank God! Are you alright?” she asked.
“I’ll be fine. How long was I out?”
“About twenty minutes. I was about to call 911. What the hell happened?” she asked.
I changed the subject from my untimely descent to the box. I asked her if she truly saw nothing, in which she replied, “No, nothing at all.” We discussed it a little further and while she agreed that my house key opening the box was weird, she figured that the package was some sort of misguided prank. She said she’d call the post office for more information.
While conversing about the package, I was able to convince my wife that my strange actions and fall were both due to exhaustion, having over-exerted myself at work. I conveniently left out the details on the note. I didn’t want her thinking I was a lunatic suffering from hallucinations, even if I was. She seemed to buy my story and that was that. Until the following day.
After a much needed good night’s rest, I woke up the next day feeling refreshed and ready to take on the world. I recalled what happened the night previous, but I decided it would be best not to dwell on uncertainties. My best course of action, I thought, would be to forget the whole thing ever happened. I was a sane individual, after all. The events that transpired the night before truly were a product of being over-tired. Yes. That explanation sat well with me.
While driving to work with a newfound sense of well-being, the illusion of sanity I clung to shattered abruptly. I adjusted my mirror at a red light and noticed something lying in my backseat. It was the rabbit, dead as could be, staining my upholstery with its pungent blood. I jumped and looked back at the seat. There was nothing there.
A horn blared from behind me, causing me to jump a second time. The light had turned green and I was holding up traffic. I quickly adjusted myself and drove forward, trying to gather my wits as I did. Unfortunately for me, it wouldn’t be that simple.
I kept looking at my mirror thinking I’d see the rabbit again, but I did not. I managed to calm myself down and convince myself, once again, that I was sane and it was just a trick of the eyes. And the dozens of dead rabbits on the side of the road that I passed on my way to work – that was just a coincidence. Surely, I wasn’t crazy.
I arrived at work a bit frazzled and made my way inside. The place was oddly vacant for a Saturday, but I ignored this and walked over to my office. The lack of life made sense when I opened the door.
All of my co-workers had piled into my office for some sort of celebration. They all wore festive hats and had party horns in hand. Clapping ensued as I entered the room. Before I could ask what it was all for, my boss walked over to me.
“Happy five years with the company! You’ve done great things here and we all wanted you to know how much we appreciate the work you do. Take some time to kick back and relax. You’ve earned it!”
I heard a bottle of champagne pop in the corner of the room. Still on edge from the ride over, I jumped. Everyone laughed. My boss’s laugh was the loudest and most comical which caused everyone else to laugh even harder. That’s when I joined in.
For a few moments, my worries vanished. I forgot all about the stupid package and the weird ride to work. It was nice. But nice things don’t last. Once the laughter stopped, my boss put his hand on my shoulder and spoke again.
“By the way, we got something for you! Hope you like it.”
He walked me over to my desk and everyone stepped away to reveal my gift.
“Well, what do you think?” he asked.
There, lying on my desk, was a dead rabbit.
My boss began cutting into the rabbit with a knife and passing around pieces of its flesh to my co-workers.
“I hope you like chocolate!” he said.
Maybe the thing my boss was cutting into truly was just a cake, but I was still shaken by what I was witnessing.
“Here you go, the best piece!”
My boss handed me the rabbit’s head on a paper plate. That was the last straw.
I dropped the plate, ran out of the building, got into my car, and left. I couldn’t be sure of what was going on, but I knew I couldn’t be at work. As such, I sped home, ignoring all of the rabbit carcasses I passed along the way. I needed to rest off whatever it was that ailed me.
I arrived home and stormed through the front door, startling my wife, who was sitting on the couch reading a book.
“You’re home early. Everything alright?” she asked.
“I’m taking a sick day. I don’t feel so hot.”
I almost made it up the stairs when my wife stopped me.
“Oh, I called the post office. They said that the man who sent you the package will be there to meet you at 2:00pm.”
“What? Who sent it?” I asked.
“They didn’t say. That was all they told me.”
That was bizarre. I didn’t even know the post office had the power to arrange such a meeting. Something wasn’t adding up, but then again, it made about as much sense as anything else that had happened. I decided it would be best to meet this mystery person. Maybe then I would have some answers.
I slept for a few hours and woke up to a bunch of missed calls from work, as well as a text from my boss that said “Sorry. Next time we’ll get vanilla!” I looked at the time – it was 1:35pm. That was my cue to throw on my shoes and head out. I didn’t want to miss my impromptu meeting with who I could only guess would be the CEO of Syntheticorp.
I drove down to the post office and quickly made my way in. There were a bunch of people in there picking up mail and sending out packages, so I couldn’t be sure who it was that I was meeting. Noticing that I looked lost, an older gentleman walked over to me.
“Ahh! There you are!”
The man then snapped his fingers, and as if by magic, everything stopped. What I mean by that is everyone stopped moving and silence filled the room. Everything was frozen, somehow. Baffled, I looked over to the man for answers.
“…what’s… going on here?”
“Well, I was hoping we could find that out, together.”
I had no idea what the man was talking about, so I remained silent like the rest of the room.
“Oh, where are my manners? Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Doctor Grovewood. But you can call me Doc, if you like.”
“Do you work for Syntheticorp?” I asked. “Yes! As a matter of fact, I do.”
One answer was mine so far, but it wasn’t much. I needed to press him for more information.
“Tell me Doc, what the hell is going on here?”
“I’m sorry to say, there’s no simple answer. I will, however, try my best. I just ask that you keep an open mind and bear with me.”
Doctor Grovewood cleared his throat and then elaborated.
“The life you know and hold dear is nothing but a simulation. None of this is real – not even you, technically speaking. You are a synthetic life form created by Syntheticorp. You are currently in a lab, hooked up to a computer; the one running the simulation. You are being tested for various things – we need to do this on all of our new models before entering the production stage.”
“You mean to tell me-“
“Please, let me finish.”
I bit my tongue so as to hear the rest of his outlandish story.
“When a round of testing is complete, we then proceed to waking you up, so to speak. But therein lies the malfunction. We’ve tried to wake you up several times, but you can’t seem to break free of the delusion that is this life. You become hysterical upon waking and seem to believe that everything here in the simulation is real, and the real world out there is not.”
Though I didn’t believe a word he was saying, I kept listening, if only out of morbid curiosity.
“If you keep waking up like that, it will cause irrevocable damage to your programming. That’s why we sent you the package.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, now a little more invested in the story.
“We introduced the package into the simulation to try and invoke lucidity. You see, this world is not unlike a dream. It’s our hypothesis that if we can convince you you’re dreaming while asleep, so to speak, then we can jolt you awake without causing any further damage. Does that make sense?”
I remained both dubious and silent.
“So we started off with the odd package. Not completely absurd, but still strange. Then, when you opened it, you found something even stranger, and on top of that, you were the only one who could see it. Take a look outside.”
I slowly turned my head and looked out the post office window. To my amazement, there were thousands of dead rabbits piled up in the parking lot. I couldn’t even see my car.
“Do you understand now? We thought that if we introduced enough absurdities into your life, you’d realize that you were in a simulation and snap out of this funk you’re in. They had to send me in because it doesn’t seem to be working. You’re too stubborn, it seems. We need to wake you up now so we can properly tackle this glitch that’s keeping you anchored to this reality.”
I turned back to Doctor Grovewood, astonished by what he was trying to sell me. I was close to buying it, but not quite. It would explain everything that had happened, but I wanted to make sure. Just as I was about to ask more questions, Doctor Grovewood spoke again.
“That’s all, folks!”
“What?” I asked, dumbfounded.
I looked at Doctor Grovewood closely and noticed that he had become frozen, just like everybody else. And that’s when everything started fading. I could feel myself slipping from one world and into the next.
I woke up in the comfort of my bed and noticed Porky Pig on my TV along with some end credits. Given that it was my favorite cartoon growing up, I always put on a Looney Tunes DVD before bed to help me sleep. It worked like a charm.
I got up out of bed, and then something hit me. I started remembering the crazy dream I had. As the details came flooding back, I realized something else.
I grabbed the TV remote and re-started the last episode of Looney Tunes that had played. It was a typical episode where Elmer Fudd was chasing down Bugs Bunny. I smiled. My smile turned into a laugh when everything sunk in.
I thought about the weird package, the rabbit that I killed, and the Doc. Some of the episode must have leaked into my dream. My brain used a few of the details and strung together a crazy narrative to fill in the blanks.
Credit: Christopher Maxim
(Click HERE to check out Christopher Maxim’s book, How To Exit Your Body and Other Strange Tales)
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