19 Oct The Shoebox
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"The Shoebox"Written by Alice Thompson
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Estimated reading time — 8 minutes
I’ve decided to share this here because honestly? I feel like I NEED to talk about this before I go crazy. And this is probably the only place where I could talk about this and not have people think that I’m crazy.
My name is Elizabeth Black. I’ve lived in New York pretty much most of my life without really having anything strange happen to me. Never seen a ghost, never saw a UFO and no, before you ask, never bumped into a tall, pale faceless guy with nice taste in suits. Me and my girlfriend Joan have lived in the same apartment for the past seven years without having anything bizarre or unusual happen to either of us.
And I guess that’s still the case now, ‘cause this story isn’t really about what happened to me. This story is about what happened to my brother, Alan.
This all happened last Christmas when he’d come over to visit. It had been really nice. My girlfriend is an AMAZING cook and she made the most delicious turkey I think I’ve ever tasted. We played party games, watched Disney films and cheesy Christmas specials on the TV, tuned into the Doctor Who Christmas special too as we’re both long time sci fi nuts…Alan was a dick and teased us about it but a well aimed cushion to the head got him to stop being a jerk.
All in all, it was a pretty great Christmas day. The presents were wonderful (Including certain ‘special’ presents my very own naughty Mrs Claus got me that I was VERY glad my brother didn’t see) and we all enjoyed ourselves so much.
But, eventually it came time for Alan to head on home and so a few days later we headed down to where he was going to get his train. I went with him and we made small talk, chatted about little, inconsequential things. I asked what his plans for the new year were, he asked how my job was going. You know, that kind of thing.
While we were waiting for his train though, that’s when we both noticed something that was kind of odd.
There was a man sat on one of the chairs in the train station, not too far away from us. He was dressed in a neat black suit, red tie, black gloves and a pair of sunglasses, despite the fact that it definitely was NOT the kind of weather you’d need those in. He had a small smile on his face as he rocked back and forth on the seat, singing to himself softly. I recognised the song as ‘Unforgettable’ and he would hum bits of it then sing a few words before going back to humming away.
And on his lap, was a shoe box.
“What do you thinks inside?” Alan asked after a while, obviously having noticed that I was staring as well. I shrugged.
“Shoes, I guess?”, I replied. He laughed.
“C’mon, where’s your imagination? Don’t you want to be a big fancy writer one day? You can come up with something better than that” he said with a grin.
“Okay. It’s…a collection of severed hands. He’s a serial killer, prowling the train station, waiting to harvest them from unsuspecting victims” I suggested.
“NICE. Okay…so why?” Alan prodded, urging me on. I thought for a moment before continuing.
“Former hand model. His own were burned in a freak grease fire which is why he wears the gloves. It drove him mad and left him with a deep seated loathing of all those blessed with un-scarred hands and now he takes a terrible vengeance upon them all” I said, feeling rather proud of that little bit of nonsense. My brother giggled loudly, clearly amused.
“Nah. It’s a dragon” he said
“A dragon? In New York?” I asked and he nodded eagerly.
“He’s a hunter and trader of rare and mythical beasts. He goes to the furthest corners of the earth, seeking out creatures most don’t even believe exist, bringing them back to sell to eccentric private collectors all over the world” he said as I shook my head in amusement.
“You’ve been reading too much Harry Potter, you dork” I said. And then I noticed Alan had stopped smiling and was looking at something behind me. Turning, I saw that the man was stood beside me now, smiling down at me pleasantly, the box still clutched in his hand.
“Good afternoon. I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation” he said, in a polite voice with what sounded like a slight Australian accent.
I was honestly so surprised to just see him standing there that the apology I attempted just became a rather stupid sounding series of noises and mumbled half-formed words. He certainly didn’t seem threatening or angry but turning around to see him had been a shock and that coupled with the embarrassment of realising he’d heard our conversation made me have what my girlfriend likes to refer to as one of my ‘Blonde moments’
“Please, no need to feel embarrassed. I thought it was very amusing. I simply wished to ask if either of you would like to see what is in the box” he continued.
Alan leaned forward, clearly intrigued, reaching for the box only for the man to move it out of reach of his hands, taking a step back, his expression never changing.
“Not here. Please, follow me” he said, before walking off, not even bothering to look back to see if we were walking after him.
Alan stood to follow and I reached out, grabbing hold of his arm to stop him.
I don’t know why…after all the man certainly seemed perfectly nice and it’s not like my brother was a child. But something about this just seemed way too weird to me. Blame watching too many horror movies or just the news, because living in New York you heard plenty of stories about terrible things happening. And just because the guy seemed nice didn’t mean he wasn’t some kind of weirdo.
“C’mon you know you’re curious” Alan said, tugging free of my grip and heading around the corner after the man. With a sigh I decided to follow, seeing that he’d come to a stop outside one of the public toilets.
“Please. Step inside and I shall show you” the man said, before entering, the door closing behind him.
At this point any apprehension I’d had had pretty much TRIPLED, because this had gone from weird to creepy. Outside of porn, I didn’t know many scenarios where following weird looking strangers into grimy public toilets ever ended well. But my brother, genius that he was, was already starting to head towards the door before I grabbed him.
“Are you crazy? Seriously, best case scenario this guy is a rapist. WORST case he’s some kind of serial killer who’s planning to make you into a skin suit” I growled angrily at him, but he swatted my hand aside, laughing off my concerns.
“Please. Did you see him? The guy looks like a gentle breeze could snap him in two. I’ve been boxing since college and you’ve got that freaky upper body strength. Between the two of us we could mash him into paste in about five seconds if he tried anything” he said.
I had to admit he did have a point. The man in black certainly didn’t seem like much of a threat and even if he had some kind of weapon in the box, it wouldn’t take much to take him down before he got the chance to use it. Still, I wasn’t about to let my brother put himself into harms way all to find out what was in some stupid shoebox.
“NO. Besides what does it matter anyway? It’s not like he’s going to have something that can turn lead into gold or tell your future in there…he’s just some weird, creepy guy who’s probably got a dead cat in there or something” I snapped.
Alan sighed, probably realising that he wasn’t going to be getting his way and nodded. Then he jerked his head to the side, a look of shock on his face.
“Hey…how the hell did he get over there?” he asked and like an IDIOT I turned to look.
To see nothing.
And the second my eyes were off him, he’d bolted through the door, before I could stop him. To this day I feel like such a moron for fooling for a trick as clichéd as ‘Hey, look behind you’ but I didn’t have time to kick myself at that moment. Moving quickly I went to the door of the restroom, pushing hard on it, ready in case anything was wrong…and the door didn’t budge.
I took a step back, feeling seriously afraid now before shoving harder on the door. Nothing. I took a few steps back and took a running kick at it. The door didn’t even seem to register the blow at all. Desperate now I started to hammer on the door, calling my brother’s name, asking if he was alright, my fists beating against the hard material, feeling fear flooding my body. And then the screaming began
I can’t put into words how awful it was. Those screams…I sometimes hear them in my dreams. And when I do I wake up, sweating, shivering, feeling sick to my stomach. These weren’t just screams of pain or of fear. I honestly can’t really describe how it felt to listen to them, not properly. I’ve never heard screams like those, not in real life or in the movies. And the way they made me feel at that moment it was just…horrible.
I guess the only way to try and give you an idea of how I felt is like this: you know when you’re watching a movie and the music gets real tense and you get that feeling in your gut, where you KNOW something terrible is about to happen, that kind of sick apprehension? That’s how this felt, a hundred times over. When the door finally opened, finally yielded to me shoving against it, I stumbled inside, no idea what I might see.
My brother was crouched on the floor. He was fully clothed, uninjured and staring, just staring at the ground. And he was alone.
I ran to him, not caring at first where the man had gone, wrapping my arms around him as he shook in my grip. I held him tight like I had done when we were kids and he’d had a nightmare, just wanting to make sure he was alright. He was damp with sweat and his eyes…his eyes were bloodshot. Wide and staring and bloodshot. The expression on his face was one of absolute horror. I can’t remember EVER seeing him afraid like he was in that moment.
There was no sign of the man anywhere in the room. I called first the police then my girlfriend and stood there beside my brother as we waited for them to arrive.
The police took statements and a description of the man. I left out the part where he’d vanished because honestly, as if they would ever take me seriously if I told them THAT. I just said he’d slipped past me while I’d been concerned over keeping Alan safe. To this day, he’s never been found.
The doctors checked Alan out and found no signs of injury or assault. He seemed to be perfectly fine. Except that he didn’t seem to remember a thing about what had happened from the moment he followed the man to the moment I came in after him. It was just one big blank.
Both I and Joan have suggested that he talk to therapists now and then, but he always refused. I don’t think he wants to remember what happened that day and I can’t really say that I blame him. I’m not sure I want to know what happened either. Maybe there are some things that it’s better to forget, some things that people just shouldn’t have to live with the memory of.
There are things that I wish I could forget about that day as well. The look on my brother’s face. The feel of him quivering in my arms in sheer terror. And the sound of those screams. Sometimes I want to tell someone, my girlfriend, my mother…SOMEONE…what it is about the memory of those screams that upsets me so much. Because it isn’t just how they sounded, terrible as it was.
It’s the fact that even though Alan and the smiling man in the suit were the only ones in that room…it sounded like hundreds…THOUSANDS…of people were all screaming at once.
Credit: Alice Thompson
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