Faces on my desktop screen grow hazy, pixelating before freezing altogether. Turning up the volume on my mic and shouting, “Hello? Are you there?” while moving the cursor sporadically from left to right and top to bottom won’t help, so I just sit there for a while, thinking about what I’ll say to answer my boss’s question about why I picked one candidate over another for the finance position. I had said that my top candidate seemed like a “go-getter,” and my boss asked, “What on earth do you mean by that?” I’d gotten flustered, my face turning bright red before freezing for all to see. So now, I gather my thoughts in my defense. . . and my cellphone pings. I don’t recognize the number for the text or the other numbers that come up in a group chat that includes me, but the message reads: Appliance delivery in one hour.
I haven’t ordered any appliances, but before I can respond or simply look away, someone in the chat texts back: Just put it in the garage: 1500 60th Ave SW. The zip code is for Friday Harbor. As the faces on the screen before me reanimate, I decide that there are better things to do with my day, so I leave the meeting and take the ferry over to Friday Harbor, where artists’ galleries, boutique hotels, and farm-to-sea-to-table restaurants dot the landscape in pastels and bright blues. Tucked into the green spaces and sidewalks are houses for the lucky ones who landed a dream. The houses aren’t big, but they have peek-a-boo views of the ocean and year-round-on-vacation-energy.
I walk up the street lined with waxy pink blossoms and turn right to find tiny houses with sparkling white gravel driveways. The house I’m looking for is boxy and charming—with flowers in the windows. The garage door is open, and the delivery driver stands outside with a clipboard.
“Yes,” I say, though I’m Ms. McNary.
“Just sign here, and I’ll unload the box.”
After signing, I wander inside the garage, which is neat and tidy, all of the tools and boxes stacked along contained shelves that are built into the walls to keep everything from spilling out during an earthquake.
The appliance box—a wooden crate actually—is held together by nails that poke out, bending at angles. The delivery driver struggles to place it in the middle of the otherwise empty garage.
“Have fun,” he chuckles.
“Are you going to help me put it together? It’s an appliance. Won’t I need help installing it or something?”
The man stares at me, and I’m not sure what I see in his eyes. Contempt? Is he insulted? And then, I figure out what it is: hate. He absolutely hates me for some reason.
Without answering, he leaves, reaching up to shut the garage door, leaving me in the dark. Behind me, I feel along the wall for the light switch and turn it on. Staring at the box, I wonder what’s inside. There aren’t any labels on the front, other than “Fragile” and “This Side Up.”
If I can get the box inside and take over the house, I’ve won. In this state, it’s the squatter’s word against the resident’s. “Never leave your house empty, or your doorstep unwatched.” I’m pretty sure that’s the motto around here. Around here, people crochet those words over their “Home is Where the Heart is” couch pillows.
I try the handle of the door that leads into the main part of the house, but it’s locked. While my back is turned, though, I start to hear a rattling sound coming from the box behind me, so I turn around to see it moving on its own. The wood begins to splinter, and nails work their way out, popping onto the floor. A rush of smoke fills the garage, covering every inch around me, suffocating me. I feel my face burn. A large shadowy form emerges from the box. I can barely make it out through my tears, but through the smoky haze it reaches its hands forward to wrap its fingers around my neck and finish me off. I can feel my throat cracking, blood pounding in my ears. The shadow’s human-like form grows clearer in my vision, and its eyes glow red.
It throws accusations in chilling screams of all of my sins—naming all of the things I’ve stolen from porches: baby shoes, life-saving medicine, wedding gifts, irreplaceable documents, cherished heirlooms. With one hand, the shadow strangles me, and with the other, it forces me to look at my phone, which lights up in eerie blue. The word GOTCHA! runs in straight rows across the entire screen, as I’m picked up and shoved inside the last box I’ll ever steal.
Cecilia Kennedy (she/her) earned a PhD in Spanish at Ohio State University and taught English composition and Spanish in Ohio before moving to Washington state with her family. Since 2017, she has published stories in literary journals, magazines, and anthologies. Her work has appeared in Maudlin House, Coffin Bell, Open Minds Quarterly, Headway Quarterly, Flash Fiction Magazine, and others. The Places We Haunt (2020) is her first short story collection. Additionally, she’s a columnist for The Daily Drunk, an editor for Flash Fiction Magazine and Running Wild Press, and humor blogger: Fixin’ Leaks and Leeks (https://fixinleaksnleeksdiy.blog/). Twitter: @ckennedyhola.