By the fourth day, Charity was ready to tackle the ramshackle shed at the edge of the property.
She went in armed with rubber boots and thick leather gloves, flashlights and lanterns, a rake and a shovel. She worked her way front to back, sorting through half-empty paint cans, gardening tools, a plastic tub marked ‘Christmas Decorations’, and the usual assortment of odds and ends that resided in an outdoor shed.
She found the bag late in the day, right before darkness set in. The bulb in her lantern was beginning to dim, making it harder to keep the dark shadows at bay. Dusk crept in from all angles, snuffing out the trickle of sunlight that peeked through the cracks of the walls and the holes of the tin roof. Knowing she was almost done, Charity pushed herself to finish, even when it was getting difficult to see more than a few inches in front of her face.
At the back of the shed, stuffed into a corner behind an old push-powered lawn cutter and a broken ladder, she found the over-sized black plastic garbage bag. It was heavier than she imagined it would be, so she used both hands to tug it forward. Whatever was inside had plenty of angles and corners that pushed against the sides of the bag, making it awkward and difficult to manage.
Charity ended up dragging the bag across the dirt floor of the shed, hoping the contents weren’t breakable. She set it outside the door and went back for the broken ladder and other junk she needed to dispose of. By the time she looked around the dim shadows of the shed, brushed off her clothes and hands, and gave a satisfied nod, full twilight had set in.
As she shoved aside the plastic bag and latched the shed door, she heard the old dusk-to-dawn light buzz to life out in the yard. She normally did not stay this late — the secluded cottage was spooky enough in broad daylight — but she had wanted to finish the shed. With the exception of this one mysterious bag, she was done.
She tried to peek inside, but between the poor lighting and the knotted ties, all she knew was that it held boxes of some sort.
Charity tugged the bag across the yard, hoping the cardboard packing would protect whatever was inside the boxes. She reasoned that if the contents were important, something fragile and valuable, Aunt Nell would not have stored them so thoughtlessly in the corner of the rundown shed. Probably old decorations and knick-knacks she hated to part with. Or, judging from the weight of it, she reasoned as she heaved the bag up the front steps, it could be old tax returns or some such paperwork. Heavy paperwork.
By the time Charity reached the screened-in porch, she was out of breath. She assured herself it had nothing to do with being out of shape and fifteen pounds overweight. Okay, twenty. Twenty-five, tops, but she planned to start a diet soon, right after the maple jars were empty. That bag was heavy, and she had put in a full day’s work out in the shed. Dragging that stuffed bag halfway across the county would rob the breath right out of anyone, in shape or not. Besides, it was one of those industrial-sized, larger-than-normal trash bags.
She decided to reward herself with a break. She was hoarding a soft drink she had tucked away inside the refrigerator, taking sips here and there throughout the day. She would take a few minutes now to rest on the porch, finish off the drink, maybe even open a bag of pretzels to munch on. Low fat, of course. They were particularly tasty when dipped in maple cream, she had discovered.
After her much-needed break, Charity worked the ties loose on the bag. She would see what was inside, decide whether it was worthy of keeping or trashing, then call it a day and head back to the motel. At the rate she was going, she would be done sooner than expected and could return home to Maryland.
And to what, asked a voice inside her head. A small little duplex with noisy, disrespectful neighbors. Her rent was going up again, but she could find nothing else within her price range. Her choices were to stay in the duplex or move in as Tanya’s roommate. Neither option was particularly appealing.
Rather than pull the boxes out one by one, Charity pushed the bag down to reveal the haphazard heap inside. The smallest box tumbled free; the others stacked one upon another in erratic disarray. She grabbed up the small box and examined it.
Still taped shut, the box was addressed to a Carl Upjohn in Woodbury. The return address was a St. Johnsbury jewelry store.
Puzzled, Charity turned the box around in her hands several times, looking for new clues. The tape was original and fully intact, meaning the box had never been opened. It bore the stamp of Kingdom Parcel in prominent placement on two sides.
She looked down at the remaining three boxes. All were securely taped and stamped with the same Kingdom Parcel shipping logo.
It slowly dawned upon Charity that these boxes were part of an undelivered shipment. A quick glance showed they were all stamped March 14, 1984.
She grabbed her phone and refreshed a previously opened window, left on the article about Kingdom Parcel. Sure enough, her uncle had died on that exact date. Had these boxes been on his truck that day? Was he in the middle of a delivery when he died? Harry Tillman was quite likely the last person to touch these packages.
But, no, that wasn’t right, she realized. Someone had placed them inside this garbage bag and stashed them away in the shed. More than likely, that someone was her Aunt Nell. Why? Why had the packages been stuffed into a corner, undelivered, and hidden for all these years?
No matter how hard she tried, Charity could not imagine a convincing explanation. After a full five minutes, she huffed out a defeated sigh. “I guess I’ll never know,” she murmured aloud with a shrug of her shoulders.
Startled to see how dark it was, she stuffed the boxes back into the bag, gathered up her trash, and went inside. She lingered only long enough to shut the house up for the night. She left the trash bag beside the couch, hastily turned off the living room light, and locked the door behind her.
The light from the porch threw shadows into the night. Charity had no choice but to step into them as she hurried to her car. The security light was no help; it had little effect on anything not within its limited twelve-foot radius. If anything, the long, thin rays of watery light exaggerated the shadows, making them appear more jagged. Definitely more menacing.
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