Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Story 193: Wish You Were Here

"I'm skeptical," Mitchell says. "This is me being skeptical. Witness my skeptical face, painted with fresh coats of doubt and apprehension."
Jess is silent, leaning against a tree trunk and watching her breath in the chilly air. Mitchell paces around the cardboard box, fall leaves crunching under the soles of his brand new sneakers. He's the tallest college freshman at Southfalls, six feet four inches, but with the box standing on its end it's still just a little taller.
"It looks like a regular refrigerator box," he says. His hands are stuffed into the pockets of his coat because he has forgotten his gloves again, a fact that makes it hard for him to articulate his thoughts. The urge to gesture dramatically with his hands battles with the image of numb fingertips and narrowly loses after consulting with his already frozen earlobes and nose.

Jess strides forward and pushes on one side of the box. A cut-out rectangle nearly the height and width of the box swings inward, but the dim sunlight that filters down past the mostly skeletal trees does nothing to illuminate any contents. She steps inside and gives Mitchell a meaningful look before pushing the flap closed again. Mitchell, for his part, isn't certain what the meaningful look was intended to convey. He waits a moment to see if something is going to happen and then, when it doesn't, a small part of his brain suggests that there is a possibility that Jess wants him to join her in that cramped, dark space. He kicks some leaves idly and wonders if she is aware that he is roughly 97% gay, +/- 3%.

A sudden cold gust of wind upends the box and sends it rebounding off of a tree trunk. It's quite clearly empty. Mitchell attempts to say something profane, but is in such shock that instead he says "Biscuits." without realizing it. His nice new sneakers seem to be rooted to the spot, and for a good five minutes he just stares at the refrigerator box as the cardboard flaps wave in the breeze. He's thinking about what Jess said, on the way to see the box.

"It's magic," she had said. "Or sufficiently advanced technology. Never can tell." When he asked what about the cardboard box was magic she laughed, and told him to wait. "You'll see," she had said. Now, startled back to the present by the sight of a few fat snowflakes drifting down, Mitchell walks hesitantly over to the box and stands it upright. He tries to position it where Jess had, placing the rocks back over the bottom flaps. His fingers start to go numb from the cold as he makes minute and pointless adjustments, second-guessing his placement as he tries to put off what he knows has to happen next.

Finally, carefully, he pushes the roughly-cut door and looks inside. The internal dimensions match the external ones as far as he can tell, so he steps inside. Nothing happens, apart from a slight drop in the wind chill. Pushing the flap closed, Mitchell takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. He wonders if there's a hidden camera somewhere, and decides he doesn't care. Nothing continues to happen, and Mitchell is forced to open his eyes and step back out. The snow is becoming a bit more serious, and in the distance between the trees he can see dark fuzzy clouds that promise a serious layer of the stuff.

"Jess," Mitchell says to nothing in particular, "I'm really cold and still suspect this is some sort of trick. So... I'm going inside. I'll see you there. I hope." He trudges up the hill back towards the campus, and pictures seeing Jess in class the next morning laughing at him and telling him how she had tricked him. Another part of his brain pictures her desk being empty, pictures police asking questions he can't answer as the cardboard box collapses under a blanket of white. But for now, until one vision or the other comes true, Mitchell just rubs his icy fingers together and hopes.