A Ghost Story

the box

On this chilly morning I awake to find a small wooden box sitting at the foot of my bed. I do not recognize this box for I have never seen it before.

I shiver as I sit up in bed. The sheet falls away from my chest letting the cold air press against my skin. I stretch and I yawn and I rub my swollen, red eyes. I say good morning to my lab Trevor who is sitting near the foot of the bed staring at the box.

“When did this arrive?” I inquire of my constant companion.

She barks; one short, sharp, loud bark.

It may be in answer to my question. I have no way of knowing. I do not speak dog and she, sadly, does not speak human. At least, not that she has shown me.  Alas, we share a space together, a deep enduring bond, many memories and a rudimentary understanding of what the other is thinking at any given moment.

Most often we make this work pretty well.

However, there are times, like when you awake to find a small wooden box you have never seen before sitting on the end of your bed, that it would be handy to be able to communicate with the only possible witness to the arrival of the box.

I slide down my bed closer to it. Trevor gets up and shuffles her furry feet, nails clicking on the hardwood floor. She seems uneasy so I reassure her.

“Easy girl,” She cocks her head and turns her ears forward.  She does not look any more at ease.

I shrug and reach for the box. Trevor barks again, louder this time. There is no doubt, she is behaving oddly but I guess that is to be expected under the circumstances.

I touch the box in spite of her warning. It is finely finished, very soft and warm. That seems peculiar. How can it be warm? This room is almost unbearably cold.

It is early spring; the temperature each day is wildly unpredictable. Jacket in the morning, short sleeves in the afternoon, sweater at night.  I have turned the furnace off already this year. I don’t want the boiler struggling to keep the house at the right temperature while I am struggling to pay the gas bills.

I pick up the box and Trevor whines, turning on the spot.

It is a very lovely piece. It has been inlaid with small angular cuts of some wood dissimilar from the main body of the box. The inlaid pieces seem to suggest some crude image.  A snake perhaps or a spirit, it may just be a random pattern.

I rotate the box in my hand. I feel something loose and heavy tumble inside. Trevor can take no more and she leaves the room. I watch her leave then turn my attention back to the box.

Approximately five inches by five inches by five inches, it fits comfortably in one hand.

I heft it up and down. There is an odd weight to it. I think it is the loose item inside. I turn it upright again, the item settles on the bottom of the box.

There is a very thin brass hinge inset along one edge and a keyhole on the opposing side.

I set the box on the bed side table and get out of bed. I pull on some jeans and a t-shirt. I pick up the box and walk down the hall.

I set the box on the kitchen table.

“Trevor,” I call for her. She doesn't come.

I look around my small home, she isn’t there.  Sometimes she does that.

There is no sign of her unless you count the picture of her and my wife when Trevor was just a puppy. It sits on the partner’s desk at the window, between my dusty antique Underwood and the unfinished manuscript in my out box.

I walk back into the kitchen and sit at the table looking at the ornate wooden box. I run my finger gently over the key hole.

I walk back to my bedroom and pull open the drawer on my night table. The table is an antique my aunt gave me. She had been given it by my grandfather when she was a girl and she passed it to me shortly after my wife died.

Ten years ago today there was a freak spring snow storm. Heavy wet snow collapsed roofs and toppled trees all over town. Amy had taken Trevor for a quick walk. The weather was horrible but the dog still needed to go out. She said she wouldn’t go far. It turns out she lied.

A large branch, over burdened by the snow, fell across the sidewalk and into the street just after she passed beneath it. She must have thought for a moment how fortunate she had been. If she had been only few seconds slower that branch would have crushed her.

She must have felt a tug at the end of the leash. Trevor was a puppy and had not yet learned how to walk on leash. He would pull behind frustratingly.

“Whose turn is it to take Trevor for a drag?” I would say. I was so clever.

That night it was Amy’s turn.

She must have turned back to see what had pulled on the leash. She didn’t see the car swerve to miss the branch. The driver likely hadn't seen her in the darkness and heavy snow. He lost control trying to avoid the branch and stop at the same time.  He slid right over Amy’s tiny frame and slammed into the very branch he was trying to avoid.

They said she died instantly. I guess that is supposed to make it better.

I remove the small, tarnished brass key which is the taped to the bottom of the drawer. I have always assumed it was the key for the drawer of the night table. I never tried it.

I walk down the hall back towards the kitchen. I sit down in front of the box.

I insert the key. It fits perfectly.

I remember hearing scratching at the door that night. It was only moments after Amy and Trevor had left. I recall wondering why they were back so quickly. I figured the weather was to treacherous for even a short walk. I was happy they were back so soon.

I opened the door and looked down at the small wet dog. She was dragging her leash behind her. Or rather what was left of it. It had torn in the middle. I reached down to stroke her wet fur and my hand came back bloody.

She wasn’t wet from the rain.

Presently, I look around the kitchen. The key sits in the box waiting for me to turn it.

“Trevor,” I call again.

I look back at the box.

That night I slipped on my shoes and followed the blood soaked puppy back out into the slushy snow and wind. We walked around the corner and I could see the accident. The dazed driver was on his phone calling emergency services, rubbing his brow as he gave the dispatcher the pertinent information.

There were children in the car. I could see one girl crying. I could see part of my wife’s coat bunched up under the vehicle just behind the front wheels and beneath the engine. I could see her small gloved hand reaching out from under the car at an odd angle. She still held the plastic end of the retractable leash in her lifeless fingers.

I looked at the branch, the small body of the lab puppy crushed beneath its weight.

I turned and saw Trevor still standing back on the opposite curb, blood soaked, broken leash attached to her collar.

I lost sight of that other Trevor as the rest of the night unfolded.

It is all a blur now. Police, ambulances, my parents, Amy’s parents, concerned friends, neighbors supposedly all there to help. I waited for the other Trevor to return. But she was gone as well. I figured I must have imagined her.

Now, I turn the key. I feel a satisfying click and I know the box is unlocked.

“Trevor. Come here girl. Time for breakfast,” I don’t even look around as I call this time I just stare transfixed at the box.

When I was home later that night, when everyone had finally left, when all the questions had been asked, all the crying cried, all the condolences given. I sat down at this very table in this very chair. I stared silently at the table top. I don’t know how long I sat like that; hours perhaps. Then the scratch came at the door again.

I got up and opened it. Trevor was back. She was clean now, and dry.

I let her in and I sat back down. She lay at my feet and went to sleep.

We sat like that the whole next day. The phone rang. I never answered it.

As I place my hand on the lid of the wood box and prepare to open it Trevor walks in to the kitchen.  Nails click, click, clicking away on the hardwood floor. I turn and look at her.

“You don’t think I should open this do you?”

She barks. She steps closer and sits down.

After some time they all started saying I needed to move on. I needed to get out and meet people. At the very least, get a new dog.

But I had a dog. I didn’t have Amy but for some reason I still had a dog. Except, no-one else knew I had a dog.

“How come you came back? Why didn’t she?” I ask her. Trevor does not respond. She just does the thing with the ears and the cocked head again.

I look at her a moment longer, sitting in the middle of the kitchen. She doesn't need to speak I know what she is thinking this time.

“I am opening it. I don’t care what you say.”

She stands up and walks out of the room. I can hear her nails clicking on the hardwood floor for a few steps and then nothing. She is gone.

I look back to the box. I am pretty sure I know where it came from. I am pretty sure I know what is in it.

It is warm, my house is cold, my heart is cold, and my dog is gone.

I lift the lid.

Lab Photo by Amy Letts Via epicfail.xepher.net

Craig Milton on StoryFinds