My dire situation is the fault of controlling repressive parents. Mom and Dad forced me to take the mundane job of weighing and packaging irrelevant crap for their friend Paula’s store. I was a business graduate from Central! The whole situation was beneath me, dealing with a customer’s inflated sense of entitlement while managing eight hours of life-crushing boredom for minimum wage. Little did I know how soul-sucking the position as a shipping clerk could be.
I was entitled to more from my twenty-plus years navigating a broken educational system. I did my time. I earned my penance. That alone gave me the right to party while backpacking across Europe to get trashed with foreign girls. I wanted wild adventures. I needed to forget about Stacy.
My first real partner. Someone I was able to laugh with as myself. She didn’t pretend to be different, which in itself made her different. But when she ended our three-year relationship our senior year in college. I tried to move on.
After graduation, I should’ve traveled spartan style throughout Germany’s Black Forest and slept upon the rolling green hills outside of Stonehenge. But my parents did a bait and switch to my well-thought-out plans of debauchery. They expected me to begin paying rent for my bedroom, handle my portion of the phone bill, car insurance, and whatever I needed for spending cash.
I refused their ridiculous demands, but my parents were ruthless. They removed me from the family service plan, allowed my car to run out of gas, forcing me to bike around town like I was twelve.
After my parents refused to stock the house with food from my grocery list, they bolted my bedroom door due to non-payment of rent. I begged to sleep on the pull-out couch in the den.
The next morning I agreed to work for my mother’s friend Paula at a throwaway job with Mailboxes Galore. I’d pay my share of living expenses, and they’d offer to match a savings account so that I could take my tour of Europe in a few years.
I remember swigging grape-flavored energy drinks that day to stay alert. He walked straight to my counter dressed in an orange hoodie with clashing brown slacks and placed a small box wrapped with black electrical tape on the scale next to the computer monitor.
The package was no larger than a deck of playing cards and couldn’t have weighed more than a pound. Yet, it crashed the scale’s display.
Impossible! I thought. There’s no way such a tiny thing could weigh over 150 pounds.
I should have turned the customer away. However, my curiosity about the black box and the elderly customer gave me something to do.
I raised a questioning eyebrow.
The frail man on the other side of the counter intertwined his thin fingers below his waist like a mortician selling coffins. He blinked at me wearing a stupid grin, reeking of stale urine and putrid coffee.
“Is there an issue?” He asked, parting his chapped lips with a deep jazz voice that didn’t seem to fit him. A voice suited for podcasts about erotic stories, not trivial conversations at the local office supply store.
I lifted the box easy enough and watched the scale reset itself to zero. Then I returned the package to the metal platform. It still gave me an error code.
“The calibration on this scale must be off,” I said, transferring the box with ease to another platform.
The error reading reappeared despite my effort to use a different scale. I leaned back, peering around the half-wall into the packaging room where my manager was getting items ready for shipment.
“Paula, did we have any overnight updates to CMS?” I asked, watching her roll a ceramic pot in layers of bubble wrap.
“No,” she yelled, dropping the encased pot into a box then sealing it with a tape gun and a few quick flips from her wrist.
I palmed the box in my hand, confused about the resulting error display. The package was light. Something had to be wrong with our computer. I bounced the black parcel in my palm, attempting to get a gauge for its actual weight.
“Paula, if you were to guess the weight of-” I grunted, throwing my free hand up for support. I suddenly felt like I was curling a bowling ball.
My face grimaced while my arms shook. I could feel my back and shoulders straining to hold the box level to the ground. I had to crouch under the growing force of the package, pinning its increasing weight on my sternum to get my hips underneath it. My legs quivered as I was performing a power squat.
I felt an electric shock pierce out of the box into my palms—the vibrating energy dove into my chest. I started to scream. The unbearable pressure was too painful to resist.
The customer plucked the box out of my hand. My sudden freedom caused my legs and arms to explode. I jumped back against the wall, knocking down posters while my arms flailed out towards the old man. I was stumbling for balance like I’d been drinking Jagermeister and Goldschlager all night until I tumbled into a stack of empty boxes, falling to the floor.
“Son, you need to lay off the energy drinks,” the frail customer advised.
“You okay, Julius?” Paula yelled, running from the backroom to help me from under a pile of stiff cardboard boxes.
“Yeah, I don’t know what happened,” I replied, checking fresh burn marks on both of my palms. I rubbed the stinging red stigmata on my pant leg, hoping to scrub off some of the burning sensations. Then I heard a tapping.
The customer was bouncing one of his noodle-long fingers on the metallic scale. Paula steadied my frame as I swayed upright, making sure I could hold myself in place. Then she timidly let go, observing me as if I were an infant who had just learned to stand alone.
“Let’s give this another try,” the elderly man dared.
I snorted, gathering my composure as I watched him place the box down on the scale. When the monitor displayed one pound two ounces measurement, he locked his sinister ice-blue eyes with mine and smirked.
“I’m going to finish packing the ceramic set. You sure you’re okay to keep working?” Paula asked, raising both eyebrows in a way that threatened to touch her small tuft of blonde hair that cascaded over her forehead like a wave.
“I’m fine. My muscles spasmed, that’s all,” I said, returning to the customer waiting at the counter.
“Sorry, the scale must have stuck,” I surmised, adjusting my shirt and dismissing the unexplainable girth and electrical burns from the small package.
“It appears to have become unstuck,” the customer said.
“What are you shipping today?” I asked, reinstating a sense of safety by grounding myself back inside the boring role of a forgettable shipping clerk.
“It’s an imprisoned soul,” the customer grinned, putting his liver-spotted hands inside the pouch of his hoodie. “it’s the corrupted soul of Beelzebub, the demon of gluttonous greed.”
I rolled my eyes, thinking he must be one of those funny guys!
“Sir,” I started, looking at his face to face. I wanted to challenge his moronic joke, but he didn’t seem to be trying to be a smart ass. His comment about transporting a demon only lightened the mood. He was acknowledging my bizarre event and cracking a joke over the absurdity of what happened. I felt compelled to play along.
“Where are we shipping the corrupted soul of Beelzebub?” I asked.
The man’s smirk transformed. His eyes widened, and a huge smile threatened to rip open his face. Then he presented me with a pink sticky note from his pouch.
“I wish to ship to this location,” he replied giddily with excitement.
I took the note half-smiling when I read the address.
“Seriously, this is a real town?” I said, typing Satan’s Kingdom, Massachusetts, into the computer.
I’m sure he must’ve heard a lifetime of wisecracks about the town’s auspicious name. I expected it to be bogus. Yet, when the computer confirmed it as a valid destination. The joke he made about shipping a demon made sense.
“What’s the value for replacing Beelzebub’s soul?” I continued with a lighthearted jest.
“The soul is priceless,” the man hissed. “There is no replacement!”
This guy was playing above the belt. I had been enjoying our exchange until I noticed a line of customers growing behind him. People waited, sighing in place, gripping their packages. They were impatient for me to finish with the senile man.
“All shipments have 250 dollars’ worth of insurance in the event they’re either lost, damaged, or stolen during transit,” I rattled off the automatic spiel. “Do you think this Is enough coverage for your priceless soul?”
I didn’t want to work past my shift dealing with an end-of-day rush. So I switched my attitude from a carefree, charismatic charmer to a fast-paced robot that gets the job done.
The man pulled back his orange hood, revealing loose pale skin poked with brown spots and patches of long black hair that plunged out from his skull.
“I wish to ensure his transit for the highest amount possible?” He purred.
I didn’t have time to debate high-value shipping procedures and decided to keep calm. I’d quote an outrageous price to encourage him to come clean and end our demonic shipping exchange.
“It’s going to cost five thousand dollars to ship with our exclusive top-tier coverage.”
“Done,” the man said, slapping a platinum credit card on the counter.
“You’re serious?” I asked.
“Of course, I’m serious. You’re the only person to quote me an actual price. UPS, FedEx, and even the US postal service turned me away. They refused my business because this little box was too heavy for their system.” Then he pointed at me. “Not you. You’ve shown me nothing but respect and courtesy.”
“Sir, for the cost of shipping, you could get a plane ticket, transport the package yourself, rent a sports car, and stay overnight in a penthouse suite,” I was getting annoyed by his acceptance of the outrageous price tag.
“I understand. Are you going to complete my transaction or not?”
I hesitated, unsure about running his card. How did our conversation turn into me committing fraud? There was no top-tier coverage worth five thousand dollars. If I came clean, he’d involve my manager. I’d have to explain why I gave him such a ridiculous price, and I’d most likely get fired for running a scam.
If I ran the card, I’d be stealing a large sum of money from a trusting customer over a fictitious service?
“I need to talk with my manager,” I said, doubting my ability to continue with this impromptu con. However, this crazy man could bankroll my backpacking trip to Europe. Could I take advantage of someone lost in their own delusions?
I needed to think about the consequences. The price for shipping his parcel to Satan’s Kingdom would cost merely seven dollars and some change.
How would I explain such an exuberant tip at the end of day when Paula balanced the receipts?
“No time,” the frail man said, gripping my arm. “You must decide. Otherwise, I’m going to transport the box myself, as you said. It’s not something I wish to do, but if you’re not able to make a decision, I need to leave.”
Fuck it! I’m going to Europe!
I took a chance, grabbed the card, and he smiled when it cleared. I felt shame wash over my body as I went against my instinct. I should have listened to my gut and refused the sale. I allowed my greed to push me to steal money due to my customers ignorance. Then I handed him back his credit card. He cupped my hand within his burning touch.
“Thank you, Julius. The box, its contents, and your choice are acceptable for delivery,” he cackled.
The elderly man exhaled suffering into my face, making me close my eyes and pull back. His wretched breath smelled like fish and eggs, but he held tight, causing my hand to blister. I felt my soul ripped from my body, sliding past a cold shadow, exchanging places with an invisible horror. I no longer experienced gravity as I floated within darkness.
I reached out, brushing my hands over a rough surface, following it around, unable to guess which way was up or down.
I couldn’t find a door! How did I get here?
Panic gripped me.
I screamed, floating helpless, bouncing off the walls, overwhelmed by the smell of wet cardboard. Then I heard people talking outside in muffled conversation.
“Julius, you feeling all right?” It was Paula, asking me a question.
“I feel sick. I must leave,” replied a voice that sounded similar to my own.
I wondered who she was talking to while drifting for a short time in space before bouncing off another wall.
“I’ll take over for you. Go home and get some rest,” ordered Paula.
I expanded into the darkness, feeling the six walls of my prison. Then it hit me. I knew who Paula told to go home. She was talking to my body!
Somehow that Boomer took my soul out of my body and put it in the box! But If I was in the box, who or what was in my body?
“Help me!” I shouted, hoping Paula might hear my cries. I pressed my essence against the cardboard walls. “Paula, help me! That’s not me!” I screamed, pulsing within the box.
“Julius, did you say something?” Paula asked.
Did she hear me?
“He seemed a little under the weather,” said the decrepit customer.
“Is this right?” Paula questioned. “You’re giving Julius a tip that’s almost five thousand dollars?”
“Help! He’s a warlock! Paula don’t-” I projected the thoughts, but the evil customer’s smooth voice disrupted my signal.
“Tip?” His question forced my form to retract from the walls. I tightened into a ball, spinning inside darkness. “You must be mistaken. Julius offered me top-tier service with a million dollars’ worth of coverage.”
“We don’t have such service available,” Paula’s voice was disheartened. “I don’t know what to say. I will cancel this transaction immediately and-“
“You’re very kind to refund me for Julius’s error in judgement,” I heard the customer interject. “I believe I shall be holding off on shipping this package for today.”
“You sure? I am more than happy to pay for-” I listened to Paula beg as I felt the warlock’s energy encase the surface of the walls.
“Thank you,” His voice echoed in the dark. “I’ve decided not to part with this little treasure.”
“I never agreed to be stuck in an eight-by-ten cubic box!” I exploded.
“Keep calm, Julius. You’ve got eons to get used to your new home. Besides, you’re not going to be alone for long.”
I was afraid and thought of Stacey.
BIO: Chris Madsen, a blue collar worker who delivers packages as well as poetry is a disciplined writer. He often takes notes in his phone on story scenes being tweeked in his head while working to be later forgotten once his work day is done. He values the time he has available with his partner and loves to be seen wearing his favorite shirt.