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Brian C. Petroziello
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THE PACKAGE FROM HELL

 By

 Brian C.  Petroziello

 

Mike Sims had just finished sweeping the last of the small pile of dust into the dust pan when his boss, Eddie Pike, walked up behind him.  He put his hand on Sims's shoulder. 

"I don't have a choice.  I have to put you back on your old route today.  Your replacement didn't come back last night.  They found his truck full of undelivered packages, but no sign of him.  I'm tellin' you this is against my better judgment, but you're it.  You just make sure you're only deliverin' packages.  You stay away from that Campbell woman or even the union won't be able to save your ass this time.  Get dressed, you got two days worth of stuff to deliver," he said gruffly.


Sims made his way to the locker room, and put on his dark green International Delivery Service uniform.  It would be good to get out on the road again.  The union did save his ass after he got caught having an affair with Mrs. Campbell on company time.  Her husband was the one who caught them, and raised hell with the company.  He would have been out the door, but he had a pretty good record, and the union's grievance would have wasted a lot of the company's time and money, so they worked it out to let him wash delivery vans and do maintenance at the terminal for a few months.  He shouldn't complain, he was still getting his driver's pay, which was considerable--also thanks to the union.

He walked up to the back of the truck.  The kid who loaded it was just pulling his diagram boards from the back doors.  "How many stops today?" he asked.  The kid looked at the tiny red counter at the top of one of the boards. 

"Ouch," he said, "you got 150.  Looks like you got some overtime coming.  Man, isn't that strange about Jonesy.  I hope he's okay," said the sorter.

Sims looked into the back.  A mountain of cardboard boxes nearly filled the cavity.  Oh well, he thought, and closed the doors, slamming the lock to be sure it was tight.  He went around the side, and jumped into the driver's seat.  It was good to get back behind the wheel; the growl of the engine was familiar and comforting.  The shifter moved easily in his hand.  He traveled the fifty miles from the terminal in Stanton to the town of Winfield without incident.  He hustled the rest of the morning, but it seemed that he had made little headway in emptying his truck.  He looked at his watch, and decided it would be a good time to break for lunch.  He pulled up in front of a diner on Second Street.

He took a seat at the counter, and placed his order.  A man dressed in a black leather jacket came over and sat down next to him.  "As I live and breathe, it's Mike Sims.  I thought you fell off the face of the earth," he said.

"I got wrote up big time, Jackson.  I've been stuck at the terminal washing trucks and filling in for other drivers."

"Man, it's weird about Jonesy.  Have you heard anything about what happened?"

"No," replied Sims.  "All I know is what they told me this morning, that they found his truck, but not him."

"It's just gettin' so weird around here.  First old man Campbell is murdered," said the newcomer.

At that Sims dropped his spoon onto the counter.  "What do you mean, old man Campbell was murdered?  When did that happen?"

"About a week ago--June 5th--I think," said Jackson.  "It happened out on Route 122.  It seems that his car got a flat tire.  The police think someone stopped to help him, but stabbed him and robbed him instead.  His wallet was missing.  He was always rumored to carry a lot of cash.  The police don't have any suspects." 

The news sent a chill down Sims' spine.

"Now Mrs. Campbell is missing.  You don't suppose she ran off with Jonesy do you?  There's been rumors that she was having an affair with him.  He was deliverin' the goods along with the packages if you know what I mean," said Jackson, poking Sims in the ribs with his elbow.  "Hey, I gotta go, Mike.  Make sure you don't come up missin' too."

Sims crushed some more crackers into his chili as Jackson left the diner.  He finished his lunch quickly, and went back to the truck.  He went through the motions of delivering packages.  He couldn't get Jackson's revelations out his mind. 

It was Mrs. Campbell that had been his downfall.  She was 25 years old with raven hair, and ice blue eyes.  He had come to know her well, especially her slim body--so soft and smooth.  He knew every wonderful crease and curve.  He would park a block or two away, and with a package in hand to make things look natural, he would sneak to the Campbell's house.  Sometimes he would pick her up--she would have a blanket--and they would take advantage of the privacy afforded by the back of his truck.  The solitude of the tiny rest area on Route 122 came to mind.

He wanted to break it off several times, but he was hooked.  It was a relief when they were finally discovered.  Especially after she asked him for a favor--if he did, she promised they would be together forever.  It shook him to his very core.  He was horrified at the suggestion, and never did answer her, and she did not bring up the question again.  He was grateful for that, because he didn't think he had the will power to say no--not to helping her kill her husband.

He never understood her marriage to John Campbell.  He was nearly forty years her senior.  He was wealthy beyond most men's dreams.  He could understand the lure of Campbell's fortune, but she never seemed to be concerned with money.  Now sex--that seemed to be her main interest, not with Campbell, of course, and she was insatiable when they were together.  He could understand that too, but he was always pretty sure that he was not her only lover.

He also couldn't understand her taking the risks she did.  While Campbell was but the latest heir to the Campbell family fortune, he didn't keep it by accident.  He was a hard-hearted businessman.  A trait that he shared with his ancestors.  He was afraid that he would read of her death after they were found out, or at the least, that she would be hospitalized after some inexplicable accident.

Then, there were the whispers.  The Campbells were the first settlers in Bradford County.  But, unlike other settlers of the time, they never seemed to have problems with the local Indian tribes.  Apparently it was not due to their prowess with a musket, or their skills at diplomacy.  It was said that the Indians shunned the homestead started by the Campbells.  There was something there that they feared.  Officials of the time thought it was some evil that they brought with them from England, or had uncovered in the Colonies.  It was said that there was still something unnatural about the family. 

He shuddered.  He had seen John Campbell more than once, and was taken by the man's piercing, almost black eyes.  His gaze caused the hairs on the back of Sims’ neck to stand on end, just as they did now with the memory of his uncovering their tryst.  He tried to warn Jonesy, on the sly.  He wondered if he had succumbed to Mrs. Campbell's charms.  Did she make him the same offer?  He wondered.

He finished a delivery, put his PDA under his arm, and hopped into the front of the truck.  He used his keys to unlock the front door to the package area, which was finally starting to look empty.  He checked the lower shelf, toward the back.  If loaded properly, his next deliveries should be there.  He lifted one and checked the address.  It was two blocks over, but he was puzzled by the address--755 Forest Street.  He couldn't remember the numbers on that street going that far.  Must be new construction, he thought.  After all, it had been months since he had run the route.  He relocked the door, and started the truck.  He turned onto Forest, and read the numbers.  Finally he came to the end of the street.  It dead ended in a cemetery--St. Cecelia's--read the sign.  In a small square metal placard, affixed to the wrought iron fence were the numbers: 755.

He got out of the truck holding the package.  He walked around to the front of the truck.  The gates were open, as it was not yet dark.  Inside the gates and to the left, was a small chapel, but no lights were on, and there were no signs of any one being there.  He looked at the package again.  The name on the label was 'James Jones'.  He hadn't noticed that before.  "Wait a minute...," he said aloud.  It was the name of his replacement on the route.  Just then, his hands felt wet.  He looked down to see them covered with a thick, bright red ooze that was seeping from the bottom of the box.  He jerked involuntarily and the package fell from his hands to the ground.  He smelled the seepage, and there was an unmistakable smell of iron.  He wiped his hands on the grass, and pulled out his cell phone.  He leaned into the truck, and grabbed the Bradford county phone book that he kept on the engine hub.  In seconds he was excitedly talking to the Winfield Police dispatcher.

A short time later, a couple of police cruisers were barreling up Forest Street--lights blazing and flashing, and came screeching to a halt behind the parcel delivery truck.  Sims pointed them in the direction of the package.  Officer Adams knelt down, and looked at the label.  Under the street address were some numbers.  He spoke to one of the other officers, Leigh, who went walking down the driveway, and disappeared into the cemetery.

The kneeling officer pulled a pair of latex gloves.  He rolled the package over a couple of times--the area where the box was sitting on the ground was now covered in blood as well.  He reached into a side pocket and found his penknife.  He slit the tape on the package, being careful not to cut the label.  He gingerly pulled open the box flaps, and reared back in surprise.  Staring back at him from the inside of the box was a human head--eyes wide open, and with a look of sheer terror on his face--he emitted a loud scream.

The other officers and Sims rushed over to him.  Sims gasped.  "It's James Jones," he said in a hoarse whisper, the words sticking in his throat.

The officers didn't really have time to digest this fact.  Officer Leigh, who had walked into the cemetery, was now running toward them.  He was yelling for them to follow him, and gesticulating wildly.  Officer Adams stayed with the box, while Sims and the other officers ran into the cemetery.  It wasn't long before they caught up to Leigh.  He was standing in front of a large, ornate gravestone.  It was a recent grave, as there was still a low mound of dirt there, and no grass was yet growing.  There was a body stretched across the grave.  Sims recognized the green clothing on the body.  It was identical to the uniform he wore, but the body was missing its head. Sims looked up at the large monument.  It bore the name of John Campbell.  Sims thought he must be getting the flu--as he was getting those chills again.    

An hour later, Sims' boss pulled up as Sims was sitting in the front step well of the delivery van, puffing on a cigarette.

"What the hell is the problem with this route?" he asked.  Sims didn't answer.  Instead, he pointed in the direction of the group of men huddled around the front of his truck.  "Let me see the address label?" he asked Adams. 

Adams took him over to his trunk.  The light illuminated the package, now sitting in a sealed plastic bag.  Pike looked over the label with a practiced eye.  "It sure looks like one of ours, sent from Pittsburgh on June 5th, but this shipper number, it doesn't have the right amount of numbers.  There's no return address either.  That's the damnedest thing.  I don't see how it got past the sorting machines, but it did.  It should have gotten pushed aside to check the address manually."

"Could someone have put it on the truck today?" asked Adams.

Pike shot an accusatory glare in Sims' direction.

"The doors were always locked, boss," answered Sims, trying his best to sound irritated.  This was something drilled into the drivers' heads, over and over.  It was an automatic reaction to close the lock whenever a driver left the truck for any reason.  "Besides, it was stamped in Pittsburgh, and the label covered the box seams.  It had to have been shipped on the fifth.  You can run a trace to be sure."

Another officer came up to Adams.  "Hey, boss.  You know those tire tracks at the scene of John Campbell's murder?  Take a look at the tires on this delivery truck.  I'm willing to bet they're a match."

“Get some impressions made," Adams said.

 

The next day, Sims arrived for work at the last possible moment.  He wasn't sure he wanted to be anywhere close to Winfield.  Pike met him in the locker room.  "We split the route today.  McDonald will take the southern part of the county, and you'll have the town, and to the north.  You gonna be okay?" he asked.  Sims simply nodded yes, and slammed his locker shut. 

A lot of the people he delivered to in Winfield gave him strange looks, or seemed to close the door all too quickly.  He kept to himself at lunch, picking a booth instead of the counter, but he could still hear whispers, and saw people pointing in his direction.  News traveled fast in small towns, especially anything that could be construed as a scandal. 

He finished his deliveries in town, and headed north on Route 122, probably not far from where John Campbell was murdered.  He pulled over at the small rest area, and went into the back of the truck and looked at the addresses for his next deliveries.  He dropped the box he was holding when he heard pounding on the passenger door.  He stuck only his head out of the interior door.  The sight of Mrs. Campbell pounding on the door turned his legs to jelly.  He hesitated, not sure that he should be with her.  Her pounding was more insistent, and she was screaming his name.  He looked around furtively, and unlocked the door.  She threw her arms around him knocking him back into the package compartment.  He steadied himself, and slid the door closed.

"Nora, what the hell is going on?" he asked half in awe, and half in fear.

"Hell is exactly what's happening!" she screamed.  "It's John, I know it is.  He's reaching out from the grave!"

"Nora, that's not possible," replied Sims, incredulous at the suggestion.  "Take a deep breath, and tell me how he died.  The police are trying to find you.  I'm sure they think you killed him--and that Jonesy was involved." 

She still had her arms around his neck.  He removed them and took a step back from her.  He looked her over in the dim light provided by the skylight in the top of the truck.  She was still beautiful, in spite of the lack of makeup, and her disheveled hair.  Her clothes were wrinkled like they had been slept in for several days.  She appeared much thinner than he had remembered.  He tried to forget the memories of the time they spent together.

"Did you kill him?" he asked matter-of-factly, like he was asking for directions.

"I…we didn't have a choice."

"So, Jonesy was involved."  He did not try to hide his anger at this.  "So, I really meant so much to you?  Or were you just looking for a patsy to take the fall for you?" he said in disgust.   

The comment stung.  "I loved you!" she spat back at him.  "James was a fool.  He would have done anything just to be with me for five minutes.  That was one of the reasons I loved you-- you have a sense of honor.  But, if you would have helped me, we could have been together forever." 

"I guess not if John has anything to do with it," he said derisively.  "You said you didn't care about his money--all you had to do was file for a divorce," said Sims.

"That was never an option--not here--not in John's County.  He still has everyone in his pocket.  And, John would never give me a divorce.  He never gave up anything of his in his life.  I was just property to him."  She was animated.

"We could have gone somewhere else.  Trucks drive the same everywhere in the country," said Sims.

"You don't understand.  John was the devil on earth.  All those stories and rumors about his family are true.  There are places in this county that John owned where few people have ever set foot.  There is an altar--I saw it once--I was supposed to stay in the car--but I followed him.  People disappear here all the time, drifters especially.  And the Sheriff can't find his ass with both hands, let alone solve a crime.  That's why John supported him," she continued.

"Well, he seems to have John's death all figured out," replied Sims.

She ignored his comment.  "And he was pushing me to have children--to continue the blood line."  She shuddered uncontrollably as she said it.  "He's the last Campbell.  I know now why none of his other wives gave him children.  I did some checking.  At least two committed suicide.  The third just disappeared.  But, that's just like John.  I'm sure she died on that altar in the woods."  She was getting calmer.

"I was running out of excuses to avoid him.  Once, after a party, when I drank too much, I couldn't resist.  His touch was so cold.  It was like I was violated--and not by anything of this earth.  I swore I would see him dead before I let that happen again."

She was starting to regain his sympathy.  "What did you need from me?" he asked.

"Let me hide here in the truck.  Just until you finish your route.  On your way back to Stanton there's a couple of small motels.  Get me a room, and I can do the rest.  Then you must never come back here.  He knows about you, and he swore he would get you, too," she said.

He nodded agreement, and closed the door behind him as he continued the route.  He encountered no problems with the rest of his deliveries.  He had turned around and was heading back through Winfield when his cell phone rang.  He pulled it out of his breast pocket, and hit the answer button.  It was his dispatcher.

"Yo.  Sims.  I got a pick up for you.  Here's the address.  It's 755 Forest."

"What's wrong with you, Pike?  Is this some kind of a joke?  That's the cemetery where all the shit's been happening up here!"  He was screaming into the phone.

"Hey, Mike.  All I know is that we got the call, and it looks to be legit.  Company policy--you need to check on it.  Let me have the cops meet you there," replied the dispatcher.

Sims cursed under his breath.  He yelled at the compartment door for Nora to keep hidden, and he made his way to the cemetery.  He pulled up in the driveway and set the hand brake.  Sitting in the middle of the driveway was a package.  It was about the same size as the one from yesterday, and a darkening stain was spreading outward in a circle underneath it. 

"Nora!  Nora!" he screamed.  He fumbled desperately with his keys, as he continued to scream her name.  While he had completed the last few deliveries, exhaustion had finally overcome Nora, and she had curled up in the corner of the truck, and gone to sleep.  She still did not answer.  He turned the key in the lock, and threw open the door.  He gasped involuntarily. 

Nora Campbell's headless corpse was lying across the floor of the truck.  A large blood stained knife lay next to her.  He picked up the knife, and backed out the door to the package compartment and into the cab of the truck.  His mind was numb from shock--he never heard the blare of the sirens of the police cars as they sped into the driveway--he didn't hear the officers shouting to put down the knife, and to exit the truck with his hands over his head--he didn't hear the loud reports of their service revolvers as the bullets ripped into his body.

-30-

 

Brian Petroziello, about himself: I am an attorney in Dayton, Ohio, USA.  I have previously had multiple appearances in print in Black Petals and Amazing Journeys, and have recently appeared in Escaping Elsewhere.  I have appeared on line in Aphelion, Dark Fire UK, Unhallowed Sanctum, Planet Magazine, Descending Darkness, and Fools Motley.  Stories have been accepted and are awaiting publication in Black Petals and Ethereal Gazette, and on line in Bewildering Stories.

 

I now have a web site:   http://hometown.aol.com/bpetroz/index100.html

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