Dan Cain stretched his legs. He was getting too old to take the hour commute to the hospital in his broken down Chevy. He needed a new car, one where he wouldn’t feel every bump in the road. He slammed the car door, and walked – or rather, limped – around to the trunk to grab the groceries he’d snagged on the way home. Unfortunately, he found that one of the tomatoes had smashed on the drive home. So much for surprising Francesca with her favorite sauce; he’d only bought exactly as many as the recipe required. He’d have to make something else.
More pressingly, the bag was paper, and the smashed tomato guts were rapidly weakening its bottom. If he wanted to avoid spilling vegetables all over the front walk, he would have to get in fast. He placed one gentle hand below the bag, wrapped his other arm around it, kicked the car door shut, and sprinted.
Just before he got to the door, he nearly tripped over something on the ground in front of him. It was a cardboard box. It was about two feet by two feet by one foot, but very light, and something had knocked around inside it when he kicked it. Dan didn’t remember ordering anything, but perhaps Francesca had gotten a new gardening trowel; their only remaining one of the set of three they’d received as a wedding gift had just developed a wobbly handle when he was putting in the petunias a few weeks ago.
Dan fumbled the door open, praying that the bag would hold out for the thirty seconds it took him to unlock it with one hand, and then rushed inside, depositing it safely on the kitchen counter just as he heard it start to tear.
He retrieved the vegetables and rinsed the smashed tomato off of them, put the milk away, and set the bread to air dry on a bed of paper towels, before crumpling up the ruined bag and tossing it in the garbage. Francesca would be annoyed if she saw a paper bag in the trash, but it was soaked with tomato innards, there was nothing he could do to salvage it. He puffed out his cheeks in a sigh, rinsed his hands, and went out to bring the box in.
It was clearly upside down, he must have completely flipped it when he tripped on it. He turned it right side up again and winced, hoping that whatever was thudding around inside it wasn’t too fragile. As he brought it inside, he saw that it didn’t actually have a postal label on it, just a carefully hand-lettered address in all capitals. And it was addressed to Dan Cain. Not Francesca Cain. Not even Daniel Cain. Dan Cain. Perplexed, Dan slid a box cutter into the single layer of tape keeping the box shut, and opened it.
It contained a human hand.
Dan leapt backwards, hand already halfway to the phone on the wall. His first thought was Francesca’s hand, or their son Peter’s, but it was an adult man’s hand, large and calloused. It also seemed to have been dead a while when it was packed, considering that there wasn’t a smidgen of blood on the inside of the box. But the hand didn’t seem particularly decayed…
It twitched. It twitched and Dan knew, instantly, why this had been left on his doorstep and just who had left it there. By the time the twitch became skittering, crawling motion, Dan had grabbed the fruit bowl on the counter, dumped it out, and was ready to put it over the thing. Once the hand was safely trapped, he reached frantically for a newspaper. He’d seen a headline that morning about a riot at the local maximum security prison, but he hadn’t imagined…
Then again, the universe always had seemed to smile on Herbert West.