“Ding-doooong!” her doorbell rang, not with the classic “ding-dong” sound that she had insisted on, but with a sound that lingered just a bit longer than it was supposed to. The difference was subtle, almost imperceptible, but she wasn’t one to let subtleties escape her detection. In any case, she had more pressing concerns than her doorbell, namely, whoever was ringing it. But when she opened the door, she was greeted, not by a person, but a small, plain cardboard box, an unusual smell that she couldn’t identify, and the sound of breaking glass. The sound caused her to recoil sharply. Force of habit. But she only lost her composure for a moment; she immediately assessed her environment to determine the source of the sound. She was unsuccessful; none of her nearby windows were broken, nor was the mirror behind the door. That left only the package before her. Had someone dropped glass on her doorstep and run away? But the glass shattered as soon as she opened the door, and whoever left the box was nowhere to be seen. It didn’t add up. Could it have been the doorbell? It was sounding strange, after all. She pressed the button several times, failing to replicate the anomalous sound produced earlier.
In doing so, she inadvertently summoned her boyfriend. “Who the Hell is at the door?” he asked. “Oh, it’s just me. I was trying to get it to make the weird sound it made the first time,” she explained. “What weird sound? And why’d you ring it the first time?” he asked. “The first ring was a bit longer. Like, a ‘ding-doooong’ instead of a ‘ding-dong’,” she said. He was definitely one to let subtleties escape his detection. “And I didn’t ring it the first time. No idea who did. I just found this on the doorstep,” she continued, picking up the package. “Huh. I guess this doesn’t contain broken glass,” she said. “Huh? What’s that supposed to mean? You picked it up before knowing that it didn’t contain broken glass?” he asked. “When I opened the door, I heard glass break, so I thought maybe it was in here, but…” she shook the box around a bit, making a sound that was certainly not the tinkling of shattered glass. “It’s not.” “Jesus Christ!” he shouted, panicking unnecessarily (in her opinion, at least). “Be careful! Even if it’s not broken glass, there could be anything in there!” he said. “Yeah, like what?” she scoffed. “I dunno,” he said, “A rare, lost work of art that could sell for millions of dollars?” “This seems too small to fit any art,” she said, “So I don’t know why you’d say that… unless you already know that it’s art because it’s one of your little drawings that you had someone deliver to me!” “I was just joking, sweetie,” he said, “I 100% did not do that.” “Well, that’s a shame. I think I’d like a drawing of myself. Then I could see how you see me. I could even pay you for it,” she said, “Do it up real official.” “Sorry, but I can’t use you as the subject of my art,” he said. “Really?” she asked, “that seems kind of rude.” “It’s not like that,” he said, “It’s just that I’m not nearly good enough to truly capture how beautiful you are. And if I did manage to draw something as beautiful as you, it’d have to be my final work, because nothing I made afterwards would ever even compare. It’s a catch-22. Or something.” “Oh, sure,” she said, skeptically. But she believed him. He was definitely the kind of dork who would say something that cheesy and mean it with all his heart.
“A VHS tape?” she wondered aloud as she opened the box, despite her boyfriend’s worries. “You use it to play videos,” her boyfriend explained, “you see, in the days before Netflix, back when the world was young, this is how people watched movies at home.” She scoffed. “I know what a VHS is. I’m only two years younger than you. What I don’t know is why anyone would use one these days.” “Maybe it’s a dangerous secret that got delivered to my house by mistake?” he offered. “Who’s it addressed to?” “Me,” she said, before clarifying, “well, not ME, but… here, just look.” She showed him the only adornment on the box, a sticker, the kind you put on gifts that says “To:” and “From:”. A single word was written, large enough to fill both spaces. “Me”. “Does that not seem freaky to you?” he asked, “It seems freaky to me. And speaking of freaky: is it just me, or does that package smell like lightning?” “Lightning?” she asked, skeptically, “How does lightning have a smell? And how do you know what it is?” “I think the heat of the lightning somehow fuses oxygen molecules into ozone molecules, and that’s where the smell comes from. As for how I know… I get around.” “Get around Wikipedia, maybe,” she teased. “Maybe so,” he said, “in any case, whatever that VHS is all about, I want no part of it. You can keep it.” “Maybe I will,” she said, “Anyway, I gotta get going. See if you can fix the doorbell while I’m gone.” With those words and a peck on the cheek, she was gone. While her drive to her job was filled with questions about the mysterious package, a busy day at work drove these thoughts from her mind, until she forgot about the VHS tape entirely.
She only remembered it three months later, during a “heated discussion” (“fight” was too strong a word) with her boyfriend, who complained about her clutter around the house. “I’m sorry, but you know how busy my job keeps me. I just don’t have the time!” The words were on her tongue, but she swallowed them; the matter of his employment was a touchy subject, and she knew him well enough to know he’d misconstrue her explanation as jab at him for still not having a job. The catalyst of this “passionate debate” was the tape. “I let the damn thing sit out for three months, in plain sight, but you still haven’t done anything with it!” She rolled her eyes, almost by reflex, and that’s what really set the whole thing off. She tried to explain that, after a certain point, stuff like that just becomes part of the background, to the point where you don’t really notice it anymore. He brought up the, admittedly valid, point that a VHS is a pretty remarkable object these days. And so, the “spirited conversation” continued. Eventually they forgave each other, and made up in a manner which needn’t be discussed here.
The tape had piqued her curiosity once more. But how would she play it? She certainly had enough money to buy a VHS player from somewhere, but she didn’t get that money by spending frivolously. Maybe she could go to the library? Did they still have those anymore? Deciding she had nothing to lose, she dedicated the next free spot in her schedule to visiting the library. She could tell from the moment she stepped through the door how out of place she looked. Dressed in a sharp suit from work, she approached a librarian with tape in hand, and sheepishly asked “Um, do you know how I could go about playing one of these?” She admired the librarian’s professional courtesy, though she could tell that she was being judged for her ignorance. The librarian escorted her to an old VHS player that they’d allow her to use. She realized that trying to give a tip to the librarian probably made her look even more out of place, but she tried anyway. Courtesy is courtesy.
After finally managing to find the correct orientation to insert the tape, (these things could give USB a run for its money) it became immediately apparent that whoever used the device last had not turned the volume down. “IT IS OF THE UTMOST IMPORTANCE THAT NO ONE ELSE SEE OR HEAR THE CONTENTS OF THIS TAPE!” echoed throughout the quiet halls, followed by an even louder sigh. She immediately ejected the tape, curtly thanked the librarian, and pulled up Amazon on her phone as she walked out, angrily searching “old-ass technology (for fogeys)”.
In two shipping days, (She was not a patient woman) her doorbell rang, and she was greeted by a small cardboard box. Déjà vu. Though she could no longer remember why it was so important to her, she had her mind set on watching the tape on that day, which meant that, come Hell or high water, she was watching the tape on that day. She’d used one of her sick days, her first one in over a year, to ensure that she wasn’t too busy with work, and she made sure her boyfriend was out running errands, so he wouldn’t be a problem. After what seemed like an embarrassingly long time, she finally managed to find the right combination of cables and connections that hooked up the ancient player to her cutting-edge TV. She inserted the tape into the player, (on her first try, this time) and pressed the rewind button. She realized that there was no point in doing this, as she’d already heard the warning, but if she was going through all this trouble to watch the tape, she wasn’t going to half-ass it. As she reached to press the play button, she noticed her finger trembling. Was she really that anxious? She recalled all the mysterious circumstances surrounding the tape. Who delivered it? And what was did it contain? There was only one way to find out…
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