“Inside the Box,” by Hayleigh Santra

Aug 20th, 2018 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

Man walks by carrying a box wrapped in tin foil. It’s impossible to see what’s inside.

S: What if he’s carrying a human head in there?

H: It’s a bunch of butterflies.

S: It’s a gecko.

H: It’s filled to the brim with chocolate and marshmallows.

S: It’s the leftovers from his lunch. His wife got up early to make five lunches: four for the kids, and one for him. She didn’t make one for herself, even though today she’ll spend eight hours on the phone, trying to convince people to buy carpet cleaner. They get all the carpet cleaning products they want for free.

H: It’s filled with keys. He’s a warrior from another universe who’s traveled through spacetime to retrieve a key to a door that only he can unlock, otherwise his kingdom will be conquered by an evil overlord. The oracle said that the key was somewhere in our town. He’s been collecting keys from gutters and roadsides and antique stores. He’s traveling back to his universe tonight. If none of the keys fit, his kingdom will be pillaged.

S: It’s a complete set of DVDs entitled, How to Learn Spanish. He serendipitously found the collection in the basement of the library where he works. He wants to study penguins in Argentina. He plans to leave in the middle of the night without telling anyone, not even his brother, who sleeps in the same room.

H: It’s a bunch of baked goods, and underneath them is a thumb drive containing national secrets. He’s a foreign spy, and he just met with his connection here in this small town, where no one would suspect. He can feel the thumb drive’s weight underneath the croissants and the muffins and the waxy paper.

S: It’s a karaoke set that he stole from his roommate. His roommate is skiing in Colorado for a few days, so he figures the roommate won’t miss it. They don’t have the best relationship — he thinks his roommate’s a snob and the roommate thinks he’s a deadbeat. Later, he’ll throw the equipment in the road and watch cars smash it.

H: It’s a terrarium with the world’s deadliest spider in it. He’s a hit man, known for his creativity. He’s killed 177 people and never been subpoenaed. This is his first time using a spider. He’s going to release it in the mark’s bedsheets. He bought the spider in a market in Brazil, under a fake name, paying cash.

S: It’s a bunch of jewelry. He gets up every day at four to meet his connection, who gives him the jewels. He sells them for half what they would normally be in stores, and gives 10% to his supplier. He does this to support his comatose grandmother, while he’s working on his master’s in physics.

H: It’s full of tiny green alien people. He’s an astronaut. Toward the end of his last mission, the green alien people showed up under his pillow. He’s still decoding their language. He’s grown fond of them, and they of him. They don’t need food. If they see sunlight, they explode. Every now and then they like for him to move the box around. The swaying gives them energy. Otherwise, they like to be kept in tight spaces and to see the man’s face once in a while.

Man turns left, carrying the box down another street.

S: Seriously, though, what if it was a human head?

S and H keep walking.


Hayleigh Santra is an MFA candidate at the New School. She lives in Brooklyn. She enjoys long subway rides and comfortable headphones.

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