I really enjoy Edgar Allan Poe. Well, not ALL of Poe, but his most popular writing are truly the best short-stories in English literature. And my absolute favorite Poe story is the Tell-Tale Heart. A warning to those who would push another’s humanity aside to gain possessions always ends in their own humanity tearing itself apart. This story is my version of such caution.
He fiddled with the box, turning it over and over in his left hand. Its smooth body still exhuming its woodsy, cedar smell as his nails dug into the sides every rotation or so.
His boss had been going on for about 45 minutes now about the same thing that has to be said in 300 different ways because of the last actions of a former co-worker.
Jimmy had fatally lost his right arm in the compactor last week and every day since had been a “safety” meeting with either a manager, upper manager, or a stooge from HR that all parroted the same caution.
“Don’t put your arm in the compactor when in operation.”
“Always let the floor know when the compactor is on.”
“Don’t take my box.”
The last tip he kept to himself. Everyone should know that. He shouldn’t have to tell anyone. Again.
His train of thought was put back on track by the awkward clapping that a manager usually gets after a mandatory meeting.
He slipped his small cedar box back into his left pocket, its tiny golden hinges still clamped tightly shut.
As everyone went back to work, his eyes kept gazing over to the compactor, his thoughts trying to simultaneously replay and block the screams that echoed within the warehouse that night one week ago.
Jimmy deserved it though.
The new guy was fascinated by the box. It had such intricate carvings and what looked to be a gold-trimmed message written in a foreign language at the bottom. Even the hinges themselves looked to be of solid gold.
He asked his trainer about it following the safety meeting.
“Don’t bother him about that box. The only thing we’ve found out from the past seven years of him working here is that it was handed down generationally, some sort of family heirloom or some shit.”
The new guy wondered why he didn’t leave it at home. There must be something of value inside it if he wouldn’t even it allow to stay out of his reach during their work days at the warehouse.
As time went by and the routine of the warehouse settled back to normal, the new guy kept wondering about that small cedar box. It was so beautiful that it must be a gift from a queen, perhaps even God himself!
Over and over, day after day, the cedar box tumbled in his head. Every time the owner of the box occasionally fiddled with it in his left hand, the new guy would catch a fleeting glimpse of its golden sparkle that only added to its immeasurable worth.
There must be something so valuable inside that he can’t even sell it, he thought.
Even that tiny treasure chest itself must be worth thousands, he thought.
I must have that box, he thought.
He patted his left pocket after leaving the warehouse.
His heart skipped a beat and he put his hand desperately in all his pockets, left and right, both pants and jacket.
The box was gone!
He ran back to the warehouse, begging the night guard to let him back in, to let him retrieve his box.
“Sure, but you got 15 minutes before lights out and then I show up”, the guard warned him, emphasizing the I part.
He acknowledged the warning and ran back to the employee locker room where he had last felt his precious box.
A low laughter could be heard in the far corner of the musty room. He peered around the rows of dingy green lockers to see the new guy slumped in the corner, the box held between his hands.
“What does it mean?”, The new guy asked him in, crackling at his syllables.
“What does what mean?”, He asked, slowly and cautiously approaching the new guy.
“Those golden words at the bottom, what do they say?”
He swallowed hard and repeated the same words his dead father had told him years ago when he handed down the box to him.
“It says, ‘no friend will ever open this box’.”
The laughter stopped. The new guy’s eyes widened in realization.
He looked up at the owner of the box, now only standing a foot away from his slouched-over frame, and lifted his hands up to give back the tiny container, its recently opened hinges still twinkling in the darkness.
“Of course it says that,” the new guy mumbled.
He took his box back and left the broken man sitting and sniffling on the cold concrete of the locker room floor. His 15 minutes were up.
The third meeting this week was finishing up.
Ever since the night guard had tried to unsuccessfully stop the new guy from leaping to his death off the warehouse rooftop, suicide awareness and prevention had replaced the previous emphasis on compactor safety.
He half-listened, half-tumbled the box over and over in his hand, the gold trimmed letters and hinges glistening off the fluorescents and into the eyes of all those that gazed at it.
No friend will open this box, he thought, smiled, and returned it to his left pocket.