I pressed my face against the door, inspecting the knock through the peephole. DHS? I didn’t remember ordering anything recently. Probably more basketball jerseys off of chinese amazon again. I cursed my drunken online shopping as I swung the door open.
The delivery man was a sight and a half. Sweat stains sagged from his collar and underneath his arms. Stubble ran from the length of his neck to his nostrils and his eyes were clusters of red tendrils. He leaned on the wooden crate and held out a handheld scanner.
“Hi. Sign here, please.” He said between ragged breaths.
“What is this thing?” I said, looking past the scanner to the crate’s mandarin characters.
The delivery man pushed the scanner closer until its plastic kissed my sternum. “Dunno. Does it look like I fucking speak chinese?”
I took the scanner and scribbled. “I don’t know, I would never assume–”
“Thanks,” he said, taking the scanner and clipping it to his belt. He turned and headed for the exit, dragging his dolly in tow.
I stepped out after him.“Hey, can you at least help me get this thing into my apartment?”
“Fuck no. It’s your problem now.” His greasy chuckle echoed as he turned the corner.
I shrugged and examined the crate. It looked like the crate my college mattress came in, except twice as tall. Stuck to the far end was an envelope addressed to me. I attacked the surplus of tape with my keys, taking care not to rip the envelope.
Dear Mr. Conrad,
We hope that you find this specimen to your liking. You’ll find these creatures to be great companions and mates. An associate from Merijoy company will be by shortly after you receive this specimen to exact the payment due of USD8000.
We hope that you find great joy in your purchase and wish you good fortune. Thank you for doing business with Merijoy Inc.
Mr. Han. CEO of Merijoy Inc.
Eight thousand dollars, I thought, rubbing my brow. Are you fucking kidding me? I’ll never drink again. What the fuck is in this box anyway? Companions and mates? Creatures? I’m not even allowed to own a cat. What’s in the box?
I kicked the edge of the crate. The thud was returned in kind. And I jumped.
A hand grabbed my shoulder from behind. I jumped again.
“Jesus, what the fuck man? You can’t be going around grabbing people like that.” I yelled at the short, suited man responsible for my fright.
“Mr. Conrad, I’m from the Merijoy corporation. I’m sorry to scare you, but I’m here to exact payment.”
I began to sweat. I hardly had money for groceries, let alone an extra eight grand to give to this guy and whatever his company was pushing. “What’s in the box, Mr….”
I cocked an eyebrow. The ambiguous Hollywood gangster name didn’t help my anxiety. “What’s in the box, Mr. White?”
“Your mermaid, of course”
He nodded. “Yes. Your mermaid.”
I laughed in his face. “There’s no such thing as mermaids Mr. White. How much of a Rube do you think I am? That’s, if I had to venture a guess, a big ol’ fish. Or a lizard. Not a mythical animal-human hybrid.”
He offered a reserved chuckle. “Well, Mr. Conrad, you bought a mermaid and we delivered a mermaid.”
I laughed again and went for the crate’s latch. Quickly, Mr. White stepped between the crate and I.
“The payment first, Mr. Conrad.”
“I, er, don’t have eight grand.”
Mr. White’s cheerful demeanor dropped. He pulled his sleeve to his mouth and whispered. At the far end of the hallway, the sweaty DHS man came, dolly in tow.
“Sorry, Mr. Conrad. No money: no mermaid.” Mr. White said.
I stepped back and watched the two gentlemen, one white collar, one blue, handily load the crate leave. After they turned the corner I stepped back into my apartment.
My roommate peered over his shoulder from the couch. “What was that?”
“Nothing,” I said, locking the door. “Just a mermaid.”