Outboxed

            Bennett’s fingers could not tear through the tape. They were shaking too much. He reached into his pocket for a key, but the key ring’s bulk struggled against the trousers’ inner fabric. The keys jingled in victory as he freed them. At last he could open the box. The sound of metal tearing through tape was more satisfying than popping bubble wrap. Bennett bent back the box’s flaps and cleared away a layer of protective lining.

            “Ah. The Q-47. At long last.” Bennet picked up the rounded rectangular plastic container. “No more having to worry about lonely afternoons.”

            He read the container’s tagline. “The Latest, Greatest Pocket-Sized Friend.”

            Bennett smiled. That expression soon changed as he realized he could not find a way to open the package. He squinted, trying to find a seam or opening, but there was none. He shook the clear, plastic box and listened to his new device rattle along with the small battery he would need to install. Bennett tried squeezing the package, but the plastic did not give in any visible way.

            Muttering to himself, he opened the junk drawer in his kitchen and rummaged around in its contents. Bennett tossed aside old wires whose purpose he had forgotten and unnecessary loose screws until he found what he had been seeking. He extended an inch of the box cutter’s blade and attacked what he considered the safest entry point. The tip of the blade slipped over the plastic’s surface, leaving neither incision nor scratch. He tried holding the package with a firmer grip with his left hand, but the blade once again glanced off the plastic. The third attempt resulted in a small cut along the webbing between thumb and forefinger. He sucked in breath through his teeth.

            Deciding that a hammer would be an overreaction to his frustration, Bennett tried looking for videos online that could walk him through opening the Q-47’s impenetrable containment. There were videos available for how to light one’s flatulence on fire. Why not something as practical as this? There were an abundance of videos demonstrating customers using the device, but no one had deigned to create an “unboxing” entry.

            “Looks like I only have one option left to me.” Bennett groaned. The last time he had gone down this avenue had left him banging his head against a wall for hours.

            “You have reached Companion Industries. For English, press 1. Para Español, pre—”

            Bennett pressed 1.

            “I’m sorry. Please wait for all options to be read before responding. For English, press 1. Para Español, presione 2. Pour le Français, appuyez sur 3.”

            Bennett pressed 1 again, aggravated that he had to wait through so much when the first option was what he needed.

            “I’m sorry. Please wait for all options to be read before responding. For English, press 1. Para Español, presione 2. Pour le Français, appuyez sur 3. Für Deutsch, drücken Sie 4. Para Portugues, pressione 5. Dlya Russkogo, nazhmite 6.”

            “Are you kidding me?” Bennett’s brow furrowed.

            “I’m sorry. Please wait for all options to be read before responding. For English, press 1. Para Español, presione 2. Pour le Français, appuyez sur 3. Für Deutsch, drücken Sie 4. Para Portugues, pressione 5. Dlya Russkogo, nazhmite 6. Duìyú Zhōngguó rén, qǐng àn 7. Et Latine, placer premere 8. For norsk, vennligst trykk 9. To hear these options again, press 0.”

            In his frustration, Bennett accidentally pressed 4 and heard a computerized voice speaking in German. “Damn it!” He hung up and dialed again.

            “You have reached Companion Industries.”

            Bennett gnashed his teeth.

            “I’m sorry. Please wait for all options to be read before responding.”

            “You didn’t even give me options yet!”

            “I’m sorry. Please wait for all options to be read before responding. For English, press 1. Para Español, presione 2. Pour le Français, appuyez sur 3. Für Deutsch, drücken Sie 4. Para Portugues, pressione 5. Dlya Russkogo, nazhmite 6. Duìyú Zhōngguó rén, qǐng àn 7. Et Latine, placer premere 8. For norsk, vennligst trykk 9. To hear these options again, press 0.”

            For the third time, Bennett pressed 1.

            “Okay. English. Tell me, what device do you need help with today?”

            “The Q-47.”

            “I’m sorry. I did not hear that. What device do you need help with today?”

            “The Q-47!”

            “I heard the Cute Forrest Suburban. Is that correct?”

            “No!”

            “Okay, then. What device do you need help with today?”

            “I need help with…the Q…Forty…Seven.”

            “I heard the Cue for Symphony. Is that correct?”

            “What? That isn’t even a thing!”

            “I’m sorry. Please respond with either ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ I heard the Cue for Symphony. Is that correct?”

            “NO!” Bennett’s grip on his cell phone left indentations in his skin.

            “Okay, then. What device do you need help with today?”

            “Connect me with a real person!”

            “I’m sorry. If you want to speak with a representative, I’ll need a little more information. What device do you need help with today?”

            “Gahhh!”

            “I heard Gaga. Is that correct?”

            Two hours later, the automated answering device understood Bennett’s problem. Another fifty minutes after that, an actual person answered the call.

            “Hello, my name is Taco. How can I help you today?”

            “Taco?” Bennett decided pulling on that thread would lead to nowhere helpful. “This is Bennett. I’m trying to open the Q-47, but the container is just impossible.”

            “Thank you, Becket. Your call is very important to us. And I’ll be sure to get you through this problem as fast as possible. Have you tried turning the device off and on?”

            “What?”

            Bennett could hear Taco take a deep breath as if anticipating having to deal with an ignoramus. “I asked if you’ve tried turning the device off and on. Eleven times out of ten, that’s the problem.”

            “How am I supposed to do that?”

            “Find the power button at the top of the device and hold it for seven seconds. Release. Then that should reset your device. Let me know when you have attempted this, please.”

            “I can’t do that, Taco!”

            “Why? What’s wrong? This should be a very simple fix, Baritone.”

            Bennett huffed and puffed like a pork-craving wolf.

            “I cannot help you, Benny, unless you talk to me. Have you located the power button?”

            “The Q-47 is still inside the package! How am I supposed to—”

            “It’s still in the package? Well, then, there’s your problem, Bracket. Simply take the device out of the package.”

            “How am I supposed to do that?”

            “Blake, do not kid around with me. I have thousands of calls to answer here. Simply take the device out of the package and you’ll be able to reset the device.”

            “You’re not listening to me, Taco!”

            “I can assure you that is not true, Benson. Your call is very important to us. Take the device out of the package, press down on the power button for seven seconds, and—”

            “I’m trying to tell you that I can’t open the package. Why is that so difficult for you to understand?”

            “Have you tried turning the device off and on yet?”

            Bennett swore at Taco. Within seconds, Taco disconnected the call. Bennett chucked his Q-47 across the room. The package remained intact, but the device’s screen cracked.

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Who am I Here?

I am Mark van Tol, an author. It’s at this point that most people would be naming all their accomplishments to date. After all, why read a creative writing blog from someone who hasn’t won awards or had some work published?

First of all, writing isn’t all that I do. For about three-fourths of the year, I teach at an elementary school in Florida. That fact by itself shows how busy I am. There’s an old joke we tell each other: “Here’s something else for you to do with all your free time.” “What free time?” If you don’t get it, ask one of your teacher friends. They’ll set you straight.

Also, I have spent the better part of the last two years’ so-called free time working on a novel. I have the story done, but that doesn’t make it ready for publication. Once I finish the final edits, anyone who stops by will be sure to see the announcement in obnoxious, neon letters.

In the meantime, this blog is intended to share some of my latest short fiction. While writing has been a part of my life for many years, it is also my dream to share these stories with others. After all, this is who I am. An author.