...Late that afternoon, as he slid the key into the lock of his modest ranch-style house on a cul-de-sac a few miles inland from Moody Beach, Daniel saw it: a white postal service box pressed up against the black iron railing. He picked it up and saw that it was addressed to him, but there was no return address. He shook it lightly as he walked into the kitchen, tossing his keys and badge on the table and unhooking the snap on his waist holster. He didn’t remember ordering anything, but that wasn’t unusual. The lack of consistent sleep was starting to take a toll on his memory and rote activities. Twice this week he had poured orange juice into his coffee, and last Saturday, he had taken out chicken breasts from the pantry chest freezer to defrost for dinner only to forget he had done so, later seeing the half-thawed meat and recalling his plan on his way to answer the door for pizza delivery.
He brought the box to the counter and stood it on its side, examining the address. His name and address had been typed carefully onto a white label. There was no return address anywhere, and the red postmark was smudged; Daniel thought he could make out a D at the end of the city name, but the state was completely illegible. He picked up the box again. It weighed about three or four pounds, give or take, and when he shook it to assess the material, nothing inside of it seemed to move.
He ripped the pull-tab sideways and jammed his fingers under the cardboard sleeve to open the top, then turned the box upside-down and jiggled it back and forth to dump the contents onto the Formica countertop. An off-white rectangle of packing paper spilled out, formed to mimic the exact shape of the box like a sculpture emerging from a mold. Daniel shook the box again, then peered inside to see if anything else remained. He could see a small piece of white paper taped to one of the longer sides of the box, and he stretched his hand inside, removed the note, and unfolded it.
A girl whose status is unknown
Pieces sent to a chosen few
Action is yours; her destiny own
You can love her or liver, it’s now up to you.
“What the fuck?” Daniel said out loud. His voice echoed slightly in the quiet house. He tossed the note aside and began to unwrap the package, which was cool to the touch. It must have been kept in a refrigerated delivery truck overnight, he thought. They’d been enjoying an Indian summer the latter half of September, and he’d had to turn on his central air more than once in the past few weeks. Anything cold these days didn’t get that way naturally.
After he had peeled seemingly endless layers of the paper packing away, he found himself holding an oblong shape a little over three inches long. It, too, was wrapped in the off-white paper, and Daniel tore a bit of the covering away, then proceeded to pull the rest off quickly, like an eight-year-old unwrapping a Christmas present, until his fingers touched something damp and meaty. He pulled his hand away in revulsion, then examined the small sack of deep red flesh on his kitchen counter. It was pillow-like with a strip of white membrane running vertically off-center and shaped somewhere between a right-angle triangle and a rectangle. With this thought, Daniel cynically congratulated himself on finally being able to apply one item of knowledge from high school geometry class.
A faint smell of decay wafted up to his face, and he turned his head in an attempt to avoid it. The scent reminded him of a crime scene he and Mary had visited last January; the two had entered a modestly-decorated efficiency overlooking the marshes and immediately had been accosted by the stench of the slowly rotting body, knocking both of them backwards two steps. The heat had been off for weeks, and when the pipes froze, spilling water into an adjoining rental, the landlord was prompted to investigate and discovered his tenant on the floor of the kitchen, dead of a possible overdose. The cold had staved off decomposition for a bit, but nature had begun its process just the same.
It was a smell you never forgot.
Daniel snatched the note and reread it. Love her or liver. Now he got the pun. He picked up a piece of packing paper from the discarded pile and ripped off a corner, a piece just large enough to cover his finger, and poked the organ. It was denser than he imagined. In all of his visits to the coroner’s suite, he’d never seen a human liver before, but surely this had belonged to a cow or pig, a butchery discard. He tossed the makeshift finger shield aside and opened the cabinet under his sink, searching for latex gloves, something he should have done before opening the box in the first place: but how the hell could he have known that he’d be handling a gift-wrapped organ?
Once he had pulled gloves onto both of his hands, he gently picked the liver up and turned it over. There was nothing hidden underneath it, nothing else to see.
He replaced the organ on the countertop and sat down at the table. The box had been addressed to him specifically. No return address. No name inside. Someone sent him a liver. A liver. And that poem... A girl whose status is unknown. There was something about the line that nagged at Daniel. What girl was he talking about? Action is yours; her destiny own. What action? What did the sender want him to do with the organ? With the poem? With any of it? And why? The answer was there, he knew it: he was just too tired to see it right now.
He started to put his hand, still wearing the soiled gloves, on his face to rub his eyes in exhaustion, then stopped himself. He needed sleep. He rewrapped the liver in as much of the packing paper as he could salvage and placed the bundle in his chest freezer, then peeled off the gloves and slipped the folded poem into his shirt pocket. After setting an alarm on his phone, he curled up on the couch and pulled the green cotton throw—an often-used Christmas gift from Mary—over his lower body. His last thought before he drifted into fitful sleep was of an image of a girl with blonde hair on an autopsy table, her abdomen sliced open to reveal slippery intestines and gobs of red and black blood coagulating between meat-like organs.
She had tire tracks across her forehead.