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Lauren unlocked the front door of the house and stepped inside just as the sun began to set past the trees that enclosed the area of her home. Inside, she slid off her shoes and remembered to check both locks on the door before she walked into the living room and tossed her book bag on the couch. She picked up the remote control off the coffee table that sat between her and the TV and began flipping through channels until she found a show on she could withstand hearing for a while. It wasn’t really about what she’d want to watch, but more or less something she could have on while being home alone for the remainder of the night; it gave her a sense of closure being out in the country by herself.
Both parents had gone out of town for a couple of days and Lauren was able to convince them that she was old enough to stay here and take care of herself while they were away. Looking about the empty two story building now, though, she sort of regretted the choice. She wasn’t necessarily scared in any way, like she used to be as a little girl, but the atmosphere of it all was a bit unsettling; especially with it getting dark.
Looking for something to do, Lauren stumbled into the kitchen. She browsed through the cabinets and refrigerator before grabbing two bags of junk food and a refreshing soda. As she turned to head back into the living room, however, she spotted something sitting on the dining room table. It was a package like one you receive in the mail. Written in black marker on the top was her name; Lauren Smith. No return address, no other details. Lauren placed the food down and looked the box over to see who it was sent for. When she came up empty handed, she pulled out her cell phone from within her pants pocket and dialed.
“Hello?” A women’s voice answered on the other end.
“Hey, mom. It’s Lauren. I was just calling to see if you guys were expected something in the mail any time soon? Maybe something you wanted me to have?”
A pause, “No…no I don’t think so. Your father said he wasn’t getting anything today either. Why do you ask?”
“There’s a package here with my name on it. I figured it was from you guys.”
“Hm, well don’t open it until we get home okay? We don’t know what’s in there exactly.”
After a small chat with both parents on how their trip was going, Lauren hung up the phone and went back into the living room with her snacks; plopping down into the couch for the rest of the afternoon. The package remained where she found it. However, after finishing her snacks and finding nothing left on TV to watch, Lauren soon became bored and her curiosity caught up with her.
She walked back into the dining room and stood in front of the mail. Glancing out the window across from her and catching glimpses of trees swaying in the night breeze. Finally, after a moment’s hesitation, Lauren began to cut into the packaging using a nail. Once removed, she gazed at nothing more than a simple black box with a latch keeping the lid closed. As with the outer packaging, she examined the box for any name or address but upon finding down, decided to lift up the latch see what lie inside.
A bundle of photographs wrapped together with a rubber band. That was the boxes contents. Interested, Lauren reached in and retrieved the photos, snapping off the rubber band and taking a seat as if what was taken in the photos was too important for her to remain standing. The first one, sitting on the very top of the stack, was of a man. His face was scribbled out in black marker, the same one Lauren figured as the one that her name was written in. The man was tall and wore clothes that seemed a couple of sizes too small for him. He stood in a hunched, slacking position in the middle of the woods.
Lauren wrinkled her brow and continued with the second picture. It was the same man in this one, his face still marked out, yet this time he stood in a field just outside the trees. For some reason, this location seemed familiar to Lauren; making her feel uneasy, yet she pressed on. The third photograph was very unsettling. The man was now looking through a window, yet his face wasn’t marked out as his hands cupping around his head blocked his features with shadows.
Next, the man was at the top of a set of stairs, looking down. His face crossed out with a big x, again, with the same marker. Finally, the last of the photographs was of the man standing in the middle of a kitchen, one that Lauren knew all too well. In his hands was a small black box. This time, the man’s face was not scratched out and he had a sinister smile etched on him.
Lauren held tightly to the photos in her now shaking hands; her mouth opened slightly in a gasp. From behind, she heard the click of a camera and then something drop beside her feet. She slowly directed her gaze onto a photograph lying on the floor of her back…as she flipped through the photographs.