The rusty door to my mailbox was hanging open. I peered in, as I always do before sticking my hand into small, dark spaces. Inside was a ragged envelope which sat partially crumpled atop the regular mail. I could see before picking it up that the return address was in an unfamiliar language and my address had been penned by a hand unskilled in English. I knew immediately who it must be from.
My neighbor Frank had mocked me when I told him about the e-mail I’d received a month ago. “You’re so gullible”, he always told me, “someday it’s going to bite you.” As alway, I ignored his warning and sent a $2,000 via Western Union to aid Prince Faramade of Nigeria in regaining his throne. Frank waved me off, when I tried to tell him it was a smart investment. He had muttered something about eating spam and then went back to tinkering with the old toys he was trying to fix in his garage.
Sliding my finger under the envelope flap, I tore it open. Inside was a handwritten letter, signed by the Prince himself. The first half was a gushing thank you for my monetary support, the second, as I had suspected, was a set of instructions to lead me to my reward. I couldn’t wait to shove this in Frank’s face.
Following the instructions, I walked down the block to the city park. There, right where the letter said it would be, under the willow tree next to the pond, was a freshly dug patch of earth. As I sunk to my knees, all I could think about was the smug smile being wiped off Frank’s face.
My hands began to pull away the dirt; a task that proved to take longer than expected. Whatever was buried here, was buried deep. As I dug deeper, one side of my hole began to give way, revealing a small cavern that evidently stretched under the tree’s root system. It was too dark to see inside, but I knew this had to be it, so I plunged my hand into the unknown.
I groped blindly along the damp dirt floor, reaching farther and farther into the small cavern. It wasn’t until my arm had fully disappeared, that I felt the smooth surface of a metal box. My heart jumped into my throat. Within seconds, I was sitting over a small chest under the shade of the willow. The box itself was made of old tin and had, at one time, been festively decorated, though time had taken its toll. A small brass placard with the letter “F” adorned the top. My heart was racing now and a small brass latch was all that stood between me and what was sure to be a life altering prize from Prince Faramade.
The box was heavy and its contents shifted within. It wasn’t big enough to be a large amount of cash. Precious stones, I thought. Fingers trembling, I lifted the brass latch. As the latch left the catch, the box sprung open violently. The head of a clown exploded toward my face and caught me between the eyes. I wasn’t proud of my scream, but it escaped my lips nonetheless. I stumbled back before catching myself, my eyes following the bobbing head of that silly jack-in-the-box. Across its forehead, someone had scrawled a message in marker. “A fool and his money…” was all it read.
I was dumbfounded. Why would he do this? Why go through all this trouble? Why send me on this wild goose chase?
Leaving the box and the hole, I raced back down the street to my house. My fears were confirmed when I rounded the corner into my driveway. I could see my front door was hanging open. Without thinking, I barrelled into the house and to my relief found no one inside. What I did find, was the now empty spot where my big screen TV had once been.
Slouching onto the steps of my front porch, I put my head in my hands. How could I have been so dumb? Looking up, I could see Frank in his yard, hosing the dirt off of a shovel. He was going to have a field day with this, I thought. He’s never going to believe I was robbed by the Prince of Nigeria.
***This short story previously NOT published in an issue of Writer’s Digest as a short story competition winner.