when you find $40,000 in a shoebox. This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

February 22, 2018

You’re cleaning out your garage, decades of dust billowing all over the place. You’re starving and you just want to finish the job and make yourself some dinner. As you move some of the crates filled with junk out of the garage when hidden away in a back corner, you spot an old shoebox. You decide to stack it on top of the crate and carry it out to the dumpster. But the box is heavier than it should be, so you open it up. When you do, you find cash, $40,000 to be exact. You're curious as to who hid this treasure in here, as you’re living alone in this run-down house. Where did they get it from, and why did they hide it? After seeing those rows of perfect, freshly minted cash, sitting there lined up like that, you decide that doesn’t matter. After all, you just moved in a couple of months ago. You almost manage to convince yourself that the house’s previous owner had just left his legally obtained cash in here, and had forgotten all about it. You clutch the shoebox close to your chest and run up the stairs, out of the garage. Forgetting all about having any dinner, you run towards your room, taking glances at the box as if it would disappear if you looked away for too long. You set the shoebox down on your beat-up old queen-sized bed. You always feel shame and pain when you really think about the squalid state of the life you’re living now. Such thoughts are far from your mind right this moment, you’re too busy staring at the rows of money in front of you, more than you make in weeks of work at your stupid job. A first-year college dropout with a dead-end job doesn’t earn much. After you add necessities, bills, and taxes, you don’t have much left over at all. Especially with the gas-guzzling 17-year old rusty Chevrolet pickup sitting in the garage right now. Staring at the money inexplicably makes you feel tired. Within seconds you’re asleep, dreaming about what you’ll spend the money on.

You snap awake without warning, it’s still dark out. You check your alarm clock, it’s 3:13 A.M. Maybe going to sleep like that wasn’t such a good idea. You’re about to go back to bed when you notice an envelope lying on top of the shoebox. You’re sure, almost sure…ok, not sure at all, about the fact that it wasn’t there before. You make sure the money is all still there, worried that you might’ve just let more money than you could make in a year just disappear forever. It’s still all in there, and now there is $50,000. Tearing open the envelope with something between apprehension and eagerness, it’s contents surprise you. The letter addresses you by name, Isidore. It tells you that the money is yours to keep and there will be more to come, much more, if you do some small favors in return. You’re instantly hooked on the idea of even greater sums of money. The letter’s instructions are simple to the point of being idiot-proof. The letter tells you that this person needs someone to test out his new products before he can sell them. The letter says that the new products to be tested will show up in the shoebox. When you’ve finished testing the product, all you have to do is write a short letter on what you thought of the product and put it in the box. Your pay will appear in the shoebox once the letter has been taken. You’re even allowed to keep any products you test. If you want to be a tester you just need to sign the page included on the back and put it in the box. You fill out the sign-up sheet, barely even glancing at the consent forms you’re filling out. Not concerned at all by all of the personal information you’re giving away on this form, the only thought on your mind is getting more of this easy money as soon as possible. Putting the sign-up sheet and consent form back in the box you place a note saying, “I’m ready to get started right away if you want.” Of course, you make sure to remove all the money from the box and put it away in your small locker. This is worth missing a couple of hours of sleep over.

You decide to make yourself an early breakfast of cheap cereal and milk, if this deal works out you won’t have to eat like this anymore, you promise yourself. Checking the box multiple times throughout your meal, to your dismay nothing has changed yet. Disappointed you put the dishes in the sink. When you turn around the shoebox lid is wide open. You run over and look inside the box, sure enough, there is a new letter and a package of… scented candles? Not what you were expecting. Still, money is money, no matter what you have to do to get it. You open the new letter and read the instructions inside. Its simple really, all they want is for you to try out each of the different candles and write down what you liked and didn’t like about each one and put your comments in the box when you’re done. The letter also includes a description of each of the different candles. The purpose is to see which one you’d recommend the most. There are five total, so you decide to try one now, one after each mealtime, and one before bed, to get it out of the way in one day. The last line of the letter promises you that the next product will be more interesting for you to test. You decide to skip work today in favor of doing these tests, getting paid for it immediately afterward appeals to you immensely. Instead of the stupid, always-nowhere-near-enough weekly pay, you receive from your job. If this deal goes well, you could quit your job. Looking at your options, you try to decide which one to test first. All of the names are weird. You decide to check the letter to see if there’s an explanation for it.  There it is, each product is a themed line they are toying with, their goal is to decisively pick out which one to start mass-production on. If you only knew what would happen throughout the course of the week you would’ve burned that shoebox and moved to Alaska.
Later, when you would try and recall exactly what you did while testing the candles, you would find your memory of it to be extremely hazy. Yet, you could clearly recall the moods each candle created while they were lit. The scent of “Call of the Wild” made you feel like the ruler of a primal domain. “Western Ho-down”,“Party Time” and “The Festival” all brought similar moods of festivity while managing to be wonderfully distinct and perfectly complementing the theme they mention. You saved “Nighttime Surprise” for last because you were put off by its strange colors at first. But after you lit it, you wondered why you felt such trepidation. The smell! It was wondrous! It was so amazing that you had a hard time forcing yourself to put it out and save the rest of it for later. You wrote down a brief page on what you thought of each one, put them in the shoebox, and promptly fell asleep.

The next morning you rushed to open the box like a kid on Christmas. You counted up the money first, another $50,000! If today’s work goes this well you’re quitting your job for sure! Today you get to test out music! Today there are around 50 songs that you are supposed to listen to and decide on three that fit each of the five themes the best. It goes by rather quickly for you, some of the songs just “fit” better than others. Even though none of them have lyrics, it’s easy to pick out the best ones. You are sitting down for a lunch of a microwave burrito, considering going shopping soon, when you hear a knock on the door. You wonder if you should pretend you’re not home but the insistent, repetitive knocking forces you to go answer it. “Who’s there?” you ask. Then you remember something the man who sold you the house said, “The previous owner’s a little weird, he’s middle-aged, but he looks and acts like an eighty-year-old hobo.” The man standing in front of you matches that description to a ’t.’

“Hi, I’m the one who owned this house before you moved in,” the man outside replies, confirming your suspicions. You take a nervous glance at the old shoebox. He continues, oblivious to your consternation. “I was wondering if I might’ve left an old shoebox in the garage, I kinda need it.”
You feel a cold sweat dripping down your back as you respond. “Oh, that? I threw it away when I was cleaning out the garage yesterday. I found some money in it, is it yours?” You hate offering to give the man the money, but if you can keep the box it would be well worth it.

“Oh no, you can keep the money,” he replies “But are you sure you threw the box away?”

“Yes, I’m sure,” you respond. “Why?” you ask “What do you need the box itself for?” you ask, faking ignorance.

“Oh, nothing really, I was just curious if you found my little present, that’s all,” the man replied hurriedly. He’s as bad a liar as you.

  “Well thank you, sir,” you begin, “but I’m afraid that I’ve got some cooking to get back to,” you tell the man hoping he’ll beat it.

  “Okay, see ya around,” he replies, walking off at a rapid pace. When you look back at him he almost seems… relieved, weird.

You get back to listening to the music and eating your burrito. By the time you’ve finished eating, you’ve also finished picking out songs. You write up a list of your favorites and throw them in the box. Then you grab a couple hundred from your locker and grab some bags. “I guess I’d better get some groceries,” you mutter, reluctant to leave the shoebox in the house, out in the open where anyone could steal it. At the last minute, you decide to put the box in your locker. You manage to put the heavy box in the locker and leave the house without opening it. Knowing that if you opened it you’d get caught up in testing whatever amazing new product is in there and never get those groceries you need.

Your trip to the store is uneventful and you are back home in only an hour. Something is different when you get home, the door’s unlocked. You nervously open it and peek inside. The house is a disaster! Nerves forgotten, you rush indoors and look for the culprit. You find him sorting through your kitchen trash like a madman. He is so distracted that he doesn’t notice you grab a rolling pin off the rack and approach him from behind. “Maybe it’s in the bin out back,” you hear him mutter. You recognize that voice. It’s that weirdo from earlier! He must have come back to try and steal the shoebox! He hears your sudden intake of breath and spins around to face you- and gets nailed on the forehead by the rolling pin, knocking him out cold. You stare at the unconscious old man without pity, trying to decide what to do with him. Then you get an idea. You grab two bottles of the beer you just bought and pour as much of the liquid as you dare down the old man’s throat and slather the rest on his clothes, keeping a hand on the rolling pin in case he comes to. You run upstairs and move the shoebox under the bed, stashing the bottles inside it. After your preparations are complete, you call the police.

One week later the house has been cleaned, the police finally got all of their precious evidence, took them long enough. The case was open-and-shut. The old man, Ishmael, that was his name, was convicted of breaking into your house and trying to rob you. His protests were destroyed by the evidence against him, and no one believed anything he had to say about the matter because of the fact that he was drunk while the crime was committed. Luckily, for him, the fact that he was drunk kept him from going to jail. Instead, he was put on probation and had to pay a fine as well as the bill for the damages. All and all, it went fairly well, you just wish you’d been able to land Ishmael in jail. Then you wouldn’t have to keep an eye out, just in case, he tries another stunt like that. You got so nervous you installed a brand-new alarm system. Because of all the excitement, you haven’t even had a chance to check out what was in the box. Oh well, no time like the present.You lift the heavy box onto your bed and open it excitedly. First thing’s first, you grab the $110,000 and put it with the rest of your money, totaling $199,672.74. Then you look in the box to see what you’ll be testing now… VIDEO GAMES! Yes, yes, yes, you’re getting paid for testing video games! This is officially going to be the most fun ever! This is your fondest wish come true! You almost grab a console and slot in a disk without a second thought before you stop. You need to get some snacks for this game marathon, some music, and maybe the scented candles wouldn’t hurt, this night is going to be epic. If only you knew what was in store.
Sometime later you snap awake, the candles have petered out, the remains of candy wrappers and beer cans litter the floor, music is still playing in the background, and the computer is in sleep mode. The late-night autumn chill fills the room. You tiredly brush your hair out of your eyes, it’s grown a lot longer in the past week, weird. Your body feels different too, sure, it is sore all over from falling asleep in such a weird position, but that doesn’t seem to be the only cause. The final symptom that plagues you is a killer migraine. This stinks, you tiredly walk over to check your alarm wincing with each step. 3:33 A.M.? Ouch, you really ought to stop falling asleep at such odd hours. You decide to take a shower and wash yourself up after you get a whiff of the odor that is lingering around you. You practically have to drag yourself into the restroom, the pain from your migraine is almost unbearable. You turn on the hot water and are about to climb in when you spot the shoebox on the bathroom sink. Ok, you’re sure you left it in your room before you fell asleep! Ok, maybe you did leave it here, your brain hurts too much to tell, or for you to care. Out of habit, you open the shoebox. Inside you find a note and a bottle of red liquid. You read the note with bleary eyes and an aching head, something about congratulating you for all your good work, telling you to keep it up. The bottle was some top-shelf wine they were giving you as a gift. You sniff it cautiously, the only alcohol you’ve ever had before was cheap beer. It smells like berries. You step into the shower with the bottle in hand. You let the shower water run down your hair, man you’re gonna have to cut it soon, and help wash away the throbbing headache. You look at the bottle and consider downing it here and now, then your headache kicks in again. After ten minutes you decide to just take a bath instead. While you’re filling up the tub you decide to check the ingredients of the wine bottle, to see if drinking it would add any significant amount of pain to your headache. It shows only a three percent alcohol content, but strangely omits the drink’s other ingredients. As you’re deciding whether to drink it now or later a strange feeling comes over you. It feels like your body is on autopilot as you pick up the bottle and take a sip of the wine, then another, until you’re chugging down the entire bottle of the stuff. If only you’d known what those ingredients were, then maybe what happened next could have been avoided, but you had no such luck.


To; Isidore
I know by now you probably don’t remember that as your name, but you’ll have to trust me when I say that it really is, or you won’t ever find your real self again. You deserve to know the general gist of the events that turned your world on its head. The hallucinogens in the wine, combined with your earlier beer consumption sent you off on a 12 hour trip to dreamland. During which “the company,” you know the guys you’ve been testing for? Well, their guys snuck into your house to finish the job their “products” had started. The scented candles carried a chemical agent that rewrote your DNA a little. In a year or so you’d be in the state you are now, but these guys sped up the process with their weird machines, and I’ve got no idea how they work. The music and video games, they reprogram a person’s subconscious mind and eventually brainwash a person completely. Again it’d usually take more time, but they used machines to speed up the process. They finished off their job by rewriting all your personal information and brainwashing everyone that knew the old you. Lastly, they removed all personal effects that didn’t fit into your new life and replaced them. I’d have already stopped their work on you if you hadn’t stopped me from disposing of that accursed shoebox once and for all. So yeah, you really screwed up there genius. If their brainwashing takes full hold you won’t remember any of this, but if a spark of Isidore is inside you then maybe this letter will help it break free.
Sincerely; Ishmael.

To; The Chief
Subject; Project Isidore
The letter above was located on the person of subject Ishmael, who as you remember chief, was an early test subject whose brainwashing didn’t affect the subject properly. The subject went AWOL three years ago and we just succeeded in recapturing the subject today. When we searched the subject we found the letter that is included in the attachment above. The letter got most of the key facts right with only a few wrong, It would be too risky to use our usual brainwashing tricks for such a high priority mission, instead, we have decided to use the recaptured subject as a replacement for Isidore. We have already moved Ishmael into the house as a fake Isidore, so there is no chance of anyone questioning the real Isidore’s disappearance. We have already remedied the subject’s brainwashing defect and he is ready to act as his replacement. I believed that you should be informed about this and included it in my report on subject Isidore, now for that report on our current project.

The subject adapted to his new life with supreme ease, with almost no trace of his old self. I commend the eggheads downstairs on improving their brainwashing techniques. On the note of his suitability for the job… you couldn’t ask for a better candidate. The subject is clearly prepared to act out the roles you programmed into him. He can easily replace the president’s son. His looks, habits, and thoughts are a perfect match. Plus, with the correct sonic signals, we can turn him into a cold-blooded assassin, both in mind and body. Allowing us to do whatever we please with the real president’s son. I recommend putting Isidore into his new position as soon as possible. Soon everything we’ve worked for will finally come to fruition.
Signed; agent, IIIIII [six bones]

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