Special Delivery

(Author's Note: Just for kicks and grins, I wanted to start a story using Edward Bulwer-Lytton's infamous opening line… or Snoopy's, if you prefer. Anyway, from there, weirdness ensued.)

"It was a dark and stormy night—"

Somewhat predictably, Hawkeye interrupted already. "That's the best you can do for a start?" he sneered. "Really, Beej. What kind of night isn't dark?"

"Uh," B.J. said, thinking fast, "the kind of night they have in northern parts of Alaska where the sun doesn't set for a few months. It's light around the clock then."

Hawkeye rolled his eyes. "Is this story taking place in Alaska?"

"Well… no." B.J. had time to wonder just why he thought this would be a good idea… trying to tell a story to the consummate storyteller. Who was also, incidentally, the consummate critic.

"OK then," Hawkeye said, sounding self-satisfied. "There's no need to specify that the night was dark, don't you agree?"

B.J. gave him the death stare. "You gonna let me do this or not?"

Hawkeye said nothing, only gestured for him to proceed.

"It was a dark and stormy night," B.J. repeated defiantly, putting emphasis on the word "dark" for good measure. "There was a sudden knock on the door and—" he stopped, because…

There was a sudden knock on the door. It was so well-timed it was eerie.

Hawkeye waved a hand like a drowning man trying to get a lifeguard's attention. "Come in, come in! By all means, save me from this pathetic attempt at storytelling!"

Radar entered the Swamp with an exuberant cry of "Mail call!" He tossed a couple letters in Hawkeye's direction, then shuffled to B.J.'s cot and did the same. Since Charles was on duty in post-op, he just threw the major's mail onto his empty cot.

"What's that?" Hawkeye pointed at a large package sticking out of Radar's mailbag.

Radar's gaze followed the gesture and he shrugged. "Somethin' for Major Houlihan. Don't ask me what it is, I'm only the deliverer-er."

Hawkeye, perhaps not adequately entertained by the prospect of B.J.'s story, rolled off his bed and assaulted Radar's mailbag, despite the corporal's loud protests… something about government property, the sanctity of the mail, and truth, justice and the American way. Hawkeye pooh-poohed him and grabbed the package in question. It was rectangular and in brown wrapping—it looked like it could be a large book. He shook it; no rattling or other sound. Then he read the return address out loud, "Library of the Future? What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

Against his better judgment, B.J. was intrigued. "Library of the Future?" he repeated. "Is that all it says? Does it give a city or country, at least?"

Hawkeye turned the package over and over in his hands. "Nope. It's just addressed to Margaret and it's apparently from the Library of the Future. Never heard of the place."

B.J. could almost see the wheels grinding away in Hawkeye's head, but apparently Radar could too. "Oh no, no, no!" the corporal said, trying to grab the package back. Hawkeye kept it out of his reach, which was cruelly easy since the kid was almost a full foot shorter. "You can't open that! It's not addressed to you—you can't mess around with the U.S. Mail! Give it back to me!"

Hawkeye tossed the package over to B.J., who caught it and examined it. Yeah, it was almost certainly some book or magazine. Which explained Hawkeye's instant obsession with it; the man would kill for something new and interesting to read. This was day five of not having any casualties to tend to, which meant boredom was rampant and folks were getting desperate for new diversions. When Radar clomped over to B.J.'s cot to try to grab the package from him, he threw it back over to Hawkeye in a continuation of the keep-away game. Even so, he said, "Better not open it, Hawk. Margaret would flip. You really don't want to be on the receiving end of one of her temper tantrums, do you? If it's a book and it's one you'd actually want to read—which seems like a long shot—you can always ask to borrow it from her."

Hawkeye stared at the temptation some more, apparently weighing his boredom against the certainty of incurring Margaret's wrath if he did go ahead and invade her privacy. Not to mention the worrywart corporal dancing in front of him now, horrified that Hawkeye might do the unthinkable; in spite of everything, he wouldn't want to get Radar in trouble. Reluctantly, he handed over the package as Radar audibly sighed in relief. "Finish your delivery, young clerk," Hawkeye said with a wave. "I will somehow manage to entertain myself with my paltry two letters from home… and when I'm done with that, I suppose I'll have to go back to hearing B.J.'s fascinating tale about the dark, stormy night." He put a hand to his forehead melodramatically, as though his life were a series of endless hardships like listening to stories laden with unintentional redundancies.

Radar didn't need to be told twice; he scrammed, heavy mailbag thumping against his leg as he went.

Radar knocked at Margaret's door and called out, "Mail delivery, ma'am."

The reply was instantaneous. "Come on in, Corporal."

He entered and then stopped short. The major was applying hot-pink nail polish to her toenails, which momentarily fascinated Radar to the point of forgetting what he was here to do.

She looked up and blinked at him. "You said mail?"

"Oh!" He snapped out of his hot-pink daze and reached into his mailbag. In addition to one letter, he also handed over the mysterious brown package, delighted to finally get it into the rightful owner's hands. "Here you go, ma'am… another one of your packages. You're lucky—Cap'n Pierce saw this one, and he almost opened it!"

"Pierce?" she asked, clutching the package to her bosom. "What made him think he could open my mail?"

"I dunno… he was bored, I guess. And he was all wound up about the return address, something about the Library of the Future." Radar stopped abruptly, realizing that whatever the package was, and wherever it was from, was none of his concern. "Don't worry, though—he didn't do nothin'. Your mail's sacred with me, ma'am."

"Yes, thank you, Corporal." She eyed him warily and shooed him with her hand. "You can go now."

But he was back to ogling her hot-pink toenails. "That's a nice color for toes," he said, because he figured he ought to say something, seeing as he was staring and all. "I think Klinger uses that exact same shade."

"Out!" she shouted.

He went.

Immediately after the corporal left, Margaret ripped open her package. Pierce had seen this? That was no good. She could only hope he would forget all about that return address. The terms and conditions had been clear: she had to keep the library's existence to herself, or she'd lose her privileges. And the last thing she wanted to do was give up access to her newfound treasure.

She fluffed her pillow and got comfortable on her bed. With a contented sigh, she started to page through the May 1974 issue of Cosmo, eager to see what futuristic fashion and hairstyle tips the magazine held in store this time.