Contest: You won't believe what came in the mail today…


Bring on the romance, horror, romantic horror, lit fiction, thrillers, sci-fi, uppers, downers, fantastical creatures (leprechauns?), cheating husbands, cowboys, cowgirls, astronauts, teachers, students and everything and anything in between—it’s time to once again open WD’s doors for the eclectically awesome submissions to our Your Story competition.

For a shot at getting your work published in Writer’s Digest magazine’s lone fiction spot, pen a short story of 750
words or fewer based on the prompt below, from our new May/June issue. Then, post the story in the
comments section of Promptly, or e-mail it to
yourstorycontest@fwmedia.com (entries must be pasted directly into the
body of the e-mail; no attachments).

Cost:
Free.
Prize: Publication.
Deadline: May 10.
Rule: One entry per person.
Leprechauns: Not required, but welcome—they always pop up, and it’s a strange phenomenon we’ve been keeping an eye on.

Also, for last week’s swag drawing, we reached into the Promptly hat, and a random name has emerged to receive a stack of books: Sam Webb. Sam, when you get a free moment, can you send your address to me at writersdigest@fwmedia.com, with “Promptly” in the subject line? Many, many thanks, as always, to everyone who wrote in, and good luck to those taking on the Your Story challenge.

***


WRITING PROMPT:
Your Story #34
(If
you want to post your story in the comments section for other writers
to read but the Captcha code isn’t working, e-mail the piece to me at
writersdigest@fwmedia.com with “Promptly” in the subject line, and I’ll
make sure it gets up.)

Begin your story using the following line of dialogue: “You won’t believe what came in the mail today.”






Does your nonfiction book have a USP? What is a USP? Learn the 5 keys to selling your nonfiction book or memoir live with WD this Thursday. Click here for more info.

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25 thoughts on “Contest: You won't believe what came in the mail today…

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  6. Karen Bergstrom-Greene

    You won’t believe what came in the mail today. . .

    This picture- near the San Francisco Bay area, I took almost 25 years ago today,(when I started at my college internship second choice). I received a college internship in Berkeley at The North Face. The college internship I was counting on, well what happened to that opportunity?

    Well, it all has to do with what came (or didn’t come in the mail). I sent off my college internship requests to various companies. For me there were only two choices, the Museum of Fine Arts in New York City, and The North Face in Berkeley California. As you may have guessed,

    I did receive a letter for an interview at The North Face, much to my disappointment I never heard back from the MFA.

    I accepted the internship with the design department at The North Face. However, I have always wondered what happened to any responses from the MFA? I found out in later years, that a prominent figure had also applied to the MFA, she was Caroline Kennedy,

    I had always assumed Caroline Kennedy received my internship. I was left to guess since I never received any correspondence – not even a letter of rejection.

    Well, this May, I received a forwarded letter from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. To my surprise the letter was addressed to my old address back in college. My name and new address was handwritten across the tired, old manila envelope.

    Maybe this letter had come to someone I had known, but perhaps did not like me and therefore never sent the letter along to me. I pondered the envelope some more, wondering who sent it to me and where did they find it?

    Later as I carefully tore open the envelope I thought maybe some guardian angel has been looking out for me all these years. I opened the parchment slowly because of all the serious folds and worn creases. I read carefully the words.

    The letter explained there had been two internships awarded and I was the second recipient! The letter continued to say, that if I was not able to take the internship, arrangements could be made if necessary to adjust the start date. The letter ended with a contact person, Elizabeth Edwards .

    Is it possible after all these years I would have the opportunity to work in a museum just like Carolyn Kennedy? I felt it was possible. So I did some internet searches for Elizabeth Edwards at the MFA. I found Elizabeth Edwards,

    she is the same woman who was married to former US Senator John Edwards). Unfortunately. however, she had died in 2010. What was my luck? I finally get my letter and the contact is no longer not working at the museum but has passed away. What was I to do?

    Well this was my second chance, I am now back in school and pondering the future possibilities, much like I did as a young undergraduate.

    So here was this letter and I was basically transported back in time to change my direction in life and finally win my dream of working in a world class museum.

    I did some research on the internet for current staff members at the MFA and found two individuals I could contact. Low and behold a prominent figure was on the museum board. Mr. Bill Clinton, former president of the United States.

    I had nothing to lose, this letter took twenty five years to get to me, I wasn’t going to just assume it was invalid and throw it away. So I e-mailed and called Mr. Clinton at his office in New York. I was very fortunate that my story here acted as a template to explain my story to Mr. Clinton.

    I received a return e-mail from Mr. Clinton’s assistant stating that Mr. Clinton would be phoning in a week to discuss my old letter and the prospects of upcoming internships!

    The world has changed, much to my favor. Instead of just relying on snail mail for communication, the power of the internet and speed of e-mail and cellular phones has made my life easier. My, my the world has really changed in my favor.

  7. Belen Chacon

    “You won’t believe what came in the mail today.” Lindsey rushes to the
    kitchen, flaying an envelope in her hand.
    “What?” Asked Grace. She leans on one of the counters and eats her potato chips.
    “The acceptance letter from Writer’s Digest! I knew they would like my
    story! I mean, how could they not?”
    Grace crosses her arms, her version of rolling her eyes. She doesn’t
    care what came in the mail. She cares even less that something came in
    the mail for her roommate, but still Grace pretends to care. “What did
    you write about?”
    “I wrote a story on vampires. I know what you’re gonna say, it’s been
    done, but these aren’t like your every day typical vampires.”
    Grace presses her lips together, trying to contain the laughter. “Do
    they sparkle?”
    “How did you…I mean, no, no. Of course not. Why do you say that? Has
    someone already done that?” Asked Lindsey.
    “I’m pretty sure Stephanie Meyer already did that.” Grace struggles to
    get the crumbs from her bag of chips.
    “Stephanie who?”
    “Twilight.”
    “Twi-whaa?”
    Grace rolls her eyes. “Look, I’m not saying you’re idea was lame or
    whatever. It’s just taken, that’s all.”
    Lindsey grabs a glass and walks to the freezer. She takes three ice
    cubes and throws them in her empty glass. “Even if shiny vampires have
    already been done, they obviously liked it. The evidence is right
    here.” Lindsey waves the envelope and sets it on the counter.
    “What if it’s a rejection?” Asks Grace. “They do send out rejections,
    you know.”
    “Re-jec-tion?” Lindsey gulps some saliva. “I guess I didn’t think
    about getting rejected.”
    “Why not? Writers get rejected all the time.”
    “Not the good ones.” Lindsey looks at her toes and remembers she has
    to make a pedicure appointment.
    Grace sighs. “No, of course not, but—“
    “But I’m not one of them. Is that it?” Lindsey slams her glass on the counter.
    “Whoa, whoa. Calm down there.”
    “You’ve never believed in me. Have you ever even read any of the short
    stories I put on your desk?”
    “Look, I wasn’t trying to—“
    “I don’t want to hear it!”
    “You know, maybe you should audition for a role in a commercial or a
    play or something. I feel like your true calling is acting, and you’re
    wasting all your good talents over here.” Grace giggles.
    “Is that your way of saying I’m being dramatic?”
    “Oh, come on. That’s not what I’m saying. What I was going to say
    earlier though, was that even good writers get rejected sometimes.”
    “Good writers?”
    “Yes.”
    “So, you think I’m a good writer?”
    Grace nods. “You’ve got some good ideas.”
    “And you’ve read all the short stories I put on your desk?”
    Another nod.
    “I’m sorry I freaked out on you! Hugs!” Lindsey flings her arms around
    Grace. “Best friends forever!” Grace tightens and lightly puts her
    arms around Lindsey.
    “Well, are you going to open it?” Asks Grace.
    “Oh, my gosh! You’re right. I’m such a ditz sometimes.” Lindsey rushes
    to the envelope on the counter and tears the envelope open from the
    corner. Grace exhales.
    “So? Is it a rejection?”
    Lindsey’s face falls. “No.”
    “So your story’s getting published?”
    “Just leave me alone!” Lindsey slams the paper on counter and runs to her room.
    Grace walks slowly towards the counter and peeks at the paper.

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  8. Nuri Rosegg

    ADAGIO

    You won’t believe what came in the mail today. It’s a damaged, anonymous envelope from Germany. My grandmother is the addressee. A cassette with piano music and sheets of paper peeked out. Listen to some letters.

    December 1957
    Dear Anne,
    Fourteen years have passed since I saw you and ten years since I heard from you. Your daughter must be twelve, your son ten. I hope you’re happy.

    My wife Louise and I live in Cologne. We have two sons; Robert is nine, David eight. Maybe you and your family could see us next summer? I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,
    Richard

    P.S. I still love you.

    March 1958
    My Love,
    Unfortunately I’m not a hero. You know I never was. So, I didn’t send my letter. But my heart wants to write what my lips can’t tell. Do you remember our holiday in Venice? The city of my dreams! Now I’m thinking of a “Night in Venice” – a dark blue velvet dress, long blonde hair playing with the breeze, a couple of jade-coloured eyes and a ruby-red mouth. I’m thinking of happiness, as abundant as a treasure chest with gold. But what is happiness? Just a dream?

    I have your photo in my wallet. You should see my eyes shining like a halo when I look at it. I believe in miracles. Maybe we’ll meet one day. Amen.
    Deep kiss, Richard

    P.S. I enclose a photo taken ten years ago.

    April 1978
    My Sweetheart,
    Heaven and hell are in any person. It’s our decision where we’re going. But the War made it very difficult. The very noisy world prevented me from listening to my inner voice at the most important moment. The moment you broke up with me. I should have fought for you. But I was too busy in Hitler’s Army

    When everyday life is too loud; I don’t listen to Mozart’s playful Minuet or Haydn’s joyful Presto. I listen to Bach’s comforting Adagio or Schubert’s romantic Sonata. God willing, we’ll meet again and play the Sonata four-handed. Amen.
    Forever in love, Richard

    July 1982
    My Darling,
    Last May I went to a spa. My body, once tortured by cigarettes, wouldn’t listen to me. Do you remember my heavy smoking? Of course you do, that’s why you broke up. But I think your parents wouldn’t have liked a German son-in-law. I know your parents were in the Danish Resistance Movement. Do you remember my friend Peter? Whose flat in Berlin we used as a love nest? He told me after the War. Your lips never gave the truth away, not even the day you broke up, shortly before you left Berlin forever. On that day the blue spring sky became black as if it were full of Allied bombers.
    Your lover Richard

    May 1990
    My sweet Anne,
    Since December I’ve been away, far away, almost too far away. But I’m alive again.

    Do you remember our nights in Venice? Nights so fluid and way over boiling point…

    The bridge between us was music and love. We played the piano four-handed while strong legs were attracted by delicate legs and vice-versa. We didn’t get far before my mouth sucked at your skin as white as a Scandinavian summer night. My lips discovered the dimples of your rosy cheeks. My tongue plunged into your full lips as soft as velvet.

    Our bridge got bombed. And yet my love survived. I love you, I love you, I love you. I often think of our time in Berlin and Venice, the happiest five years of my life.
    Huge kiss, your very old Richard

    P.S. I enclose an actual photo.

    May 1991
    My Great Love,
    You certainly know Schubert’s “Wanderer’s Nightsong“. Goethe wrote the lyrics:

    “… Soon, done with walking, you shall rest too.”

    I think I’ll soon die. In my life I’ve experienced gorgeous fairytales. You were one of them. When I’m dead, please think of me as an angel playing the piano. Farewell, my dear Anne.
    Yours forever, Richard

    P.S. I enclose a cassette with piano music. Enjoy my play.

    July 1991
    Dear Madam,
    My father died on 1st June. According to his will I’m sending you his letters. My mother sends you her regards.
    Yours sincerely, David

    I knew about Richard. But I didn’t know they had been so close. My grandmother died one day after him and ten years after her violent husband. My tears blurred the music. I had to stop Bach’s Adagio.

  9. Amanda Headlee

    From your #1 Fan

    You won’t believe what came in the mail today. A box full of fingernails. No, not just clippings, but whole fingernails. Some were squared, other oval-shaped. A few were painted in brilliant colors, sparkly and clean. Others were polished with such a shine that I can see my reflection.

    The contents make the box smell like old feet. I close the box’s flaps to look for a return address, but there was none. Only my own name and address, written by an artist’s hand. The letters were fluid and floral. Someone took a great deal of time to write out my information so eloquently, so delicate.

    They also must have taken even more time in gathering all of these fingernails.

    The box in which the fingernails were packed was just an ordinary corrugated cardboard box; a foot long and half as deep and wide. There were no markings on the package other than my address information, postage, and the post office’s cancellation stamp. The originating city and state on the cancellation stamp was illegible. The origins of the shipment will remain a secret, only known by the sender.

    Reopening the box, I pick out a bight florescent purple fingernail, which was slightly chipped on the edges, and study it closely. It was immaculate. I place the nail over my own index finger nail on my left hand and marvel at the little gem. It fit perfectly. So clean, not an ounce of flesh was left connected from where it was removed from the finger. Yes, someone took the time and patience to carefully collect these beautiful specimens that were meant specifically for me.

    But who? Who would take their time to collect all these fingernails?

    I estimate about 200 fingernails in the box. Which meant someone spent a painstakingly good amount of time gathering these. And what became of the owner of these nails. Why did they give up their fingernails for me? Did they admire me in some way?

    I know how painful it is to have a fingernail crack, but to have one cleanly taken off; the pain must have been horrendous.

    The donor would have lain very still and patiently in a chair that probably resembled what you would find for patients in a dental office. A comfortable, reclining chair, just so the experience of the donation would be a little less stressful. As the donor settled, resting their hands on the arms of the chair, whoever extracted the nails was most likely sitting next to the donor on one of those stools with the wheels. It would give the extractor easier mobility. With small pliers in hand, the extractor would examine the donor’s nails. Each nail would have to be pristine and the perfect size. No flaws, no fungus, no irregular shapes. Perfectly manicured, nail polish is an acceptable option.

    Caressing the donor’s hand, the extractor would gently set the pliers on the tip of the first nail. Then he or she would ask the donor to take a deep breath and tell them to relax, assuring them that they do not need anesthesia. It would all be over soon –

    With a quick tug and a small snapping sound connective tissue giving way, the nail would detach.

    Once all the nails were removed, the extractor probably patted the donor on the head, maybe gave them a lollipop, and sent them on their way. Then he or she took the time to clean each nail and delicately package the collection into a corrugate box, destined for my own hands.

    I was flattered at the thought that someone so kindly suffered that pain for this gift, and that another person took the tedious time to collect them. Just for me. Only for me. I only wish I knew who kindly and thoughtfully sent me this precious donation.

    Sifting through the contents of the box to find what other kind of beauties were buried, a folded piece of paper surfaces. The paper was torn from a no-name diner placemat. You know, the one with the all the advertisements listed on it. The only ads that were legible were for tree cutting services and pet sitting. Nothing of great interest to me. I unfold the paper to see a note written with the same eloquent hand-writing as the address label on the outside box.

    The only thing written is, “A little assistance for your Horror writing. Your replacements for when your fingernails wear out from banging on the keys.”

  10. Alyson Leitch

    You won’t believe what came in the mail today. When I pulled over to the mailbox, as I do each afternoon before turning into the driveway, I opened the bowed door and saw the unexpected. I anticipated the usual envelopes containing monthly bills or pre-approved credit card offers. However, sitting in my mailbox was an unforeseen delivery. I grabbed it, pressing it against my chest, as if I were protecting a rare treasure. I just sat there, in the car, overcome by disbelief.
    As I pulled into the driveway, I knew I had about one hour before the children would be getting off the bus, so I hurried into the house with my delivery still clutched in my left hand, against my chest. Once inside, alone, I hesitated. Although, for the past nine months, I had been harboring an immense disappointment for not having received what I expected this startling delivery to contain, I was reluctant to open it.

    Realizing that my solitary time was fading, I carried it upstairs into my bedroom and closed the door. The moment of revelation was here. I released my grasp on the rectangular, blue envelope. It was covered with hand-drawn snowflakes. This spectacle immediately brought me back to my childhood – to the letters I would wake up to as a child. I remembered walking down the steps into the kitchen. I was the first one up, so the house was still quiet, except for the groan of the furnace. On the table, next to my father’s bible was customarily a letter addressed to me: Alyson Snowe. The envelope was always adorned with meticulously drawn snowflakes.

    I remembered the excitement I felt upon receiving such a letter. The letters, no matter what the content, made me feel particularly special and loved. My father did not get home from his second shift job until close to midnight, which was his only opportunity to eat dinner and unwind from the day. In a matter of several hours, we would all be getting up for school. The placidity of the house would soon end, and my father would be disturbed from his temporal slumber. Yet, he sacrificed this time to correspond with me. Now, this thrill is exemplified, as I know how busy the life of a parent can be—especially one who works two jobs to support his family of six.

    Sitting beside my bed, leaning up against the side rails of its wooden frame, I turned over the envelope and the first thing I noticed was the date: July 16, 2010. Today was May 2, 2011. My suspicions overwhelmed me, and although I was eager to open the letter, I was not sure I wanted to read it. What if it did not say what I wanted it to say? What if it divulged something that I did not want to know?

    I remember after my father was diagnosed, years before he passed away, I rifled through the envelope that stowed the letters from him that I had collected over the years. Although I cherish each one, enamored by my father’s handwriting—which takes a graphologist to decode—and comforted by his assertion that he loved me and God was always with me, there were a few letters that were hard to digest. I preferred to read the ones that emphasized the love and esteem that my father felt towards me. I enjoyed reading how proud he was of my academic success and my perseverance, despite the hardships I faced. I did not wish to be reminded of the times I disappointed him, even though he always ended his letters with assurance that he loved me and reiteration that he made decisions—that I sometimes did not agree with—not to hurt me, but to protect me for the very short time he still had me as his big, little girl.

    After almost fifty minutes had passed, I unwrapped my gift. The letter, written in my father’s exclusive handwriting stated: “Above all, promise me that you will not lose your faith in God. We do not have a right to question God’s decisions. Be the leader you were born to be. Don’t let the world steal the principles you have been taught from the time you were little, and use your good judgment. God will guide you towards your dreams, so they will become a reality. And this is what I hope and pray for you, happiness always. I Love U, Father Sir XXOO.”

  11. Evelyn

    “You won’t believe what came in the mail today.”

    Henry Thackner pushed a cardboard box, its lid flipped open, across his kitchen counter toward me. I lifted a glossy leaflet resting atop the apparatus mounted inside. The bold face print read: “K-Tel Blitzhacker Food Chopper.”

    “Vivian,” said Henry, his voice quivering, “it’s a message from the kidnappers; they’ve got my Dora.” He put his elbows on the counter and let his head fall into his palms.

    I rested my hand on his shoulder, “I know you’re concerned for Dora’s wellbeing, but try to reason with me. There are no signs of foul play. Her home hasn’t been broken into, and her shop is closed for the weekend–as expected. True, we don’t know her exact whereabouts, but let’s not jump to conclusions about kidnappings and mail-order kitchenware.”

    He shrugged me off. “But I didn’t order it. Everything I eat I spoon out of a can.” He swung open a cupboard; dozens of cans of Spaghettios lined the shelves.

    “Maybe it was delivered by mistake.”

    “It’s no mistake; it’s a threat. The captors are planning to blitzhacker poor Dora to bits!”

    I scratched my head. Dora was Henry’s first love interest since losing his wife of thirty years, Maryanne, to cancer. Henry’s phone calls to Dora went unanswered the last two days rousing his imagination to run rampant. I kept casting out lines of logic, but I couldn’t hook him.

    “I’d better sit by the phone,” said Henry, “in case the kidnappers call and demand ransom.” He pulled a stool up to the counter and stared at the phone like The Amazing Kreskin trying to summon Dora through its wires.

    Dora wasn’t officially a missing person, but my neighbor, Henry, implored me to help. I sat in his kitchen trying to be a Good Samaritan, but he wanted a good detective instead. I threw him a bone. “I’ll go to Dora’s neighborhood, ask if anyone saw anything unusual.”

    Henry perked up. He grabbed the Blitzhacker box and flipped the lid shut. “Could you have this analyzed?”

    I hesitated. Most likely the only discernable prints on it would be mine and his. Henry’s pleading eyes melted my procedural perspective. I took the box. “I’ll see what I can do.”

    ***
    Preposterous! No proven victim, no evidence of a crime, no suspected perpetrator, yet Detective Vivian Brooker phoned me to run lab tests on a novelty food chopper. There’s only one logical conclusion: spring had melted the glacier of Vivian’s heart. She missed me. At 2:00 p.m., I met her in the lab parking lot.

    “York,” she said, “thanks for your willingness to help in these unusual circumstances.”

    She was great actress. I searched her brown eyes for a glimmer of duplicity, not a speck. “What tests should I run on the food chopper?” I said, and winked at her twice signaling she could drop the whole kidnapping-food-chopper bit.

    “Something irritating your eye?” she asked. “I’ve got some Visine.” She handed me the food-chopper box and rooted around in her purse.

    Wow, was she off her detective game. Even we forensic scientists know what it means when a man winks at a woman. No Visine is required. I decided to level with her, tell her how I felt: the whole biological, anatomical, physiological details if need be. I took a deep breath and looked her straight in the eyes. “Vivian-–“

    A Chevy Vega barreled into the lot kicking up dust and gravel. It stopped a few feet from Vivian’s Impala and strange woman, sixtyish, charged from the car.

    “Dora!” Vivian said. “You’re all in one piece. Henry will be thrilled.”

    “I just came from Henry’s; he told me about your interference.” Dora stood with her arms and brow crossed.

    “Pardon me?” Vivian said.

    “The man calls me ten times a day, sometimes just because he misplaced his can opener. I unplugged my phone after ordering him the Blitzhacker. No more dang Spaghettios. Then you butted in!”

    Vivian protested. “But Dora–”

    “Not a word. Women like you keep men culinarily crippled!”

    Dora turned to me and pointed at the box. “Hand over the Blitzhacker!” She jerked it from my hands, stomped to her Vega, and careened out the lot.

    After the dust settled, Vivian spoke. “You started to say something right before Dora stormed through.”

    My resolve gone, I improvised. “The K-Tel Ginsu Knife beats the Blitzhacker chop for chop.”

    “Thanks for the mail-order kitchenware advice, York.”

    “Anytime.”

  12. Marlea Hanson

    You won’t believe what came in the mail today. 
       
    Addressed to me, no less. Not like it’s an effort to look someone up on the Internet these 
    days.

    Still, it’s unnerving to see one’s name scrawled in an unfamiliar script, addressed from your LKA – Last Known Address. Stalking stories begin to percolate. Senses on high alert. Everyday noises become amplified. Recent conversations replay, new significance attached to laughter, pauses in conversations, pet names.

    A confrontation.

    Like a gauntlet thrown down, a dare, a challenge to the interloper.

    How well do I really know you?

    The envelope is unremarkable, the stamp generic first-class, the postmark smudged. By weight, maybe a page or two. A picture? Smooth, flat, no remarkable bulges, not unusually stiff. No room, really, for mementos, personal effects, a ring .

    Personal effects. Isn’t that what’s collected from the scene of a fatality? Poured out from a carefully labeled large manila mailer, inventoried, photographed, labeled. Evidence. Once useful, cherished even. Now shards of an extinguished life.

    No scent of perfume. No print visible faintly through the envelope. Not a hint of motive, emotion, gender in the legible handwriting. Nothing stands out.

    Maybe a lethal powder inside? Anthrax?

    Too many headlines on homicidal geniuses, tyrant employers, spurned lovers. Especially the last. Revenge fantasies, played out or interrupted by the alarm clock, the phone. How many desperate lovers are on the brink of committing irreversible acts, driven by an overweight sense of justice?

    Besides, who writes letters anymore?

    Email being so prevalent, the Post Office is as dead as the Pony Express. Parcels are dispersed by trucks and couriers, bills paid online, eReaders deliver news, magazines, books. Libraries now lend eBooks.

    Would someone capable of crafting a high-tech letter bomb resort to a low-tech transport? Or would that be the ideal method, below the radar?

    Hospitals routinely offer their X-ray machines to scan your Halloween candy now. Airlines grope passengers, or undress them via scanning technology. Iris recognition is still too expensive to apply widely as personal ID, but everyone seems to be on international fingerprint files.

    Wonder if she wore gloves?

    Comic scenes of Carrie Fisher as the jilted fiancé in The Blues Brothers, a subplot running through the movie. Plans mapped out in intricate detail, timing practiced and staged. Nothing left to chance. Self-righteousness, justification, vindication.

    DNA? Did she lick the envelope?

    HIPAA masquerades as a privacy feature. Really, it’s a catalogue of our journey across this planet, purportedly medical. Bone marrow harvesters advertise for donors, as do blood banks. Organ donors are certified on their driver’s license.

    Drugs? Alcohol? Unstable background? Criminal record?

    No mention of domestic abuse, neglect, aberrant behavior.

    Suicide?

    Anger, first. Then despair. Depression. Hopelessness. Unable to wreak vengeance, the ultimate solution, a lasting impression. Mailing guilt and blame in a farewell note.

    Regrets?

    Were there attempts to reconcile? Promises to change? Planned beautiful vistas for a future together? Then tears, recriminations, accusations?

    Were there signs?

    Was this predictable? Expected? Personality disorders, they’re called now. Like catching a cold or a virus. Dormant genes triggered by lives abruptly shattered by an accident, disaster, life changes. Change of life. Menopause?

    Empathy?

    There are 2 sides to every story. A warning, perhaps?

    Obsession?

    The familiar engine grows louder. I hide the letter. 

  13. Patricia Watson

    "On the Phone"
     
         “You won’t believe what came in the mail today.” Said Mary into the afternoon air and the wireless device crammed in her ear. “No, nope, guess again, okay, okay geez cranky much? It’s a package from my Aunt Jenny. You know the one that never married and lives with her “Roommate.” Yeah in Indiana right that’s the one. No I haven’t opened it yet. Can’t imagine what she would be sending to ME! You know she never liked me, said I was too bohemian. Said I needed to grow up and be productive. She’s a fine one to talk, like anyone believes you keep the same roommate for 20 years. Me? I am not prejudice! I just think maybe the pot should take a long look in the mirror before calling the kettle black that’s all. Oh Hi Mr. Buford, It’s that hunk from up the street, well I have to whisper don’t I? I’d be so embarrassed if he heard me calling him that. It is bad enough he got a view of my behind bent over in the garden don’t you think? Well turn up the hearing aid dear. Okay I call you around eight tonight how’s that? Okay talk to you then, kiss, kiss bye.”
         “Hi, it’s me. Yes I did and you’re not going to believe it. It’s a key, yes a key to a safety deposit box in a bank in Indiana, yeah weird huh? All very cryptic there is a note with the bank name and the town that’s all not even a hello, kiss my butt or anything. Yes I’m going to go! I at least need to satisfy my curiosity now. I have to find out what the old bat is up to. Well if she had died someone else in the family would have contacted me. No, no her mother and father severed all ties when they finally understood the situation, but her sisters always kept in touch. I can’t get away until Saturday. I’ll fly up then, have a look around and be waiting Monday morning when the bank opens. Want to go with? Aw come on! You could use a break from Harry and the kids. Okay, well got an early day at the shop tomorrow and I have to pack. Talk to you later, yep good night then.”
        “Hello, how are things today? I know I was going to call you before I left but the shop was so busy and the flight I booked left at six Saturday morning. Oh the flight to O’Hare was fine wish I could say as much for the shuttle that took me to South Bend. I thought the plane would come apart. The darn thing went straight up and straight down I am pretty sure there was no level flying involved. No I rented a car it is about a fifty mile drive from the airport to Middlebury. It is a very small town and very quaint. This is Amish Country there are big black horse drawn buggies everywhere. I am staying at the Essenhaus Inn all very cultural. It is beautiful really no they have all the amenities here TV, WiFi, pool, the whole works. The rooms are beautiful though, real quilts on the beds and all the furniture is made with real wood no pressed stuff here. Yes I found the bank already a little building in a row of shops right off the main street in town. Man I am tired from the flight it will be an early night tonight. Is it dinner time already? No wonder I am hungry. Okay I will call you Monday after I go to the bank good night then hugs and kisses.”
         “Hi, yeah I know I said I would call. Oh, it is just so awful. I don’t know if I can talk about it, even to you. Yes, yes I went to the bank. They were very surprised to see me. Well, it seems Aunt Jenny was here only two weeks ago. Evidently, she has had this box for years. Paid the fees by mail, but didn’t visit often at all. Then she comes in two weeks ago and now I show up. I am sure tongues will be wagging over this for days.  I am getting to that; I told you it was awful. Once I tell you will understand why I didn’t call. I have been really busy all day.”
         “Okay here goes, when I got to the bank like I said before they were surprised.  Any way they took me to a room and gave me the box. I opened it and inside there was a bundle of papers. I took them out and there was an envelope in the bottom with my name on it. Well I am getting to that. It was a letter from Aunt Jenny it’s just terrible I can’t find the words to tell you. I’ll just read the letter then you’ll understand.” ‘Dear Mary, I know you are bewildered at this point we have never been able to find much common ground you and I. However, you are the only one strong enough to do what needs done. I have had cancer now for five years and as you can imagine at 73 that’s not good. I have never told anyone in the family they would have made a fuss. A worse problem is Anna has had Alzheimer’s for a couple of years now and she’s getting pretty bad. Never get old if you can dear it is highly overrated. We are at the end Anna and I. She would be lost if something happened to me and I do not want to live without her so this is it. We bought a condo at Paradise Island in the Florida Keys some years ago and a boat the ‘Anna’s Dream’. We are going out on the boat tell the Coast Guard they will find us about five miles from shore. Do it soon or we will be Seagull food. The papers in the box are deeds and titles and such they are yours to do with as you please. Make life count and enjoy every minute. Good bye dear.’  “Well that’s it I have spent the morning on the phone with the Coast Guard and the authorities. Yes, they found them the local funeral home is arranging for cremation I will be leaving here to go to Florida this evening. She never did things the conventional way. I will call you from Florida dear I really need to rest now. Talk to you then bye.

  14. Deborah Ebersold

    “You won’t believe what came in the mail today! It was a cruise to Alaska! You know how I’ve always wanted to go on one of those cruises! The food is great, they say and the scenery is beautiful,” I said.

    “So when are we leaving?” Jim asked somewhat excitedly. I say “somewhat” because Jim was not the most expressive person.
    I looked at the ticket again. It was for me alone. Jim, my husband, would not be pleased, but I had to tell him. I couldn’t just go off and have him wondering where I was. That would be rude.
    “Jim, do you love me? A lot?”
    Jim’s impassive face was indecipherable so I didn’t figure out what he was thinking, but I guess it wasn’t pleasant. He was no longer smiling.
    “Why?” his predictable question.
    “The ticket is for me, alone.”
    “Doesn’t it make you wonder?”
    “What about? Good food, what Alaska is like? Can Sarah Palin really see Russia from her porch?”
    I sat down at my computer looking up the cruise line, dreaming. Jim spoke over my shoulder and so my dream vanished for the time being.
    “Stop being silly! Why did you get this? Did you enter a contest? Submit your name to some random drawing? Don’t tell me this is just a way to get you to buy a condo!”
    I had to stand and turn to him to respond.
    “Now where would I buy a condo? Alaska? And they’d need your signature for that.”
    “There you have it! There is no reason for someone to give you a gift of an Alaskan cruise.”
    “You’re just jealous! I am a lucky person!”
    “You’re deluded! Look at the job you have! You shuffle papers all day! That will make a person fantasize!”
    “You write too much! Everything has some kind of devious plot! I think I hate you. You don’t want me to have fun!”
    “You’re being childish! Grow up!” Jim replied loudly.
    “And you…you just mind that you can’t go. You didn’t say you’d miss me. You don’t care what I feel. You….” I didn’t know what to say, but the words divorce or murder came to mind. I bit my tongue, and since I didn’t have a gun or any kind of poisons around, murder was out. I’d have to wait on that bit of business.
    “Cindy, I’m sorry. I over-reacted. If you want to go, go. I’ll miss you,” Jim said with some feeling.
    This somewhat touched me. Maybe I wouldn’t murder him that night.
    “Really, Cindy. I will miss you. I know you’re special. I love you.”
    Jim came over to me and took me in his arms and nuzzled my neck. Then he kissed me. I knew I wouldn’t murder him that night, unless screwing someone to death counted.

    The next morning, Jim was gone but there was a note on his pillow. It said, “I love you, ” in large letters with a couple of hearts. There was a p. s. in small letters, “Don’t you have any curiosity at all? Call me at work.”
    I was a curious person and wondered what tie-in there was with the cruise and Jim, so I called.
    “Sweetheart! We had one of the most romantic interludes last night. I love you so much.”
    “Yes, I do, too. So what was with the note?”
    “And I write articles about couples?” he asked.
    “Yes???” I asked apprehensively.
    “Well, I wanted to do an experiment for an article.”
    “Alright! What does that have to do with my cruise?” I was almost afraid of the answer.
    “I bought the cruise to see if you’d go without me. I thought your response would make great grist for the writer’s mill!”
    I slammed the phone down. Murder or divorce?

  15. Nathan Honore

    “You won’t believe what came in the mail today.”
    “Bills?”
    “No, but close.” Robert shot me a quizzical look.
    “I’m being blackmailed, Robert,” I said.
    The question marks radiated out of his eyes, magnified by his enormous glasses. I took out the letter and tossed it across the coffee table. Robert remained focused on me for another second or two, trying to discern whether I was joking or not. He grabbed the letter.
    “This makes zero sense,” Robert said after finishing the sparsely worded letter.
    “You’re telling me. Why blackmail a poor guy? I have no valuable information to give either. I could talk about the Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust or what year each Beatles album came out…but that’s all stuff you can find on Wikipedia.”
    I went to the kitchen and made myself a drink: Miller Light in a mug. Robert followed, still grasping the letter and looking over his glasses at it.
    “Well, why would you be blackmailed anyways?” Robert asked. “I mean, have you done anything shady lately? Stolen anything? Peed in public? Picked up any hookers?”
    “Christ, Robert. No. Those are things you would do, you sick fuck.”
    He giggled a little and nodded in agreement. I shot daggers at him and Robert put the concerned look with the furrowed brow back on.
    “Okay, okay. Maybe it’s not something you did directly. Maybe it’s someone screwing you over on purpose. I bet it’s a club owner who hired you to play but gave you fake money. Who have your recent gigs been for?”
    “Churches, Robert. Churches.”
    “Oh…”
    “Yeah, I don’t think all the Christian denominations are teaming up to blackmail a freelance guitarist for a hundred bucks a week. But nice try.”
    I reached in to the fridge for another beer. Robert took it as soon as I turned from the door. My hand holding nothing, I stood in disappointment. I grabbed another beer. Robert and I had been roommates since college and these actions were not entirely unprecedented. He never grew up… or learned his manners.
    “Give me back my letter,” I said as I snatched it away. Robert shrugged, chugging his/my beer.
    Then I saw my crucial mistake.
    Robert and I have incredibly similar names. It’s probably a strange form of narcissism, but I think that’s why we’ve stayed roommates. His full name is Robert Paul Van Zandt. Mine is Robert John Van Zant, but I always go by Bob Zant. The letter is addressed to Bob Zandt. I saw Bob and immediately dove in. Robert was chugging his beer again.
    “Hey Robert. This letter is actually for you Mr. Z-A-N-D-T.”
    “What?” He spit out some beer.
    “Have fun with that one, buddy.” I pushed the letter on his chest as I walked away to enjoy my blackmail free Miller Light.

  16. Shannon Lockard

    The Letter

    You won’t believe what came in the mail today. Adeline thought of the guessing game her and Samuel would play each day when the mail arrived. They’d take turns making the other guess as if something interesting had come. It was really more of a running joke because they never received anything extraordinary. But, there was no one to guess with anymore.

    Adeline glanced at the wall seeing the stark white surrounded by dingy white. Twelve years their wedding photo hung on that wall protecting the pristine rectangle from dust. Now the rectangle haunted her with memories and regret.

    Adeline turned away and concentrated on sorting through the ads, junk mail, and credit card applications with little interest. When she came to a slim white envelope with no return address, her fingers paused. She weighed the envelope in her hands, resting it in her palm as if the weight alone could reveal its contents. It was probably junk mail, but her address was handwritten. Her name neatly penned in cursive writing. The perfect cursive writing she remembered learning in third grade.

    Glancing at the wall again, her thoughts drifted back to Samuel. What would he think of this strange envelope appearing? The envelope felt heavier as she imagined his reaction. She studied the address again and then placed it on the coffee table; not ready to find out what lay inside. Not without Samuel.

    Adeline finished sorting the rest of the mail, trying to distance her thoughts from Samuel and the mysterious envelope that arrived. But, she couldn’t. No matter what she did the envelope seemed to whisper to her; a hushed chanting of her name.

    I’ve got to get out of here, she thought. Grabbing a thin jacket and her purse, Adeline headed out. She wasn’t sure where she was going, but she needed a distraction.

    Fingers wrapped around the steering wheel, knuckles white, Adeline drove. But the farther she drove, the more she thought about that envelope and Samuel. The hushed chanting sound morphed into a steady roar and caused tears to well in her eyes. When they started to spill, so did the memories of Samuel. Rushing back and plunging her into the ice cold, stinging memories of their demise.

    Drowning in her tears, she didn’t notice where she had driven. She wiped her tears away with desperation to see where she was going, but by then it was too late. The car plummeted off the cliff.

    Samuel entered Adeline’s home, the home they had built for the two of them. The front door moaned as he entered as if house were judging him. He never wanted to leave her, but her depression wouldn’t subside. After ten years of trying to conceive, the guilt and blame had taken the woman he fell in love with. Her pain and anger was too much to deal with. He left.

    Scanning the room, trying to find a good place to start packing up the remnants of her, he noticed the pristine white rectangle where their wedding photo once hung. Though it was gone, he pictured the Adeline he had married, the young, fearless girl with wild auburn hair, and the urge to see that photograph overwhelmed him. He slumped onto the couch. Shoulders hunched, head in his hand. What have I done? He thought.

    He lifted his head to the empty wall once more and he noticed the letter resting atop the coffee table; the small white envelope with no return address. It wasn’t until he had it in his hands that he saw the precise cursive handwriting. The same handwriting Adeline had used to address every one of their wedding invitations. And, he sobbed.

  17. Dare Gaither

    Memories
    – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    “You won’t believe what came in the mail today.”

    “My winning contest entry?”

    “That was yesterday,” Doug said playfully, charming me with his trademark grin.
    ”And again tomorrow.”

    I rewarded his effort with a half-hearted chuckle.

    “Okay, what is it?” I asked, my curiosity aroused.

    “An invitation to your 20th high school class reunion.”

    He handed me the gaily decorated envelope emblazoned
    with the high school mascot. It failed miserably in its attempt to
    kindle fond memories of youthful bliss. What I did remember
    with unwelcome regret was my 10th high school reunion.

    The grimacing blue devil on the stationary took me back to that
    night 10 years ago. It was the farewell dinner-dance, with a band
    playing all our old teen favorites. I was still single and eager to
    show off my designer dress, as an indicator of my lucrative
    career in investment banking. That was then.

    Most of the crowd was already married, many with children.
    That had taken some of the air out of my career-oriented balloon,
    and encouraged me to partake liberally of the tart red punch.
    As a nod to our high school days, the already spirited drink had
    been enhanced with additional alcoholic delights.

    After one too many spousal introductions, I had decided to
    head back to my hotel room and order something fattening
    from the Room Service menu, just because I could. As I
    steered my way toward the ballroom door, my interest was
    piqued by the flamboyant entrance of our former class president,
    Brad O’Connor. He looked magnificent! His blue eyes still
    twinkled with lively Irish wit and his full red beard made him
    look for all the world like a wandering leprechaun.

    A combination of flattery, tickles and surprisingly tasty punch
    soon landed me in his suite high high above the disappointment of the dance.

    “Do you remember my red corvette?” he asked with a wink.

    I blushed a deep red.
    “I believe I might,” was my coy reply.

    It didn’t take much more to lead us down memory lane.

    After passionately reliving the good old days spent
    in his red corvette, I slipped back into my now-wrinkled
    designer dress with a satisfied sigh. At least someone had
    appreciated my success after all these years. Giving my
    lucky leprechaun one last kiss to remember, I headed toward
    the door. I was ready for a good night’s sleep.

    “So, what ever happened to your father’s Rottweiler?”
    he asked out of the blue.

    “What?”

    “Your Rottweiler bit a hole in my tire when
    I took you back to the farm that night. I had to
    stop and change it on the way home.”

    I gripped the doorknob for support as a wave
    of shock and anger pulsed through me. The
    lucky leprechaun magically transformed into
    an evil troll right before my eyes. I had never
    lived on a farm or owned a Rottweiler, but
    Marcy Galloway fit the bill on both counts.
    This jerk didn’t even know who I was.
    Taking a deep breath, I resolved to keep it that way.

    “I don’t remember,” I said casually as I stepped into
    the hallway and closed the door forever on high school
    memories and especially on high school reunions.

    The invitation had brought it all back.

    “Well, are you?” Doug’s soothing
    voice pulled me into the present.

    “Huh?”

    “Are you going?”

    I tossed the invitation in the trash and walked over to my husband.
    With a rush of gratitude, I realized my very own pot of gold was right
    in front of me.

    Taking his hand in mine, I whispered,
    “Nah… let’s just have our own reunion.”

  18. Reggie Manning

    Letters From War

    “You won’t believe what I got in the mail today.” I spoke into the phone while opening the elementary folded letter in my lap.

    “Let’s see, ummmmm, your latest subscription to Muscle Men magazine?” joked Alex. He was always finding humor out of any situation I proposed so I wasn’t caught off guard to the least.

    “Man I’m serious Alex.”

    “Well, I give up so tell me Mr. Sensitive.”

    “A letter from Clark.”

    “Hmmm… Ok.”

    “Man did you hear me?” I asked forcefully, fearing that Alex still wasn’t taking me seriously.

    “What’s the big deal?” Alex responded, confirming my fear.

    “He’s been dead for two months!” I almost shouted.

    “Reggie, he died in Afghanistan, and you know how mail tends to get lost over there. So again, what’s the big deal?” I sucked my teeth like a bitter child on the brink of a temper tantrum.

    “True, but the letter said Congrats on Getting Married.” I said while reexamining the single sentence note.

    “I see, well maybe he mailed it before he died.”

    “Alex, I got married three weeks ago…”

    “I know that fool, I was there. But what I’m saying is that maybe he sent the letter ahead of time, like when you told him you were engaged.”

    “He didn’t know I was getting married. I never built up the nerve to tell him since he had a thing for Shannon in the past. It just felt weird you know.”

    “Well maybe Shannon told him. How did she take the news of his death anyway?” Alex asked curiously.

    “I haven’t told Shannon that he died yet.” I responded with a slight sense of embarrassment.

    “Oh My God Reggie! How could you not tell your fiancé that her ex, your best friend, died while serving in Afghanistan? Isn’t it bad enough that you hooked up with his ex anyway?”

    “I panicked ok? I thought that if Shannon found out about his death… that maybe… the memories triggered by sympathy, would rekindle a lost flame. I dunno, I can’t explain it you know.”

    “No, I don’t know…” Alex responded, finally showing signs of seriousness.

    “Well we can discuss my moral ethics later. Right now I need you to help me figure this out, because it’s really spooking me.”

    “Calm down, maybe Shannon, courteously, told him before he died, and he mailed the congratulation ahead of time.”

    “I guess it’s possible.”

    “She had to, that’s the only non-Sci-Fi answer possible. So stop thinking weird. As much as you may deserve it, I doubt that Clark’s ghost is haunting you by way of the U.S. Postal Service.”

    “Alright man, actually Shannon is walking through the door now, so I’ll call you later.” I folded the letter back up and stuffed it into my shirt pocket. The conversation with Alex helped a little, but I was still feeling eerie about the whole situation. Ok maybe he did send it out ahead of time, but why would he mail a letter on notebook paper with one sentence so sarcastically formatted. “Congrats on getting married.” I didn’t understand it; he could have called or even emailed something like that.

    “Honey I’m home!” Shannon shouted in her usual playful voice. I could hear her setting plastic bags on the kitchen counter.

    “What? Is that phrase only male oriented?” Shannon joked while standing in the kitchen doorway. She was smiling at me and for a brief second everything was ok. Then I snapped back to the task at hand, well, at pocket. I found difficulty trying to figure out how to word my question without raising her suspicion.

    “Shannon, did you tell Clark about our marriage?” I asked gingerly, trying to avoid her alert system.

    “Of course I told him.” She responded. I felt an extreme sense of relief. I also felt stupid for my previous thoughts. A minor smile was broadcasted on my face, and Shannon returned it. I reclined back into the sofa preparing myself for the upcoming onslaught of jokes I would receive from Alex about my earlier panic attack. I didn’t care at this point, I was just glad that my silly thoughts were finally cancelled.

    “Yea, he called last week…” Shannon said as she re-entered the kitchen.

  19. J. Scribbins

    You won’t believe what came in the mail today. Nothing. For the first time in 3 generations the mailbox is empty. The barn stands quiet. The cows are gone, sold to some other farmer at auction last week. It’s May and the grass is growing but the mower won’t run here, not by us, not until someone else buys this land.

    We struggled for a long time to make it work. My mother poured over the books everyday, the pile of bills grew larger as the pile of receipts from income dwindled to nothing. I think it’s the stress that killed her. The funeral was a gathering of struggling farmers, who now stood in the face of their demise. Mother, well known throughout the valleys, was a wealth of information. Others would look to her for ways to stay afloat, ideas on how to fix things without spending money they did not have and was always a shoulder to lean on when the struggles became too much. She represented that farming life to many people and now represents the end.

    I am here hoping to catch the scent of childhood one last time, but it is different. There is no hay; no smell of diesel filling the tractor; no sound of activity announcing the work day has begun.

    A farm gives you something you can’t get anywhere else, no matter how hard you try. The work was always hard, but always rewarding. Each day ended with a feeling of accomplishment. The problem is the skills and knowledge gained from working with your hands and your heart don’t translate into the work of towns and cities. No I cannot type 60 words per minute. Can you deliver a calf in the dead of winter while feeding a heard of 80? What you do is not better than me it’s just different.

    I take one last walk through the barn, I can almost hear the cows bellaring, waiting to be fed. The sound of the compressor in the milk house no longer hums and rattles. I always worried about it falling apart. Dad was always confident we would get one more day. He was always right. The hayloft sits empty, like the mailbox; I cannot recall a time before when it was like this. As kids we would build forts and tunnels and play for hours until it was time to do chores. We swung from the ceiling into piles of loose hay only to be yelled at by dad and Jim, the hired man. He would take the fall and have to clean it up. Jim’s rough exterior rarely broke, skin weathered by hard work and time, his voice seemed to push through a mound of gravel in his throat, his hands as big and strong as an oak tree. He worked for months after the pay dried up, staying on in exchange for room and board and mom’s perfect sourdough biscuits. Of course he soon needed to find a paycheck and left.

    The house looks much smaller now. It’s only been a year since I have seen it but maybe it’s the silence, maybe it’s because I know it’s empty. I want to go in one last time but I cannot. I want to remember it the way it was. Mom fighting with the pilot light on the gas stove, swearing under her breath each time this epic battle reared its ugly head. Dad would sit at the table and watch, tapping the old tobacco from his pipe and stuffing in the new, a small smirk across his face that he never let my mom see. We never had much in the way of TV, the old color set needed an hour to warm in the winter so we could make our viewing choices from one of two stations, depending on which way the wind blew. I want to remember my room, the same when I was a child, left for me when I would visit as an adult. All of that is gone now, I know, but I don’t want to see it. My memory will have to be enough.

    I need to visit dad. It seems the loss of the farm caused the floodgate of dementia to open. He talks about the farm and wants to go back, but he cannot. Nor will he ever understand that it is no longer there.

    I still cannot believe what came in the mail today. Nothing.

  20. R. S. Mellette

    "You won’t believe what came in the mail today."

    "Then why bother telling me?"

    "What?"

    "What came in the mail. Why bother telling me if I won’t believe it?"

    "Okay, then fine." … "Guess what came in the mail?"

    "Why? What do I get if I guess correctly?"

    "You won’t."

    "So why not just tell me?"

    "Because you won’t believe me."

    "So, if I guess correctly, and you tell me I’m right, then I won’t believe you?"

    "Guess not."

    "Oh, I’ll guess. If you tell me what I get for guessing correctly."

    "You won’t."

    "I will. I know I will."

    "You won’t."

    "So then tell me what I get if I guess correctly."

    "My soul."

    "Your soul?"

    "My everlasting soul to do with as you please."

    "Yeah, okay, fine."

    "What do I get if you’re wrong?"

    "I won’t be."

    "You’re so sure, well then, put something where your mouth is. What do I get?"

    "The sole of my shoe."

    "Your shoe?"

    "The everlasting sole of my shoe to do with as you please."

    "Fine. So guess what we got in the mail today."

    "Mail. I win!"

    "Damn."

    "Now what the hell am I supposed to do with an extra soul?"

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