by Raymond Tobaygo
photo by moonraker79
Being a writer, I was accustomed to it, but this was something different. They had come; two, sometimes three a week. At first I figured it was just a simple mistake, an oversight. But after the first month, I was becoming increasingly annoyed. I had complained to the postal authorities, but was dutifully told it had to be done this way—regulations and all. I checked other avenues, all ending the same—no solution, just a lot of frustration.
By the end of the second month I had a box filled with them, all addressed to the same individual. I had to know who he was. At first I thought he was a prior owner or resident of the house, but no, there was no record of any individual with that name. I then went down to the city hall, a small, drab, two-story building, and after spending countless hours looking through book after book of former town residents, I found no name that was remotely close.
On several occasions, I had wanted to open them, but resisted the temptation, until the one day I found myself caught between deep frustration and burning curiosity. It was then I took the letter, opened it. Inside I found several pieces of neatly folded paper-all blank. I opened another, then another. All the papers were blank. Exasperated, I dumped the remaining letters on my desk, quickly opening each. They were all identical, each one filled with the same meticulously folded blank papers.
My mind was slowly filling with deepening layers of confusion. Twenty-some letters—all blank. Why? Why did they come, week after week?Was I the object of some joke or hoax? I didn’t know, I just didn’t know.
Then something extraordinary happened. Oh the letters still came, but as I continued to open each week’s new letter, a single, isolated word appeared, typed exactly in the middle of the piece of paper.
I felt somewhat relieved at first, figuring it must be one of my old New York cronies giving me a good long distance hosing, yet as I continued opening each week’s new letter with its one isolated word, my feelings of relief slowly faded. Again I felt uneasy, nervous even helpless. For the past seven weeks, since I had opened the mysterious letters, I had received a different word with each one. Placing the words side-by-side, I found I had a nearly completed sentence:
Dear Ms. Soames, I am coming for
For the following three weeks, either due to superstition, fear or whatever, I didn’t open any letters. Finally driven to the point of near madness by my curiosity, I ripped open the next letter addressed to Mr. Enoch. There—as it had been in the preceding letters—was that one isolated word:
With a cold numbness, I opened my lower desk drawer where I placed the past three weeks’ letters. I carefully opened each one. To my astonishment, they were all blank. Beads of sweat formed on my forehead, began lazily rolling down the sides of my face, collecting in the corners of my eyes, until burned. I slowly wiped my brow. If this was one of my dear old friends, he indeed had gone too far.
I spent the remaining weekend in fear of Monday’s mail delivery. Then a strange thing happened—no letters for him arrived. For the following three weeks not one letter was delivered, except those addressed to me. For the first time in weeks, I felt decent. No anxiety, no after thoughts. I felt whomever had instigated this joke had finally had their fun.
Additional weeks passed and still no letters for the unknown individual. Life again was good. I had gone out and was just returning from some errands. As I unlocked the front door, I sensed immediately a presence in the house. I quietly took off my jacket. Giving the coat hook a quick glance, draped my jacket over it, made my way nervously down the hallway. As I entered the kitchen, I saw him. He was seated at the table, his back towards me. A thin wisp of smoke curled lazily around his uncombed sooty gray hair and towards the ceiling. He was dressed in a filthy white robe that touched the floor. I opened my mouth to talk, but before I could utter a sound, he spoke, his voice low, rasp-like, and slow, yet distinguishable.
“Ms. Soames, I presume?” he asked without turning to face me, his voice gruff, uncaring
“Y-y-yes, I’m her: I’m Ms. Soames.”
“Excellent, just excellent”, he sounded pleased. “It has been a long time, has it not, Ms. Soames?” he asked gruffly.
I gathered my courage: “What has been a long time?” Confusion, panic, fear deepened; all I could muster in reply was a repeat of his question.
“Come, come, Ms. Soames, surely by now you should know who I am?” was his cryptic reply.
“Y-you’re the one on the envelopes-Mr. Enoch.” I replied slowly.
“Yes, Ms. Soames, I am who you say.”
“How did you get in? What do you want with me?” My head was spinning as my courage drained.
He did not reply. An eerie silence hung over the kitchen. He continued to sit motionless, his back still towards me, wisps of smoke curling about his head slowly as does a Boa climb a tree.
He spoke, his voice shattering the heavy silence as does cracking ice, vibrating the cold, still air over a frozen, silent lake.
“Come closer, Ms. Soames, so I may see you.”
I wanted to run, but found myself in expectably drawn to him like a moth to the flame. Hesitantly I walked toward the bent over figure. He turned suddenly. I jumped back; a rush of panic gripped my mind. My stomach began to knot, spreading pain throughout.
“You do not like what you see, Ms. Soames?”
“N-no, not exactly,” I said trying to bolster my fading courage. “You turned so, so unexpectedly.” I found myself staring into the face of an old man, skin withered and gray, his eyes monetarily captivating me, looking like polished amber gems, sunk into its own mound of puss-filled, inflamed flesh.
“Now, Ms. Soames, regarding your last question: I have been damned to suffer forever unless—I can—shall we say—exchange places with you. This old house was built upon the remains of my dwelling. I had killed three Pasquat Indians who were raiding my smokehouse and for this the Pasquat Shaman condemned me to suffer eternal damnation unless I could find a soul whose owner possessed determination, intelligence and grit. And I have…it is you. Ms Soames. It is quite simple; I shall live your life and you shall live in—mine, Ms. Soames.”
His last words stabbed my consciousness deeply, numbing it. I felt nauseous, my mind spun crazily. I refused to believe what I was hearing. I tried to talk, but couldn’t. Finally, with one concerted effort, I spoke.
“I will not go, Enoch. You’ll not have me!”
“Ms. Soames, you will,” he replied; a wicked, toothless grin broke across his gray, leathery face. “You have no choice in this matter, no say what so ever.”
I don’t know why but at that very moment the image of the box of letters flashed across my mind. Turning, I ran from the kitchen, down the hall and up the stairs. Breathing hard, I entered my study and upon reaching my desk, I frantically pulled open my desk drawer, took out the box of letters. I began to look about the room for matches. I didn’t know why, but I wanted to burn them, I knew I had to. I collected my thoughts. I was thinking where I had put them, when I heard his footsteps climbing the stairs. Some footsteps are soft, some hard, some just shout out with life, but his—they were different—they sounded—dead.
I knew I had only seconds left. Without turning, I knew he was standing silently in the doorway, his thick foul-smelling, sulfurous breath touching my nose. I could feel him staring at me with those deep-set yellow eyes.
“Mr. Soames,” his voice cut into my senses like a sharp razor, “it will do you no good to run. Accept what will be. You have led a good life here, Mr. Soames.”
I looked frantically about; panic overriding my controlled fear. Under the corner of the desk’s blotter, lay the tip of a book of matches. Grabbing it, I turned to face him, struck a match, holding it over the box of letters.
“Ms. Soames, that will not change anything; it only delays the inevitable.”
“We’ll see about that, Enoch!” I threw the match into the box. The letters ignited instantly, burning brightly. I watched in stunned horror.
His face was full of open, festering sores; his melting eyes ran down his cheeks. He gasped for air. He fell to the floor, rolled over on his back, and with an eerie-sounding gasp, slowly faded from view.
I stood, stunned, glanced at the box of letters. All that remained was a small pile of blackish-gray ashes.
I spent the rest of the night drinking scotch. Finally drunk, I fell asleep. The clink of the mailbox lid woke me. I climbed out of bed, staggered down the stairs to the front door, opened it putting my hand into the mailbox. Still in a stupor, I pulled out three letters, haltingly reading the top one. I read the second one. As I focused my eyes on the third, I swore, dropping all three. There it laid, its address clean and distinct:
224 Oak Lawn Drive
Fever Hollow, VT 07765
Thus all would begin again. Slowly the numbing realization there was no escaping the will of the damned soul filled me with fear. Could I again face him, escape him? I just didn’t know. All I was certain of was that sometime in the future I would have to. Was this to be my fate, my own little struggle of good versus evil? Only time would tell.
I turned slowly, closed the door, walked down the hall into the kitchen. Grabbing the bottle of scotch, I filled my glass, gulped down the burning liquid. Picking up the letter from the table, I nervously opened it. As I pulled out the paper inside I knew he would again try, and soon!
Raymond Tobaygo’s favorite genres are science fiction, science fantasy, fantasy and horror. His favorite authors are Bear, Bradbury, Bova, Clancy, Koontz and Herbert. He is an active member of the Writer’s Carnival, writing workshop community. He also belongs to Writer’s Digest and Fanstory. Raymond is sixty-six years old, and is a former teacher with a Master’s degree in education and psychology.