A Letter in the Mailbox
Chapter One: I Used to Live Here
My wife, Stephanie, and I purchased our first home in the summer. I knew we had to leave by the following fall.
The modest ranch style split level was a quiet, picturesque little place located smack dab in the dense woods of Northwestern New Jersey. Three bedrooms, two bath. There was a pond in the front yard. A lonely dirt road led up to a driveway lined by pine trees. The nearest town sat five miles away, and the nearest sheriff station was ten. It was quiet. And we preferred things that way. At least back then we did.
Truth be told, we loved everything about our new home, at first. We loved the chirping frogs and buzzing insects at night. We loved the tall hedges that separated our expanded property from the road. In the backyard, if you timed it just right, you could see more stars in the night sky than any imaginable in each of our shitty city upbringings. Stephanie and I never dreamed ourselves capable of achieving something so magnificent. We worked hard to afford to be able to turn that dream into reality.
We actually pictured ourselves raising a family in that house.
And so we ignored the previous foreclosures. We ignored the outdated electricity. We ignored the rotting deck, warped railings, and dated support beams. They were made of Redwood, anyway, and you couldn’t even buy that shit anymore. We ignored the barren and stripped backyard littered with beer cans. We ignored the broken windows and suspect locks. The property seemed enormous, and those types of things could be fixed, with money, and time; both of which we thought we had in spades.
We submitted our offer to the bank almost immediately. We signed a deal within the week. The rest is history.
We loved the potential of this damn decaying house so much that we sunk all of our cash into a ten percent down payment. Then we poured our savings into the deck improvements, and the walkway, just for good measure. By the time the new year rolled around we both (equally, honey, I’m sorry) decided to ditch our minuscule equity in favor of a second home loan. You get the idea. We lived, breathed, and ate debt; all before our fortieth birthdays, all in favor of that elusive white picket fence and three bedrooms.
The first letter arrived in our mailbox two weeks later.
I found it while looking through a stack of bills. I almost threw it away altogether. I often wonder what would have happened if I did. There was no name. There was no address. There was no signature of any kind. Just five words on a folded piece of plain white printed paper. Harmless, right?
“I used to live here,” is all is it said.
Stephanie freaked right the fuck out when she saw it. She snatched the paper out of my hands and marched off to tell anyone that would listen. In retrospect, I can’t blame her, but at the time, I did think of it as an overreaction. She told her coworker we had a stalker on our hands. She told her mother that she didn’t feel safe sleeping there at night. She and a friend actually called the police just to report that somebody put a piece of paper in our mailbox. Needless, or not needless, to say; the small department down the road did not take our report very seriously.
That didn’t change when the second letter arrived a week later.
“I would love to stop by sometime.“
The letter looked identical to the first. One line, on one printed piece of paper, folded neatly in half. No name. No signature. Nothing else.
This time, I freaked the fuck out. I called the sheriff’s station myself. I very angrily asked to speak to the detective handling our case. And after a couple of redirects, run-arounds, and please holds, I finally spoke to a kind man who updated our file and told me to call back if we noticed any signs of break-in. He hung up and thanked me for the information.
That was it.
There was nothing else they could do.
I decided to keep the second letter a secret from my wife. I hated doing it. It made me uncomfortable. It made me a little scared, to be honest, to think that anyone could be watching the house at any given moment. But I knew it had to be done. I could already tell Stephanie seemed shaken. Every day, she asked if I checked the mail. Every day, she asked if he wrote again. Every day, I had to lie to her. I took to watching the front porch, mornings and evenings, in hopes of catching the letter leaver before my wife.
After another week without further encounters, my guard started to drop. I stopped watching the front porch. I stopped checking the mail every few minutes. My priorities shifted back to work responsibilities and back to updating the house. Maybe the prankster had his fill fucking with a scared couple in the woods. Maybe he knew we went to the police. Maybe that scared him off.
One morning, Stephanie left for work earlier than usual. It was raining that day. The water fell in buckets that flooded the local roads and threatened to overwhelm our already clogged gutters. I decided to sleep in and work from home that day. My car sucked in this weather, and a long list of chores awaited me in the afternoon. So Stephanie left the house first.
She had only slipped out the door a moment earlier when her scream shot me out of bed like a bottle rocket.
I darted through the living room, kitchen, and out the front door in my boxers. I found my wife standing in front of the mailbox by the front porch. She was soaking wet and holding something. I had to shout just to get her attention. Finally, my wife unfolded a piece of plain white printer paper, and shoved the text in front of my face.
“I’m very shy. Can you please reply?”
Chapter Two: I Want to Die Here
The fourth letter arrived with our tired, old mailman on a Tuesday morning. The return address said it was from ‘a friend’. Somebody must have noticed my new security cameras, because they took the trouble to mail it, this time. The envelope was covered in prepaid postage.
You have not answered me. So now I will make you see. LIsten closely, sweet thing, and let me tell you a story 🙂
There is a place in your home where the animals we raised rot beneath cheap white vinyl light as snow. You live there, now, and I thinK It’s funny that you don’t know.
There is a place in your home where tunneLs extend as deep into the woods as a souL would likE to go. You live there, now, and I think it’s funny that you Don’t know.
There is a place in your home where walking is quieT and some spots where the floorboards acHe and groan. You live thEre, now, and I think it’s funny that you don’t know.
There is a place in your hoMe where the window lAtch is cracked and instaLLed far too low. You live there, now, and I think it’s funny that you don’t knoW.
I know you will see these things and stop them after my poem. I know you will be tempted to pick up and dial the phone. But there’s a point, my sweet things, a point that needs to make itself known.
Those cameras only watch the street. Those police couldn’t catch a sheep. I hope you kept the receipt. Because I still know where you sleep. I still know the spots where the upstairs steps creak. I know how to make sure your cute littLe bugsy won’t hear a thing. And I know about the dog, too, silly. Lolly seemed to really enjoy pill pocket treats…
I want do die here, my pea. I want to inhale the last air my ancestors breathed. It’s up to you to decide whether you will join me.
Reply within the next week. No police. Now you know, I will see ;).
I called the police.
I must have sounded ridiculous, shouting over the phone, screaming to be transferred. The receptionist gave me the same run-around as the first time. I was directed to this officer and that voicemail. I had to call back twice just to get placed to the right person. But once our detective got back on the phone, and I read him the latest letter, he halted me about halfway through and asked us to come down to the station.
I breathed a sigh of relief to see that someone finally took us seriously. I thanked him, hung up, and set about a plan to get my wife and I there unharmed.
We took off work that morning. We dressed warmly for the cold rain. We carefully slid out the front door and tiptoed our way to the car. Stephanie went first. I carried a bat in my hands and eyed the woods like a caveman. I know this sounds dumb. I knew, even then, that bat would be useless in the face of someone with a gun. But I had to do something. We threw our German Shepherd in the back seat for good measure. We locked every door, window, and latch we could find. I had reached that level of insecurity. And then we left, with my wife in the driver seat on my eyes set on the endless rows of pine trees.
I thought my wife might take the latest news poorly. But Stephanie seemed to take on a newfound sombrance in the car. She quietly ignored me when I told her to keep her head down on the local road. She picked up speed once we hit the highway. In ten minutes, we were sitting outside the police station, and she hadn’t said a word the whole trip. I stared at her worriedly as she put the car in park and clicked out her seatbelt. She looked back at me and sighed.
“You need to me everything.”
“I know about the second letter. Three, you told the detective. Then today was the fourth. You can’t lie to me. You’re shit at it. Why would you lie to me?”
The calmness in her cracking voice made me uncomfortable. I hated being scolded.
“I didn’t want to scare you.”
Stephanie started to tear up. She wiped her face angrily and threw open the car door. We walked into the police station without another word to each other. The pasty old receptionist at the front desk us who where there to see. I told her,
And she asked us to take a seat. Rain pounded the parking lot as I eyed each and every car to see if anybody might be sitting inside them. Eventually, a small, block shaped man in a sloppy suit walked up and stuck out his hand to Stephanie.
“Evening folks, we spoke on the phone, I’m Detective Bradley. Let’s go to my office.”
Bradley guided us through a rotating door that led to a small bullpen of desks scattered throughout a messy room. A couple uniformed officers leaned back in cushy chairs and held phones to their head. One guy was making coffee. Nobody seemed all that busy. But ll three of them eyed me suspiciously.
“Just in here. Not exactly the Hyatt, but it keeps me away from the hyenas, if you get me.”
We followed the detective into his cramped office and sat down in his uncomfortable wooden chairs. The poor guy had to slide in past a bookcase just to make it to the other side of his desk.
“Right, so, I meant to call you today anyway. I did a little digging. It turns out your house has a history.”
I could see my wife’s knuckles whiten around the wooden handles of her chair.
“What? What history?” she seethed. “Our realtor never informed us of a history.”
The detective took a breath and eyed Stephanie wearily.
“You have to understand… this town has not experienced violent crime in over twenty years. A Pax Romana, if you will… if you know your history. We keep our streets clean out here in the country. We are known to outsiders as a safe haven and we like to keep our reputation as such. Now, maybe the realtor should have divulged this, and maybe she did not have to. The statute of limitations are hazy to my knowledge. I promise that we are reviewing the legal ramifications of her decision now. We will press criminal charges, if we deem it necessary, and encourage you to pursue civil ones as well.”
I took a deep breath and felt my heart rate elevate.
“What is the history, detective, what the fuck happened?”
Bradley was getting nervous. He took a moment to cough and gather himself.
“Back in the fifties. Two women. A mother and a woman reported to be her lover. They were murdered in their sleep. A suspect was never identified.”
“That’s it?” her laugh became hysterical. “Who cares? What does that have to do with this? Do you think a ghost is putting pieces of paper in my mailbox, detective? Do you think a ghost is our stalker?”
“Ma’am…” he started. “We don’t…”
Stephanie interrupted him.
“I don’t know what idiots believe out here in the sticks. Frankly, I don’t give a fuck. There is a very real threat to me and my family and you need to fucking do something about it.”
The Detective again tried to intercede.
“Ma’am, please, listen to me.”
Stephanie didn’t allow it.
“DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.”
I wrapped my arm around my trembling wife and pulled her close to me. My shirt got wet with her tears. Bradley took a deep breath and continued.
“There is more to the story. The couple had a young son. Ten years old. The boy disappeared the night of the murders. No one ever saw him again.”
Detective Bradley eyed the two of us very seriously.
“Your stalker is probably familiar to you. This individual craves your attention, and it’s only worse now that you have not answered the letters. Think of any uncomfortable experiences you may have had with blue collar workers – handymen, electricians, or the like. The individual would probably be an older male, someone alive long enough to be a child in the fifties. Do you know anyone like that? Either of you?”
I allowed the revelation sink in for a moment. Stephanie sobbed gently into my jacket. I shook my head.
“Okay. We have two options. We can put you up in a hotel with a guard. Or you can go home with an officer who will sleep in the house on detail. I can’t do anything else while we pursue the leads on this cold case. Option three says you sleep here.”
I nodded and thanked Bradley for his time. We settled for the second choice. Bradley brought us back into the bullpen and paired us up with a quiet man named Officer Duncan. The two of them escorted us outside, and Duncan followed us back in his patrol car. I trudged the once unimposing walkway in the pouring rain. Stephanie followed behind. Officer Duncan was at her back. On a whim, I opened up the mailbox, and found it stuffed to the brim.
Three new letters were waiting inside.
Chapter three: I See You
Three sheets of paper. One word a piece.
There’s something uniquely unnerving about reading those words on the front porch of your own home. The rain and rapidly approaching sunset did nothing to assuage the stress turning around in my stomach like a soft serve ice cream machine. I peered nervously into the swaying pines at the edge of our property. No one could really see us, right? Like, realistically? I suppose someone could hide behind the trees, if they wanted to. If they really wanted to.
Thunder cracked somewhere in the woods. Lightning lit up the yard for a moment. In that brief second, I thought I saw someone, right behind the old rope swing to the right of the path; just standing there, staring. But then darkness fell back down like a cloak. And the shadow disappeared.
My hand started to tremble. Stephanie stepped forward and slipped the shaking papers from my fingers. She shuffled them back and forth for a second. Then she careful read the letter aloud.
“I see you.”
Officer Duncan lumbered forward and looked around. His expression shifted from nonchalant to stress induced in less than a second. Panic set into our small group like a drug. Duncan wordlessly gestured for us to get back in the car. Stephanie I followed his instructions without complaint. I jumped in the driver seat. Stephanie got in the back to keep the dog calm. We locked the doors. We dipped our heads. We held the dog. And we waited.
Nothing happened for the first minute.
“Shouldn’t we leave?” my wife murmured in a frantic whisper. “I knew this was a dumb fucking idea coming back. I see you. That means he has to be here, right? What else could that mean?”
I shook my head.
“It could be a prank…”
I started that sentence out with the best intentions. But before it could come to a close, a loud BANG outside sent us both into the depths of my stained seat cushions.
“Shit, shit, shit,”
I could tell Stephanie wanted to scream, but the silence that followed indicated the shooter could fire again. I reached over and cupped my hand over her mouth. Our dog, Lola, whined nervously in my arms. But everyone appeared to be okay.
Then the second shot came.
Then the third.
The fourth, fifth, sixth, and several BANGs that followed echoed without pause. One right after the other. It sounded like a volley. I remembered seeing the pistol stapled to Officer Duncan’s side earlier. I remember hoping, praying, and trying to discern whether his gun was the one winning out the fight.
And then it got quiet.
A rapping of wet footsteps approached our car. We were low, well below the windows, so we could not see anything until the culprit was a couple feet away. The profile of Duncan appeared beside our window. He had his gun aimed at some distant point in the woods. He looked down at me for a moment. I put my hand in front of my mouth, to tell him, be quiet. But Duncan shot back a very different gesture. He held out his held and turned it slowly. Like keys in an ignition.
In other words,
I hopped up like a jack in the box and started the car.
My headlights roared on automatically. I turned them off as quickly as possible, cursing all the way, but the damage was done. Once again, for that brief moment in time, I saw a shadow… about twenty feet down our driveway, standing and staring as if nothing ever happened. I thought it was just my mind playing tricks. But once it got dark again, that area of the driveway erupted in light, as another BANG echoed through the night.
Duncan slumped like a snake without a head.
My wife’s panicked screams filled my eardrums like an alarm clock. Lola started to bark from the backseat. I looked for the shadow again in the dark as I threw my car into reverse. I swerved recklessly just to make the K-Turn down my street. I thought we were home free, or the exact opposite of that, just as two-three more BANGs filled the night and sent my car crashing into our local utility pole.
“Oh my God, he hit us, he hit us,” Stephanie shouted over the storm and squealing tires. “He’s going to kill us.”
BANG. BANG. BANG.
Lola whimpered from the back seat. Stephanie continued to cry. My windshield sat in ruin. The car had to be totalled.
But nobody was hit.
Did he have shitty aim, or something? Did he mean to kill us or disable us? I tried to start the car again. The engine sputtered and spit a little bit. I gave it a little gas and threw us into reverse. The shaking of the tires made us jump up and down in our seats. I went back into drive and tried to move forward. I floored the damn thing. But nothing happened.
We were stuck.
“You have your phone?” I whispered in a panic while still trying to fumble with the useless car. “Call 911. Call now.”
Stephanie pulled the old flip phone from her pocket and punched the number. I sat still and held that same baseball bat from earlier tighter than a rosary bead. I listened for footsteps, and there were none, but in the distance, just underneath the rain slipping in through cracked glass; I heard the sound of something mechanical clicking back and forth. It sounded like a gun reloading.
I turned on our headlights just as the Operator answered Stephanie’s call.
“Officer down, officer down,” my wife whispered in her attempt at a police drama. “We are the family over on Richardsen Avenue. There is a man at our house and he has a gun. He shot Officer Duncan. Oh God, he’s in front of us, he’s right in front of us.”
The Operator’s calm instructions became the background music for our first official introduction to the madman who haunted our lives for the past several months.
He stood about fifty feet away, at the center of our driveway, in tight black track pants and a black shirt. He leaned over a little bit, a bit hunched in his stature, as if the stress of the encounter bended his back. In one gloved hand he held a gun, and in the other gloved hand he held another. On his face he wore one of the creepiest masks I have ever seen.
The skin looked like the face of a pig freshly prepared for slaughter. Long, stringy black hair dipped and leaned over the eyebrows, giving it a bizarre, human-like appearance. The man in front of us whipped that disgusting fake hair back dramatically, as if to get that hair out of his face. Then he stared us down from across the street.
He didn’t move.
“What does he want?” my wife whispered. “He’s just standing there, ma’am.”
The headlights gave us perfect vision, in the night, and he knew it. The man lifted both guns over his head emphatically. He dropped one to the floor and kicked it to the side. Then he pointed to the second one. He waited a moment, and pointed to it again, as if to make sure we understood the message. Then he raised one finger and held it in the air.
“One… one bullet?” I murmured.
The Operator continued to chirp out instructions over Stephanie’s phone. But neither of us were listening at this point. Our eyes were transfixed on the man in our driveway. He pointed at the house. And then he pointed at himself. He pointed at the house. And then he pointed at himself.
“This house… is me,” I whispered. “This house… is mine.”
Sirens pierced through the quiet night. Stephanie held the phone up to her ear again.
“Officers are on their way.”
The man in our driveway pointed at our house again. Then he pointed at himself. Back at the house. Back at himself. Then he walked towards the front porch.
I tried to reposition my lights as he dipped out of sight. But it was useless. I whispered to Stephanie to keep her head down until the cops arrived. I locked the doors, even though I knew that wouldn’t do anything.
The front door to our house opened. The groaning of those old hinges echoed across the front yard. I looked up over my seat and saw the shadow of it sitting wide open. The rain stopped falling. The usual chirp and chatter of nature returned. The police sirens started to get closer.
Then one more BANG erupted into the night, and a pair of feet fell through the frame.
And then it was over.
We never slept another night in that house. We put it on the market two days later. It was sold to a local family by the next week. We disclosed everything, including the fifty year old history, though it wasn’t much of a secret. Most of the locals took to calling it ‘murder house’.
My wife and I moved back to our hometown city. We rent an apartment, now, until we can afford to once again pursue a dream house in the suburbs. I don’t like it. But I know we made the right choice.
Two weeks ago, we were called back to testify at the trial for Officer Duncan’s murder. Driving through the town brought back some nostalgic memories that inspired this story. We passed by our old house, our old grocery store, and our usual old haunts. On the way into the courtroom, we ran into Detective Bradley. We talked for a little while. But he sounded upset. The new couple living in our old house got a letter in the mail the other day, he said.
“I’m still here.“