Contest #212 shortlist ⭐️

Wrong Address

Submitted into Contest #212 in response to: Set your story in a post office.... view prompt



He just wanted George to shut his big mouth; Johnny had no idea what it would lead to. A postman cracking codes and chasing Communists in the middle of Nebraska? It was the stuff of cheap dime novels, not his life. At least, it wasn't supposed to be.

George had just returned from his delivery route, walking in just after Margaret shut the door behind her. Johnny’s ear-to-ear smile disappeared the moment he heard the creak of the old post office’s wooden door just after she'd left. Couldn’t even enjoy it for a minute, he thought. At best, George would want to continue his earlier McCarthyistic rant about the brewing situation in Vietnam. At worst…

“Was that Miss Margaret Taylor herself?”

Johnny grumbled under his breath as his lifelong friend and fellow WWII draftee rounded the front counter towards the back room. “Yes, that was her. She just needed to pick up stamps.”

George emerged into the back, ducking under the doorframe and dropping his empty sack on the floor with a smirk on his face. “Just stamps? Nothing else?”

“Oh, come off it already, will ya?”

“You ever think that maybe she’s thinking ‘come on already, will ya’?”

Johnny shook his head slowly, avoiding eye contact. He continued sorting out the mail from the drop box just outside the post office, his final task of the day. “You just have no clue how a lady thinks.”

“Listen, buddy, she’s not spoken for, and neither are you anymore. Why else would she come to the post office?”

“Stamps. Just stamps. I don’t know how many times I…”

“What I don’t know is how you keep missing all these signals. You know she’s not going to just come out and say it; she was just as shy when you had eyes for her back in high school. I just don't underst...”

Sunuva...," Johnny cut in, his voice a couple orders of magnitude louder than the situation called for. "How hard is it to write a damn address?" Johnny shoved an envelope in George's face, holding it there until he gave up on continuing to explain what he didn't understand and looked down. "This scatterbrain has screwed up the same address four days in a row now!” Johnny said a silent prayer that the envelope would distract George from Margaret - and from how flushed his face had become since they broached that topic.

He was relieved to see George taking the bait, looking at the neat, block letters written on the front of the otherwise plain envelope. “What’s wrong with… wait, Persion Road?”

Exactly! There's been one of these for the past four days, and each day it's screwed up in a different way.” Johnny hardly paused to breathe between sentences, maintaining momentum and preventing George's inevitable attempt to return to one of his favorite topics. “They all have the same handwriting. See, lookie here: today, the letter's supposed to go to an 8213 Persion Road, but yesterday it was 8213 Ersimmon Road. Two days ago? 813 Persimmon Road. Three days ago, it was 823 Persimmon Road. I can’t even return to sender, there's no return address!”

George’s eyes shot wide open. “Oh! Wait! I remember that address!” He pulled a stack of envelopes from the top drawer of the filing cabinet. “I pulled these from the drop box in town last week, but I just assumed the person was having trouble figuring out where to send them. It was obvious what address they were going for, so I tried to deliver the letters, but there isn't an 8123 Persimmon Road in Big Springs.”

Johnny was nodding before George finished, having reached the same conclusion. “But why would anyone try to send mail to an address that doesn’t exist?”

George just shrugged while Johnny scratched his chin, the 5 o’clock stubble already sprouting after his morning shave. George announced that he was going to finish up work for the night then head home - his wife wouldn’t abide him missing dinner again. Initially, Johnny was just happy that the envelopes caused him to drop the topic of Margaret but knowing that there were even more of them last week sent Johnny's mind racing. He considered various scenarios; none seemed to account for all the facts, though.

Why drop envelopes off every day with wrong addresses when it’s obvious they know the ‘correct’ address?

Why try to send mail to an address that doesn’t exist?

Why not leave a return address?


Commies!” George came barreling back through the doorway, shouting and nearly hitting his head on the frame. “Goddamn Commie bastards!”

“Oh geez, what are you getting on about now?”

“They're a Communist message, a coded message! Think about it!”

George’s obsession with the Red Scare, the hours of rants Johnny’d endured about the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy’s assassination, Vietnam… Johnny should’ve known this would be how he’d rationalize the odd letters. He knew it was pointless, that once George got these ideas in his head there was no changing his mind, but Johnny felt obligated to respond, “come on, not everything is a Communist plot.”

"Ok, check the envelopes from last week. Each was missing specific letters; they form a damn code!" He snatched the stack of envelopes off Johnny’s desk, spreading them out on the countertop. “Look, this one’s missing the M’s. And this one from last week, look.” He handed the envelope to Johnny, waiting a mere second before asking, “Do you see?”

He did see; the address read 8213 Persmmon Rd., Bg Sprngs, NE.

“And here, look at this.”

One by one, George handed Johnny the envelopes. Sure enough, each was missing all of a specific letter.

8213 Prsimmon Rd., Big Springs, N

8213 Persimmon R., Big Springs, NE

8213 Persimmo Rd., Big Sprigs, E

8213 Pesimmon d., Big Spings, NE

Johnny was familiar with enemy codes from his time in the War, having seized German documents and messages after battles to pass to Army Intelligence. He’d never tried to solve one before, though. The idea that this was a Communist plot in the middle of America seemed outlandish; yet, every time he tried to push back on the idea, a voice in the back of his head asked what else could it be? He didn't have a good answer.

George’s voice cut in on his thoughts. “Seriously, though, I really do have to get home. Betty’s already going to kill me. We’re gonna get this figured out tomorrow, then we can tell the Sheriff.”

Johnny checked his watch and agreed to come back to it in the morning. Before he left, he jotted down the missing characters on a piece of scrap paper to take with him:

M P 2 1 I I I E E D N N N R R R

On his walk home, he took the long way - deliberately passing through downtown to check on the only other drop box in Big Springs. He stopped a block away, studying everyone who passed the box in hopes of seeing anything - or anyone - out of the ordinary. After a few minutes, he realized it was a fool's errand; even if he did see the person dropping letters off, he wouldn't even know - unless they were wearing a bright red, hammer-and-sickle shirt. He shook his head and moved on.

After passing the courthouse on Main Street, Johnny found himself in front of the Big Springs Diner. He craned his neck, looking for Margaret’s honey blonde ponytail bouncing between tables. When he saw the two waitresses on duty - neither having honey blonde hair - his heart sank a bit. Oh well, guess her shift's tomorrow.

Johnny shuffled into work the next morning, his body still not fully awake after the two tumultuous and restless hours of sleep he managed to sneak in. The more time he spent thinking about the envelopes, the more he came around to George's crazy hypothesis – and if that were true, how far did it go? Were Communists operating in America’s heartland, in the middle of his country? Johnny couldn’t - wouldn't - stand for it.

He checked the drop box the moment he arrived, but it provided nothing beyond disappointment. There were only two letters, both addressed out of town with correct addresses written in sloppy cursive.

George seemed to have gotten precious little sleep as well. Still, within seconds of arriving, he began weaving a web of connections that tied Big Springs to Cuba to Russia and Vietnam. Johnny was too tired - and too unsure of what was real anymore - to argue. He waited until George departed for his route to shake his head at the inane theory, avoiding another hourlong rant that would've made George late for his route again. Johnny was considering a plot in Big Springs, but George had gone off the deep end of conspiracies.

By the time Johnny finished his first cup of joe, he’d come to realize that if there was some sort of secret code, it would take a cypher to figure out - one that he'd never get his hands on. So, he needed to focus on the possibility that the descrambled letters formed an actual English word. He wrote out each of the 16 letters on individual scraps of paper and began shuffling them around.

By the time he finished his second cup, he’d given up on the word descrambling idea; nothing made sense, and there was the chance that there were additional letters that just hadn't arrived yet. It was like trying to solve a puzzle without knowing if you have all the pieces - or even how many pieces there were supposed to be.

As he began pouring his third cup from the office's old, stained carafe, it dawned on him that he was trying to descramble the wrong set of letters. There was always a single, specific number or letter missing each day; perhaps, instead of trying to descramble all of the individual missing letters, he should decipher just the individual letters and numbers missing for each day.

He rushed back to the counter, the words RENDER 2 INNER 1 MIPI still spelled out, and swiped the excess letters off the countertop until just REND2I1MP remained. He began shuffling the letters again:





Wait, what about the diner? Were they were planning something at the diner, Margaret's diner? And if the word diner was really part of the message, what did the rest of it mean?

12 MP?



Wait! 12 PM? It made sense, the order of the letters missing on the envelopes he’d seen the past few days were 1, 2, P, and M.

Johnny’s heart sunk as he slid the torn scraps of paper into place.


He looked down at his watch. 11:07 AM. There were 53 minutes until noon. Did the messenger mean today? There wasn’t a specific day mentioned, but Johnny remembered that there were no new messages today. If that meant the message was completed yesterday, that would also mean that whatever was planned would happen today, that Commies would be at the Big Springs Diner today at noon - with a good chance Margaret would be there too.

He may not have been able to work up the courage to talk to her, but he sure as hell wouldn’t let the Commies – or anyone – hurt her.

Johnny rushed out the post office, his legs powering him into town in no time. He turned the corner on Main Street, studying the drop box much more intently this time. His gaze went back and forth between the diner’s front door and the box; he was early – it was only 11:46 – but he wanted to make sure nothing slipped his notice.

He turned the old brass knob on the diner’s front door at 11:49, pushing inside before studying each table. The lunch crowd had yet to arrive; the only person in the dining area was Jane, the waitress on the early afternoon shift. When her eyes met his, Jane’s face lit up. “Well, hello there Johnny.”

If he hadn’t been so focused on watching for someone Russian, or Vietnamese, or Chinese, he’d have realized that this was much friendlier than anytime she’d greeted him in the past. If he’d done more than simply wave and say, “hey Jane”, he’d have seen her sheepish grin. And if he hadn’t asked, “have you seen anyone out of the ordinary here”, he'd have heard her giggling instead of responding, “nope, no one here.”

She asked if he’d like some coffee and directed him to an empty booth while she fetched a mug. He remained steadfast, watching the few passersby out the window. As the minutes ticked by, his heart beat faster and faster.

11:54 Nothing, no one of note.

11:55 Just Jim Miller walking into the courthouse.

11:56 Nothing.

11:57 A kid, maybe the Duncans’ boy, running by the drop box. Didn’t slow down or put anything inside.

11:58. 11:59… His eyes darted back and forth from the street to the secondhand on his watch, every second bringing him closer to a confrontation that he didn't know what to expect from nor did he know who else would be involved.

As the secondhand reached 12, his eyes locked on the glass front door. He expected something, anything to happen. Someone rushing in, perhaps. A Russian peeking around the corner of a shop, looking for a compatriot in the Diner perhaps. Johnny ducked down in the booth, just in case, not wanting to spook any potential spies.

Then, he saw something that both made his heart soar and plummet simultaneously: Margaret’s honey blonde hair flowing in the breeze. She must be starting her shift at noon, the same time that the Commies could be arriving for their clandestine meeting. The confrontation might end up turning violent, he knew; in fact, he expected it to turn violent. He wanted to run outside, tell her to stay home today, plead with her not to come in. Only...

Margaret wasn’t in her uniform; instead of the short dress and apron that Diner waitresses wore on shift, she’d donned a long, flowing yellow dress with short, puffed sleeves. She’d kept her hair down instead of in its usual ponytail while on shift. He noticed her face appeared different as well: was that… makeup? He hadn’t seen her in makeup since he’d returned after retiring from the Army a few months back.

She looked stunning. The collective effort she’d put into her appearance pushed her beyond the pretty woman he’d watched in passing as she worked the tables; gone were all those years since those Friday nights at high school football games back before the world went to shit in ‘41. She was the same picture of beauty he'd kept in his heart during the long, cold winters in eastern Germany.

He stood as she entered and rushed to meet her at the door. He'd already accepted whatever fate may have befallen him; after all, he’d dedicated his life to fighting America’s enemies. But Margaret was no soldier.

He kept his eye on the glass door, watching for anyone approaching the Diner.  With his attention on the street, Johnny failed to notice Jane bouncing in excitement, her eyes widening, or how she jabbed a finger in Johnny’s direction before stifling a giggle.

His eyes met Margaret's as he got close; she was smiling, joy spread across her face. It broke his heart; any other day, he’d be ecstatic to see that look on her face. Today, he was going to have to crush that happiness and replace it with fear. He hoped he'd get a chance to explain afterwards.

“Miss Margaret, please, you have to…”

She cut his words short by holding something out to him. An Envelope. No stamps, just handwritten text on the front. He opened his mouth to respond, urgent to get her out of the line of fire, but Margaret handing him a personal note made everything else seem irrelevant for the moment.

Written on the front, in neat, block letters: I’m so glad you got my message.

August 26, 2023 01:05

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Amanda Lieser
23:48 Sep 17, 2023

Hi Michael, What a great shortlist!! Congratulations. I have so much respect for writers who have to take time to ensure all the pieces of their puzzle are put together perfectly. Creating a code out of addresses was extremely clever. I also loved the ending. Nice work!!


Michael Martin
05:40 Sep 18, 2023

Thank you! I truly appreciate when the pieces come together for readers, that the time spent coming up with these story ideas isn't wasted because the story wasn't done correctly (which I've definitely been guilty of in the past!) Thank you so much for the kind words - and for reading :)


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Story Time
16:23 Sep 07, 2023

I could have read an entire novel of George and Johnny. You built in what felt like a really long-standing relationship in a short amount of time. Well done.


Michael Martin
01:19 Sep 08, 2023

That's definitely a glowing endorsement, thanks! And thank you for taking the time to read :)


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Karen Corr
20:38 Sep 05, 2023

Good story, good ending. Congratulations on making the short list, Michael.


Michael Martin
02:01 Sep 07, 2023

Thanks, and thanks for reading! :)


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Wendy M
22:14 Sep 02, 2023

Great story, a very enjoyable read, well done for being shortlisted.


Michael Martin
22:31 Sep 02, 2023



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Mary Bendickson
15:13 Sep 01, 2023

Congrats on shortlist! 🤗


Michael Martin
22:31 Sep 02, 2023



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Kevin Logue
07:08 Aug 28, 2023

What a great story Michael. The dynamics and clash of personalities between George and Johnny in the beginning was like the post office equivalent of the odd couple. Your characters are very rich here. The mystery, the code cracking, all harping back to his old war experience and culminating into the red scare, just added to the suspense. Although I was waiting for an twist I couldn't fully be sure of were it was going, and when it did arrive it was adorably wholesome. Great work Michael, keep it up 👍


Michael Martin
19:07 Aug 28, 2023

Many thanks! I usually have much darker twists, but I wrote this for my gf who's always wanting me to write happy twists or feel-good elements in my writing. She loved this one, so I guess mission accomplished! Thanks again for reading. I truly appreciate it :)


Kevin Logue
16:06 Sep 01, 2023

Congratulations Michael, you'll have to listen to the other half more now ha


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Jakob Roy
17:29 Aug 26, 2023

Started out as wholesome tale of two old army pals muddling through life in post ww2 small-town America, jumped straight into an espionage thriller, then circled back to wholesome again. It's funny, traditionally people (even we who were born way afterwards) view the 50s and 60s through a romantic lens, no doubt helped by shows like 'Andy Griffith' and 'Leave it to Beaver'. But here we see the end of that romantic period with mentions of Kennedy's assassination and the beginnings of Vietnam, and the ever-present fear of communist agents lu...


Michael Martin
18:03 Aug 26, 2023

Thank you, for not only reading but thoroughly understanding the nuances i tried to layer in. Its super rewarding when you get that "YES! Thats exactly what i was going for!" feeling. Thank you again my friend.


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10:35 Sep 07, 2023{cid}


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