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      You can’t help but recognize the handwriting on the letter, considering that it is as familiar as the back of your hand. It’s yours. Scrawled on the envelope is your address, but you can’t remember writing yourself a letter. Plus, you just moved into your apartment, so how would the letter have gotten here?


           The letter feels heavy in your hands as you carry it up the stairs. Not the letter itself, but the circumstances by which it could have gotten here. Wonder blossoms in your mind, mixing with an unspoken fear.


           Absentmindedly, you flip the letter around in your hands. There is no return address of the back of the envelope, only an inscription in its place: R.U.N. The letters stop you in your tracks as you become a dead weight in the middle of the stairs. Yes, those letters form a short word of warning, but they’re also initials. Raina.


           Some signal in your brain tells your feet to move, even as your brain is frozen. Is she in trouble? While your mind scrolls through all the horrendous possibilities, you find yourself opening the envelope, grasping the piece of paper inside with greedy fingers.


           Unfolded, the singular page is mostly blank, except for a small message. Find her. Your life depends on it. Talk about ominous.


           By this time, your feet have almost found their way to your door, but a sound stops you in your tracks. Someone is inside your apartment, and you don’t have any roommates who would be there or friends who could let themselves in. No alarm bells start going off in real life, but they all start blaring in your head. On the other side of the door, a rough voice asks when you should be arriving, and another just says, “Soon.” Next thing you know it, you have turned around and you’re flying down the stairs, fuelled by alarm bells and adrenaline, running all the way to your car.


           As you try to regain control of your breath, you look at the letter again. You flip it over, around, upside down, but you find no other clues. Then your breath picks up again when you realize the people who invaded your apartment can probably see your car. If they saw you running, they’ll know something is up. Before you can process another thought, the key is in the ignition and you are pulling out of the parking lot.


***


           Across town, you breathe a sigh of relief. Raina’s car is parked in her driveway, and you see her silhouette through the window. Everything looks normal. But you can hear the staccato beat of her pacing footsteps as you approach the door. Soon enough, the footsteps turn in your direction and you see her face flooded with anxiety.


           “Why did you write me a note like this?” she asks after wordlessly welcoming you inside.


           “I didn’t,” you tell her. “But I got a note just like it.”


           “You got a note like this too?” She’s biting her nail, a horrible habit she’s retained since childhood, as she reads over the page for what has to be at least the tenth time.


           “Yeah, I did,” you say, inching closer to her anxious form, wanting to read her note. “It told me to find you.”


           “Well, that’s not what mine says,” she sighs, handing you the piece of paper.


           Just like your note, the message is short, sweet, and to the point. A messy version of your handwriting is the only thing on the page, and the words are grim. We need to hide. I know it sounds crazy, but your life depends on it.


           You flip the paper around, looking for any other clues. This time, you find one. On the bottom third of the paper, written hastily on the back of the page, it says Find her.


           “Find who?” you murmur, “I ready found her.”


           “What?” Raina’s eyebrows perk up in surprise as your eyes find the same initials written on the back of the envelope. R.U.N.


           “Who else has your initials?” your voice comes out panicky and you work to rein in your internal chaos. Something in the air feels off. As Raina makes some non-committal sounds, your eyes scan the street for suspicious activity. Unfortunately, you find some. “We need to go. Now. Out through the back.”


           The two of you disappear from view just as you see people in black getting out of vehicles with dark-tinted windows before they move as a pack towards the house. The tactical part of your brain knows you need to give them a distraction to keep them in the house to make a clean getaway.


           As Raina goes down the hallway, grabbing her purse and other important things, you duck into the kitchen, turning on the coffee maker. Then, you enter the bathroom, turning on the shower and closing the door.


           You hear voices coming from the front of the house, and they sound similar to the rough voices heard at your apartment. Both of you hide at the back, seeing no one, as you start to run to Raina’s car. For the first time, you’re happy she lives in an older subdivision, with a driveway that goes through to both parallel streets.


           She tosses you the keys over the car, letting you drive away at a breakneck speed as she tries to calm down. After all, her house just got broken into for no reason, and now you’re both running like fugitives. Her hands shake as she examines the piece of paper again.


           “Look on the back. Who else are we supposed to find?” A sharp turn right, then left. To the highway, which should be safer.


           “Riley.” The name comes out of her mouth in a breathy sort of way, a new kind of panic settling in her tone. “My sister has the same initials.”


***


           As you drive up to Riley’s apartment building, you hope she’s home. Raina has been panicking beside you for the entire time, reading the message over a million more times as she guides you to the beige building now standing in front of you. When the car rocks to a stop, she launches herself out of the vehicle with you hot on her heels.


           The journey up the stairs is fast but anxiety-filled, as both of you manage to reach the door in one piece. Luckily, she answers. “Hi,” says Riley, looking fazed at our presence. Everything seems normal, at least so far.


           “You need to come with us,” Raina manages in one breath.


           Riley’s features are full of alarm, a look rarely seen on her face. Quickly, shock and confusion take over her expression as your foot starts tapping on the ground.


           “We’ll explain in the car,” you hear yourself say with a limited amount of patience. Somehow, she agrees, grabbing her purse and a backpack before locking the door behind her.


           There are now three of you speeding down the stairs, but you can’t help but feel like you should be moving faster. When you get to the doors, you know why; more people dressed in black are getting out of government-type vehicles and heading in your general direction. Riley immediately leads us to the parking entrance, allowing us to make a hasty escape as the presumed agents go and check the apartment we just vacated.


           By the time Riley speaks, the three of you have already been in the car for five minutes, heading towards the highway again. “Are either of you going to tell me what’s happening?”


           Your lack of words cues Raina to speak. “We’ve both gotten letters today, telling us to hide. For some reason, people seem to be after us. We need to stick together so we can get through this.”


           “Then why am I here?”


           This time, it’s you who speaks, “Because you have the same initials.” A thick silence seems to enter the car for a while, with the monotonous pop music on the radio as the only other sound besides breathing.


           A couple of hours later, you pull off the highway, feeling safe for the first time all day. You haven’t noticed any government agents on your tail, and the road around you is familiar, which breeds another kind of security. “Where are we going?” Riley asks, breaking the cloud of quiet that had been oh so peaceful.


           “To a cabin,” you reply, feeling the road beneath you turn from pavement to gravel. “We need to stay off the grid for a while.”


           Amid the chaos of earlier, the three of you had gotten rid of your phones and headed up to your grandfather’s cabin. Your dad may have inherited it, but he rarely used the place, which came with one special feature: a survivalist’s bunker. Your grandfather had been a bit fanatical, to say the least. As a kid, you had loved the wild stories and the trips out to see the bunker, cleverly hidden under a cabin in the woods. But as time went on, you came to think what the rest of your family thought: that your grandfather was a little crazy, deluded, and paranoid. For years, he claimed that at some point, people would come for him. Everyone had laughed, assuming he was wrong. Only now, a year after his passing, it seems to be coming true.


           A sick sense of grief twists in your stomach, wishing he was here, and wishing that you knew what he did. Soon enough, you pull up the familiar place, which looks aged by time with its chipped paint and slanted shutters. The three of you hurry inside, in through the wooden door to the tiny, unassuming shack. You’re too busy paying attention to any movement in the surrounding woods to see what Raina and Riley see upon entering: a third letter.


           Their matching expressions of concern give you a hint before you see it: the thick, white envelope with the same hurried handwriting. As the pages fold open, dozens of words are exposed to your eyes:


If you’ve made it this far, I assume you’re hiding yourselves and I can tell you the truth. In my version of your future, I was hunted. Raina and Riley were used as pawns, resulting in Riley’s death and Raina’s hardening. You don’t want the future I have.


Grandpa was right. Someone came after us for some tiny cells they believe to exist in our body, from something Grandpa knowingly ingested when he worked in an off-the-books government lab way back when. Since I didn’t know, I’m assuming you don’t know either. Once upon a time, Grandpa was a scientist who worked with the military on inventing a new chemical. On its own, it is safe for human consumption and has potential healing benefits. But when combined with other substances, it has extremely destructive potential. Grandpa didn’t realize they were interested in that fact until it was too late.


His real name was George. After ingesting the chemical liquid and destroying his research, he fled. He became someone else with a new name and a decent dose of paranoia. Everyone involved though he had died until we posted that picture to commemorate his actual death. Without knowing, we triggered the alarm bells for finding an infamous military project.


For these reasons, all three of you need to hide for at least a few days. Dad stocked the bunker with everything you should need, and they shouldn’t be able to find you here. Grandpa had very specific instructions when Dad inherited the property.


Stay inside and keep a low profile. Above all, protect Riley. She is the domino that sets everything else in motion. Your blood and her being are the keys they cannot have.


I’m trying to change our future. Hopefully, in a couple of days, I will just be a fever dream from a timeline that no longer exists. Hide. Take care of yourselves. Do not let them find you.


P.S.: If all goes according to plan, you should know when it is safe to leave.


           A sound outside makes the three of you bolt downstairs, while the letter sits heavily in your mind. All this time, Grandpa had kept his secret, even in death. Yet, everything he feared is coming to fruition because of one post on social media. His fear had always lived in the back of your head, but you never thought it was based on something so real.


***


           For the next few days, you waited, sitting on the edge of fear. The future version of yourself had been right: everything you needed was here. The three of you took turns watching the entrance points, between the tunnels to the left and the right, the closed-loop security cameras, and the entrance hatch you had originally come through. For days, there was nothing but the alarming quiet of withheld breaths and the imaginary tales of your fate otherwise.


           But on the third day of hiding, an empty computer screen springs to life, reading a single word: uploading. You had assumed it to be broken. Dots move as you wait for the screen to change, only for it to go black again.


           With bated breath, another moment passes. Then, a vertical white line appears, its existence blinking in and out against the black background. It continues like that for a minute, before type-text letters start to appear on the screen as if they are being typed out in real-time.


I feel different today. Maybe they feel it too. They’re attacking, trying to break through the door, but I think it will be over soon.


I’m using my last moments to tell you this future is fading.


I feel it in my chest. Even in my hands as I type.


I hope you find a better future than this one. Be safe. Trust each other


           Then the screen freezes. The vertical line does not return, and you feel something shift in your soul, or maybe it’s the air. A calm feeling settles over the room and you are the only one to speak. “I think it’s over.”


           Now that you know the secret, maybe the feeling of safety is beyond your reach. But you can be cautious and take further steps to ensure such a horrid future can never come to fruition again.


June 27, 2020 03:41

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3 comments

Kathleen March
00:03 Jun 28, 2020

Lots of tension and mystery here. I was a little uncertain as to what was going on until closer to the end. I am wondering if you omitted some parts to make it the right length? Not trying to be negative - just looking to understand. On the other hand, there is a really cool twist here with the future that happens or is in the past. Maybe I can figure this story out yet!

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Talia Vander
05:53 Jun 28, 2020

Hi Kathleen, thanks for reading my story! Sorry if you were a little confused while you were reading it, but to be fair, so are the characters. This story is set in the character's present day, and they only know two things: what is in those letters, and that they need to run from whoever is chasing them. On the other hand, the letters are from a future version of the protagonist who is trying to prevent their present from happening by changing the events of the past, even if that means they're essentially erased. The only thing I didn't ful...

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Kathleen March
11:40 Jun 28, 2020

That helps. In a short story, the confusion is harder to decipher. I could see it in a story that is actually part of a larger piece, like a novel. In other words, I would have wanted to see the unknowns revealed. Of course that is a personal preference only. Please do not take it as a negative comment.

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