25 comments

Horror

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

The letter box clangs, and I abandon the most important meal of the day to investigate the post. Lifting four envelopes from the hallway carpet, I shuffle them square with each other and return to the breakfast bar.


Bank statement. Check. Mailshot from Greenpeace. Check. Pre-election propaganda from the local independent candidate. Check. Good News From Winners Club International. What? Who is R. Thompson? Rachel? Richard? Did they live here before me? What have they won?


The toaster pops as I pour fresh orange juice into my favourite glass. The citrus tang catches in my nose and I know the toothpaste will mess with the flavour, but I want the vitamin C. I reach for the butter. It’s the perfect consistency for spreading – one of my favourite things about summer. Even before I raise the kitchen blind, strong amber light is brightening my morning.


I smile as I chew on my toast. The silky richness of the Lurpak on my tongue reminds me why I switched from sunflower spread. OK, it was also because butter is actually healthier. Not a lot of people seem to know that. I brush a few crumbs off my teal blouse. No grease stains. Check.


Stacking up my dishes by the sink, I stick the three pieces of mail addressed to me into my handbag and slip on my cream stilettoes. I glance at myself in the mirror. Hair neat. Check. Makeup smudge-free. Check. Blouse smooth. Check. Skirt straight. Check. It’s time to head out for my interview.


I consider dropping the fourth envelope into the bin, but something about the stylish blue and green colour scheme and the golden trophy logo makes me stop. The mailing seems luxurious: high-quality paper, none of that cheap glossy stuff that screams junk mail. I’ll deal with R. Thompson later. Perhaps a simple ‘Not Known At This Address. Return To Sender’ will quell my desire to act on it in some other way.


The interview goes well. Very well, actually. Warm handshakes all round. Check. Big smile from the Head of the Foundation. Check. Accompanied back to reception by the lady from HR. Check. I head home to wait for the call welcoming me aboard. Cocky attitude. Check.


The letter addressed to Rhonda, or Rupert, or Roy, perhaps, is still sitting in the kitchen. I pick it up and run my nails around the edges. It’s satisfyingly thick and makes an excellent fan as I flick it back and forth, creating a cooling breeze on my face. What have they won?


I flip open my laptop on the living room coffee table and drop R. Thompson’s letter beside me on the sofa. No new emails. Not even junk. Maybe the fancy letter is junk. Maybe it isn’t? I run my forefinger over the seal. The corner wasn’t pressed square by whoever stuck it, there’s a tiny gap. I catch my nail in it. The temptation is too much. What has Ruth won?


I lift the stylish envelope onto my lap and slide my French tip into the tiny opening. The glue gives way easily and there’s a satisfying peeling sound as the contents are revealed. Blue and green tones, matching the outside. Check. Printed full bleed. Check. Onto thick, textured cardstock. Check.


Pulling the contents free of their prison, I unfold the letter and scan the large print. Bronze foil lettering. Check.


CONGRATULATIONS WINNERS CLUB INTERNATIONAL MEMBER!

YOU HAVE WON THIS MONTH’S BRONZE PRIZE!

YOU ARE ONE STEP AWAY FROM CLAIMING ONE OF THE FOLLOWING AMAZING REWARDS:

1.     £50,000 IN CASH

2.     MATCHING HIS AND HERS ROLEX SKY DWELLER WATCHES

3.     A BRAND-NEW RANGE ROVER EVOQUE

SIMPLY TEAR OFF THE FORM BELOW, COMPLETE YOUR DETAILS, SELECT A PRIZE BY TICKING THE BOX OF YOUR CHOICE, AND RETURN IT IN THE ENCLOSED PREPAID ENVELOPE TO WINNERS CLUB INTERNATIONAL.


It sounds too good to be true. I run an internet search for ‘Winners Club International’. It has a website. Check. The online branding matches the letter. Check. There's a monthly prize draw for people who can afford the subscription fees. Check. There are different categories of prizes; the Bronze Prize comes in third after the Silver and Gold. Check. Members can anonymously gift their prizes to other people by entering the recipient’s name and address on the card instead of their own. Oooo.


There’s nothing to stop Robert or Roberta Thompson from giving his or her prize to me. I’m sure he or she is a generous person. And it’s not as if I can ever find him or her to deliver the letter.


I pick up my black ballpoint pen and tap the metallic lid against my front teeth. Stuff it! I’m going to claim the prize. If Rhys Thompson really wants his post, he should have set up a redirect, and if he’s forgotten about such an expensive subscription, he doesn’t really need the prize anyway. I, on the other hand, could do a lot with fifty grand in cash.


I tear off the form at the perforated line, then complete the white boxes with my own name and address. Before I can change my mind, I stick it in the prepaid envelope, lick the glue and press it down. The glue tastes funny, maybe it's dried out a bit. Job done – now I just have to put it in the post. Hang on. Maybe the company will email Rowan and thank him for his generosity towards his good friend, and then he’ll know what happened to his prize. Maybe I should read the small print.


I turn the letter over and hunt in my handbag for my glasses. The small print is really small.


Dear Becky, ah, it was Rebecca all along.

I hope this letter finds you well, at least to begin with. I know you will have rushed to post the form before reading this message. And that you may never read this message. But no matter. Seems a bit personal for a prize draw.


I have been broken since you left me at the altar last Christmas. You were colder than the frost that morning. I hardly think my minor indiscretions with your cousin were deserving of such public humiliation, and you have never so much as offered an apology. Your actions were even more damaging than the diagnosis of an incurable, and potentially fatal, autoimmune disorder that I received in spring. This isn’t a genuine prize. What’s the point of the fake letter?


I have been accepted as a subject in an experimental treatment study. The foundation running the study is trying to recruit the only person in the country who has a sensible theory about how the condition might be treated. Your money is of no use to me, and while you have many connections, none of them are world class immunologists.


Your fate will come quicker than mine regardless. The glue on the return envelope was laced with a direct neurotoxin. It is fatal and fast acting. You won’t make it to the post box. I trust you sealed the envelope well.


Goodbye Rebecca.

See you in Hell.


My breathing becomes laboured, and I lose sensation down my left side. I clench and flex my hand to try to get the blood moving but my fingers don’t respond properly. I slump against the sofa cushions, drop the letter, and try to grab my mobile phone from the table, but it’s out of reach.


The landline phone rings and the answering machine picks up. I can’t get to it.


“Hi Clara, it’s Katie Redfern from the Five Leaves Foundation. We were very impressed with you today and would love to welcome you to the team. The interview was really just a formality. You're the only candidate whose research directly identifies and addresses the root cause of the condition, rather than just the symptoms. We look forward to working with you to develop a cure and believe that having you on board will bring our goal forward by decades. Many lives will be saved, and we are very excited. Please call me back as soon as you get this message to confirm that you accept the offer. All the best.”


The last few words are muffled. Have I really been poisoned?


My arms and legs are heavy. . . Check.

My heartbeat is slowing. . . . Check.

It’s hard to breathe. . . . . Check.

I can’t open my eyes. . . . . .Check.

August 19, 2023 23:16

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25 comments

Beth Jackson
01:00 Aug 28, 2023

Oh I so enjoyed this, Katharine! What a thrilling ending! Well written, beautifully paced and just a treat to read. Thanks for sharing! :-)

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08:37 Aug 28, 2023

Thank you Beth ☺️

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Myranda Marie
19:39 Aug 27, 2023

Oh, what a great twist!

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Ty Warmbrodt
18:15 Aug 27, 2023

Well crafted! I did not see that coming.

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Delbert Griffith
10:26 Aug 26, 2023

Very nice! A twist (the glue tastes funny) followed by another, more karmic, twist (develop a cure). The MC is how we think of scientist types: organized, logical, and a bit naive. That it all comes crashing down seems inevitable - at the end. Your misdirection (claim a prize) was clever. This is a well-written tale, my friend. I can see why you've been recognized so often on Reedsy. Cheers!

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11:12 Aug 26, 2023

Thank you so much for these kind words Delbert. I really appreciate you reading and taking the time to comment.

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Katy B
22:33 Aug 25, 2023

I love your horror stories, Katharine! Such a clever way to kill off a character; such a tragic ending knowing she was so close to getting her job. Thanks for sharing!

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09:31 Aug 26, 2023

Thank you Katy 😊 that's really good to hear. Did it come across that she was the same person who could have saved the guy who put the poison there?

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Kevin Logue
12:30 Aug 24, 2023

What a fantastically constructed story. Double twist and all. It was all sunshine and real butter there for a while and then, Bam. Brilliant. Never mess with a scorned lover who has nothing left to lose...unless of course you kill off that chance. Great idea, superbly executed.

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17:37 Aug 24, 2023

Thank you Kevin. I'm glad you liked the ending.

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Alex Sultan
08:26 Aug 24, 2023

Hey Katharine. I think this is a really well put together and polished story. I liked how you took the time to introduce Clara and her routine before getting into the conflict, and the hook felt pretty well done. Everything flows well, and her mentally and consistently checking everything off was a cool choice. I have a few notes. mostly small stuff Even before I raise the kitchen blind, strong (yellow) light is brightening my morning. -a synonym like golden/amber/etc might flow well Not a lot of people seem to know that. I brush a few c...

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18:00 Aug 24, 2023

Brilliant notes Alex, thank you! Changes made. I had stumbled over the yellow light when I wrote it and wanted a fix - I've gone with amber. I'm glad you found it polished - I've put quite a lot of time into it. I might do one more edit.

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Michał Przywara
22:31 Aug 22, 2023

Excellent, love it! It feels very tight, like no words are wasted, and the double twist at the end is fantastic. That she dies wasn't expected, but it's also not entirely a surprise, because of course "The glue tastes funny", and the Horror tag. But the second twist -- that she's the very specialist the jilted lover needed -- brilliant :) It's like instant karma. Doubly so, actually, considering Clara was basically stealing Rebecca's mail and prize -- and she too was instantly punished for it. There's a neat device that shows up, that we ...

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06:15 Aug 23, 2023

Thank you! I'm really glad those things came across. This is high praise indeed 😁

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Mary Bendickson
20:24 Aug 22, 2023

Liked the follow through with the organizational checks. The unknown messenger gets the checkmate.

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20:37 Aug 22, 2023

Thank you Mary - I'm glad you like the checks - I wasn't sure if they worked.

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09:09 Aug 22, 2023

This is flipping brilliant! Completely grabbed me and held me riveted the whole way through. Great suspei. I didn't guess about the poison. One of my favorite stories I've read on here. Excellent!

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20:13 Aug 24, 2023

Thank you Derrick, that is high praise indeed. I'm glad you didn't guess, I wasn't sure if the foreshadowing with the glue was subtle enough.

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Jon Casper
09:14 Aug 20, 2023

Present tense helps give the story immediacy and momentum. Good choice for this story. Opening sentence and paragraph set a tone, and the imagery is good, but they could have a little more punch. For example if you moved the first paragraph down just before "I smile as I chew on my toast." Then you start with the letter box clanging, which I feel is more gripping: something in the mail--intrigue. The recurring pondering of what the initial R stands for is amusing. Good depiction of the narrator's gradual obsession with the envelope, how s...

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16:21 Aug 20, 2023

Thank you Jon - I was wondering about how to fix the opening (I thought it was pretty bland) and you have given me a way in. Big edit done - ready for line notes if you have any time. Thanks again!

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Jon Casper
20:55 Aug 22, 2023

Here are my line notes: The citrus tang catches in my nose[,] and I know the toothpaste will mess with the flavour... The subtle references to being health conscious are a nice touch (vitamin C, butter instead of margarine, etc.). Also the narrator's methodical nature with mentally checking things off is a good detail. I consider dropping the fourth envelope into the bin, but something about the stylish blue and green colour scheme[X] and the golden trophy logo make me stop. -- I think this comma detracts from the flow of this sentence an...

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21:13 Aug 22, 2023

Brilliant notes Jon, thank you. Changes made. I'm really glad you like the checks. I wasn't sure if they were too quirky.

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Shaun Griffin
03:33 Aug 31, 2023

Enjoyed this nicely paced story. Loved the twist at the end.

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Jenni Bradshaw
15:16 Aug 30, 2023

For someone who appears to have such a rare intelligence in finding a cure for an "incurable, and potentially fatal, autoimmune disorder," she sure isn't intelligent enough to read the fine print. Everyone knows to READ THE FINE PRINT first! And for someone who had "minor indiscretions" with someone else, they sure are taking the repercussions majorly, causing major harm. Murdering his ex-fiance!? That's savage! Sounds like fate wanted him dead regardless, and wanted Rebecca to escape yet another threat to her life. Smart girl - definitely ...

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Paulette Lundy
13:00 Aug 27, 2023

I enjoyed reading your story. Your writing style is very clear, easy to follow.

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