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Contemporary Fiction Suspense

This story contains themes or mentions of mental health issues.

The mailbox door had fallen to the ground. It lay on the grass looking up at the row of black metallic boxes, all other three screwed securely into their wooden posts. A neighbor had come by and zip locked it back into place but now it only hung like some large black medallion on a very skinny torso. When Joanna drove by to collect her mail she needed to get out of her car, remove the assortment of bills and brochures and wrestle the detached door back into place. It was time to replace the whole damn thing, even the box itself jiggled because of it’s rusted screws. I’ll get a new one tomorrow, one of those double sided ones so if I’m walking I don’t need to step into the street to retrieve the mail. Yes, tomorrow will be just fine, she thought, and got back into her rattling old Buick to drive the quarter mile back to her house, down the gravel crunching driveway, the open window’s breeze fluttering her gray hair, the unsnapped seatbelt alarm shouting at her.  

Once inside, she dumped the mail and the small bag of produce she had bought at the farmers market on the old butcher block counter in the kitchen and attended to the yipping white dog scratching at her feet. Okay, okay Zoe, I wasn’t gone that long, take it easy, and she bent down to give the little demanding dog a belly rub.  

After putting up the teakettle, she sorted the pile of mail into her usual three piles, keep and read, recycle, and shred. She held one envelope over the piles, and hesitated as to its placement. Hmmm, what is this?

It was a small squarish white envelope, used more for greeting cards than letters or bills and it was addressed to “You.” No address, no return address, and no stamp. Must’ve been hand delivered, she realized. Maybe it was that neighbor (what was her name again?), that tried reattaching her mailbox door. Joanna fanned herself with the envelope, listening for the sounds of powder or anything else shaking inside. You can’t be too careful these days, she said out loud. No discernible sound came from the letter. Okay then, and she pulled open the junk draw and removed the pearl handed letter opener her husband had given her years ago. See Honey, I’m still using it, she said out loud to nobody. She slit open the envelope with a single flourish, holding it at arms distance just in case any white powder might escape. Nothing. Nothing except a neatly written and folded paper which was addressed to a Mr. Waypole. Oh goodness, Joanna said, this isn't even for me, feeling guilty for having opened it. Well, it wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t addressed to anyone except “you,” that could be anyone, she rationalized. Well, it is open now, so. . .why not read it? It read:

   Dear Mr. Waypole, I have tried in the past to be friendly and patient but the incessant barking of your dogs must stop. 

I understand that they need to be outside to do their business, but leaving them out for hours at a time is just unacceptable. They bark nonstop. The noise laws in this State are pretty specific as to barking dogs and I’ve enclosed a copy of them that I’ve printed off the State’s website. I would hate for this incident to escalate. Thank you for your attention in this matter. 

And it was signed, “Me.”

Well, clearly this was put into the wrong mailbox and I’m not familiar with a Mr. Waypole in the neighborhood and I don’t hear any obnoxious barking dogs either. Very curious indeed, she thought and after a moment, placed the letter in her keep pile.

The second letter came a week later. It too was addressed to “You,” and had no other information.  

My sleep is being disturbed, it read, and I have contacted the authorities. As I’ve said before, there are laws to prevent this kind of aural abuse. Please be advised that you will be contacted in short order as to your disregard in this matter, and again it was signed “Me.”

What the heck, Joanna said, who is this person? There are no dogs here, there’s no Mr. Waypole. What’s going on, it’s getting really odd and a little bit creepy too?

Joanna decided to take both letters (she was happy she had decided to save the first one) down to the police station in town. She had never been there before, she had never had reason to, and she felt a little intimidated, like a child entering the Principle’s office at school. A burly smiling officer, seated behind an elevated desk greeted her, “good morning Ma’am, can I help you?”

“Yes please,” Joanna answered, “I’ve been receiving some very troubling letters lately and I don't believe, actually I know, that they are not for me.”

“What kind of letters,” the officer asked. 

“Well, they are addressed to a

Mr. Waypole, who I don’t know, and their tone is somewhat threatening.”

“How so? Do you have them with you, and have you tried contacting the Post Office? If they were delivered to you by mistake, I’m sure they could help you. . .”

“They are not addressed,” Joanna interrupted the officer,

“here, look,” and she pulled the two letters out of her purse and handed them to the man.  

He picked up a pair of gold metal glasses, put them on, one handed, while reaching for the papers with his other hand. “Let’s see here.”  

There was a moment of silence as the officer read and Joanna watched him doing so. Her expression one of anticipation that he’d have a simple answer.  

“Do you own any dogs, Ma’am,”he asked.

“I do, yes, one, but she’s not a barker and I do not hear any barking in the area. I’m really at a loss to know what to think here. Do you have any reports or complaints being filed? It sounds like he or she was going to file one.”

“What was that name again,?”the officer asked as he turned towards the computer and tapped a few keys. He lowered his glasses, making him look even more like that school principal Joanna had imagined earlier, and stared at the screen.

“Mr. Waypole,” Joanna said. 

“No first name?”

“No.”

“Hmm, well. . . I don’t see any entries with that name,” he said, still looking at the monitor, eyes darting left and right as he read. 

“May I suggest, you simply write a response on the envelope, saying return to sender, or delivered by mistake no such person here.”

“It had to be hand delivered, there was no other information on it,” she reminded him, “it didn’t come through the Post

Office, someone purposely placed those letters in my mailbox.”

“I understand, but be that as it may, I would still write a note. Maybe that person is just confused.”

“Or crazy,” Joanna blurted out, feeling the frustration building, her face reddening, her hands trembling. 

“Please just try,” he repeated, “and please let us know if you receive any further information, or more importantly another letter. Before you go, please fill out this form with your contact information and a brief description of your issue, so that we can follow up,” the officer said. 

The next day, while walking Zoe, Joanna approached her new mailbox with a little trepidation. She pulled her old iPhone from a pocket, poked the flashlight icon, opened the door and shone the light into the dark interior. She thought it wise, given recent events, not to stick her hand blindly inside. Her fingers gathered the small pile of papers and she saw at once the word “You” scrawled and smeared in thick black marker on the envelope. Whereas before “You” had been neatly written in blue ink, this “You” screamed anger and maybe a touch of insanity. Joanna gathered Zoe’s leash in her hand and pulled the dog closer, all the time looking around for any movement. She walked briskly back to the house, feeling very exposed as the mailbox receded into the distance and her breaths came faster, deeper and more fearfully.

Inside, she locked the door and sat down on the little white footstool she kept in the kitchen.

She still had the envelopes clenched in her left hand and she dropped them on the floor as if getting an electrical shock. The junk draw was just over her head and she craned her arm up and pulled out the letter opener. She felt better just having the cool sharp instrument in her hand.  

“Now what,? she said, her voicing catching, “now what?”

Open it, her inner voice said, open it now. She slid the blade across the envelope with a whoosh and removed a single business card sized piece of blue paper emblazoned with one word: Warfarin. Joanna knew that to be an anticoagulant. James, her late husband had been taking the blood thinner to prevent blood clots after having had a mild stroke years earlier. It was also used as a rat poison so the pests bleed to death. “Okay,” she said, “this is officially out of control.” This was a threat, no doubt about it. Whoever was doing this was alluding to poisoning the offending dogs he or she heard in their head. Only thing was, there were no barking dogs, only Zoe, and she rarely barked. Maybe the poison was for herself. Maybe the writer had had enough of being ignored and was planning on somehow poisoning her. This had to stop! Joanna picked up the newly opened envelope and paper, stood up and pulled a small ziplock bag from a drawer and dropped both pieces into it. 

“This came today,” Joanna said

loudly, brandishing the plastic bag in the air, for the officer to

see. “Look at this,” flapping the bag, “this whole ridiculous misunderstanding is escalating and now I’m scared. Can’t you do something about this? I brought it in because I thought you could check for fingerprints or something. You can do that,

right?” Joanna realized she probably looked a bit crazy herself, her normally calm demeanor collapsing under the stress of potential violence, hair askew, eyes red and swollen,

voice loud and shaking.  

“Can you,?” she repeated. 

“Well Ma’am. . , the police officer stammered.

“And for God’s sake, stop Ma’aming me, just do your job!”

“Alright, this does seem to have taken a turn into a darker area, but the odds are, you’re perpetrator will not be in our database, highly unlikely it’s a known criminal or offender. You’ve been handling the evidence so I’d like to get a sample of your fingerprints, so we can eliminate them on the samples,” the officer said. “If you’d be so kind as to follow me

to the Identification/Crime

Unit we can get that done right now and then we can proceed.”

Her prints were taken in the forensic lab using a digital scanner and the envelopes and paper were dusted then also scanned.  “This will take awhile.” the tall, thin lab coat said, 

Joanna had decided to wait at the station till the results arrived and two hours later the large officer from the desk called her back into the lab. He motioned for her to have a seat in one of the blue plastic chairs that lined the side wall of the lab. 

“Okay,” he began, “we’ve checked the papers you brought in and I’m sorry to tell you that the only prints on them were yours. The Perp was probably wearing gloves.”

“So, now what,” Joanna asked.

“Well, there’s nothing more we can really do at this point, except have a car drive by your home a few times a day for awhile. Again, at this point nothing has actually happened. Maybe the Perp is just trying to scare you.”

“But it’s not me! I’m not the one with the barking dogs, I’m not this Waypole person, I’m not the one ignoring his requests for quiet,” she said in exasperation. “Don’t you see, I’m being victimized by a mistake.”

“Try writing back and see what happens, it’s probably all a mistake,” the officer said soothingly.  

The next morning, Joanna awoke surprisingly late, eleven thirty. Oh my, Zoe needs to go out, why didn’t you wake me little girl? But Zoe wasn’t at the foot of her bed as usual and wasn’t whimpering to be let out. Joanna padded down the carpeted steps to the kitchen, expecting to find a large mess and a very apologetic dog, so unlike her to do her business in the house, she thought. There in the middle of the kitchen floor lay the little white dog covered in blood, looking for all the world like a discarded Santa hat. Johanna screamed and continued to scream as she pulled the letter opener from

Zoe’s belly and fell to the floor besides her.  

She awoke in a hospital bed, restraints fastened at her wrists and ankles. A young nurse

in blue scrubs and mask was adjusting a clear bag of fluid feeding into her left arm.  

“Where am I,?” Joanna croaked, through dry lips.  

“Well, good morning, you’re in the hospital, you’ve had a very bad fall. My name is Kim and I’m here to help you. Would you like some ice chips?”

“Yes please. Oh my God, Zoe,” she yelled, suddenly remembering the scene in the kitchen. “Zoe! Oh no no no no.”

Joanna writhed against her restraints, crying and flailing.

“Please calm down Joanna,”

Kim said, “the doctor will be in to see you shortly and will explain everything,” and with that said, she injected a mild sedative into Joanna’s tensed arm. Joanna went limp, bruising starting to purple at her restrained wrists. 

She opened her eyes, blinked several times to clear her vision and focused on a white coated bald man with a gray beard.  

“Hello Joanna, I’m Doctor Berger, how are you feeling?”

“Sore, parched and confused,” she said. 

“I’ll get you some pain medication, water and answers for all those things,” he said. “What do you remember about what happened?”

“I came home from the Police

Station and found my dog, my Zoe. . ,” she began to cry, “dead,

she was dead, murdered, blood everywhere.”

“Anything else?”

“I must’ve have passed out. I woke up here.”

“Yes. It was a lucky thing a patrol car was cruising the area. They heard your screams and found you. Do you remember that?”

“No,” Joanna answered.  

“Well, when they found you, you were screaming, cursing and wildly belligerent, yelling something about waypole and barking dogs and payback. Not sure what waypole is. You were covered in blood and screaming how much you hated that barking dog and how now you’d only need to kill one more.”

Joanna blinked, trying to process what she was being told.  

“But, but, I loved my Zoe.” Joanna whimpered, closing her eyes tightly and shaking her head.

“Well, part of you did not. Have you ever heard of dissociative identity disorder, Joanna? What they used to call multiple personalities? This other you lives inside your head and can take over your body at anytime. It’s usually triggered by some calamitous life event. Maybe the death of a loved one?”

“James,” she said. I do sometimes have blackouts, but I attributed them to migraines, not body snatchers. So it was me

writing threatening notes to myself? My other self?”

“Apparently, and this other self seems to harbor a delusion that there are dogs barking all the time. Drove her over the edge, I suppose.”

“So, what happens now, I can’t stay shackled forever.”

“Of course not, we’ll get you into therapy and on a medication regimen. We’ll have to deal with her, you’re darker self, as well. It’s a literal meeting of the minds.  

August 26, 2023 02:26

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2 comments

Mary Bendickson
09:11 Aug 28, 2023

Whoa! Don't know if I actually liked this one. Cardinal rule among crime thriller writers: you don't kill the dog 🐕!

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Andrew Fruchtman
11:39 Aug 28, 2023

I know (I have two dogs) and I was conflicted whether I should go there but sometimes these things just write themselves. I’ll blame it on my dark side. In any case I truly appreciate you taking the time to read and comment, I’ll try and regain your good graces next time.

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