The Book Of The Dead Letter Office

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

21 comments

Urban Fantasy Mystery Adventure

To whom it may concern,” the letter started. “Within the enclosed book lies a treasure trove of adventures beyond your wildest imagination. Its spells within hold the key to many locked doors in time. Use it wisely and be warned: Not all outcomes are favourable.”

“What on Earth is this nonsense,” Captain Richard Lyle muttered.

“I say, Jonty,” he called across the small room. “I’ve just opened one of the dead letter packages that came in this morning and discovered this extraordinary letter inside.”

“Who is it addressed to, Dickie?” His ex-army pal asked – trying to help.

“That’s just it. There is no address, just the words FOR YOUR EYES ONLY handwritten on the wrapping.”

“Sounds secretive,” Jonty hazarded a guess.

“Indeed,” Richard agreed. “I’m not totally convinced on its authenticity. Ever since that debacle last year surrounding the letter allegedly sent from the Romanov’s Grand Duchess Anastasia, we’ve been instructed to destroy everything of similar substance.”

“Oh,” Jonty’s eyebrows raised in inquisitiveness. “Anastasia wrote it from beyond the grave, did she?” Flippantly asking.

“Claiming that she had survived the Romanov family assassination and had been so depressed by her ordeal that she tried to take her own life.”

“Wasn’t content with surviving being shot, then?” Jonty sarcastically quipped. “Better to die from her own hand, than live as a survivor, was it?”

“She ended up in a sanitarium.”

“There’s a surprise. Wasn’t believed, then,” Jonty surmised with a passing comment.

“I must have read hundreds of fake letters from illegitimate children of dead kings and flase predictors of the future.”

“Sounds more interesting than mine,” Jonty quipped. “All that lands on my desk are undeliverable Valentine’s cards with the same sickly Roses are red, Violets are blue verses. How are you so fortunate, Dickie?”

“Mere chance, Jonty. Take those spears propped up against the far wall, for instance. They arrived from Africa assigned to me with just a tag addressed, To the man from London with the tall hat that helped my village fight the lions. So, here they remain, awaiting someone unaware of a sincere gift from a grateful village chief, to claim them.”

“They remind me of the Zulu spears depicted in the Battle of Isandlwana, by Charles Fripp.”

“Yes, I remember it. We saw it together at the Officer’s Club before it was mothballed. Damn good piece.”

“Indeed, Dickie. Do you think we’ll ever be immortalised in a painting?”

“I’d rather not remember what we went through, Jonty. I’m much happier here at the Dead Letter Office with you helping me analyse the workings of the human mind. Leave the war where it is. In the past. No need to analyse the horror.”

“Dickie?”

“Forgive me, Jonty. I compare running the Post Office’s Dead Letter Office to being like a belated psychiatrist listening to people’s issues long after they’re gone. But I can’t help them resolve anything except file the letter in the dead letter draw of the dead letter office of the Royal Mail’s living headquarters.”

“Perhaps, there should be a museum for all the lost mail,” Jonty suggested.

“But if we’re reading them, Jonty. They’re not really lost, are they. They’re just existing in some form of correspondence limbo.”

“Neither dead nor alive.” Jonty commented. “Nowhere to send them on to, then?”

“I’d happily forward them to the correct recipients, if only there were any legible names or addresses written on them. Take this letter, for instance. For Your Eyes Only. No name, no address, just a simple note with a cryptic message.”

“Whose eyes doth it refer to?”  Jonty asked in a Shakespearian manner.

“That is a mystery, Jonty. An enigma of sorts. The rest of the letter appears to be either a set of instructions or a caveat lector, a let the reader beware type of message.”

“May I see it please, Dickie?”

With several mutterings of surprise and intrigue, Jonty studied the contents of the two-page letter. When he had completed scrutinising it, he handed it back to his superior.

“You need to destroy this right away, dear chap. Along with that book.”

Jonty’s worried words quivered in their instruction. Something had clearly shaken him.

“Whatever for, man?”

“I don’t know, Dickie. I just had a feeling rush over me giving me goosebumps. Like that time in Alexandria, after we supervised the installation of that massive cannon that scared the locals. You thought it a great photo opportunity for the men, but I felt something was off – like an electrical surge running through my body. So, I talked you out of it, remember?”

“Yes, instead, Captain Williams decided to organise his own party and led a group of men to pose atop the cannon.”

“Right into the crosshairs of a Turkish sniper,” Jonty recalled.

“And there ended the poor blighter’s career.”

“There’s something about that book, Dickie. It doesn’t smell right. Have you looked inside it?”

“Yes, it appears to be a compilation of short stories, I believe - judging by the handwriting and illustrations in it.”

Energetically flipping through the book, Richard released an additional note written on what appeared to be folded papyrus paper - inserted between two pages. As he unfolded it, specks of sand fell from its inside crease to the floor.

“I say, Jonty. Papyrus and sand. Where does that remind you of?”

“Bloody Suez Canal.”

“Indeed, Jonty. Was rather exciting and challenging times, wot? Long live the Fifty-Third, hey?”

“Long live the Taffys, Dickie, old boy.”

“Sorry bit of business we had to take care of at Suvla Bay.”

“It was indeed. The Aussies copped it worse than us, though. No way to fight a war under those conditions.”

“Yes, disease and the weather took from us what Johnny Turk couldn’t. Left with only fifteen percent of our fighting capabilities. It was no wonder we were withdrawn to Egypt. Yes, Captain Jonathon Smith, fellow survivor, my old friend. You and I are lucky to have lived to tell the tale.”

“Except, no-one will understand what we went through.”

“No, Jonty. Unfortunately.”

Taking a breath, Richard focussed his attentions back to the mysterious letter.

“Reminiscing aside. Let’s get back to current business and the contents herein.”

“Agreed.”

“It says here, Jonty. That the ancient tongue transcription within this note is a kind of key to exit unfavourable situations.”

“Unfavourable what?” Jonty cogitated, while scratching his head.

“Again, a cryptic piece of nonsense. Furthermore, it instructs that the journey must begin at chapter one and subsequent journeys should be followed using incremental chapters.”

“So, chapter one, chapter two, etc.” Jonty flippantly repeated. “It’s hardly selling sand to the Arabs, is it.”

“Quite. Difficulty level of understanding equals elementary. But reading further on, it ends with a warning not to skip a chapter or jump either forwards or back. I quote, For each chapter is a moment in time. Mix not, leave not, bring back not, for fear of calamity.”

Curiosity took over Jonty, causing him to open the book at chapter one.

“Dickie, take a look at this. It’s Dinosaurs!” Jonty exclaimed in a high-pitched voice. “The first drawings are of dinosaurs.”

Beckoning for Jonty to hand him back the book, he placed in onto his desk – still open at the page Jonty had just read.

“Is it some kind of handwritten encyclopaedia?”

“Read the accompanying text to me, Jonty.”

“I’m afraid that’s not possible, old chum. I missed the introduction to hieroglyphics at the academy.”

“Let me see.”

“Dragging the book to get a closer look, Richard accidentally dislodged a jewel-encrusted amulet embedded into the back cover of the book. Picking it out of its leather-bound cradle, he held it in his hand and studied its detail, before focussing back on the book.

“Jonty,” Richard lightly admonished. “I do wish you wouldn’t tease me. It’s plain to see that this book is written in the King’s English.”

Sidling up to Richard, Jonty looked at the opened page and repeated his recent observation.

“Beats me, Dickie.”

“That’s enough, Jonty. You’ve had your fun.”

Placing the amulet on his desk, Richard cradled the book in his hands, then resumed his reading, but to his surprise, he also couldn’t make out any words among the plethora of symbols neatly imprinted within its pages.”

“By George, Jonty. Either you have used the power of suggestion to blind me to the words in this book, or it is written in Egyptian hieroglyphics. Extraordinary. I was sure it contained English words… somewhere.”

Quickly flipping through the pages in search of any decipherable text, proved fruitless and bewildering. Nothing but ancient emblems and symbolic code commonly associated with a bygone civilisation, filled each page. Curious as to the amulet’s inclusion to the book, Jonty inquisitively picked it up.

“This is curious, Dickie, old boy. Do you think this is real gold?”

“If it is, Jonty, then those shiny jewels surrounding that eye in the centre, must be worth a small fortune.”

Jonty was just about to put the amulet back down on the desk, when he glanced at the open page of the book.

“That’s very strange. The book is written in English,” he contradictorily stated.

Confused by Jonty’s statement, Richard looked at the open page, again.

“Where?” He demanded to know.

Without saying anything, Jonty ran his index finger across and down the page – illustrating that he could read its entire contents. Clumsily dropping the amulet to the floor, Jonty ceased his pointing.

“Jonty?”

“Gobbledygook, now. I was reading it, now, all of a sudden, I feel like an illiterate.”

Stooping to retrieve the amulet from the floor, Jonty’s body visibly reverberated in mild shock, as he glanced once more at the open page.

“My goodness,” Jonty announced. “Dickie!” he yelled.

“Yes, I can see it,” Richard concurred.  “One does not need a degree in Archaeology to recognise a Rosetta-type Stone, when you see it.”

Placing his hand on the edge of the amulet, Richard decided to test his impromptu theory.

“Let’s see if we can both read it now.”

To their surprise, the book instantly transformed into a rendition of English words, where both men could clearly read and understand the text drawn on the pages. However, as much as he was enchanted by the ability to read ancient text, Jonty was still a bit confused as to the purpose of the book.

“I’m still not clear what this book is for? To be more specific. Why has it been written?”

“I can only postulate on its purpose,” Richard replied. “However, at first glance, I believe that each chapter holds an account of the author’s adventures, and for some obscure reason, whoever they are, they have requested that the reader vocally recite the ending prose or incantation to garner some literary signature of authenticity. In layman’s terms, the bloody writer wants their words read out loud.”

“That’s a bit conceited, isn’t it, Dickie? It sounds like the author clearly has an ego that they’re conceitedly proud of.”

“It is my opinion that ego holds no social graces, Jonty. It is merely a sense of haughtiness bordering on arrogance. Pride - on the other hand - is a sense of satisfaction, and although the two are interrelated, pride comes from accomplishment. It is not a sin – as some religious scholars would have you believe. It is a personal reward. A self-congratulatory emotion. Whereas ego, is a hunger yearning for acknowledgement. We are all born with ego, Jonty. Some of us just need it stroked more than others, and I suspect reciting the last part of each chapter is a way of caressing the author’s vanity. So, without further ado, In for a penny, in for a pound as they say, wot?”

“I’m with you, old bean. But what do we do?”

“It says here that the amulet must be draped around the neck of the orator and the key – the papyrus text – must be somewhere stored on their person – not to be misplaced.”

Patting himself down, Richard settled on a place to store the note.

“A pocket will suffice, I believe.”

Tucking the folded papyrus into his jacket pocket, Richard continued reading the instructions.

When in position, it says. That must mean the amulet. When in position,” Richard repeated. “Recite the final sentence in the current chapter. Yes, there it is, below the sketch of what I believe is a Tyrannosaurus Rex.”

Richard paused, as he appeared to be working out a calculation in his head.

“It’s extraordinary, Dickie.”

“What is?”

“Well, this book looks, smells, and feels ancient; yet the T-Rex - or more accurately, the first remains of a T-Rex - was discovered only twenty years ago in North America. By all appearances, this book pre-dates that discovery by at least… three thousand years.”

“Yes, an intriguing observation, Jonty… Right!” Richard exclaimed – snapping out of his introverted calculating. “Here goes, then.”

Slowly with articulation, Richard recited the words.

It is yesterday,

I know tomorrow.

After all,

who am I?

Yesterday is Osiris,

tomorrow is Ra.”

Waiting as several moments passed without incident, Richard’s suspicions of it all being nonsense looked to be proven. Nothing stirred, nothing happened, and not a sound emanated from the room.

“Anything?” Jonty whispered, not realising why.

“Do you hear it?”

“Hear what, Dickie?”

“Nothingness, Jonty. Absolute stillness.”

“And what are we listening for?” Jonty whispered once more.

“I don’t know, Jonty. Like, I don’t even know why we’re whispering.”

“Then, shall we move on to the next chapter?”

Richard cut Jonty off at the end of his question by raising an index finger – as if to say, Did you hear that?

“Hear what?”

“Listen.”

Straining to listen, Jonty was about to break the eerie silence with another query, when a distant unknown animal’s shriek terrified every quiet corner of the room.

“What on Earth?” Jonty asked.

Sensing a small rumbling vibration sweeping across the floor, Richard pointed to the ground.

“Feel that?”

“Trains passing below in the tunnels?”

“We’re not above any underground railway.”

“Dickie!” Jonty jumped back, yelling in surprise. “The eye!”

Pointing at the amulet resting on Richard’s chest, Jonty brought to attention the fact that the eye of the amulet was glowing brightly.

“How extraordinary,” Richard commented, as the eye brightened further to project an image onto the far wall. “It appears to be one of those silent films they show at the Regent Street Polytechnic Institute.”

“Except, this one is in colour,” Jonty pointed out. “And even more extraordinary is that there is sound coming from the projection on the wall. Do you think we’ve uncovered some new technology?”

“I suspect not,” said Richard. “I believe that this is a far older technology, beyond the manual craft and cunning skill imaginations of Homer and Hesiod.”

“Odd time to bring up Greek poets, Dickie. But then again, it’s all Greek to me. Missed the classics class as well at the academy. One thing I know for sure is that projection is most definitely not of Greece. It looks like something from another world – perhaps, another time.”

“And it has perspective, Jonty. In photographers’ vernacular, there is depth of field.”

“By George, you’re right. It’s as if one could just step into it.”

Jonty cautiously approached the projection, then gingerly reaching out to touch it, he recoiled in utter surprise.

“Jonty?”

“Well, whatever it is, I can’t touch it.”

“Whatever do you mean?”

“It’s not solid, tangible.”

“Not!? That’s preposterous!”

“I’ll show you.”

Puffing his chest up as he inhaled a breath of courage, Jonty stepped into the projection, walked several feet into what appeared to be jungle fauna, then stepped back into the room.

“See?”

“This is fantastic, Jonty!” Richard’s excited response brought a wide smile to his face. “Show me again.”

Obliging, Jonty once more stepped through the portal and into the projected image. Performing a little happy jig, he let out an exuberant cry, then waved for Richard to join him.”

“Come on in, dear chap. The water’s fine,” Jonty’s invitation loudly rang out. Taking a step forward, Richard was immediately halted by a loud cracking sound echoing around Jonty’s new environment - silencing the other noises. It was like the breaking sound a large twig would make when stepped upon by a heavy weight. Jonty’s smile quickly transformed into alarm, as he looked upwards at something approaching him. Without hesitating, he reactively started back toward the portal, but tripped on a log.

“I’m fine,” he reassured Richard. “Bloody clumsy of me, wot?”

Attempting to get back to his feet, Jonty was suddenly flattened to the floor again, then unceremoniously dragged from Richard’s view.

“JONTY!” Richard screamed.

Thinking quickly, Richard grabbed the book from his desk and ran towards the portal.

“I’m coming, Jonty!” He yelled. “Hang on!”

Just as Richard passed through the portal, it began to close. It had reduced to the circumference of a Victorian-era sized play hoop - like the ones that came with a stick to roll them along the playground – when a hand reached back through the shrinking gateway, grabbed the two spears, then pulled them through - just as the portal vanished, leaving the room as it was – sans the two work colleagues.

“Dickie!” Came the distant cry through the tall jungle canopy.

“JONTY!” I’m coming, old chum! Hold on!”

With the book gripped tightly under one arm and the two spears slung over his other shoulder, Richard disappeared into the green-covered foreign world in hot pursuit of his friend’s fading cry for help.

 

TO BE CONTINUED…

August 23, 2023 11:23

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

21 comments

Amanda Lieser
02:23 Oct 06, 2023

Hi Chris! What a splendidly, cinematic piece! And more to the point you add a day to be continued so I’m excited to see where this goes. I felt completely immersed from the very first paragraph, and I loved all of the vivid descriptions that you included. Your dialogue was punchy and perfectly timed. I also appreciated these interesting characters. I can’t wait to see you where they end up next!!

Reply

Chris Campbell
14:06 Oct 06, 2023

Thanks, Amanda. I too see this as a cinema piece. There will be more to come with these two. Their appearance in my tales, has raised the question of whether I should create a novel surrounding the book. Thanks for your great feedback.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mary Bendickson
17:31 Sep 01, 2023

Thanks for liking my Killer Nashville. So far behind on reading not gotten to this one yet.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Kevin Logue
16:52 Aug 29, 2023

You never disappoint! Another brilliantly crafted, character rich, dialogue heavy, comedic rump. Brilliant good sir.

Reply

Chris Campbell
23:45 Aug 29, 2023

Thanks, Kevin. The next cliffhanger is coming soon. Glad you liked it.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Delbert Griffith
09:51 Aug 25, 2023

Great fun, Chris! It reminds me of the plethora of time-travel movies and books, which are always fun to watch. I think you did a fantastic job with dialogue here; it's difficult to get everything in when you have a dialogue-heavy tale. I really enjoyed the banter, their backstories, and their current situation. It all made for a rich world that we, the readers, can step into and feel like we're there. This immersive experience just made reading the tale even better. The spears were a nice touch. Introduce the spears, then bring them in lat...

Reply

Chris Campbell
23:44 Aug 29, 2023

Thanks, Delbert. I plan on creating a romp through the most memorable moments in time with this. A kind of The Mummy meets Jumanji meets Indiana Jones type of story. Hopefully, it will work.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Judith Jerdé
04:07 Aug 25, 2023

Okay, I didn't see “to be continued” coming. Your story is very entertaining and your use of dialogue between characters is flawless.

Reply

Chris Campbell
04:50 Aug 25, 2023

Thanks, Judith. Much appreciated. I wanted to see if writing a series of cliffhangers over an unspecified period would be interesting to the reader. A bit like the old days of Saturday morning serial movies in cinemas of yesteryear.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Calvin Kirby
15:14 Nov 22, 2023

Chris, I loved the story. It is indeed worth a novel! Your use of descriptive dialogue is fabulous. I can almost see the next chapter unfolding with Richard rescuing Jonty from the jaws of death. Very fine writing.

Reply

Chris Campbell
00:54 Nov 23, 2023

Thanks, Cal. I'm edging closer to mapping it all out. May have another installment here before then.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Howard Halsall
07:22 Sep 01, 2023

Hey Chris, I can see how you’ve altered the characters’ relationship since your last version and I think it’s got a better balance now. Well done for an entertaining story; I look forward to your next instalment. Take care HH

Reply

Chris Campbell
07:45 Sep 01, 2023

Howard, Thanks for re-reading it and for your great feedback. Much appreciated.

Reply

Howard Halsall
09:16 Sep 01, 2023

No problem, Chris, Have a great weekend HH :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Carol Boeth
22:44 Aug 30, 2023

I could easily be any of the characters in the romp. Thank you

Reply

Chris Campbell
00:42 Aug 31, 2023

Thanks for the feedback, Carol. Stay tuned for more upcoming cliffhangers.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Rebecca Miles
05:49 Aug 25, 2023

Despite the dialogue only form this has tremendous visual force which really ups the humour. The whole concept is great of course; who won't be drawn to the ironies of the Dead Letter Office employees off on their jolly then madly surreal bringing-history -to -life jaunts. It's mad and that's the fun; it plays out like the Python's twin peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro skit. When you had the scene with the spears early on and they were grabbed and brandished later, I had Chapman pop into my mind, clamber- destroying Cleese's gentleman mountaineer ...

Reply

Chris Campbell
06:12 Aug 25, 2023

Rebecca, Thanks for the great feedback. I've just viewed the sketch. Had forgotten it long ago. Yours is the second comparison to Python. Wasn't my intention, but it's along the lines of my humour, so thank you. This first installment kept the humour to a minimum but hopefully, it gets funnier from here on.

Reply

Rebecca Miles
06:23 Aug 25, 2023

Glad I sent you back to it! More humour always welcome in installment number 2.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
18:13 Aug 23, 2023

Jolly good old chap! Great fun. I dont know why but halfway through i started to think of it as a Monty Python sketch with Cleese and Palin. Reads very well, nothing caught my attention as being intrusive. You do have an extra quotation mark in the last line of dialogue though, hope that helps!

Reply

Chris Campbell
23:39 Aug 23, 2023

Thanks, Derrick. I've corrected the extra quote issue. Your Monty Python comment is a great reminder for me to add more comedy into this piece. My aim is to write a series of cliffhangers that may add up to a novel out of this. Thanks for the feedback.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.