BY JEAN-PAUL COTE
Copyright is held by the author.
“I TOLD you to get the hell off of this story! Drop It! Those were my words!” Cassidy’s editor yelled at her from across the desk. She just sat there and took it. What else could she do? Two years on the Star covering local council meetings did not give her the pull to stand up for herself.
She looked side-to-side. Why did his office walls have to be nothing but windows? Some of the reporters in the new pit looked away having received his barrage before. Others chuckled at the rookie making a stupid rookie mistake. Others saw it as her right-of-passage. Up until now she had been efficient and obedient. Now, she was one of the crew. The only thing left was the punishment.
One of the reporters gasped.
“What in the name of God’s Holy Ghost are you doing?!”
Cassie shrunk back as far as she could in her seat.
“Oh kid, if you want to hide, I have the perfect place for you.”
It had been a week. When she approached the postmaster about her request, he looked at her oddly and walked her down a dull, grey hallway, and then downstairs. In a corner was the dead letter room. He opened the door. There were stacks upon stacks of undeliverable mail. Some of it was sorted but at some point, the person had given up or maybe died and was buried under the massive pile. The postmaster said, “Enjoy yourself.” He closed the door and Cassie was left to her ‘research’.
The layer of dust told her how often people came down here. Underneath the stale odour seemed to be a slightly sweet smell that offended her even more. Cassie cleared off a chair and enough room on a desk to start her investigation. Someone’s decayed lunch accounted for some of the stench.
Tens, hundreds, thousands. Who knew how many letters she had already been through. As she read, more letters would come down a chute and add to her misery. In her insanity, Cassie had begun to sort the letters into plies but there was no rhyme or reason to these correspondences. She began to think that ‘undead letters’ would have been a better description as more and more rose from their graves.
Then she found a letter addressed to Annabelle. Annabelle. An unusual name from a forgotten time. The outside of the letter only included the town name and a local postmark.
Cassie opened the letter. “My dearest Annabelle,” it began. It was obviously a letter from her beau. He described a town he was visiting. The buildings, the parks, the flowers, statues, and on and on. Cassie’s interest waned with every word she read.
Then the writer spoke of watching a local girl. Fair-haired and freckled. Green eyes. He said he followed her for quite some time before he found the perfect place to take her and slit her throat.
Cassie stopped and read the letter from the top again. She looked at the signature. It only said “Charles”. The letter continued to describe how he had slit her throat, the blood pouring out onto the ground. How the fair-haired and freckled girl tried to scream but all she could do was gurgle blood out of the opening. As the girl died, he cut into her flesh to see what she hid inside. The writer was most curious about the freckles and if they continued all the way through. He described carefully and delicately slicing off each layer of skin like slowly peeling a vegetable. As thin as an onion skin, he said. Underneath each thickness, he revealed an ever-growing fascination with what was there. When he was done, Charles rolled the body down a slope into the mud bank of a river. He wrote how he was so anxious to see his sweet Annabelle again and then signed off.
Cassie dropped the letter and the envelope. What had she just read? Was it real? She picked up the envelope. The postmark was faded but it looked like it was from the 1920s. Was this a sick joke written by a disgruntled lover? Was it written to a kindred spirit?
Immediately, Cassie began to search for more Annabelle letters in the stack. She found another. “My dearest Annabelle” it began. This time Charles described a Victorian age home. An ornate iron gate opened to large flower gardens that surrounded mature trees. Elaborate woodwork. Large windows with lace curtains. He went on and on. And then he mentioned the fair-haired girl with freckles sitting on the porch. A girl of no more than twelve, Charles wrote. He approached her and took her for a walk. In the nearby park, he described slitting her throat, the gurgling of blood as she tried to scream, and the intricate carving he did to find out how deep those freckles went. When he was done he rolled the body into a bush, covered it with leaves, and left. He again merely signed off as “Charles”.
Again, it had a faded postmark from the 1920s.
This was incredible. This was beyond anything Cassie had expected to find. She searched through the pile for more. The distinctive writing made the letters easier to find.
There was another and then another. The story never changing a beat.
A newer letter. This time it was dated to the 1930s. The letter opened the same as the others, described a beautiful scene, and then the murder and mutilation of a fair-haired, freckled girl. Then there was another letter. And another. And another. All the same format, saying the same things, over and over again. “Charles” seemed most disappointed in one that he was unable to find a clear answer to his ‘hypothesis’, whatever that was. He merely said he hoped to find the ‘cure’ and help his beloved Annabelle.
September 1952. It was the first time the letters changed. Charles now described taking his son with him, teaching him about his ‘quest’. He showed him what to look for in a girl, how to entice her to come alone, and then what to do afterwards. By 1954, the son was participating in the murders.
In 1963, the letters changed. First, the penmanship changed. Much rougher, not nearly as neat. The ‘voice’ was different. Cassie could only guess that this was the son. Had the father died? The son’s tactics had evolved as well. Now the writer lured the fair-haired and freckled faced girls into his vehicle. He would then drive them to an isolated location before he performed his experiments. As she continued to find and read the letters, the writer was just as confounded as his father. Then in 1975, the writer talks about his son’s first try and how pleased he was by his son’s craftsmanship with the knife.
1996, there is a change in the letters again. The son taking over from the father.
Why had no one heard of this? The story was breathtaking and terrifying. A family of serial killers. Father passing his obsession down to his son. And no one knows about it.
Cassie began running through her mind the work she would need to do. Look through missing persons’ files. Sort through old police reports.
She kept digging and digging through the pile of letters until she came to it.
First, traces of blood.
Then, a body.
She was almost skeletal.
The skin was shriveled.
All over her, Cassie could see the cut marks on her skin.
She could see the fair-hair and freckles.
Just like her.
Behind her, Cassie heard the door shut and lock.
She was paralyzed for only a moment, but it was moment enough for a hand to pull her head back and a blade to cut through her carotid arteries and her jugular.
She tried to scream but all she could do was spew blood from the wound.
As the blood spilled from her neck to cover the letters, she swooned, and fell onto them.
“Someday,” the postmaster said, “someday we will find the solution and Annabelle will be beautiful again.”
John-Paul lives in St. Catharines, Ontario with his wife and two children. He’s been writing for years but only started submitting his work recently. His story “Nostalgia” was published in the Niagara-On-The-Lakes’ Writers Circle’s anthology Beginnings and Endings. “A Winter’s Dance” has already been featured in CommuterLit. He is a person of few words so he enjoys writing short stories and novellas the most.