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Authors: Bentley Little

Dispatch (27 page)

BOOK: Dispatch
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I slipped into a pair of pajamas and walked into the bedroom. I was about to turn on the TV when I heard a strange noise outside, a warbling off-pitch shriek that could have been human, could have been avian. Pulling aside the curtains, I looked out just in time to see a pigeon fall out of the open sky— .

—and land flat at the feet of the witch,

The old crone was standing on my front lawn, staring at me angrily, malevolently. I let out an involuntary cry of fear as I quickly closed the drapes. How the hell did she get here?
Why
was she here?

She was dead.

Gathering my courage, I opened the curtains a crack and peered through the narrow opening. The pigeon was still there, but the witch was gone.

Ding-dong.

My doorbell rang.

I hid under the covers like a small child, knowing she had come for me, knowing she had tracked me down in order to avenge her death.

Ding-dong.

The doorbell again.

Ding-dong, the witch is dead
, I thought, and almost laughed. Hysteria was very near my surface, and the fear I felt was of the irrational all-consuming sort that afflicted children.

The bell rang eighteen times before finally stopping.

I'd written the letter that led to the witch's death when I was eighteen years old.

Coincidence? Perhaps. But this was all too close for comfort. I was enveloped with paranoia and spent the rest of the night wide-awake in my bed, staring up at the ceiling, which was tinted a flickering blue by the television, and coming up with increasingly outlandish and Byzantine connections between the witch, me and the company.

In the morning, I went outside, got a shovel from the garage, picked up the body of the dead pigeon and tossed it into the garbage can.

On my way to work that morning, I kept my eyes open for signs of anything unusual. I even drove down different streets than I usually did, streets on which I remembered seeing the witch as a kid or a teenager, but there was no sign of her.

In my office, though, I came face-to-face with a poster for the Pigeons plastered on the wall right above my desk.

I'd never liked the Pigeons.

And hadn't there been a Graham Parker poster there yesterday?

I shivered, though the air in my office was stuffy and humid rather than cold.
This
I told my friends about. I even brought it up to Henry. But though Stan and everyone were sympathetic, none of them had ever experienced anything like it or had any ideas on how to deal with it. Both Stan and Shamus told me I could stay in their guest rooms for a while if I was really spooked—they thought if she showed up there, I'd at least have a witness—but I didn't see how that would help, and besides, it felt too much like giving up, like conceding defeat. Henry just flat out didn't believe that it had happened. Or said he didn't. He offered me only a general sort of support and half jokingly suggested that maybe I'd been working a little too hard or should go to bed earlier and get more sleep.

Everything seemed off that day. I tore down the Pigeons poster and beneath it was a reproduction of the cover for Black Sabbath's self-titled first album—the one with a grainy photograph of a witch. In the lunchroom, the tables were decorated with centerpieces featuring foldout vampires, Frankensteins, wolf men, skeletons and witches. It was almost Halloween. I hadn't realized it until now, since there seemed to be no kids here. I wondered what Eric was going to be this Halloween. I realized that it had been months since I'd heard from him.

I didn't get much writing done, but the one letter I did complete was to the police department of a New Jersey bedroom community, asking that a closer watch be kept on some of the homeless people who were threatening young schoolchildren.

The coincidence seemed a little
too
coincidental.

I took off early, driving home and then sitting out on the patio of my minuscule backyard, drinking can after can of beer.

I missed my wife and son terribly.

But I liked being able to write letters.

Ellen called that evening after dinner to check up on me, make sure I was okay. I was still a little drunk but starting to sober up, and I assured her that everything was fine.

"Have you ... seen anything?" she asked.

"Nothing," I told her. We chatted for a little while longer, then hung up.

But I'd spoken too soon.

It was a Tuesday night, and after watching
NYPD Blue
, I went into the bathroom to take a shit, leaving the television on loud in the living room so I could hear the eleven o'clock news. I was sitting on the bowl, halfway through doing my duty, when I suddenly realized that the house was completely silent.

The television had been shut off.

I tried to tell myself that it was some sort of problem with the circuit breaker, but the light in the bathroom was on, and I could see from the line under the door that the light in the living room was on, as well.

Only the TV was off.

Maybe the set itself was broken, or maybe—

Tap-tap-tap.

If I lived to be a hundred, I would never forget the sound of the witch's cane tapping on the ground, and that was exactly what I heard as I sat there on the toilet with my pants down. I was in the most vulnerable position humanly possible, a piece of shit half in and half out of my ass. I remembered, a couple of years back, hearing a man say that he'd been caught in the Northridge earthquake while puking his guts out with the flu. He'd been bent over and barfing while the ground started to shake, and while everyone else in his neighborhood was running outside or hiding under furniture to protect themselves, he'd been on his knees and heaving. I had that fucker beat a thousand times over.

Tap-tap-tap.

The thing was, I couldn't tell from which direction the sound was coming. Was it inside the house, down the hall, or was it outside on the patio? I finished going, forcing it out, then quickly pulled up my pants without wiping. I stood, pressed my ear to the door.

Tap-tap-tap.

She was inside. I could hear her cane on the hardwood floor of the living room, moving away from the hallway toward the kitchen. My first impulse was to pull up the shade and try to shove my way through the open bathroom window and escape outside. But there was no way I'd ever fit through that small opening, and besides, if she
was
in the kitchen, she'd be able to see me.

I looked around the bathroom for some sort of weapon, found only a small pair of scissors, a safety razor and a plunger. I opted for the plunger and the scissors. At least the plunger had a wooden handle that I could use to swing at her. And if I ended up entangled, the scissors could do far more quick damage than the shielded razor blades.

I opened the door a crack, peeking out.

The hallway was clear, as was what I could see of the living room.

Squeak.

It was the sound of the kitchen door opening. She was going outside onto the patio. I hurried down the hall, through the living room to the kitchen, where the door remained wide open. Even from here, I could see her by the picnic table, hobbling away from me toward the darkness of the lawn. I was frozen, unsure whether to yell at her or wait silently for her to leave, whether to close the door and take refuge inside or dash out and confront her. I compromised by moving forward slowly, quietly, not wanting to draw attention to myself but ready to slam shut and lock the door should she show any intent to turn around and return.

I reached the open doorway, and she swiveled on her heels and stared at me. I remembered from my nighttime sojurn with Robert and Edson how she'd swept her cane from left to right and said "Don't write," how a pigeon had dropped from the sky and landed dead on the sidewalk halfway between us, and how she'd smiled.

She smiled that way now, and goose bumps washed over my arms. Even as she stared at me, I could see that her cane was moving on the ground, drawing characters or runes or figures in the hard dirt on the edge of the grass.

Then she turned, hobbling into the darkness of the backyard. I waited several seconds for the sound of the side gate opening and closing, but there was no noise, and finally I reached over and flipped on the switch that controlled the backyard floodlights. The entire lawn area was illuminated, but the witch was nowhere to be seen. She'd disappeared.

I waited a few minutes just to make sure, then tentatively stepped outside. I heard nothing, saw nothing and, gaining courage, followed the route she had taken.

There.

In the dirt where her cane had been moving was drawn a strange spirally symbol, what I could only assume was some sort of curse or hex. It looked familiar, but I couldn't place it, couldn't recall where I had seen it before. I rubbed it with my shoe, kicked at it, trying to erase it, but the carving was deep, and finally I got a trowel out of the garage and dug up the dirt, smoothing it over so all trace of the figure was gone.

I closed all of the windows and locked all of the doors.

Just before falling asleep, I remembered where I had seen the witch's symbol: on the carved fresco surrounding the mailbox on our floor at work.

I dreamed of a pigeon that followed me wherever I went, cooing, "Don't write ... Don't write ... Don't write..."

In the morning, when I awoke, my mail slot had been sealed shut.
 

*14*

"I think they're doing it," Stan said. "The company. The letters, the witch, they're behind all of it. That's why Henry's pleading ignorance."

I'd finally broken down and told him
everything
that had been happening. I couldn't keep it to myself.

"But why?" I wondered. "What would be the point?"

He leaned forward. "It all depends on whether you think you're here writing letters to help in some unknown altruistic goal or whether they've simply saddled: you with fake busywork to take you out of commission. You've got your 'The Lord works in mysterious ways' approach or your 'They're fucking with me for some nefarious reason' approach. That's the one I'm betting on, and it's what I've been trying to tell you all along.

"As I see it, you've got two choices: accept the status quo and live out your life as a letter-writing drone or put on your Patrick McGoohan Number Six face and try to find out what the hell is behind all this."

I wasn't quite sure I bought into all of his conspiracy theories ... but I didn't automatically discount them, either. "How do we do that?"

"I don't know," he admitted.

I slapped him on the back. "Thanks," I said. "You've been a lot of help."

After that, the witch seemed to disappear. I neither saw nor heard any sign of her, and after a couple of weeks, I decided that she must have served her purpose. She'd completed her mission, said what she'd come here to say. Stan was wrong. The powers that be had not used her, were not behind this. Ghost or no ghost—and that was something I
definitely
didn't understand, something that for some reason I never seemed to even
think
about—she'd been warning me once again to stop writing.

I had to admit that I was open to this message. I loved letter writing as much as I always had, but the novelty of my job had worn off, and once again I'd begun to be troubled by the darker currents that swam beneath the sunny fun of my abilities. I could tell myself that the letters I was assigned to write, the correspondence I sent out, were in service of the little guy, were giving voice to the voiceless, righting wrongs that would otherwise remain unremedied, but people were being hurt along the way. Innocent people. I knew it; I could feel it.

And I didn't care.

That troubled me, kept me awake at night, made me think that Stan's theories weren't as far-fetched as some of the others thought they were.

The witch was right. I
should
stop writing letters.

But I didn't.

I couldn't.

Although the witch was gone, the anonymous letters kept coming, one a week, then two, and I opened them, hoping to find clues.

Of course, there were only creepy descriptions of my everyday activities, combined with blatant sex talk:

Dear Jason,

I love

Blue Velvet
, too! I watched it with you last night, though you didn't know it. David Lynch is my favorite director. Did you used to watch
Twin Peaks
? I was hoping you'd masturbate after the movie, and I was so disappointed that you just went straight to bed...
And
Dear Jason,

I know you don't like to clean (are you one of those macho guys who consider house-cleaning women's work?), but you really need to sweep sometime. That floor in the kitchen, especially, is getting ridiculous. And change your sheets! If you ever hope to have a woman like me over, you're going to have to have clean sheets...

And more.

I showed these letters to Stan, and the two of us shared them with the others, hoping someone might recognize the writing style or the printing font or some small detail that would give a clue as to the identity of the writer. But they were all equally baffled. No one had ever run into anything like this, and the idea that there was some sort of Letter Writer stalker on the loose put everyone on edge. I might be the immediate target, but anyone could be next, and—who could tell?—there might be more than one of them running around.

Stan, of course, thought the messages were fake, created by the Letter Writer who had originally lured us here, the one who headed the company—the Ultimate Letter Writer, as Stan referred to him—in order to test, try and torment me. He was spooked to the bone by the fact that I was being watched so carefully, my every move monitored so thoroughly, and he was certain that he, too, was under close scrutiny at all times.

Maybe he was and maybe he wasn't. I was beginning to think more and more that I was different, that I was special.

You are very powerful.

I continued to believe that the witch I'd seen really was the witch of Acacia and that she had a personal grudge against me. I continued to believe that the letters being sent to me were from a deranged admirer or someone with a secret enmity toward me. I also believed that Stan was right, that I was under constant surveillance, although I wasn't sure that any of these things were at all connected.

BOOK: Dispatch
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