The first thing he noticed about the letter was its lack of a post mark. Disturbed by this abnormality, Peter lingered near his mailbox at the curb, eyeing the street with suspicion and fear.
He felt a thousand eyes upon him.
Steeling himself against panic, fighting the urge to bolt headlong for his car and flee the city, Peter forced himself to return sedately to his gaping front door. Once inside, he savagely tore the envelope open, fluttering open its folded contents until all the words in black were clearly outlined by the white paper. In a gulp he read it.
work address: 7610 mock turtle
home address: 2 radcliffe circle, dallas
description: white female 5'8"
black hair, long
name: cynthia ann taylor
thursdays she attends aerobics until 9 pm
parks in the back of the garage at mock turtle
kill her for me
It was printed on nondescript computer paper with the perforated guides still attached. The dot matrix printer type was dim and nearly illegible.
But Peter knew what it meant. Somebody had discovered his secret.
He threw the letter away and tried to forget it. Hoping it was a joke, he decided to wait and see what happened.
Two weeks passed. The second letter came.
It arrived in the manner of the first, no post mark, no stamp. Just a plain, white envelope and the same neatly folded letter. There was nothing new.
This one Peter also discarded, wishing his disquiet away. Alcohol dulled his growing sense of uneasiness, and more and more often he drank himself to sleep.
Next day, he removed his mailbox at the curb and replaced it with a smaller version that hung on the wall by his front door. He stayed home from work to keep it under surveillance.
A third correspondence was made just days later. This time it read differently, and was delivered normally through the postal service.
It arrived along with a pink slip from the radiator factory. A final pay check for $81.46 was graciously provided, accompanied by a formal statement of his dismissal.
Peter didn't care. He was nearing breakdown.
Sitting naked by the front windows through darkness and the broad light of day, he didn't dare take his eyes off the mailbox, not even to urinate. He had to know who knew! He had to put an end to this turmoil. More than once he had verged on the brink of suicide, teetered uncomfortably close to that unfathomable darkness beyond the sounds of his own heartbeat, beyond the confines of his mind.
But the very desires that pushed him to disaster where, ironically, the same forces that urged him to cling to life, to fill his lungs with yet another breath. Like insatiable demons, violent fantasies clawed their way to the fore of his mind, tearing away the flimsy remains of his morality and bidding him do unspeakable things.
He knew he must live to appease the demons. Nothing else mattered, not even the threat of punishment.
Carefully, his breath catching in his throat, Peter opened the third letter, biting off one word at a time and chewing it slowly through his brain. The message left him dumbstruck.
i know all about what you do
if you want your secret kept,
kill cynthia ann taylor
kill cynthia ann taylor
kill cynthia ann taylor
kill cynthia ann taylor...
Was this some absurd joke? Was he the brunt of someone's bad humor?
Or was there something much more sinister taking place?
An ominous feeling rumbled in the depths of his bowels. A sickness overcame him. He was a monkey on a rope playing a plywood violin, dancing for the amusement of some unseen other, some hidden force of watchful eye and unknown intent. Even as the letter fell from his slackened grasp, Peter could sense a dark presence at his back, a being that was greater than him, omnipotent, a being that sought guidance in his life, a hand in his fate.
Where had he made the fatal error? Where had he exposed himself? Was it the one in the park? Or the one before that, the one that almost got away? Had he left some clue behind to be discovered?
Peter had thought himself so pure, so clean, so untouchable. Not now.
Now he was simply caught.
Stumbling into the living room of his shabby home, he found solace in a pint of gin. His thoughts were savage and brutal. He had denied the demons in his gut too long.
Soon the beasts would claw their way free of his meager inhibitions and set themselves loose on the night. Peter would not be able to stop them, had never been able to stop him. He was the host, they his parasites.
Blood welled up from a deep hole in his gut, filled his eyes, red-washed his eyesight, set a copper taste to his tongue, a metallic smell to his nostrils, and touched off a violent fever in his mind that would quickly burn out of control. Bones floated to the surface of his imagination, skulls and death mask ghouls, femurs and tibias, rotted by the forces of time, bastardized by the touch of savage man, gnawed through in places and shattered cruelly in others. Fingers surfaced in the ghastly gruel, clutched emptily at the crimson colored heavens of his mind only to disappear forever into the dim light of his nightmares.
And he felt himself being pulled downward with the death of sleep, carried away by a tide of clot and gore that was irresistible. With the sounds of a sucking drain, his soul was lost, dispersed, ripped apart by a whirlpool swell and a vacuous drop into temporal insanity.
Peter found himself alone with his visions. He was a child again in the home of his tormenter. He was running from the whips.
Each corner was a new skew in reality, each step of the stairway a precipitous drop from great heights, but on still the frightened boy ran, ran for his very life. Here in this nightmare land there was a special music to set tune to his dementia, an acid-rock serenade of high pitched wailing, the screaming of a terrified youth. Peter's screaming. In razor sharp refrains the psychotic rhythm was echoed and amplified from mirrored walls and marble floors.
"COME HERE BOY!" screamed his pursuer, a monster become man that had somehow managed to become Peter's legal guardian, his 'foster father'. "COME HERE BOY! I WANT TO SHOW YOU A TRICK!"