's 2018 Horror Write-off:

The Next Twelve Letters

Submitted by C. Lonnquist

The Next Twelve Letters

After the other letters, the thirteenth was regarded as a bit of a letdown at first. All it did was twist the head of the opener all the way around, leaving their neck in a sort of corkscrew pattern. They were somehow alive after it happened but died shortly after from suffocation as their neck kept twisting and twisting until it pinched off their air. The letter read: ‘It’s not given freely.’

The fourteenth letter was isolated in a strange wad of saliva the size of a basketball that stretched six feet out from the wall, parallel to the ground and defiant of gravity. The opener was huddled against the opposite wall, his jaw unhinged. The examiners said that he had pressed his face so hard against the wall that he had snapped the mandible, and his tongue was somehow fused with the wall itself. The saliva had someone else’s DNA. The letter read: ‘Such ragged pockets.’

The fifteenth letter had fallen to the floor and created a six-inch depression that had pushed the hardwood down in a perfect silhouette without breaking any of it, as if the wood had always been cut that way. The opener had been smashed into the ceiling, but rather than creating a depressing she had just become a red splash sixteen feet in diameter. Her fingernails were perfectly preserved, but there were seventeen of them. I made notes about its similarity to the eighth letter, and someone had circled them when I believed I was out of the room. The letter read: ‘You owe nothing.’

A dog had opened the sixteenth letter when it tackled a mailman and pulled it from the mailbag. Current speculation states the letter did not ‘like’ this, as it was found two blocks down the road, laying on the stoop of its intended recipient. There was nothing left of the dog, but a long trail of blood and hair wound from where the dog had taken the letter to the door. The opener was found licking the letter clean, yet somehow it suffered no water damage. The letter read: ‘It was never behind you.’

My job for the Dispensary is to study the letters themselves. Whatever malice they had held was gone after they had been opened, their contents now nothing but a single line centered perfectly on an old-looking sheet of normal printer paper. The words were always written in Arial, 12 pt. They were always black. They were always the only contents of the envelopes. The envelopes always looked ancient; yellow, with little bits of red around the sealed edges. One of the studies we did said the red was traces of blood and particles of tongue, but the tests always said it wasn’t from a human. We have yet to identify the source. Is any of this familiar?

There was video of the seventeenth letter being opened, but I’ve only seen footage of an analysis team watching the video. I can see the grainy CRT TV in the room with them. They huddle around it on their labcoats and someone on the video is screaming “I don’t know him! I don’t know him!” and something large like blue fingers the size of fallen trees is reaching for the opener who is being held back by a retrieval team despite all of them looking elated. I haven’t been able to track down any members of either team. The letter reads: ‘Bright. Blind.’

The eighteenth letter’s opener was actually a Dispensary employee, and the redundant series of plastic bags that hold the letter are all marked with the word ‘interloper’ in red sharpie. They provided no other information about when the letter was opened, but the interviews with the employee—now retired—all seem fairly normal, except that she asks every person to describe their most recent meal and if it made them ill. The letter reads: ‘Past the emerald fen.’

The nineteenth letter was found inside its opener’s stomach alongside stones, bark, human skin, bones from what must have been their pet iguana, and a bezoar of racoon hair. The opener was found on the floor of their apartment with a massive hole in their chest leading to the letter. The hold was punched inward, not outward. The letter read: ‘Our family!’

The twentieth letter was one of the hardest to contain. It was opened during a hurricane and shifted the weather pattern to fixate over the house where it was opened. When the retrieval team put the letter inside a container, the entire hurricane ended. There are no news reports about the occurrence, and no one seems to remember it when I ask, but one of the members of the retrieval team smiled when I mentioned it and said, “I remember how much they talked.” The letter read: ‘Is it sharp? Can it be sharp?'

They asked me if the letters seemed connected and I told them I believed so. When I said that, they asked me why I had stared at them and cried noiselessly for five minutes before answering. They asked me why terrible things happened to the openers, and I remember answering they want it.  We all want it, but I didn’t say that. One of the people I talked to had blue eyes. I’m sure they worked for the Dispensary.

Like the third letter, there was no one in the large mansion where the twenty-first letter was opened. Something slick coated the floor and the walls though, and when the retrieval team studied the substance, they found it was billions and billions of planaria. There are notes in the file about how the entire house watched them, as it was covered in microscopic eyes. The letter read: ‘It sounded bitter.’

Outdoor letters tended to be strange ones. The twenty-second letter was no different. It was stuck in a bird’s nest, but something that wasn’t birds clutched it tight with two spiny hands and left two other hands hanging out of the nest, dangling thirty feet down on thread-like arms that swayed in the breeze. Its bulbous red eyes rolled around in its head as it tried to speak but just made sounds like water thrown on a hot stove top. The notes said the dispensary has the body. The letter read: ‘a basket of quills.’

It took the retrieval team a long time to find the twenty-third letter. The house it had been opened in was gone, as was—seemingly—the letter itself. After two weeks of searching the vacant lot, they heard the screaming at sunrise, but only when they stood in the northwest corner of where the house had been. The letter was on the ground there, but they insisted they hadn’t seen it before. All of them said that some of the screams sounded bad and some sounded gleeful. The letter read: ‘Eyes like nostrils.’

The opener of the twenty-fourth letter had been pulled down their toilet arm-first, and their remains were stretched nearly through all of the plumbing so that broken faucets through the house dripped bile and blood and other fluids. Something large had ruptured the septic tank where they had found the letter, and whatever it had been had burrowed deeper into the ground. The team did not follow the tunnel. The letter read: ‘TAKE! PLEASE!’

They tell us we are making it safer. Who needs this many shadows? My lips tingle like my blood has anticoagulant in it, like I was donating plasma. There are more files in my office. They say I need an assistant. They say they can help me make it safer. I walk down a long hallway to the bathroom, but why do the doors get so much bigger? Why are the handles so high? My knuckles hurt. My hands are sore.

Have I talked to people in years?