Nor Dead of Night
I hate the long halls, old government buildings, the musty smell, they even have a way to turn the lights on right in front of you. Out of everything I hate those the most. I’m not found of the dark. I usually have a knack for finding my right destination, but this time I was lost. The place seemed like your average bureaucratic temple from the front, but it felt like I had been walking for miles. The people had vanished long ago, at first it was offices with paperwork and downtrodden clerks, now, no one was shinnying floor for picking up trash.
“Ya aren’t here looking for stamps?”
The man appeared in front of me. I must have been so inside my head I didn’t see him step out some door. He was wearing the uniform, not the new postal one designed by some fashion icon, but an old thing older than I remember.
“You got here sooner than most, you’re in the right place. Put that duffle bag down and let’s talk for a bit.”
I did as the man said, the weight of the totality of my possessions suddenly grinding on my shoulder.
“You ready to be here? What was your last post?”
The man was small, smaller than me but his voice reminded me of my grandfather’s on a bad day.
“Sir, I’m a contractor now my last assignment is classified.”
“Son, you’re here now, past a forgotten hall, wondering what fancy Tech is making the lights turn on before you take your next step and looking at a plaque that means nothing to you. UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE, DEAD LETTER OFFICE.
Nothing in your life is more classified then behind these doors. Your tour in the sand box, you guarding the mountain. Nothing in your life will be the same. This ain’t like your fancy video games or comic books. No matter what you think you know or done, your life is different now. You fellas always come in here with so much BS. We aren’t the CIA or FBI. Only thing green around here are my eyes and the laundry is what I do every Sunday…Come on in a take a seat, your life is about the be undone.”
The office was huge, men and women scurrying around behind a set of desk-work that had only one entrance. That was brass and wooden like you find in one of those old court dramas. I wondered why I had heard all the noise in hall. I sat on a green metal chair near the entrance door. The door itself could have been one of a thousand frosted glass and sagging wood. The old man stood right next to me.
“I love watching those creepy shows. Those folks wouldn’t know strange if it hit’em upside the head. Hell, the real strange stuff we help you forget before you taste tungsten and steel in your mouth. You surprised being here?”
Something told me if I lied he’d know it. “Yes, Sir.”
“Why us? Surprised we have a preference for hiring veterans? Shocked by all those personal questions your standardized application asked? Why not us? We have contact with every American, not to mention every person on the face of this earth, and we have had that for years. That Dead of Night stuff comes by it honest.
Just letters. Sure, phones, touch pads, and whatever ever else have taken their toll, but we keep up. We have to, or god knows who might take charge. It’s our given right, seeing how that first letter came here and all. We started this, might as well last until it’s done.”
“Doing what Sir?” I eased back into the wooden chair for a long tale.
“It was nineteen twenty something. I forget the exact date, Yes, I’m that old. How am I still breathing? How do they say it where you’re from “You don’t need to know!” Anyway, not too long after we got the letter, the one on the wall there. Looks good up there, but it’s in a cage for a reason. Thing spreads…
That little yellow letter, the one with the pretty handwriting. No one practices penmanship anymore…life’s just too fast. No time for pretty things. No time to write short letters.
Anyway, I was just a sorter, It didn’t even blip when it arrived. Edward Werton our regional guy, god rest is soul, brought it in. He retired soon after the most recent unpleasantness which brings you newbies here. Got the full ride too, benefits and all, government takes care when it really needs too.
“Ed,” the old man leaned in, “he was in charge of most of the upper east coast from Bangor past Ipswich, right down to New York City. He was the fellow who fixed things long before select oversight committees were bipartisanshiply created.
He was a lean man, still is, tall as a rail, and strong; that wiry strong you don’t see much anymore. He was still a young man then, not even near – what you don’t need to know.”
I rolled my eyes reflexively
“You’re not the first and you won’t be the last to hear my orientation son.
Focus boy, you all yipped up on that Ritalin? The new ones always are.
The old timer tapped me on the head.
“Moving on, he came in here his hair white, white as a bleached used up rag, open letter in hand, almost frothing at the mouth. He tells his story. I was there, you figured out why I’m a essential federal asset yet?
Old Ed took it off the bin, no good address for it, just a name and town. Figures it’s local, feels local. It’s all local when you get around to it. Us, here, in the middle of so much chaos. It feels urgent in his hands like it wants, needs to be opened. Yes, I know what it means to open someone’s mail. If you’ve really concerned about that I can lead you to the nearest egress.
Ed thinks the letter must be a joke, some joke from a schoolboy killing time. But the letter is hot in his hands, almost screaming at him that it’s real, the author needs help. That’s when he decides to go looking.
It’s not like today, back then if you needed to get somewhere you could take the train, or walk. Cars cost money, even old T’s need more than a G-man makes. And that’s just what he did, took the train into Essex County past Rowley and walked the rest of the way.
It was a big place, big enough for several carriers but the town was nearly deserted. The government buildings, you know which one he went to first mind you, were crumbling and empty. When he asked about postal services he was refused. That more than anything is what got old Ed’s blood a pumping, so he walks and he walks till he finds people, but they ain’t people like you and me. Horrible looking things hunched and contorted, a sickly smell coming from all of them.
The folks like you and me don’t so much as even look at him, and when he asks about the letter they just about jump out of their skin. When he does catch hold of their eyes they look dead, like cracked eggs bareley holding themselves together.
So he walks looking for someone who will talk to him. But all he sees is decay, buildings brown from mildew, crumbling sidewalks slick with muddy water, and the houses, old mansions beautiful in their time, now falling apart at their seams like they were blown up from the inside out.
Hurricane he figures, but Edward’s been working the East for years and he don’t remember a hurricane around those parts, but then what’s with the destruction? Why is the town drowning? Maybe he can find the answers by the water. Towns around those parts always have a thriving waterfront, fishermen mostly, so maybe the town just shifted to the Atlantic? And that thought, with the crumpled letter in his hand, filled him with dread like a fire running along his spine.
He tries to make it to the waterfront but the town ain’t even put together right: avenues suddenly dead end, vacant store fronts lead him back to where he came into town, streets echo footsteps where none should be. He discovers rows and rows of burnt out homes, some still smoldering, the land waging a crazed fight against the wet, burning itself alive to keep the ocean at bay. And everywhere there’s water.
The closer he gets to the water the more “people” he sees and the more see him. And he gets that feeling like he got with the letter only this time it’s a feeling of fear mixed with hate, that’s when he got a good look at one, that’s when he ran, from the town, from the county, almost ran clear back here.
When he got here that’s when we acted, sent more “carriers” who never came home. That’s when we got in touch with the people upstairs and they called in the Army and the Navy- no Air Force back then. They sent ships and men. Good men, veterans from the Great War, who’d seen faces contorted by mustard gas, bodies busted over wire barriers. It was nothing compared with the horrors that smashed their boats along the shore. The Marines, they took the brunt of it, no songs from the war this time, just broken men and sleepless nights. No bodies to save either, just more things to burn.
I’ve seen that look before boy; I know what you’re thinking. Why didn’t we all just think Ed was hitting the sauce? Like I said, things were different back then, and you’d better be thanking God that it was ‘cause if it wasn’t who knows what’d be in charge today. Anyway, I know you’re
itching to see it… go look at what started this mess.”
“I remember reading Forget about me and Innsmouth. Pretty sure I’m happy I get to forget the rest…”