a Poison Pen Pal
How are you?
I am fine. I hope you are well. The weather here is hot and cloudy, like
always. Did it snow last winter? I miss the change of seasons.
looked at the letter on her desk and rubbed her blood-shot eyes. How long had
she waited to hear from Danny? And this blather is what she receives. She
picked the paper up to continue reading the awkward, childish print scrawled on
blue-lined notebook paper.
you have a birthday coming up real soon! They won’t let me send you presents—or
anything physical, for that matter. But I am allowed to send messages—so I have
a surprise for you!
closed her eyes and took a deep, calming breath. Patience, she reminded
herself, is a virtue. Or so she’d been told. She continued reading.
Your husband Bernard went missing ten years ago today and still nobody—not the
police, not the FBI, not the preacher, not your neighbors, not his sister, not
your grown son—have any idea where he went. Or what happened to him. I’ll tell
ya what really went down, ‘cause I saw everything and I KNOW.
cubes in Janine’s glass settled with a muted thunk. She reached for the bottle
on the corner of her desk and poured herself three more fingers of gin.
tripped and fell down an open manhole in the middle of downtown as he crossed
the street—jaywalking!—on his way to lunch at a greasy spoon diner. He broke
his neck when he hit the ground. Workers replaced the manhole cover without
looking below, so—
a long sip of her gin. She held her glass aloft and continued reading.
ran his car off the old McClellan Bridge on his way home from work, got trapped
in there and drowned. Just like what happened to that campaign worker in the
1960’s, in Massachusetts. He flailed and panicked and passed out as the cold
dark water rose.
condensation on the outside of Janine’s glass dripped over her fingers, pooling
on her desk. She set the glass down on a coaster and with her damp hand smeared
the water in an arc across her desktop. It was slow to evaporate.
he got tired of you and your dull conversations and your post-menopausal body
and your boring tuna casseroles so he just took off—whoosh!—with that pert
young thing he met at the office. You know, the red-headed receptionist with
the modeling portfolio and ample, uh, trust fund.
none of this was true, but she was curious as to what Danny would say. Often he
would tell on himself, let it slip that he was making things up. What was that
old expression? Janine smiled as she remembered: Give him enough rope, and
he’ll hang himself. Much like her missing husband did.
I saw him
take off with her, myself. In her springtime-yellow 1966 Mustang convertible.
Her fiery hair trailing in the breeze like a conqueror’s flag, his wide-mouthed
smile brighter than her vintage ride’s chrome bumper. Passports in the
glove-box, they were on their way to—
you didn’t see this. For one time in your wretched existence, can you quit
being such a liar?” Janine muttered and scowled. She closed her eyes and
tightly gripped the pencil in her left hand. Soon she heard the lead tip
scritching against the notebook paper.
Okay, so I
made up something more exciting than what really happened. So sue me!
worse than that to you,” Janine grumbled, “if you’re not up front with me.
Spill the beans!” She slugged the gin and immediately reached for the bottle
again. The scratchings resumed.
I don’t know what happened to Bernard. I didn’t see where he went then, and I
don’t see him anywhere now.
grunted; she wasn’t surprised by this, as Danny had previously proved to be an
unreliable witness—but he was the only spirit who never failed to answer her
call; the more reputable ones dismissed her queries. She was surprised, though,
that this time he admitted he didn't know anything.
For real, I
didn’t mean to waste your time, I’m just so damn lonely here—and your
birthday’s this week, so I thought maybe you'd like a diversion, like some
hissed, “that would be what YOU want, because you’re stuck in Hell and you’re
bored!” Clutching her glass, Janine swallowed the last of her gin. The ice
cubes clunked en masse against her lips and teeth. “I want the truth!”
her empty glass down on the desk. Her patience was at an end. “I want you to
lead me to evidence! Real, true, indisputable, honest-to-God evidence!” Danny
ignored this command and went on with his self-indulgent patter.
conversation. That would be my birthday present to you.
scratching on the notebook paper intensified.
a fun game—you and me, we’ll play like we’re detectives in an old-timey black
and white movie and team up, work together—like, say, Nick and Nora Charles, or
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir—to track Bernard down and solve this—
her pencil down. The lead was worn to a flat nubbin, and the splintered wood
encasing it was now tearing the notebook paper with each word. She flexed her
fingers, relaxing her almost-cramping hand. Danny didn’t know squat, and that
made her smile. She wadded up the paper and tossed it into the trash can beside
year, around her birthday, she’d again use this automatic writing trick to
contact Danny for information regarding Bernard, as spirits were supposed to
see, to know, everything that happened in the mortal world. It was obvious to
her now that they didn’t—that was just good advertising. Working with Danny
felt more like she’d been a sucker for the old bait-and-switch.
year, though, Danny would have figured out what really happened to Bernard.
Maybe next year he could tell her where the old guy is located—which is buried
under the azalea bushes in her backyard. Maybe Danny would prove himself,
finally, to be a dependable, all-knowing spirit—one she could employ to rectify
other troubling situations in her life. Maybe not.
Hillary Lyon holds a Masters
in English Literature, and what did she do with that? She founded and for 20
years acted as senior editor for the independent poetry publisher,
Subsynchronous Press. Her short stories, drabbles, and poems have appeared in
numerous print and online publications. She's lived in Brazil, Canada, France,
and several states in the US; she currently resides in southern Arizona.
Hillary also creates illustrations for horror, sci-fi, and pulp fiction sites.