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  • Danni Petrilak

Postage

This story was commissioned by The Haunted Horrorstorian to feature on their podcast! I hope you enjoy their audio recording of my story, Postage published on Spotify in August 2021.



I never expected moving boxes could be so heavy. My mother wasn’t kidding all my life when she droned on and on to lift with your legs or you’ll hate yourself later in life. I grunt, shaking my head to move the stray pieces of hair from my eyes.

I push open the door to my new home with my hip, careful not to let the door smash against the wall and damage it before we’ve gotten a chance to break it in. I already scuffed a few marks into the vinyl flooring that Quinn doesn’t need to know about that was easily hidden by covering a small stack of moving boxes on top. It was an easy temporary fix. While a ding or scrap is easier to hide with a photo or a shelf, who would put a shelf or painting directly behind the door at handle level?

My feet carry me to the separate island counter which connects the living space to the kitchen and I’m taken aback by the massive chandelier hanging as a centerpiece in the raised ceiling living room. Giant white and silver jewels and beads hang just a few feet out of reach glinting in the early afternoon sunlight. They collide together with a soft jingle as a breeze from the air conditioner bumps the strands together.

“Someone had expensive taste.” I mutter to no one in particular as I place the box labeled “kitchen” down with a thud on top of the brown countertop. I catch my breath, deciding between grabbing another box or removing the contents from the one I just brought in. I run my hands across the smooth marble countertops while I decide and smile when I realize there is a thick layer of protective resin for my clumsy self to ruin instead of the beautifully expensive stone.

A small blur of yellow slides past my peripherals as a yellow van comes to a screeching stop just out of my view through the large living room windows. I rush to the front door, anxiety filling my stomach with the sensation of hot stones grinding against each other. Who could this be? No one we know has our address yet. We’ve only just moved in. The contract was signed three days ago.

A man with a short black beard smiles at me as he closes the front of our mailbox and lifts the tab. I sigh in relief, ashamed of myself for assuming the worst, but knowing I was smart to never be too careful. I’ve listened to countless podcasts and stories from friends about their “close calls” with creeps—surprisingly more men than women—to know not to trust anyone.

“Thanks,” I hold up my hand in a still wave as he climbs back into his van and releases the parking break with a loud squeak. I cringe at the piercing which echoes around my head for a moment before finally hearing a quick and quiet, “Sure.” from the driver before he vanishes from sight, taking the rattling engine with him.

I frowned, not knowing why I didn’t hear him approaching if the breaks were as squeaky when he released the break. Once I was sure the stranger was out of sight, I walked outside to the box, not expecting anything to be inside. To my surprise, I found a handful of letters that seemed to be statements or bills of some kind. The junk mail was all addressed to someone named “Voisin.” Before turning back to the mail, I searched the surrounding area for any trace of the loud yellow van to give this mail back with no luck.

As I rifled through the strangers junk mail, I came across a plain off-white envelope with nothing but a name inked sloppily across the front. It was void of any postage or return address—not even a delivery address. Just the letters "m," "o," and "n," followed by a long smear of ink which blurs the rest of the name from sight.

I spelled my newly wedded name silently and matched up the spacing and line length where the ink darkened and lightened through the smudge. Monioff —seems close enough. I shrugged and placed the envelope on top of another moving box and lifted with my legs- thank you mother- and returned inside.

Quinn and I only moved to France a few weeks ago to officially settle into our new lives together as a newly wedded couple. Just before our engagement, Quinn received a job offer from the law enforcement office of Downtown Seagolte on the outskirts of Paris, France. While our family wasn’t too thrilled about us moving to a different country, we were stoked at this once in a lifetime opportunity. How many people can say they were hired by a foreign office before finishing a law degree?

Once he accepted the officer, I sped through the rest of my criminal psychology courses and graduated with him. We found a neighborhood between our two offices and pulled the trigger and signed a lease. It all happened so quickly, and now we’re moving into the house.

I didn’t bother to lock the door behind me despite my concern of the postman. I felt safe moving the rest of the boxes inside while Quinn started his first day of training at the station. If I needed him, he was close by. I wasn’t finished bringing things in from outside anyway.

As I placed the box down next to the others on the counter I thought proudly of myself. I had three more boxes to move in and it would be official that I moved into a new country. I turned with a quick release of breath but froze in place before I could make it to the door. A warm but gentle force pulled on the back of my shirt ever so lightly, like the phantom feeling of a romantic partner pulling you in for an embrace. I’m suddenly overwhelmed with a calm but compelling want to open the envelope addressed to me and Quinn.

It had to be for us. The name did match.

I snatched the off-white envelope from the pile and carefully held it in my hands. It felt so fragile, like it would disappear if I breathed on it too hard. I mindlessly thumbed over the ink, pretending it was my finger to cause the ink to smear while addressing it with my new last name.

With a light push from the tip of my thumb I popped the seal of the envelope in a clean snap with so little resistance that I wondered how it didn’t break in transit. Opening the flap revealed skilled hands and beautifully ineligible calligraphy across the letters’ header. The power flickered and cracked around me as a quiet buzz of electricity filled the air.

A shrill beep from a dying smoke detector pulled me from my thoughts and interrupted my intense curiosity to read the contents. I sighed and threw the paper back to the top of the pile. I blamed the buzzing on the overhead lights for the counter and the strain they must be feeling from lack of use to sudden use once more. I was afraid they would shatter, so I flicked off the switch and powered them down.

I walked past the island counter and into the raised ceiling living room. A cool breeze pushed the chandelier’s dangling strings together in a threateningly beautiful chime. The breeze picked up, as did the swinging of the chandelier. I paused, my hands growing sweaty as they trembled at my side. Logicality took over and I convinced myself the air conditioner was straining from overuse as well after being in a vacant home for so long.

A quick scan of the living room showed nothing but the L-shaped couch and various bookcases, boxes and piles of half empty boxes. Quinn must have brought it to the garage with the rest of his tools. I took a few steps down the hall and arrived at the garage door. Inside, the lights pulsed to life with the same groaning electricity as all the others around my house. I needed to be quick. Inside, a beat up Chevy Equinox sat too close to the wall for comfort, but it was only for emergencies anyway. Quinn’s “project” as he liked to call it.

My eyes scanned the various shelves circling around the walls of the garage. A flash of darkness moved across the corner of my eyes, a figure-like shape on the same shelf where I spotted the ladder. My heart beat a little faster. All at once, the power surged and exploded, blowing all the lights that were on in the garage and sending glass shattering to the floor.

As the light flashed, I turned white as a sheet. A person, not younger than myself, sat with their knees to their chest hugged by their arms on the shelf next to the ladder. I shuddered while the flash of light exploded like a camera flash ingrained the image of a tilted head with a far too large grin and wildly wide eyes appearing everywhere I looked.

I was suddenly afraid to move as darkness engulfed around me, although I knew light awaited me if I were to turn around and look through the large living room windows. Yet still I stood, petrified by the thought of turning around and having the creature pull me into the darkness never to be seen again. Usually, I could tell myself that I was imagining things if they were to scare me. My common answer was to blame it on stress or lack of sleep. That time, I kept seeing the face over and over again in my head, despite trying to convince myself that I had made it up. Every time I blinked or closed my eyes I saw the same smiling expression that was in my view for a split second and it was now with me for the rest of my life.

The beep from the smoke detector mustered the remaining courage I needed to force my body into motion and I closed the door hard behind me before crossing the room to the windows. No way was I getting that ladder with whatever that thing was in there. I’d never been that afraid before. I’d never seen a face that clearly before. I knew it was real. Rationality couldn’t save me this time. I wondered for a moment who I was trying to convince and laughed under my breath when I realized it was myself. I stared into the kitchen at the open letter and for a split second I felt it staring back at me.

I rushed back over to the letter, holding it between trembling hands. I thought back to a conversation Quinn and I had with the realtor while we were signing the final contracts. She had mentioned a few tips about transitioning to a new country with laws and currency and the likes, and told us not to get too frustrated if we keep forgetting which laws change and which laws stay the same. She also talked about the postage system and how they mess up from time to time since a lot of the people in Europe have similar last names.

There is an unspoken rule against opening mail that does not belong to you. If someone’s mail ends up in your box, you should just leave it there and wait for the postman to grab it the next day to bring it to the right place. It isn’t our job, or our place to be handling anyone else's mail. Quinn and I found that comment odd, and I had joked about the act in the states. It was technically a felony, yet people still did it and most got away with it. She looked at me with something dark behind her eyes that I couldn’t place as anything other than tiredness at the time, but as I thought back on the memory I didn’t feel so sure.

She explained the people around here learned their lesson against opening other people’s mail and just like that the conversation was over and we had moved on to timeshare offers that were most likely to be scams if we were to be offered them from anyone advertising things to foreigners and the rest slips off into deep memories that I can’t recall clearly.

I stared down at the envelope in my shaking fingers and I considered the superstition our realtor warned us about. If something scared the general population enough to not need a law enforced against opening other people’s mail there needed to be some truth behind it right?

The letter was already opened. Despite my assumption of the letter belonging to me or Quinn, deep down I think I knew it wasn’t. I was curious. It was a mystery. I wanted to be able to know the answer after the clues got placed in my hands. I removed the documents from the envelope. Many of the words are unreadable, but I made out a few words I remembered from taking foreign language electives in high school. Certificat. Certificate. Of all the words I could have recognized...I flipped the document over. It’s dated February 1680.

1680? That couldn’t be right. It was 2021.

The small text following the heading provided little bits of information for my curiosity to gobble up like it hadn’t seen a meal in weeks. Enterrer. Bury. Okay, it was some kind of certificate from the 1600s that had something to do with burying something. My eyes scanned over the title once again. Certificat de décès.

I gasped and dropped the papers to the floor. I was holding someone’s death certificate. The overwhelming need to wash my hands consumed me as I frantically scrubbed at first with my hands, then with the kitchen sponge to remove the contact between my hands and the old letter. How the hell could a letter from the 1600s get mixed up in our mailbox? No one lived here for months, and the first day back we got handed this?

The lights flickered above me in the kitchen although they were off. I froze and turned off the water and let my hands drip onto the floor to dry as I stared up at the lights hanging from the ceiling. Not knowing what the realtor was talking about hit me like a truck. People were terrified of what would happen to them if they opened someone else’s mail because something would make them afraid. It was the same logic behind training a wild cat to hate going outside. If they’re taught the outside is something to be afraid of, they will stop trying to escape, which is the same way that this superstition taught people not to take things that didn’t belong to them. The hair on the back of my neck stood.

The electric buzz grew louder as I turned to look behind me into the garage hallway to ensure the door was closed. I loved being home alone as a kid, even as an adult. All my life I preferred it, until it was about time for the family to get together and spend the evening relaxing. I always felt safe by myself. Alone never felt so vulnerable.

At that moment I realized, alone was still safe. I wasn’t alone now.

I heard quiet breaths from down the hallway by the garage door despite it being closed. I wondered for a moment if it was my own breathing sounding foreign to my terror filled ears. My eyes adjusted to the flickering lights in both the living room and the kitchen to view the contents of the dark contrast of the hallway and the garage door.

Nestled in the darkest corner of the hallway stood the same smiling face which flashed before me as the power surged, only this time it stood with long thin legs and boney fingers. Its hair floated in limbo around it, not listening to the laws of gravity as it hovered just around the creature's crooked face. In the light I could make out charred black and grey skin from the creature's face and neck before it blended into the corners of the lightless hallway.

My reality didn’t click in until I realized the creature was standing in the door frame to the living room. I yelled out in surprise and jumped back at the close proximity to the creature. Its movement jolted through space like an electric current on a cut wire before phasing in and out of space as if it was Samara from the Ring. The lights in the living room snapped off with loud pops that my neighbors were sure to confuse as fireworks and I used that moment to run for the front door. Light from the small window beckoned me closer as I pulled against the handle and turned the knob, yet the door remained firmly in place.

I cried out in fear as I pulled and pounded my fist against the door but it didn't budge. I looked over my shoulder while I hammered away at the door, hoping someone walking by could hear me yelling for help as I saw the smiling figure standing in between the kitchen counter and the fridge in the darkness it created. I notice the darkness the creature created to form a path and realize it must not be able to move in the light.

Determination filled me as I remembered the letter and the warning. The realtor's words played over in my head, leave it alone. It’s none of your business. That was it. I had to leave it alone. I spotted the letter that didn’t belong to me a few feet in front of the creature who seemed to be traveling at a constant pace to the very edge of the darkness each time I looked away and returned my gaze to it like a haunted statue from a resident evil game.

I mustered all my courage and raised my hands, turning to face the smiling creature. I couldn’t bring myself to look it in the eye. My phone buzzed in my pocket, a subtle reminder that I wasn’t in the 1600s and I felt foolish for forgetting about the technology in my possession.

I pulled out my phone and turned the flashlight on. Immediately, the creature vanished from the kitchen. I didn’t take any chances as I quickly grabbed the letter and envelope and kept the light shining brightly to protect me. I folded the flap to the letter shut and realized I needed to seal it. Disturbed and uncomfortable, I licked the envelope shut and sealed it with a tight squeeze. The warm grasp that appeared on the back of my shirt when the letter was opened vanished. The front door opened without a fight.

My feet propelled me forward, and I didn't hesitate to place the letter inside my mailbox and slam it shut. I turned my head so fast back in the direction of my house I lost my sight for a few seconds. While I waited for my vision to return, I swear I saw the smiling face vanish into thin air and out of sight.



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