I’m proud of this story. It’s not often that I think I’ve nailed it, but I’m genuinely pleased with it. The test, as always, is whether anyone else agrees…
This will be the last letter I ever send. I can only hope you receive it. The AR delivery has been erratic at best of late and there is, of course, every chance of it being intercepted long before it reaches the dispatch centre. But I must try, for both our sakes.
The letter comes between a bank statement and an offer of a credit card. It nearly goes in the bin before the hand written envelope catches my eye. When was the last time I received something through the post with a hand written address that wasn’t a birthday or Christmas card? Half of the Christmas cards I receive these days bear printed labels.
The envelope is thick and smells of something that reminds me of childhood. I don’t open it for a minute, tracking instead down ill-used paths in my mind to the source of the scent. But it’s useless, as trying to find anything in my mind so often is these days. So I tear it carefully open and pull out what lies within.
The paper is as equally expensive as the envelope and unfolds with the unfamiliar sounds of civilisation and respectability. It feels out of place in my tiny kitchen, surrounded by the piles of unwashed tea mugs and plastic takeaway containers. As I open it I imagine I can feel someone watching and turning their nose up. They feel familiar, though I know not why.
There is no address at the top, only the same curving graceful script that adorns the envelope. So I take my tea into the even messier room that serves as my lounge, dining room and study, settle myself into my chair and begin to read.
I know this will be the last letter because they have found me. For years I’ve been hiding, flitting from place to place and from mind to mind, but they are clever. They are oh so clever. Far smarter, if I am honest with you, than we ever suspected.
I had spent the last six months cloistered in a small reality somewhere in the outer reaches of Maybe. It is an indecisive and frustrating little backwater, but I could hide there and attract no attention. As you can imagine, I was surprised when the mayor called on me one afternoon and requested that I leave.
I’d spent a blissful afternoon ambling absently through Chalif’s take on the Interapolation of Mindful States and it took me a few minutes to understand what he was saying.
If you are not yet sitting, Daniel, I would suggest you do so now. You see, there had been murders. Not one or two, but many. They started as a brief trickle, but in the six months since I’d arrived, they had become something of a river.
You can well imagine my consternation at what I was being told. He didn’t come out and say it, but the suggestion was there and I found myself unable to deny it.
I am the very thing we’ve spent so many years searching for. And yet, in all my naivety and ignorance, I have ignored what is in front of my eyes.
I know what you are thinking as you sit in your comfy chair and stare about at the charming chaos of your tiny lounge. Part of me wishes for that chaos, just as I wish I could speak to you about this. But the decision we made all those years ago must stand, however much I regret it.
I lower the letter and do as he says. Charming chaos is about right. Who is this person? I should probably feel bad about reading someone else’s post, but this is fascinating, in much the same way as watching a car crash. Either the author of this letter is completely mad or… actually, there is no or.
When the mayor had left, I dug out my kit and performed the same tests you and I had performed a hundred, no, a thousand times before. I checked my blood and cleaved free a slice of Spirit. Both went into the jar along with the necessaries and minutes later, I saw the truth.
I do believe I lost reason then. I remember not the rest of that day, nor the week following it. I was dragged back to reality by the arrival of the mayor’s men, come to kindly escort me to the Gate and see me safely to another reality. By then I couldn’t, in all conscience, argue. I left and came here, to the Core.
It is beautiful here, but of course you know that. I had forgotten. It has been many years since we tripped down its lighted streets and stared in the windows of the Promise Shops. I was foolish last night, and visited the Opera. It was, I think, the final nail in my already groaning coffin.
I have done much in the last two weeks to block out the reality which has struck me like a cancer. I am the Conduit. I am the cause of a thousand murders, perpetrated over a hundred different realities. I am who we spent so long chasing. And here we reach the real reason I am writing to you.
I am, as you know, rather fond of putting pen to paper when the excuse arises, but never before have I found it so hard to write. So I shall be as brief as I can.
My first is a warning. By the time this reaches you, if indeed it ever does, I will be dead. But they will not be content with just my blood. We were associates for so long, they will not stop in tracking you down.
My second is a question. It is not one to which I will ever know the answer, but still I find myself compelled to ask. Did you know? I have found myself going back over our years together, trying to decide if the way you looked at me, or the way you said certain things, betrayed your knowledge. You were always the smarter of us, but your love for me could have clouded your otherwise impeccable judgement.
So I ask you now, Daniel, did you know?
I don’t know why I ask. I would certainly not gain from the knowing, nor is there any chance of me ever receiving an answer. But still I must ask.
My time is growing short. The sparks are falling heavier tonight and the murders have begun. A scream reaches me from a few rooms across. My heart hurts. For so many years those screams have roused in me a surge of righteous indignation, a yearning to solve one of the universe’s greatest mysteries. Now I feel nothing but guilt.
You must have known. You must have. Yet you did nothing. You travelled with me across countless worlds, always hunting, always one step behind. Why? This, I discover, is what plagues me as I wait for the axe to fall. I could count victims, I still remember their names.
I scan down the list. There are three and a half sides of names. Some are normal:
Others are bizarre, obviously moments when the letter writer’s mind wandered:
The Wondrous Elephaticus
Lots of name. Victims, apparently, though I’m not totally sure what of. I read on.
But instead I can think of only one. You. You who loved me for so long. You who whispered that love to me on a thousand nights across a thousand worlds. You who wiped your own memory rather than cling to the love you finally gave up, to keep us both safe.
Have you still forgotten, Daniel? Are you still living in that chaos, surrounded by the camouflage you wrapped around your brain? I am scared for you. And I am running out of time.
I’ve rambled. I knew I would. My only true hope is that, if you didn’t know, then this letter will bring closure to the only case you never cracked. And if you did know, then maybe my own closure can bring you some sense of peace? I live in hope, despite my impending end.
You waited for me to say it and I never did. Stupidly, ridiculously, I regret that more than the thousands of deaths I have discovered I caused. But now I can set it straight. I love you, Daniel, more than these frail words can express, and I wish you well.
A final word of caution. They are coming for me and they will soon be coming for you.
Yours, as always
I set the letter down on my side table. My hand is shaking, which is ludicrous because I slept perfectly well last night. My tea’s gone cold. There’s something niggling the back of my mind, but when I reach for it, it skips away into the shadows. There are plenty of shadows there these days.
Max. I know the name, but I’m not sure why. There’s a knock at the door and I lift myself from my chair to amble down the passageway. There is more than one person at my door, making silhouettes I’ve not seen in years yet are suddenly, undeniably, familiar. I hesitate, reaching for the wall, and the shadows of my mind are pierced by a bright, unforgiving light. But they don’t matter at all, because I’ve remembered who Max is.
Something slams against the front door just as something slams against my ribs. The stabbing in my chest drives me to the carpet and as I lie, my frail hands twitching against the skirting boards, I mutter to myself.
‘Of course I knew. You stupid wonderful bastard, of course I knew.’