Walter delivers a letter. Winner of SCREAMS!!! Sept. 09 2020.
He was a little below average height, bespectacled and with unruly hair, a bristling moustache greying as evidence of his forty-five years, disheveled in dress and shod with a pair of those solid, no-nonsense shoes worn by the older generation in the 1950s. It would be hard to find a more inoffensive and unremarkable hero for a tale as dark, daunting and dreadful as the one we find him in.
There were hidden depths in Walter Confucius Eglington, however. The lack of importance he attached to his clothes is the clue, the unlikely giveaway, that this unassuming fellow had weightier things on his mind than his appearance. As the only employee in the Dead Letter Department, Walter had a gallant history to live up to. The reputation of the Post Office, that it would find an addressee no matter how curtailed the address, was dependent entirely on the performance of this singularly unimpressive employee.
Walter was only too aware of the responsibility laid upon him. In the twenty-seven years of his employ, he had never failed to see that a letter found its correct destination. Even though it sometimes took years to figure out the intended target of a scribbled name and little else on a creased and tired envelope, Walter would apply his considerable powers of deduction to the matter and see that, ultimately, it found its unsuspecting object. As long as he constituted the entire department, the little man ensured that the Post Office’s century-old reputation in the matter continued to be the brightest star in its crown.
It is no surprise, therefore, to find him this day, seated at his Victorian desk, brow in hand, and staring at a crumpled envelope in his hand. It was the same one that he had studied like this for three years now, using every spare moment to winkle out its secrets. The address was limited, to say the least.
MAY HE ROT IN
It would be fair to say that this address was fairly unusual, even in such a department as Walter’s. He knew that, if there was a conundrum that would rob his employer of its fine reputation, this was it. He had searched the phone books and registers, the land registry, the voter rolls, everywhere he could think of and turned up any number of H. Carvingtons. Some even went so far as to have a middle initial but never the necessary E.
The search had been broadened to every post office in the country, and word had gone round that H.E.Carvington must be found. But, as the months wore on and no hint of the addressee’s existence turned up, Walter began to lose hope. Every day he stared at the envelope and every day it stared back, refusing to add to its enigmatic address.
It was on this day that inspiration touched Walter and he sat back forcefully in his chair, clapping a hand to his forehead. “I’m an idiot!” he exclaimed. “The address is as clear as the nose on my face.”
Seizing some paper and a pen, he began immediately to write a letter to be copied to all parish churches in the country. As these were mailed and spread out like feelers into the furthest reaches of the country, Walter sat in his office, hoping desperately that his moment of brilliance would bring the desired result.
For two months nothing transpired. And then, on a dull day in November, a letter, addressed to him, arrived from the deacon of a tiny church in the wilds of Northumberland. Upon opening it, Walter found the news he had been waiting for.
Born 17th September, 1898
Died 3rd April, 1957
It seemed, just as Walter had suspected, that H.E. was already resident in the domicile wished upon him by his passionate correspondent.
Now the problem of delivering the letter presented itself to Walter. He reasoned that the graveyard in the Northumberland village would be the best place to start and, after a brief conversation with his boss and being given permission to have a few days off, Walter purchased a train ticket for the North and departed for Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
From there he took a coach westward, finally disembarking at a place closest to the desired village, Witherkins. He paid for a taxi to take him the last few miles. It was easy then to find the church surrounded by its graveyard and the inevitable yew trees..
He found the local postmaster and the deacon waiting for him in the church. Swiftly, he explained his quest, finishing with a request to see Carvington’s grave. They obliged and Walter was soon looking down at the relevant tombstone at its head. It proclaimed the name of the deceased, with dates exactly as advised by the deacon, there being no further information save a brief rhyme underneath.
Seek me not here to give me my due
I am long gone before to prepare for you
The ever practical Walter sighed at the lack of mention of a domicile. How was he to deliver the letter now? He could, of course, have left the envelope on the grave, trusting to fate to send it to an appropriate end. But the glory of Her Majesty’s Mail hung heavy about his shoulders and he knew that, to maintain the proud record, he should see the letter delivered into the hands of the addressee.
Even as he thought this, it began to rain; that gentle but cold rain of the North that found its way through clothes and flesh to freeze the bones. They hurried back to the church.
The deacon asked if he could see the letter and Walter handed it to him. The postmaster looked over his shoulder and said, “You’ll have to tell him, you know,”
“No, no, that’s a terrible thought,” answered the deacon.
Walter was immediately interested. “Tell me what?”
“It’s just a silly legend,” replied the deacon. “Can’t have any bearing on this matter. That would be insanity.”
“It’s the nature of my job,” explained Walter. “I have to get dead letters to their intended destination and, if this legend is going to help, I must hear it.”
The deacon was silent for a moment, clearly wrestling with the duty now thrust upon him. But finally he shrugged and began. “In the crypt in this church there’s a door. As far as I know, it’s never been opened but legend has it that it leads down to hell. Now, obviously, if no one has ever been through the door to see, the notion of it leading to hell is a bit ridiculous. How would anyone know?”
Walter considered this. It was an unlikely story, that was for sure, but it was his duty to follow up on every lead. At the very least, he should take a look at this door. He asked to be shown it.
The postmaster was sent to retrieve the key from its hiding place in the sacristy, while the deacon led Walter down into the crypt. In a dark corner there stood an ancient door, wood scarred with age and huge hinges discoloured by rust and dirt. It certainly looked as though it had never been opened.
The postmaster arrived with the key, a massive thing, clumsily shaped but appropriate in age for the task of turning the door’s lock. The deacon handed it to Walter. “Your decision,” he said. He took a pace back as if taking no responsibility for what followed.
Walter inserted the key. He paused for a moment and then twisted his grip. The sounds of metal on metal confirmed that something was happening within the lock. When the sounds ceased, Walter tried the door handle and it obeyed his touch. The door swung open.
It led into a dark tunnel, at the end of which was a faint, red glow. Decision time, thought Walter. Duty forced the matter and he stepped forward. Down the tunnel he went, hearing the deacon’s entreaties to be careful as he went but steeling himself for the task.
He emerged into a small chamber, at the far side of which, the tunnel continued. A dog was chained to the wall by the entrance to this tunnel. At the appearance of Walter, the dog awoke and looked at him. It had three heads.
Walter had seen enough. He did not need to be told that the dog’s name was Cerberus. He turned and ran back towards the ancient door. But it had gone. The tunnel ended in a blank rock wall without any sign that the door had ever existed. In the gloom of that dreadful place, Walter realised that his fate was set, that he must either starve here in the dark or take his chances with the dog.
Perhaps if he could deliver the letter, he would be allowed to return to the world of the living. Perhaps.
Word Count: 1,494
For SCREAMS!!!, Sept. 09 2020
Prompt: Use one of the following words to write a story:
A RABBIT, AN ENVELOPE, A TIRE, A KING, A NICKEL