No one sends hand-written letters anymore, not like the one I sent you.
In the same way, no one curses anyone anymore, at least not seriously, or so I believed.
Yet they happened together, the letter and the curse.
With the letter, I knew I lacked practice. I struggled to say things I could never say in e-mails, to communicate the emptiness I felt in coming to that strange town without you. When you sent me away, you said my cat would make up for you staying behind, but that proved painfully wrong.
Finding the right words for the letter proved difficult enough, but stamping and addressing the envelope—I hadn’t done such things in years, and I sat in the car parked in front of the post office, struggling to do these things correctly. I put the stamp on upside down, for one thing, and I worried that even such a trivial detail would prevent it from making it to you. My shaky handwriting also vexed me, and even if I got the numbers right, would the mailman decipher my scrawls?
So preoccupied did I become that I failed to notice I had left the car in neutral.
It rolled forward without me noticing, striking the bumper of the car parked in front of me.
Such a slight bump wouldn’t cause much damage, and I hoped no one saw so I could ignore it altogether. Just mail the letter and drive away. But a figure materialized behind the wheel of the car I struck, and I realized I would have to offer recompense. I waited for him to leave the car and walk over to me, but he remained still, and I knew then that I must go to him.
His car looked much worse than mine, a dented red compact several decades old with black smudges and scratches. Approaching closer, many of these scratches seemed to take on form and definition, as if someone had shaped them in a deliberate, purposeful way, as if to communicate, though it looked like no alphabet I knew. For reasons I can’t explain, those scratched inscriptions looked old, much older in origin than the car itself or any form of writing that I knew.
The man seemed to wait for me behind the wheel, though he appeared not to look at me. He wore a red cap and sunglasses. When I approached his window, he rolled it down without turning his head. A buzzing sound filled my ears, and I could see insects covering the car’s interior. They flew into my face as I apologized and, though I had no money, offered to pay for any damage I may have caused.
“You interrupted my prayer,” the man said.
I apologized for that, too, wondering who would pray on a hot day in a car crawling with insects. He seemed to not care for my apology because he repeated those words.
“You interrupted my prayer.”
The flies continued to buzz around me, though they didn’t appear to trouble the man. He still had not faced me, and the sunglasses covered his eyes. The insects concerned me. He could be sick, I thought, a person in need, and I wondered if he could even be blind. A blind man behind the wheel of a car made no sense, of course, but if he couldn’t see, I could walk away, and I started to do so.
Then he muttered something else.
Politely as I knew how, I walked back and asked him to repeat himself.
He said, “You interrupted my prayer, but I put a curse on you instead.” With that, he turned and faced me for the first time and took off his sunglasses.
He had no eyes.
Just empty sockets. Hollowed-out meaty caverns in his head filled with insects.
I ran back to my car, fumbling with my keys and struggling to turn the ignition. Through the windshield, I saw him there, unmoved, still just sitting there. I could feel him watching me with empty, writhing sockets, and I put the car into reverse and drove away as fast as I could, the letter to you on the passenger seat.
Driving, I had to bat flies away from my eyes. A swarm of them followed me back into my car. For weeks, months even, I couldn’t remove them. I could never free it from what had flown from his eyes.
The letter to you didn’t go into the mail until several days later. When I returned to the post office, I made sure to engage the parking brake. I also looked for the man in the red hat and didn’t leave the car until I made sure he was nowhere around.
I thought about his words every day, though I didn’t believe in curses. No one does.
And I still refused even when I lost my job, I refused even when my cat, my only companion, went missing. I even refused when you stopped answering your phone.
No return letter ever arrived, despite my daily walk to the mailbox at the end of the drive.
On one such walk, I found the remains of my cat, run over by a car it first appeared.
Then I saw the empty eye sockets, the insects.
I remembered again the upside down stamp, but you never answered your phone.
Eventually someone else did, someone I didn’t know.
Maybe, I thought, maybe the man with the red hat saw your address somehow. Maybe I carried the envelope with me when I went to the window of his car and just didn’t remember doing so. He could have seen it, memorized it.
The flies in your empty eye sockets, they say, match the ones in my car. I deny the accusations, but this must be true.
I don’t know if you ever received my letter, if you had time to read it.
Before the other thing arrived.
That much worse thing.
Douglas Ford lives, writes, and teaches on the west coast of Florida. His previous fiction has appeared in a variety of publications, most recently Black Chaos: Tales of the Zombie from Big Pulp and Beyond the Nightlight from A Murder of Storytellers. He has also had two stories accepted recently by Cracked Eye, while his story, “Processed Meat,” was lucky enough to receive a Stoker recommendation a few years ago.
Betty Rocksteady is a Canadian author and illustrator. Learn more at www.bettyrocksteady.com.