Free Read Challenge Response: Letters from Beyond

This week's Wendig Challenge consisted of selecting 5 of 10 words from a pre-generated list. These words had to be incorporated in a 1,000-word story.

My 5 randomly rolled words were: 'library', 'storm', 'envelope', 'undertaker', 'chisel', and I almost missed the first two.

The result? Letters from Beyond, a short story of 999 words. Enjoy.

Letters from Beyond

The first letters caught them by surprise, sliding out in an avalanche, as though hurrying to be revealed. Wilfred dropped the hammer and chisel, with a startled shout. He tumbled off the step ladder, falling into Alice and Marriot as finished putting the third stone block down on the floor. All three collapsed in a heap, partially buried under musty paper and torn wax seals.
It had taken them all morning to locate the space, and then make enough of a gap that Wilfred could rest his lantern on a ledge, and reach into the cavity. His jubilation was justified. Of all the letters his aunt had written and received, he’d found only one, hidden in the book stacks of the ancient library he’d inherited. It had hinted at dark times and unsavory dealings. It had not revealed exactly what, or exactly who, and its envelope had been unmarred by postage marks.
“Get off me,” Marriot said, when the world settled. He was on the bottom of the pile, pinned by Alice’s weight on his legs, and Wilfred’s backside on one arm. Wilfred’s step ladder had come to rest on his forehead, and what felt like half a ton of letters had washed over his stomach.
Alice moved first. Her words were too muffled to make out, which was probably a good thing, since it sounded like a very unladylike curse. She sat up, spitting an envelope out of her mouth, and brushing letters from her chest. When she’d lifted herself off Marriot’s legs, she dusted herself down, and sneezed.
“Well,” she said, looking at Wilfred. “You were right.”
“For a change,” Wilfred said, pushing himself to his feet.
“Sorry, old chap,” he added, lifting the stool off Marriott’s face. “Damn things caught me by surprise. Who’d have thought the old duck hid them all the way down here?”
“Who said it was the old duck?” asked a new voice. “Who’s to say it wasn’t me?”
“You, Trumley?” Wilfred asked. “But why would you hide the letters?”
“I’m the undertaker, remember? Lord of Death? Executor of Wills? Any of those ring a bell with you?”
“Yeah,” Wilfred said, “You’re the guy I got the idea from in the first place.”
Trumley’s narrow face twisted into a grimace of regret.
“I know,” he said, his plummy tones showing irony. “You can’t imagine how much I’ve been kicking myself since I told you about the letters. Who’d have thought a single envelope would have led you here?”
“You weren’t to know you missed one.” Alice, always the peacemaker, always the one to try to make someone feel better about themselves. Bound to be the first one Trumley took out. After all, she stood closest to him.
“No,” Trumley agreed, coming further down the stairs, lifting the lantern above his head.
“No!” Marriott shouted, and, having found his feet at last, launched himself across the intervening space. He caught Trumley in the act of swinging the lantern back, stopped the man from pitching the open flame forward and onto the tinder dry pile of history. He smothered the flame with the edge of his coat, when it escaped the shattered glass and found spilled oil on which to feed. An inferno died stillborn.
Marriott almost died as well, but Trumley couldn’t twist far enough to draw the dagger hidden at his belt, and Marriott was quick to disarm him, once he saw what the man was doing.
“Trying to improve your business?” He asked, panting as he pinned the undertaker down.
Trumley, so eloquent at the graveside, gave an unintelligible snarl.
Alice stooped and picked up a letter.
“Last Will and Testament?” she asked. “Why would you hide those?”
“Executor, remember?” Wilfred said, turning the step ladder upright, and setting it beside the gap they had made in the cellar walls. Clambering up, he peered inside.
“What’s this?” he asked, reaching inside.
More envelopes trickled out of the gap, falling like autumn leaves. There was silence as the watched the letters fall to the floor, and then Wilfred glanced into the gap. There was the rustle of more paper, then the clink of glass, and, then Wilfred asked in shocked tones, “Just how many did you kill?”
The undertaker was scrabbling at the floor, rolling his shoulders, and flailing out with his left hand as though trying to reach the wall. He have failed if Marriott hadn’t been so distracted.
“What do you mean, Wil?
“I mean, there’s a bunch of bottles up here with people’s names on them. Mother Harrison’s bottle says heart. Father Beatle’s says liver. Shona’s says”—his voice gave a hitch—“cancer.”
Marriott turned back to the undertaker, but his grip had loosened enough that the man had found a niche in the stone wall, curved his fingers around the edge, and given a firm squeeze.
Metal groaned beyond the stonework, something creaked like a wooden beam under pressure, and the floor shook.
“Grab hold of something!” Alice yelled, and bounded up the stairs, leaping over Marriott and the undertaker, to reach the door.
Marriott let go of the undertaker, propelling himself after his girlfriend and latching onto the lintel with seconds to spare. Wilfred found a grip on the broad niche he’d been investigating. The step ladder danced from beneath his feet, plummeting as the floor gave way. Wilfred’s lantern followed, the flame dying as it descended in the cavern below.
The walls trembled. The stairs collapsed. The undertaker leapt into the abyss, his coat billowing as his body fell. His laughter spiraling back up to them as he descended. He didn’t sound dismayed.
When the stonework stopped shaking, and the walls held firm, Wilfred wriggled into the niche, curling up in the dark, and panting heavily. He looked for light, and found it in the crowded rectangle leading to the cellar. Marriott and Alice, arms wound around each other’s waists, backlit by the lightning of an autumn storm.
Thunder rumbled.
“We’ll go get help,” they said.

Comments

  1. Wow! Gripping story! Love how you started in medias res and left me hanging (but I'd also love to know more about the story, which is great).

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you, Autumn. I never know how these challenges are going to turn out. I'm glad you liked this one :-)

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