Secret letter the beginn.., p.1
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       Secret Letter: The Beginning, p.1

           Roger Hayden
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Secret Letter: The Beginning
Secret Letter: The Beginning

  By Roger Hayden

  DBS Publishing LLC

  Copyright 2017 by DBS Publishing LLC


  Clearwater, Maine

  Victoria Owens arrived home from work exhausted. Her husband, Todd, was still working, but her young daughter, Brooke, was there. It was just past six on a Wednesday evening, and after Victoria made dinner, she needed to plan for Brooke’s upcoming birthday. Brooke would turn eleven in one week. A month after that, Victoria, herself, would turn forty-three. The baffling expeditious passage of time stunned Victoria.

  She parked her silver Toyota Corolla under the shade of their elm tree’s sprawling branches. The garage door was closed, with most of its space dedicated to the 1979 Pontiac Firebird that Todd had been tinkering with for years. Car idling, she sat and listened to the tail-end of a news report about the discovery of a missing woman in the lake off Interstate Ninety-five. Apparently, she had been strangled.

  The victim’s name was Susan Shields. She was a wife and mother of three who had met an inexplicably tragic end. The suspect, they said, was still at large. Victoria switched off the ignition and stepped out to see that most of the lights in their house were on. Brooke had a habit of doing that, no matter how many times she had been told not to.

  They lived in a quaint three-bedroom home with an arched roof and red chimney. Its blue-bordered windows and beige siding looked at fresh as the day they’d had the house painted. Their home was everything she could hope for.

  The cool breeze ushered her over the stone walkway leading to the front porch with its white pillars atop a wooden railing. She sighed at the sight of their front door propped open behind the screen, another thing to scold Brooke about, and went inside.

  “Brooke! I told you before to keep this door locked and closed when we’re not home.”

  She then leaned against the wall of the foyer and slipped off her sandals, massaging each foot.

  She then noticed that the windows in the adjacent living room were open as well.

  "Brooke?" she continued, looking around.

  Not a sound came from the nearby dining room or kitchen. From the foyer, she looked to her left down the bedroom hallway and heard Brooke's door open as light shined into the hall.

  "What?" Brooke asked as she emerged into the hall with headphones on.

  With her daughter within an arm's reach, Victoria pulled off her headphones without warning.

  "Hey!" Brook said, angered.

  "I told you to keep the doors and windows locked when your father or I aren’t home. What’s wrong with you?”

  Brooke paused and looked around the house, tossing her head and setting in motion her dirty-blonde hair, pulled back into a ponytail. "What's the big deal? It's so nice out."

  Victoria grabbed Brooke by her shoulder, startling her. "It's not safe, okay? If I come home to this one more time, you’ll be spending your afternoons doing chores at Mrs. McKenzie’s house across the street.”

  "I’ll be good," Brooke said, recoiling.

  "Now go start on your homework if you haven't already. Then you can help me with dinner."

  Brooke looked up with curiosity. "Did you have a bad day or something?"

  Victoria then pulled her closer and gave her a hug. "I’m sorry. How was school?"

  "Okay," Brooke said, hugging her back. "I was thinking of joining the track team."

  "Really?” she said, impressed. “That'd be great. I know how much you love to run."

  "It's tomorrow at three. Katie’s going to."

  "Sounds good," Victoria said. She paused as Brooke walked back to her room, cell phone in hand. “Hey. Homework first, young lady.”

  "I know," Brooke said, continuing down the hall. "I checked the mail earlier. It's on the table."

  Victoria entered the kitchen and set her purse down next to the mail on the table. She pulled a chair out and sat with her head up and a relieved sigh. As a project analyst for LTD Technologies, she spent most of her day on her feet, running between her office and the production floor where they were testing a new line of optical lenses. Her team was responsible for. Fortunately, there hadn’t been any deficiencies discovered… yet.

  She was exhausted but also knew that she had to get dinner started. The sooner the better. She went through the mail, tossing “pre-approved” credit card applications and other junk mail aside until reaching the last envelope, which gave her pause. The greeting-card-shaped envelope had her name and address hand-written. She examined the sender's address carefully in the left-hand corner. The name, Elizabeth J. Hayes, did not strike her as familiar. The address, 3050 Bloomfield Way, Hartford, Connecticut, was a mystery as well.

  She opened the envelope and pulled out a single folded page. She quickly unfolded it, revealing a typed message.

  Dear lucky student from Summerville High, Class of 1991,

  Our twenty-fifth-year high school reunion is right around the corner! Congratulations! You have been selected to receive this letter of goodwill and fortune. It is imperative that you choose a classmate of choice to next send this message to, for if you fail to do so, you will find irreversible consequences for breaking the chain. Thank you, and best of luck!

  Confused, she read the letter over a few more times and then flipped it over. There was no writing on the back. The lettering was a twelve-point Times New Roman font and there was no signature at the bottom.

  Had it really been twenty-five years already? She couldn’t believe it. She expected to find the date and location of the reunion. It wasn’t an invitation at all. It was just some stupid chain letter.

  She got up and walked to the trash can with the letter in hand but then hesitated in throwing it out. It was simply too strange to entirely dismiss. Did she know an Elizabeth? And if so, how did the woman get her mailing address? Curious, she decided to keep the letter, but in no way was going to continue some ridiculous chain. She re-folded it and placed it back in the envelope, pushing it inside a drawer of unopened mail under the microwave.

  As she went to the pantry, the name suddenly rushed back. She did remember an Elizabeth from high school, but her last name wasn't Hayes, it was Butler. They were friends during Victoria's sophomore and senior years at Summerville High. No one called her Elizabeth, however. She went by Liz.

  Victoria opened the pantry door and scanned the shelves, searching for the right noodles and pasta sauce, as high school memories flooded her mind. She really couldn’t believe so much time had passed. She had never attended any previous high school reunions and wasn’t sure if she’d go to the one upcoming. It would be nice to see Liz and the old gang. She remembered her close friends Betsy and Gordon and Cooper. It had been years since she had talked to any of them. Longer than she could remember. But the past was the past, and she had dinner to make.

  Todd arrived home late, disheveled and apologetic. He entered the kitchen with his suit coat over one arm and holding his briefcase. The collar of his dress shirt was open and his tie was missing. Victoria turned from the stove, stirring a pot of noodles, steam rising from the boiling water.

  "Glad you could join us."

  He set his briefcase down and his coat on the back of a chair. “Sorry. Hammond loves to drag out meetings into all hours of the night.” He ran his hands through his short, wavy hair and rubbed his eyes.

  Todd worked at the web-based marketing firm, Counterparts Inc., where he supervised his own team. With the recent promotion came long hours and healthy doses of venting at the end of the day.

  "Dinner’s almost ready," Victoria said.

  Todd nodded, five o'clock shadow showing on his cheeks. "I think I'll go ahead and take a qui
ck shower."

  "Quick..." Victoria repeated.

  Todd stopped and looked around. "Where’s Brooke?"

  "She better be in her room doing her homework," Victoria said, stirring.

  “Sounds good,” Todd said, leaving the kitchen. "I'll be back in a jiffy.”

  Victoria grabbed a nearby strainer as she heard Todd walk away and close their bedroom door.

  "How was your day, Victoria?" she said to herself. "Just fine, Todd. Thank you for asking."

  She then lifted the pot of long noodles and poured them into the strainer as steam rose into her face. She dumped the noodles back into the empty pot, set it on the burner, and turned around to call out to Brooke. “Come help set the table!”

  Brooke eventually appeared, took some plates from the cupboard and placed them on the table. Vitoria stirred the meat and pasta sauce in the frying pan.

  “Is it almost ready?” Brooke asked.

  “Yes. Just a minute.”

  Todd returned not five minutes later, wearing a white T-shirt and shorts and drying his hair with a towel. They sat down and ate as Todd and Brooke talked about her school day, allowing Victoria a moment of peace to get her thoughts together, the letter on her mind. She still couldn’t believe that it had been twenty-five years since she had graduated high school. She had been married to Todd for ten years now, Brooke was already eleven, and her life showed no signs of slowing down. Had she made something of herself? Would her old friends be proud of her?

  Just past ten, Victoria lay in bed next to Todd in her nightgown, reading a book. Her long, dark hair was brushed back past her shoulders, and traces of white night cream highlighted her thin face and high cheekbones. There were lamps on both sides of the bed, illuminating the room. Todd sat propped up and flipping through some papers with his reading glasses on.

  "Everything alright?" she asked, closing her book.

  He turned his head, distracted. "Oh. Yes. I'm fine. Just reviewing this new client proposal for tomorrow. The usual stuff.”

  Victoria turned on her side and rubbed his arm, when she suddenly thought of the chain latter.

  "I received this weird chain letter in the mail today from an old high school friend.”

  Todd looked over with a raised brow. "A chain letter?"

  "Yep. It promised good fortune if I sent it off to someone else from my high school."

  Todd looked back at his papers, disinterested.

  "The name on the envelope was Elizabeth Hayes. Elizabeth Butler was my fiend in high school. Why would she mail it instead of using email or Facebook?”

  Todd set his papers on his lap and looked at her as though she was disrupting him. "I don't know. Why don't you ask her?"

  "I haven't talked to Liz since we graduated. I don't even know how she got my address."

  “That’s weird,” he said, his interest in the matter fading.

  She lay her head back against her pillow, staring at the ceiling popcorn and the spinning blades of the fan. Her mind drifted off to questions about the letter as her eyes grew heavy and she fell asleep.

  Victoria suddenly woke up to a darkened room. Todd snored next to her, under the covers. A glance at her alarm clock showed that it was a little past two in the morning. She felt completely awake, restless even, and carefully removed the covers, stepping out of the bed. She'd look up Elizabeth Butler on the Internet and see what she could come up with.

  She moved across the carpet in the darkness and walked out of the bedroom and into the computer room down the hall. Once inside, she switched on the light and closed the door behind her. At the desk, she brought the computer out of sleep mode, opened the search browser, and typed, “Elizabeth Hayes, Connecticut.” A list of results appeared and she immediately knew that something wasn’t right.

  Her eyes stared in disbelief at the headline: Hartford Woman found dead in home. They couldn’t have been talking about Liz. There was no way. She clicked on the article and read that Elizabeth Hayes, single mother of two, had been murdered in an apparent home invasion.

  Victoria moved her face closer to the screen, desperate for details. The article showed a picture of a smiling woman in her late thirties with reddish hair and freckles. It was Liz, but older.

  Victoria covered her mouth, confounded. "Oh no..."

  The report stated that Elizabeth Hayes had been found dead in her bedroom by one of her two teenage children, stabbed to death. No forced entry was evident, nothing appeared stolen, and there were no signs of sexual assault. Other than that, the article’s details were frustratingly scant.

  It was dated two weeks ago. Liz had already been dead since then. Victoria couldn’t imagine the horror that her children endured after discovering their mother dead the next morning. She printed the article along with two other local stories that reported the murder. They all shared the same information: Mother of two found dead after apparent break-in. One of the articles said that she had been stabbed.

  Victoria sat in her office, silent and frozen. She wondered who would have done such a thing to her old friend. It was senseless and evil, and she couldn’t understand it any more than how the letter sent by Liz ended up Victoria’s mailbox two weeks after Liz’s death.

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