Chain Letter 


Anton Deveau had a schedule. 6:00 a.m.—start the day, hot shower, shave, brush his teeth, little blue pill, coffee, croissant, get dressed, act like he had some place to be, strip, sit on the couch, watch television, and scratch his balls. By midafternoon, he was knee high in his own self-pity. After Divorce Court and Seinfeld, it was time for lunch. A sandwich, maybe some leftover chicken or a slice of cold pizza. At this point, eating became just another habit. Everything was right on time, “like clockwork,” he’d say.

5:00 p.m., he would make some calls, listen to his mom bitch about the old, fat ladies at church, hang up and think about the friends he used to have. Call his buddy, get some weed and pretend he was happy. Night falls, right on time. Order dinner, Chinese, Italian, or perhaps he would feel exotic one night and order Thai or Indian. He always ate on his sofa, the ugly purple and green plaid couch his ex-girlfriend, Vicky, dumped on him. 9:00 p.m. rolls around. Head to the bedroom, put his ear up against the wall, and listen to his neighbors having sex. Like clockwork. Give them thirty minutes then bang on the wall. 11:00 p.m. was bedtime. Two white pills and a yellow one. Sleep takes over and then the cycle repeats.

Today, Anton woke up, 6:00 a.m. as usual. He took his shower, shaved and in the middle of brushing his teeth, heard a knock on the door. He tried to ignore it and continued to brush his teeth. He got the small white cup that sat at the back of the counter and filled it with water before rinsing his mouth. The knocking came again. He acted as though he didn’t hear but the small rapping soon became a constant pounding. Anton threw down his face towel and left the bathroom.

“Alright already, I’m coming,” he shouted.

The knocking stopped.

Anton got to the door and looked through the peephole. To his relief, he saw no one, only a darkened hall.

“Damned kids.”

He opened the door slowly, peering into the hall. When he was sure no one was there, he opened the door all the way. At his feet was an envelope. It had no address and simply read “open me.” Anton’s brows furrowed. He looked across the hall. Directly across from him was a door with a dingy number 12 on it. He knew his would say 13. Anton picked up the envelope and quickly retreated into his unit, locking the door.

The apartment was quiet and still—his haven from the outside world. Anton threw the letter on the couch and went to the window. He pulled back the curtain to let some light into his living room and was met with a glass pane filled with rivulets of water. All he could see through the rain were blurry colors and obscure shapes. He closed the curtain again and turned the knob of his floor lamp—the warm glow lifted his mood. Anton looked at the white envelope on the couch. “Open me.”

He made his way over to the couch and sat, picking up the piece of abandoned mail. He held it up to the light and knew it wasn’t a check. He opened it with one swift tear at the end. One piece of folded paper slid out. It was thin and yellow, its ends slightly browning with decay. He unfolded it. Scrawled on the paper were bold and sharp letters, script written as though the writer didn’t have enough time.

To whomever this letter now finds,” he read, “I have made a grave mistake and have paid the ultimate price….”

“What the hell?” He said. He didn’t bother finishing the letter.

Anton threw it aside. It must have been some sort of joke, a prank some snot-nosed kid was pulling to screw with his head. Well he wouldn’t let anyone ruin his day. Anton looked at the clock. A bit past 7:00 a.m.—time for his coffee. He went to his kitchen, which was as cluttered as the rest of his home. ‘Organized chaos,’ he called it. Everything had its place. It just so happened its place might be in a stack against the wall or a pile at the foot of his couch. Anton grabbed his bag of coffee grounds, got water from the sink and performed his usual rituals. He sat back against the counter and folded his arm, eyes falling back on the letter.

A “grave mistake,” the letter mentioned. What if the letter wasn’t a prank but a cry for help from some young, hot girl next door? Anton bit his lower lip. His coffee steamed. He grabbed the pot and poured the dark beverage into his favorite mug. Anton leaned back and took a sip. Whoever wrote the letter acted as if they did not know who they were writing to. To whomever this letter now finds. Anton scoffed and looked at the clock. It was time to get dressed.

He finished his coffee, trying to let the warmth calm the distressing thoughts of the letter. He weaved through the mess, heading to his bedroom to open his closet and fish through wrinkled shirts, jeans, sweaters and slacks. He settled on some old yet comfortable jeans and a white tank top.

Afterwards, he walked back into the living room and plopped on the couch, kicking up his feet and pushing aside a stack of magazines on the table. He turned on the television and flipped to his usual channel. Some girl was crying in the arms of a talk show host while a man yelled victoriously in her face about not being the father of her baby. Usually seeing the troubles of others lifted his own mood, but instead, he thought about the letter, now lying on the floor by the leg of the table.

“Ugh, fine…,” he said before giving in and picking up the letter.

He opened it up once more and began to read.

To whomever this letter now finds, you have made a grave mistake and must pay the price. So it is written, so it is written….” He was sure he had read it differently before. Anton rubbed and blinked his eyes before continuing. The words began to fade some, impossible to read, ‘till they came back, just barely legible.

Alone, alone, he finds himself, inviting all his friends.

Anton frowned. “Friends?” The part of the letter written in a hurried scrawl ended there. Anton didn’t have friends.

“What the hell is this, an invitation?”

Below that was more text, printed neatly as if another person had written it.

Through smoke and shadow you now see. Invite the cold ones to come into thee. Tongue and spit, come to call, open the door into the cold one’s hall. Be and be gone, at midnight strikes the clock. Answer the call, when you hear the knock.

Anton could only stare at the letter. He didn’t know what to think of it. Only that it was total bullshit, and the fact someone left it at his doorstep further angered him. He wanted to rip it, tear it into pieces and say “screw you” to whomever was playing with him.

Without any more thought to the letter that had haunted him all morning, he continued to watch TV. Commercials, reruns, breaking news, and sitcoms came and went. Then the clock struck 12:00 noon. Anton got up, wondering why he hadn’t climbed back into some comfortable pajama pants.

“Because my whole day got fucked by that letter,” he said.

It was lunch time and he had skipped breakfast. He was feeling that decision.

His stomach growled and ached. So, Anton headed to his fridge. He opened the door and was greeted by the smell of decay, the sickening scent of rotting meat and vegetables.

“What? What happened to my food?” He grumbled into the palm of his hand, covering his mouth so he wouldn’t puke from the putrid smell.

He opened his freezer to check if it was broken. It was cold, too cold. All his food was frozen and freezer burned, yet the dial had not been touched. He quickly closed his refrigerator and went to the phone. Take-out was nice.

He called the number for Joe’s Pizzeria. The line had interference, a constant static that was probably due to the rain or something. He didn’t care. Anton ordered a medium pepperoni and sausage pizza. He sat down and waited, tapping his foot for twenty minutes till the pizza man knocked. He got up quickly, slightly relieved at the thought of another person for once. Though he still felt the familiar tension in his back, and his palms begin to sweat. Hadn’t he taken his blue pill today?

Anton went for the door, sweaty palms gripping the knob as he leaned in and peaked through the hole. A pimple-faced kid with a Joe’s Pizzeria hat was standing outside. Anton grabbed his wallet from the counter. The kid knocked again as Anton fished out a twenty and opened the door.

No one. Absolutely no one was there. He looked down the empty hall, not even the fading steps of a person. He shivered, feeling cold. Anton suddenly smelled a stench, slightly blown across his face as if someone were standing there. Goose bumps prickled his skin as he stared at the empty space in front of him. His pulse quickened and he slammed the door, locking it with fumbling hands. He was sure that he saw the kid there, holding his pizza. He couldn’t have left that quickly—he would have heard him leave.

“Just cool it…it’s nothing. A mistake, probably had the wrong floor and my guy’s lost. Damn idiots.”

The television was still on, but Anton felt nervous, as if it was not enough noise and liveliness. He was supposed to be used to being alone by now. He liked his solitude. His home was his reprieve from the shit world. Every once in a while, though, it was nice to hear another person. Anton sat down on his couch and broke out his phone. Perhaps he would call his mom earlier than usual. No, it wasn’t time. He took a breath and told himself to calm down and go about his day, which is what he did. A movie, a joint, some games, and cartoons relaxed him.

He passed the time smoking weed ‘till the clock read 5:00 p.m.. Perfect. He grabbed his cell phone and dialed his mother. The phone picked up on the fourth ring, but Anton heard only a garbled version of his mother’s voice.

“Mom? You there? I can’t hear you. Storm’s got everything messed up…hello?”

A low whine.

“What’s up with you? Hello?”

A faint moan came from the other end of the line. It sounded like his mother was in pain but he could only hear weird, distorted words, as if she were speaking through broken glass. Soon the noise stopped. Silence. He listened closely for her breathing. Then came that smell again, like something died. Anton scrunched his nose and looked at his phone. It smelled like it was coming from the phone.

“Ma…come on, you startin’ to freak me out.”

The line died. He hung up and wiped his suddenly sweaty palms on his pants. He set his phone down and got up, going over to the window for much needed air. He pulled back the curtain and saw dark eyes within a face, hovering in the darkness beyond—his reflection watched him just as quietly as he watched it. Not wanting to let in the rain, Anton closed the curtain and went back to his TV. He flicked through channels and settled on the news, but the image began to go funny. The lights dimmed and brightened again, flickering with the television.

“Damn it, not you too. Anything but the TV,” he said, standing up to smack the side of his television, which caused the image to stabilize.

“That’s more like it.”

He stepped back to look at the television screen, but it wasn’t on Family Guy anymore. The TV showed him his living room, with him standing in front of the TV set. Anton felt his heart quicken. He raised an arm. The man on the screen did so as well. He jumped—so did the man.

“What the hell?”

Was he dreaming? He wanted to slap himself to wake up. Had someone always been watching him? Watching him just as he watched TV?

The ‘Anton’ on TV began to move. That wasn’t right. He thought it was a live feed. He watched himself walk over to the table and pick the letter back up. He watched his other-self begin to read. Anton thought he saw something else though. Around the other on TV, stood several dark and skinny shapes, like people not quite there, shadows. He squinted, trying to make them out, when floor boards creaked behind him. Anton whirled around, eyes darting.

The front door was slightly open. He knew for sure he had locked it. He half ran, stumbling over books and DVD’s. He stubbed his toe on the corner of an end table and cursed before finally reaching the door and slamming it shut, locking it once more. He looked around his empty apartment.

“No one is here. No one is here.” He whispered to himself. That’s right, he was alone, as he had always been.

He took several deep breaths. He was just high strung, or too high, he told himself. He needed more sleep, maybe a hot shower.

Suddenly the television began to scream static, white fuzz obscuring whatever had been on. He could feel goose-bumps rising on his arm. He hated that sound. Anton ran back to his couch to grab the remote. But it was gone. He looked on the table. No remote. He knew he had set it down. Had he thrown it on the way to the door? He began to search frantically, overturning couch cushions, slapping magazines to the floor in his search.

He swore, turning to the TV and reaching behind it to unplug the power.


The television came back on, except this time it was black. He knew it was on because it wasn’t the blank, lifeless screen he was used to seeing, but a dark image that seemed to shiver and move as if trying to bring back a picture. He threw the cord down and looked at the screen in disbelief.

The only sound in his apartment was his own heavy breathing and the slap of rain against his window.

“The letter,” he said. The Anton on TV had went back to the letter. Was there more to it than he thought? He walked back to the table and snatched the letter up, opening it to read.

“This can’t be right….”

The letter was different. Completely different. The original writing was gone. It had been changed. He began to read the new writing.

Ignore them and they’ll get in. They’ll get in.” He read the last line, “Like clockwork.”

He laid the letter down and shivered. He didn’t know how the letter changed. Perhaps someone had switched it. His door was open earlier. Someone had gotten inside? Anton shook his head over and over. Impossible.

“No one is here.”

As he said it, he could feel the emptiness of his home and life. He had a routine. People were rarely a part of that. Anton curled his fingers and took three deep breaths. Hot shower, he thought, a nice hot shower to help calm down. He looked at the clock. 8:00 p.m.? No, that wasn’t right. Only thirty minutes had passed, not a couple of hours. Anton laughed nervously.

“The lights, duh. It reset the clock probably. Get it together, man,” he said.

With a smile and darting eyes, he made his way to the master bathroom. He turned on the lights as he went, all of them. He left no shadow to linger. He closed the door of the bathroom behind him and pulled the shower curtain back to turn on the shower head, hot, just short of scalding him. Within minutes the bathroom began to fog. Anton got undressed and piled his clothes on top of the toilet. He got into the shower and let the hot water wash over him.

Taking the soap and towel, he began bathing in his usual manner. Legs, arms, chest, he stood under the water and slowly relaxed. He closed his eyes as water rushed over his face. He couldn’t explain it, but he suddenly felt watched. Anton opened his eyes, water stinging them because they were so wide. The bathroom door slowly opened. The lights began to flicker, and for a moment, he thought he saw writhing shadows against the wall in his bedroom, too tall and too skinny, like misshapen men moving around in his apartment.

“Hey! Who’s there?! Get out of here!”

Anton jumped out of the shower and grabbed his towel, wrapping his lower half before flying into his bedroom to confront whomever it was. Anton was ready, heart racing, skin tight over his knuckles. No one was there. Anton swallowed.

The lights went out.

Fumbling through the darkness of his bedroom, he got out a taper candle and a lighter. His heart felt like it would jump out his chest. He lit the candle and held it to the darkness.

“I’m warning you, you don’t want to mess with me.”

A breath of cold air touched the back of his neck. He swung the candle around, searching the darkness. He could smell rotting meat. A small chorus of chuckles, so faint he wasn’t even completely sure he heard it.

“That’s enough!” He said.

He ran into the next room. There was no one there. He went to the couch and snatched up the letter.  He opened it again. There was only one repeating line: “They got in. They got in.

“You want to play? Fine!”

He held the letter over the candle and watched it catch fire. He grinned maniacally in the darkness as the yellow parchment darkened into ash. He waited ‘till the last corner was left, and then released it to burn up in the air. It was done. Over. The lights came back on, strong and bright. He laughed into his empty living room. No one would get him. No one could get in. He was alone.  He blew the candle out.

Anton Deveau had a schedule. Today he woke up at 6:00 a.m. as usual. Took his shower, shaved, and in the middle of brushing his teeth, heard a knock on the door. Anton set his brush down and opened it. No one. No number 12 door across the hall, just endless darkness. His breath quickened. He looked down, sweat beading his forehead. At his feet was a small, white, envelope, no address. It read, “Open me.”