Short Story | ‘Shoot the Mail Carrier, Burn the Letters’ by Chris Wilkensen, Illustration by Sayantan Halder
I was once at the pinnacle and had to make a choice: To descend back to safety or to continue climbing. The signs were obvious and persuaded me to take the safe way out, the smart way. The indications told me, “You already have a good idea of what’s on the other side. Knowing that, there’s no way you’d want to take the path which leads to destruction. You don’t want that.”
The factors which led up to that point were too foreign for me to grasp.This is really happening. I thought it was something I wanted and needed. I was first given the idea from a short-known acquaintance. A part of me wanted to blame him for this, but that part was the energy needed to survive.
I found another dweller. As she approached, she collapsed. I ran as fast as my frail legs would let me to assist her. No one else was in sight to help. She astonishingly had no bruises, and all she needed was a hand to help her up. Her name was Crystal and she had been here for months. After she was able to stand, she began walking again, like I was never there. I tried to follow her, but I, too, fell.
Exhausted and hopeless, I went to sleep for an uncelebrated time. When my eyes finally opened, I caught a glimpse of an individual writing in a journal. I called out to the tall man, and he walked toward me. He told me to call him Sean and assisted me to my feet. Something was strange about that overly jovial man.
After walking by my side for an unaccountable amount of time, Sean greeted a haggard blonde woman. It was soon unequivocal they were more than acquaintances. After a few minutes of ignorance to my presence, I interrupted. Still, they failed to acknowledge me. Sean and the woman, whose name I later found out was Susan, began walking as soon as I sat down. They were walking the direction from which Sean and I had come and were mulish to my calling their names. Apparently, they wanted nothing to do with me, or the summit itself, and abandoned me.
The time after that – it is difficult to determine whether it was days, weeks or months – was filled with the same introductions I was given when I reached the ground level. People came and left. Most were in such a rush to get nowhere. Trysts weren’t planned and covert, eventually making eyewitnesses more lascivious and apathetic: the precise ingredients for melancholy. Few names were exchanged and then forgotten. I knew I was lost.
No point could be found in walking alone. The only thing to do was follow. That too was senseless because no one knew where to go. The justification was to have company for the journey into obscurity, even though it was worse than isolation. It was bearable if one didn’t think about the fear and hopelessness. Reality would afflict us so much that we all would have to choose to be blind for a while.
While blind, anything went. Joy sometimes came so close to me that I hallucinated what happiness was. Maliciousness lulled me to sleep and woke me up. It was a time of stupidity and regret. My eyes were opened, but I couldn’t see the way I once could, nor would I ever. It was during this trite time when my hopes of finding my way were also lost.
I noticed that nearly everyone walked the same direction. It was my duty to do the alternative. I jogged the other way as optimistically as I knew how, but my optimism was killed shortly afterward. I saw friends I had from another time, another world. They were already blind with very disappointing chances of turning back. Sam was out of breath, with damaged legs and in desperate need of a cane. Jerry was held by his malicious inamorata, Martha, whom I always thought was trouble. Since they couldn’t see me, I continued. I tried to forget that I was the scapegrace for their coming here; it was I who told them of this place and this journey.
I decided to take a break and observe the scenery for the last time. It was there that I saw a smile on a lovely countenance. I rubbed my eyes to confirm that it wasn’t a mirage. I hadn’t seen anyone smile my entire time there. My curiosity brought me to her to solve the riddle. She told me that she was so happy to be leaving. For once, I felt as if I had a bond with someone there.
“What are you waiting for, then?” I asked.
With that, she hopped away from all of this, a memory in progress. I slowly followed her.
“I’m on the right road,” I frequently told myself. She waited for me to catch up, surprising because I expected to do this alone.
“It’s going to be a long walk to town,” she said.
I nodded. Before I knew it we were there. I was dying to go back to my village, although I knew it would be impossible to return unscathed. She persuaded me to walk her way, only for a while, until she knew where she was going. For someone to have walked much farther than I, and to be unaltered, was paradoxical. I looked at her and I could still see everything, to the smallest degree, I wanted to forget. Hate, fear, lust, bizarreness and damage.
I can never go there again. I propose someone bomb that place. Load up on dynamite and watch the sparks in the air. It’s for the betterment of people. It’s a preventive measure, because a cure may never be found. The people stranded there need not be warned, for they wish to see destruction in the first-degree. It would be our favor to them.
Illustration by: Sayantan Halder