Saturday, January 29, 2005

Magic Marker on the Mailbox

In a totally unrelated discussion today, the phrase 'magic marker on the mailbox' came up, and my friend mentioned he thought it would make a good title for a short story. So I tried and this just kinda came to me as the only way I could think of to use that phrase, so this is the result. Way sappier (is that a word?) than what I usually write (where's the guns, the explosions, the fist fight? Where, I say, WHERE?!), but here it is anyway in all its lame ass glory. On that note, Enjoy. later


He walked steadily, if not quickly, through the biting, wind-blown snow and suffered quietly with the bone numbing cold. He really shouldn't have been out here, as he was old enough to know better, but still too young to care. Besides, he'd been through much worse, and many winters had come and gone in an effort to knock him down. Well, he thought to himself as he smiled into the darkness, keep trying, Old Man Winter, cause I'm still standing and I always will be.

It was a shame, however, that his old car couldn't say the same. She'd given up the ghost some ten miles back. He figured he could either stay there and wait it out for help or do what he had done all his life. Just keep going. So he did. He was beginning to question his logic in the effort by now though, as the feeling of certain body extremities was starting to leave him entirely. He simply ignored it and commanded his feet to keep moving, one ahead of the other.

It worked as his continued forward movement presently brought him in sight of a lone house set back from the road a couple hundred feet. It was completely dark except for a small waning light from the front window. He forced his weary body to carry him to the front door and knocked. He didn't know who was in there, but one way or another he was getting inside to warm up enough to be able to keep going. Sure he was tougher than most, but a man had to know his limitations.

The wind whipped around him, trying to move him from his perch on the porch. He mentally told it to get lost and knocked again. Still no answer, but he wasn't the type to give up that easy. He went over to the window where a single candle was putting up a valiant effort against the dark and stormy night. He chuckled to himself, and for no particular reason had a flashing mental image of Snoopy on top of his doghouse. He shook the thoughts away and concentrated on peering through the iced up window. Inside, within the shadows, he thought he saw an outline of a freakishly tall human. Despite the cold, he was getting curious now. He chipped away the ice and snow and marked a spot on the window to peer through. His heart skipped a beat before a surge of adrenaline hit him as he recognized what he was looking at. He saw a brief arm movement before he was racing back to the front door. All thoughts of cold were forgotten as he took a run at the door. Slamming his shoulder into it, the frame gave way and he hurtled inside.

Staggering a few steps to slow himself, he looked to what he had seen before - a young woman hanging from a ceiling hook in what looked like the last stages of the losing end of a suicide attempt. He pulled out his jackknife, quickly cut her down, and got rid of the remaining rope. He looked around for a place to lay her limp body, and noticed for the first time that there was no other furniture in the old house except for a knocked over chair, so he lowered her to the floor instead. He found a pulse, slow but steady, and before he could start mouth to mouth, she coughed roughly, and started to breathe on her own. A few moments later, and she started to come around.

"Take it easy," he told her. "You're gonna be alright."

"W-Who are you?" she asked, slowly rubbing her thoat.

"Frosty the Snowman. The hell happened here?"

"I-I-I," she stammered and looked around. She realized what he had stopped and couldn't bring herself to verbalize her own actions. It was so much easier to do alone. "I, I don't know."

"Uh-huh....Ok. Let's get you up and get that door closed before this place becomes an inverted igloo."

He helped her over to where the lone candle continued burning before going back to the wrecked door and closing it as best he could. It wasn't a perfect seal, but it was better than being outside. He looked around and noticed the fireplace had some wood still stacked beside it, so without a word, he took it upon himself to start a fire. On his third attempt, he got it going using his old lighter. Then he went back and sat down on the floor beside her and wrapped the lone blanket around her. Leaning back against the wall, he was surprised as she leaned against him, so he wrapped an arm around her as they tried to fight off the cold.

Presently, he spoke. "You feel like talking about it?"

She said nothing for awile and he let it lie, but eventually she just started talking on her own.
"Last month, I lost my job. It was a crappy job and I hated it, but it was money, you know? Even so, I was just barely making ends meet. I was barely getting by, but after that I seemed to lose everything else, piece by piece. My car, my furniture, my sanity. Today they told me they were taking the house. I just moved in here, for Pete's sake. After my Aunt died, I inherited this place, debt's and all. I can't go back to what I left, so this is all I have. I just couldn't take it, and I'll be damned if they're going to take this from me while I'm still alive. Either way though, come morning light I'm out in the cold with nothing left. I guess I snapped...I guess I gave up. I bet you think that's pretty weak."

"Not really. We all get a little crazy now and then. Not everybody winds up on the wrong end of a rope, but then there's different levels of crazy."

"Yeah, so I guess I'm at the highest level, eh? Or is it the lowest..."

"Take yer pick..."

"Lowest....You know what finally broke me? The stupidest thing really. I was at the hardware store to buy those little lettered stickers to put on the mailbox when I realized I didn't even have enough money for that. I couldn't even afford to put my name on the only thing I have left. My own home...well, for the time being anyways. I can't even get mail here - nobody know's who is in here! Come the morning, I guess it won't matter anyway. No one will even know I was here..."

"I will. And I'll remember you were nice enough to let me get warmed up out of the cold when I needed it."

"Right, and why are you here again?"

"I just told you. Look, not to harp on it, but swinging from the chandelier hook is a rather drastic step off a pretty steep cliff. You got anyone else around here you might be able to go to?"

"No, like I said, I just got here. Don't really know anybody and nobody knows me. I came here to get away from a particular hell, but it looks like I didn't make it." She paused, then added quietly, "So, what do you do when all hope is gone?"

"You fight. You keep going. Use whatever you've got. I've been through a lot of different hells in my life and I'm still here, still fighting. Besides, after you beat that first one, you'll realize that you're a lot stronger than you thought. You might even get a perverse pleasure out of beating the next one. Don't overthink it. Sometimes the key to surviving is as simple as just putting one foot in front of the other and then doing it again."

"Ok, headshrinker, sounds good, but how does that help me?"

"Well, when in doubt, reboot. Punt. Go to ground. Find something familiar, trustworthy, however small, and work from that. If I were you, I'd start looking around these parts for some help. They're getting damn hard to find, but there's still good people around that'll help others out in a jam. It's worth the effort to at least try. That's where that one foot down theory comes in. Get rid of the bullshit, and those around you that are shoveling it, and start from square one, one step at a time. I don't have all the answers, I just know that there is always a way. Sometimes you have to fight hard to find it, but its there. In the end, the hardest part is determining you're going to keep going. Nothin' is gonna stop you. After that, the rest is easy. Trust me, I should know."

They were both silent awile after that, lost in their own thoughts. As the fire warmed the room, she started to fall asleep, but not before asking him another question.

"Thanks, Mr. Amatuer Psycologist." She mumbled and felt his chest shake with quiet laughter. "Hey, I don't know your name...I'm Robyn...and you are?"

"Getting tired by the minute. Go to sleep Robyn, and don't worry about tomorrow..."

She awoke with a start and a sore throat. The sun was shining in the window, and the candle had made it through its fight with the night again. She looked around the empty room - the fire was still going, but he was gone. Then she heard a noise outside and went to investigate. She pulled the mangled door open to come face to face with the mailman.

"Mornin' Miss. About time you marked your mailbox, I wasn't sure if there was anyone in here anymore. There's been a backlog of mail for this address down at the local post office, but its all yours now. Enjoy!"

"Thanks, I guess," she mumbled confused. Before she could do anything else, a car pulled into the drive and an elderly couple got out.

"Good mornin' Robyn. I'm the pastor at the one church we have in our little one-light town. This is my wife. A friend of yours stopped this morning as I was shoveling the walk and told me you had moved in out here. Your Aunt was a dear friend of ours, and one way or another we'll see that her wishes are kept. I didn't get your friends name, but he was a bit of an odd sort. He said he didn't frequent churches, but thought this time he'd make an exception. I'm glad he did. By the way, I hope you haven't had breakfast yet, 'cause you've just got to try my wife's coffee and cinammon buns..."

"Ok, um thanks. Come in..." The couple went in ahead of her and as she stood there dumbfounded at what was happening she turned and saw it and just had to smile. Her name and address, though she had no clue how he found out, were written in large letters in magic marker on the mailbox. On the side was a picture of a snowman and the words "One Foot Down - Good Luck."
The End.

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