Sometime between Saturday night and Sunday morning, an envelope appeared on my refrigerator:
Do you see what it says? Do not open until my birthday 2015. Now, I know who put this up, and that person has been coming in every night, pointing to it, and saying “make sure you don’t open this until 5/13/2015”. I do believe the intention is to drive me crazy with curiosity. Is it working? I’m not entirely sure. For the most part, I forget it’s there until I need something from the refrigerator. Then, of course, I see it and would like to know what’s in it. And just so you know, I have felt the outside of the envelope and it’s not a card. There’s a folded piece of paper in there. I’m betting it’s just a note saying “Happy Birthday” or “I love you.” But, I’ve enough curiosity to want make sure. Because what if it isn’t? What if it’s something I’ve forgotten I wanted and this person remembered and has printed up a picture of it and put it inside the envelope? Yes, I have a very active imagination. I may also be a bit delusional. Remember, I have four kids, all boys, and the two older ones sort of forgot my birthday this year. So, obviously, the envelope is designed to drive me crazy. I’m trying not to let it.
This has had an interesting effect on me though. My friend Amber does these 99-word flash fiction challenges, and I thought, “This would be a great prompt!” Write a flash fiction piece about something that says “Do not open until…”. What could you come up with? Check out what I wrote:
Do Not Open
by Jessica Scott
I stared at the envelope, the words blaring at me from the stark white of the paper. It read “Do not open until 10/31”. Halloween. Two more days away. The envelope appeared overnight four days before, hung on the refrigerator with the colored magnets I had bought when we moved into the house, we being me and my two girls, Allie and Emma. The last year had been good to us. All of us were recovering from the abuse we no longer received at the hands of my husband, Nathan. He was gone, and good riddance. We’d never have to see him again, or so we were told by the social worker who had helped us rebuild our lives. And, yet, I recognized the handwriting on the envelope.
The spidery loops scrawled on the paper sent shivers up my spine. There was no way he could have found us. There was absolutely no way he could have hung that envelope on the refrigerator door. I asked the girls if one of them had put it there the day after it appeared, nausea roiling in my gut when I saw the writing. But neither of them knew anything about it. I grabbed it off of the door and ripped it into little pieces as soon as they had gone to dress for school. It was back the next day. I ripped it off again, took the girls to school, and then stopped by a local hardware store and bought new locks for the front and back doors. That night I made sure all of the windows were locked before I went to bed. When I came into the kitchen the next morning, there it was. I turned and was sick in the kitchen sink. So, I had left the envelope where it was from then on.
Now I could feel it there, menacing in its existence. There’s no way Nathan could have found us. No way at all. I had made sure of that. Protecting my little girls was, and had been, my priority. Before we left, I had made sure there would be no evidence of our escape. I had made sure the neighbors knew the girls and I would be away for a while, the bruises on my body showing up like grotesque paint blotches against the white of my skin. I had packed suitcases hiding in the closet, and an address to a halfway house I had been given by the social worker I had called from a woman’s shelter in a neighboring city.
The wiring in the house had always been faulty, and more often than not, Nathan would fall asleep on the couch, a bottle of gin or whiskey in hand spilling its contents onto the floor. The couch itself was probably filled with alcohol fumes. The surge protector that constantly sent sparks flying at random intervals just happened to be underneath the spill this time. No one could have foreseen that. Could they?
The night of our escape, before he had fallen asleep, he had given me the worst beating yet. I feared one of my ribs had been broken. He had meant to kill me, I was sure of it. I still don’t know what had stopped him. He had just quit hitting me, stumbled dizzily over to the couch grabbing a bottle on the way, then dropped heavily onto the protesting springs, falling into the deep sleep only drunks know. I knew it was my only chance to get away, and I took it.
Nathan would sleep like the dead for hours, so I took time to clean myself up carefully. I needed to leave enough blood for the hospital to take pictures but not enough to scare Allie and Emma, though God knew they had seen me looking as bad as this before. My movements were slow and I was having a hard time breathing, but I got the suitcases to the car. I woke the girls and got them dressed and into the car as well. I walked over to Nathan and looked at him sleeping. I made sure the lid was off of the bottle and that it was tipped at just the right angle. I made sure all of the windows were closed and the doors locked as I left the house. Then I got into the car and drove off into the night heading for the halfway house.
I still don’t know how the surge protector got under the spill. I have my suspicions, but like I said, protecting my girls is my first priority. The fact that Allie had been playing near the couch before going to bed the night we left, had not escaped my notice. Though, at the time, I had not thought anything of it. Now, as I looked at the envelope, I wondered if Nathan had noticed as well. The clock ticked on the wall and I knew I had to know what was in the envelope.
I got up, took the envelope from the refrigerator, and, despite the notice on the envelope, tore open the flap and looked inside. I drew out a newspaper clipping, my fingers trembling. It was the article a local paper had printed detailing the gruesome death by burning of the man who owned the house. His wife and kids had left to visit relatives earlier in the day, according to neighbors, and it was a well-known fact that he was a mean drunk and they’d see bruises purpling the wife’s body, and sometimes on the little girls as well. The fire marshal had discovered the fire had started by an alcohol spill onto a surge protector that had short-circuited. It sparked a fire that blazed quickly and had taken the house before fire fighters could respond. The wife and children were in protective custody and were not being charged by detectives as it was clearly an accident.
There was another paper folded inside. I took it out and read it. The handwriting was Nathan’s.
“At least one of you had the balls to take me out and send me to hell.”
I shivered. I didn’t know how it was possible that Nathan could have sent me this note, but there was no doubt in my mind that it was from him, just as I also knew there wouldn’t be any more notes. I heard the screen door slam shut, and the sound of Allie’s sweet childish voice reached my ears. My secret was safe. For now.
So, what do you think?
Hope you are having a great Wednesday!