Most children mix capital and minuscule letters when they start writing at an early age, like putting capital letters where they are not supposed to be. Some also mirror letters vertically, like writing an E with the horizontal lines going left instead of right. I was not unlike other kids, except for the amount of writing. From the age of four until the age of seven, I kept a daily diary of anything I found noteworthy.
I remember filling two pages of A4 sheets the day I started. I had found a puppy in the yard outside our house, an adorable little white and ruby fur ball, and after begging my parents to let me keep it, they agreed. I gave it the sketchy name “Beauty” and, as any other normal four-year-old girl would be, I was ecstatic with glee.
I had told my mom that I didn't know what to do with all the happy – at least that's how I remember it – and she had suggested that I write it down. My parents, who were both teachers, had taught me about letters through games and fun, as soon as I could focus on them, and for a four-year-old, I was really good at writing, even though my vocabulary was limited.
I just didn't find it very entertaining to read or write. I had a short attention span and would always be drawn to something more fun. However, as my mom told me that it would make me remember and feel my happy all my life, I gave it a try. And I loved it.
I found it was extremely fascinating that my own thoughts – as opposed to when I was being told what to write – were printed down on paper forever and ever (at least, that is how I imagined it).
Then, as I mentioned earlier, I stopped writing my diaries at the age of seven. More precisely, I stopped the day Beauty died. I remember my last entry was about how awful I felt right after we had buried her, head smashed in from being struck by a car. Since then, I never felt like writing a diary entry again.
As I remember it, I had found Beauty twitching and bleeding on the deserted road outside our house. I had promised to look after her for a while, but fell asleep on the couch – which was unlike me. When I woke up, it had already happened, and I have been feeling a deep guilt ever since for having failed her.
Not until of the age of twenty-one did I realise that Beauty's death and my diaries were closely connected. I had always assumed that the shock of losing Beauty had made me quit, but now I'm not convinced.
The day came when I decided to go through my old diaries. I was bored out of my mind and, for the first time, I overruled my reluctance to read them. I guess I was afraid of reliving the sorrow of losing Beauty that always crept in the back of my head every time I thought of my diaries. After a short search in my cramped-up basement space (I lived in a small flat in a building where all residents had a small basement space for storage), I located a medium-sized cardboard box with my old diaries inside it.
After bringing them up into my flat, I sat on my bed and opened the box. I remember I felt a chill run down my spine when I first looked into it. I found nothing I wasn't expecting, yet still I felt uneasy. Again, I thought it was because I was reminded of the loss of Beauty.
There were seven books of various size and thickness and a small stack of lose paper sheets. I had only gotten my first diary book when my parents realised that writing had caught on, so at first, I had written on loose, A4 paper sheets.
I picked up the small stack of paper and, after reading the first few lines, I was struck by a wave of pleasant memories. I could remember the excitement and extreme glee of having gotten a puppy.
The first few days of my diary were really messy and very disorganised, and I had to concentrate to figure out every other word, but it soon became easily readable and properly dated. I suspect my parents taught me. Still, something was nagging me after the first entry.
I could not put my finger on why, but I had a really irritating feeling that I was missing something important. It was a bit like an itch that you can't reach. You know it's there, but there is nothing to do about it to reach it. I tried to ignore it and keep on reading, but the feeling kept me from concentrating.
So, I read the first entry again and the feeling got stronger. The third time I read the entry, now genuinely puzzled, I felt I knew what it was, but still I couldn't quite locate it. Like when you forget a word, and you know what the word means, but the word itself keeps eluding you.
I started out by explaining that most little children mix up capital and minuscule letters. Why is this relevant? Well, on my seventh read-through, I noted that, even though I had remarkably few capital letter errors, those errors combined spelled two really creepy words:
I had a chill run through my body and I shivered slightly. Even though I was completely convinced it was a coincidence, it was still really creepy. In order to prove that to my chills, I went through the second entry.
The result was a more uncertain chill. My skeptical mind was still discarding it as remarkable coincidence, but I felt really creeped out. The second entry's capital errors spelled:
JUST DO IT
In disbelief, I read the third entry through, noting the errors, and my scepticism all but evaporated. It said:
DO IT NOW
Something here was definitely wrong. It sure as Hell was no coincidence. But who could have tampered with my diary? I remember I kept it under my bed when I wasn't writing, and as I was an only-child, the only people who had access to it apart from me were my parents, and I knew they would never dream of doing something like this. I hardly ever had friends over, and when I did, I was always with them.
Then did someone do it while I slept? That thought sent another chill through my body. My rational mind declined that idea as well, though, as it would make no sense for anyone to creep into my room at night to alter my diary with hidden messages that might never be found. Besides, I noted, I was certain the writing was my own. The only possibility left was almost equally scary as the last. I had to have written it all on my own.
Then, an idea came to me. I don't really know why I thought of it, although I now have my suspicions, but if the capital letters meant something, maybe the mirrored letters did as well. So, I went back to the first entry and went through it, writing down every mirrored letter on a post-it note. The message wasn't nearly as scary as the others, but it was equally puzzling. It said:
The next entry spelled:
I was now completely captivated by this mystery, and I spent more than ten hours going through most of my diaries. I tried to remember the things I had written about and find some sort of connection between the hidden messages and what I wrote in the diary entries. Although it was more and more about Beauty – more than I'd have thought – there seemed to be no real connection.
However, I found that the hidden messages were all very much alike. What I came to see as the Bad Message – the one from capital letters – commanded me in some way to kill my dog. The Good Message – the one from mirrored letters – refused.
As I got to the last few entries, I felt a sense of dread grow deeper and deeper into my gut. In the second-to-last entry, the Bad Message didn't surprise me. It said:
KILL IT NOW
But I found not a single mirrored letter. This entry was the first from my entire diary that had no "Good Message". For some reason, the absence of that scared me more than any other thing I had found in my diaries. With a shivering hand I turned the last page. Tears came to my eyes while I read the entry as I fully recalled the loss and guilt. When I had read it through, I noted that there were no misplaced capitalised letters. But, this time, there were some mirrored.
With a sense of terror manifesting itself in my body, I wrote the letters down one by one, and when I read the single word they spelled, a suppressed memory sprang to life in my mind. I realised that I hadn't been sleeping on the couch at all the day Beauty had died and I realised that the guilt I had felt ever since her death was justly earned. The last six mirrored figures I found spelled:
I froze completely. The Good Message had given in. The Bad Message had won and I had killed my own dog!
Frozen terror became overwhelming misery, and I cried for what seemed hours. When I finally had composed myself, and felt that I could control my voice, I called my mother. It rang a few times and then I heard my mother answer it, sleepily: “Hello?” I realised it was past her bedtime.
“Sorry for waking you up mom, but I have to tell you something.” My voice sounded slightly edgy in my own ears. My mom, not sounding sleepy at all any more, said, “What it is sweetie?”
I said, “I think I know who killed Beauty.” There was silence on the line for a few seconds, enough to make it clear she was hesitating.
Then, my mom said, “Yeah.” I was very disappointed in my mom for taking time to remember Beauty. She should remember such a remarkable dog right away, but I tried to hide my disappointment as I said, “Don't you remember her?”
“Of course I do, dear, I remember your Beauty. Thank goodness it passed.”
I was so shocked at hearing this that I blurted, “How can you say that about our dog?” My voice was oozing with blame.
My mom sighed and said, “Honey... we never had a dog. It was all in your head.” I froze once more, this time in disbelief.
“W... w... what?” I stammered. This couldn't be true. I remember my parents taking care of Beauty all the time. But then, come to think of it, I couldn't recall any specific memories of my parents interacting with Beauty in any way.
I was confused and on the verge of tears once more and my mom continued, “You came inside, after playing in the yard one day, and claimed to have a puppy in your arms. Your father and I assumed it was a game and played along.”
She paused to breathe and I kept silent, still trying to understand what I was hearing. Then she said, “After a few days, we started getting worried when you acted more and more like it was really there. The doctor said it wasn't unusual for kids to have imaginary pets, but you were so intense about it... sometimes I wondered if you actually believed it was there.”
“Go on,” I said, certain there was more to this story than she had told.
She said, “Not on the phone, sweetie.” However, five minutes of near-hysterical pleading made her continue anyway.
“You passed out one day," she said with a sigh. "As we rushed you to the hospital, you were mumbling unconsciously. I remember the exact words: “Beauty is getting so big.” At the hospital, they found a tumour in your brain. They said it was the largest they'd seen on a child.” Her voice broke and she took a few seconds to compose herself.
“We did everything we could, but nothing worked. The doctors didn't dare remove the tumour surgically. I don't think you ever noticed what was going on around you. All you ever spoke of was that dog.
“Somehow you were well enough to stay at home most of the time, and your father and I spent all the time we could with you, afraid to lose you any day.”
“Then, when you had been given a few more weeks to live, your Beauty died. You told us through sobs that it had been run over, and that it was your fault. We comforted you the best we could, trying to give you all our love at once, knowing you'd soon pass away. So we played along and buried your imaginary dog.”
My mother seemed a lot happier as she went on, “We took you to the hospital the next day for your regular check, and your doctor was dumbfounded. There was not a single trace of your tumour. It had miraculously disappeared."