"Like one, that on a lonesome road,
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walk on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows, a frightful fiend,
Doth close behind him tread."
—Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
It was Olivia Satoui who first noticed the mailbox on the return trip from Curtisville Jr. High. “Well, that’s weird,” the seventh-grader said, half aloud, frowning. “Looks like an old mailbox, but I'm sure it wasn’t there on the way to school.”
“What is?” Madeline Hawthorn sat beside her, rooting through her backpack. One of Olivia’s best friends, she sometimes got teased for her resemblance to the Brattina Stoneheart character on The Pound Puppies TV series.
“That mailbox right by the road there,” Olivia answered. “Funny,” she added thoughtfully. “It wasn’t there this morning.”
Madeleine brushed back her tangled thatch of red hair and stared past her friend out the bus window. She gazed steadily at the thing as the bus rolled slowly by, a shadowy boxy mass just visible in the thick haze of fog.
“So what’s so funny about it?” the redhead asked, resuming her search for an errant pencil. “Just an ole mailbox. Nothing unusual about that in a flea-bitten wart of a beach town like this.”
“Yeah, but don’t you think it’s strange that it just showed up out of the blue like that?” Olivia insisted.
"Well, I wouldn't know about the 'out-of-the-blue' bit," said Ruth Welsh, reflectively. Her hefty bulk was sticking halfway over the edge of the seat into the aisle. She glanced briefly up from her Popular Science magazine. “Haven’t seen the sun in... musta been two weeks now.”
“Three weeks,” Russel McKeley chimed in from the seat behind. He had taken his older brother’s mouse Ralphy to school and was now making the little guy do tricks for a few crumbs of peanut brittle. “Been three weeks.”
“You sure about that?” Ruth raised a blonde uni-brow.
“Sure I’m sure,” Russel replied, finally tucking Ralphy back into his jacket pocket. “I watched the Willard Scott weather report.”
“Well, I still don’t get why anyone would want to live so far down this godforsaken road like this one?” Olivia continued. “It’s dark, creepy and covered over with fog most of the year, even during the summer.”
“Probably just a pot grower,” Madeleine said with a dismissive shrug, “nothing at all to worry about unless you tramp onto his grow site.”
“Yeah, probably.” Olivia glanced back out the window at the way they came.
Land had always been cheap and building regulations loose to nonexistent in Curtisville, in combination with a rural working class had led to shabby neighborhood of trailers and shacks well away from the main paved roads and freeway.
“Hey, at least this road isn’t haunted or cursed like that over in the Islands,” said a Nisei-Hawaiian girl besides Russel, “and the fog here doesn’t kill you with leprous pirate ghosts... like in that movie or turn you inside out.”
Everyone within her general vicinity was now giving her the what-the-hell look.
“I heard of the Night Marcher and the weresharks,” Olivia said finally, “But not fog that turns you inside out.”
“Oh, that's just an old radio show,” the girl told him. “Lights Out. My dad’s got the entire collection on vinyl.”
“The Twilight Zone too?” Ruth inquired.
“Sure do,” the girl brightly replied. “Got every episode on DiscoVision. Night Gallery included.”
“Cool.” Russel’s brown eyes lit up with interest. “Yeah, Night Gallery always freaked me out, especially the one about the killer doll.”
Eventually the conversation shifted to whether the current Hollywood crop of mega monsters measured up to the old classics, and who was going to go as what for Halloween.
The vague uneasiness about the mailbox soon faded from Olivia’s mind. The explanation Madeleine gave earlier served to dispel this fear and uncertainty even further. By the time she got home, the memory of the mailbox had been pushed to the furthest recesses of her mind that she had forgotten to mention it...
That was until she had that dream. Usually, in her dreams, Olivia was her typical nerdy self, either frantically trying to finish a lengthy exam she hadn’t even studied for or trying to find a certain classroom while at the same time struggling to carry an ever increasing load of heavy books and homework papers. If it was the occasional good dream, she was someone way more cooler, more confident, like Wonder Woman in her American flag bikini or Emma Peel in her skintight cat suit or even Princess Leia in her gorgeous white gown and doughnut hairdo.
At first Olivia had absolutely no idea where she was. She appeared to be standing in the middle of a dark paved road bordered on both sides by thickets of high trees and bushes. She could feel the chill and wetness through her thin cotton pajamas.
The light from a narrow crescent moon filtered through a cloud bank, reflecting briefly off the broken and patched asphalt and the mailbox beside it before being quickly enveloped in darkness.
Olivia’s stomach lurched with sickening dread. She was back on that lonely road, not far from the edge of town where she lived.
“Eugh, oh God!” she scrambled back frantically from the weather-beaten, lichen covered thing, the gravel scraping her bare feet.
Olivia closed her eyes tightly and swallowed hard. Shuddering convulsively, she counted to twenty and opened her eyes, but she was still here in this awful place, shivering with cold, her pajamas legs damp from the knees down with feet stained with grit and mud.
She stood for a long time, trembling and listening. Once again, the thin moon peered through the fog and swirling mist, casting a dim pall of sickly light over the road and wooded slopes.
Finally, Olivia turned and started to run in the direction of home. She heard nothing other than a breeze rustling the shrubbery and her own slapping footfalls. Something else soon caused her to stop and hold her breath.
A low rhythmic sound coming from somewhere in the darkness behind her--shuffle-click-click...shuffle-click-click...shuffle-click-click...
“Shoot!” Olivia spat as she took off again. Her pulse quickened as the footsteps rapidly drew closer, now merging into a scrabbling click, and then suddenly--they stopped.
Panting, she cast a quick glance over her shoulder, but saw nothing behind her except shadows and fog.
Just as she was turning away, she suddenly let out a piercing scream. Keeping easily with her was a huge white hand scuttling along on its bony fingers with a long tentacle of an arm fastened to it that trailed up into the fog.
Olivia screamed again as the thing suddenly lunged and landed on her shoulders. It seemed to be all legs - all long, ice-cold and crawling legs.
“No! No! Get away from me! Get away!”
With a gargled shriek, Olivia suddenly jerked up in her bed. Rubbing her eyes, she stared bewilderedly around her. Beaded hippie hand-me-downs and strings of paper cranes swayed slowly with a slight breeze. It was really cold. There was a thin layer of condensation streaking the window. The rain tapped a steady monotonous tempo against the glass.
Slowly, reluctantly, Olivia threw back the covers and breathed a deep sigh of relief when she noted her clean pajamas and sheets.
“Just a nightmare,” she muttered. “Probably because of the rain pouring and thinking about that stupid mailbox.”
Good thing her three older sisters all had their separate room or they'd all be waking up cranky and asking her pointed questions about her consumption of snack food and late-night monster movies.
Tremulously, she slipped out of bed and walked across the floor to the window. Heart still beating wildly, she peered out beyond the rain-silvered glass to the main road beyond the picket gate. To her dazed and sleep-befuddled gaze, there seemed to be a mailbox planted right next to the front drive. Only it was much larger than the one she glimpsed earlier.
Hurriedly, Olivia raised the window till the wind and rain blew full upon her pale, elfin-like face, and ruffled her long black hair. Ordinarily, she would have avoided so rash an act, but extreme curiosity overcame caution and she acted without thought or fear of consequence.
For several long minutes she stared into the foggy, water-logged darkness before shutting the window and drawing the shade.
“Nothing there at all,” she muttered as she turned and shambled away. “I thought there was something there, but I must’ve been dreaming still.”
Frowning perplexedly, she got into bed and pulled the covers up over her chin. “I got to start laying off that horror stuff.”
Written by mmpratt99 deviantart
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