DEAD LETTER • by Mark Cowling

At least a dozen people stood ahead of Mike in the Post Office, all eager to get home for the holidays. Most were like him, professionals working in the city. Lawyers, executives, doctors — you had to be quite wealthy to use the North American Postal Service. Mike rarely used the postal service, but he had worked hard this year, long hours, and had been rewarded fairly. He deserved a few little perks.

Mike ignored the safety message playing on the screens ahead. “If this is your first time using the North American Postal Service…” said the man with the perma-smile and flawless complexion. The talk-show host wannabe went though some of the dos and the don’ts. Do let our delivery assistants know if you’re feeling unwell. Don’t try to leave the chamber once dematerialisation has begun.

His family were at home six hundred miles away. Junior had made the basketball team while he was away. No doubt they would end up in the yard as they always did. Their one-on-one basketball games were the stuff of family legend. His wife, Margot, would interject “take it easy” at least once, although it was Junior these days being admonished. And his daughter Sally: top of her class. They had always been especially close and these long business placements were particularly hard on her.

When it was finally his turn, Mike sat down in the free pod. He had been terrified the first time he’d experienced the dematerialisation/materialisation procedure. Even though the whole process took place in a fraction of a second and there was no pain to speak of, just a short spell of disorientation.

The digital panel on the wall counted down the final few seconds… 4… 3… 2… 1…

A wisp of white smoke emerged within the pod. Mike read somewhere that the smoke wasn’t related to the transfer process, but was


actually a mild tranquiliser.

Mike climbed out of the destination pod, feeling a little unsteady. He was confused by what he saw but knew that sensation would pass.

But it didn’t pass. He couldn’t recognise the post office he now stood in or any of the people around him. Perhaps they had shipped him to the wrong destination. He’d heard of this happening. Who knew where he was… Johannesburg, Tokyo…

Two women in suits approached him. “Mr Bartle,” one of them said. Mike couldn’t focus on what they were saying, his brain still foggy. He could pick out only fragments of what the two bored-looking women said. Something about “in full compliance with our terms and conditions” and “cannot accept legal responsibility” and “opted not to purchase additional postal insurance”. Lawyers.

There was a sign on the wall he could now read: Undeliverable and Lost Mail Dept.

A weeping man approached him, hugged him. “Dad,” the man kept saying. “Dad,” said the man with the greying hair and pear shaped body.

“Please accept 300 postal credits as a sign of good faith,” said one lawyer.

A woman approached him, put her hand on his shoulder. “Mom passed five years ago,” said the woman.

“At the North American Postal Service, we always strive to meet your high expectations,” said the other lawyer.

“Dad,” said the sobbing man.

“After two years we had a funeral for you,” said the woman.

“We hope in the future you will continue to use the North American Postal Service,” said one lawyer or the other, “America’s first and most trusted choice.”

Mark Cowling is a writer from Essex, UK. His work has appeared in online publications such as Shotgun Honey and Pulp Metal Magazine, as well as BBC Radio.

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Every Day Fiction