by Mike Murphy
When Maureen picked up the postcard her deceased grandmother had sent her many summers ago, all the writing fell off. The words dropped into a pile on the table. She tried to pick them up, but they sifted through her fingers like sand.
The yellowed postcard was otherwise unchanged: A picture of boats in a harbor at sunset. In the bottom right-hand corner was the name of the hotel—the Mariner. On the reverse, its rates and amenities (color TVs!). The cancelled stamp still clung to the card.
Putting the postcard down on the table, Maureen again reached for the fallen words. As she neared them, the pile starting bubbling. Some words emerged and, under their own power, crawled like inchworms back onto the postcard. She watched in awe as they arranged themselves into a new message. Unneeded, the remaining words crumbled into dust.
Maureen looked at the new message in Grandma’s writing: “I’m coming for you.”
She shrank back. Grandma? It couldn’t be! She’d never say anything threatening to her favorite granddaughter. This was the gentle, gray-haired woman who always had warm, homemade chocolate chip cookies ready for her when little Maureen visited with her late father and never forgot to send every grandchild a birthday card with a fresh five-dollar bill in it.
Grandma would never threaten her. But there it was: “I’m coming for you.” Maureen shook the postcard. The words didn’t budge. It was like they had always been there.
Could Grandma have—changed? Who knows what happens after death? Maybe she’s a grumpy old lady now, like Mrs. Washburn down the street. No, that couldn’t be.
Whoever the card was from, he or she meant Maureen trouble. She’d have to protect herself. But how do you guard against someone when you don’t know who they are?
She thought about the worst cases:
A vampire: She could get garlic at the market. A pointed wooden stake and a mallet? The hardware store?
A werewolf: A silver bullet, right? She’d have to Google that. Where do you get them? And a gun? Guns frightened her. One website said the bullet had to be fired into the beast’s heart. She had never held a gun! She’d be lucky to hit the werewolf.
A mummy: She had no idea how to kill a mummy, and they were all the rage now.
She fell asleep on the keyboard. Hours later, she felt a gentle touch upon her shoulder.
She awoke with a start. Once her eyes focused, she saw—Grandma. She was just as Maureen remembered her: Gray hair pulled back into a bun, glasses around a chain on her neck, a flowered house dress, and a partially buttoned cardigan. “I’m sorry I frightened you, dear,” she apologized.
Maureen was dumbfounded. “Grandma,” she managed, “it’s you.”
“Of course it’s me,” the dead woman replied. “Who were you expecting?”
“I—I don’t know,” she answered, rubbing her tired eyes.
“I sent you a message.”
“That was from you?” Maureen asked, growing nervous.
“It was so—threatening.”
“It was?” her grandmother asked.
“‘I’m coming for you.’ Don’t you find that threatening?”
“But it was from me.”
“It didn’t sound like something you’d say.”
“I could only use the words that were already there,” Grandma explained. “That was the best I could do.” She held out a withered hand. Maureen grasped it gently and rose from her chair. “It’s time to go.”
“Go?” she asked, looking into the old woman’s long-remembered blue eyes. “Go where?”
“Heaven. I’m your guide. We always send someone the dear departed knew to ease the transition.”
“But I’m not dead.”
Grandma nodded in the direction of the desk. Another Maureen was seated at the computer. “You are dead, honey,” she reiterated.
Maureen was amazed. “I didn’t feel a thing.”
“All the better,” Grandma said, tugging gently on her granddaughter’s hand. “Come along.”
Maureen glanced around her apartment. Her whole life was inside these four walls. “That’s it?” she asked bitterly. “This is how it ends? One minute, I’m fine, and the next…”
“It’s a passage. It doesn’t have to be a sock to the jaw.”
“Who will find my body?”
“It doesn’t matter. It’s an empty shell.”
“But I…” Maureen began.
“Come with me, dear,” Grandma calmly continued. “You have many souls to meet and many wonderful things to see.”
“You’ll be with me?” Maureen asked, feeling like a child again.
Mike Murphy has had over 150 audio plays produced in the U.S. and overseas. In 2016, he won two Moondance International Film Festival awards. Mike’s prose work has appeared in Dime Show Review, Gathering Storm Magazine, Zeroflash, Inwood Indiana Press, Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry, With Candlelight, Asymmetry Fiction, Lyonesse Fiction, Communicators League, Theme of Absence, Visions With Voices, Fabula Argentea, and The Flash Fiction Press. In 2015, his script The Candy Man was produced as a short film under the title Dark Chocolate. In 2013, Mike won the inaugural Marion Thauer Brown Audio Drama Scriptwriting Competition.