Dear Madeline by Christian Riley
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My sweet Madeline. Remember when we first met out upon the campus quad? October 3rd, 1994, and that steel-drum band was playing up on the walkway in front of the bookstore, overlooking the dancing hippies below. You had on that purple dress, I remember. How could I forget? It fit you nice and tight, was perfect against your red hair. I fell in love with you, Madeline, right at that moment. Under the clanging melody of that band and the soft autumn breeze as it sifted through your gorgeous locks. I simply fell in love.
That was over twenty years now, and I’m still just as in love with you, my dear wife. Oh Lord, this is much harder than I thought it would be.
I made a big mistake, Madeline. I really messed up this time, and I won’t be able to get things right. I can’t. I’m sorry, as I should have listened to you. I should have stayed home, or at the very least taken you with me. But now, it’s all over Madeline. We’re all over. You, me—hell, the entire world!
You might think I’ve gone and lost my mind Madeline, but I swear to you, every bit of this letter is the truth. The whole damn truth! Of course, right now, I suppose, you must be elated after finally hearing from me, since it’s been about two weeks now that I’ve disappeared. But I didn’t leave you, Madeline, truly I didn’t. I just went missing, that’s all. And now I have a chance to explain things to you, with this letter they’ve granted me.
You know how this all started, of course: when I went trekking down here to the Apache National Forest, by myself. Never go anywhere alone, son! I heard my mother’s words of wisdom scream into my ear when I first stepped into this cave I’ve found. I heard both her and you Madeline, hollering at me to turn back, not to be a fool.
But I was a fool, Madeline, and that’s why I’m here now—away from you and the rest of the world, lost in the wilderness, and with… them.
If you’re not doing so already, please have a seat, Madeline. Again, you’re gonna think I’ve flipped my gourd, and, with me disappearing, that this letter is, perhaps, just the culmination of twenty years of secret resentment that I’ve kept bottled up until now. That maybe this letter is twenty years of private, seething hatred all spilt down onto a sheet of paper to spite you, Madeline.
No. Nothing could be further from the truth, my love. I haven’t lost my mind—well, not yet at least. And this is no joke, either. It’s the real deal, and I’ve pinched myself a thousand times today already, just to make sure that I haven’t been living in a very long and cruel nightmare these past few weeks. So sit down, Madeline. Sit down on that mahogany chair your grandmother gave us for our ten-year anniversary, ‘cause it’s got some well-built legs on it. And as much as I hate doing this to you Madeline, as much as this here letter might send you into a trembling fit of agony, well, I just have to.
It all started when I discovered this cave. I figured there’d be some old Apache jars or arrowheads in here. No big deal, right? Just another cave. One of hundreds I’ve explored already since I’ve started collecting artifacts.
I didn’t see them at first. This cave is big; much bigger than I’d originally expected. There were a couple drop-offs just inside, which took me down several feet, and then into an enormous cavern, so high that the beam from my flashlight couldn’t even reach the end. More’s the pity, I suppose. If it did, I would have seen them hanging up there in the darkness. Maybe I’d be home with you right now, Madeline, clueless as to what is about to come, but happy nonetheless.
Anyway, I couldn’t see much past my light, so I kept going. I heard the sound of trickling water and figured that to be as good a destination as any other. Several long yards, and then I came upon a small pool, the same one I am sitting in right now.
I had spotted some strange tracks near this pool, so I shined my flashlight down to have a better look. And that’s when they grabbed me, Madeline.
I fought them with a passion. My mind raced straight to you—to us—and I tore into these creatures with all my strength, and then some. Believe me, I did. But they were too strong, Madeline. Too strong, and too many. And so I failed.
Oh, but don’t worry, my love, they haven’t hurt me. Well, not really, I suppose. Although I’ve certainly changed Madeline. I’ve changed so much that you wouldn’t even recognize me anymore. I’m one of them now.
My mind hasn’t yet crossed this barrier, though. I still think of myself as a human. I haven’t quite adopted their collective reasoning yet, but they told me that this is normal.
Oh, but my body sure is hideous, Madeline. I look like a six-foot tall bat, with long hair trailing to the ground, a pair of wings shaded deep purple that when opened, stretch out nearly ten feet, and then my eyes; my eyes are red, Madeline! Red eyes!
Certain movies refer to us as Mothmen, but I don’t think you should watch them, Madeline. It just might be too painful. The legends, on the other hand, aren’t quite as scary.
It’s said that the Mothman is a type of entity who is often seen prior to a horrible event, where numerous people end up dying. And because of this, it is thought that this “Mothman” is a harbinger of death. Some people even believe that he is Death.
But that’s not how it actually works, Madeline. Well, not really. I suppose you can consider us as “harbingers” of some sort, but we don’t bring death to people, Madeline. We collect it.
That’s right. We collect death. Collect the souls, the spirits of those who perish. It’s not always the case when a few people die, or just one person, of course. But when there’s a catastrophe, or really bad accident and a bunch of folks get wiped out because of it, we need to be there, Madeline. We need to be there, because in death, humans are as slow-minded and dull-witted as they are in life. And when there’s a bunch of them who get killed at the same time, they get all foggy in the head, Madeline. They get all confused with which way to go, and there’s only a certain amount of time before the window closes, and then after that, well… ghosts, Madeline.
Crazy, huh? But it gets worse, my dear wife. Much worse.
Normally, these Mothmen would have vanished when I came into this cave. They’ve got the ability to do that, and they’ve assured me that when my body has completed its “transformation” process, that I too will be able to become invisible. Anyway, normally they would have disappeared once they heard my footsteps at the entrance, but the truth is; they need me Madeline. They will need me, at least. And here is where this letter’s probably gonna hit you the hardest, my love. It’s gonna blind-side you, that’s for sure.
Do you remember that show we watched a few months back, about Nostradamus, and those crackpots preaching about the end of the world? We’d been eating nachos, drinking beer, and then we laughed until our bellies ached. Well—it’s all true, Madeline. It’s really gonna happen this time. They’ve told me so. And although I’m not exactly sure how it’s gonna play itself out, and neither are they, but it’s gonna be horrible, Madeline. Just Horrible. A comet hurtling into the earth, or invasion from an alien race bent on wiping the planet clean of life. Perhaps even a terrible virus. But it’s gonna happen, Madeline. It’s gonna happen real soon, actually, as they’ve known about it for quite some time now.
I know. Why am I telling you this?
It’s because I love you, Madeline. And my god, I can’t stand the thought of you getting “lost” when the end comes. They’ve told me that when a person becomes a ghost, it’s like living in hell. Stuck in a crack within dimensions, the spirit doesn’t know what to do, so it just “replays” those events prior to its death, over and over again, for all of eternity! Hell on Earth, Madeline, that’s what it is. What it becomes, at least, when you’re a ghost.
And when the end comes, which will be very, very soon now, I assure you, it’ll be pure chaos, Madeline. Chaos; where millions upon millions of souls shall flutter about, lost for certain, and there’s only so many of us, and we’re gonna have our hands full, and I won’t be able to find you unless you’re at home, waiting for all of this, Madeline.
That’s right, my dear. This is what I’m asking of you now. Aside from a desperate goodbye, this letter means to assure your safety, Madeline. My love for you is all that I have anymore, so please Madeline—please stay home. Quit your job, sell the boat, cash in the IRA accounts; do whatever you have to do, but just do it. Stock up on food, and if you have to go anywhere—which I’m begging that you don’t—then for the love of God, make it quick, woman.
The end is gonna be really bad, Madeline. It’ll most likely terrify you. But remember; regardless of how terrifying things become, nothing can compare to the effects of getting lost. So please, Madeline, stay home.
I’ve always hated goodbyes, Madeline. You’ve known this. I can see you in my mind, right now, sitting in that mahogany chair in the living room, reading this letter you’ve just found sticking out from underneath the coffee pot. In shock, of course, but I’m sure you’re broken hearted as well, knowing that these are my last remaining words to you. Who knows, maybe you’re also relieved in a way.
But here it is anyway: goodbye, Madeline. I hope you take comfort in knowing that I’ve always loved you, ever since that first day I spotted you on the quad, with your lovely hair and purple dress. And I hope you’ll smile right now, knowing that to my eyes, and my heart, nothing rivals your beauty. And finally, Madeline, I hope you take peace knowing that when it all comes down, in the end, with the fire and brimstone raining havoc over the entire world, that I’ll be soaring home for you, my dear wife. I’ll be flying in to capture your baffled spirit, so that I may take you up, up, up and away, to a much better place.
I’m coming home, honey, so just sit tight. Sit tight, and know that forever and always, I shall love you, Madeline. My sweet Madeline.
Chris Riley lives near Sacramento, California, vowing one day to move back to the Pacific Northwest. In the meantime, he teaches special education, writes cool stories, and hides from the blasting heat for six months of the year. He has had over 100 short stories published in various magazines and anthologies, and across various genres. He is the author of the literary suspense novels The Sinking of the Angie Piper (Coffeetown Press, 2017) and The Broken Pines (forthcoming), and his debut short story collection of weird fiction is pending publication with Mount Abraxas Press. For more information, go to www.chrisrileyauthor.com.
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Linda Gould hosts the Kaidankai, a weekly blog and podcast of fiction read out loud that explores the entire world of ghosts and the supernatural. The stories are touching, scary, gruesome, funny, and heartwarming. New episodes every Wednesday.