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  • Susan Stoderl

Writer's Life | A Sneak Peek into Future Writing | Fantasy, Time Travel, Young Adult

The Letter - July 18, 2021

Ewan McShannon, a thirty-year-old poet, writer, and storyteller, still lived in his deceased parents’ apartment on West 18th Street. For a long time, he scraped by on what he made but came to that place many in the arts do. He needed to take a “pay-the-bills” job so that he might live above the poverty level while he followed his artistic pursuits.

Until being sidelined by the pandemic, Monday through Friday, from 3:00-9:00 p.m., Ewan worked in a boutique product liability law firm as a word processor. The work was sometimes interesting, but more often it was not. It paid well, had good health insurance, and had thirty days of vacation per year. The price was stress and bad karma. Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it is moral. Lately, he had been experiencing a series of disturbing dreams. They were not pleasant, and he was wondering about his mental health.

With COVID-19, an inertia as deadly as the virus itself had fallen over him. It forced him to examine his life. He hadn’t had a relationship in three years. Not even a casual dalliance at the corner pub. Since he worked from home, the only part of his body in shape was his legs from his fourth-floor walk-up. The building he lived in was depressing and decrepit and would not be improving. The owner was in his late eighties. Still, given the prices in Manhattan, sometimes a person settled for less. If someone rang the bell, it meant a trip downstairs. But the rent had increased very little over the years. His landlord, Mr. Delgado, had been friends with both his parents. Years ago, he promised the McShannons that he would only raise the rent as much as his expenses went up and he had kept his promise. But how much longer could Mr. Delgado live? When that happened, his Wall Street son would kick everyone out and make an obscene profit by selling it to a developer. Then where was he going to live on what he made?

Pre-pandemic, he would stop by his corner bar for drinks and a bite to eat a couple of nights a week, sometimes more. Now he ordered takeout—that and wine, beer, and the occasional scotch. The delivery guy left it downstairs because Ewan couldn’t buzz him in. Besides his online podcast and writing, now his adult and children’s storyteller gigs were over Zoom, if at all.

This morning he awoke from another dream—startling—like technicolor on steroids. In it, an older Ewan was garbed like a medieval monk. Walking from village to village, he told anyone who would listen to stay in their homes. Their lives depended on it. He admonished the villagers to save their food. Soon, famine would come. Quit squandering what little they had on buying useless protection charms. As he passed churchyard after churchyard, he saw countless rotting and festering bodies waiting for burial. To him, the soil was as transparent as glass. Underneath, layer upon layer of bodies marked the passage of time like lines around a tree trunk. Centuries of pestilence. He stood on the church steps, calling for the bodies to be burned to prevent further outbreaks. The people remained blind and deaf. To them, he was a ghost.

“Jesus! Covid is getting to me.” Ewan shook himself out of the memory hangover. It was almost time to log into his job, so he got cleaned up and dressed. However, only because he needed to get the mail. He hadn’t picked it up for several days, and the box was small and had a faulty lock.

After locking the mailbox, he stopped in front of the entryway to glance through a handful of ads, magazines, and letters. One letter stood out. He went on inside but stopped on the first landing to examine the creamy envelope. It even felt like it carried weight. On the back of the envelope was an engraved address: Howard J. Dalton, IV, Esq., 10 Main Street, Banner Elk, North Carolina. This couldn’t bode well. Ewan sprinted up the stairs to get into the apartment as fast as possible.

He dropped to the old sofa, somewhat out of breath. He knew what was in the envelope. His only living relative, Uncle Gavan, was dead.


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