With a pounding headache, Samantha wakes up in her New York City apartment unable to recall yesterday. As she tries to piece her memory together, a paper airplane flies into her studio apartment on the 15th-floor. Written on the wings in red capital letters were the words “open me.”
Beat. Beat. Beat. My head pounded with rage and ominous warnings, like The Master beating on a drum as he taunted The Doctor of his pending demise. I’ve never experienced a hangover before, but what I felt was what I imagined a hangover would feel. My brain took a few moments before reminding me that I don’t drink, and I didn’t go anywhere wild last night.
“What did I do last night?” I grumbled as I tossed off my white comforter. “And why am I in a purple dress? I don’t own a purple dress.”
Surely my phone would have answers. I climbed down the ladder of my twin-sized bed. My New York City apartment was only 342 square feet big, so wherever I left my phone, I wouldn’t have to look long. Fortunately, my iPhone was where it belonged on the charger on my desk under the bed.
I opened my messages—nothing from yesterday. I checked my calendar as I couldn’t remember anything about yesterday, but the calendar was blank. I checked my Instagram. No one tagged in any photos, nor did I post anything. Running out of apps to inspect, I opened my photos. One image unfamiliar to me was a woman standing behind a microphone, holding a book as she read aloud a passage. She reminded me of Gal Gadot, but with silver hair and the same purple dress on me. She even had leather arm bracers that matched her dress, further adding to my Wonder Woman comparison.
A cold breeze brushed on my skin. My only window was open. As I walked over to end the chill, a paper airplane flew into my 15th-floor apartment. The plane landed perfectly on my desk like someone used telekinesis for precise placement. I looked out the window to see who could’ve sent it, but there were just brick walls.
Written on the plane’s wings in red capital letters were the words, “OPEN ME.” The Scully voice of my brain told me this all had to be a hoax, while the Mulder’s voice told me to embrace this mystery.
Inside, the letter read, “Sorry I had to erase your memory. You caught me reading an excerpt from your future novel you hadn’t conceived yet, and the universe can’t have that now. Happy writing! Love, Brigit.”
I read the letter two more times. All I could muster as a response was a, “What?”
My mind drifted back to that photo I took last night. With the letter still in hand, I reopened the picture. I zoomed in on the book, seeing the title and author.
“The Winged Letter by Samantha Vincent.”
“No way,” I uttered. “No. Freakin’. Way.”
I pulled up the GPS information on the picture, which tagged a new coffee shop I hadn’t heard of before. As tempted as I was to leave right then and there, race to the coffee shop, show the staff the photo, and demand answers, my adult voice reminded me of my obligations. With a heavy sigh, I checked my email to see if my clients had any notes for me about the stories and articles I had written for them. I cracked open my laptop—no new mail. I hit refresh, and still, no new mail, which meant…
I’m going on an adventure, my inner Bilbo Baggins screamed.
I flipped out the dress, trading it out for white jeans and a red sweater. I then went to the bathroom and got myself ready for an epic quest as I listened to my favorite movie soundtracks. I had to know what happened last night, who this woman was, and how she got a book I hadn’t written yet. Before I left, I folded the mystery dress and put it in my messenger bag. I figured if I crossed paths with her, she might want the dress back.
“Let’s solve the mystery of my night,” I said, my voice shaking more than I would admit as I opened my apartment door to the real world.
On the subway ride to The Violet Raven, I rummaged through my messenger bag. I was hoping to find a business card, a phone number written down on a napkin, or a hotel matchbook like in those black and white detective noir movies to give me another clue. While I didn’t find any of those exact items, I did find a postcard flyer for a themed open mic session at The Violet Raven with yesterday’s date. The topic was “the future,” which I assumed caught my attention and explained why I went to this coffee shop for the first time.
As I returned the flyer, the subway car became wrapped in darkness. There were no emergency lights – not even a glow from people’s cellphones. I could hear the subway rolling along on the tracks, but nothing else. I fumbled through my pockets, trying to find my phone, when the light swept back, but the people did not return.
A ghostly figure with no legs and a skeleton body floated on the far end of the car. Their black-feathered robe moved to a wind that didn’t exist. The skull stared at me while my jaw dropped, unable to speak. Fear and intrigue paralyzed me as the apparition raised all four of their hands to point at me.
“Answer the call,” a voice whispered into my head.
Darkness swept over the car again, but this time the void only lasted for a brief moment and returned all the passengers. Everyone was passing the time with their books or cellphones with no expressions of panic or any indication they knew of their disappearance.
The subway train came to a stop. Although I was a few stops away from my destination, I bolted out and up to the surface. What the hell was that? I thought as the cool, October air calmed me down.
A colorful banner promoting a technicolor quilt exhibition provided a happy distraction until the phone booth ringed. I pulled up walking directions to The Violet Raven and continued my journey on foot. As I walked down the street, another phone booth ringed. I ignored the rings and went on. When the fifth one rang, I decided to answer.
I held the phone to my ear, listening for a moment before I said, “Hello?”
“Mocha with a triple shot of pepperoni,” the crackling voice on the other end spoke.
“Mocha with a triple shot of pepperoni,” the voice repeated.
I hung up the phone. The click on the receiver triggered the skyscraper business complex to shimmer away, like a holographic façade hiding the real identity of a dilapidated three-story brick house. I looked at the people on the street. No one was paying any attention to the creepy house that suddenly appeared. I felt like I was the only one who could see the monstrosity.
“Why is this happening to me?” I asked the universe.
The universe did not respond.
I ran down the street, looking back from time to time as the business complex returned as I got further away. I turned the corner and realized I was almost to my destination.
Upon entering the boutique coffee shop, scents of lavender and fresh ground coffee greeted me, while the first thing that caught my eyes was the balcony. I felt like I stepped into a mini-opera house. I’d never seen a coffee shop or any business for that matter with that kind of layers of seating.
I pulled out my cellphone and brought up the photo. In the back center was a raised platform for a stage, and the flora wallpaper matched the one in my picture. The only difference now was a table and chairs on the stage instead of a microphone.
“Welcome to The Violet Raven! My name is Don. What’s yours?”
I was taken a bit back by his cheerful demeanor. Most places I visited were more straightforward.
“My name is Samantha.”
“Nice to meet you, Samantha. What can I get started for you?”
“I’m actually trying to find somebody from last night’s open mic.”
“You’re in luck. I happened to work last night.”
Yes! I thought as I performed a quick lucky dance in my head, and then I showed him the photo. “Do you know this person?”
“I’m afraid I can’t say,” he replied with slight hesitation. “Perhaps you would like to order something while you’re here?”
I sighed, but then I started to feel like Don was in on whatever was happening to me. I decided to put my theory to the test.
“I would like a mocha with a triple shot of pepperoni,” I said with confidence.
“Right this way,” Don said, leaving the counter. “Brigit is waiting for you.”
Don led the way to a door with “Staff Only” written in red lettering like my paper plane. Inside, the office walls consisted of shelves of books from the floor to the ceiling. As valuable as each square foot of real estate was here, the massive office felt like a show of power as a private room. Behind a standing desk stood the woman from my photo, dressed in the same iconic outfit. Don closed the door, leaving me alone with the stranger and her library of books and a single, tiny aloe vera on the desk.
I pulled out and placed the purple dress I presumed she loaned me on her desk. She looked at the outfit and then at me.
“You found me rather fast,” Brigit said as she crossed her arms and glared at me as if I cheated on a test. “I take it you didn’t go inside the haunted house?”
“Wait. You knew about that?” I accused her. “How? What is going on?”
“We met last night at the open mic. You confided in me that you wanted to write an urban fantasy novel, but you lacked inspiration. I had you take my photo, made you forget about last night, and set up this whole adventure for you.”
“Then what about the book from the future?” I asked.
Brigit grabbed the book from her shelf and spread open the empty pages. “Just a prop.”
While I thought of my next question, Don knocked twice and opened the door. “Hey, boss. Something bizarre just happened.”
Brigit waved him in. “What happened?”
“I was about to clean table 14 when this purple crack appeared on the table and sucked away the dishes,” Don said with a tremble like he wasn’t sure his boss would believe him.
Brigit pulled on a bookshelf, revealing several TVs and a state-of-the-art security system. She tapped the rewind button, and we watched as a porcelain skin woman with long black hair finished her meal. The customer left a cash tip and walked away. Shortly after she was out of frame, a purple, glowing crack sprouted on the table and sucked away all of the dishes as Don described. The crack closed, leaving no trace. Brigit returned the camera feed to the present time.
“Is this part of your inspiration for me?” I inquired.
“No, this is something else,” Brigit replied, and I believed her.
“Look!” Don shouted, pointing at the screen. “The crack is back.”
The crack reappeared, but this time a red left plant crawled out of the portal. The crack disappeared while the plant remained. I thought the plant looked like a cross between a dog and a Venus flytrap. I wasn’t too keen on petting this creature.
“What is that?” Don asked, fascinated and disgusted.
“That’s a Lunar Iamx,” Brigit spoke with a slow dread. “They’re a sentient plant species from another planet, which means they’ll be here soon.”
“Who will be here?” I asked.
On the TV showing the entrance, a team of three people in white and yellow uniforms stepped inside. Their uniforms didn’t look like they belonged to any organization I knew, but Brigit waved her finger at the screen as if she knew.
“That was too fast,” Brigit said. “They must’ve already been in the area. Don, grab the plant and do whatever they tell you to do. Samantha, come with me.”
Don did as Brigit told him while I jogged behind Brigit. Even though the people who just entered were dressed in bright, easily identifiable uniforms, Brigit ushered me away as if they belonged to some sort of top-secret Men In Black government agency. She stopped when we got to a free-standing golden door in the back hallway with the bathrooms.
“I can’t have them erasing your memory too,” Brigit said as she opened the door. “Not after all the work I went through to inspire you. Go write your book!”
Before I could respond, she shoved me through. I stumbled into my apartment. The door slammed shut. I turned around, not seeing the door I came through. I collapsed on my computer chair, trying to process everything that happened to me this morning.
Was any of this real? I thought.
Then I saw the winged letter I left on my desk.
The Winged Letter was inspired by the following writing prompt: “Head splitting and unable to recall the night before, Samantha awoke to something unusual. Somehow, a paper airplane drifted through the open window of her New York apartment on the 15th floor. It gently landed on her bed. Written on the wings in red capital letters were the words ‘open me.'”
A few universe notes. This is the second story to feature the end-timer, Brigit. Brigit’s first appearance was in A Question for the Writers. The ghostly figure in the subway was Brigit’s sibling, Slayer, and the haunted house was a project by Modva, which will be seen again in another story. The woman who was sitting at the table where the purple crack appeared is the main character in my book, Intertwined by Cracks. The three people seen entering the coffee shop were the same ones from my last short story, Key-Changed. Lots of connections in this story, but written so one wouldn’t have to know all of this while still enjoying the story as Samantha didn’t know this either.
I had different second half for The Winged Letter where Samantha didn’t experience anything weird along the way to the coffee shop, but there was a fun bit of conversation she had with the barista that got cut. I do believe in cryogenically freezing my darlings, so I saved that chat and may use it for another story.
I would like to thank Mikey Marchan for bringing the cover art scene to life.
Thank you for reading and happy adventures!