About the book:
From Douglas E Wright comes a supernatural tale of love, loss, and mortality.
They watch . . .
A few years from retirement, Crozier Buck wants nothing more than to spend his remaining days in the dead letter department, out of sight, out of mind in the building’s basement.
They wait . . .
In the dead letter department, something is waiting for Crozier . . . something that doesn’t recognize his unrealized abilities, something that is willing to kill.
They KILL . . .
Crozier unwittingly awakens a dormant presence hell-bent on claiming a new guardian. And in its wake, secrets will be revealed as he is forced to confront a frightening destiny.
Crozier dragged the tops of his fingers over the stone. Loose mortar powdered to the steps at his feet and dust-motes skittered along the basement floor. He swung back, felt the wall for the toggle switches. His knuckle cracked as he punched one of the electrical push buttons. Banks of old-fashioned lights snapped on below him. He cautiously eased down more steps. Clammy walls and out-of-date postal equipment came into view. The domed military lights shone like overturned funeral pyres. A cool wind filtered in from a partially lifted window. A shredded tarp jacketing a discarded letter-cancelling machine fluttered in the breeze. He glanced to a slew of small plastic crates; each stacked with water-stained envelopes and flattened parcels. The mail’s once colorful clothes now sat despoiled, faded, and torn. As he moved through the cellar, the outdated water pipes clicked as heated water gushed through their lead bellies into the radiators upstairs.
The pattering of muffled footfalls crossed the old floor above his head.
Crozier wandered about, looking to hand-sketched nudes that dotted the walls near the ceiling. The first bunch looked childish, but as his gaze crossed the walls, he thought the very last might had been a professionally pen and ink drawing.
A voice came from behind, “Checking out my job, are you lad?”
Crozier spun, his foot caught the corner flap of a small cardboard box. “Christ!” He nearly fell over.
The old guy towered way past six feet. He possessed a mane of white hair and a beard to match. He looked like Merlin caught on a bad day. “What’s the matter? Boogaloo suckin’ your tongue?”
“Gawd no,” Crozier answered. “Being scared outta my pants is my reason for living.” He looked at the old man. “There’s really such a things as Boogaloos?”
George Androski coughed out a deep belly laugh. “Yeah. It’s not really in my head, you know.” He pushed from behind the cramped desk. Dull flickering flames jumped across the furnace’s ash-coated window. Shades of color snapped over the desk’s deteriorated surface. “I’ve seen them. But more importantly, I know who controls them.”
Crozier stepped to the dead mail desk and glanced to a stack of letters piled in a plastic tray. “Really? You know for sure?“
“Of course. You don’t work down here all these years and not see anything weird.“
“How come nobody believes the stories then? How come you haven’t proven that they do exist?“
“I don’t need to prove anything. I don’t care what other people think. Not at my age. I’m not looking to move up the corporate ladder. Besides, if anybody really wants to know anything they can go to the archives. It’s all there.”
Crozier reached to a mound of soiled envelopes that littered the desk. “How come you’re here? It’s your day off.” He inspected the dates inked over the postage stamps and noticed some were very old. “Shouldn’t these have been returned or destroyed by now?”
George raised his eyes. “One question at a time, laddy. I’m here cleaning up. Getting ready for retirement.” He picked up a few envelopes and fanned them wide like a gambler’s deck of cards. “Heard you might be taking over,” he said. A smirk crossed his lips. “That bitch of a relief person is gonna be some pissed.” He chuckled and looked at the piles of dead mail, misaddressed letters and parcels, people having moved and never notifying the post office of their new address.
“I know. But my doctor’s note hasn’t even been accepted yet. So Lucy should keep her panties from knotting.”
“You don’t need the note,” George said. His smirk vanished. “Only people with a special gift get to work down here.” He leaned over the desk. “What’s the gift, son? Or do you even know yet?”
Crozier shook his head. “No gift. Just wanna ride ‘til retirement.”
George leaned back. “Don’t think the medical profession is helping you get this job. Coz it’s not. You’ve got some special kinda gift. I saw it in a dream. I saw you working at my desk. And to be truthful, I haven’t seen Lucy in any of my dreams. Not ever.” He eyed Crozier’s hands. “Already checked that bunch. No returns on any of them.” He gently retrieved the lot from Crozier. “Now,” he said. His face wrinkles deepened. He lowered his voice to a whisper. “Ya know, you gotta be brave.”
“Yepper pepper,” he answered. “You’ve heard about the Boogaloos and the ghost, right?” His smile returned. “Course you have. You’ve been working in the building almost as long as me.” He picked out a fifties-styled switchblade from an open desk drawer, snicked open the blade and slit an envelope. He snapped out a sheet of pink foolscap. “The mail down here is kinda like soul containers. They just need someone that can keep them in check. A mail handler if you will.”
Crozier’s words came out low. “I’m not sure what you’re talking about. How do you keep them in check?”
George answered, “It depends how you keep the ghastlies in line. If I’m right. It will be your experience, age, and demeanor that will keep them in check. Especially the ghost. From my experience he controls them. Back when I first started, the Boogaloos and their master tried to attack me. But it wasn’t long before I got the upper hand. I had to show ‘em who was boss.” He pointed to the furnace. “And that’s their enemy.” He turned to the pink foolscap and started to read. Without lifting his gaze, he said, “You do know, if Lucy gets the job, the dead letters will kill her. Likely slash her to ribbons. She hasn’t the command she thinks she has. Her attitude sucks. She’ll think of herself as a boss. And that’s not good down here. The ghost and his followers only obey those who respect them for what they are.”
Crozier’s frowned, creasing his forehead, knitting his brows together and looked to George in disbelief. “And what are they?”
George dropped the paper to the desktop and sliced open another envelope. “They’re really just envelopes. Like these. They’re from people who have died and now their souls are trapped in their undeliverable mail. But what’s worse is that they can go out of control. Even though I haven’t actually seen it that bad, the envelopes can’t do this by themselves. Once their authors die, they are recruited by the ghost that lives down here.“ He stopped and looked to Crozier. “I’ve seen him. And I know who he is. I’ve also seen what he can do. How much power he has. In the past, I’ve seen images of dead men laying on the stairs and thick blood pouring off the walls. I realized later that these images were from the past. I think many were postal workers from another era. But not all.“ He nodded to the hand drawn pictures lining the wall. ”Those are the images I’ve seen. People that’ve died. Real people. That’s how I see them in my mind’s eye.”
Crozier thought back to the cafeteria. “Yeah,” he said. “You know what? I saw a shadowy cloud that looked something like of a bat and a human. And then there were envelopes buzzing all around it. Was that an illusion or was it real?”
“Really?“ A grin crept over George’s lips. “See? You do have the gift. I knew it. You’re seeing them already. They don’t just let anybody in, you know.” He stopped for a second. “The Boogaloos don’t wander away from down here very often. I’ve never seen their leader anywhere but here. It’s not like they can’t. But, it’s been my experience they stay in the basement. Of course, now that you’ve seen them upstairs, I guess it’s possible that they can haunt other areas if the post office too. But less often I think. Or they would’ve been seen by more people over the years.” He shoveled his hand into the pile of wrongly addressed letters.
Crozier’s voice fell to a whisper. His face flushed. His hands trembled. His lips quivered. “You’ve been speaking of ghosts,” he whispered. “Other than lights flickering and cold spots, I haven’t seen anything other than that shadow. I didn’t think it resembled a ghost. If its here, where’d he come from?”
“What do you mean if he’s really here? Of course he’s here. I’ve dealt with him for more than thirty years.” George narrowed his eyes. “And you just said you saw him. Yeah, might’ve been a shadow but if he had human features, he was the ghost.“
Crozier shrank back. “Sorry.“
“Don’t you know where he came from? Jesus. Thought you’d have investigated that long before thinking of taking this job. Especially since Jerry looks after the postal archives.” George yanked out a slip of paper from another envelope. He unfolded the sheet and fingered the return address.
He leaned back in his swivel chair. “I was the one that named them,” he said with a grin. I called them Boogaloos. Yepper, pepper,” he said. “And you know, I’m no more afraid of them now then after my first encounter. Before then, I ignored their hauntings. That was before I learned to respect their ways. It took me awhile to learn how to control them. But I learned. Now when they get outta hand I burn them. That puts the fear of humans into them. It’s the only fear they know. Just crumpling or ripping their paper guts isn’t enough. Tearing them to bits doesn’t work either. Recycling sure as hell won’t do. I’ve learned that they have to be cremated.
Crozier tilted his head sideways. He tried to smile, but he had no idea what he was smiling about. Like when he was a kid he always grinned when he was threatened by playground bullies. “Mind if we go off topic for a minute?“
George sighed. “Sure. If you don’t wanna learn. Let’s do that.“
“Good. I’m here for advice. I’ll be retiring soon too,” he said. “Actually to be truthful, I’m being driven out. Not by Boogaloos either. If I hafta come to terms with them. I will. And I’m sure they will with me too.” He dropped his gaze and reviewed the letter stuck in his hand. He shrugged as he toyed with the paper. “Nobody has loyalty anymore,” he said. He ran a finger to the return address in the left hand top corner. “The new bosses are no different than the old ones. Except young people are more arrogant than they used to be. It’s as if they’ve been enabled, that they can have any job they want, with or without education. And they’re ruthless too. Once in the job a lot of them will step on whomever they can to get ahead. Even in as much as telling their manager’s boss that their leader should be fired because the new guys were really doing their work.” He stopped talking and allowed the corner of his lips to tug upward. “I know we’re all counting the days. With the older generation, it’s all about seniority. We don’t give a rat’s ass about anything anymore. And the new hires hate their co-workers. Especially if they’re in the way. They’re in it for themselves. No helping, just stealing credentials and if they’re in positions of even the tiniest power, they make others do their work while taking the credit.”
George stared at him. “Do you think anybody’ll remember us when we’re gone? Yes, I’m sure the Boogaloos will. And so will that ghost.” He raised his eyes to Crozier. His face had grown taut. His eyes were flushed red. “Do you think our contributions to this company, hell any corporation that’s putting their older folks out to pasture, will mean anything in the future?” He palmed an eye. “Nope. I seriously doubt it,” he said.
“I’ll remember you,” Crozier said. “And so will the rest of us old timers.” He grinned. “I haven’t much time left either. The push’ll be on me too. Not just from the company either. So-called friends can do just as much harm as any institution.”
“Yepper,” George said. “It’s us old guys that kept this place humming. But it’s the young guns that wanna get rid of everyone over forty-five. And you and me are long past that.” He pulled open another drawer and fished out a corporate envelope and hand-scratched the return address off the open letter. “You know, if it wasn’t for us ol’ guys, our collective experiences, the place would’ve fallen apart as soon as the new kids took over.” His dim eyes searched the cellar. “Yep. I think this company will collapse once we’re all gone. Those young-bucks don’t know how to take direction from anybody.” A faint smile reappeared on his face. “Unless it comes from those that they temporarily deem important to their career.”
Crozier noticed tears gathering in George’s eyes. “I really don’t know, George,” he said, glancing away. “It’s the sign of the times. Unemployment, corporate closures and bankrupt pensions. I’m only looking to stay on the job cuz I can’t afford to retire. But, I still want out of here. And know what? I don’t know how I’ll ever survive retirement. I’m widowed and still owe on the wife’s burial. I got no stocks, no bonds, house, or car. But what I do have is high cholesterol, high blood pressure and arthritis. You can bet your ass when I leave I’ll end up a broken-down old man in a one-room flat.”
George wiped his eyes with the heel of his palm. He chuckled and cleared his throat, “You look like you’re already there, sweetie. With that limp and all. You remind me of an old grave. Invaded, misused and taken advantage of.”
Crozier laughed. “Yeah,” he said. “What else could I lose?”
Then, a faint paper rustling drifted in from a distant corner. Crozier squinted. “Did’j’ya hear that?
“Hear what?” George asked.
“Don’t give me the hairy eyeballs, buddy,” Crozier said. “It sounded a lot like crumpling paper.”
“Not shooting you the hairy,” George returned. “You probably did hear something. I won’t question that. I’m just immune to most of the noises now. It could be the ghost. I think know more about him than I do about myself.” He glanced around the room. “Sometimes you see him and other times you only hear him. Don’t think you’ll ever see and hear him at the same time though. You gotta have one goddamned special talent for that. But if you did, I’m sure he’d be pretty scary.”
Crozier sat on the edge of the desk. The rustling vanished. “Tell me more about the Boogaloos.” He looked from one corner to the next before returning his stare to George.