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The Last Letter

For Round Five of our contest, we asked you to send us original works of fiction that began with the line, "Some people swore that the house was haunted," and ended with the line, "Nothing was ever the same again after that."

A cat peeks out from beneath a porch.

Some people swore that the house was haunted. As for Budgie, she'd rather let well-enough alone. Jemima Budgins-St. Louis wished the world would just keep to itself, thank you very much. Mr. Gatswain had been a founding member of the Presbyter St. Matthias Cat Rescue and a gallant neighbor. What sense was there in dilly-dallying around his empty house?

Bunions, hang it all, she grumbled, cracking each toe individually as she stood at the kitchen sink. Baby Doe nipped at her fingertips when she reached for the kitty dish.

Budgie dragged her over-plump frame to the grandfather clock and cracked open the loose panel. A decanter of whiskey sat behind the pendulum, as if expecting her for a very long while.

Just a kip, Doe, and then off to bed with us both. She offered the ancient cat a drop on the tip of her finger, for which she was refused. More for me then, eh? A chortle clogged her throat as she massaged her gums with the spirit.

The doorbell ding-danged.

Hang it all Budgie grumbled. Ding-dang dinged between her ears again like a gong. Who is it?

Mary-Victoria Lucas! Mary-Victoria Lucas squeaked.

I'm not at home! This was her personal time, not time to entertain 7-year-old toe-heads.

Girl Scout cookies, Mrs. Budgins-St. Louis! Your usual order: three Thin-Mints, two Samoas, and one Tagalong, Mrs. Budgins-St. Louis! My mother is only on break until 5 so she made me deliver them now Mrs. Budgins-St. Louis?

Criminy. She had forgotten. Four teeth didn't allow many indulgences.

I am dead, Mae-Vee!

My teacher says that people don't talk when they are dead so you've got to be alive, Mrs. Budgins-St. Lo-

All right, all right! Hang it all. It took a great deal of grumbling and groaning to haul herself out of the chair.

Budgie pulled the door open only so far as she could fit a bloated hand. Baby Doe escaped through the gap with a triumphant Mrow! Mae-Vee peered up at her guiltily.

Well, go fetch her then! Budgie nodded towards the porch of Gatswain Den. The Girl Scout held onto her beret and darted after the stubborn cat. A foolish thing to dive under a decaying porch, but cat and girl did as much.

Mrs. Budgins-St. Louis! Come look! A little ivory hand appeared from under the portico and motioned her thence.

Budgie wouldn't admit it, but curiosity finally compelled her to cross the Gatswain lot. There she stood, eighty-four and one-half years old, hunched over the side of the porch. With much effort, Mae-Vee pushed a little wooden box up to the toes of Budgie's matted slippers. A few seconds later Mae-Vee appeared, face smudged with soot and Baby Doe under her arm.

Look what I found! Do you think it's treasure? I think it must be.

With a hesitant brush, Budgie played at the edges of the box. She couldn't bring herself to open it.

Oh let me do it! Mae-Vee deftly unhooked the latch. An old letter sealed with wax lay inside. To my Jem who's Jem?

Budgie snatched the letter from its keep and held it against her breast.

That is none of your business, Mae-Vee. Go home. She locked the front door tightly. It had been a long time since anyone had called her Jem since Mr. Harold Gatswain IV had called her his Jem.

With reverent care, she peeled the wax back. Did she dare?

Only one tear touched her crepe-paper cheek as she watched the unopened letter burn to ash. Nothing was ever the same again after that.