First of all, if you’re reading this and you haven’t either read or watched (or both) all 12 episodes of the Letterboxed project, I highly recommend you stop reading, bookmark this page, and go take in all 12 episodes - in order. I know an hour is a lot of time to spend watching other people’s faces say stuff at a camera, but Letterboxed makes less sense for each episode you skip. So, if you want to understand the thing - which I presume you do, if you’re reading a bloody epilogue about it - then take in everyone’s contributions before you read the rest of this. It’s not going anywhere. It’ll be here when you get back. Go on.
Alright, now that you’ve viewed all 12 episodes, let’s do this thing.
A couple of days after Twootenanny 2009, I got the itch to put together a somewhat longer form, headier, distributed collaboration with a handful of people I’d either met at Twootenanny or had been in touch with about creative collaboration during the previous few months. I emailed Tony Delgrosso, who’d sat across the breakfast table from me as we made exquisite corpse drawings the morning after the Twootenanny party, and proposed the idea. He liked it, and his early contributions were instrumental in setting the project in motion.
Immediately, there were two big issues to be worked out:
- How could the project be conducted so that none of its participants were aware of one another’s presence on the project, and so that each had a minimal amount of contextual understanding of the project’s structure and direction until it concluded?
- What would the first letter be and how would its author be coaxed to write it?
Issue #1 was resolved structurally. I decided that I would serve as a hub, insuring that there was a sufficient layer of opacity and anonymity between one leg and the next. No one would get to see anyone else’s video readings of their letters. The scope of the project would be kept secret, as would the number and identities of the participants. I made the diagram below to help me keep it all straight.
Issue #2 was the harder of the two to resolve. I didn’t want to write a letter to the first participant, because I figured it would be too obviously mine - in my voice, with a bunch of dumb jokes about erections or male ejaculate being confused with hair conditioner or any number of other really obvious giveaways that would torpedo the project if introduced. Somehow, I got it in my head that a mad-lib, derived from some already-existing letter, would yield a good starting letter - a seed letter with which to start the machine. Tony suggested a letter Kurt Vonnegut wrote to his family upon release from a German POW camp at the end of WWII. It was a fantastic solution, and I went to work removing phrases and words from it and replacing them with blanks to be filled in by… by whom? Hadn’t thought of that. Neither Tony nor I made decent candidates for that, because, by then, we were both so familiar with the letter. So, I sent that mad-libs letter to an old friend from college - Jenn McCreary - and asked her to fill in the blanks. Then I asked her to read the result on camera. And just like that, there was the first letter.
I sent the text of her letter to Chris Velasquez, prepended with the following note of instruction:
First of all, thank you for agreeing to participate in this project. Here’s all you have to do.
At the bottom of this email is a letter. You may find this letter surprising, for any number of reasons. But I’d like you to read it with the assumption that - despite any confusion it may bring up for you - you are indeed the intended recipient. Then, I’d like you to write a fully engaged reply. This may entail assuming a back story in your head. It may entail asking tons of questions. All fine.
Once you’ve written your reply, I’d like you to read it on camera. The final cut will be edited to 16:9, so if you can frame your shot at 16:9, that would be ideal. If not, however, I’ll crop.
When finished, please upload your video to the dropbox share, “letterboxedproject,” for which you should have received an invitation today, and email your response letter to firstname.lastname@example.org. Then, I ask only that you say nothing of this project anywhere online, until it’s revealed in a couple of weeks.
If you have any questions while completing your submission, just drop me a line and I’ll invent a plausible answer. You’re the first, so we may find there are process bugs I’ve managed to look past. I’m constantly messing things up, and I don’t imagine this project will be any exception. But I do thank you sincerely for coming along for the ride.
That was November of 2009. And so they went, one letter after the other, after the other, until Toni's letter in April, at which point I had decided I would do the job of writing a letter that could serve as a bridge between hers and our seed letter. I reasoned that, if the last and first letters could be tied together enough, then a viewer could start anywhere in the series and watch all the way around to the circle, and I thought that would be pretty rad if it could be pulled off. Writing that bridge letter was hard, because it required me to forget most of what I'd read and seen of everyone else's submissions, while at the same time requiring me to set it up so that the seed letter could reasonably appear to have been written in response to mine. It took me 3 tries to get it even close, and I'm not especially pleased with the result of that effort, except insofar as it appears to be an adequate bridge.
It’s all about the hiccups.
It’s so often the case that unforeseen challenges become the meat of the story of a thing like this. In the case of Letterboxed, there were tons. Mainly, people were busy and a number of them had to bow out. There were also technical challenges. I pestered poor Jen Oslislo to redo hers over and over, in an attempt to get the sound up, and ended up using her original take. There was equipment failure. There were mixed signals, dropbox snafus, and delays. Lots and lots of delays. What I’d envisioned would take a few weeks to complete ended up taking 8 months.
One particular pattern surprised and engaged me the most. When accused of being crazy or somehow in the wrong, virtually everyone responded by defending themselves. This pattern emerged very early - almost immediately - and at times troubled me. I’d envisioned a series of letters which would successively and dramatically diverge - tonally, subjectively, everything - from the seed letter. But that didn’t appear to be happening, and it made me antsy. As the accuse/defend pattern became more entrenched, it was nearly impossible to resist the temptation to tamper with the system - to rewrite one of the letters before sending it on to the next person - in order to shake things up. But restraint won out, I kept my hands out of the system, and I’m glad I did.
Jen’s letter - the actual 10th letter of the series - was a major narrative leap and, as such, was probably the most exciting for me to receive. Especially so because she wrote it in response to Sam's beautifully dark opus, which I'd thought would surely drive an even darker, more intense response. It was a delightful surprise, and the departure from Sam's bit to Jen's prompted me to rethink the presentation order entirely. It was the strongest buttress to my hope that a viewer could perceive the start or end to have been anywhere in the series, and I decided to test that notion by making them bookends in the presentation order.
Exquisite corpse drawings often read as nonsensical, whimsical, incoherent. Not so with Letterboxed. Something entirely different happened here. In the search for meaning, participants created a remarkably consistent universe. Sure, the thing drifts and truths are overturned, but in the end, one apprehends a world wherein a few mainstay characters navigate a single, dramatic narrative together. It’s nothing like I would have predicted, and for (as well as despite) that I love it.
My gratitude to the people who gave their time and creative energy to help bring this to life is intense. They were generous and selfless and they gave significant attention to a pretty inscrutable task. My hope is at least that the outcome is interesting - even enjoyable - to them. It is both to me. And if you’ve watched all 12 episodes, and you’ve read this far, then it must have been at least somewhat engaging to you too. Yeah?
So that’s it. That’s all she wrote.
Not just her, in fact, but all 12 of us.
Hey Audrey –
Rubber Soul. I still got Rubber Soul. So you didn’t get them all. I brought that one over to Michelle Swanson’s house to listen to Norwegian Wood while we made out in her hot tub. So you didn’t get them all, bitch.
And Wally deserved to know. He deserved to know what happened. He’s a good man, he spent most of his life taking care of those animals… Christ, Audrey, how do you burn down a petting zoo? I still remember hearing that llama… …make whatever noise llamas make. I’ll always remember that. We got most of them out, but that llama was messed up. And the bunny rabbits. They were cooped up in that cage with the wood and the straw, they were done for. But I thought I could get them out. You know how that ended up, I burned my hands so good I couldn’t use them for two months. But hey, two thumbs up, like you said, they’re all good now. Wish I could say the same for the bunny rabbits.
Do you ever think about what you’ve done? Do you ever think about that flaming path of destruction you’ve left? Do you think about what you did to Lucy? What you did to Ramon? I mean, hell, girl, if you see Ramon, don’t wait, run for your life. You ever think about that stuff? You think for yourself? Or does the medication think for you, and snuff it all out? I don’t know. I may have tampered with your medication, I may not have, you can pretend what you want to in that “home” of yours.
But I’ll tell you one thing – you have them fooled there. I got a letter from the doctor saying you have – what did he say - “made great strides in acknowledging unhealthy obsessive behavior and past transgressions” but I’m looking through you and your bullshit. In my life I’ve never met a better actress. So, hat’s off to you, Audrey. You’ve got them fooled, and they say they’ll let you out in 25 days, but that’s still a long time for you to screw up, so we’ll see. But if you get sprung, I’ll be there, say the word, and I’ll be there in my purple Plymouth Cruiser. Runs pretty good - I jumped it in Birmingham - runs better than that Dodge you torched.
But if you want to room in with me, I’ve got a couch for you. But you’ll also be rooming with Lucy. She’s been there for the past 6 weeks. We’re sharing it. Everybody around here thinks we’re that nice young couple that’s moved up from Texas with the Asian baby. But you have some explaining to do to her. You need to let her know what happened. You need to write her a letter and come clean, and let her know – and let me know – how it all went down. She still wakes up in the middle of the night, saying she’s just seen Buster, just seen his face, and starts crying. So you better write her that letter, Audrey. If you don’t, you won’t see me.
Or Robérto if that’s what you prefer. I got your letter and I have to say I was really surprised that you wrote me back, partially because I know you rarely follow through on anything unless it involves mild-to-moderate vandalism and partially because I had no idea you had the use of your hands back. But hey, big thumbs up, now that you can do that again. Right? Right?! Those were good times.
Anyway. I had some responses to your responses and wanted to go over those but first—Robérto? That’s what you’re calling yourself now? At least when I picked “Audrey”, I went with a classic. Audrey conjures images of a doe-eyed ingenue or a man-eating plant. But Robérto? Robérto is a legendary baseball player. That’s it. But I understand why you picked the name. I do. I remember when Mom stole that baseball card for you, but if you’re going to name yourself after things our mother stole, why not call yourself Buick? Or Asian baby?
That’s not the point, you know. Whatever works for you. The thing is that I do want to be roommates. I do, if only because I know that way you can’t tamper with my medication again. I know it was you. I’ve got the fingerprints—and not just those! But I’ll get back to that.
You expressed some concern that I’ve been calling it a “home”. Well I just think that’s nicer than “an institution”. A home has kind of warm connotations and stirs up these fuzzy memories. An institution makes you think you’re going to have your butt cheeks pried apart as they look for contraband. Potato, potahto. I’m calling it a home.
It’s just that we never had a home, you know? There was that one summer that it was you and me and Momma and Poppa and Buster…and now three of them are dead. And I’ve gotta tell you, it’s the wrong three. Or maybe just the wrong one, because I would trade you for Buster in a heartbeat. That’s probably the way Yoko Ono feels about Ringo.
Oh, hey, can you bring your Beatles albums when you come next month? Wait, no, you can’t because they were part of the fire I started in your trunk after I found out that you told Wally EVERYTHING. Jesus, Robérto, you have one box of wine—ONE BOX—and you just turn into a regular Joy Behar, don’t you? Just spilling everything. Thanks for that, it made for a really awkward conversation.
BUT I’ll have you know that I did get a lawyer and I did send the fingerprints off. I got the results back. I also got three seasons of Law & Order because you want to know who my lawyer is? It’s me. I’m representing myself and you, Robérto, are going down faster than the lid on your precious toilet seat. You got that? I mean that in the nicest possible way.
So I think that’s it. I’ll see you next month. I’ll bring the chestnuts, you bring the crazy. I know you know how to find that.
See you soon…roommate.
Hello, Audrey. Thanks for calling yourself my “sister” again. It’d been a while. Thanks, also, for suggesting I’m the “potentially crazy” one, and “horribly confused.” Pretty sure David’ll get a kick out of that one.
I wanted to address some of the concerns you seem to have about us sharing a house together, and then, if you’ll permit me, bring up a few of my own. I’ll start first by telling you I happen to love the fact that you’re actually calling this a ‘house’. Second, I can’t get enough of you saying that you “let me stay here.” Dry humor suits you, Audrey. It really does.
Please stop calling yourself “daddy’s little accident”. I was eight. I can only say I’m sorry so many times in one lifetime. For one last time: I’m sorry. The matter is now OVER.
You’re telling me that I need to close the garden gate securely and okay, that’s totally fair and I agree with you one hundred and ten percent. THAT SAID: You’re upset about ‘Buster’ running off but that’s what she DOES. Also: ‘Buster’ is a stupid name for a cat, indoor OR outdoor. And for the love of Pete please stop calling it a ‘he’. Maybe, Audrey, just maybe, Buster wouldn’t ‘run off’ if you stopped trying to give an outdoor, feral cat a fucking bath.
I did love your comment about the Chihuahua venom, though, I have to admit. You’re always funny when you steal jokes from 3:00 a.m. infomercials. Nice, Audrey. Mom would be so proud. She always was when you stole things.
Speaking of stealing, there’s a reason I left you without a ride at Clarice’s wedding, and you hit the nail on the head in your letter: it was a two-hour ceremony, and it was a pain in the ass for everyone, including Clarice. That’s why I kept getting up and stretching—but at LEAST I wasn’t making noises. Regardless, Audrey, who on God’s green Earth gets tattoos of their wedding vows during the fucking ceremony? Not friends of mine. I don’t mean to judge—I’m all for tattoos, and you of all people know that. At least Clarice and her new ‘husband’ had screens set up for us to watch. Anyway, sorry I bailed. The blood got to me.
Speaking of blood, you say you really didn’t have anything to do with Poppa’s death “besides being behind the wheel at the time”. You’ve said this before. I get it. I do. It would make more sense if he hadn’t been raking leaves in the yard at the time, Audrey. My advice, as it has been all along, is to get a lawyer. A good one. And remember that whatever happens when the verdict comes rolling in, Audrey: civil suits COUNT, you bitch.
Oh by the way, I showed Wally the photo album of us as kids. Did I not tell you? He was just over for quick chat while you were at “yoga” (what’s his name again?). Wally really enjoyed seeing us as children: smiling, playing, me with diapers on and you over a foot taller than me, walking around. Audrey, do you think maybe it’s time you tell Wally you’re not 8 years ‘younger’ than me? It might just be something he’s wondering right about now. You have no idea how marvelous it was to explain to him why the name ‘Audrey’ was written next to every single photo of you, and not ‘Kimberly’. Bottom line, Audrey: I might’ve let some things slip after a couple of glasses of wine. Wally might need to bend your ear for a little bit pretty soon. Whoops!
Bit of housekeeping, before I let you go: Hoping you got the fingerprints sent off like we’d talked about. It’s been weeks. Please don’t leave the toilet lid up anymore (classy, Audrey, as always). And seriously no it is not chestnut season any longer and I’m sick of hearing about it, notes or verbally. The ones in the jars don’t taste the same and you know it, so stop asking. Let’s stick with cognac and mushrooms for the time being, Audrey. I’m not giving up ground on this to you like I usually do. I won’t. Not this time. Not this year. (Do you like cream with the cognac? Just an idea, might be worth trying.)
As for any other issues I might have with you as my roommate, I heartily suspect most of them will be cleared up by the end of the month.
No reason. No reason.
This is your sister Audrey. I got the letter you wrote me and I just wanted to write you back and read it aloud because I think you’re horribly, horribly confused and potentially crazy. I thought if I wrote some things out for you and let you see my response that maybe we could get some things cleared up here and we can live a lot easier in this house. I mean, sometimes, I don’t even know why I let you stay here because of the things that you’re saying about me.
I know you’re torn up after daddy’s little accident, but seriously, you just have to get on and move on from some of those things because I think they’re really starting to get to you.
Speaking of living in the house together, I just wanted to go over some ground rules as you seem to be having a problem with some of those as well. You really have to close the garden gate securely. Buster has run off again. I haven’t seen him for days. And you know that when he comes back he’s usually filthy and I have to clean him up and start all over again and get his fur just right and it takes me hours.
And you know whenever he’s gone this stray Chihuahua just comes along and makes himself comfortable. It’d be okay if he was nice but sometimes he gets worked up and starts spitting Chihuahua venom in my eyes and well…that shit hurts.
Anyway, I just need Buster back so I hope you can go out and have a look for him and return him to me. I really need his company because I’m still torn up about ruining that wedding the other day. Honestly, I only objected and said Thomas was sleeping with his secretary because my feet were cold because somebody forgot to double up my socks that day and I just really wanted to get home and watch my stories. Who thought Clarice would take me seriously anyways? Like, who ever takes me seriously? I’m always saying kerazy things. Anyways. And what is the deal with having a two hour wedding ceremony? I mean, you’re going to have to expect these things to happen.
Anyways, speaking of other things that I have a bit of a problem with… I don’t know why, dear brother, why you insist on leaving me pointed little notes on my dinner napkins about how Ikilled daddy. I didn’t kill daddy. Sharkie killed daddy. It’s a pure evil, four cylinder Ford Focus and I didn’t really have anything to do with it other than I happened to be behind the wheel. It’s like Christine… my car has a mind of its own. And daddy always liked you better.
Anyway. I’m getting tired. I think it’s time for my afternoon nap. I trust that I’ve made myself clear. So you can refrain from posting about how much trouble I am and how kerazy your sister is all of the time and I mean who even uses that service anymore anyway. It’s so boring! Nobody ever sends me what I want on Farmville anyway.
So I say good day to you sir. And I expect to see a piping hot….I mean… warm, warm and cuddly Buster back on my lap by dinner .
And I do love you. I’m sorry that mummy didn’t. What? She told me that time when she was choking on the giant sausage. And yes I know I really shouldn’t have fed it to her that fast… but I had things to do! Anyway, I do miss her.
Please be prompt with dinner. I’d hate to have to ring my bell over and over and over again. I know how you hate it so.
This is the last time I am going to do this. Perhaps seeing a visual representation of who you think you are talking to will help.
The “letters” you think I am writing you are just the plain paper napkins that come with your food. You seem to have decided that I have created some sort of coded language based on the embossed patterns on them. And the way that you reuse them to send your messages back through the door was impossible to ignore.
Perhaps by addressing your misconceptions directly, you can get past this and I don’t have to keep being the middleman in some guy’s post-doc thesis research.
First, I am not your brother. I’m just Frank, the orderly who brings you food, and I didn’t want to reply at all, but the doctors say that this may do some good. So here we are.
I don’t cook for you, I just bring the food. And everyone says thank you because that’s just what you do when someone brings you food. While the validation is nice, it’s really just perfunctory.
The “wedding” you think you ruined was just a group viewing of Rocky Horror Picture Show, but I understand that you feel bad, since we had to cut it off short once the other patients realized Tim Curry wasn’t a woman and started throwing food at the screen.
You did actually run your Dad over with the car, and that’s why you are here. You seem to forget that, daily. If you had just run him over once, it might have been considered an accident, but after the third time, and shifting into 4-wheel drive, the police just had to get involved.
Your dog, Buster, I am sad to say, is a complete fabrication. But we encourage imaginary friends and pets here as long as they don’t cause the patients or staff any disruption. Arranging your leftover food in the shape of him is kind of disturbing though, so we have to keep removing him when he gets moldy. Sorry.
And, again, you keep forgetting that you are gluten-intolerant, so we can’t bring you bread. You seem to like corn tortillas the most, which is why you get tacos every other day. Though after the hot sauce incident, the staff is looking into other options for your menu.
When you thought you heard “face book” with your ear pressed up against the door, we were actually saying “grace, look!” in the common area, when Grace Kelly came on screen while we were watching “To Catch a Thief” on TV. Again, sorry.
Anyway, I hope this helps clarify things, but probably not. The doctors said this would be good for me too, so that’s probably most of the reason I did it. So, it’s back to tacos and tortilla soup for you, as those seem the least likely to be turned into Buster. And I’ll most likely end up doing this tomorrow. Sigh.
Let me first start off by telling you how much I appreciate your letters. They bring me solace…no, that’s not the right word. They bring me comfort. Knowing that you still remember me even though we are separated by a locking door (a heavy locking door thank god!) brings me a strange sense of comfort. Secondly, although I appreciate your letters (god knows it must be so hard for you to actually take time from your busy day of doing nothing), I am no stranger to the venom you spew on them. The venom is so palpable that I am now forced to wear gloves when handling your letters. So please, try to stay pleasant. I know it may be a lot to ask of you, but you can try!
I am glad other people are enjoying my letters. It’s nice to have an audience. However, knowing now that you are reading my letters out loud leaves me with a sense of performance anxiety. I hope this letter lives up to the amazingness of the last ones. It reminds me of when mom kept finding urine on the toilet seat and then forced you pee in front of her for a year so she could verify that you were actually hitting the bowl. God, that year in high school was awful for you.
Yes, I do appreciate you cooking for me. I assumed the empty trays I leave at the door were ‘thank you’ enough. I often forget how needy you are. Ever since I can remember, everyone always has to say ‘thank you’ for everything. Worse yet, everyone always has to apologize to you when they accidentally hurt you in some way. You can hold such a grudge. So, I’ll say it all again:
I’m sorry for beaming you in the head at Office Depot
While I’m at it, let me repeat my sorrys for other things I have done that you could possibly be holding a grudge against:
I’m sorry for showing up at your wedding naked and forcing your blushing bride to call off the wedding 5 minutes prior to her walking down the isle (but, as I’ve said before, if that’s all it took to end the relationship, you guys were in trouble anyways)
I’m sorry for running dad over with the car (but again, as I’ve said before, he really had it coming).
And I’m sorry for refusing to let the dog out of my room. I understand he would probably like to run outside, and I understand that he really needs a bath, but he is such a great comfort to me. I can’t bear to let him go.
There! Are you happy?
As for the bread: learn how to fucking bake! Get me some mother fucking potato bread or I will burn this mother fucking house to the mother fucking ground. Got it, Asshole? You already know what I am like pissed off, so DON’T. FUCK. WITH. ME.
Love, your sis!
P.S. Facebook? What’s facebook?
Mother wants me to tell you how relieved she is to hear from you. She also wanted me to tell you that I still can’t find your favorite potato bread anywhere, and yes, I spoke to the baked goods guy at Whole Foods, the Filipino guy with the nose ring, Ernesto. Honesto? Anyway, he still asks about you. I mean, really, he asks about you all the time. I tell him how busy you are, and then he gives me a deal on my favorite Artisan Rye, which is always in stock. You might want to switch.
Anyway, mother, Dr. Wilmots, and Dr. Metzger felt it was important that I tell you about the potato bread right away, considering the increasingly alarming series of events your letters have described. Things seem to have escalated a bit from the last time when your supply run in the Balkans was attacked by the provincial Night Squad goons. The section where you were pinned down by fire for two days while you watched birds eat what was left of your friend was gripping stuff, but it pales in comparison to scope, scale and suffering of this one. Dr. Metzger, who has been spending a lot of time with mother outside the office lately, believes the violent tone of your missives is directly related to your inability to handle disruptions to your daily routines. No shit, Sherlock. I was THERE that night in Office Depot when you couldn’t find your favorite paper to print your millionth draft of your oft-delayed dissertation. What was the title again? Ah yes, “Jewish Ethnic Politics in Argentina During the Military Junta Rule 1976-1983.” Catchy. I was there when you brained me with a with a Swingline stapler when I suggested another type of paper, and I was there later when the police found you naked and babbling in an Arby’s rest room in Anaheim, which, all in all, was the most disturbing turn of the whole evening. So yeah kiddo, no potato bread again, so, buck up. I hope your stay at the Private Club doesn’t descend into a nightmare of cannibalism and pedophilia, although I’m guessing the fellows down at the local pub would like to hear that story.
Oh yes, I’ve been reading your letters to the regulars. You see, they ask how my novel is coming, and I have to explain how my manuscript is locked in the apartment over the garage where you, my sister, has barricaded herself for a year after her total breakdown and, as a result, these fantastic letters are the only type of communication between us. That and the empty trays you return for the three meals mother insist I make for you each day. Dr. Metzger, bless his heart and generous stomach, thinks I’m a good cook and is convinced that the effort means a great deal to you. I wonder if we’ll ever know.
Anyway, when I’m not soothing mother’s nerves, or managing the family finances as the doctors siege the checking account, I’m not left with much time or energy to write. Reading your letters aloud in a pub, however, has become a thing, and is good for a few paid drinks. I should warn you: there may be a Facebook page devoted to your work.
Well, unlikely as it seems, should you make a state-bound voyage out your front door, I rented a movie tonight. Children of Men. Right up your alley, I should think.
PS: If you come out, the orange toothbrush is Dr. Metzger’s. You know, for between meals.
I’m told that you were probably never informed that I was anything other than “the black sheep carrier.” Chances are that you also failed to receive any of the letters I wrote from Isolation School. That leaves me a lot of explaining to do:
I’ve been lost to you since last December, when our security was cut to ribbons by the Health Ministry’s last desperate thrust through our barricades. Seven armored vehicles hit us and cut us off from the rest of the campus. The other students on our quad managed to pull out: we were obliged to stay and fight. Books aren’t much good against soldiers: Our water, food and medical supplies gave out and the Red Cross Infantry were mowing students down without breaking a sweat —so we gave up. The girls from my floor got a car full of Health goons and some cheers of appreciation from our crowd for it, I’m told, but I’ll be damned if it was worth it. I was one of the few who weren’t wounded. For that much thank God.
Well, the Ministry rounded up the lot of us, without food, water or sleep to the train yard on the edge of campus, an old Regional Rail train, I think, where we were strip-searched and locked up, sixty Carriers to each car, in an unventilated, unheated row. There were no accommodations—the floors were covered with torn carpet & shredded seat cushions. There wasn’t room for all of us to lie down. Half slept while the other half stood. We spent several days, including Christmas, on that train. On Christmas eve the Ministry strafed and decimated our unmarked train. They killed about one-hundred-and-fifty of us. We got a little water Christmas Day and moved slowly across South America to an internment camp. We were released from the train cars on New Year’s Day. The nurses herded us through scalding delousing showers. Many men died from shock in the showers after ten days of starvation, thirst and exposure. But I didn’t.
Under the treaty, symptomatic infected are not obliged to work when taken prisoner. I am, as you know, a non-symptomatic carrier. One-hundred-and-fifty such minor beings were shipped to a holding camp on January 10th. I was their leader by virtue of the little strength I possessed. It was our misfortune to have sadistic and fanatical guards. We were refused blankets and clothing: We were given long hours at extremely hard labor. Our food ration was two slices of black bread and one pint of milk each day. After desperately trying to improve our situation for two months and having been met with bland smiles I told them just what I was going to do to them when help finally came. They beat me up a little. I was fired as group leader.
On about February 14th more Health Ministry goons came over, followed by tanks. Their combined labors slaughtered 250,000 infected & carriers in twenty-four hours and destroyed towns. But not me.
After that we were put to work carrying corpses from camp; women, children, old men; dead from concussion, fire or suffocation. Villagers cursed us and threw rocks as we carried bodies to huge funeral pyres in the clearing.
When rebel carriers took control of the territory, we were evacuated on foot to the western border. There we remained until the skirmish ended. Our guards deserted us. On that happy day the Red Cross were intent on mopping up any surviving carriers in our camp. Their planes strafed and bombed the camp, killing fourteen. But not me.
Eight of us stole a jeep. We traveled and looted our way through the countryside for eight days, living like kings. The carriers here are crazy about Americans. They picked us up in New Honduras. We rode from there to the border in Ford trucks. We’ve since flown to neutral territory.
I’m writing from a Private Club in Central America. I’m being wonderfully well fed and entertained. The state-bound ships are jammed, naturally, so I’ll have to be patient. I hope I’m back home in a month. Once home I’ll be given twenty-one days in the Hamptons, about $600, and—get this—safe housing!
I’ve too damned much to say, the rest will have to wait. But I’m desperate nonetheless for your reply.
Department of Internal Affairs
MBE Worldwide Global Corp
May 5, 2010
Dear Dr. Spacecan,
Thank you for your correspondence regarding your recent and unfortunate receipt of one particularly inappropriate package from our Peachtree location in Atlanta, Georgia.
While I am deeply regretful of the oversights that led to this incident, I also want to thank you for speaking out rather than remaining quiet. Your note supplied us with vital clues that were instrumental in helping us get to the bottom of not just your case, but those of many others like you - all victims of former Mailboxes Etc. franchisee Reginald Witherspoon.
While ongoing legal proceedings prevent me from going into great detail about the matter, I should tell you that Mr. Witherspoon is not, in fact, a minister of any sort. References to his supposed affiliation with the Baptist Ministries of DeKalb County are exaggerated - if not completely untrue. Unfortunately - and I hope this is of some consolation - you were but one of his many victims.
It is advisable that you contact anyone with whom you corresponded via your box at our Fort Wayne facility between March 5, 2007 and April 14, 2010, as your correspondences may have been altered or redirected to other customers. We realize the enormity of this burden, and again offer our deepest and sincere apologies.
Mr. Witherspoon has been charged with federal mail fraud, racketeering, intimidation, indecent exposure, public intoxication, contributory negligence, and possession of narcotics with intent to distribute; and he will be prosecuted to the full extent allowed by Georgia law.
Sincerest thanks and regrets,