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James Dashner

The Journal of Curious Letters

Part 1

The Fire

Chapter 1

Master George and Mistress Jane

Norbert Johnson had never met such strange people in all of his life, much less two on the same day-within the same hour even. Odd. Very odd indeed.

Norbert, with his scraggly gray hair and his rumpled gray pants and his wrinkly gray shirt, had worked at the post office in Macadamia, Alaska, for twenty-three years, seven months, twelve days, and-he looked at his watch-just a hair short of four hours. In those long, cold, lonesome years he’d met just about every type of human being you could imagine. Nice people and mean people. Ugly people and pretty people. Lawyers, doctors, accountants, cops. Crazies and convicts. Old hags and young whippersnappers. Oh, and lots of celebrities, too.

Why, if you believed his highfalutin stories (which most people quit doing about twenty-three years, seven months, twelve days, and three hours ago), you’d think he’d met every movie and music star in America. Though exactly why these famous folks were up in Alaska dropping off mail was anybody’s guess, so it may have been a slight exaggeration of the truth.

But today’s visitors were different, and Norbert knew he’d have to convince the town that this time he was telling the truth and nothing but the truth. Something scary was afoot in Macadamia.

The first stranger, a man, entered the small, cramped post office at precisely 11:15 a.m., quickly shutting the door against the blustery wind and swirling snowflakes. In doing so, he almost dropped a cardboard box full of letters clutched in his white-knuckled hands.

He was a short, anxious-looking person, shuffling his feet and twitching his nose, with a balding red scalp and round spectacles perched on his ruddy, puffy face. He wore a regal black suit: all pinstripes and silk and gold cuff links.

When the man plopped the box of letters onto the post office counter with a loud flump, a cloud of dust billowed out; Norbert coughed for several seconds. Then, to top everything off, the stranger spoke with a heavy English accent like he’d just walked out of a Bill Shakespeare play.

“Good day, sir,” he said, the faintest attempt at a smile creasing his face into something that looked like pain. “I do hope you would be so kind as to offer me some assistance in an important matter.” He pulled a lace-edged handkerchief from within the dark recesses of his fancy suit and wiped his brow, beads of sweat having formed there despite the arctic temperatures outside. It was, after all, the middle of November.

“Yessir,” Norbert answered, ready to fulfill his duty as Postal Worker Number Three. “Mighty glad to help.”

The man pointed outside. “Simply dreadful, isn’t it?”

Norbert looked through the frosted glass of the front door, but saw only the snow-swept streets and a few pedestrians bundled up and hurrying to get out of the cold. “What’s dreadful, sir?”

The man huffed. “By the Wand, man, this place, this place! ” He put away his hanky and folded his arms, exaggerating a shiver up and down his body. “How can you chaps stand it-the bitter cold, the short daylight, the biting wind?”

Norbert laughed. “I take it you’re just a-visiting?”

“Visiting?” The sharply dressed man barked something between a laugh and a snort. “There’ll be no visiting from me, my good man. The instant these letters are off, I’ll be heading back to the ocean. The very instant, I assure you.”

The ocean? Norbert eyed the man, a little offended by the stranger’s dislike of the only town where Norbert had ever set foot. “Well, sir, how long you been here?”

“How long?” The man looked at his golden pocket watch. “How long? Approximately seven minutes, I’d say, and that’s far too long already. I’m, er, eager to be on my way, if you don’t mind.” He scratched his flaky red scalp. “Which reminds me-is there a cemetery closer than the one down by the frozen riverside?”

“A cemetery?”

“Yes, yes, a cemetery. You know, where they bury poor chaps with unbeating hearts?” When Norbert only stared, the man sighed. “Oh, never mind.”

Norbert remembered hearing the word befuddled once on television. He had never been quite sure what it meant, but something told him it explained exactly how he felt at that moment. He scratched his chin, squinting at the odd little man. “Sir, may I ask your name?”

“No, you may not, Mister Postman. But if you must call me something, you may call me Master George.”

“Alrighty then,” Norbert said, his tone wary. “Uh, Master George, you’re a-telling me you just arrived here in Macadamia seven minutes ago?”

“That’s right. Please-”

Norbert ignored him. “And you’re a-telling me you come all this way just to mail these here letters, and then you’re a-going to up and leave again?”

“Egads, yes!” Master George squeezed his hands together and rocked back and forth on his heels. “That is, if you’d be so kind as to

…” He motioned to the box of letters, raising his thin eyebrows.

Norbert shook his head. “Well, how’d you get here?”

“By… er, plane, if you must know. Now, really, why so many questions?”

“You got yourself your own plane?”

Master George slammed his hand against the counter. “Yes! Is this a post office or a trial by jury? Now, please, I’m in a great hurry!”

Norbert whistled through his teeth, not taking his eyes off Master George as he slid the box closer to him. Then, reluctantly, Norbert looked down, a little worried the stranger might disappear once they broke eye contact.

The box was filled to the rim with hundreds of envelopes, yellowed and crumpled like they’d been trampled by a herd of buffalo, the addresses scrawled across the wrinkly paper in messy blue ink. Each frumpy envelope also bore a unique stamp-some of which looked to be rare and worth serious money: an Amelia Earhart, a Yankee Stadium, a Wright Brothers.

Norbert looked back up at the man. “So, you flew in your own plane to the middle of Alaska in the middle of November to deliver these letters… and then you’re heading back home?”

“Yes, and I’ll be sure to tell Scotland Yard that if they’re in need of a detective to ring you straight away. Now, good sir, is there anything else I have to do? I want to make absolutely sure there will be no problem in the delivery of these letters.”

Norbert shrugged, then shuffled through the stack of envelopes, verifying they all had stamps and proper addresses. The letters were destined to go everywhere from Maine to California, from France to South Africa. Japan. China. Mexico. They were headed all over the world. And by the looks of it, the man had estimated the required postage to perfection.

“Well, I’ll have to weigh each one and type the location into the computer, but they look all right to me on first glance. You wantin’ to stick around while I check them all?”

Master George slipped a fat wallet out of his jacket pocket. “Oh, I assure you the necessary postage is there, but I must be certain. Here.” He pulled out several hundred-dollar bills and placed them on the counter. “If you find that additional postage is required, this should be more than sufficient to pay in full. Consider the rest as a tip for your valuable service.”

Norbert swallowed the huge lump in his throat. “Uh, sir, I can tell you right now it won’t take nearly that much. Not even close.”

“Well, then, I will return home feeling very satisfied indeed.” He squinted at Norbert’s name tag before tipping his head in a formal bow. “I bid you farewell, Norbert, and wish you the very best.”

And with that, Master George slipped back out into the frigid air.

Norbert had a sneaking suspicion he’d never see the man again.

Norbert had just placed the box of odd letters on a shelf under the front desk when an even stranger character than the finely appareled English gentleman stepped into the quiet post office. When the woman walked in the door, Norbert’s mouth dropped open.

     

 

2011 - 2018