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Every year on my birthday, I receive a letter

Please note: this story was provided by the author and published as is.

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of my father’s death, taken away by a single, senseless act. It just so happens that today is also my birthday.

He’d been working late. As he often did, regardless of birthdays or holidays. I understood it was painful memory for him, and though our relationship had always been a bit strained, I never blamed him for making a living. Because, as a single father, he had a lot on his mind, and I respected that.

That night, on my eighteenth birthday. My father was hit by a drunk driver on his way home. He never even made it to the hospital. His insides were so utterly torn to pieces by the impact, that he simply died before the paramedics could even show up.

A few weeks after the funeral, I was trying to piece together the legal mess that comes following someone’s death, inheritance and so on. It certainly wasn’t anything a teenager should have to deal with, but I was alone, no close family, no one to guide me through the world.

Ironically, his lawyer seemed to know more about my father than myself, after dealing with whatever assets left behind, he’d been given a set of instructions, all prepared by my father should he meet an untimely demise. I signed all the necessary documents, and was given some advice on how to survive the loss of a loved one…

…Then I received a letter.

It was wrapped in a beautiful, silver envelope, only decorated with my name. I opened it, careful not to rip it apart, and started reading.

 

Dear Richard,

I’ll start this letter by admitting to one undeniable truth. I’m not a good man, and I’ve been an even shittier father. I’ve made plenty of mistakes, left too many things unsaid.

I could make up the excuse that I’m simply a product of my time and the people that raised me, but I’ll cut through the bullshit and just apologise.

Your mother died while giving birth, it’s a hard fact to live with, and though I’ve seemed cold at times, I need you to know that I never blamed you for any of it. How could I? You came to this world as a beautiful little creature, never asking for life, yet appreciating every moment of it.

I’m writing this on your birthday, you’ve just turned eighteen, and I’m staying behind at work to finish this up. I don’t think I’ll hand it to you yet, I’m still not done dealing with my own issues, but I promise that as soon as I’m able to man up, I’ll tell you all the things I should have as you grew up.

That I’m proud of you, that I love you.

I wish I could say this to your face, but I’m a coward. Taught myself that emotions are for the weak. So, for now, I’ll put this on paper. It’ll be waiting among my other things, and my last will and testament, should anything ever happen to me, but that’ll hopefully be many years from now, and by then you won’t even need this letter to remind you.

You’re a better man than me, Rick, I hope you know that. I’m sorry I haven’t been a better father, but I promise I’ll change.

I love you,

Dad.

 

My father had died the same day he wrote that letter. He probably instructed the secretary to send the letter to his lawyer in the morning. I don’t really know how else they he would have gotten ahold of it.

I read the letter a couple of more times, before folding it neatly back up, then I just sat down on the floor and cried. I’d kept it together for so long. I never shed a tear as the police officer handed me the news, and I continued my cold appearance throughout the funeral proceedings.

Because he was right, we’d never been close, and I never thought he loved me, but hearing these simple words, though only from a piece of paper; Was far more than I could handle.

I dug up some old photo albums from my childhood. Sifting through them, and realising he always seemed happy, smiling wide in each photo as I turned the pages. Seeing those memories in a new light truly broke my heart. We’d left so much unsaid, but all the emotions were there, shown through the smiles on our faces, and the moments we shared.

That’s what truly mattered, not the words that could have been said, but the time spent together.

And that would have been it, my father had passed and life moved on. I kept the small house for myself, it was already bought and paid for, and I kept on with my studies.

Then, one year later, on my birthday; I received another letter.

It was beautiful, silver envelope, just like the last one. Encased in a pattern of vines and bizarre looking symbols, just small enough to remain hidden at first glance. In the center it simply said my name, written crudely, but not without charm.

His handwriting was unmistakable, the letter without a doubt came from my father, but how had he sent it one year past his demise? I thought about it briefly, and figured he must have instructed his lawyer to send a letter on my birthday each year. It sounded unlike something he would have done, but I’d already been surprised the last year, so I just opened it and started reading.

 

Dear Richard,

Where do I begin? I’m not even sure if this letter will reach you considering where I am, but I’m giving it a shot anyway.

It’s been exactly one year since my death, though I have to admit, time works a bit differently here. It feels like a hundred years have passed since you turned eighteen, yet, I know that for you, only one year has gone by.

I’m not much of a poet, but I’m sure not even Edgar Allen Poe could have found the words to describe the beauty of this place. It’s simply put; Unbelievable.

You need to know that I never suffered. The car hit me at such a speed that it killed me instantly, no pain, nor any memory from the incident. My world just disappeared, and a moment later I woke up surrounded by the most beautiful light.

Where here is? I’m not exactly sure, I suppose it’s heaven, though I can’t say exactly what I did to deserve such a gift.

It’s like a city, stretching endlessly as far as I can possibly see, buildings, spires covered in silver that stretch up into the sky, hiding among the clouds above. Perfectly constructed and each magnificent in their own way.

There are no horizons here, the world only ends when it’s too far away to comprehend, just tiny figures dancing in the distance, but it’s beautiful nonetheless, enveloped in colours I never knew existed.

It’s perfect.

We don’t feel hunger, thirst nor tiredness. Yet, the food is bountiful and always tastes exquisite. I don’t need it, but it’s a joy to feast nonetheless, never feeling too full, never gaining, nor losing weight.

There are some things I can’t tell you. The guards, or angels? I’m not sure what to call them, but they’re telling me I have to follow the rules. Upon asking they simply scoffed and told me to figure it out on my own. They’re certainly not the beautiful creatures I expected them to be, but that doesn’t really matter.

What matters is that I’m looking for your mother, but in an endless city, that’s easier said than done. There’s really no register here, so no one can actually tell me where to find anyone, though I suppose with eternity ahead of me, I’ll just have to keep looking.

The population is strangely scattered here, and none I spoke to have been here for more than a few years. I suspect there’s some kind of hierarchy in place, or maybe we have to wander further into the city to find our loved ones. It’s a lot to take in, and wish I could tell you more, but now I need to go.

In any case, I love you Rick. I wish I had said that while I was still alive, but at the very least this is better than nothing.

Love,

Dad.

 

I wasn’t sure how to react. Sure, it was his handwriting, but it had to be some kind of joke. I called up his old lawyer and asked if he’d sent the letter on behalf of my father. He denied it, saying his job had ended the moment I signed over my father’s remaining assets here on Earth.

Next, I turned to the few friends I had, interrogated them about the letter, without revealing its content. They acted innocent, which made me feel guilty. They’d been great as log as I’d known them, always there for me, and without them I couldn’t have survived the passing of my father.

So, without any further solutions, I let it go. I put the letter alongside the rest of my father’s belongings, and forced myself to move on.

I almost forgot, I truly did, then the third letter arrived. Yet again, on my birthday, exactly one year later.

 

Dear Richard,

I found her, after an impossibly long search I finally found her! Your mother, Helen, the love of my life. I knew she had to be here, she’d always been one of the best people I knew.

I guess I should explain.

As I said in my last letter: Time doesn’t flow as you’d expect, at least not here. Despite that, we keep track of it just like we do back on Earth, I suppose it makes it easier to look out for our loved ones. It just- Feels longer.

Your mother, she’s not exactly herself. I found her on top of one of the spires. Rick, I’ve never seen her like this, she looks nothing like the woman I knew and loved before, yet I know it’s her, I can feel it in my heart. She’s so skinny, emaciated, and on the brink of starvation. I didn’t even realise that could happen, I myself haven’t eaten in weeks, yet I feel completely fine.

She just keeps repeating the same sentences over and over:

“I don’t understand, I tried to be good, what did I do wrong?”

I tried to convince her to leave with me, but she doesn’t even recognise who I am anymore, and I can’t simply force her, believe me, I tried. Up here, it’s just impossible to do anything- to anyone, against their will. I realised that when I tried to write about what I saw on the first day, but found that I couldn’t form the words.

It’s hard to describe, but we have free will here as long as we follow the rules, anything else is literally impossible.

The angels turned there attention to me after I hung around your mother for more than a few days. They told me to leave her alone. I tried to explain, but they wouldn’t listen.

I had to leave her, Rick, I couldn’t stand to see her like that, but I’ll keep checking up on her, I promise.

Once I tried the few ideas I could think of, I some other people here for help, but most of them are like myself, new and clueless. The few ‘veterans,’ I’ve found only tell me to let it be, that I’ll get in trouble if I keep messing around.

I’ve got to go now, they’re looking at me.

I love you Rick, I hope we don’t see each other too soon. Just live a good life, it’s far too short.

 

His handwriting seemed rushed towards the end. I must have read through the letter a dozen times, trying my best to figure out what was going on. Since I had no means of tracking the letter, I couldn’t do much other than listen to my gut.

As strange as it might sound, I believed every word I read.

I decided I would respond, that I would write to my dad and see what happened. Honestly, I felt kind of stupid as I put the letter down at my doorstep, expecting it to magically vanish during the night, but even the smallest chance at contacting the afterlife, was one worth taking.

Of course, when I opened the door the following day, it was still there, mushy with smudged ink from a small storm that passed during the night.

Defeated, I could do nothing but wait for another year to pass…

As my birthday rolled around, I hatched a plan to catch whoever delivered the letters. I camped outside in my garden, waiting for the culprit. Hours passed, I waited from the early hours, and as midday arrived I decided to call it quits, and head back inside.

There it lay, on the other side of my front door, on top of my slippers; A perfect, silver envelope with my name written on it.

 

Dear Richard,

I’ve found someone willing to answer my questions. They claim they’ve kept an eye on my for some time, but that I wasn’t ready to see them, so they kept me waiting, hoping I’d one day come around.

I’m not exactly sure what they meant by ready, but they say that until I see what this place truly is, I won’t understand.

Unlike my other companions, these people weren’t smiling. They didn’t seem healthy, but appeared as sickly, twisted human beings that have long since forgotten who they once were.

They gave me a heads up though, that time only passes as fast as we need it to. That a year can feel like a century, or it can pass by in a week, whatever that means.            

They mentioned something they simply refer to as ‘The Dome.’ They say it’s in the centre of the city, an almost impossible distance away. They offered to take me there once I’m ready, but I can’t, I need to stay, I have to take care of your mother.  

Of course, the Silver City still stands tall and magnificent, but the food has lost its taste, drinks just feel- unnecessary. I’ve indulged on occasion, tried to recreate the feelings I had when I first arrived here, but to no avail. My only purpose now is to find a way of reconnecting with your mother, I know I can get through to her, I just need to find a way.   

 

While I search for answers, I still visit her from time to time, just to sit by her side as she stares off into the distance. Maybe I’ll one day get a glimpse of what occupies her mind, and hopefully she knows that she’s not alone. I know she’s utterly broken, but as long as I’m able to, I’ll protect her, I promise you that.

Happy birthday, Rick. I’m happy I have the opportunity to stay in touch, even if it’s impossible for you to respond.

I love you,

Dad.

 

That’s how my life went on from then. Each year, on my birthday, my father sent me a silver letter. Just updates from the afterlife, and as bizarre as it all felt, I felt happy to have a connection with my dad, though it had been partially tainted by the image of my sickly mother standing atop of a spire.

On the fifteenth anniversary of my father’s death, my life had taken a drastic turn for the better. I’d just gotten engaged to the love of my life, after five years. This all came on top of a promotion at work. All in all, life seemed to be going my way, and my birthday was just around the corner, and as always, I eagerly awaited my silver letter.

There it was, lying on the doorstep. Except, rather a perfectly smooth envelope with vines and symbols engraved onto the surface, I found a crumpled piece of paper. One covered in erratic handwriting, incomprehensible phrases and drawings.

 

Richard,

She’s gone, your mother, Helen… I went back to the spire, I had an idea, but she’d simply vanished, leaving nothing behind, no trace that she ever existed. I knew something was wrong even before getting there; The buildings have always seemed impossibly tall, but that time I just couldn’t get up the stairs. They kept going for days, weeks of climbing, and once I finally reached the top…

…I was alone.

I’ve searched the entire section of the city, climbed each building to the top, asked whatever person willing to talk to me.

I don’t know what to do.

I haven’t eaten anything since we last spoke a year ago, nor have I had a drink. I don’t sleep, I don’t do anything other than search for her.

I wanted to send you a letter earlier, I needed to tell you what happened, but I had to wait, because of the rules, those damned rules.

A few weeks ago I approached one of the guards. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before, but if heaven was real, then God had to be somewhere up here. I asked the guard about it, and he laughed at me.

He touched me on my shoulder and whispered a few incomprehensible words into my ear. It was like a veil was lifted off me, I could truly see this place for what it is, a concrete jungle with a sky so dark I don’t know how I didn’t notice it before.

The buildings around me, once what I would consider works of art, so perfect, a creation that simply couldn’t be built by man. I finally see them for what they are; Old, run down concrete prisons, on the brink of collapse. They should have fallen long, long ago, yet, there they stand, defying all logic, a pitiful sight to behold.

The people I came here with have long since gone. All of them are heading towards the Dome. In their place I’m finding more and more people who’ve been here for an eternity. Hundreds, thousands of years, and they all seem the same, they are all diseased, whatever features they once had, whoever they once were, it doesn’t matter anymore.

They’ve simply existed for far too long, an eternity of time to wash away what once made them human.

I think it’s time for me to wander through the Silver City, maybe I just need to reach the Dome, maybe I can find your mother there, maybe I can finally get some answers.

Whatever the cost, I can’t go on like this. I’m not sure how long it will be until I send another letter, the road towards the Dome is- different, but this is just something I have to do.

I hope you understand,

Dad.

 

Five years passed without another silver letter. The first year I was worried, the second I felt scared, but as the third and fourth rolled around, I felt- relieved.

It was as if a heavy burden had been lifted off my shoulders. I’d never been much a religious person before my father died, yet I never feared death, but now, knowing that what awaited me on the other side wasn’t the perfect haven we’d all been taught about, I felt horrified.

As guilty as it still makes me feel, I never wanted to receive another letter from my father.

Then, we arrive at today, my birthday. It’s the twentieth anniversary of my father’s death. As a habit, the first thing I did in the morning was to check the front door.

There, on the ground, lay a silver envelope…

I picked it up in uncomfortable anticipation. My heart raced as I held it with trembling hands. Crudely drawn pictures covered the front; Symbols I couldn’t decipher, and a drawing of a dome like structure surrounded by bizarre shapes that I assumed to be twisted spires.

On the inside I found another letter. It was filled with meaningless phrases, jumbled words and sentences I couldn’t understand. It was a mess of erratic handwriting, nonsensical and horrifying. From the several pages filled to the brim with text of varying sizes, all I could make out was the following:

 

They gave us everything we wanted, all the imaginable pleasures of the world and more, only to take it away piece by piece until there was nothing left but the memory of better times. A cruel joke played on us by whatever creature rules this place.

I thought this was heaven, but it’s not. I’m in Hell, we’re all in Hell, but It’s not a punishment, it never was;

It’s just all there is…

Death is the beginning of a nightmare that never ends, and there’s no way out, no alternative.

I’m going to enter the Dome now, I don’t know what I’ll find on the other side, but I feel this will be the last letter I ever send you.

Enjoy what you have left of life, Richard, because once it’s over, you’ll be right here by my side.