Here there be dragons...

"I'm telling you stories. Trust me." - Winterson

FridayFlash #75 – The Letter

"So, have you read it yet?"

Janine looked down, flipping the opened envelope slowly in her hands.  She shook her head.

"Why not?"

She looked up and met my eyes briefly, before flicking away.  "I don't know," she said, her voice hardly more than a whisper, "what if...  what if there's something horrible?"

"There could be," I acknowledged, "but what if there's something amazing?"

She started at the letter, the letter we all get on our 18th birthdays.  I'd get mine next week.  The letter from our future selves.  Written on paper -- for some of us the only actual paper we'd ever own -- every adult got one opportunity, just one, to write a letter to their 18-year-old self.

For some it was an opportunity to change their lives, to undo past mistakes.  For others it was a reassurance that things would turn out okay, or share lessons they wished they'd learned earlier in life.   And there were some who never got the chance.  They either didn't have a letter in waiting when they died, or they'd actively chosen not to send one.  Their younger selves would receive the same envelope, but inside it would simply read "your future is unwritten."   

I was curious both what I'd read and what I'd someday write; theoretically those two were the same, but everyone knew someone who knew someone who said the letter they wrote differed wildly from the one they'd received.  Urban legend or actual fact?  Did it happen, or did we just need to believe it could happen?  I knew I would read mine as soon as it arrived, but there were some who didn't want to know.  It was easier, always easier, not to know how things would end.  And Janine was one who wasn't sure if she'd risk knowing something she'd rather not.

"Do you want me to read it?"  It was taboo to ask someone to read your letter, to put the weight on them of knowing what you might not want to know.  But I could volunteer.  

The envelope shook slightly as she handed it to me.  I pulled out the letter -- it was yellowed, the author had lived many years and likely refolded it many times, and short - she hadn't had much to say.   The paper threatened to tear as I unfolded it; I read quickly and then exhaled the breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding.  

"It's okay," I handed the envelope back with a smile, "nothing to worry about."

Janie's shoulders dropped, and her eyes softened as she took the paper back.  "I'll read it at home," she said as she folded it up to fit in her purse.  She got up and left without so much as a goodbye, walking quickly in the direction of her home.

The following week was both the fastest and the shortest I could ever recall.  And then it was my turn to stand there, Janine at my side, with my envelope.  Despite what I'd always claimed, I still hesitated.  I shook my head to clear my thoughts then tore the top of the envelop pulling out what was inside.

One sheet.  Only one.  It wasn't new at least, but it wasn't wildly aged either.  The paper was folded in three, but not many times over -- it looked like it was one of the rare ones that had been written once, folded, and sent.  

I glanced up at Janine, suddenly glad she was there.  She nodded once, slowly.

I flipped it over and read.  My brow crinkled as I looked up at Janine.

"What does it say?" she asked, head tilted slightly.  I handed her the paper.  She read just as quickly and looked up at me.  "I don't get it."

"I know."

I looked over at the paper she still held.  The most important thing my future self could think of to tell me.

Never Visit:

- The Louvre at Christmas

- The Hopewell Rocks under a full moon

- Hadrian's Wall at Hallowe'en

- Urulu in the rain

- Kilimanjaro in the sun

Today, on my 18th birthday, I'd never been more than two hours from my home town.  Travel seemed a lot of work and effort for no real benefit -- I'd seen all those places in VR.  There was no need to go in person.  There was no reason to imagine I would ever even consider going to one of those places, much less all of them.  So why such a note?  Why warn me against such places.

I pulled out my phone and did some quick searching.  The Louvre wasn't even open at Christmas?  And Urulu, Ayer's Rock, was in a desert.  So the odds of me ever being there, and getting rained on, were pretty slim.   Hadrian's wall was a crumbling relic; there's zero reason I'd ever be there, and Hallowe'en was a child's holiday.  What did that matter?

I shrugged at Janine as I folded the paper and stuck it in my pocket.  "Well, if that's the only advice my future self can give, I guess things will be okay?  I mean, it's not like any of that would ever happen."

"But," Janine hesitated.

"But what?"

"Well, you must've had a reason for writing that...  Which means, somehow, you must've ended up there, at some point.  So maybe just..."

"Just what?" 

"Just keep it in mind.  Someday, if it seems you might be in one of those places, just...  remember.   There must've been a reason."

"Yeah okay."

I tried to put it out of my mind.  Why would I have ever written such a thing?  What would possibly happen if one of those circumstances was to occur?  I was taking a gap year next year.  My parents were pushing me to travel but I’d been planning to work on my music.   But maybe...   Maybe I should go to some of those places at times that were not aligned with the list.  Just to see what the big deal was.   Scotland -- I could go there first, in September, and be long gone by Hallowe'en.  Surely there'd be no risk to that.  And once I'd seen it, there'd never be any reason to go back.  Crisis adverted.

And as I booked the tickets, I wondered, briefly, if future me had any idea the impact that letter might have?

Right.  Well it turns out my future self knew 18-year-old me better than I ever imagined.   For what was the number one way to make me do something?  Tell me not to, under any circumstances, do it.  That letter got me out of my town, showed me the world, and opened my mind to imagination and wonder.  I would never know if future me originally wrote that letter as a reflection of the most important parts of my life, or merely in hopes of making important things happen, but as I sat down to write the letter that would change my life, I'm forever grateful I did.


So potential longer work would be to explore exactly what happens in each of those places with the narrator to impact their life so profoundly, but under the rules of flash, I had to wrap it up quickly ;)

Based off the following writing prompt:


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