If You Don`t Read This, You`ll Die

by Wade Wilson

Eric Sylvan pulled his Lexus ES300 into the driveway of his custom built two story home and parked it just in front of the white garage door. Before getting out of the car, he looked out through the spotless windshield and admired his house. All his life, he'd dreamed of owning a place just like this, and here he was, staring at his dream.

As soon as he got out of the car, he heard Hank Reynolds, a retired Englishman who lived next door, running his weed-eater in his back yard. A smile came to Eric's face as he thought about his neighbor. He had enjoyed the old man's company on several nights; sitting on the front deck and drinking cold beers. He didn't know much about him, and promised himself to ask about the Englishman's past one of these nights; where he'd come from; what kind of things he'd done in his life; that sort of thing. He felt that neighbors ought to know each other, and the fact that he barely knew the old man troubled him.

Eric began walking toward his front door, but decided to grab the mail first. He walked out to the edge of the driveway while he took of the jacket of his pinstriped suit. The weather was much too nice to be wearing a jacket, anyway. It was just the right temperature for him, a solid seventy-five degrees. In fact, it had been that same temperature yesterday. God, he loved this weather. He pulled down the face of the mailbox when he reached it and took out the contents. He didn't look through the letters in his hand, but could tell that there were ten or twelve envelopes in the stack.

On his way back to the front door, he admired the house once more. It seemed strange for a man to admire the place where he lived as often as he did, but he just couldn't help it. It was exactly what he'd always wanted, and anyone who had exactly what they'd always wanted looked at it frequently. He loved the color of the house; a cream color that caught the attention right away, but without being too loud or obnoxious. He loved the fact that the garage was on the right side of the house. This he couldn't explain. He just liked that he could get out of his car and walk right to the front door, without having to go around the car first. But most of all he liked the presence of the house. It gave off such good vibes. It made him as comfortable as he could be, and he liked it fine.

When he got inside, he threw his jacket over the arm of the wooden chair that was to the left of the door. He laid the mail down on the small desk in front of the chair, and walked into the kitchen for a cold Diet Coke. Mounted on the wall next to the entrance to the kitchen was a black telephone with a built in answering machine. There was a small digital zero on the screen next to the handset. No messages. Thinking about it, Eric couldn't remember the last time he'd received a message on the machine. He grabbed his Diet Coke from the fridge, popped the lid, and guzzled half of the liquid in about a second. Diet Coke was his favorite beverage, and he'd always kept a good supply of it on hand. After finishing the soda, he dropped the can into the recycle bin under the sink and decided to sift through the day's mail.

He grabbed the stack of letters and sat down on the futon in the corner of the living room. The futon was so comfortable that he sat back and closed his eyes for a moment; relaxing and enjoying the immense pleasure the cushion brought his back. He'd always liked futons, and this one was the cream of the crop as far as comfort went. He supposed that's why he'd bought it. After a few moments, he opened his eyes and sat forward, fearing that if he stayed like that for much longer, he'd fall asleep and snooze the rest of the afternoon away.

He grabbed the topmost letter from the stack and examined it. It was from his bank. He knew that his checking account with them was in order, so it was probably just a statement showing how much money he currently had, and since he already knew how much that was, he placed the letter aside and grabbed the next one. This letter was from Martha Hollingsworth, a neighbor from down the street, and he was sure that inside the envelope was an invitation to a neighborhood party, considering that she had one in her backyard every other week. He'd received a letter like this every two weeks for as long as he could remember, and he'd always had a chuckle when he saw them. Of course he'd go, just like he always had, and so would everyone else up and down the street. He tore the envelope open, and sure enough, it was an invitation. It read:

You Are Hereby Invited To Martha Hollingsworth's Bi-Weekly Block Party

Please Wear Whatever You Wear To Be Comfortable

This Bi-Weekly Party Special: Chocolate Cake

Be There By 7:00 P.M. Or You May Miss Out

Bring Your Own Beverage

Eric smiled as he slipped the invitation back into the envelope and sat it aside. He thought that Martha must have spent a fortune on these elaborate invitation cards, but he also knew that it didn't bother her. It made her exceedingly happy, in fact. He thought that one of these days he'd like to sit down and talk with Martha Hollingsworth and get to know her. Just like Hank Reynolds from next door, he knew next to nothing about her, and he thought that that was a shame.

When he looked down at the third letter from the pile, he had to stare at it for a while, because at first he couldn't believe that he was reading what it said correctly. He didn't take in the fact that it had no stamp or return address; he was too occupied reading the words written on it over and over again. A slow nauseating sensation began to bloom in his stomach, creeping outwards from the middle. Questions began flowing in his mind. Who would send something like this? Why would someone send something like this? He was almost afraid to touch the damn thing. Tiny beads of sweat began to surface on his face, and his hands became clammy. He couldn't understand why the sentence written in black ink on the envelope scared him so badly, surely it could only be a joke, but then he imagined that anyone who received a letter like this would probably feel the same way.

Wiping his hands on his slacks and wiping away the sweat on his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt, he leaned forward to read the sentence on the envelope one more time before picking it up, hoping that he'd somehow been misreading it. But sure enough, it read the same as it had the first time he saw it.

If You Don't Read This, You'll Die

That's what it said.

In a motion that was too fast for him to realize he was doing it, he snatched up the envelope and brought it closer to his face. He read and reread the sentence. The sweat that he had wiped away from his forehead had returned, and at a greater amount. It was dripping down around his eyes, and he could feel a single bead slide down his cheek, making it's way toward his jaw line. His vision became blurred, and the letters of the sentence began to meld into one another.

As quickly as he had picked it up, he threw the envelope down, and it landed slightly askew on the top of the pile of letters. He pushed the palms of his hands into his eye sockets, and sank back into his comfortable futon. After a moment, he removed his hands and opened his eyes, looking straight ahead, and it took a moment for his sight to come back into focus. In his head he counted to ten and then looked down, hoping against hope that he had imagined the whole thing, hoping that the letter had disappeared while his eyes were shut. But there it sat, off center from the rest of the letters in the pile, and it seemed to be staring at him. The same way one of those paintings of people stared at you, the ones with eyes that could follow you anywhere in the room. Eric thought that no matter where he went in the living room, the sentence would be available for him to read. Not to mention the fact that those words were now permanently imprinted in his brain. How could they not be?

Finally he sat forward and picked up the envelope again. He was slowly in the process of convincing himself that this was in fact a joke, albeit a sick one. His fingers ran over the front and back and edges of it, and he toyed with the idea of ripping it open to grab its contents. Briefly, he thought that he could just rip it into tiny pieces, throw it in the trash; or better yet, he could flush it down the toilet. That would get rid of the damned thing. But curiosity was also playing a leading part in this. He had to admit that he was terribly interested in what was inside. By fondling it as he had been, he had determined that there were at least a couple of sheets of paper in there, folded into thirds, as most letters were.

The fact that there was no stamp or return address finally struck him, and a smile came to his face. It wasn't a smile of pleasure. It was more of a triumphant smile, showing a touch of victory. A smile that said, I'm going to solve this mystery. If there was no stamp, he thought, then this wasn't delivered by the post office. Somebody other than the mailman had placed this in his mailbox. Now he was getting somewhere. But realizing this also gave him a disconcerted feeling. If someone had deliberately drove up and put this in his mailbox, than it could mean one of two things. Either this was in fact a joke, or this was a threat.

Once again he tossed the letter down, as if he might somehow contract some kind of infection by touching it. He stood up and went to the window that looked out onto the street in front of his house. From this window, he could see seven or eight houses down on either side of his, and he wondered if maybe anyone had seen a car that they didn't recognize pull up in front of his mailbox for a moment, and then pull away, heading down the street as if they had all the business in the world being there. If anyone were keeping a lookout, it would be Martha Hollingsworth. She was the neighborhood guard dog. The neighborhood was her business, and she always did a good job of watching over it.

Eric went into the kitchen and pulled open the drawer that was closest to the wall phone. From inside, he pulled out a small notebook that he kept names and numbers and addresses in. He flipped through the pages until he came to the entry where he had written Martha's information. Picking up the notebook, he carried it over and grabbed the wireless phone from its base, and went back to the futon in the living room. When he sat down, he tried to think of how he would explain this to Martha. Anyway he went about it, she'd be sure to inquire further than he wanted her to. It was in her nature. Deciding against putting too much thought into it, he pushed the TALK button on the phone and dialed her number. After ringing five or six times, Eric almost hung up, thinking that she wasn't home. He certainly didn't want to leave a message. Just as he was about to take the phone away from his ear, an interruption in mid-ring let him know that someone had picked up at the other end.

"Hello, this is Martha Hollingsworth speaking." Martha had answered her phone like this from the time she was old enough to answer phones, and would continue to for the rest of her days.

Still unsure of how he should go about this, Eric said nervously, "Uh, hello there, Martha. This is Eric Sylvan, from down the street? I was wondering if maybe I could have a moment of your time."

"Oh, hi there Mr. Sylvan. How are you?" Martha asked this as if they were best friends, and she spoke as though whatever she were saying at the time were the most important words ever spoken. "Of course you can have as many moments of my time as you wish. I'm always honored when one of my fellow neighbors calls. By the way, did you receive your invitation yet? You know, for my bi-weekly party? I sent them out two days ago, and I'd imagine you should have received it by now."

If Eric would let her, Martha would go on like this for hours, never giving him a chance to speak. This woman loved to talk. "Actually, Martha," he interrupted, "I did receive that invitation in today's mail, and of course I'll be there. What I was wondering, though, is if you'd seen a car driving down the street today-"

"Oh, I've seen lots of cars driving down the street today, Mr. Sylvan." She said, breaking into his sentence, as if she couldn't wait to start speaking again. "In fact," she continued, "I just saw your nice Lexus pull into your own driveway not all that long ago. I like to keep an eye out, you know. Make sure the neighborhood is alright."

"We all appreciate that very much, Martha. And won't you please call me Eric?"

"Oh, how kind of you Mr. Sylvan. Oh, look at that, I called you Mr. Sylvan again, silly old me. What I meant was, how kind of you, Eric. You know, at this next party of mine, we should sit down and have a nice talk, you and me. You could tell me all about yourself over a nice piece of the chocolate cake I intend to bake for the party. Do you like chocolate cake? I've never met anyone who didn't, but I'm sure there's got to be someone."

Eric felt bad about it, but he had to interrupt her again, or he'd be on the phone discussing cake for the next two hours. "Martha, I was wondering if any of the cars you'd seen today were cars that struck you as maybe suspicious. Cars you'd never seen before."

"Why, no. Not that I can think of anyways." She sounded as though she were very curious about this. "Why do you ask, Mr. Sylvan? I mean Eric?"

"No reason," Eric said. That answer sounded like bullshit, but it was the only answer he could think of on the spot. He looked down at the table and saw the letter sitting there, with that terrible sentence written across its front. And then at that moment, a thought came to him. Maybe he wasn't the only person to receive a letter like this today. "Martha, have you received your mail today?"

"Oh, yes." She said, redirected from her curiosity. "I always come out when the mailman comes by and have a short chat with him. I don't think he's ever put the mail in the box, because I'm always waiting there for him, and he places right into my hand. Have you met our mailman? He's a very nice gentleman, and he-"

"Did you get anything out of the ordinary, Martha?" He asked, and didn't feel badly in the slightest about interrupting her this time. "Anything strange at all?"

"Why, no." She said. "I received a letter from my good friend Betty Ingram, and I got a bill from the phone company, and oh Lord I must have been doing an awfully large amount of gabbing because the long distance charges are through the roof; and I got a women's catalog from-"

"So nothing alarming at all?" Eric asked.

"Of course not." She said. "What is this all about, Mr. Sylvan? Did you get something odd in your mail? What was it? Who is it from?"

The interrogative questions continued through the phone, as Eric knew they would. He had to find a reason to let her go. "Uh, Martha? I have to go. I have a small emergency here."

"Oh, don't I know how those go." She said with a small chuckle. "Just take some Pepto-Bismol and some Tums and you'll be right as rain."

"Goodbye, Martha. I'll see you at the party." He hung up without waiting for her goodbye. Red began rushing up from his neck into his cheeks from embarrassment over what she'd said. And if he knew Martha at all, he knew she'd be calling all of her closest friends and explaining that one of her neighbors had called her up with an odd question about the mail, and that he had to let her go in a hurry due to a sudden case of diarrhea. The embarrassment nearly cancelled out the mystery of the letter, but not quite. Less than a moment later, his attention was focused back on the envelope lying on his desk. He picked it up, went over to his front window again, and looked out at the street. He needed to focus. Then he looked over in his driveway at the Lexus ES300. Just looking at that car usually relaxed him. It was the car he'd wanted for a very long time, and now he had it. But it wasn't offering any comfort at the moment. He looked down at the letter and read the sentence aloud. "If you don't read this, you'll die." He turned it over in his hands and nearly began to open it, but then another thought struck him.

He walked out the front door of his house and could instantly hear the weed-eater coming from Hank Reynolds's back yard. Eric decided he would ask him if maybe he had seen or received anything strange in today's mail before opening the troubling letter. He walked in between their houses and immediately saw Hank running the weed-eater along the edge of the bushes that lined up all along the back of his house. He had talked to the man he was now looking at many times, even considered him to be a good friend, but he had never taken in the fact that the old man seemed very lonely. Actually seemed to radiate loneliness, and not in the sense that he didn't have anyone, but that he did, and for some reason or another couldn't get into contact with that person.

While Eric stood there staring at the old Englishman, he lost himself in deep thought about the subject of loneliness, and didn't notice that Hank had cut off the weed-eater and had walked over to him. When Hank spoke, it surprised Eric enough for him to let out a little yell.

"Well, I sure as hell didn't mean to scare the crap out of you, mate." Hank said in his scruffy English accent. He patted Eric on the shoulder. "I just looked over and saw you standing there, and I've never seen anybody contemplate on something so hard before. What were you thinking about anyway? If you don't mind my asking."

Eric was at a total loss for words. He wanted to answer the old man, but he couldn't remember what it was that he had been thinking about. It momentarily came back to him, but not long enough for him to grasp it. "To tell you the truth, Hank, I don't remember. Isn't that strange?" Eric laughed out loud, and held his hand out to shake hands with his friend. Hank grasped it, and he saw that Eric was holding onto an envelope with his other hand.

"What do you got there, my old trout? Did you accidentally get one of my letters?" Hank asked, letting go of Eric's hand. Eric looked down, realizing he had briefly forgotten that he was still clutching the envelope in his left hand.

"No," he said. "As a matter of fact, the reason I came over was to ask you if you'd gotten anything odd in your mailbox today." He looked at the old man to study his reaction. He didn't think Hank would lie to him, but he wasn't sure if he was the kind of guy that would like to admit that he'd gotten such a thing.

"Actually, you old clever thing, I haven't even checked my mail yet. Why, what have you got there?" Hank was pointing at the envelope in Eric's hand.

"Look," Eric said. "I know this might seem quite the odd request, but just humor me if you could. Would you mind checking your mailbox now? I'm just curious to see if you've gotten anything that's out of the ordinary. That is, if you don't mind my snooping." He looked at Hank and saw an expression of curiosity mixed with a touch of worry.

"No, Eric, I don't mind." Hank said. "Look, are you feeling alright, mate? You look a little pale. Kind of like you've just received a spot of bad news." He gently set the weed-eater down on the grass beside him, and stood up, keeping his eye on Eric the whole time. "Can I get you anything to drink from inside? A beer, or maybe some tea?"

"No thanks, really." Eric said, forcing a smile. "I'm alright. I'm just sort of having an offbeat kind of day. I don't want you to worry about me, but I really am interested in your mail."

"Well, tough old egg, I'd have to say that's the first time anyone has ever asked if they could see what kind of junk I get for mail. But for you, I'll do it. Especially if it'll make you feel better. Follow me."

Hank led the way back between the houses and stepped onto the concrete of his driveway. Just behind him, Eric followed. He felt like a miserable fool. He silently condemned himself for even bringing Hank into this. He should have just stayed inside his house and opened the letter. This was obviously meant only for him. He figured that he would just have a quick look at Hank's mail, and then thank him for his time, apologize for wasting it, and slink back into his house.

As they walked on, Eric studied the old man's back. It was straight and looked good for a man Hank's age, and once again, Eric found himself thinking that it was a shame that he didn't have someone around to share his golden years with.

But he does.

The thought came out of nowhere, and as strange as it seemed, the thought didn't feel like it belonged to him. Eric began to seriously worry about himself. With the arrival of the letter, his thoughts and general feelings seemed to have gone haywire. He figured what he needed was a hot, steaming bath, and an ice cold Diet Coke. He needed some time to relax.

And read the letter.

That same alien thought again. God, how it made his head feel slimy.

Arriving at Hank's mailbox, he said, "Am I going to find something terrible in here, neighbor?" He looked back at Eric, and a tiny sarcastic grin was spread on his lips. "Because I've got to admit, I'm a little nervous as to what I might find in here. You sure know how to spook a bloke."

"Look, Hank." Eric said sheepishly. "I know that this whole situation seems very odd. I'm sorry. I guess I'm not feeling quite like myself. What do you say we just forget the whole thing, and I'll go on home? I'll stop by tomorrow, and we'll act like none of this ever happened. You can come on over and we'll drink a few cold ones, just like usual. What do you say?" He looked at the old man, and from the expression on his face; he already knew what the answer was going to be.

"Nonsense." Hank said. He was staring down at the letter in Eric's hand again. "I know damn well that you wouldn't have come over here for no reason at all. And I'm more than happy to oblige you. So you just stand there while I do this, and then we'll both have a couple of beers. Screw this waiting until tomorrow business. Truth is, I've been having some funny feelings myself, and I could use the company. Would you mind, old pal?"

Eric wondered what Hank meant by "funny feelings." He wondered if it was anything close to what he was going through. "Not at all," he said. "I wouldn't mind one bit."

"Alright, then. Let's see what we've got ourselves here." Hank opened the mailbox, and both men braced themselves while he reached inside. At the moment Hank grasped what was in the box, a fast flush of relief spread across his face, as if he'd been expecting to grab hold of a giant tarantula. He pulled out two letters from the mailbox and closed it. He turned and held up the letters so that both men could see what he'd received.

"Now I can tell you exactly what that is." Eric said, pointing at the handwriting and the return name and address on the topmost letter.

"So can I," Hank said. "It's another invitation to one of Martha Hollingsworth's parties, right? You must have received one of these, as well. Now I can see why you're so damn nervous. Her parties are always a bore."

"Well I don't mind them so much. Martha's very sweet. Nosy, but sweet." Eric was barely aware of speaking these words, because all of his concentration was on the letter underneath the one they were looking at. He silently prayed that it was a bill, or a letter from one of Hank's friends, or anything at all besides what he dreaded it might be. And then the moment arrived. It seemed to Eric that the world was suddenly thrust into slow motion. Hank began sliding the top letter across the surface of the second one, and as the top left hand corner of the envelope became exposed, Eric nearly fainted, because he already knew what it was. There was no return address. Hank finished sliding the top letter away from the bottom one, and was able to read for the first time the sentence written in black ink that Eric was now very familiar with.

If You Don't Read This, You'll Die

Hank stood there looking down at the letter for a long time. Eric glanced over at him and thought, "I know how you feel." He rose up the letter that was in his own hand so that it was right next to the one Hank was holding.

"I'm so sorry," Eric said. "I wish to hell that you hadn't got one, too."

Hank continued to look down at the letter for a time, and then said in a voice that was barely audible, "I'm glad you were here with me when I saw this, my old friend."

"What do you think we should do, call the police?" Eric asked. "Or should we open them up and read them?"

Hank appeared to consider his words very carefully. "I think we ought to open them and read them, but I think we ought to do it alone. In our own homes." Hank looked as white as freshly fallen snow. "I don't know why I think that, Eric, but I do. Is that alright with you?"

"Just like you, I feel the same way. As a matter of fact, I've been getting a lot of odd feelings that I can't explain." Eric said. "But I agree with you that we should read them on our own. Maybe I can stop over later to discuss whatever we find out, if you'll be feeling up to it, of course."

"That'd be just fine, Eric." Hank said. "Just fine, indeed. Maybe we'll find out that this is all just someone's terrible idea of a joke, eh, mate?"

"At first, I thought that too." Eric said, placing a hand on the old man's shoulder. "But somehow I don't think so. Just another one of those bizarre feelings, I guess."

"Yeah, me too." Hank said, turning around and shaking Eric's hand. A little color began to come back into his face. "Please do come by after you read yours. It'll be interesting to find out if these letters say the same thing or if they're completely different. Something tells me that each one is a separate message, meant precisely for the individual it was given to. Well, chum, I'll see you soon."

With that, Hank turned and began walking toward his front door. Eric watched him until he got inside, and then he made his way back to his own house, letter in hand.

After closing the door behind him, Eric walked over and sat the letter on the edge of the table with the others and sat down on his futon. He leaned back, and once again felt as though he could fall asleep, but unlike earlier, this time he wanted to sleep. He wanted to escape from this nightmare so badly, but knew that even if he tried, sleep would not take him. So instead he stood up again, walked into the kitchen, took a Diet Coke from the refrigerator, and drained it into his awaiting throat. He looked into his sink, hoping to find unwashed dishes there, but none were. He opened the cupboard under the sink and checked to see if the garbage needed emptying, but there wasn't a damn thing in it. He wondered if maybe he ought to take a shower, but besides his mind, where he couldn't scrub, he felt exceptionally clean. He was looking for any reason to keep from reading that letter, but a reason could not be discovered. Finally succumbing to his fate, he grabbed another Diet Coke from the fridge and went back to the futon.

He must have sat there for ten minutes, reaching for the letter and pulling his hand away, over and over again. He wondered if Hank Reynolds was doing the same thing in his own living room right now, or if he'd already opened the envelope and was partway through reading whatever it had to say. He imagined the old Englishman's demeanor, and guessed that he probably had already opened it. Hank did not seem like a procrastinator, and had never shown any signs of fear.

Except when he saw that letter, he thought. He didn't know if it was from his own mind, or if it were from the same place as those earlier thoughts, the creepy feeling ones.

Building up courage by thinking of his friend, Eric reached forward, snatched up the letter, and ripped it open. He fumbled his fingers inside, pinched the folded paper in between his thumb and forefinger, and yanked it out of the envelope. He crumpled the now empty envelope with his left hand and threw it across the living room. Before unfolding the papers so that he could read them, he leaned back once again, and said a short prayer.

"Dear God," he whispered while closing his eyes. "Please don't let this be as bad as I'm making it out to be. Let me not find trouble, but hope and comfort. Amen."

He sat forward again, and with a heavy sigh of nervousness, he unfolded the letter. The very first thing he noticed about the words written in cursive on the paper was that he almost seemed to recognize the handwriting. The feeling was uncanny. His mind tried to grasp onto what was so familiar about it, but he couldn't get hold of anything. The second thing he noticed was that his feeling of nervousness seemed to lessen by a great degree upon his looking at the words written on the paper. Paying very close attention, Eric silently began to read. This is what it said:

Dearest Eric,

I hope that this message finds you, and finds you very well. I don't know if you can remember me wherever you are, but you must understand that I am trying reach you out of my great love for you. I'm going to attempt to explain some things, and hopefully you will not find them too distressing. That is to say, I don't know if you're supposed to remember me, in whatever place you might be, or if you are in a place that is so beautiful and fabulous that you might not care to, but please try and understand that I'm doing this because you did love me once, and hopefully shall again. My name is Rebecca Sanderson, and we were to be married. Three weeks ago, we were involved in a car accident. Someone had ran through a stop sign and crashed into us. You were driving, and the other car hit on your side. We were both hospitalized. My own injuries were only slight. But you, my dear love, are comatose. My only wish is that these prayers that I say beside your hospital bed day after day find you wherever you are. I want you to know that I love you very much and want you to come back to me. I want to be your wife. Your family very much wishes for you to come back to us as well. You are such a wonderful person; please do not leave us. I love you, I love you, and I love you. Please come back.

                                                                              With all my love,

                                                                               Your fiance, Rebecca

Eric sat back, and without realizing he had been already, cried and cried. At some point while reading the letter, all of this came rushing back to him. Of course he remembered his lovely fiance. He remembered the sweet smell of her hair, the perfect brightness of her smile, the lovely sound of her voice. He also remembered the accident. He remembered hearing Rebecca scream, and looking over at her. He remembered that when he saw the expression on her face, and that she was looking past him and out the driver side window, that he already knew what was going to happen. He remembered looking over and seeing the headlights of the oncoming car just before it smashed into them, and thenhe was here. Just like that. He was here in this wonderful house, driving his wonderful car, and none of it was real. For a brief moment, Eric became enraged at that fact. How could none of it be real? How could any of it be real? How did he get here? If he was meant to stay here, why was his fiance's message allowed to get to him? Was it meant to torture him?

As these questions raced through his mind, the message suddenly burst into flames in his hand. There was no pain to his flesh, but the surprise was great. Eric screamed out. Even though there was no burn, his mind thought that there was. He began shaking his hand as though it were on fire. The questions that were just shooting through his mind a moment ago were burnt away, much like the letter, and he felt a slight twinge of embarrassment. When he finally realized that he was uninjured, another piece of paper suddenly appeared in his hand where Rebecca's letter had been. Eric immediately began to read it.

Do not be ungrateful, Eric Sylvan. You have been chosen to receive a great offer. Surely now you understand why the letter you received had such a drastic title as "If You Don't Read This, You'll Die." It said that because it is true. Without the alarm, you will die, at least in a sense. Because your life up to the point of the car accident was spent very wisely, helping others and full of good morals, a being which you would know as "God" has decided to let you return to it, if you so wish. I'm sure you have many questions, such as, who am I? I suppose I am what you would call "an angel", sent to deliver the prayers of your fiance and this very message. You may wonder why you have been given the surroundings that you have, and it is because a person in good standing with "God" is given what they desire, within reason. In this case; the house; the car; the beverage; the futon; all things you wished you could have before your accident. Haven't you ever wondered why everyone around you, including yourself, has no companion? It is because they either had no companion before the event that brought them here, or their companion did not suffer the same fate. And so here is an opportunity to go back to your life, or, if you wish, you may go on, to what you would call "heaven" and all memory of your previous life will disappear. Your body will die back in the hospital, but your soul will live on for eternity. If you choose to go on, simply throw this letter away, go lie down in your bed, and go to sleep. When you wake up tomorrow, your beautiful eternity will begin. If, on the other hand, you choose to return to your body, simply sign on the line below. When your signature is written, you will leave this place, and return to the life you left behind. Take some time and think about it. The choice is yours.

If you wish to go back, sign here: _______________________________

Eric sat the paper down on the desk in front of the futon. He got up, went to the front door, opened it, walked over to Hank Reynolds's house, and knocked on the door. After waiting for several moments, he knocked again. When a minute went by, he knocked one last time, and after a short while passed, he grasped the door handle, turned it, pushed open the door, and walked inside. Hank's couch was along the wall directly across from the front door. On the middle cushion and up the backside of the couch was a large scorching pattern that looked to Eric to be the shape of a person.

Burnt away just like the letter. It was another of those strange thoughts, and Eric now understood it to be the voice of the "angel" that had delivered the message.

On the coffee table sitting just a couple of feet in front of the couch, a letter that looked very similar to the one that he'd just read lay flat on the surface, and next to it was a pen. Eric walked closer to the paper, and within a few steps, he could see the upside down signature of his English friend Hank Reynolds.

"So you decided to go back." Eric said aloud. "Good decision. I wish you luck, my friend."

Eric walked back to his house, glancing once at the Lexus sitting in his driveway. He smiled, and then walked inside and closed the door.

In a hospital in London, England, a man named Hank Reynolds has miraculously awakened from the coma he has been in for over two years, and he is smiling at a lovely woman whose age is close to his. This woman is his wife, and he has come back to her.

Back in the land of the comatose, a woman named Martha Hollingsworth looks out her front window, watching over her neighborhood. She smiles as she thinks of new ways to entertain her guests at her next party.

In a hospital in the state of Iowa, a man that has been in a coma for three weeks following a horrific car accident begins to stir and moan, and the person next to him, a lovely woman named Rebecca Sanderson, begins to cry tears of love and joy.

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