Postcards

Who’d ever be afraid of postcards?

After all, it’s nothing but paper, right?

That’s how I’d have reacted if you’d asked me that question about a month or two ago.

It all started back in April. I’d just returned from the grocery store and checked my mail. I do it less than frequently. The only thing that ever finds its way there are fliers, random advertisement or the occasional bill.

That day though, as I stood in front of the big outdoor mailboxes of my apartment building, there was something else. Amongst a handful of fliers that had accumulated over the past week and a half, I also found a postcard.

After I’d crumbled up the annoying advertisements, I checked the postcard. Its front showed a pair of cute kittens and a ball of yarn.

When I turned it around, wondering who it was from, I found a postal stamp, my address written in fine letters, but no message. At least I thought so until I saw a single smiley face drawn where one would usually find a message.

I stared at the card for a bit, more amused than confused, wondering who’d sent it.

Without thinking much, I pocketed it and went inside. After I’d put away my groceries, I added it to a small bulletin board in my hallway where I’d put up all the postcards I’d received from friends and family over the years.

I’d forgotten it soon enough, if not for another one that arrived a week later.

This time the motif was a sprawling forest with the sun rising in the distance. When I turned it around, it was the same thing. A stamp, my name and address, and another silly little smiley face.

“What the hell?” I brought out before I shrugged. Back inside, I pinned it to the bulletin board and went on with my day.

A few days later, another two postcards arrived. One showed a couple of balloons flying through the air, the other what I assumed to be an important historical building. Once again, neither of them contained a message. Instead, both of them showed the same lonely smiley face.

By now, I couldn’t help but frown. This was getting creepy.

This time I didn’t bother to put the cards up on the board. In the trash they went, without a moment’s hesitation.

And yet, I couldn’t help but wonder what was up with this. Why’d anyone sent me those cards? Why not add a message instead of that stupid smiley face? Was this supposed to be a joke?

I didn’t find any answers to my questions, but the next time I checked my mailbox, I found another batch of postcards inside.

They depicted random motifs, were all addressed to me, and each one sprouted another smiley face.

This time, I wasn’t confused or puzzled. This time I was getting angry. Who the hell was sending them? In my anger, I tore them to pieces right then and there and grumbled up the remains.

Then I stopped and looked around to see if the perpetrator was nearby. Maybe this was all someone’s elaborate joke to see how a random person would react to something like this?

Then I shook my head. It wouldn’t do me any good to grow paranoid about a couple of silly postcards. And they all had a postal stamp, so they’d arrived via mail, anyway.

And yet, the next day, I found myself in front of the mailboxes again, checking it even though I told myself to not let it go to my head. But wouldn’t you know it, I found another one. The same was true for the next day and the day after. Each day, a new, cute little postcard arrived, address to me and sprouting another random smiley face.

Who the hell was doing this? Those cards, the shipping, it all cost money, didn’t it?

That’s when I wondered who it could be. I didn’t exactly have friends and what few old ones I had I hadn’t talked to in years. The next thing that came to mind were past relationships, but I hadn’t dated anyone in years. The only nasty break-up I could think of was with Lin, and that had been almost a decade ago. No, as much as I racked my brain, no one came to mind.

I went online, asked about it on Reddit and other similar sites, but most of the answers I got were silly jokes. What few serious replies I got suggested it might be some sort of marketing campaign, a social experiment or someone tricking random people to see how they’d react.

Great, that didn’t help me one bit. So much for the information age.

Each day, I thought about the damned cards more and more and each day new cards arrived.

Eventually, on my way to the grocery store, I ran into the mailman who’d just started on his delivery on our block.

“Hello, excuse me, do you mind if I ask you a question?”

The man turned to me and gave me a puzzled look before he nodded.

“Sure, what’s up?”

“Well, for the past weeks, I’ve been getting those weird postcards in the mail. Do you by any chance know something about it? Maybe other people receive them too and I was wondering if there’s some sort of, you know, promotion or something.”

For a moment, he stared at me again.

“Haven’t heard of anything like it.”

“Yeah, but those damned cards keep arriving. By now it’s two or three a day and I was wondering,” my voice trailed off.

“They are like, landscapes, animals, greeting cards, anything basically.”

“All right,” he brought out in a strangely suspicious voice. “Do you live here?”

“Ah, down the road, in number sixty-eight.”

“Tell you what, buddy, I’ve no clue if I delivered any postcards, there’s a ton of mail and even more mailboxes. I’ll keep my eyes open though.”

“Thanks.”

From the way he held my gaze, I knew he wasn’t doing anything like keeping his eyes open. No, I could tell he was uncomfortable about the entire thing and just wanted to get over with. I sighed, nodded, and went on my way.

The next morning, while I put on some coffee, the same curiosity overcame me again. I put on my shoes and made my way outside. Wouldn’t you know it, another pair of postcards had found its way into my mailbox.

In an onset of fury, I tore them apart, cursing to myself, and threw their remains down in front of the mailboxes.

Once done, I found one of my neighbors, an old woman walking her dog, staring at me, a worried expression on her face.

“Ah, sorry,” I mumbled, more to myself than to her, before I hurried back inside.

Great, fucking great. If this continued, I’d be known as the local crazy guy in no time. But really, what the hell was up with those cards?

I had talked to the mailman, of course, but by that point he hadn’t been at my building yet. And he probably didn’t give a shit about a random guy pestering him about postcards. No, if anything, I had to talk to him right here, while he was delivering the damned things.

Yesterday I’d met him at about one in the afternoon. So he’d probably be back shortly after noon.

I tried my best to distract myself with my work, but I soon couldn’t concentrate on it anymore. Instead, I found myself sitting at the kitchen window, watching the street and mailboxes outside, waiting for his arrival.

I sat there for more than an hour, busying myself on my phone, when I noticed the bright-yellow delivery car. In an instant, I jumped up, put on my shoes, and dashed outside.

When I’d made it, he was rummaging through the back of his car, sorting through letters and parcels. Then he made his way to my building with a stack of them in his hands. The moment he noticed standing by the mailboxes, he gave me an awkward smile.

Shit, I told myself, now I’m the guy who’s stalking the mailman.

He gave me a friendly nod, trying his best to ignore me, but every so often his eyes wandered back to me. The way I watched him clearly unsettled him. Shit, I had to do something about this situation.

“Sorry about that,” I brought out, stepping up to him.

He gave me a half-questioning, half-scared look.

“You probably think I’m a nutcase but,” I broke up and couldn’t help but laugh. “All right, shit, now you definitely think I’m a nutcase.”

He joined my laughter, but his had an awkward, hollow sound to it.

“So about the postcards,” I started, but he raised his hand to cut me off.

He went through the stack of letters right in front of me, showing me one after another and then the three parcels.

“Nope, no postcards, same as yesterday,” he eventually said.

“Yesterday?”

“Yeah, when you asked me.”

“Motherfucker,” I brought out.

He gave me another curious glance as he pushed letter after letter into their corresponding mailboxes.

“Sorry, not you. It’s just, I found another batch this morning, so I thought maybe today there were more of them.”

“Well, as you can see,” he said, shrugging.

“Yeah, all good. I’m just trying to figure out who’s sending the damned things,” I said, giving him a little smile.

He gave me another curt nod before he hurried back to his car.

All right, if those things weren’t delivered by the postal service…

And so the biggest question on my mind changed from why to who and especially when.

For a moment, the strangest feeling came over me as I watched the mailman at his car and opened my mailbox again. Maybe he was fucking with me and hadn’t shown them. But when I stared into my mailbox, it was empty.

Back inside, I hatched a plan. They were there every morning, and the mailman didn’t deliver them, so someone else had to be behind it. I mean, they couldn’t just appear there out of thin air. So if I just waited by the kitchen window and watched the damned mailboxes, I should catch the perpetrator.

I found myself an interesting podcast, sat down by the window, and began my watch.

I sat there all afternoon, but all I saw were neighbors checking their mail. None of them touched my mailbox at all. When the sun set, I prepared myself a can of coffee.

When night fell, I was about to turn on the light, but then remembered what I was doing. Whoever was behind this would see me in the window and would just sit tonight out. Hell, maybe they’d already seen me and decided to leave things alone for today.

Shit.

Still, I had told myself I’d catch the one responsible for this and that I’d watch the damned mailboxes.

And yet, slowly, ever so slowly, hour after hour passed. Soon enough it was midnight, then one in the morning. At two, I grew tired and downed yet another cup of coffee. At half-past three, I almost nodded off.

I slapped myself across the face, downed another cup of strong coffee, and turned the podcast a few notches louder until it sounded like someone was screaming into my ear.

Eventually, morning came, and the sun dawned. I sat there, tired, exhausted, but most of all, discouraged. No one had shown up, no one at all.

For a moment, I couldn’t help but laugh. What the hell was I doing? Why was I sitting here all night just because of a bunch of stupid postcards?

And yet, I kept sitting there, watching the mailboxes for another hour and then another. Somehow, I couldn’t stop. It felt like the moment I’d step away from the window, someone would rush to the mailbox, put the cards in and dash away.

Then I started to think. What if they were waiting for exactly that? What if someone had seen me by the window and was waiting for me to give up, to falter?

My apartment was on the ground floor. I’d be out at the mailboxes within moments. If I was fast enough, maybe I could catch them red-handed.

For a moment I scanned the area nearby, the street and the sidewalk, the bushes and trees, but I saw no one.

Still, just to be sure, just so I wouldn’t miss a thing, I put my phone up near the window where it couldn’t easily be seen. Then I made sure it was pointed at the mailboxes and started a recording.

Once I was sure everything worked, I stepped away from the window. I put on my shoes, grabbed my keys and hurried outside to the mailbox.

I was all alone. My eyes darted around for movement, trying to see if anyone was nearby or hurrying away. All was as quiet as it could be. No one was nearby.

Then I walked up to my mailbox.

My fingers were sweaty as I put in the key and my hand was shaking slightly as I turned it.

It had to be empty, I told myself, it had to be.

But the moment the small mailbox opened up, I could already see them, three postcards. Cute kittens and puppies stared at me from each one. When I turned them around, I saw the postal stamp, saw my address and name and of course the damned smiley faces.

As they stared at me, I felt almost as if they were laughing at me, mocking me. Had someone actually made it to the mailbox in the few moments it took me to get here?

In an instant, another surge of rage came over me and I shredded the damned things. Then I made my way back inside and hurried to the kitchen.

The phone was still pointing at the mailboxes, still recording.

I was filled with the strangest sense of glee, of curiosity as I replayed the recording.

I brought the phone as close to my face as I could, gazing at it. The recording began, showing me the lonely mailboxes.

“Now, where are you, asshole?” I wondered as I continued watching.

Second after second passed with no one showing up, with nothing moving.

Then I saw something and at first I thought I’d caught the damned asshole playing tricks on me before I realized it was me walking up to my mailbox. I watched as I looked around, as I took out the key and opened it and eventually tore up the postcards.

In frustration, I dropped my phone onto the kitchen table and laughed.

How the hell had someone put those damned cards inside? I had seen no one!

Then I wondered if someone had dropped them in before I’d started watching the window. There had been a few minutes after my talk with the mailman. Hell, what if I had actually nodded off and hadn’t noticed it?

What if the damned mailman was behind it? Maybe that asshole pretended not to know anything and the moment I’d left him, he ran back to my mailbox and put the damned cards in? What if…

All right, stop. This is getting ridiculous. You’re sounding like a crazy person. Hell, you’ve acted like a crazy person. This entire ‘let’s watch the mailboxes all night long’ thing was crazy enough.

I rubbed my temples and shook my head. Shit, I was exhausted and all that for nothing.

The moment I fell into my bed I was deep asleep.

After that day, I made it a conscious effort to ignore whatever was going on here. Who knows, maybe that person did it all to get a reaction out of me. Maybe they were watching me, and maybe they’d seen me tearing up postcards and talking to the mailman. Maybe if I stopped caring they’d tire of their antics?

Either way, I told myself I’d better things to do than to worry about freaking postcards.

Still, whenever I was in the kitchen, I found myself at the window, staring down at the mailbox for a little while before I moved on.

I checked my mail occasionally. When I went to the grocery store or when I returned from an evening walk. Every single time, I found postcards inside and every single time there were more of them. They had to arrive in droves by now. At one point, I pulled out over three dozen of them.

It was the strangest thing, dumbfounding even, but I forced myself not to show a reaction. I wouldn’t give whoever was doing this any sort of satisfaction. No, I took out the postcards, closed my mailbox and went inside where I discarded them.

It was about a week later that my doorbell rang in the late afternoon. When I answered it, one of my neighbors was outside.

“I guess those are for you, aren’t they?” he brought out in a slightly annoyed tone when I opened the door.

I stared at him and then at the stack of postcards in his hand. My eyes grew wide, and I almost cringed back.

“Wait, what? No, those aren’t mine, they are,” I broke up, shaking my head.

“Look, no, those aren’t mine, they are-“

“But that’s your name on them, isn’t it? Right here, on every single one of them,” the man cut me off, his voice now more annoyed.

“Yes, I know, but-“

“Then how about you take them off me?”

“I… fuck, all right!”

With that, I ripped the stack of postcards from his hands.

“You know, it wouldn’t hurt to be a bit friendlier,” he brought out, staring at me.

At first I was about to retort something. To tell him to go fuck himself. But then I told myself to calm down. The guy probably brought them here because he thought the mailman had messed up. He was just trying to be a good neighbor in his own way.

“All right, I’m sorry,” I brought out. “Look, there’s something odd about those postcards.”

The guy’s face didn’t change. Instead, he kept staring at me.

“Someone’s been dumping them into my mailbox for weeks. Hell, probably for a month by now. Every day I find those stupid cards inside. Look, there’s not even a message on them! It’s all just those stupid smiley faces. I don’t know why they put them in your mailbox, but maybe they want to fuck with other people as well.”

“Who are… they?” the man asked me in a half-concerned, half-confused voice once my rant was over.

“Shit, I don’t know! The ones who are doing this, who are fucking with me, fucking with you!”

By now the man had grown apprehensive and taken a few steps away from me.

“Look, I’m not looking for any trouble,” he said, raising his hands in a defensive posture.

At that moment, I got an idea.

“Hold on, let’s go back to the mailboxes.”

“Why’d I-?” the guy started, but after a few moments of standing there confused and lost, he followed me.

After a few moments we were back outside, me standing in front of the mailboxes and him keeping a safe distance from who he thought to be a madman. After a quick turn of the key, I opened my mailbox. A flood of postcards descended upon me. The entire mailbox had been filled to the brim. The last ones had been stuffed inside with such force they’d crumbled.

“What the hell?” the man behind me brought out.

“That’s what I thought,” I reasoned. “They probably dumped the rest into another mailbox, into yours.”

“Look, if this is your idea of a joke, then-“

“What the hell kind of joke would that be? Look, there’s got to be dozens in here, maybe hundreds. Why’d I buy all those postcards just to play a joke on you?”

“Why’d anyone?”

This time, I couldn’t answer.

For a few more moments he stood there before he shook his head and left me alone with all my postcards. As I stared at the filled up mailbox, at the postcards who’d rained down on my feet, I couldn’t help but laugh.

This was insane, this was just utterly insane.

Over the course of the next days, things didn’t get better. More and more neighbors showed up at my door. The nice old lady from floor number three, a student from floor number six, and a young mother from down the hallway. Every single one of them would ring my doorbell to hand me a stack of postcards addressed to me that had accidentally been delivered to them.

As quietly and as normal as I could, I explained to them that someone was playing a trick on me. I told them to just ignore any cards addressed to me or throw them away.

They all nodded, but I could see the puzzlement on their faces, the confusion and the apprehension.

I could tell they were all wondering if this was my doing, and I was sure they considered me the local crazy guy by now.

It wasn’t long before even the mailman rang my doorbell. He told me there was a problem, and he had to speak to me for a moment.

When he saw who I was, he frowned.

“You know this is a problem, don’t you?” he asked, pointing at the mailboxes.

“What do you-?” I started but broke up.

Half of the mailboxes were stuffed with postcards.

I couldn’t help but laugh nervously, which prompted an angry glance from the mailman.

“That’s got to be hundreds… thousands,” I eventually brought out.

“Yeah, and I can’t deliver the mail, thanks to them. What are you going to do about it?”

“What am I… what?”

“Well, they are all addressed to you. This is clearly related to you!”

“But, I don’t, ugh,” I broke up in frustration.

By now, another neighbor had arrived, staring at her mailbox.

“Not again,” she brought out as she opened her mailbox and tore dozens upon dozens of crumbled up postcards from it.

As I watched, as I stared at all those stuffed mailboxes, I knew this wasn’t a prank anymore. No, something strange was going on here, something extremely strange.

I pulled out my phone and called the police. I made my report as vague as possible, telling them someone was stalking me and damaging the mailboxes at my apartment building.

When they arrived, I told them about the full situation. They listened intently, but I could see the look on their faces.

The longer I went on talking, the more angry they seemed to get.

I was quick to lead them to the mailboxes and pointed at the general chaos. Their anger dissipated almost instantly and was replaced by confusion.

“And, how long has this… whatever this is, been going on?” one of them asked while his colleague stepped up to the mailboxes.

“I guess, about a month and a half,” I started. “At first it was only a single postcard, but then more and more of them arrived, and now it’s come to this.”

The two police officers did the best to handle the entire situation professionally, but I could tell they were as perplexed as I was.

They asked me if I had any enemies, but I answered I couldn’t think of anyone. I told them I’d tried to figure out who was behind this for weeks, but I had no clue. I even told them of my nightly watch.

Eventually, one of them handed me his card with a phone number on it. They told me they’d take some postcards with them and look into it and they’d have someone to watch the nearby area.

With the police here and them taking action, I was sure this thing would finally end. Stuffing all those mailboxes had to take time, and I was sure they’d catch whoever was responsible.

The next morning, however, I found all the mailboxes in chaos again. Mine was so stuffed, I was surprised the door was still closed. Almost all other mailboxes were in a similar condition.

As I stood there, I took out my phone and called the number on the card the police officer had given me.

He answered, and I told him it had happened again. The man listened, but he couldn’t tell me much. They had someone watching the area, but so far, they hadn’t been able to see anyone suspicious.

The weird deliveries continued, and soon I wasn’t the only one in contact with the police. And yet, they never found out who was behind it, saw no one.

Even stranger, though, were the postcards themselves. None of them showed any label or a hint of a manufacturer. The same was true for the stamps.

And yet, nothing could be done and postcards kept arriving.

Before long people began pressuring the renting company. Something had to be done about this absurd situation. I knew some of them wanted me gone from the building while others wanted them to hire a mailbox security who’d watch it at all hours of the day.

The renting company, however, had a different plan. One day, they sent a maintenance team that took down the entirety of the mailboxes and simply moved them inside into the entry hallway of the building.

When I woke up the next morning, the first thing I did was to check on the mailboxes. Other people did the same thing.

I think we were all expecting them to be filled to the brim once more. Instead, everything was normal. There were no postcards with my name and silly smile faces on them anywhere.

I could see the relaxed faces of people around me, could hear them sigh in relief and talk about how it was finally over. And I couldn’t help but join in. They were still wary of me, still wondering how I’d spawned that madness, but I didn’t care.

Instead, still smiling, I went back to my apartment. I hadn’t even had coffee yet, I thought to myself.

With quick steps, I made my way towards my kitchen.

For the first time in weeks, hell, in more than a month, the world felt normal again. All I wanted right now was a nice, hot cup of coffee.

All those feelings vanished and changed the pure terror when I opened the kitchen door.

Right there, on my kitchen table and on the floor all around it, I found an uncountable number of postcards.

With a shaking hand, I picked up one of them. On it I found a postal stamp, my name and address and a stupid little smiley face.

And as I stared at it, as I stared at that silly, stupid little face, I couldn’t help but smile myself, smile and laugh about the absurdity of this entire mad situation.