The Last Delivery

Arnie Grossman pressed his foot further onto the accelerator petal of the two-tone, 1977 Jeep DJ, propelling it forward, turning the surrounding forestry into a verdant blur. Readjusting his all too small glasses, he cast yet another nervous look back, towards the road that stretched and fell behind him. An anxious breath lurched up from his bulbous belly, emitted through his chapped lips, and tightened his dirtied fingers that clutched to the steering wheel. They were behind him now. He’d managed to lose them again. 

Another breath, this one with greater ease, wheezed from out his chest. He took care to wipe the pooling sweat from atop his brow, not realizing how much had collected there since his last delivery. 

Up ahead he could see the road beginning to curl to his right, seemingly presenting him with a choice. With another quickened glance back into the rearview mirror, and yet another wheezing breath, he allowed the Jeep DJ to slow to a rattling drawl. Readjusting his glasses once more, he reached to the left side of the cabin, over the center console, where the bound and tied cluster of mail lay only an arm’s length away, atop the metal table that replaced a passenger seat. Using two of his dirtied digits, he pried one of the envelopes from its bounds and drew it closer, into focus of his tired eyes. He blinked several times before the faint scribbling became legible. 

Emily Andrews, 321 Northwest Ln., Wassochester Woods, PA.

Another glance was cast into the rearview mirror, followed by yet another uneasy breath. “Wassochester Woods,” he thought, “about an hour East from here.” He drew his heavy gaze up, feeling the sweaty collar around his neck sticking to his skin as he read the above sign. All about him he could feel the intense humidity weighing down upon his furrowed visage. Alabaster Falls, 4 miles. Then he looked to the right, towards the crooked sign that was nearest him. Craggle Creek, 3 miles.

A moment passed as he sifted through his mental directory; during that moment, two more glances into the rear-view window followed, until at very last, after he had concluded that his suppositions had been correct, and that he really did have to take Craggle Creek in order to reach Northwest Lane, he saw a shadowy line falling into place at the very edge of his sight. There, amassing into a gathered bunch, darkened under the fading sunset that enveloped all of North Point, Pennsylvania, he saw the writhing mob of wriggling Brain-Eaters darting towards the idle Jeep. 

With a hurried, heavy breath, and a practiced series of movements, he shifted the gear from park to drive, turned the steering wheel to the right, and drove his foot onto the accelerator, feeling himself propelled forward again—sending the nightmares that stalked him to the back of his vantage. 

Another listless breath dissipated into his unkept beard as he nervously drew his dirty fingers through his tangled mess of hair. 

“I’m getting too old for this,” he thought as he turned onto the highway.


Sundown came earlier than expected for Arnie Grossman. With the last of that day’s mail delivered, after having lost sight of the mob for the better part of an hour, he now searched for a quiet place to hold overnight. As he busily scratched the dense forest within his belly button, all while chewing the last remains of a sadly stale Flaming Hot Cheeto, he proceeded to reflect on his day. The last delivery had been, as too many of them were, risky. 

The house he’d gone to was enshrouded and overgrown. As for what remained of 321 Northwest Ln., well, that thought alone drove his wandering eyes back to the rearview mirror. Never did it cease to amaze him how quickly three months had grown on North Point. Never did that change fail to send the hairs on the back of his sticky neck rising. 

The house, or what there remained of it, had nearly been overtaken. He was glad to see that this corruption came in the form of ivy and fungus, and not from the different kind of corruption that had long since fallen over North Point. The Wassochester Woods had retained their darkened, somber nature. They, in many ways, benefitted from the turning. And it was deep within them that he had found Emily Andrews’ house. 

He was glad he hadn’t known her. Those deliveries were always hardest. Change in places unfamiliar, he concluded, was always easier to ignore than what transformed the familiar. Then again, nothing after the turning felt as if it was. 

He flashed his weary gaze towards the flickering sign of a Douglass’, taking note of the overgrown weeds that had managed to creep their way over the gas pumps and idle cars that sat there. Turning towards his left, he slowly made a U-turn, and proceeded to enter the seemingly abandoned Douglass’ parking lot. A memory, one fainter than the sun-bleached paint that chipped and fell away, down from the squarely squat building he presently drove past, flashed across his troubled mind. 

It was several summers ago, back when North Point was still North Point. He remembered blowing a tire off the 77 and limping his way into the Douglass’ parking lot. The humidity that day had forced his windows down and sunk his sweat-streaked glasses to the bridge of his nose. Old man Douglass himself had helped him with the tire, though not before making several comments about his weight and the length of his shorts. 

The memory of what had then felt like a terrible day drove a crooked, bitter grin up his face. After peering within the store and concluding that no one was about, he drove the Jeep down the road and away from the gas station, casting a final glance back at it before turning his attention forward. 

Some memories, he concluded, were better off left as they were.

It was later than he would have liked it to be when Arnie Grossman found the spot where he would make camp for the night. It was far off the highway—a now treacherous place after dark. Then again, one would struggle to find a place that was not especially treacherous after the sun fell. So it seemed there were few of these places yet. But Arnie being Arnie, knew nearly every road in North Point by memory. Having been a mailman for the Pennsylvania post for over two decades meant that he had accrued a vast knowledge of wrong-ways and missed-turns. These rookie mistakes that at the time seemed embarrassing, now proved useful when traversing through the Wassochester Woods, as he was presently. 

He parked the Jeep DJ inside the grounds of Camp Meek-Mook, a popular summer camp in North Point. There seemed little reason that anyone would bother him here, beneath the Wassochester pines that sent needles scattering onto his front windshield wipers. 

He clambered out the side sliding door of the Jeep DJ, shuffling his way past the countless stacks of mail that littered the rear compartment of the vehicle. After cleaning the smudges from off his glasses with his sweat-soaked shirt, he looked ahead, towards where the campsite he had selected lay. 

It was a small site. The grass and weeds here had overgrown, making it difficult to first perceive the signs of its familiarity to him. But it was there. And the longer he looked, the more vivid the memories that came to him grew. 

This had been the very site he had camped at for over twenty years. What began as a childhood destination for summer trips and memories soon changed to a place where he and his high school friends stayed at. When all his friends had gone off to college or started working, he would stay by himself, working part-time as a camp counselor for several summers. 

He walked towards the open view of the moonlit lake that greeted him, hearing every bone and ligament in his legs cry out at the effort. The mid-summer heat had now dropped considerably from its earlier height, and so the walk was made a somewhat refreshing experience. Stretching his arms, releasing a strained breath through his nose, he looked ahead, towards the other side of Lake La’tonka, over which there hung a misty veneer, through which he could just faintly see the large eye of the moon. This soft hue of pale light drifted down through the boughs he waded through, until at last he reached the shore of the lake. There he sat upon a toppled tree, massaging the tops of his knees as he looked ahead into the dark stupor of the solemn night. 

It was strange not to hear the buzzing sound of insects in his ear, or feel them biting at his pale skin: memories associated with Camp Meek-Mook, memories that now felt so long ago… 

Somewhere distant, the sound of a hooting owl drifted near, while across the lake itself he could just faintly make out the rushing water of Alabaster Falls.

Another memory greeted him as he looked on into the darkness. It was over four decades ago, when his father had woken him early one morning while camping, insisting that the two should hike to the top of the falls. He, being only a meek seven years of age, begrudgingly accepted the offer, and the two made off into the early morning. It was past sunrise when they began the hike up. 

He remembered his father’s permanent scowl flashing back towards him; his severe face permanently shaped into that same, bitter frown. He vividly remembered the phrase, “Keep up, or you’ll get left behind” repeated over and over that trip; thinking of it now made every muscle in his jaw tighten like a synched vice. 

He could faintly recall the smell of the pines that day, and the drifting mist that wafted down from the falls themselves. He remembered, too, the sounds of his father’s footsteps up ahead, grinding and crunching against the rough trail they walked. He remembered feeling his chest tighten and his cheeks burning red; he remembered his vision growing hazy. He remembered stopping, resting his sweaty back and backpack against the rocky wall beside the trail, the sound of his father’s voice up ahead yelling, “Hurry up, or you’ll get left.” 

He remembered rummaging through his backpack, watching as the darkness at the edge of his vision began its creep, the relief he felt in clutching the inhaler, another strained breath escaping his lips as he pressed it to his mouth, only to feel his shaking grasp squeeze and release empty. He remembered that fear.

He could have stopped dead where he was up ahead, looked back and seen Arnie there, falling, his body failing, his breath gone; but instead, he turned. He turned, and he left him there. He turned and left him for dead, there alone on that trail to die. The mist from the falls shrouding him in their dense cloak. 

He remembered coming-to in the back of an ambulance. Sitting beside him not his father’s face, but a woman’s. A woman with red hair and freckles, casting a concerned glance towards him before looking ahead, towards the front of the moving vehicle. She had been a counselor at Camp Meek Mook, so he learned after talking with her. It was she who later inspired him to become one as well. His father didn’t join them at the hospital until later, after he had finished his hike. 

A bitter grin now formed onto the dirtied face of Arnie Grossman, who proceeded to snap twigs as he stared into darkness. He then lumbered his way back to the 1977 Jeep DJ, grunting as he clambered in and slid the sliding door shut. 

Uneasy sleep greeted him sometime later, only after he poured over the next day’s expected deliveries…

Faint, iridescent light trickled down through the front dashboard of the 1977 Jeep DJ, heating the already swampy interior of the cabin where Arnie Grossman was sleeping. He slowly stirred, feeling every crick in his neck and back ache as he shifted his considerable weight from side to side, as a young child might when trying to prolong the inevitable consciousness that precedes a day of learning. 

He glanced into the back of the cabin, seeing the blurred stacks of mail greet his sleepy eyes. They were just where they ought to be. 

With a bulbous belch, he slid his glasses over his eyes, bringing the front view of Lake La’tonka into clear. He rolled down his window, smelling the cool morning air greet his nostrils. The smell reminded him of all those summers he’d spent there. The faint morning light assured him that he best be going. 

An hour later, he was steering the Jeep DJ onto the main highway that ran through North Point: a single-lane road that wound easily through the forested pines. As he drove, his eyes shifted back and forth, searching for any sign of movement along its narrow path. Many cars littered the road here. More than a few of them he recognized. After all, North Point was a small town amongst small towns. 

He turned his gaze to his left, towards the bundle of mail that lay in the passenger’s seat. Snatching one of the letters in his fingers, he read the following: Harold Winchester, 130 Eastcrest Ave, North Point, PA. 

A furrow formed over his bushy brow as he returned his gaze to the road ahead. A momentary pause allowed him to recount his directory, arriving him at his decision. He would need to take Winding Way in order to reach Eastcrest. Such a direction would lead him deeper into the heart of North Point. This realization evoked a wheezing breath from his diaphragm, which nearly sent him into a panic. He quickly pulled over to the side of the road, taking heaving breaths as his sweaty palms clutched tightly to his knees. Eyes closed, it took several minutes before he was ready to begin again. 

Another thirty minutes passed before he turned onto Winding Way: a road that got its name from the exaggerated curves and sharp turns it demanded. As he drove further down it, passing by the Old Sawmill (a local haunt he and his classmates once enjoyed reveling in), and seeing the lasting remains of the Brickle Brook Library (a place he loathed as a child), he saw that all of these and more stood just as they had some three months prior. It was as if no change had come over them. But as he looked longer, allowing his nervous gaze to shift from storefront to storefront, abandoned building to abandoned building, it was as if the soul had been wrenched from North Point itself. Here, everything looked dead. The irony was lost on him. 

The Winding Way weaved its wandering path up towards the local church, passing by several homes, all of which Arnie knew by heart. They were along the same route he’d taken for the last two decades. Looking at it now, it was as if those memories had been a dream. 

Here and there the signs of the Turning were made apparent: broken windows and littered debris filled the sidewalks and roads; boarded windows and blackened rooftops were numerous. Despite his better conscience, he had the window rolled down; the faint odor of gasoline and charcoal in the air. He glanced into the rearview mirror, wary of the eerie silence that now filled that misty morning. 

He turned right and right again, crossing from Winding Way to Church St., finally to Eastcrest Ave, where he proceeded down a two-lane road until finally bringing the Jeep DJ to a rattling idle. He stopped before an older, two-storied brick house, the front of which was decorated with all the signs suggesting a once immaculate garden. The checkered tile walkway greeted a generous porch, over which drooped many a sadly sagging jubilee. Enshrouding the front porch were several unkempt camelia trees, beside which there blossomed a tangle of bittercress. Fell begonias that had long since wilted littered the tile: these last lasting signs of Harold Winchester’s widowed wife, Emery, who once zealously cared for the garden and was among the first to pass during the Turning. 

A bitter smile made its way onto Arnie Grossman’s face as he emerged from the sliding side-doors of the vehicle. A glance to his right and left ensured that he was alone in the quiet neighborhood. He peered down at the envelope he carried, reading it again and a third time, running his sweaty fingers over it before progressing cautiously towards the front door of the Winchester estate. The address plate itself, as well as the eaves and topmost part of the house, he noted, were now overcome with ivy. 

As he reached the midway point of the tile walkway, he was struck with a memory of his first time visiting the estate. The Winchesters were, at one time, a notable name in North Point. It was Harold Winchester’s early ancestor, Laurence Winchester, who had founded the church. He and his congregation were amongst the first to implement a Sunday learning program—the one Arnie had attended as a child—into the community. 

He recalled the first day he’d met Emery, the elderly, lithe woman who, like his father, always seemed to maintain a permanent scowl on her face. 

“Who’s your boss? Does he know what kind of clumsy sack he’s hired?” her screeching voice had said as Arnie crept towards the brick house. “Go-head and step on my begonias; see what’ll come of it,” she’d sneered at him as he drew closer, clutching protectively to the mail he was to deliver. 

It took nearly a dozen trips and over two-dozen good-favors before the old woman broke. It was not long after that insufferable juncture that he was invited over for dinner. One became two, two became four, and soon he was meeting there twice a week: once for lunch on Tuesday’s with Emery, once on Sunday’s for dinner with both of them. 

In return for these free meals, he repaired the ancient-seeming Winchester house. What first began as an off-handed comment about the creaking fence then turned into his fixing of the water-pipes. After this came the eaves, which were badly water-damaged and in need of repair. Then the kitchen sink, which was prone to leakage. All of this and more was accomplished over the span of ten years, until the last few months before the Turning. It was then that Emery requested him at her side one late afternoon, following a lunch Arnie had clumsily, though to the best of his ability, prepared for her. 

Even now, as he drew ever-nearer to the front door of the Winchester estate, the smell of rotting begonias filling the cool, early morning air, the memory of Emery filled his mind. She, like a mother might, patting his arm as they sat together with the window open, just as Emery preferred it: letting in the warm morning sun. 

He remembered her voice—before an enduring force, an impassioned entity, now a wispy breeze barely there—calling him to her. 

“You gotta look after Harry,” she said, looking over her shoulder, out beyond the front window beside which they sat, towards the hunched back of Harold, who despite his severe looking face was now doing his best to dotingly reawaken the failing garden of his dying wife. Emery’s cold hand clutched tightly to Arnie’s forearm. “He’ll need someone to keep him company. He’ll need you, Arnold. Keep visiting. Keep him company when I’m gone.”

Arnie Grossman had now reached the front door of the brick house: a door that he himself had installed. He placed his hand to it and knocked, feeling silly for doing so, feeling a wave of nausea as he struck it three timesA pause. A moment of tense silence followed, during which he felt his heart within his chest painfully pounding away; like a struck anvil it went, until at long last it dissipated. No sound returned his knock. No voice greeted his call. A wave of relief followed. 

He set down the envelope on the front step, shifting his gaze back to the idling form of the two-tone Jeep DJ. He checked his watch and he checked it again, relieved that it was over. 

Arnie wiped the muddied mixture of sweat and dirt from off his furrowed forehead, casting yet another hurried glance into the rearview mirror. He was on his thirteenth delivery of the day. 

As the sun above was just beginning to crest over Alabaster Falls, which he could see the wispy mist billowing from, the road behind him was quickly becoming littered with luminescent light, that which trickled through the dense forestry that lined the sides of the thin road he drove on. The Jeep DJ hummed happily its gravely gruff, vibrating his sausage-like fingers that clutched tightly to the steering wheel. 

At his back, a pool of sweat was beginning to form and soak into his terribly stained uniform, which had all manner of debris left over from his encounters on the road. His frantic eyes drifted back to the rearview mirror. Nothing. 

Arnie raced down highway 77, memories flashing through him, reminding him of those late summer nights as a teenager, when he and his boisterous friends would race at such speeds simply to test their invincibility. But now, now as he raced down the single-lane road, his eyes watery, his breath wheezing, his gaze distracted with what remained to be seen behind him, the sound of the Jeep’s roaring engine faded into the background, and again the trees that lined that single-lane road blurred into a verdant hue. He closed his eyes, feeling the hot air tousle his hair and dry the sweat streaks that lined his face. A sound brought him back to reality. 

It was not the sound of the Jeep that drove his eyelids upwards, nor was it the sound of the mobbing Brain-Eaters devouring his flesh, but rather the whipping sound of paper against wind: a subtle fluttering that sent him into a panic. He opened his eyes in time to see a trail of them flittering in the rearview window. There, they danced their way down, onto the asphalt where they settled still. He turned to look at the passenger seat, whose window he’d rolled down to mitigate the heat, and saw that the twine keeping them together had come loose. He cursed beneath his breath before turning the Jeep around. 

He brought it to a rumbling halt a moment later. The slide door slid open. With a bustling urgency brought on by the immense guilt that wrenched his stomach into a tightened knot, he hurried forward, gathering the littered debris he had left on the highway. Not a sound was heard, save for that of crumpling paper and his own haggard breaths. He looked down at each piece of mail, reading the name as though he were reading a list of the dead. Mary Trestwater, John Baker, Ernest Sullivan, Amelia Hunt, ­—these names he gathered into his arms, as if a loving mother her own children. There, he cradled them. The paper crumpled. His vision blurred. The wheezing air that passed through his lips strained to such a degree that it reduced him to his knees. He thought of the names. He thought of the memories associated with each. A hollow breath left him as he thought of what they’d become. What North Point had become. The unbearable quiet. Then, a sound. 

A loud buzzing. 

He looked ahead, and there before him he could see the amassed shadows that tirelessly stalked him. There they stood, their wriggling limbs and haunted visages ensuring that no consciousness, no humanity yet remained. Around their reeking bodies a swarming cloud of insects hungrily feasted upon their flesh. 

A stretch of highway shorter than the length of a school bus stood between them. A whisper of a breath slipped through his chapped lips. Then another. Arnie slowly rose to his feet, clasping tightly to the bundle of envelopes, their sole protector. His eyes, unable to move or wander, searched through the grotesque faces of the Brain-Eaters. There, he saw Murph Maggle, the bartender at The Old Sawmill. To his right, Matilda Eldertree—the girl he’d had a crush on since elementary. Beside her towered Big John Fullston, the deadbeat quarterback of the North Point High badgers. And here and there and more, Arnie picked out the faces of those he once knew—those who’s gory, rotting corpses once had names that belonged to them, dreams that failed them, and lives worth living. 

But now, now in their eyes could be seen no resemblance to humanity. Only hunger. That insatiable need to feed that drove them towards him, their extended arms desperately clutching—snatching at him, Arnie Grossman, who failed gym class for not being able to run the mile; him, Arnie Grossman, who had never attended a single dance for fear of showing up without a date; him, Arnie Grossman, who kids in elementary teased for his name, and whose own father left him for dead; him, Arnie Grossman, the only mailman left in all of North Point, Pennsylvania. 

It all happened within an instant. He could feel his breath—or what yet remained—wheeze from out his chest as he turned to flee, the sound of the mob behind him growing louder and louder with every staggered step he managed forward. The mail that he clutched protectively to his chest crinkled while the image of the Jeep DJ, an impossible distance away, held in his vision. 

A step and another carried him forward. A glance over his shoulder drew him back. They were already upon him—those beastly things he once knew as people. In their bloodshot eyes he could see no familiarity. In their grasping hands he knew there could be found no solace. 

He felt a hand on his shoulder pulling him back as he urged himself forward. The breath now leaving his mouth in ragged spurts, causing thick beads of sweat to trickle down his face and become lost amongst the tangle of his billowing beard. Forward—forward! But still they surrounded him. He could feel his right arm being wrenched away from his chest, where it protectively shielded gathered envelopes. With desperate strength he tore it away from them, though not before suffering a terrible wound to a claw-like hand. Hot, crimson blood trailed down from his forearm to his elbow, sending a wave of numbing pain up the length of his arm. To his left, only more hands appeared in his darkening periphery. It would not be long now. Only a few moments before it all went black. Memories of that day on the trail with his father flowed through his mind as he willed himself towards the idle Jeep. 

A step and another he took before, to his disbelief, he had nearly reached it; there it was now—a mere ten feet. The horde at his back hot on his track, he could feel the foul sensation of their warm breath upon him, could smell the iron from the blood that oozed from out their ichorous wounds. To try and open the slide-door would be impossible. This thought drove him past the Jeep and to the front of its hood, where he clambered up, hearing the thudding sounds of grasping limbs on metal attempting to wrench him back down, back into the horde. A panicked breath and another left him as he slid his belly onto the top of the Jeep, where he proceeded to collapse into a wheezing heap, his stomach heaving up and down as he gasped for air. 

As Arnie Grossman lay prone on the top hood of the Jeep DJ, chest heaving, eyes closed, mouth open, inhaling the humid, midsummer air as he drowned out the sounds of wailing and thudding hands beneath him, he could feel himself beginning to lose consciousness; that darkened place he’d visited before now only a few breaths away.

He turned onto his side, feeling his chest convulsing as he grasped for the last remains of mail that lay beside him. He gathered them up, clutching them protectively to his heaving chest until the thinned paper grew damp with his sweat and the blood from his arms. 

With a few struggled movements, he forced one open, and read it there whilst he bled atop the hood. He then opened another and read it too. Reaching into his chest pocket he drew out another, though this one was already open. 

With his breath all but gone and his eyes failing him, he made out the rest. 

Dear Mr. Grossman, 

We regret to inform you that your father, Robert J. Grossman, passed on 3/23/1977, at approximately 3:47 AM as a result of his complications from a rare disease found in his system on 12/13/1976. He passed quietly, and in peace.

We have attached with this document several resources that we recommend you get into contact with. The death of a loved one is unprecedented, and thus we have attached the contact information for a grief counselor that you may contact, free of charge. 

Sincerely,

Dr. Howard Browntsein

457 Church St., North Point, Pennsylvania

Light turned to darkness as Arnie Grossman slipped into unconsciousness. With his last heaving breaths leaving him, he could just faintly make out the sound of screeching tires sliding to a halt, and the sound of a woman’s distant voice crying out to him. Strands of red hair descended over him.

Then, all went black. 

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