There's a strange newspaper that's only delivered at midnight - Chap 10
I sat on my front porch on Wednesday, just a few minutes before midnight. I wouldn’t be getting a Midnight Paper tonight…but most people on my block would. And if they did, whatever article they read would come true. I didn’t know if every copy of the Midnight Paper held the same article, or if they would all come true in the same way mine had, within the same timeframe.
I didn’t intend to find out.
My phone alarm blared, alerting me to the fact that it was now 11:59 PM. I sprinted off my front porch and ran to the house next door, then froze. I wasn’t planning on interfering with the delivery process itself. I’d learned my lesson. I was now an outsider, someone coming between the Paper and its intended recipient. I had a feeling that whatever system or entity delivered each copy wouldn’t exactly be thrilled by my presence.
So I waited for another minute. I saw the light on my neighbor’s front porch flicker, dwindle, and then cut off completely. Then I blinked, and it was back on, shining normally. Nothing looked different from where I was standing, but I knew that it was. Inexplicably different, irrevocably different. Something had appeared on my neighbor’s welcome mat that could change his life, and existence as we know it, forever.
I walked toward the welcome mat cautiously, eyeing the darkened windows for any movement or light. I knew that the Paper’s arrival meant that three knocks had been hammered onto their mosquito screen by…something. If he had been woken up by it, then who knew how much time I had before my neighbor went to check his front door.
I took the last few steps, crossing the threshold separating perfectly-legal evening stroll to very-illegal trespassing. I was about to cross yet another threshold too if things went as planned.
There, on a welcome mat so worn you could count its remaining fibers, was a bundle of black paper. The Midnight Paper. I didn’t hesitate. I acted the same way I might if the bundle in front of me held dynamite instead of paper, and the fuse was lit.
I lunged, reached out, and clutched the Midnight Paper in one swift motion. I pulled my hand up. Then I lowered it and pulled it up again. I was confused. I had to be imagining it. Maybe I hadn’t closed my hand right, maybe the nerves had gotten the better of me and…no. My eyes weren’t playing tricks on me. My hand was empty. I reached for the Paper much more slowly, making sure my fingers were dropping as close to the welcome mat as possible. I focused, guiding each trembling digit toward the black bundle, planning out their trajectory and imaging them closing around the Paper, as if I were moving my hand for the first time…then my fingers went through it, through the Paper. As if it were a trick of the light. As if it were made of shadows. As if there was nothing there. Nothing solid anyway.
I bolted, practically throwing myself off my neighbor’s porch and retreating to the safety of my parents’ house.
It didn’t let me grab it. It didn’t let me take it. It didn’t let me stop it. And I was pretty sure I knew why: that Midnight Paper wasn’t meant for me. It was meant for my neighbor.
I collapsed onto my dad’s chair. In front of me, already opened to the next entry, was his journal. I had to read more, to find out more…because my dad said that he may have found a way to stop the Midnight Paper. But, most importantly of all, I had to keep reading because my dad hadn’t stopped the Midnight Paper.
This was what was written in my dad’s handwriting:
I made it through Vietnam. Somehow. That may not mean a lot to some people reading this. But it sure as shit meant a lot for me. I saw kids who were smarter than me, better than me, more there than me, meant for more than me…cut down, tossed aside, blown away like chunks of pointless meat.
They call it ‘survivor’s guilt,’ but I always thought that was stupid. I didn’t feel guilty about living through all I had. I felt lost, like a piece of flotsam that drifted in just the right way to find its way ashore. A piece of flotsam that had survived when hundreds of pieces around it had been crushed, burned, or swept under by the wreckage of a gargantuan ship. I’d call what I felt ‘survivor’s anger.’ ‘Survivor’s indignation.’ ‘Survivor’s haze.’ Anything but guilt.
I went back to the States. I heard that some vets were offended by the way they were received. Years of protests for peace had passed, years of people claiming that we were a cruel machine spewing napalm and automatic gunfire and reducing a people and a nation to raw, bloody, charred bits of gore…we were the bad guys. We were a giant boot on the throat of a tiny nation. I wasn’t offended. I agreed with the anger and the hate. I knew that I was a cog in a cruel machine. I knew that I was partly to blame. I didn’t feel guilt, I felt shame. There’s a difference.
I didn’t turn to drugs, like some of us did, but I guess that’s subjective. I didn’t go home, I went to the place where I was born. There’s a difference.
I didn’t stay anywhere for long, there was something missing everywhere I went. I avoided people, they asked too many questions, cast too many looks.
Until I found her. She had a flower’s name and she reminded me of one. She had the same kind of innocent wisdom I attributed to everything in nature. I saw flowers in Vietnam that were less colorful, less forgiving about our trampling boots and our fire and our filth, than she was.
I met your mother, of all places, at a bus stop. She asked me what time it was. I said I didn’t know. She smiled. She was too kind.
A few years later, we’d managed to scrounge together enough and save up for a house. Her parents helped. It wasn’t just that they were better off than mine (they were). The fact that she still talked to them didn’t hurt.
The day you were born, I felt more pride, and more shame, than I’d ever felt in my entire life. You were so clean, so new, so unmarked by the filth and the cruelty of the world. I felt like something vile, evil, dirty, tired. I wanted to run away and leave you and your mother to share your light. But I stayed, because you were so bright you pulled my darkness in.
I didn’t talk to you much, because I thought my words would poison you, that’d they’d echo in your tiny head and become part of your own. But I loved to hear you talk, loved the way you strung ideas together.
So when your mother told me to tell you a story, to be more involved with what you were so quickly becoming passionate about…I told the only one I knew.
I told you about the Midnight Paper. I told your mother first, years before. But when I told you it felt more final. If you ever have kids, you’ll know. Every word you speak to them feels heavy, like it’s made of iron. Like iron it would leave a mark.
So I sat with you in my office. I let you in. You liked the books and the pictures. You explored the room the same way someone would explore an uncharted cavern. Like a cavern, too, it was dark and filled with danger.
I made the Midnight Paper sound like something magical, like something exciting. “You get it without wanting to,” I said, “it just finds its way to your front door. It’s delivered to only some homes at midnight. On the dot. You get three knocks on your door and it’s there. It just shows up.” You liked that part. Hell, you liked the whole story. Your face lit up like in a way I’d never seen when you were with me. You got that way whenever your mother talked to you.
I must have told you about the Paper over a dozen times before it happened.
One night, as I was filling your mother in on what you and I had talked about, we heard three knocks on our front door.
I ran toward it. I didn’t have a gun in the house, and I almost regretted that there. There was nobody in the peephole, so I opened the door. There, on our welcome mat, was something I’d recognize anywhere: a bundle of black paper. Exactly like the one Ty had gotten.
I brought it inside and tossed it onto my desk. I cut the twine and the Paper unrolled itself, like a half-dead bug.
I saw a header written in blocky white letters: ‘THE MIDNIGHT PAPER.’ I couldn’t read anything else…because there was nothing else. Below the header was just a heap of garbled text. I couldn’t grasp it, no matter how I turned it around in my mind. It was as if my eyes slipped off of the edge of the words.
I was going to throw it out, but then your mother walked in. The knocks had startled her, my behavior had terrified her.
So she looked and read a few of the words out loud.
My eyes went wide, unbelieving. She could read the Paper. I couldn’t. I didn’t get it then, but I do now. She was the intended recipient, not me. Every particle of the Paper was meant for her.
After a little convincing, your mother agreed to read the article out loud.
This is what was written on the page:
“GUESS:” BOARD GAME BLAMED FOR HOMICIDES PULLED FROM SHELVES
“What did the person across from you have for breakfast? What’s the person next to you hiding in their pocket? Who is that knocking on your front door?
These words, printed on a white cardboard box, greeted shoppers perusing the shelves in the weeks before Thanksgiving.
“It seemed harmless,” said ████ █████████, a shopper who witnessed one of the boxes. “My family doesn’t really play board games, so I didn’t consider getting it. Thank God I didn’t.”
The cover of the cardboard box depicts a smiling family sat around a dining room table. In between them is a white game board. A series of black and white squares line the edge of the board, forming a wide rectangle inside which sits a single deck of black cards. There are game pieces populating several of the squares, each is a rough plastic depiction of a human being. There is a pair of black dice in the hand of a smiling woman, presumably the mother of the too-happy family. The families who played the game for real were anything but happy.
“The rules are simple!” the instruction booklet proclaims, “each player picks a single game piece and places them in the starting square, at one corner of the board. This is also the final square! The aim of the game is to move around the board and be the first player to reach the last square! The game is played by rolling the die and moving the number of squares corresponding to the die roll. Upon moving to the correct square, a player must draw a single card from the top of the deck in the center of the game board. On each card is a fun prompt to guess something about one of the players in the game! For example, one of our 100 cards reads, “guess what your slut of a daughter did wIth her boyfriend on Friday!” If you guess correctly, you can stay in the square your game piece landed in! If you guess incorrectly…shucks! You’ve gotta move your piece back to the starting square! The game doesn’t end until all pieces move to the final square!”
After not being seen for several days, police officers performed a wellness check at the ███████ residence in ████, █████████. What they found inside the family’s home was nightmarish, to say the least.
“The family was found sitting around the dining room table,” said ███ █████, of the ████ Police Department, “they had been dead for several days. There were several weapons in the room. mostly gardening equipment and knives from the kitchen. The board game itself appears to have been placed clandestinely in each store, with barcode stickers identifying it as another game that the store had in stock. The manufacturer of the game is unknown at this time, but there appears to be a great deal of effort, and money, expended in the game’s creation. None of its elements are cheap or shoddy in the slightest.”
“The prevailing theory of local law enforcement is that the game provoked them into attacking each other,” said Dr. ███████ █████████, a local psychologist who was consulted regarding the grisly scene, “but that explanation doesn’t satisfy me, or anyone who knew the family involved. Nobody in their right mind would have followed the game’s directions, no matter how angry they may have gotten with each other.”
The ‘directions’ that Dr. ███████ is referring to were printed on each of the ‘guess’ cards in the game’s deck.
The cards started out harmlessly. The first read, “guess the size of the shirt the person on your left is wearing!” The next card, however, was already delving into controversial territory. It read, “guess how much the little shit on your right stole from your wallet!”
The cards got worse and worse: “guess who the pig in front of you is fucking behind your back!”
Eventually, the cards began prompting violence. “Guess who is going to grab a knife from the kitchen!” “Guess how many pencils you can fit into your wife’s right eye!”
A few days later, the █████ family, on the other side of town, were also reported missing by concerned coworkers and family members. A similar scene to that in the ███████ home was discovered in their living room. All four members of the family were dead, with all the evidence pointing to the fact that they had killed each other with household objects.
The ‘Guess’ board game was on a coffee table in the center of the room. There were several cards tossed on the bloody carpet, each containing violent directions. One read “guess how many shots of drain cleaner it takes until your mother collapses!”
“I believe that there’s a very simple explanation, said Dr. ███████, “it is very likely that the game was placed in the shops and then observed by its creator or creators. Once a customer purchased it, they were followed home. One, or more, perpetrators forced the family to play, most likely while threatening their lives with a firearm. This is the only explanation for seemingly normal families to torture each other in such a grotesque manner.”
“There’s no evidence to support that theory,” █████, chief of the ████ police department stated, “there were no signs of forced entry to any of the homes. There was no forensic evidence to support the presence of anyone, except for the family members, being at the scene. I’m no psychologist, but I would never do those things to any member of my family, even if someone was holding us at gunpoint.”
There’s a third explanation, one that is often espoused online. A supernatural explanation. “What if the people who play the game absolutely have to guess?” wrote one anonymous online user, “what if their guesses actually come true somehow? Like if you guess that someone will go to the kitchen to grab a knife, then that person is forced to move and to do what you said.”
Whatever the case may be, one thing is clear: if you see a board game called ‘Guess’ for sale at any store…do not buy it. Do not play it. Call the authorities and alert the store owners so that they may remove it safely.
Your mother and I decided to never to talk to you about the Midnight Paper again. I wish that getting rid of it had been that simple.