Friday, October 28, 2016

MICHELLE MUTO: Dear Maddy

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DEAR MADDY
Copyright © 2016 by Michelle Muto

Dear Maddy,
It’s been almost a week since your death. I’m sitting here at the table, drinking my coffee and thinking of you. When I close my eyes I can still see your sweet face. I still see your pain, your suffering.
I avoid answering the phone. It doesn’t ring much and no one ever leaves a message. Not that it matters. I don’t want to talk to anyone else.
Just you.
You understand.
You’ll never be able to read the letters I’m writing, but that doesn’t stop me. In jotting down these words, I feel closer to you. It’s as though you’re still here. One day, someone might find my spiral-bound notebook full of letters. Who knows? Some Hollywood hotshot might make them into a blockbuster movie, or a famous author might write our story. You love books. Wouldn’t that be something?
But for now, it’s just us.
The last of the neighbors, the Morgans, left for their winter home in Florida yesterday.
It’s cold here. First snow probably isn’t too far away. It always hits the mountains first, and it’ll be beautiful. Of course, bad weather makes the roads difficult to navigate, and most of the local restaurants and shops will undoubtedly close for the winter.
Anyway, I’m sure the Morgans are gone because I was sitting in the living room, just staring out the window, and saw them drive past. John drove the Infinity and Sue had the Lexus. Both SUVs had cargo carriers on top. They didn’t stop to say good-bye, but then, the Morgans always kept to themselves. We’re a lot like them, you and I.
So that’s it. Everyone has left for their winter homes.
Now, it’s just you and me here until spring. Well, just me.
Just me.

Dear Maddy,
Another week has gone by. I’m sorry I haven’t written. Lately, I spend a lot of time walking the halls and just going from room to room. Your toothbrush sits untouched in the bathroom. Your scent lingers on the clothes in the closet. The cigarette smoke, too. You should’ve quit.
Everything is as though you never died. It’s as though you might walk through the door at any moment.
But you can’t. Regardless of what anyone might think, I’m not delusional. Did I mention I still see your face? I do, Maddy. I do. Sometimes I shut my eyes so I can remember you.

Dear Maddy,
I walked through the woods behind the house again. I’ve always liked the woods. Gives a man a chance to clear his mind. I think I’ve been in the house too long. I swore I saw you walk into the kitchen yesterday, but when I followed, the room was empty. 
Anyway, about the walk in the woods. Since you can’t go hiking, I’ll share the three-mile expedition with you. All the trees except the last of the pin oaks are barren and the ground is cold and hard underneath the leaves. You loved taking photos out here, but trust me—the sky has been gray for days—hardly picture worthy. Most of the birds have flown south except the darn ravens. There were plenty of them, cawing and flitting from tree to tree.
I don’t think I’ll walk in the woods anymore. It feels too open. Like I’m not alone. I know there’s no one around, unless it’s deer or wild turkeys, or those noisy ravens. But I need my space. I need more time to let your death sink in.
I’m going into town for groceries and supplies this week. Since I’ll stay the winter, I should prepare for bad weather. Get some powdered milk and other things in case the power goes out. I’ll probably drive into Knoxville, although that’s about an hour and a half from here.
I’ll write you tomorrow. I promise.
Until then.

Dear Maddy,
I spent more than I intended yesterday, but it had to be done. Thankfully, Knoxville is pretty big and not everyone wants to talk your fool head off. People are funny. Even if I shared a friendly conversation with one, I doubt they’d remember me if we met again. We could pass on the street a day or a week later and they’d never remember me at all.
That’s okay. I’m still not up for polite conversation, although I did say a few words to the chatty grocery store clerk. I didn’t want to appear rude. People always recall the negatives but never the positives. Society. Who needs it?
Anyway, I digress. It started to snow today. Started right about the time I came up the driveway. Not the big, wet flakes that stick but the tiny ones that are more like fine soot. There’s a dusting on the back deck, and some deer ventured onto the back lawn. I’m far from the photographer you were, but I took a couple of pictures for you anyway.
The weatherman is calling for the heavy stuff starting tomorrow, especially here in the Smokies. Guess I got those supplies just in time! There’s no telling when the road will be safe enough to travel again. Could be a day or weeks. You know how the weather is up here.
Christmas is right around the corner. I tried to get into a festive mood by drinking some hot chocolate I found tucked in the back of the pantry. I made two cups. I drank them both in front of the fireplace and pretended you were sitting next to me.

Dear Maddy,
We’ve had several inches of snow, so I’ve been watching TV a lot and staying indoors. Right now, I’m working on the bottle of rum you bought the week before you died.
There’s nothing on except holiday specials. It beats watching the news. The news is so depressing. Everyone calls the shows holiday specials. Whatever. The characters in them celebrate Christmas, so why not advertise them that way? Better yet, why advertise them as shows at all? Seems to me that a two-hour special is nothing more than a forty-five minute show with an hour and fifteen minutes’ worth of jewelry, clothes, and stupid cologne commercials. Like I said, though, it beats watching the news.
The world has gone mad. Stark raving crazy, if you ask me. Lots and lots of fucked-up, bug-shit crazies. We both agree on that, don’t we, Maddy? Yes ma’am! I hear you loud and clear and will toast you on that sentiment, sweetheart!
Every damn time the news is on, there’s nothing to report but war and robberies, apartment fires, and lost jobs. I’ll tell you the truth, Maddy—I don’t regret staying up here until spring. Human interaction probably isn’t a good idea right now given my state of mind.
Besides, I’m not alone, am I? I have you to talk to. I think about you so much that a few minutes ago I thought I heard you yelling from the other room. You weren’t there, of course. I searched the whole house. The mind plays tricks now and then. I tell myself it’s just the quiet up here. Or the rum. Good stuff, Maddy. Good stuff.
See how much I think of you? You may be gone, but you’ll never be forgotten. Not as long as I live and breathe.
Never.

Dear Maddy,
It’s Christmas Day. There aren’t any presents under the tree. For that matter, there isn’t even a tree. I found the decorations in the attic but decided the effort was too much. I did go through the containers, though. All six of them. You loved Christmas.
Outside, it’s what you’d call picture perfect. The snow is pristine and majestic. There’s so much snow that I swear I can hear the quiet. Pretty eerie, right? Sometimes it’s easy to imagine I’m the only one left in the world up here.
The bad news is we’re completely snowed in and the power has blinked off and on a few times. Thankfully, the electricity is holding as I write this. So far, I haven’t needed to use the generator.
I’m glad I got the powdered milk and the canned goods, although I can’t say powered milk on cereal tastes as good as it does with fresh milk. Beggars can’t be choosers, right?
It’s hard to believe you’ve been gone and buried almost a month. Where did the time go? You’d think I’d stop writing you.
I can’t.
I just can’t.
I see you everywhere. I hear your voice, too.

Dear Maddy,
We had more snow and the power went out for a couple days. You wouldn’t have liked it, being afraid of the dark as you are.
Most of the gas cans for the generator were empty. To conserve what fuel I did find, I shut off the fridge. I closed up all the rooms and threw more firewood from the basement into the fireplace. I made up the sofa as a bed and piled on the linens.
The first night, I put the perishables from the fridge into coolers packed with snow and kept them in the garage. 
The daytime high hasn’t reached above twenty-six, according to the temperature gauge on the deck. I don’t know what the temp dropped down to the other night, but everything, including any melted snow, was frozen solid the next morning.
I apologize for the incident in the basement. I was cold, tired, and cranky when I went to fetch more firewood and I threw some of it at you. You vanished before any of it hit you.
There. I said it. I see your ghost. Crazy, right? Maybe something’s wrong with me. I won’t go to a doctor. Haven’t been to one in years. I’m afraid of what their reports would say.
Anyway, I can’t get out the back or front door because I haven’t shoveled. Not even once. I can’t bring myself to touch all that sparkling snow. Good thing I don’t need to go anywhere.
Now, I can almost hear what you’re thinking about my situation. I thought about that myself.
Oh! I almost forgot! Bears! I saw one yesterday at the back of the property. I guess bears don’t usually hibernate this far south. It’s not like Colorado or Oregon. I’m glad I didn’t put the coolers outside to stay cold. I can see it now: a bear eats all the food and I’m not able to get out to get fresh supplies. I’d starve to death! Can you imagine?
I bet you could.
That wouldn’t be my biggest problem, though. What if the power stayed out and the generator ran out of fuel? There’s not enough firewood to last a month, much less until the snow recedes. Not to mention, the house would be sealed up tight like one big tomb with all the snow piled up around the doors. HA!
Fortunately for me, the basement door under the wrap-around deck worked just fine.

Dear Maddy,
For New Year’s Eve dinner, I heated up canned ravioli using the Sterno cooking fuel I bought in Knoxville. Yep. The power went out again. I hear you—everyone on this side of the mountain vacates during the winter for this reason. I get it. The snow and ice make the roads treacherous, and right now, I imagine they’re impassable. Since I’m the only one up here, and no one else knows that, the snowplows won’t come through.
It’s still just you and me.

Dear Maddy,
Happy New Year! I’ve spent most of the day thinking about your death. I’m fully aware we haven’t talked about that. It’s not that I’m trying to gloss it over whenever I find you sitting in your chair and staring out the window. Your death was painful. I understand. Honest. There hasn’t been a day that goes by I don’t think about it. I’m not ready yet.
Stop making me feel guilty for not discussing it.
Just stop it. Stop it right now, do you hear me?

P.S. The power is finally back.

Dear Maddy,
I miss you.
I’ve spent the past two months here with very little to occupy my time or my mind. In hindsight, I agree with you—staying was a mistake. It’s been far too many days since I laid eyes on another human being.
Oddly, the days don’t seem to matter much anymore. I can’t tell you if today is Sunday or Wednesday.
Does my sanity or lack thereof make you smile? I can almost see you now. That’s not true, is it? I wish I could see you. You’re here, but you don’t show yourself as much as you used to.
I’m sorry I drank all the rum.
I’m sorry I yelled in my last letter.
I repaired the broken doorframe in the master bedroom. I even repaired the dripping faucet down the hall. The walls need some touch-up, but I couldn’t find matching paint in the basement. I paid the bills.
I read a lot these days. I even finished the mystery novel you were reading before you died. For the record, the wife faked her own murder then went back and killed her husband. She framed his mistress. How about that? Did you see the twist coming? I didn’t.
I don’t normally read mystery novels, so I can’t say how this book stacks up against some of the bestsellers. Still, I enjoyed the mystery, and after lunch I plan on going into the basement to see what else is on the bookshelf.
Of course, the weather is still crappy. It’s bitterly cold. I’m down to just a few supplies, so I’ll need to venture out again soon. I broke down and shoveled the driveway. Took me two days because the top of the snow froze over. Ever notice how the snow isn’t nearly as pretty once it freezes over? It’s got this plastic hue to it.
I’d shovel for a while before I’d have to come inside to warm up. Then I’d go back out again. Thankfully, it hasn’t snowed in a while.
That’ll be short lived, though. The weatherman says we’ll get more snow by the weekend. I think I need to get out of the house. It’s been far too long. I hope the roads are clear enough to make the trip down to Knoxville.

Dear Maddy,
I made it into town yesterday!
I enjoyed being around people again. I still didn’t talk much, though. Just got in, bought the necessities, got out.
I save all my conversations for you.
I admit the road to town was pretty bad. In fact, it was touch and go there for a while. The twists and turns going down the mountain scared me. Once, I even slid off the road, but I got lucky and got stuck in the snow on the shoulder. Better than going off the cliff! Took me the better part of an hour to get unstuck and back on the road.
I couldn’t shake the fear of sliding off the road and careening down the mountain. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear you put the thought there, Maddy. Are you trying to keep me from leaving the house? Do you want me to be trapped?
The idea bothers me so much that I’ve spent hours thinking about it and I’ve come to a logical conclusion: We’ve both been isolated too long and suffer from a touch of cabin fever. It’s all this snow. This goddamn snow and nothing more.
I know you could never hurt me, Maddy.

Dear Maddy,
I’ve been negligent in writing. According to the notebook, it’s been over three weeks since I wrote you last. I think it’s time to finally let go and say good-bye.
So this is it. The last time I write you.
The ten-day forecast calls for more snow next week, so now is as good a time as any to pack up and go. I’d planned on being here until right before some of the neighbors came back, but I’m getting a little antsy.
You’re angry, I can tell. If you had your way, I’d never leave here. I still haven’t talked about your death. How can there be any closure without talking about something so important in detail?
I’m finally ready.
I visited your gravesite this morning. Even with some of the melt-off, it took me a while to get out there, and I was nearly frozen solid by the time I got back. I had to take a long, hot shower and drink the last of the hot cocoa to warm up, but it was worth it.
I think it’s safe to say no one will find you. I don’t even know how long before someone notices you’re missing.
You didn’t get a chance to become nearly as acquainted with me as I was with you. You had no idea how long I’d been watching you. I told you I liked the woods. It’s easy to hide out there.
I watched all of you—you and your neighbors. I went through your mailboxes and got names. Then I sought each of you out on social media. I found out a lot about all of your comings and goings. I knew when any of you went to dinner or a movie and wouldn’t be home. I learned your likes, dislikes, and even your phobias. Funny how people share so much over the Internet with total strangers.
You never talked to your neighbors, so you probably never knew that the Fitzgeralds always head west, to California, or that the Burtons go to stay with their son in Austin. Bet you didn’t know the Morgans have a condo in Orlando, either.
I met each of you, too. Not at the same time, of course. I’d sit at a nearby table at a restaurant and make small talk. Or stand behind you in line at the store. I first talked to you at the liquor store when you bought the liter bottle of spiced rum. You never even realized I had followed you. Of course, I say we talked, but that’s not true. I think you said two words to me. I was always pleasant, though. Always. Remember I said people remember the bad things and never the good?
So why did I choose you when Jenny Fitzgerald was younger and a lot hotter? Let’s face facts—you’re average at best.
It would’ve been easy to abduct Jenny. She’s trusting. Outgoing. But there’s the matter of her husband—he’d report her missing and that wouldn’t do. That’d be sloppy work on my part.
That left you. And you lived alone.
When I broke into the neighbors’ homes, I didn’t stay long. I touched nothing. But when I let myself into your house, I touched lots of things.
You didn’t even notice someone had showered in your bathroom or had some of your orange juice.
I’m careful.
Now, you might say that I’m not careful. That I’ve left fingerprints. The thing is, it doesn’t mean much if they’re not in the system, and mine aren’t. But even if my prints existed in some database, real life isn’t like those novels you read. If the leads are few and there isn’t a second murder, the files are stuffed into a box or folder and basically forgotten. And without a body, well, it’s really just a missing person’s report.
I went through your things, and although you have nieces and nephews, you never had any children. You didn’t own any pets. No cat to hide under the bed and tip you off. No dog to bark or walk so the neighbors would notice a difference in your routine. You liked photography. You took stunning photos, Maddy. You also liked reading. You had a thing for chocolate. You drank too much now and then but kept it a secret. You wrote down your passwords on a piece of paper you kept in your desk drawer. That’s how I was able to pay the bills.
No one has called for you since Christmas. I deleted the three messages on your answering machine.
You were a loner, mostly. You thought of yourself as outgoing, but in reality, you weren’t.
There’s no indication of foul play, at least not anymore. I repaired the doorframe, remember? I staked out your house and made a note of what lights you turned on and when. Since you never talked to your neighbors, they didn’t pay any attention. They probably saw the lights on and thought you were in the house when it was me all along. I found timers in the basement and scheduled lights to turn on and off at your usual times.
Like I said, I’ve been watching you for some time.
No one knew I dug a ten-foot hole in the woods over the summer. I sweated my ass off working on that pit! I even covered the opening with plywood. When October came, I was ready. I’d been thinking about you for so long.
I know you were scared when I kidnapped you and made you walk through the woods and climb down into the pit. You begged me, pleaded. But your neighbors never ventured into the woods. They never heard your cries for help. They didn’t hear your cries of pain. I knew they wouldn’t.
I loved talking to you, Maddy. And I loved just spending time with you, too.
Then, I’d return to your house, sleep in your bed. Eat your food. Drink your OJ right from the container like I did that day I took a quick shower. Does the idea gross you out after what we’ve been through?
At night, I’d slip out and go through the woods to spend more time with you. I could never make you smile or laugh, but I could make you scream. I liked it when you screamed, Maddy.
I liked it until I didn’t.
I still see your face.
I still see the tears in your eyes, your bruised cheek. From the way your face swelled, I broke your cheekbone. I didn’t mean to. Guess I got so excited and caught up in the moment. I listened to you plead for your life before I carved you up and watched you bleed out on the dirt floor.
You weren’t my first, dear Maddy.
But you were my last.
See? It’s nothing like the books or television. People disappear all the time and no one notices. Even when they do, it’s not easy to track down a killer who covers his tracks. A killer like me. I don’t stick to a type—not even sex. I don’t stick to a particular age, either. I guessed you were about fifty. You weren’t the oldest. I won’t tell you about the youngest. Cute thing of eighteen or so. So cute that I wanted to go back for her baby brother. But I didn’t. Far too risky. Cops and communities rally around missing kids.
The point is, sticking to a type leaves a trail, Maddy. It makes investigators take notice. Everyone looks for a pattern. The trick is not to have one. I mean, why bother with a type at all?
Variety really is the spice of life!
I didn’t lie when I said you’d gotten to me in a way no one else had. For a while, I actually thought your ghost would succeed in seeking revenge.
Tell me the truth, Maddy. You wanted me to freeze to death—unable to open a single door while your car sat parked right outside. Or would you have preferred your car tumble headfirst down the mountain with me screaming inside?
If you’d had your way, justice would’ve been served.
I’d probably lie dead in the wreckage for months, possibly even years before someone found me. How much of my flesh would remain after those stupid ravens pecked away at my corpse day after day?
Pop quiz, Maddy! Would they start with my eyes or the open wounds?
They’d start with the eyes. It’s always the eyes, in case you were curious.
Don’t think I’m unaware of the irony here.
But now it’s just you here, Maddy. Just you.
I’m the only one who can see you. Didn’t think I knew that, either, did you?
Don’t you ever forget that! I took your life and your spirit belongs to me.

P.S. Correction about you being my last. You’ll be the last in this notebook. It’s pretty full. When I’m a few hours down the road I’ll stop and buy another one. Like I said, it’s time for a fresh start. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to it. It’s been so long since I’ve had human interaction.
Where am I headed? After all this snow, Florida sounds nice.
GIVEAWAY
Today’s giveaway is FIVE ECOPIES of Michelle’s latest scarefest DIARY OF THE DAMNED!!!

To win: go to the Official FB Event Page; find the post announcing  today’s giveaway; and comment, “I WANT TO WIN” in that post and you just might!!! 
OFFICIAL FB EVENT PAGE

https://www.amazon.com/Diary-Damned-Sequel-Haunting-Season-ebook/dp/B01M170NWN/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8
Allison said that, in time, he’d come for you. For what it’s worth, Evy, I believe her.”
Evy Breen has worked hard to forget her past. She's changed her appearance and moved from her hometown of Bowling Green, Kentucky, to Knoxville, Tennessee, where she does her best to fit in.
Evy’s past catches up with her when she finds a package on her apartment doorstep. The package has no postmark, no return address. Inside is a note… and the diary of Evy’s missing best friend, Allison.
The diary contains everything about their friendship, the bullying they endured, and Allison’s confinement at a psychiatric hospital for schizophrenia. Except Allison wasn’t schizophrenic. Allison was suffering from demonic possession.
According to the note, that same demon now has its sights set on Evy. The mysterious sender claims that, despite sliding into madness and depression, Allison inserted clues into her diary that might save Evy’s life.
As Evy reads her friend’s diary, she discovers secrets that Allison kept from her—the incidents surrounding the gruesome death of a former classmate and the truth behind a government agency more interested in embracing a demon than in exorcising it.
If Evy is to survive, she must return home. There, she must confront a life she prefers to forget and fight off an ancient and powerful demon set on revenge—if only she can decipher the clues her friend left behind.
AUTHOR BIO
Michelle Muto lives in Northeast Georgia with her husband and their dog, Ronan.

Michelle loves scary books, funny movies, sports cars, dogs, chocolate, old cemeteries, and changes of season. She agrees with Ronan who thinks cheese and bacon should be in their own food group. 

But most of all, she believes everyone should trust their imagination, should have a kind heart, and should definitely have a sense of humor.




BOOKS
The Book of Lost Souls
Don't Fear the Reaper
The Haunting Season
Nature's Fifth Season
Of Shadow & Stone
Diary of the Damned

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