I’m still afraid of your next letter.

April 30th, 2010

Dear Dad,

It’s weird, because I know how the story ends, at least so far. I know that Meredith dies. I have a pretty good idea how it all happened. But I’m still afraid of your next letter.

I think I know you better now than I did when you were alive. I was a baby. We never talked. Now sometimes I wish we didn’t talk so much. Or didn’t talk so much about such heavy stuff. I wish we had that day-to-day thing where you’d ask, “How was your day?” I’d say, “Fine.” We’d go see a movie about a magician and you’d say, “So what did you think?” I’d say, “I liked it until Tesla started making clones of everything. It got really stupid after that.”

Talking is different when we write stuff down. No one makes small talk in letters. Well, maybe girls do. I bet Misty Lee could blather on about nothing for ten pages with no problem. But in our letters, it’s always life or death stuff. Maybe once we get past this we could share lists of favorite songs or books or pizza toppings. Something small like that.

Whew. I bet this is hard for you.

Maybe this will take your mind off of it. Brian Haase wants to talk about cookies. He says that the cookie contest the teachers are judging is a week from this Thursday and we need to have A Plan. “Let’s get together at lunch and make our strategy.” Brian is one of those guys who seems all quiet, but once he gets an idea, he’s like an army general. I can tell he’s already committed to some kind of idea in his head. He’s got that caveman-on-the-hunt look in his eyes. Blackie the Dog gets the same look when he sees Mrs. Johnson’s cat. He can picture the hunt, step-by-step, all the way to the kill.

I bet you’re barely able to concentrate on that, thinking about Meredith. I get why this is so hard for you. Stick it out, Dad. You’re halfway there.

Your son,


She was six months old at the time.

April 29th, 2010

Dear Trevor,

I’ve been thinking about that IOU. I even wrote it out, so that you’d take me seriously when I asked to cash it in. It’s sitting right here in front of me now. I have other plans for it. But I do appreciate your offer, you persistent little punk. And now you’re threatening me, too. You pulled the mom card. It’s enough, Trevor. Enough to even push my way to a bit of a beginning about this story.

So here goes:

You guessed that it happened 19 years ago. You were close. If you are 13 now, then it was almost exactly 20 years. I’ve been dead for eight of those. Part of me has been dead the full two decades.

It was a Sunday. About 10 a.m. One of those spring days when it was sunny one minute and then rainy the next. Your mom put Meredith down for a nap in the upstairs bedroom—the one Rhonda must be using now. Ev told me to check on the baby in an hour and not let her sleep too long. Then she took Steffan with her to church. I was home alone with Meredith.

She was six months old at the time. I got to know that baby pretty well in half a year, because that was her entire life. With babies, the soul is all smells and burps and velvety skin. Meredith’s soul smelled like soap. She had your Mom’s unpredictable eyes. Green one day and brown the next depending on the weather and the color of her onesy. She had Ev’s disposition as well—out to make everyone happy all the time. Quiet and happy. Ready to smile at even the hint of a peekaboo. Ev would stare at her and say, “I’d rather watch you than TV any day.”

That morning, Meredith was asleep. I sat down in front of the television and started watching an East Coast football game. Philadelphia Eagles vs. the Washington Redskins. I didn’t care about either team, but football was my Sunday morning routine and I am a man of habit. Still am. As I recall, the Redskins made a rout of it and it was a lousy game to watch. No matter. I watched anyway.

Two hours later, your mom came home. I can still hear her church heels on the front porch steps, still hear her hello as she opened the door. “Where’s my baby?” she asked happily, looking around the living room.

That’s when I realized I’d left Meredith upstairs the entire time without checking on her. A slight infraction, right? The slightest imaginable. I mumbled something about her still being asleep. Ev instantly got mad at me. “Have you even checked on her?”

“I haven’t.”

“Do you even know if she’s OK?”

“She’s a baby,” I said, joking. “How much trouble can she get into?”

That joke. If I could take one thing back in my life, it would be that joke.

I’m stopping right there, Trevor. If I could find a liquor store up in this town, I’d drink myself all the way to oblivion, then drink a few more miles, just to be sure.


I’m not gonna back off on this one.

April 28th, 2010

Dear Dad,

I’m not gonna leave you alone, you stubborn old bastard.

Remember way back in December, when we made that bargain? When you took on my fear of Mudgett? You said that in exchange, you’d file away an IOU. How about if you use it now? How about if I take on your fear of telling this story? How about if you give me your fear and then write freely?

Either way, I’m not gonna back off on this one, so you might as well spill. You’ve been talking about talking about this all year. It’s time you got down to it. Get it over with. Do.

If you don’t tell me, I’ll ask Mom.

Your son,


You are getting on my nerves.

April 27th, 2010

Dear Trevor,

You are getting on my nerves. I wish you would shut up about this topic. I wish you would leave me the hell alone.

I can’t do it. I can’t open my mouth about this one.


“Do you know how Meredith actually died?”

April 26th, 2010

Dear Dad,

I asked Rhonda about Meredith. I figure since you aren’t telling me, I might as well dig a little on my own. Like I said, I’m just gonna keep writing about it until you spill your guts.

That’s one advantage of having a dead dad. I can sass you all I want and you have to put up with it. I’m mostly joking, Dad. I’m not trying to be a pain in the butt. I’m trying to get you to unload, you know?

Anyway, Rhonda is my only real option. No way I’m asking Mom, because I know you’d really freak out if I brought her into it. Mom would probably tell me the real story if I asked. She keeps a lot of stuff to herself, but if you ask her, she’ll tell.

I just asked Rhonda straight out. I walked into her bedroom—upstairs. She was listening to some weird county-punk music and lying on her bed looking at the ceiling. I turned off her music and said, “Hey.”

“Hey.” She didn’t look up. Must have been something really amazing on that ceiling.

“Do you know how Meredith actually died?”

“Our Meredith?”


“Why? And why didn’t you knock?”

“I just wanna know. No one’s ever told me and I figure she was practically my sister.”

“’Course she was your sister, you little dork. She’s just dead. Why’ve you been so weird lately?”

“I don’t know. Puberty. So how’d she die?”

Rhonda finally turned onto her side. “Crib death, I guess.”

“Which means…”

“Which means that some babies just die in their cribs. Like they don’t get enough oxygen. Their faces get too smooshed into the sheets and they just keep breathing in the same air over and over until they suffocate. Happens all the time.”

“How do you prevent it?”

“What, are you planning to have a baby or something? Geez. I guess you make the baby sleep on its back or something.”

“How come they didn’t do that with Meredith?”

“You ever tried to keep a baby on it’s back? Baby are intrinsically squirmy. Besides, they didn’t know better back then. Now go away. And close the door. And knock next time.”

I left. I have no idea if Rhonda is telling me the truth or not. Anything you want to share here, Dad?

Your son,


I don’t feel like I have a right to tell this story.

April 23rd, 2010

Dear Trevor,

I don’t feel like I have a right to tell this story. Just the act of telling it will be one more thing that needs to be forgiven.

I don’t know how to start.

I am the villain in this tale. No. Villain is more appealing than my role. My crime was less active but no less unforgiveable.

Can we avoid it for another few days? Can I talk about your math test? About how proud I am of you? About how I hope your Mom lets you take taekwondo lessons? Believe me, I’m in no position to ask her for anything, although I’ve asked her for so much throughout my life.

That’s all I’ve got for you today, Trevor.


She can’t hear a siren without thinking about that day.

April 22nd, 2010

Dear Dad,

I guess there was something pushing on the back of my brain about Meredith. You never mentioned her even once, even though she’s the only other person in our regular family that’s died, other than you. I mean, I know she was only six months old and died before I was even born, but Mom still talks about her pretty often. And we still go and put flowers on her grave every Memorial Day. Her grave’s in the baby section. You probably know that. You probably bought the tombstone.

Mom’s told me a little bit about how Meredith died. Well, she’s never told me the whole story, if there is one. Other than Meredith was taking a nap and didn’t wake up. Mom called 911 and the ambulance came racing over. That’s why I’ve heard the story. When we hear sirens, Mom talks about Meredith. She says she can’t hear a siren without thinking about that day. Good thing we don’t live by a fire station. Yikes.

I figure it was about 19 years ago, so it seems like you’d all be pretty much over it by now. I’m clearly wrong about that.

I also figure it’s hard for you to read this right now. That’s OK. I’m gonna keep talking about it until you do, because I guess I think it will be good for you to talk about it. I feel like you’d do the same thing for me. Or to me.

Mom settled down about the canoe trip, although sometimes she looks at me and shivers. I thought she’d settled down enough for me to bring up the chance of taekwondo lessons again, now that stupid basketball with stupid Mr. Schick is over. But I was wrong. When I asked, she yelled, “Trevor! Not now!” Which I took to mean, I’m still really pissed at you so don’t even think of asking for anything.

Hey, guess what? I passed that algebra test in Mrs. Fletcher’s class! I’m going straight into algebra next year, so I guess somehow I’m no longer a math idiot. Don’t ask me how. I still feel confused most days. Maybe everyone does.

Your son,


Not feeling much like writing today.

April 21st, 2010

Dear Trevor,

Not feeling much like writing today. Give me a day or so to figure out how to do this. I may need to learn a new language, because the one I’ve got doesn’t seem to have the right words.


I survived the canoe trip OK, but I barely survived Mom.

April 20th, 2010

Dear Dad,

We need to talk.

I survived the canoe trip OK, but I barely survived Mom.

We put the canoe and the rest of our gear into the back of Donnie’s truck and headed up to the park. We unloaded by 10 and figured we be to the pick-up spot by about 3. Donnie’s mom made sure we had Donnie’s cell phone in a Ziploc bag. Donnie even opened the bag to make sure it was charged and on. Last but not least, she made us promise to keep our lifejackets on.

We got into the water and started floating down the river. It was awesome. Even at 10 it was already pretty warm. I took my life jacket off and sat on it. I was just wearing sandals, cargo shorts and a t-shirt.

The river was high, but most of the time it was pretty mellow. We planned on taking it easy, anyway. We talked with Donnie’s dad the night before and promised that if we came to anything too rough, we’d carry the canoe around it. Donnie’s dad called this a “portage,” which sounded cool in a Lewis-and-Clark sort of way.

So that’s how it went for a long time. We shot a few small rapids and portaged a few big ones. After a couple hours, we stopped at a sandbar and ate lunch—sandwiches, water, brownies and Fritos. No Bugles. Then we skipped rocks for a while, until Donnie said we should get going, because he knew that if we were very late his mom would freak.

It was really warm by then, until the river went into this kind of canyon where the sun couldn’t get. The canyon kept getting narrower. Cliff walls went about 30 feet up on both sides. Lots of shadows. No banks.

Up ahead, I could hear rapids, but I couldn’t tell how big they were or how far away. We paddled stupidly toward them.

We came around a bend and the rapids sucked us right in. They weren’t too bad at first, but we could see curling whitewater ahead. Donnie let a few curse words fly and we both started paddling for the smoothest section of water. Then the river grabbed us and started slamming us around. Right in front of us, a huge boulder seemed to pop out of nowhere. The river spun us sideways right toward it. We slammed into the boulder so hard that Donnie and I instantly flipped out of the boat. The river sucked Donnie downstream. I grabbed the bottom of the upside down canoe and held on through the rapids, banging my shins on rocks as I went.

I caught up to Donnie a few minutes later. We dogpaddled the canoe over to the bank and lied on the muddy shore, catching our breath. After a few minutes we turned the canoe over and saw the hole in the side. It was about as big as a softball and below the waterline.

We’d lost most of our stuff, including Donnie’s cell phone and cooler, my life jacket and both paddles. We were soaked and cold and about ten miles from our pick-up point at the Highway 18 Bridge.

We tried stuffing a wadded-up t-shirt into the hole in the canoe, but the water still pored through. We ended up stashing the canoe in some bushes on the river’s edge, then started walking. Most of the way, it wasn’t too bad, because there were train tracks that followed the river. But it felt like it took forever.

When we reached the pick-up spot no one was there. There was no place to call and we had no phone, so we started walking toward Donnie’s house, another couple miles away. We finally got there about dark—eight o’clock—and there were a bunch of cop cars out front. Mom’s car was there, too.

I guess they all thought we were dead. At six, Donnie’s mom called the cops and the cops sent out Search and Rescue. The Search and Rescue guys found the canoe and my life jacket and were scouring the bank for our bodies.

The police lectured us, lectured Mom and Donnie’s parents, then left. Then me and Mom left and she started lecturing me. She was really upset. She started crying while she was driving. I asked her why, since I was OK. She said she thought she’d lost another of her children.

I knew what she was talking about. Meredith. The sister I never met who died as a baby. Mom

Dad, does this have something to do with your shame?

Your son,


I’m on the hunt for the stranger in town.

April 19th, 2010

Dear Trevor,

By the time you get this letter, you’ll be back from your canoe trip. Can I wish you luck—or pray for your safety—in the past? I think so. I pray that you were safe on Saturday and that you made it back to your mother alive and well. Bruised, maybe, but not broken.

Not all my children have fared so well, Trevor. Ahh.

I’m on the hunt for the stranger in town. Sung-Hee and Dr. Jones both claim to have seen him, but both describe him completely differently, so I doubt their stories. Dr. Jones says the man appeared to be “short, bald and studious.” Not sure what studious looks like. Jones said he wore a rumpled, dark blue suit and appeared lost in thought. He said he saw him down among the sound end of the cabins, but no one who lives down in that part of town seems to have spotted the man.

Sung-Hee said the man had a full head of hair and a prominent beard. “You should see the beard on this guy,” she said. “He put some years into that thing. He’d never be able to work in a restaurant with hair like that.”

Sung-Hee claims to have seen him on the dock. I looked, but saw no sign. At least it’s nice to have something to look for, Trevor. It keeps my mind off the letter I know I need to write you.


We’re gonna drop our canoe in there.

April 16th, 2010

Dear Dad,

I don’t know what I might do about the cookie contest, but Brian Haase pulled one of the flyers off the wall and showed it to me.

“Do you know what this is?” he said. “This–this is opportunity.”

“Opportunity to do what?”

“To do–something! We need to talk.”

We haven’t talked yet, but I kind of liked Brian’s spirit. His eyes were all wide and little spots on his cheeks got all red. It reminded me how he used to look when we got in fights in 5th grade. Besides, doing something seems a lot like what you’re always talking about. Doing versus not doing.

Tomorrow is Saturday. Tonight I’m going to spend the night at Donnie’s house and then in the morning his mom is going to bring us up to Flaming Geyser State Park. We’re gonna drop our canoe in there and paddle down the Green River to the Highway 18 Bridge. Donnie’s bringing a cellphone in a Ziploc bag so that we can call her when we get there so she can pick us up. It should be pretty fun. It’s supposed to be sunny tomorrow and Donnie says his mom bought us a whole bunch of junk food to eat along the way. I hope she bought Bugles. Donnie always has Bugles in his lunch. They’re kind of delicious.

Remember Mrs. Fletcher, my math teacher? She’s still as evil as ever and today, to prove it, she gave us a test on algebra, which we’ve never studied. When I reminded her of this, she said, “I’m fully aware of what we have and have not studied, Mr. Griffiths. However, those of you who do well enough on this test will be admitted directly into algebra next year, instead of waiting until 9th grade. The rest of you will take the ordinary track to pre-algebra.”

It seems pretty stupid. How are we supposed to do well on a test when we’ve never studied the stuff? Anyway, I took the test. I knew more of it than I thought. We’ll find out next week, I guess.

Wish me luck on my canoe trip,

Your son,


There’s another newcomer in town

April 15th, 2010

Dear Trevor,

I’m not sure what advice to give you about the cookie contest. All year, I’ve been telling you to do. Kiss the girl. Fight the boy. Go back to school. Play in the game. Now what? Hold back?

I wish your motivation wasn’t revenge, because I’m pretty sure that one will leave a bad taste–like one too many donuts.

Then again, one too many donuts sounds pretty good right now.

What are you thinking? Making horrible tasting cookies? Poisoning Mr. Schick? Don’t do anything stupid.

I don’t know what you can do to help me with my burden of shame. Nothing, I expect. But I could be wrong. I’ll keep thinking about it as much as I can stand to.

Sung-Hee told me a strange bit of gossip. Supposedly, there’s another newcomer in town, but no one has met him. The well-dressed black man–whose name I still don’t know–confirmed it. I asked Gordon if he wanted to go door-to-door with me to search out this mystery man, but he said he was contemplating a particularly interesting fog bank and didn’t want to move from his porch. I went by myself, up and down the entire line of cabins and shacks, but found no one I hadn’t seen before.

I’d love a little new company. A little new something. Maybe tomorrow.


Speaking of dorks, our school has this thing called a pep club.

April 14th, 2010

Dear Dad,

I’m thinking about this thing you’re having a hard time telling me. I’m thinking that the obvious thing you would say to me would be that I should just get it off my chest. But that sounds kind of dumb. If it was that easy, you would have told me already. I’m trying to imagine what could be so bad. I can imagine some pretty bad stuff and thinking of you doing some of it freaks me out. Maybe it would be better if you didn’t tell me. Maybe I’m not the right person to tell.

What can I do to help you?

I kind of feel like a dork talking like this.

Speaking of dorks, our school has this thing called a pep club. Pep. That has got to be one of the most stupid words in the world. I don’t want to be part of any club called pep. Anyway, the pep club does stuff like organize the pep assemblies, which are pretty dumb, but better than going to class. You get to watch cheerleaders do their stupid cheers. Cheerleaders are kind of ridiculous, but they’re pretty hot.

The pep club is also putting on a cookie contest. Guess who the judges will be? The teachers. Guess who one of the teacher judges is? Mr. Schick.

This seems like a pretty good chance for revenge. A little advice right now would be helpful.

Your son,


I’ll try, Trevor. Or I’ll try to try.

April 13th, 2010

Dear Trevor,

O O O O. I don’t know how to tell you about my shame. I’ve been carrying it around so long in silence, I don’t know how to give a voice to it. I honestly don’t know if I can tell you.

I think if I sat in my shack with the door barred and tried to just say it out loud to the board and batten walls, I would fail.  The thought of actually writing it down to paper where you could read it seems impossible.

I’ll try, Trevor. Or I’ll try to try. For now, I’ll tell you that it’s about my family. About our family.

Trevor, give me time.


She came up all sputtering.

April 12th, 2010

Dear Dad,

Mom says I need to wait another week until I go down the Green River, because it’s been raining all week and the river’s at floodstage. So maybe next Saturday. This weekend I just hung out in the neighborhood.

After church on Sunday, Rhonda, Barry Barton and Rhonda’s friend, Tess and I walked way down the beach. Tess is my age. She lives across the street in that old farmhouse the Cummings were in when you were alive.  Tess gets really good grades and looks like it. She wears little round glasses that make her seem like a character from one of those American Girl stories Rhonda used to read. Tess is taller than I am and goofy but nice. Her family doesn’t even have a TV, which is weird, but that’s probably why she gets good grades. It’s also probably why she’s goofy. Not because she doesn’t have a TV, but because she’s from one of those kinds of families that doesn’t have a TV. Kids from those families are always kind of weird.

I don’t really know if Tess is pretty. She definitely has boobs, but most of the time I don’t even notice that. Or those.

Anyway, we walked way down the beach . Rhonda and I were still wearing our church clothes, so Mom yelled at us not to get wet. We said we wouldn’t, but we always get wet whenever we go to the beach. Always. And Mom always tells us not to and always yells at us when we come back. But we still do the same thing next time. On Sunday, we got soaked.

We walked almost all the way down to the boat launch, which is about a mile and a half, I guess. And we had to go around all those big riprap bulkheads on the way. By the time we got there, the tide was all the way in to the bulkheads, which meant we had to wade back in water up past our waists. You know, at first you try to stay dry, but once you slip off one rock, you kind of just say screw it, because you know that once you get wet, you’re in trouble with Mom anyway.

I was the first one to get wet when I tried to jump from one big rock to another and missed. Barry made the jump and stayed dry. Rhonda missed like me. Tess totally slipped and went all the way under, head and everything. She came up all sputtering. She kept saying, “Does someone have something dry I can wipe my glasses on?”

It was freezing cold, but felt good in a laughing sort of way. And I don’t care if Tess is kind of goofy, because when it comes to neighborhood friends, nice is pretty much all that matters and she’s nice. Not sure that same rule works at school.

When we got home, Mom yelled at us. Even that didn’t bug me.

Dad, about this shame thing you talked about in your letter. You’ve mentioned this before. What the heck are you talking about? I mean, if I can talk to you about Tess’ boobs, is seems like you should be able to tell me pretty much anything. I promise not to share it with Mom unless you want me to.

Your son,


I can still feel those red lines of pain.

April 9th, 2010

Dear Trevor,

 Is it wrong to want revenge on Mr. Schick? Yes, it probably is. Does Mr. Schick deserve to have some kind of justice meted out on him? Yes, he probably does.

 But we all do. I’m getting my—what should I call it? Punishment? Comeuppance? Whatever you call it, I’m getting mine right now.

 When I was about eight years old, I tried to steal a piece of ribbon candy out of my mom’s candy jar. The candy was all stuck together and when I pulled on a piece, I lifted the whole jar off the dining room table. It crashed to the ground and shattered in a million pieces. Mom—your grandma—was in the backyard, so I grabbed a broom, swept the whole mess up and stuck it as far down into the garbage can as I could.

Your grandma discovered the missing jar after lunch when she went to calm down her sweet tooth. She asked me about it. I lied—poorly. She got the truth out of me in about thirty seconds–I didn’t learn to lie well until years later. Then grandma whipped me with a switch until my little butt was bright red. I can still feel those red lines of pain on my eight-year-old backside.

 With you and your brothers and sister, we were more “enlightened” parents. No beatings. Just time-outs. When Steffan lied to us about throwing eggs at Mrs. Johnson’s house, we sat him on the stairs for a couple of hours until he fessed up and told us the truth.

 That’s what’s happening to me right now. I’m in a time-out. Problem is I don’t know how to get out of it. I have so much to confess. Who do I tell?

 I have a great shame, Trevor. I deserve more than a time-out. Even if I confess, who could ever forgive me?


I’d like to get him back somehow. Is that wrong?

April 8th, 2010

Dear Dad,

So I had my last basketball game last night. And guess what? I played. For a total of 45 seconds.

The other team was up by about ten points. Mr. Schick called a time out. When he said I was going in, he had a big smile on his face, like he was doing me some kind of favor. Wow, how generous, Mr. Schick. Thank you for your kindness.

Donnie Joad got the throw-in and brought the ball up past halfcourt. I was open and Donnie threw the ball to me. I was gonna pass it right away, before I screwed up, but no one was open. I saw a lane to the basket, so I drove in for a layup. I went about two steps when this big, freckly gorilla on the other team slapped me right on the side of the face. I didn’t even see him until I was laying on the ground looking up at his gorilla legs.

The ref called a foul and I got two shots. I stood at the line, bouncing the ball and staring at the rim. “Screw it,” I thought and I chucked the ball toward the basket. It went in. It even made a swoosh sound. I missed the second one, but could have cared less. I made a point and figured, for a second, I was the king of just about everthing I could think of. Then Mr. Schick pulled me back out. We went on to lose the game by 13.

For the entire season I played less than one minute and I made one point. One point per minute, I figure, is better than anyone on the team.

At the end of the game, Mr. Schick had us all gather round him at the center of the court. He got all serious and held his stupid red baseball cap in both hands. He told us how proud he was of us and reminded us what a great season we had. By which I guess he means that it’s a great season when you lose three-fourths of your games. For me, the season made two things clear to me: The first is that Mr. Schick is a jerk. The second thing I can’t remember, so I guess I really just learned the one thing about Mr. Schick.

I’d like to get him back somehow. Is that wrong?

Your son,


Everyone gets quiet and everyone waits for it.

April 7th, 2010

Dear Trevor,

 Thank your mother for me for allowing us to continue.

 Your future has endless opportunities. Every day, you walk out your door into this big, smelly, beautiful world and who the hell knows what might happen to you? You might kiss a girl or get beat up. You might float your canoe down the Green River all the way to the Puget Sound.

 My fate has been simplified. I can stay here, looking out into the fog. Or I can get on the boat. I don’t want to stay. But the bloody boat and the bloody hag who steers it both repel me.

 Today I asked Gordon to join me for lunch at the Laughing Gull. I knew the fish and chips would be bland as ever, but I wanted the sensation of chewing at least. Gordon and I walked down to the restaurant in silence. I never noticed before how quiet Gordon is. I guess that when Carl was here, I could take Gordon in smaller doses. Now I depend on his company, but there’s not much to it. He was a professor, but he’s no longer luminary, if you know what I mean. He doesn’t exactly glow with wisdom. He’s like a book of quotations. Classical sound bites. They sound smarter than they really are. Even so, I wish he would say more of them. I wish he would say more of anything.

 While we were chewing away, the well-dressed black man came in and sat with us. He ordered a cup of coffee, then cringed as he said the words. He looked out the window into the fog. “When does it come back?”

 “The boat? You’ll know when it’s coming back.”


 “Everyone knows. And everyone gets quiet and everyone waits for it.”

 “Terminat hora diem. Terminat auctor opus,” said Gordon.

 “Huh?” said the well-dressed black man.

 “The hour finishes the day; the author finishes his work.”

 “What the hell’s that mean? What work?”

 “Just ignore him,” I said, even though I had the same questions.


Mom says we can keep writing each other.

April 6th, 2010

Dear Dad,

 First of all, Mom says we can keep writing each other, and she’ll butt out. Don’t worry about her seeing this letter, because she agreed to only look at the letters I show her on purpose. She is thinking about writing a note to you directly, even though she told me not to tell you that. She said she’s not sure she can do it. I think she means that—well, you probably know what she means.

 We just got back from our little vacation yesterday. It was pretty fun. We stayed in a hotel and rode waterslides and Rhett stopped acting like a big-shot senior for a couple of days. We ate all our meals in restaurants, mostly in this one called Country Cousins, which had a huge menu, so all of us could find something on it we liked. I mostly ordered breakfast food. They had really good waffles. Mom said it was almost like home cooking, which seems weird. Why would you go to a restaurant where the food tasted like you made it at home? By the second day, Mom said she was getting tired of eating out, which she says I’ll understand someday. Anyway, it wasn’t like we went to Australia or anything fancy like that, but it was still a pretty fun vacation.

 Spring break is over, so now I’m back in school. I’m writing this letter to you during my English class with Mrs. Henry, who gave us some time to do journaling, which means she doesn’t have anything else ready for us to do. That’s OK by me. Mrs. Henry is still my favorite teacher. She asks how things are with me sometimes, because I think she knows something weird is still going on. But she’s not very nosy.

 I never did canoe down the Green River with Donnie yet, and he asked me about it again today. I’ll have to ask Mom about it again. Donnie says it would be the perfect time to do it, because all the spring rain would make the river really fast. Makes sense to me.

 Hold on. Mrs. Henry said we need to finish up. So write me back and say whatever you want. It will be just between you and me unless you want Mom to read it.

 Your son,


I’ll wait to hear from you. I’m good at waiting.

April 2nd, 2010

Dear Trevor,

Have fun at the water park..

I’m back to my old routine for now, except that Carl is no longer part of it. Martin is gone. Julia was only here for a short time, but I miss her, too.

It’s down to Gordon, Sung-Hee, me, and a few newcomers I don’t have the energy to get to know. I see them wandering between the cabins or loitering at The Laughing Gull. One—a youngish black man with the nicest suit I’ve seen up here—came to ask me about The Woods. Sung-Hee had told him I’d been there.

“It’s nothing,” was my reply to his questions.

“But can’t you tell me about it?”

“I just did.”

Gordon has become my most common companion. I’m grateful for him. When I told him about Carl, he listened silently. When I stopped talking, he was quiet for a long time. We both were. He finally whispered, “pulvis et umbra sumus.” I didn’t ask him what it meant. I think I know.

I’ll wait to hear from you. I’m good at waiting.


Mom says hi.

April 1st, 2010

Dear Dad,

Mom says hi. She says not to worry so much about how she feels. She says you were always a world-class worrier. She doesn’t think of you as some kind of stalker. I think mostly she’s trying to figure out what the right thing to do is here. What God would want her to do. I think she’s afraid we’re kind of meddling in dangerous spiritual stuff and she’s not sure that’s OK.

She says she’s thinking about it and praying about it. She also says to tell you not to freak out when you don’t hear from me for the rest of the week, because we’re going to some water park for spring break. I’m out of school until next week. Mom, Rhett, Rhonda and me are going. I love not going to school. I also kind of like a break from my friends. So I’ll write you on Monday, assuming Mom lets me. Until then, be good and don’t do anything crazy.

Your son,



    Letter Off Dead is an actual transcript of letters sent between a 7th grade boy and his dead father. It covers the subjects of life and death, faith and doubt, fathers and sons.

    The textual transcript has been edited and presented here by Tom Llewellyn, a writer from Tacoma, Washington. The illustrations have been edited and presented by artist James Stowe, also from Tacoma. None of the content has anything to do with Tom's or James' beloved and very separate employers.

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