Wednesday Sampler: Postmark from the Past by Vickie Phelps
November 11, 2015
In our mission to connect readers, writers, and books, Caleb and Linda Pirtle has launched a new series featuring writing samples from some of the best authors in the marketplace today. Wednesday’s Sampler is an excerpt from Postmark from the Past, a heartwarming and romantic mystery from Vickie Phelps.
As one reviewer said: The author builds the mystery of the letters arriving from the past and then unravels it to the most satisfying conclusion possible. This novel is too good to give away more. You’ll laugh, cry, and feel giddy as a teenager regardless of your age.
In November 1989, Emily Patterson is enjoying a quiet life in West Texas. She lives in the same house she grew up in, has a great job and good friends. But emptiness nips at her heart. Then a red envelope appears in her mailbox.
It’s a letter from Mark who declares his love for her, and promises to come to her if he makes it home alive. But who is Mark? She flips the envelope over, but there is no return address and it is postmarked 1968.
Over the next few days more letters mysteriously appear in her mailbox and odd things start happening. Is someone playing a cruel joke? Her friends say it is the season for miracles.
As Emily seeks to solve the mystery, can she risk her heart to find a miracle in the Postmark from the Past?
There was something strange about the faded, red envelope in her mailbox. Emily Patterson reached in and gingerly lifted it from the stack of mail. The edges appeared frayed and soiled, but the grimy appearance wasn’t the only thing different.
No return address. No postage.
In spite of the icy wind slicing through every stitch she wore, Emily stood glued to the curb in front of her house, staring at what appeared to be her first holiday greeting of the season. Only when a passing car honked, shaking her out of her curious daze, did she realize she was freezing. She grabbed the rest of the mail and hurried up the walk.
Emily’s numb fingers wrestled with the door key of the stately Victorian she’d called home for the past twenty years. Her grandfather, Sterling Patterson, who made his money in cattle, built the house in 1903. The house, something of an anomaly in the Panhandle, had been his way of proclaiming his status in the community of Redwood. The only Victorian in four counties, it sat just two blocks from the town square. When she heard the familiar click of the lock, she breathed a frosty sigh of relief and let herself in. It was cold inside too, but nothing like the outside.
After her grandparents passed away, her parents moved into the house. They renovated and updated with modern appliances, new velvet drapes, Persian rugs, and some of the finest artwork available.The one thing they didn’t do was install a central heating system. Every fall, Emily promised herself she would install heat before winter arrived. Now here it was, the twenty-seventh of November, and once again, she had let another year pass without doing so. But this evening something besides central heating occupied her mind. She tossed the rest of the mail on the hall table as she passed, but carried the red envelope into the kitchen. She slid her fingernail beneath the seal, which lifted without any pressure, the yellowed adhesive confirming the passing of time.The out dated illustration on the front puzzled her. And it looked soiled, like it had been handled a lot or maybe carried around in someone’s pocket for awhile. When she opened the card, a sheet of paper floated to the floor. She ignored it for a moment as she stared at the unfamiliar name on the card.
Finally, she bent down and retrieved the sheet of paper.
I hope you will forgive me for being such a coward. I never had the nerve to tell you how much I care about you. I wasn’t sure how you felt about me, and I guess my pride wouldn’t allow me to speak up for fear of being rejected. And then there’s the matter of your parents. I’m sure they don’t approve of me. But here I am, thousands of miles away, and I’ve decided it’s now or never. When you stare death in the face every day like I do, your priorities change real fast. I don’t know if I’ll get out of this place alive, but if I do, I’m coming back for you. I have to go now. The sound of mortar fire is getting closer. Looks like we’re in for it again.
Merry Christmas, Emily.
Emily wrinkled her brow in confusion. Love? And he says he’s coming back for me? Her heart gave a tiny leap. It had been a long time since a man had shown any interest in her. But then, not too many eligible bachelors resided in Redwood. She could count them on her fingers, and all of them were as old as Methuselah. Most of the men her age had families. All her old classmates had moved away or married someone else. Including Frank Butler.
She sighed at the thought of Frank. She’d passed up her one and only chance for marriage when she turned down his proposal twelve years ago. They’d dated off and on for five years after she finished college. Everyone expected them to get married, even Frank, but she just didn’t have the courage to marry someone she didn’t love. Being fond of a man didn’t qualify him as a lifelong companion. Or did it? Could she have been any lonelier than she was now if she had married Frank? He’d said he would wait until she was ready, but he didn’t. Frank had married and raised a family with someone else. He always tipped his Stetson when they happened into each other, but he never spoke. At first she’d been offended by this formal gesture, but then she realized he’d given her every opportunity to accept his proposal. He’d been hurt and probably a little humiliated when she continued to put him off month after month.
She glanced down at the letter again. Mortar fire? Thousands of miles away? He must be in a foreign country. She turned the card over. Tiny brown spots dotted the back like something had splattered on it. Emily reread the letter, hoping to find a missing clue, but there was nothing to enlighten her as to its author. This was just someone’s idea of a bad joke.
She tossed the card on the kitchen table and rubbed her freezing hands together. Thank goodness Clifford had been kind enough to stack some wood inside the porch for her last week. If it weren’t for good neighbors like Cliff, she’d be in serious trouble.
Minutes later, with the fireplace blazing, Emily went back to the kitchen, grateful she had made a pot of beef stew over the weekend. She needed a steaming bowl of food to fight off the bone-numbing cold whistling around the corner of the house. She carried her meal to the living room and ate in front of the fireplace, still puzzling about the strange Christmas card. When the fire died down to a few glowing embers and the room grew chilly again, she turned out the light and headed for the bedroom. It was only after she put on her blue flannel pajamas and slid beneath the quilts that she remembered what the letter said about her parents not approving. Her parents were dead and she was an adult, so what did it matter?
Something’s wrong here.
She threw back the covers, slipped on her house shoes, and made her way to the kitchen. The red envelope lay upside down where she had discarded it. She turned it over and squinted at the faded postmark.
December 1, 1968. Someone mailed me a Christmas card in 1968, and I’m just now receiving it in 1989?
A chill crept up her spine, and goose bumps formed on her arms.Had she known a Mark somebody back then? She was only eighteen, a senior in high school. But how could she forget someone in Redwood?
Emily walked over to the bookshelf and pulled out her 1968 high school yearbook. She blew the dust off, and carried it to the sofa. For the next few minutes, she searched through every roster, looking for anyone named Mark. She browsed through the senior class of which she’d been a part. With that shoulder-length style from the sixties, her own portrait didn’t resemble the woman she was today. She leaned back and closed her eyes, willing herself to remember 1968. Let’s see. High school graduation. And those terrible riots. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated. All the boys started shipping out to Vietnam. Emily chewed on her lip for a moment, conjuring up images of the past. What a horrible time, all those boys getting killed; their mangled bodies shipped home to their families. Lenny Burnett never made it home. They never found him. His mother died of a broken heart.
Emily opened her eyes and sat up. Mark must have been in Vietnam when he wrote the letter. That would explain the mortar fire. But it still didn’t tell her who he is, or why she was just now receiving it.Closing the yearbook, she yawned and climbed back in bed. Emily closed her eyes, but all she could think about was the mysterious Mark from 1968. What had happened to him? Why didn’t he ever come to see her? A chilling thought crossed her mind. Maybe he didn’t make it home alive. Or maybe he was an MIA or POW.
Emily opened her eyes and rolled onto her side. She had to quit thinking about him. A faint light streamed through the open shade on her window. In the glow from the street lamp on the corner, she could see the first snowflakes beginning to fall. The snow reminded her of the fragrant white talcum powder her mother used to sprinkle on after her bath. The snow, like the powder, clung to whatever surface it landed upon. Sadness swept over Emily. She still missed her parents, especially at Christmastime. The wintry scene outside her window blurred as tears stung her eyes.
Dear God, I can’t stand to spend another Christmas alone.