Writing Prompt: Note Behind the Picture
From this source:
A picture on your mantle unexpectedly falls and crashes to the floor. As you go to pick it up, you notice a note hidden behind the picture. The message is from the future—and written by you. It instructs you to do something important. What does it say?
I had a long day. It was 9pm, raining, and my hands were full of groceries, keys, my yoga mat, and my purse. I opened the door to my apartment and quickly set down my things, before they tumbled themselves down. I wanted to sink into the couch and get up tomorrow, but I had eggs and milk in my grocery bag. So I headed to the kitchen.
“ME–OWW,” griped the cat, using a tone that clearly indicated just how much she would have liked her dinner three hours ago. I didn’t really feel like dealing with her, but the thing about cats is that they are more selfish than 20-something girls, and I knew it would only be a matter of time before she broke something. So I got out her dish, and found a can of tuna — the real kind — and started digging for the can opener.
Clang! It was too late. Before I was able to open the tuna, Clementine had knocked a photo off my bookcase. I decided to focus on the task at hand before cleaning up her mess. As soon as I started turning the can opener’s handle, she made a beeline for me and wrapped her little orange body around my legs. She made this half purr/half meowing noise that, while a bit disconcerting, simultaneously said “I’m sorry about that picture frame,” “thank you for the treat,” and “I’ll forgive you for staying out late tonight.” I put some fish in her bowl, rinsed my hands, and headed across the room to survey the damage.
The picture that had fallen was a snapshot taken last Christmas by my dad. It was typical of the mayhem that surrounded Christmas at my parents’ house. In the frame was the turkey, the dining room table, the cat licking the turkey, my sister picking up the cat, and the two little dachshunds eagerly anticipating any turkey droppings. My dad had captured the scene beautifully: my sister looks disapproving in her teacher way (you know, the way that is trying to suppress a laugh when she’s telling her fifth graders that the joke wasn’t funny), the cat looks like a lunatic, and the dogs are excited about the whole scene.
Just looking at it made me smile. I was happy that the glass pane hadn’t broken, and I went to pick it up. That’s when I noticed the piece of paper.
It was pink, and folded into a 2″ square. It had my name on it. Hmm, I thought. That’s odd. I bent down. Sure looks like my handwriting.
The paper had a bit of age to it, like it was older than the photograph. I turned it over in my hand, trying to remember if I’d ever written something on paper like this. The paper felt… different. Not like notebook paper. I am not a paper expert, but it occurred to me that this paper might be… Japanese? It felt like fancy rice paper. I couldn’t place it anywhere.
So, I sat on the floor, and opened it.
This is a note from your future self. I know, it sounds weird, but it’s true. I put this note in that picture from Christmas 2010 so that you’d know it was me. That you’re reading a note from yourself is a leap of faith and we’re not very good at those leaps.”
I stopped. Looked around. Checked to make sure the front door was locked, and there weren’t any hidden cameras around. Clementine was in the kitchen, happily chomping away. I took a deep breath, and decided to continue.
“I wouldn’t try to mess with you if it wasn’t so important. Okay? But the future you (me) needs the current you (you) to do something tonight, (that’s October 12, 2011), the importance of which cannot be stressed enough. Follow these steps exactly as described and everything will be fine. But miss a step? Do the steps out-of-order? Honestly, I can’t tell you what will happen, but I’m not sure I’ll exist if you fail. And remember, you and I are the same person.”
I gulped. I’m not even the kind of girl who read science fiction, but this note had me, hook, line, and sinker. I would do all the steps. I couldn’t read the note fast enough:
“All right. Here’s what you do. Read each step individually, before proceeding. Finish step one before you even read step two. Do not read through this note. Do not skip to the end. Follow directions.”
That was easy enough. I’m the kind of girl who waits in the pouring rain on an empty intersection in the middle of the night if the cross walk says “DON’T WALK” — following directions would be easy.
“Step One. Pick up your cell phone. Read your most recent text message.”
I picked up my phone. It vibrated, indicating that I had a new message. It was from my friend Lucky, who said, “did you get home okay? It’s a weird night out there.”
I went back to the note. “Reply to Lucky, and tell him that you’re going out for a bit.”
So I did. “I’m going out for a bit,” I typed, making sure Auto Correct didn’t foil whatever plans my future self had for the evening.
And I went back to the note:
“Step Two. Go get your pepper spray. It’s in the kitchen. Close Clementine into the kitchen when you come back into the living room.”
Uhhhh. Well, I’d decided to go this far. Why not? So I walked to the kitchen, where, sure enough, the pepper spray was, just sitting in the utensil drawer (crazy things I do as a small single 20-something). Clementine looked up. I was tempted to pet her head, but the note just said to shut her in the kitchen. Returning to the note, I noticed my hands shaking just a bit.
“Step Three. Get into place. This is where I/you messed up the first time, so just take it nice and slow, and we’ll be okay. Turn off the lights in the living room, and hide behind the bookcase. Keep your phone with you and use it as a flashlight so you can keep reading my note. You’ll want to be ready for the intruder. I never found out who the person was, but he’s stronger than you.”
I did what I was told and then, just as I expected, I heard a noise outside. It was the sound of someone who didn’t want to be heard. From my future self’s note, I knew it was a man. I went back to the note and turned my phone on “flashlight” mode.
“He won’t knock,” I read. But I didn’t have time to keep reading. The man was trying to open my door! I put my phone in my pocket and aimed my pepper spray.
Because my hands were full when I came in, I had forgotten to bolt my door, so the intruder was able to open the door more quickly than he’d expected. He had lost his balance, and I stopped thinking, and went straight into adrenaline action. I flipped on the light switch, I shouted “FIRE,” and I sprayed. I put my index finger on the button and realized it was aerosol, so I sprayed and sprayed and he started shouting and shouting.
Finally he was down on his knees with his hand covering his face. “SHIT!” he shouted.
He was wearing a pair of women’s nylons over his head, and was dressed in black. I held my hand out with the spray and called 911. The dispatcher said that the police were nearby, and they were here in less than a minute. It seemed as if I’d impaired my intruder enough to keep him immobile during the time I had to wait.
The police arrived and unmasked the man. I’d never seen him before. He was identified as a serial rapist, who had recently been released from prison. They found a knife strapped to his ankle. One set of policemen removed him from my apartment while another set searched my home and a pair of detectives questioned me.
“I’m so lucky you were here so quickly. How were you so close?” I wanted to know. “Do you always hang out in my neighborhood?”
They looked at each other. “It’s funny you mention the word ‘lucky,’” said the tall one. “This man had Lucky’s phone. Lucky’s been missing for three days. We’ve been intercepting this perp’s location via his text messaging, and we’ve been trailing him. We knew he was coming. The better question is, why did you tell him you were going out?”
The note! It was still in the pocket of my sweatshirt. There was no way to explain it, even to myself, let alone these guys. I looked up, sheepish. “I had a hard day — I was planning on going to the grocery store to pick up a bottle of Prosecco. I’d just put my shoes on, and turned off my lights. Then I heard something.”
The explanation made sense, and now I really did want a bottle of wine. But I wasn’t about to go anywhere. So, after the officers took my statement and left, I went into the bathroom and starting running the water in the bath. As the water was filling up, I took out the note.
“I know you did the right thing. We’ll be all right. I had planned all along what I would tell you if you were successful. But I don’t think you need to know what happened the first time around. You’ll be a more trusting, wholesome person because of the way you acted tonight. I know you want a glass of bubbly but I thought I would remind you of the Brandy you have under the sink in the bathroom. You won’t hear from your future self again. Here’s my last bit of advice: If a guy named Steve asks you out on a date, say no.”
What? There was no way I had alcohol in my bathroom. That just wasn’t how I rolled. But the note had not led me astray yet, so I checked, just to see. And sure enough, there was a pint of Brandy in the back left-hand corner of my cabinet. IT was covered with a not-insignificant layer of dust, but it had never been opened, so I rinsed it off, and set it by the tub. I then went to light candles. One for Lucky. One for me. One for future me.
Once all the candles were lit, I took the aim flame to the note. The paper lit quickly, and I dropped it into the toilet and flushed it away.
What a night.