Each month, I buy a book of twenty stamps. I create twenty post cards. I write twenty short stories about them. I send them to twenty strangers. This is the twenty stamps project.

Request a postcard by sending your snail mail address to sean.arthur.cox@gmail.com or find me on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanArthurCox

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Rain Tree

In the town of Millersville in West Texas, rain was so scarce that if it were all to come at once, it would struggle to make a Chihuahua fear drowning. And yet, through poor decisions, desperation, or just sheer bad luck, more than a few farmers found themselves living there, tilling the earth in a yearly life and death struggle to produce crops.  

It so happened that one year a man who called himself Mister Fairplay came to Millersville with an offer. It was in the middle of a town hall meeting about a drought that he showed up in a plain Stetson and dusty rancher’s coat, his face a collage of five o’clock shadow and thousand year stare. “I can get you anything you need,” he said without introduction, his voice as level and dry as the arid plains. “Anything at all.”

“Well, obviously not anything,” said the town manager. “I mean, it’s not like you can bring the rains.”

“Anything at all,” he repeated. “But you as a town gotta decide what your one wish is.”

“And what do you want in return?”

“Nothin’ more than the satisfaction of helpin’ good people.” He turned to leave. “When you’ve made up your mind, I’ll be in Maude’s Diner. I hear she serves a good pie and cup o’ joe.”

There was much debate among the citizens of Millersville. First, what to make of this madman. Verdict: he seemed friendly and harmless. Second, what to make of his offer? Verdict: presuming he was no devil, it was crazy, but what harm could come of making a request? Third, what to ask for. This was less easily settled. Rain, obviously, most said. But how much rain? And when? If they could already commit to the absurdity of asking a man to bring rain, argued Henry Jessup who ran Jessup Hardware, why not ask for a way to control the rain. To bring it when needed instead of some one-and-done affair? Verdict: they would ask for a blessing to be put on a tree that stood in the middle of town. When they watered the tree, the rains would come. If the tree didn’t get watered, the skies would be clear.

Just as he said, they found Mister Fairplay at Maude’s enjoying a slice of rhubarb. He nodded to their request, gave the town manager a “Just as you ask, so it shall be” and a pat on the shoulder, paid for his pie, and left town, never to be seen again. He didn’t even do a strange magical dance or waving of hands around the chosen tree, which made a few townsfolk feel a little cheated.

The following week, rains were predicted for the area, and to test the magic, no one watered the tree. The rest of the area got an inch, but Millersville got nothing. Bad luck, outsiders said, but the citizens of Millersville knew better. A day later, they watered the tree, and while the surrounding towns got nothing, Millersville felt its first cooling drops in months. But magic is idiosyncratic at best, and a wish is just magic fueled by desperate desire and unconsidered consequences. After a day of nonstop rains, the people of Millersville began to fear the rain tree, for once the rains came, how would they stop the skies from watering the tree?

- Originally mailed to Ross Cowman of Olympia, Washington. Ross creates games for Heart of the Deernicorn, including the award-winning (and breath-taking) Fall of Magic. If you're into role playing games and storytelling games, you should definitely check it out.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Crumbled Hut

Grayson lived in a small stone hut in the wood in spite of the warnings from the other villagers that strange things lived in those woods. Being full of the hubris of youth, he paid their cautionary words no mind and built his home with stones he found scattered about the forest. Unfortunately, Grayson had a terrible sense of direction, and what he thought were scattered stones were in fact carefully arranged to create a containment ward against something old, something terrifying and hungry. In collecting them for his home, he had broken the bindings and set the ancient evil free.

Returning home along his carefully marked trail, he felt confused to find nothing but gravel piled there in small heaps where walls should be. He thought perhaps something had taken his home rock by rock at first. And yet, there were no footprints coming or going, or at least nothing he could identify as footprints. The walls also couldn’t have been crushed to gravel or there would be some sign of what had done it, wouldn’t there? And yet he couldn’t be lost, for his trail had led him directly there.

That’s when he noticed the strange tunnel of withered undergrowth, he knew he had found the trail of the thing that had destroyed his home. Once more overcome by the self-assurance that can only lead to folly, Grayson crawled into the tunnel after it. As he moved, he found the dirt becoming grittier, sandier. The branches surrounding him became far more brittle. Something was leaching not only the life but the… togetherness? out of everything, crumbling all around him plants and rocks into dust.

The tunnel opened into a large ash-gray pit and there in the center sat a grotesque creature with putrid yellow leathery skin covered in knots and writhing tentacles, and where each landed, the matter around it became even more brittle, crumbling to near nothingness. The thing noticed him and sent its tendrils out to catch the interloper, and Grayson only barely managed to dodge in time to save his life. Taking a nearby branch, he swing wildly at the thing, only to have the stick crumble to dust in the wind upon striking its unholy hide.

He could not fight, he now knew. He could only run. Darting for the tunnel, he made the best escape he could. The thing managed to whip at his leg, withering it to a uselessness he would suffer from for the remainder of his days, but he survived and was able to make the long trek back to the village elders to warn them of what had been set loose.

The elders did as they had done long ago and replaced the binding stones, but they could not help but worry. People believed in magic and monsters less and less each year, and year after year, the elders’ words fell on increasingly deaf ears. What would happen when the day finally came that there was no one who believed enough to learn the binding magics? What would happen when the elders died and the young and foolish wandered into the forest again and disturbed the carefully placed binding stones? What would happen when the thing got out? Would anything ever sate its strange hunger for that which holds the universe together? Were we already doomed?

- Originally mailed to W.A. in Mississippi

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Place to Put Things

The problem with stuff, thought Clarice, was that there were never enough places to put it. She ran out of shelf space long ago along with wall space for more shelves. Soon she had to start putting things in things. She stored extra toilet paper in the box spring of her bed. She kept spare toothpaste in the hollow tubes of the hidden toilet paper rolls.

When she had kids, they soon picked up on her space-saving mania. They started small, discovering pockets at a young age and keeping what odds and ends they could find there, but soon their pockets were full. “Be creative,” she told them. “Look for empty spaces and fill them. There’s always more room somewhere.”

Not long after, she began finding blocks in diapers and marbles in noses. Her proudest moment, however, was the day she found her kids, not even eighteen months old, had filled her boots with their breakfast. After all, they weren’t eating the food, and she wasn’t wearing the boots. Two unused things now only taking the space of one. She couldn’t have been happier.

- Originally mailed to B.N. in Virginia

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Cat Heaven

It is widely known that cats have nine lives, but what few people realize is that cats also have nine heavens, one to follow each death. In each of these heavens, the cat that was dwells in a self-contained eternity and its next life resumed by the cat that will be, virtually identical to the previous life save for the lessons it learned in the previous heaven.

Of these heavens little is known, as cats are one of the most aloof of all creatures, and are great keepers of secrets. Only a few of these heavens are known, namely Belly Rub Heaven, String Heaven, and Heaven Where the Red Dot Is Slow. Of those heavens, all that we have are the names and a good guess what it must be like there.

The only cat heaven for which survives a first-hand account is Box Heaven. Mister Friskywhiskers returned after his fourth life with tales of Box Heaven, a place with boxes of every size and shape imaginable. Box Heaven had boxes big enough for a lion and small enough for a Singapura. It had boxes that smelled of tuna, boxes that smelled of mice. There were boxes that smelled of catnip and boxes that smelled of fresh new boxes.

Boxes could be stacked so cats could sleep in boxes on boxes, boxes in boxes, and even boxes in boxes on boxes in boxes. And the best part, he said, every box came with its own human staring on in disheartened defeat wanting to use the box the cat had claimed for its own, but unable to take it.

- Originally mailed to A.P. in Louisiana

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Fortune Cookies

After decades on the job, the head writer for the Happy Go Lucky Fortune Cookie Company had grown disillusioned with the job. He had already run through all the clever little phrases and pithy proverbs he could come up with. He had exhausted the Analects by Confusious, half the book of Proverbs, Poor Richard’s Almanac, pieces of Sun Tsu’s The Art of War, and though he was ashamed to admit it, the occasional summer blockbuster. He was now officially completely out of ideas.

“What am I going to do?” he asked himself, pounding his head against his unproductive desk and crushing a cookie in the process.

Today’s rain is tomorrow’s whiskey, its fortune said.

“Good point,” he replied. “I need a drink.”

Grabbing his oldest and dearest friend, he hit the local pub determined to drink until he found a solution or he lost the floor, whichever came first. Five whiskey sours in and he had already unloaded the whole of his problem to his ever patient, ever drunk friend.

“Work,” his friend muttered with a shake of his head.

Yeah, thought the writer. Work. That said it all.

And that was the solution. He didn’t need words of wisdom or wit to fill his fortunes. Advice was one of those things everyone gave freely, even when a person would much rather just have a little understanding, someone to say, “I know what you’re going through because I’ve been there too.”

He hailed a cab and raced back to the office, diving head first into what would become his most successful series of fortunes, each one only a single word to ensure it could be felt by the most number of people. One word typed with a sigh and a shake of the head to say, “Stranger, I don’t know you, but what you’re going through? We’ve all been there. You’re not alone.”

- Originally mailed to R.Y. in Pennsylvania

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Ghost of the Enterprise

If the body is only the temporary earthly vessel of the eternal soul, it stands to reason that ghosts are the souls, or at least the fragments of souls, left behind during the separation of soul and body. These immaterial fragments, then, presumably can infuse into the material objects around them, leading to haunted houses and possessed items. Physical objects imbued with spiritual resonance.

These were the thoughts that filled the captain’s mind as he stared up at the clouds drifting through the blue skies of Veridian III.

And if a dying soul could leave a piece of it behind, scraps of spirit to seep into the things surrounding it, a living soul must also be able to leave pieces of itself behind. Man had long said things like, “I left a piece of me behind when I left home” or “She took a piece of my heart with her” or “A piece of me died that day.” So why couldn’t the pieces of our aggregate joys and sorrows also become a part of the places we work and live and love and die? Why can’t our experiences also instill into our cherished possessions these pieces of ourselves we shed little by little every day?

A starship, then, must be full of fragments of spiritual essence, especially one as great as the Enterprise. So many lives born and lost in its halls, so many worlds discovered. It had been full of so much life, so many powerful transformative experiences, great and terrible, each leaving a sliver of spirit behind to permeate the walls and circuits of the faithful vessel. With so many fragments of the countless souls to walk its halls, it seemed inevitable that the pieces would, upon sufficient concentration, knit themselves together, giving the ship a patchwork soul of its own.

When she came hurtling through the atmosphere those years ago, crashing into the unforgiving ground, was she merely destroyed, or did she die? And if she did die, might she have left her own fragment of spiritual essence in her wake to infuse into the planet of Veridian III? Might she have a ghost?

“Where are you now?” the captain wondered as the clouds drifted by. “Do you sleep in the ground where you fell, or do you fly still among the starry skies?”

- Originally mailed to H.L. in Mississippi

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Children’s Forest

There once was a small boy in a remote village in Austria whose step-father was of the wicked sort. At the slightest provocation, or sometimes with no provocation at all, he would unleash such cruelties upon the boy as would make all the world take pity upon him. His mother taken from him long ago by disease, he had no one to speak to, so he would go into the woods and tell his sorrows to the trees.

The trees heard his cries and vowed to protect him, to lead him to safety in his time need and to lead astray any who would do him harm. As the years passed, the boy came to care for the forest more than anything else. It nurtured him, cared for him. Led him to shelter and food. In all things it looked after him in a way a parent should, and as he grew, he took care of the forest in turn, chasing off poachers and ax men and cruel people who would use the seclusion to do foul deeds.

A man can only live so long, and in time the boy who had grown into a woodsman grew into an old hermit, and then grew to dust. The forest took his body into the earth, and pledged to look after all children in his honor. Children would come to the woods to play and the forest would lead them to safe places and away from dangers. When the children were lost, they would lead them home. The woods would open a path for kind parents to find their little ones, and twist the ways away through thorny brambles when those with evil intent in their hearts came into the woods in search of easy prey.

They vowed for as long as they lived to be a refuge for the innocent and pure and a bane to the wicked, the merciless, and the cruel. It is a vow the forest keeps to this day.

- Originally mailed to Gg in Texas