Dear Eli. That was what Eli Gregg found when he went to his locker at the end of school on Monday. There was nothing else attached to it. It was simply a thin slip of paper stuck into the little slot at the top of his locker. He would have missed it entirely, except that the door got stuck when he tried to open it, and when he yanked it, it jiggled, causing the slip of paper to flutter down onto the floor. It brushed his nose on the way down. If it hadn't, he doubted that he would have noticed it at all. But he had noticed it and he bent down to pick it up, figuring it was probably a note from his friend Max or a bit of information distributed to everyone by one of the school clubs that wanted to promote tolerance. He'd fully been expecting to see something like Wanna hang out with Tom and me tonight? or More than half of all high-schoolers admit to hearing offensive language directed against gays. Instead it had been simply Dear Eli.
Being that it was inconsequential and Eli was in a hurry to get home, he shoved the note into his jeans pocket and proceeded to forget about its existence. It had been a long, long Monday. The weekend had passed far too quickly; Monday morning had been met with a groan and a half-hearted flop out of bed. Eli's mother had practically had to drag him out to the kitchen for breakfast and then, upon getting close enough to smell him, she'd forcibly removed him from his cereal to shove him into the shower. The water had been freezing since his father was doing the dishes at the time, but at least it had helped wake him up.
Upon arriving to school, he'd realized that over the weekend, he'd neglected to do his math homework. The day had gone downhill from there. Halfway to chemistry, he figured he'd better take a piss before he got there, otherwise it would be an hour and a half before he'd have another chance since Mr. Barnaby never let anyone leave the room once class had started. Of course, he'd had to go to two different bathrooms before there had been any free urinals or stalls. So he was late for chemistry, for which he got his third warning and therefore a detention. He didn't have any lunch money so he couldn't eat, in English he had to give a presentation on Pride and Prejudice, and during detention Mr. Barnaby made him help clean the lenses on all of the microscopes in the biology room, which smelled like the dead pigs that the class had been dissecting earlier that day.
Suffice it to say that by the time he got to his locker at 3:30 that afternoon, he was ready to go home and almost perfectly uncaring about the small slip of paper stuck into his locker. He didn't bother to wonder who had put it there, or why they had, or why it didn't say anything else. By the next morning, he'd completely forgotten about it.
Tuesday morning began in chaos. Eli's mother had been running late so she forgot to wake Eli up, which was essential as he had yet again, forgotten to turn on his alarm. When she finally remembered him, he had five minutes to get dressed and get out the door, and even then he would probably be late. To make matters worse, he couldn't find any clean clothes to wear. He searched frantically for all of thirty seconds before deciding that he really didn't have time and grabbing the same pair of jeans he'd worn the day before. Somehow he managed to finish getting ready in one piece and he just barely made it to school on time. He ran up the stairs to his locker, dropped his backpack, and he just happened to look up and notice something. Another thin slip of paper was now peeking out from one of the slits in his locker. The sight of it and the sudden recollection of the note he'd seen the day before startled him for a moment and he reached up to pull it out. You are the important one: you are the purpose of this letter, it said.
This time Eli thought about the situation for a moment. Two slips of paper in two days, now very clearly both parts of a letter, and the letter was addressed to him. It was a little bit creepy, but he was curious, and it was too early in the morning to be freaked out anyway. So once again, he shoved the paper into his pocket and resolved to think about it later. But English class ended up boring him so, while he was supposed to be taking notes on the video that was playing at the front of the room, Eli examined the two notes.
The first one, the one that said Dear Eli,was a straight piece that just looked like it had been sliced off the top of an 8x11 inch sheet of printer paper. Eli measured it against an essay to test his hypothesis, and sure enough, it fit. The second piece that he'd received was the same length as the first, but it wasn't perfectly straight. It had a ridge, as if when the letter had been typed, the sentence started on one line before dropping down to the next. Because the Dear Eli was straight but the next line wasn't, they didn't fit together, which led Eli to believe that, although they were probably parts of the same letter, one did not directly follow the other. This perplexed him, but he figured that all he could do was wait to see if any more of the mysterious letter showed up.
It did. That afternoon, when Eli got to his locker after his last class of the day, there was another slip waiting for him. This time it was longer and it said You don't know what I am about to tell you because no one has ever dared to tell you before. But I think it's your right to know. He stood there and stared at it for a moment, reading it and reading it and reading it again. For the first time he really began to wonder what was going on. Was he going to get pieces of this letter everyday? Who was giving them to him? Why would they bother? Based on this latest piece, it seemed that there was an actual purpose of the letter, which was kind of nice to know. Still, it all seemed so cryptic. If someone wanted him to have a letter, why wouldn't they just give him the whole thing? Was this person dangerous? He didn't know the answers to any of these questions, of course, but even if the mystery letter-writer was dangerous, what was the harm in receiving cut up pieces of paper? No matter how many of these things he got, Eli doubted that he would die of paper cuts.
For the rest of the night, all Eli could do was think about the letter. The line he'd received most recently was plaguing him. He was quite curious about what the letter-writer could possibly want to tell him that no one had told him before. He tried to think of what the purpose of the letter might be. It could have been blackmail, he thought, which would explain the cryptic aspect of the whole thing. Or it could have been a profession of undying love – another good explanation for all the mystery. Or maybe it was the FBI, secretly contacting him in order to inform him that he had been selected to be a secret agent and work for the government. All right, he reasoned, shaking his head, he'd gotten a bit carried away with that last one. It was probably just some kid, a freshman perhaps, trying to be funny. Still, he didn't throw away the pieces. He put them in a little box inside a drawer that was otherwise empty and he kept them in mind.
The next day brought two new lines, again one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. The first one said I'm not a stalker. You don't need to walk around the halls looking over your shoulder and then there was I think it's your right to know that seeing you is like falling off a building – a tall one, several stories high and probably made of bricks. But Eli barely read the second one. Once he saw it there, waiting for him, he was too excited to get home and start trying to put the pieces together. The letter was meant to be a puzzle, and he was determined to figure it out.
When he got home, he began tearing his room apart, searching for a blank piece of plain white printer paper. Eventually he settled for a page that had just a few doodles on it. He shoved everything off of his little desk, all but slamming the paper down and pulling out the two pieces of the letter that he'd received that day. Then he went to the drawer and took out the others. Now began the task of assembling the notes to gather the meaning of this mysterious message.
First, he reached for the strip that addressed the letter to him and placed it at the top of the page. He examined the other pieces. Nothing jumped out at him at first, but then he realized that two of them fit together. He held his breath as he moved them toward each other, not sure why exactly he was so excited, but still pleased to see that they fit perfectly. He now had a segment that said You don't know what I am about to tell you because no one has ever dared to tell you before. But I think it's your right to know. I think it's your right to know that seeing you is like falling off a building – a tall one, several stories high and probably made of bricks.
Now he took the time to really read it and it hit him hard. Apparently he'd had some profound impact on this person, that is, if the letter was to be taken seriously. But it seemed like the letter writer was putting themselves in a pretty vulnerable position so maybe it wasn't a joke after all. Maybe someone was actually trying to tell Eli something and this was the best way that they could think of to do it. And that was another thing, was the writer a guy or a girl? They hadn't given away any information about that yet at all. It didn't really matter, Eli supposed, especially when he didn't even know what the letter was about. Although the latest line seemed to be getting more to the point, which brought him back to the idea that somehow he had done something to this person that made them feel like they had fallen off a building. Was that a good thing? It didn't sound good. He began to feel sick. Had he hurt someone? He didn't think he had, but obviously he'd done something. All he could really do, though, was wait to find out.
So on Thursday and Friday he went to school, receiving four more bits of the letter by the time he left on Friday afternoon. That weekend was perhaps the longest of his life, and he found that he actually wanted to go back to school; no letter pieces came while he was at home. He spent his time examining the parts that he had collected so far and trying to find their places on the model page. He thought constantly about the four newest pieces:
Who I am isn't important.
I see you at school. I've watched you walk through the halls, doodle during classes.
I know that you jot down little phrases and bits of conversations that you hear throughout the day. I picked up a piece of paper that you dropped once.
It's a long drop to the ground. I don't know where I'm going to land yet, whether or not it'll be on fluffy pillows or pavement paired with speeding traffic. No matter where I land, though, I've fallen. And I'm not telling you all this to freak you out.
Every day that passed brought him closer to understanding the message of the letter. He spent hours rearranging the sentences, trying to decide where they were meant to be placed, trying to figure out who could possibly be sending these lines to him and why. It was about halfway through the second week when he realized just how invested he was becoming in The Letter. It was all he could think about, and he even began imagining the various people that could be the writer. Whenever he passed someone in the hall, or saw a classmate raising their hand, he wondered. Many times he would come up with reasons for why it couldn't be this person or that one: they didn't have good enough grammar skills, that one didn't even know what a metaphor was much less understand how to use one, or this person could never be so forthcoming. There was always something. Eli began to wonder if maybe he was making the whole thing up.
That second week saw the completion of three paragraphs – probably the first three, Eli thought, although he wasn't quite sure of which came first. The first to be completed was the one that stated that the letter writer was going to tell Eli something, and, they wrote, that it needed to be themselves that told him. The second completed paragraph told Eli that the identity of the writer would not be disclosed, which he had expected. And then the third got into the more personal aspect of the letter. It talked about how the writer had seen him drawing in his classes, had been there when he'd comforted a sad girl in the hallway once (he could have sworn that there hadn't been anyone else there – maybe the writer was Betty? But that didn't make much sense; Betty was good at math and science, not writing). When he'd read the piece about drawing on the corner of his math test, Eli had smiled abashedly, right there by his locker, for anyone to see. I'm the one who sees you when you think that no one's watching, the end of the paragraph said.
Every morning, The Letter was the first thing he remembered when he woke up, and every night it was the last thing he thought of before he went to sleep.
What Eli didn't realize when he hurried to his locker the Monday morning two weeks after he'd first started receiving the slips of paper was that The Letter was about to go slightly more in-depth. In his locker that morning was a very thin strip and, he guessed, just as the Dear Eli had marked the first half of the letter, this piece must have marked the second half. P.S., he read, Sharks don't roar. Naturally this confused him, but by that point he knew that if he waited, it would be explained. So at the end of the day, he went home and added it to the end of his model letter paper (where he'd been trying to put The Letter together himself), but by that point, he was bitterly disappointed: there had been no new piece waiting for him that afternoon.
Surely, The Letter wasn't finished. It seemed so incomplete. He didn't know nearly enough yet! He still didn't know what exactly this person was trying to tell him, or why, or who they were. It couldn't be over. He had to know.
That night he had tried hard not to cry.
There hadn't been anything the next morning either. Eli spent the whole day feeling miserable, beginning to lose hope that he might be receiving more of The Letter. He practically leapt for joy that afternoon when he went to his locker and found another slip sticking out, looking up at it more out of habit than any real expectation. He pulled it down excitedly, almost frantically, and read the words that made his eyes grow wide: Sometimes I imagine what it would feel like to be pressed up against you, just us and nothing in between. He must have read it seven times before he finally realized that he was standing there gaping like an idiot. Shoving it into his pocket, he practically ran home, though he wasn't sure why. As he went, he thought about what this must have meant. Obviously The Letter was more intimate than he'd even considered. He didn't quite know how to react.
The next morning there was even more for him to think about: To feel your body on mine, smooth and slightly slippery with a thin layer of sweat, warm and as lost in me as I am in you. Suffice it to say, it was hard for him to sit through math class. Especially with the knowledge that the letter writer was possibly in the same room as him at that very moment (earlier in The Letter, the writer mentioned seeing Eli drop a drawing he'd made on the corner of his math test). What would the writer think if they saw him staring at his desk, fidgety and sweaty-palmed? He didn't want to alienate the writer. He tried to appear normal but it just wasn't working. By the end of the day, he thought he might have driven himself half crazy. Luckily, there was a less erotic note waiting for him when he reached his locker. I saw you drawing in math once. I was supposed to be reviewing for the upcoming test but the quick movements of your pen distracted me and I glanced over. But that didn't do much to calm his nerves; it only confirmed the fact that the writer was in his math class.
That night Eli barely slept. He wasn't sure if he was disturbed or…or what. All he knew was that now, more than ever, he wanted to know who the writer was. Despite the fact that it felt like he spent the whole night trying to figure it out (it should've been easier, right, now that he knew the person was in his math class?) and thinking about how he felt about the whole situation, he must have fallen asleep at some point because he woke up to his alarm.
He moved like a zombie as he walked up the stairs to his locker. He'd never managed to figure out just how he felt about the latest development in The Letter, but it was a relief to see that the new slip of paper had the familiar tone, rather than the new erotic one. You were drawing a big shark with huge white teeth. It was outlined in your blue ink, its teeth dripping the blue blood of some helpless victim. This was a continuation of the last line he'd received. He remembered that day. It had been a couple of months ago. Of course, he hadn't known that anyone was paying attention to him. He hadn't known that anyone cared. As he read the slip again, he felt something in his gut or his chest or something, but it didn't really matter because he pushed it aside.
Eli found that he couldn't do the same later that day, though. It was another long day that seemed to drag on forever. Through every class, all he could do was anticipate the afternoon's Letter piece. He was both dreading it and looking forward to it. In just a few weeks it had become such an important part of his life and even if he was a little…nervous…about some of the newer parts, he didn't want to stop receiving the pieces everyday. He was getting close to filling up his whole model page. So he was glad to see the little bit of white sticking out from his beige locker while he made his way down the hall. He pulled it down and read it quickly, his breath catching in his throat and a thrill of what he recognized as excitement dashing through him.
I would feel you pulsing beneath my hands, your heart beating, your lungs working hard to keep from drowning. Being near you makes it impossible for me to breathe. I'd make sure to have the same effect on you.
He read it and re-read it all night. He read it while his father was watching the news, he read it during dinner, he read it while he was supposed to be doing homework. He couldn't get it off his mind and he knew that he was becoming obsessed with the whole thing, and that he was beginning to feel something more than just curiosity toward the writer, but it wasn't until later that night that he realized he needed to do something about the situation.
It wasn't long after he'd finally managed to drift to sleep that Eli found himself engaged in a very strange dream. First he was alone on a blank piece of paper, but then words started showing up underneath and all around him, and as they did, people began surrounding him. Well, not people – there was never more than one at a time, but it wasn't one person for very long before it would morph into someone else. Sometimes it was a person from his math class or someone he sometimes passed in the halls. Other times it was just someone that his subconscious created. But no matter who it was, someone he knew or not, male or female, the person was always with him, touching him, kissing him. When he woke up with an erection, he knew: he couldn't go on not knowing. He had to attempt contact.
His note was all prepared before he even stepped out the door. It was hand-written on a strip of notebook paper, not nearly as neat as the ones he'd become accustomed to getting, but it would have to do. Right before he went down the hall to his first class of the day, he removed the slip that was waiting for him and slipped in his own note in its place. The writer would have to see it when they went to put in his afternoon piece. Eli was nervous as he walked away, leaving his message to speak for him. Please, he'd written, I need to know who you are.
The next few days passed in much the same way. Every morning, Eli would go to school and leave a note asking to please be allowed to know at least the name of his letter- writer, if nothing more. And everyday he got just that much more desperate. The Letter was consuming him. He had to know who had written it. He had to know the person leaving him these simple lines that increasingly filled him with insatiable curiosity and what he could only consider hunger for more. And everyday in response to his notes, he received lines like Once you'd finished, you wrote "Roar" inside of the creature's mouth and It sped after a figure that you made tiny to indicate its distance from the shark or We would intoxicate each other. I'm certain that once I felt you, I would never be able to pull away.
One day, about a month after he had first started receiving The Letter (it felt like so much longer), he read one piece that seemed to almost break his heart: But that will likely never happen, so for now at least, you will just have to remain embedded inside me, unable to fully comprehend the force of your hold.
It can, he wrote back. It can happen if you just let me know who you are. Please.
The next day, he read You are a great white shark. As the pieces continued to come, Eli fell deeper into his obsession, his desire for more, his absolute need to have with him whoever was doing this to him. His morning notes became more frantic and he knew that he was falling hard, but he couldn't stop. The not knowing was agony. He knew he'd be a complete mess soon, if he wasn't already. He wondered if this was what it felt like to be Romeo or Juliet: kept away from the people they loved – or if maybe what he was going through was worse since at least Romeo and Juliet had been able to see each other. Finally, he felt like he couldn't take it anymore and he left an anxious, pleading note. I can't keep reading this letter without knowing who's writing it. Please, you have to let me know who you are. Let me see you. Please, I'm begging you. Half an hour before school tomorrow morning; let me know you.
He didn't sleep at all that night. He didn't even bother to try, knowing that it was a total waste. Based on all of the previous secrecy, he had no reason to believe that his note would have any effect on the writer. There was no point in getting his hopes up when, in all probability, nothing would change. Despite that knowledge, he couldn't help but hope. He fidgeted restlessly all night and he didn't think that the feeling of butterflies in his stomach went away once. He was already dressed and ready, as ready as he was ever going to be, when his alarm came on. Slapping it agitatedly, he turned it off and grabbed his backpack. It only took him a few minutes to walk to the school.
His lungs were working overtime as he made his way up the stairs. It felt like he was being weighed down by cement bricks but at the same time, he wished his feet would move slower. Several times, he considered turning around and running back home. What if it was all a trick? But he knew it wasn't, he knew that, and even if he was wrong, he had to know for sure, see for himself.
He was rounding the last corner in the stairway that led to his hall. His hand gripped the railing hard, probably pulling some of the chipped paint away, but he didn't care. He didn't think he'd ever been so afraid in his entire life. He fought against the sensation of his knees weakening and the blood pounding in his ears. And then…
Oh God, there was someone at his locker. There was someone standing there, in front of Eli's locker. His heart was pounding furiously. As he slowly drew nearer, he was able to see a single thin strip of paper stretched between the person's hands. Sincerely, it read. Eli forgot to breathe, and before he'd even allowed himself to consider the consequences, he closed the distance between them and crushed their lips together passionately. The kiss was returned enthusiastically and in the heat of the moment, the master copy of The Letter fluttered to the ground.
You don't know what I am about to tell you because no one has ever dared to tell you before. But I think it's your right to know. I think it's your right to know that seeing you is like falling off a building – a tall one, several stories high and probably made of bricks. It's a long drop to the ground. I don't know where I'm going to land yet, whether or not it'll be on fluffy pillows or pavement paired with speeding traffic. No matter where I land, though, I've fallen. And I'm not telling you all this to freak you out. I'm not a stalker. You don't need to walk around the halls looking over your shoulder. I'm telling you this as much for myself as I am for you. You need to know, but I need to tell you. It needs to be me.
You're probably wondering who I am. Well, that I won't tell you. I may not be afraid to tell you what you need to know, but I am afraid for you to know that I'm the one informing you. It doesn't matter anyway. Who I am isn't important. You are the important one: you are the purpose of this letter.
I see you at school. I've watched you walk through the halls, doodle during classes. I know that you jot down little phrases and bits of conversations that you hear throughout the day. I picked up a piece of paper that you dropped once. You'd drawn the solar system on the corner of your math test and inside the sun you wrote in tiny letters, "Even the sun has to revolve around something." And I saw you that time in the hall after school when you'd thought no one else was around and you went over to Betty to comfort her after those guys had been teasing her. You didn't see them, but you saw her crying. I saw you reading poetry under your desk in history a couple weeks ago. I couldn't see what it was, but it looked like it was in French. I'm the one who sees you when you think that no one's watching.
Sometimes I imagine what it would feel like to be pressed up against you, just us and nothing in between. To feel your body on mine, smooth and slightly slippery with a thin layer of sweat, warm and as lost in me as I am in you. I would feel you pulsing beneath my hands, your heart beating, your lungs working hard to keep from drowning. Being near you makes it impossible for me to breathe. I'd make sure to have the same effect on you. We would intoxicate each other. I'm certain that once I felt you, I would never be able to pull away. But that will likely never happen, so for now at least, you will just have to remain embedded inside me, unable to fully comprehend the force of your hold.
I saw you drawing in math once. I was supposed to be reviewing for the upcoming test but the quick movements of your pen distracted me and I glanced over. You were drawing a big shark with huge white teeth. It was outlined in your blue ink, its teeth dripping the blue blood of some helpless victim. It sped after a figure that you made tiny to indicate its distance from the shark. As I watched you sketch, I imagined that you were imagining the shark's eyes gleaming with the desire to sink those teeth into the flesh of another poor soul's mortal body. Once you'd finished, you wrote "Roar" inside of the creature's mouth.
You are a great white shark. Somehow you've sped into my life with propelling force, roaring mightily, making it impossible to ignore your presence. Your sharp teeth have ripped into my flesh, piercing my organs and tearing my insides to shreds. Every piece of me has been penetrated by you. My blood stains your mouth. No matter how vehemently I struggle, I can't escape your searing grip.
P.S. Sharks don't roar.