Brenda had been laying low for almost 8 months now. Soon after The Incident happened, she thought it best to get off the grid and try and reconnect with herself. Time had drifted by in a blurry loop and she felt no closer to being on top of her game than when she’d first decided to go dark. In fact, her constant battle now was fighting off the looming cloud of depression that seemed to be slowly engulfing her space.
That cloud was particularly oppressive one Tuesday afternoon. Nothing out of the ordinary was happening. She had her kettle boiling for her sixth cup of hot chocolate. She was slouched on her old sofa with her nose buried within the pages of a heavy novel. But try as she might, she couldn’t concentrate on the words that were fighting for her attention. Instead, her thoughts were floating in an ominous haze and she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was not right. It was getting wildly irritating. Accepting defeat, she threw her book down and stomped across to her kitchenette to fix that mug of hot chocolate. That’s when she noticed the envelope underneath her door.
Hot chocolate in one hand, Brenda walked towards the door and looked down at the envelope for a long minute. Finally, she bent down slowly – and with much effort – to pick it up. She cursed as some of the chocolate spilt out. With a painful gasp, she stood up straight once more and dragged herself back to her sofa. The pain in her abdomen had been momentarily intensified by that small act of picking up the envelope. Once settled in a comfortable position, she examined the new addition to the chaos of her existence, welcoming the distraction it provided from the incoherent thoughts floating about in her mind.
The envelope was a bright yellow. She thought perhaps it had come from Rosy, her nine-year-old friend from the orphanage. Rosy loved bright colours and fuzzy stuffed animals. She also loved glitters and would have drowned this envelope in them had it come from her. That ruled her out.
Then there was Tobias, her coworker. Normally, he wouldn’t send a message to her in a bright yellow envelope, or in an envelope at all. But he had tried the hardest to reach her, flooding her inbox with messages that varied from threats to pleas to bargains. She had almost run into him when she went back to her old flat to get some supplies. If the envelope was from him, he had become truly desperate.
There was no address on the envelope, no stamps or whatever the postal system required to make a mail delivery these days. Only her name had been stuck on the front.
Tired of guessing who had sent the envelope, she tore it open. Within it lay a single sticky note of the same bright yellow colour folded in half. As she unfolded it, a tiny blue square fell out. She recognised it at once. It was a Canadian five-dollar note. The Canadian five-dollar note. Her heart skipped a beat. She turned to the note.
They that wash on Tuesday
Are not so much awry
She knew that line from somewhere… Yes, it was part of a nursery rhyme she had learnt at kindergarten. It was perhaps the happiest time of her life. Did the author of the note know that? What was she supposed to do now? And that money on the floor. She dared not touch it. Her heart was banging against her fragile chest now. What kind of sick joke was this? To taint the beautiful memories of her childhood with remnants of The Incident was either a very ill-conceived joke or the purest form of mental torture. Abdominal pain forgotten, she grabbed her jacket and headed out the door.
Brenda was the last person Tobias expected to see when he opened the door. Nothing had changed about her, except the little worry lines that had etched themselves between her perfect eyebrows. Her big brown eyes were more piercing than usual, and a vein looked like it would pop out of her temple any second now. She was seething.
“Brenda,” he managed, cringing inwardly soon after. Is that the best you can do, Tobias, he chastised himself. With death in her eyes, she walked past him and into his messy flat. I knew I should have cleaned up yesterday. He tried again. “Err, where have you been? I’ve been looking for you, you know. Of course, you know. I left you countless messages on your phone. And I even came to your place, but you weren’t there. Are you-”
“What the heck is this?” she threw the envelope at him. Shocked and confused, he picked it up from the floor and opened it. It made no sense. “What is it?” he asked.
“Don’t play dumb with me, Tobias. I’m not in the mood for your nonsense right now,” she said.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he answered, reading the note again.
“Tobias…” Brenda said, stepping towards him. He instinctively moved back.
“I swear, Brenda, I have no clue what this is,” he said, genuinely terrified. “Look, you can’t just waltz into my apartment and interrogate me like this. I’ve been worried sick about you,” he added, feeling a little indignant about this sudden invasion. He always pictured his reunion with her would be much happier.
“It’s a line from a nursery rhyme I learnt in kindergarten,” Brenda said, relaxing a little bit. She walked to the window, looked out onto the street and came back. “I saw the envelope under my door today.”
“Maybe it’s from Rosy?” Tobias offered.
“No. She would have bedazzled it. Besides, she wouldn’t know that rhyme.”
“Okay, so maybe it’s from a long-lost friend.”
“I don’t have any friends,” Brenda countered. Tobias was visibly hurt so she added, “Besides you.”
“Yeah, that makes it better…” he mumbled.
“Look, something else was in it. A Canadian five-dollar note. The same one from The Incident.”
“What?!” Tobias shouted. He looked down at the note again, this time with more concentration.
They that wash on Tuesday
Are not so much awry
“It could be a riddle,” he said eventually.
“Only you could think of something so far-fetched,” Brenda scoffed.
“Well, you got a better idea?” he asked, with an eyebrow raised sceptically at her. She shrugged. “Didn’t think so,” he said, happy to be right for once.
“Fine. Can you decode what it says?” Brenda asked, pacing.
“No. But I know someone who can. I can give them a call if you like.”
“Okay. Make it quick.”
Tobias dialled a number and waited. “Hello. Hey, Rodney, what’s up…yeah yeah…hahaha…look man, I don’t have much time, but a friend of mine got a note today that only contained a line from a nursery rhyme. We think it’s some kind of riddle…yeah I have it right here, let me read it to you.” He read it out loud and listened. Then after a few seconds, “Yeah she says she learnt it from kindergarten…no no, it was just the note…yeah it came in an envelope, why, is that important?…Oh…wait, that stuff is real? Whoa. Okay listen, I’ll have to call you back.”
“What’s real?” Brenda was getting more restless.
“Who are they?”
“Noone knows. But apparently they are really powerful. Look, if the rumours are true and this is really from them, you’re in more danger than you think.”
“You’re not making any sense, Tobias. What danger?”
“These guys will make you do some crazy things, Brenda. Rodney says they make you confront your worst fears – in your case The Incident. Some people have been known to disappear…”
“Yeah, okay Tobias. Great talk.” Brenda snatched back her note and stuffed it back in its envelope. Clearly, Tobias was just as clueless and just as gullible as he’d ever been. To even think such fairytales existed – it was absurd.
She made for the door, with Tobias close behind. She hadn’t noticed him grab his jacket and backpack. “And where do you think you’re going?” she looked him up and down.
“Can you at least let me see where you’re living now? If there’s any truth to Rodney’s claims – and he’s never wrong about this sort of thing – it would make me feel much better knowing where you are in case something happens to you.” Brenda didn’t look convinced, so he went on, “The five-dollar note is still in your house. I would very much like it back. If you recall, it’s actually mine.”
“Fine. But you take that note and you leave straight after, deal?”
They walked back to Brenda’s house in awkward silence. When they got there, Tobias chuckled at the ridiculousness. He couldn’t believe she’d been so close to him all this time. Her new place was literally a couple of streets from his. How she had scored a flat at the old pensioners’ building was beyond him.
They got into the house, and Brenda immediately motioned to the folded bill on the floor. “There’s your money. Take it and leave. And don’t come here unless you’re dying.” She stood by the door, holding it open for him. Tobias shook his head, picked up the note, unfolding it. He let out a sudden gasp. Brenda rushed forward and snatched the note out of his hand. Right in the middle of the note were two words, typed in yellow with the same font that had been on the envelope and on the sticky note,
Brenda felt the blood draining from her face.