I've been thinking a lot about Taffy lately.
Who's Taffy, you ask? Taffy was my mailman when I was a kid - specifically, the summer after I turned 10. Taffy was a truly great guy. He inspired me, he made me laugh.
Taffy changed my life.
You know how, when you're a kid, there's nobody more exciting than the mailman? Rushing to the door to see if they brought you something neat? After 5 years on the job, it's still my favorite part - seeing little faces light up because I've got a toy catalogue or a cool magazine to drop through the slot. That summer, my obsession was Nintendo Power. It was July of 1992, and I was waiting and waiting and waiting for the Street Fighter II issue to show up, with Guile doing his cool kicks on the cover. My best friend John Schnonson had already got his, so every day, I'd wait for our usual mailman Mr. Tuggard to walk up and drop it off. And every day, he'd shake his head, saying, "Sorry, champ." Except that one day, Mr. Tuggard wasn't there. That was when I first met Taffy.
That's what it said on his nametag, just "TAFFY" in big block letters. I can't remember what, exactly, his face looked like - all adults look pretty much the same when you're a kid, right? - but I remember he was really tall and he had a really big smile. Taffy was always smiling.
When I asked him where Mr. Tuggard was, he told me he'd been in a car accident, and when I started crying, he handed me a condolence card that Mrs. Tuggard had written for all of the clients on her husband's route, explaining how much joy he'd gotten out of delivering to them all those years. I've still got that copy, it's in a locked box underneath my bed.
Taffy said that HE was our mailman now. After I'd stopped crying, I asked him about the Nintendo Power, and he did this big show of checking his bag for it, clowning around, pretending to dump it out, before making a big shrug and saying, "Sorry, bud! But we all get what we deserve, don't we?"
I could tell he wasn't making fun of me in a mean way, just being a silly guy, so I laughed.
From then on, Taffy and I were friends.
Every day, I'd come out, ask about my Nintendo Power, and he'd do his big silly dance pretending to look for it, and I'd always laugh.
I know what you're thinking: Major stranger danger, right? But my parents loved Taffy, too. He could make anybody laugh, joking that he collected all the perfume cards from magazines "because he was starting a perfume factory," or giving my dad a wink when the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue showed up. Even our dog liked him, and 5 years as a mailman has taught me that dogs hating people in my profession isn't really a joke. Sure, nobody knew much about him, but who ever knows much about their mailman?
I still remember the next-to-next-to last time I saw Taffy. It was the last day of July. I walked up to meet him at our usual spot near the mailbox, and, more for the routine of it than anything, I asked him if my Nintendo Power had come. But instead of doing his fun "Can't find it" dance, Taffy just looked at me. He was still smiling, and I still can't remember what his face looked like, but he seemed very solemn all of a sudden. He pulled something out of his bag, and held it out to me. There was Guile, kicking the sky with his cool army boots. I reached out to grab it, but Taffy pulled it back a little. "Are you sure this is what you want, buddy?" he asked. I was confused, and said yeah. He nodded, and when I reached out to grab it again, he put his hand over mine. I still remember the feel of his skin on the back of my right hand - fever hot, a little itchy, not a good feeling at all. I was uncomfortable, but he looked me right in my eyes (why can't I remember what color his eyes were?) and said, real serious, "Remember, sometimes the delivery is more fun than what you actually get." And then he got back in his little mail car and drove off.
I looked down at the Nintendo Power in my hands (the right hand still had red marks from where Taffy had touched it), and realized he was right. After all, I'd already read John's coot of this one cover to cover; it had been more the anticipation than the magazine that I was excited for. In fact, I couldn't feel very much about this copy of Nintendo Power at all. I walked over to the trash and tossed the magazine in.
The next day, Taffy didn't show up. Instead, we had a new mail carrier (that's the proper nomenclature), Ms. Sampson, an older woman who never smiled. But I didn't really notice. I was too busy trying to take much joy in anything anymore. In fact, my parents ended up taking me to the doctor, because everything that used to make me happy - music, games, candy - now just sort of made me feel numb? I got diagnosed with a bunch of different things, and put on a bunch of drugs, some of which helped more than others, but the next few years were really hard. It wasn't that I didn't still think video games were cool, in a distant sort of way. But the anticipation of playing them never lived up to the actual experience. It was all like waiting for that Nintendo Power - a big build-up to nothing.
The fog started to lift a little in high school, when I got my first job - delivering pizzas. That feeling, of bringing people something they needed, scratched some itch deep inside me - the same way I'd occasionally scratch the back of my right hand, and the light red indentations there. Eventually, though, that thrill wore off. I tried to go to college, but my grades weren't there - no motivation to study. Until, one day, I saw that the post office was hiring. On a whim, I applied, passed all the tests, and got in. And it was like night and day, all the joy rushing back into my life. I still didn't have much of a social life or interests outside work, but for 9 hours a day, I was flying. I thought a lot about what Taffy had said, in my first days on the job - wondering if he'd sensed a kindred spirit in me, saw the same potential fulfillment for me that had kept him smiling so much. I tried to talk about him with my co-workers a few times - he would have been based out of my same post office, and it's not like we usually have a high turnover rate in this job - but nobody seemed to know who I meant. It didn't help that I couldn't describe him, beyond that big smile, and the unusual name. And as the years went on, I thought about him less and less, just happy for the lessons he'd imparted
Until two days ago, when I thought I maybe saw Taffy again.
It was on my route, a little after noon. I lucked into a walking route, which is better exercise, and shorter, so I was making my way through the suburbs when I thought I saw someone following me. Turning back, I caught just a glimpse of the guy, although I didn't see his face. He seemed to be dressed as a mail carrier, which was weird, because this had been my route for a few years now. I got a little nervous, because a couple carriers in local towns had disappeared lately - it happens, people think they might be able to steal some electronics or cash out of the bag - so I'd been carrying Mace with me lately. But the guy, whoever he was, disappeared too fast for me to spray him.
The next day, he showed up again. Closer. Close enough for me to see that it was Taffy.
He was still behind me, still dressed like a mailman, but close enough this time that I could see those block letters, that smile, bouncing along 15 feet behind me, and gaining slowly.
But worse. It was worse because now I could see his face. Faces. Fuck, you're not going to believe this part. See, He didn't have just one face, he had faces, in his face, looking out where his eyes and his mouth could be. They kept swapping in and out every time he blinked or closed his mouth, but they were all staring at me, windswept and a little tired. Mail carrier faces. They were the faces of dozens of lost mail carriers. Transfixed (as he walked closer), I saw the faces of a few of the mail carriers I'd known in the nearby towns, who had disappeared over the years. Then Taffy (it had to be Taffy) blinked, and I saw Mr. Tuggard's face staring back at me out of his right eye socket. And in that moment, some part of me knew that I'd be going in that dark, terrible hole next.
Fuck that rain or snow or gloom of night shit, I dropped the bag and I ran, back to my car, drove it back home, locked the door, and just shook. Had I finally gone postal, I wondered? People joked about it, played clips of Newman from Seinfeld ranting about the mail on their phones, but it did happen. But then, why did the marks on my hand itch so bad all of a sudden? Why are they itching so much as I'm typing this, from the work computer at my post office?
I didn't have to explain about the missing bag, at least; it was waiting for me when I showed up this morning - every letter delivered, except one I found hidden in a side pocket, the address "666" stamped on it. Another little calling card from Taffy.
And I started to wonder: Taffy had changed my life. He'd inspired me to become a mail carrier. But what if he wasn't really inspiring me at all? What if he'd just changed me - somehow sucked all the joy out of everything BUT delivering mail to people out of me, to ensure that I became an MC myself? What if he hadn't been a mail carrier at all, but some kind of entity that feeds on them - takes their routes, delivers their mail, consumes their faces - and he had some sort of power to convince kids on those routes to take up the job so he could seed another crop? What if I hadn't been inspired by Taffy - but farmed?
And what if he does that exact same awful thing to someone else? Instill that same joyless slog on them, force them into this thankless job and these broken down shoes because nothing else in their life will ever satisfy. There are kids I LIKE on this route, cool smart kids who subscribe to cool animal magazines. I can't let him turn them into another one of his little mail puppets. I can't let Taffy turn them into me.
I shouldn't go back out there today. I should just resign, disappear. But we all know that a resignation from the USPS is a death sentence in this industry; I'd never be hired again, private and public and that would mean spending the rest of my life completely devoid of all pleasure. And it would mean abandoning those kids.
So I'm headed back out in about five minutes. I have my Mace. I know my route. And I know what HE wants. If Taffy wants to take my place, he's going to fucking well have to fight me for it.
Wish me luck.
Note: This letter was found on a work computer shortly after authorities began investigating the disappearance of Alan J. Sendwick, a mail carrier in good standing, at the Shopton Post Office. No trace of Mr. Sendwick, or the mysterious "Taffy," were ever found, although evidence shows that all of Mr. Sendwick's regular deliveries were made for a full week between the time the letter was written and when he was reported missing by a concerned neighbor.
There were 47 children between the ages of 7 and 12 on Mr. Sendwick's route at the time of his disappearance.