The Chain

by Walt Edwards ©

.... you've got mail!"

Glaring back at the monitor, I had opened up the appropriate window and awaited the text.

It read;


This is not a chain letter, but a chain of life - break the link and you may lose your place. Do not delay... respond immediately or risk removal.

This is your first and final notice.


"Warned?" I muttered, and at that particular moment to no one other than myself. I had proceeded to read the message for a second time, and then a third. And it was within that time that I had noticed a file that had come attached to the message.

Download it...should I? I began to wonder.

At that point, I had turned my attention elsewhere. Listening in from an adjacent room, I could hear the blare of the television and the combined shouts of a few of my friends. From out of the kitchen crept another voice, the ramblings of another full fledged mouse hunt going on, and it gave me more than enough of a hint as to who it might have been.

Brian, as always had been in there snooping. I really couldn't see him all that well from where I sat, but what I could see of him was more an ugly ballet of flailing arms, shuffling feet, and a head, that for all known and apparent reasons, had take up a permanent residency inside of my fridge.

"... third shelf, and behind the bread!" I yelled suddenly and without warning. "Now just grab one and get the hell in here!"


Turning back to my computer then, I began to read the same message over and over again. 'Don't break the link,' I kept saying to myself. "...don't break the link..."

Now, just what in hell was that suppose to mean?

Preoccupied, I failed to notice that Brian had entered the room, or that he had been glancing over my shoulders. An invited pry, yes, but he also had the unique yet annoying ability to sneak up on you like that. Two hundred and fifty pounds, a linebackers strength, yet the man somehow walked like a freakin' cat!

His voice boomed, "Yer missin' the game, Dave. Wow! You sure know how to get the weird ones, don't you?"

I turned, but ever so slightly. I couldn't help but wonder if he had noticed that I had just about jumped right out of my skin just a second or two ago.

"Someone's idea of a joke maybe," I managed to say, and quite calmly at that. "Still, it sort of makes me want to run right out and buy insurance somewhere - "

What emerged was a picture. It was of a pyramid, with its top section separate from its base, and embedded into the smaller section was the symbol of an open eye.

"Oh... I seen this before," Brian was going, studying the image right alongside of me. "Oh yes, definitely- "

"Really, where?"

He stepped back from the screen a moment, and stared off as if he'd been thinking about it. Then suddenly, and without warning, he just reached out and grabbed hold of my arm.

"Got it!" he screamed. "Quick! Give me some money!"

"Give you some what?"

"You Green stuff- " He saw my hesitation and added, "Well, you do want to see what this thing is, don't you?"

"Ah, shiiit!" I sighed. First my beer, and now my money, I thought. Just what in the hell was next with this guy? But begrudingly, I gave it to him, a small wad that perhaps amounted to 50, maybe 60 dollars. But surprisingly, even happily, he had flipped through all of the larger denominations and settled for just one skimpy dollar.

"There," he said, planting the bill face down on my computer desk. "As plain as the nose on your face... ANNUIT COEPTIS."


Brian was smiling. But by that time, I had already lifted up the bill and began studying it for myself.

"... he favors our undertakings, or something like that," Brian began to explain to me. "It was one of the founding father's ideas to add a little symbolism, maybe even a little misunderstood spirtualism onto the legal notes of their new nation, and somehow they had settled on this bizarre looking thing."

I was still studying the bill, yet was somewhat amazed that Brian, Mr. Brawn himself, a weight lifting, gym crazy, voracious power-bar chewer would have learned anything from our schooling years other than what food ingested led to the highest intake of calories. But then, as I examined further, I was beginning to think that perhaps I was giving him too much credit for any of it.

"No, you're wrong," I said abruptly. "Yea, the pictures do look somewhat alike, but the download doesn't have any writing on it at all."

Shrugging, he took the bill back from me. "Well, maybe they whited out the print? Either way, it still looks like the same pic to me.... Hey, mind if I keep this?"

With a little laugh, I snatched the bill right back. "Yes... I do. Knowing you, you're probably the one that sent me the e-mail in the first place just so you could get your hands on it."

".... wouldn't have happened that way, trust me," he said, laughing right along with me. "If I was ever going to try and con you, Dave, it would've been for a helluva lot more than that."

"Go for the gold, huh, Brian?"

"You bet- "

We must have gotten loud. Either that, or the football game had gotten so boring, or so out of hand, that Mike, another one of my friends who had made it over for the game, had decided that the boxed confines of another room was just the place to be.

"... you guys holding a private party or can anyone join?" he asked.

"Anyone," I said. Having just printed out a copy of the picture that I had just downloaded, I handed it to him. "Take a look at this... have you ever seen anything like this before?"

Taking the picture from me, he had nodded almost immediately. "Yeah... sure, why?"

"You have?"



He was shrugging some. "Well, I don't know, Dave. A few days ago, maybe a week, why?"

"Well, I had just gotten this thing through my e-mail," I began to explain, "and... "

"Hey, ain't that a hoot," he interrupted, "same as me. And now that you got me thinking about it, I think Tom just got one too. Pretty weird though. It doesn't seem to be spam or anything like that."


I looked at the message again. Mailed only to me and with the return address, ''. And although the ISP was unfamiliar to me, I guessed that there were perhaps hundreds, even thousands of domains that I had never heard of.

".... ''? " I said, simply repeating the address that I had just finished reading.

Mike gave a little shake of his head. "Yeah, that's it- but I wouldn't bother. That is, if you were thinking of checking it out."

"Oh, and why not?"

"Because," he smiled. "I already did. Oh, it's a legitimate address all right, but when you try writing to them their mail server returns it as unsolicited material. Seems they can write to you, but you can't write to them."

I'd been doing a little scratching up on the forehead, thinking. Now why would someone go through the bother of sending you mail, but then refuse you to go and answer it? But then, I thought, got it!

"Dave, did you try responding to their actual message, or did you just trying sending your own?"

"My own," he said. "But you can forget it - there's no way that I'm going to answer a thing like that. ".... if you break the link, you may lose your place," or whatever the hell else it said. Sounds like some kind of lunatic to me."

"Yeah, to me too," I breathed. "But you can't help but wonder just what kind of lunatic he is, can you?"

"Paranoid, the both of you," Brian put in. "It's probably just some kid messin' with your heads and I'd say, he's doing a pretty fine job- "

Well, I hated to admit to it, but at that particular moment, and on that particular day, Brian seemed to be making a helluva lot of sense. And although, some days later, when none of us were all so certain of that anymore, I had simply tried my best to forget about the whole matter.

After that incident, I had gone on with my life as usual - working, going to school part-time, doing the ritualistic single guy laundry thing, and oh yes, never missing our Sunday get-togethers with my friends, so long as the Cowboys were on. Funny thing though - somehow, I always found it amazing that each and every one of us had two- to three-thousand dollar computer systems, yet there was only one of us, and it happened to be me, who could go so far as to afford a simple cable bill. But today, I don't think any of that really mattered. Nor would it have mattered if the TV had not been turned on at all. I honestly thought that for the first time in our lives I could have actually gotten away with changing the channel.

"Hey, anyone know where Mike is today?" I asked.

"Sick," Tom answered. "Said something about the 'boogy woogy flu', or something like that."

"... the flu?" I asked.

Tom nodded an affirmative. "It's been going around, Dave. As a matter of fact, I haven't been feeling all that well myself lately-."


"... no, me neither," Scott added.

Glancing about, my eyes began to dart from one friend to another. It was if I had just opened a floodgate, and each and every one of them had their own maladies to attest to. Mike had something that Tom had just referred to as the 'boogy woogy flu', and Tom himself swore that he would have swapped whatever it was that he had for one of his worst hangovers. Joe was sick, and Scott, too. As to Brian, well, he shocked me the worst.

He told us all that for the first time since he had entered puberty and discovered girls, he hadn't felt up to going to the gym.

I had given them all just a blank look. Just what in hell was going on around here, was what I had wanted to know. Everyone's sick? I didn't dare to say how I really felt. "Maybe we're all just getting a little old," I maintained, attempting to steer the conversation away from the inevitable. "I mean, we're all pushing 30 here, right? We can't expect to feel the way we did at 17."

"A keen observation," Scott said. "But I don't think it has a thing to do with the fact that we're all feeling just a little bit lousy here."

"Yeah, Dave, all of us, and at the same time? Just how do you explain that?" Joe wanted to know.

"Simple. Paranoia," I announced, and looking at each of their faces until I stopped at the one I had been looking for. "Brian, you said it yourself, didn't you?"

He shrugged back at me. "Well, to be perfectly honest Dave, I'm beginning to think that I might have been a bit premature on that one. "


"It's the damn picture... has to be," Scott went, speaking out suddenly. "I mean, c'mon guys, it's what we've all been thinking, hasn't it? Why don't we all just stand up right now and admit to it?"

For a moment, no one had said a thing. Then Joe had lit up a nervous cigarette and blurted out with the smoke, "I hate to admit to it guys, but I think Scott's right. It's the e-mail, it has to be. I even tried getting rid of mine a few days ago, along with the picture and I couldn't. I deleted both of them, but the very next time that I looked, they were both still there."

"Still there?" someone asked.

"Yes, and it changed, too."

"And you couldn't get rid of that one either, could you?" Scott asked him.


As I sat there listening to their ramblings, I decided to protest. When it came to computers I was a far cry from a genius, but I was fairly certain on my part that if I had tried to get rid of the message myself it would have been gone for good.

"This is ridiculous," I put in. "Once you delete a file, it's gone. Unless, of course, you happen to be one of those geniuses who knows how to retrieve data from that mess we call a hard drive."

"I'm telling you, it's still there," Joe insisted. "And the damn picture changed right there in front of me. I simply panicked and I wanted to get rid of it. But each time that I had tried, the damn thing just kept comin' back."

"And the eye?" Scott asked, wanting to know.

"Closing," Joe said.

"Same here... Brian?"

He was nodding to them. At that point, I had looked over to Tom. He'd been listening, but he seemed unusually solemn about it. Leaning up against the living room wall, he had been running his fingers up through his thinning hair. Strange, though. To me, it appeared as if he had gone almost completely bald overnight.

"You feelin' all right?" I asked him. He looked at me then, but didn't really answer me. He just started to take a little walk around the room. "Do you remember a Sandy?" he asked me abruptly, pivoting on his heel as he turned to look back at me.

I nodded. There had been this company picnic that Tom had invited me to last summer and I had met her there. I could hardly forget her, I mean, the girl was absolutely gorgeous.

"Yeah... sure," I finally said. "Why? How is she?"

"Not very well I'm afraid," he said. "As a matter of fact, she's dead."

"Oh?" Such a stupid response on my part, but he had simply caught me off guard. "Tom, I'm sorry," I added. "In all honesty, I didn't know a thing about it."

He put on a weak smile. "Thanks. The funeral was yesterday. It was really, really sad."

"And how old was she?"

"Just 22, and she was such a lovely girl too."

"Yes, I know."

"But something isn't right about it, Dave. At the funeral parlor the other night I overheard some of the other mourners there going on about this e-mail that she may have gotten and that somehow, it may have had something to do with her death. Guys, they were talking about the very same e-mail that we all got."

For the next few moments, none of us said a thing. Somewhat stunned, we all just simply stood or sat there looking at one another, hoping that at least one of us would say something sane and rational enough to snap us all out of it.

It didn't happen. And Brian, the newly appointed scholar of our little group, began a one man show, speaking of history, ancient Egyptians, and long lost religious beliefs.

"It's much more than just a simple design etched onto the back of a bill," he was saying. "Some say it signified the dawn of the 'new order', while the ancients themselves believed that the eye in the pyramid was divine in itself, capable of seeing everything that there was to see. Their credo was, 'It sees me, therefore I am.' To them, it was like a doorway into their own souls, but if that doorway happened to close... "

"... lights out?" someone said.

At that moment, each and every one of us had had the same thought, but it was Brian who actually went one step further with it. He got up from his chair then, and put a call in to Mike.

There was no answer -- and in fact, after placing several other calls, we had gotten enough information to know that Mike hadn't been into work for the past several days either.

None of us had wasted a single moment after that. We all rushed over to Mike's apartment, separately, each in our own cars. I had taken the back streets and alleyways to Mike's apartment and I had arrived there first. But sadly, I was too late. In one last desperate and crazy attempt, I had even tried to forward his message for him but I had gotten the reply back that it had been too late to respond and that his link had already been removed from, 'the chain'. I tried but once more... it came back as, undeliverable.'

So then, that was it. It was all over.

Tom, too, had been found dead on the floor the very next day, and with his fingers still clutching the mouse and the picture still on the screen.

And, just in case you're wondering. Well, the answer is, no. I don't really use my computer much anymore. And I never, and I mean, 'never' read my e-mail.

x x x
About the author, Walt Edwards:

Residing in Pennsylvania, Walt has been employed in the home construction industry for the past 15 years. As a writer, he strives only to improve upon on his work and reach out to a wider audience. This is his first published story.

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