The Envelope – Short Story

Single Player First Person Shooter Maps and Mods for Half-Life 1, 2 and Episodes 1, 2 and 3

I wrote a short story and what’s the point of having a website that people visit if I don’t use it to publish something? None!

So, here is the first of a few short stories I have written. This one has a connection with the Half-Life universe.

I haven’t had it proof read, so you get it almost as it was written, please forgive any silly grammatical errors or spelling mistakes. All criticism welcome, even if it’s just You suck!”.

THE ENVELOPE

I didn´t pay much attention to it when I picked it up with the rest of the bunch and pushed it into my briefcase on the way to work.

As usual, I had been in a bit of a hurry and rushed breakfast. I was always saying I would get up ten minutes earlier and sit down to have at least a couple of slices of toast. I just turn the television on and make some coffee while I have a shower. Once out out of the shower, I drink the coffee while watching the news headlines.

So that morning at work, after I had finally answered all my emails and returned some calls, I was surprised to find something other than bills in the bunch of post I had brought with me.

The envelope was made of high quality paper with a slightly rough feel but not like that recycled stuff with the bits in it. It was thick and heavy, just like I imagine all letters were a hundred years ago. My name and address were handwritten, which in itself was unusual, but in combination with the paper quality and the fact it seemed to have been hand delivered was enough to drive my imagination crazy. Not only that but whatever was inside was thick, certainly not a couple of sheets of paper, this was a long letter, perhaps a Will and Testament, I thought.

For some reason, I had developed this habit of looking and holding an envelope for a few moments before ripping it open. This time I almost savoured the moment and my tiny brain gears were whirring wilding in the hope of guessing who it was from. My hand seemed to make an involuntary movement towards my face as if I were going to smell it when somebody walked past my office and the shadow made me jump.

I reached across the desk and pulled the letter opener out from behind the scissors in the pot. This was probably the first time I had ever used them and it was clear that this letter deserved the formality and respect a letter opener gives the proceedings.

Careful not to rip anything inside I inserted the opener in the gap and with one smooth movement I had opened the envelope. I leaned it towards me and froze. Inside was money, a lot of money. If my tiny brain gears had been moving fast before they were now overheating. Who would send me money? How much was it? Why me? There must be a note inside I thought and I used the letter opener to move the cash forward and back, careful not to touch it with my fingers.

I had watched too my T.V. to know that I shouldn´t touch it with my hands. Don´t ask me why I thought that, I am just a simple office worker and am not in a position to “help” anybody. I quickly counted the money, 1,000 Pounds, and put it inside a larger envelope and back in my briefcase.

I spent the whole day waiting for a call asking me for a favour, that never came. In fact, I spent the next month doing the same. I hadn´t touched the money in all that time, fearing some stupid DNA evidence would convict me of a crime I hadn´t committed.

Finally, after 3 months, I took the envelope from its hiding place and went shopping. I spent all the cash on a fancy watch. Don´t ask me why I bought a watch when I could have used it for things I needed more, I just did. I suppose it is one of the first signs that people have money. Your eye is drawn to people´s wrists.

Anyway, it didn´t make any difference because when I woke up the next morning, the watch was gone. My flat hadn´t been burgled because that was the only thing missing.

Did that mean somebody was watching me? I spent the next few days looking over my shoulder and hiding behind corners seeing if somebody was following me. Everybody I met became a potential suspect.

Exactly one week later another envelope arrived, with the same amount of cash inside. This time I used cheap disposable latex gloves. Watching so much C.S.I. was beginning to pay off! Of course, I opened it at home instead of the office.

Why had this envelope come after just one week, whereas I hadn’t received anything in 3 months? It took the journey to work to realize it was because I had spent the money. I now had even more questions.

Who was sending me the money? Why? How did they know when I spent the money? And how had they stolen the watch?

I was less cautious this time and went to a play in the city and expensive restaurant afterwards. Earlier in the day I had bought a new tie and upon waking I couldn’t find it. I am not the sharpest tool in the tool box and eventually I began to realize that anything I bought disappeared the next day.

The memory of the play and meal stayed with me. At least whoever was doing this couldn’t take that from me.

So the following week when the envelope arrived I bought a ring and went to another show followed by another expensive restaurant. Before I went to bed I put some masking tape around the ring and my finger, thinking that there was no way they could get the ring off without waking me. I took hours to fall asleep but when I woke up the ring and tape were gone.

After that I got really scared and rather than go through the worry of having stuff stolen I stopped buying things. Better I thought, less trail and evidence. Not that I thought I was immune from being followed and photographed in those expensive places.

Over the next few months I began to do things I never thought I would have been able to afford; skydiving, race track days, spa weekends, call girls who were way out of my league, almost every experience you could imagine.

I was incredibly careful never to discuss what I did in my spare time with my work colleagues and I did my best to keep my demeanour and behaviour as close to normal as possible, although I am sure I changed in some ways, experiences like those are bound to change you.

I drank the finest wines, relaxed on motorboats in Monaco, gambled n casinos, but who cares when you know another envelope will arrive next week?

I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t keep any of the fine things I bought, but really, it´s the experiences that count, right?

But then one day the envelope didn’t arrive, as I knew deep down it wouldn’t. It couldn’t go on forever, and to believe otherwise was stupid. It wasn´t until I turned on the T.V. that I realized why. Over night around the planet there had been something they had started calling the 7 Hour War.

Who would have guessed that the whole human race could be subjugated so quickly. I hadn’t heard any planes or explosions during the night. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Some aliens called the Universal Union had arrived through some portal and had decided our planet had what they needed.

Life has been pretty tough since then and that was a while ago. All the things that used to be important suddenly seem not so vital. I think back to the first envelope and the worry about some stupid watch. Funny how your priorities change when aliens land, isn´t it?

I often stand in the food queue and daydream about the last few months. How lucky was I to be able to do all those things before the world changed forever? At least I relaxed about anybody asking me for that “favour”!

Nearly all forms of communication have been stopped, post, fax, telephone, emails etc. You only hear rumours and what you neighbour has to say.

I did as I was told and kept my head down. I´m no hero.

I kept away from the ones that talked about rebellion and resistance. I just wanted a quiet life, with no trouble.

That was until an envelope arrived a month ago.

There was no money it this time, just a note saying “Go to City 17 and find Barney Calhoun. Tell him Freeman´s coming”.

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24 Comments

  1. ANonEntity

    All criticism welcome, even if it’s just You suck!, PP?

    I like to moral of the story, but a few korreksions…

    “Who was sending me the money? Why? How did they know when I spent the money? And how had they stolen the watch?

    So the following week when the envelope arrived I bought a ring and went to another show followed by another expensive restuarant. Before I went to bed I put some masking tape around the ring and my finger, thinking that there was no way they could get the ring off without waking me. I took hours to fall asleep but when I woke up the watch and tape were gone.”

    Did you mean: when I woke up the [ring] and tape were gone?

    Thanks for the story!

    1. Yes, the ring, sorry. Editing now.

      What are korreksions?

      1. Gamecrazy721

        I believe it’s (jokingly) “Corrections”

      2. ANonEntity

        It’s just a fake typo, PP.
        My real typo is: I like [to] the moral of the story.
        I love reading!

  2. You Suck!

    no, I haven’t even looked at it yet, I’ll give you some real feedback once I actually read some of it.

    1. Interesting.

      I dis as I was told and kept my head down. I’m no hero.

      I kept away from the ones that talked about rebellion and resistance. I just wanted a quiet life, with no trouble.

      “dis” should be corrected to “did” simple typo.

      In some ways this felt very shoehorned into the Half Life universe. I actually think it almost certainly would have stood better on it’s own.

      The other thing that bothered me was that from what I could gather, those envelopes were from Gman, in order to build up the curiosity of this person so that they would deliver the message.
      But it doesn’t seem like something Gman would bother with, seeing as how he can move around with relatively few restrictions. He was even talking to Odessa Cubbage before you wandered into that area, and I’m almost completely certain he was responsible for Kleiner having the Mark 5 HEV suit ready (by taking Gordon’s Mark 4 suit and bringing it to Kleiner to upgrade, which is why you don’t start out wearing the suit even though he said he let you keep it at the end of HL1) so he could have easily talked to any of the rebels and just had the word spread through their network that way.

      So the writing itself is good, but I think the story doesn’t benefit from having the half life universe attached to it, and I don’t think the half life series benefits by trying to attach this writing piece to it.

      1. In some ways this felt very shoehorned into the Half Life universe. I actually think it almost certainly would have stood better on it’s own.

        It was really, although I hate to admit it.

        The other thing that bothered me was that from what I could gather, those envelopes were from Gman, in order to build up the curiosity of this person so that they would deliver the message.

        Incorrect. Since I added the Half-Life reference at the last moment, I didn’t really consider who the sender might be. Certainly not the Gman though.

        So the writing itself is good, but I think the story doesn’t benefit from having the half life universe attached to it, and I don’t think the half life series benefits by trying to attach this writing piece to it.

        You could be right.

        1. Oh, after reading back through, I think I realize what felt disappointing about this piece:

          From the very beginning of the story, he’s going “heeey, someone is probably just trying to butter me up and then call on me for a favor. I wont let that happen…” but then you have the odd twist that he can only use the money for intangibles, as well as the fact that whatever the source of the letters was, it had nigh supernatural abilities for removing items that he purchased. This hinted at something far more… altruistic, and possibly even spiritual or religious in nature.

          Bu then the story wraps up and it turns out that the guy had been right all along; whatever the source of the letters, it just wanted him to do stuff. Because of the nature of those little details at the beginning, it built up my expectations that the conclusion was going to be much more meaningful.

          Personally, if you scrapped the half life connection and went back to what you had before you added that in, then built on it from there, you’d have something I’d be happy to keep reading.

  3. Zekiran

    Does not suck!

    The tense differences are a little odd because it’s all without dialog. I understand the “now” versus ‘then’, however a little indication of time-switch to the present might be in order between the then/now paragraphs.

    Very nice twist, though the suddenness of the 7 hour war – without any indication of the previous year(s) of portal storms is a little odd too. I think that might be something to add, if you ever choose to update/re-write.

    Good work, I’ll be waiting for more 😀

    1. that may be part of what gave me the impression that the connection to the half life universe was shoehorned into it: No notice of portal storms, no mention of those odd new aliens that showed up with them: the vortigons and probably the ant lions as well.

      1. Zekiran

        I think in a rewrite it could go reasonably long with that kind of thing, so I guess it depends on how short a short story is to Phil. 🙂

    2. The tense differences are a little odd because it’s all without dialog. I understand the ” now” versus “then”, however a little indication of time-switch to the present might be in order between the then/now paragraphs.

      Sorry about that.

      Very nice twist, though the suddenness of the 7 hour war — without any indication of the previous year(s) of portal storms is a little odd too. I think that might be something to add, if you ever choose to update/re-write.

      Yes, I wanted a big surprise but I should have mentioned something about the storms.

  4. Bolx

    Anyone who takes the time to sit down and put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and use their imagination should always be encouraged. As such NO it doesn’t suck.

    The first thing I noticed was it was written in the first person narrative, which your love of all (well almost) things Half Life is not surprising. However the first person narrative is probably the hardest style to get right as it uses ” I” a lot. In your case, from an initial word count of 1,419 there were 90 instances of “I”. Normally I find the style irritating unless its relevant to the story, one of my few favourite uses of the style is in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

    http://www.gutenberg.org/files/345/345-h/345-h.htm

    The style is used in the many diary and journal passages of the story.

    I’m guessing that you sat down and did this of the top of your head, possibly after running the idea through your mind first. If that was how the story came about I can see how the story was done in the first person narrative, as I’ve done that in the past. Before computers were common, when writing a story I would buy a few cheap note pads and each one would do for two story elements, one starting at the front of the pad and one starting at the back. By using that method I could keep track of the relationship of the various elements.

    The premise of the story works for me, but it needs to be fleshed out (to what degree is down to you). I agree with Zekiran about the use of tenses but I disagree with Grey Acumen’s comment.

    “The story doesn’t benefit from having the half life universe attached to it, and I don’t think the half life series benefits by trying to attach this writing piece to it.”

    Although I suspect it may not have struck you when you wrote this piece, I can see two ideas for future competitions.

    1) A story competition which would be great for us non-modders/mappers. It could take the form of a short story 2,500 — 3,000 words relating to the HL universe with combat as one of the integral elements.
    2) A competition for modders/mappers who then take their choice of the winning entries and turn them into a map or mod we can play.

    Who knows, we could see some unexpected gems emerge.

    1. Zekiran

      Ooh I’d love that 🙂 I already have plenty of fanfic ideas that I never get around to fully writing out.

    2. Thank you for the detailed feedback, it’s much appreciated.

      In your case, from an initial word count of 1,419 there were 90 instances of “I”.

      Is that a good or bad ratio?

      I’m guessing that you sat down and did this of the top of your head, possibly after running the idea through your mind first. If that was how the story came about I can see how the story was done in the first person narrative, as I’ve done that in the past.

      Almost exactly that. I wrote 3/4 in one sitting but couldn’t find time to finish it, then in the car I thought about adding the message to Barney and found time to finish it that day.

      Maybe I will rewrite it, without the first person perspective and with more reference to the storms etc. I’ll need to remove the items being stolen because my original idea never mentioned the sender in any way.

      Although I suspect it may not have struck you when you wrote this piece, I can see two ideas for future competitions.

      Fantastic idea, although having the stories made into maps might have to wait because I have the next few competitions already planned. That said I might be able to use it for something I have planned.

      1. Bolx

        The repeated use of ” I” in the text is neither a bad thing nor a good thing, however the repeated use of a word e.g. ” and” can seem like a staccato effect, which in music can be pleasant, but in literature not so pleasant. To an extent it is down to the reader’s taste, in my case I was always taught to find alternate words or phrasing where possible rather than repeat words.

        I did a quick calculation and ” I” accounts for 6.342494 percent of the word count. But as I said in my original post “Anyone who takes the time to sit down and put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and use their imagination should always be encouraged.”

        In some way’s it seems creative writing has parallels to mapping/modding, as you start out with an idea, then you have to make it work for your intended audience.

        So many people out there have ideas for stories and so few of those ever get around to committing them to paper, I’d say continue with your writing and I look forward reading more of your work.

        Ps. Glad you liked my competition idea!!

  5. Tonux

    Interesting read. Now, I really suck at English, I’m in a low set in school, but it was a fun little read. The only thing which could make it even better, would mabey be expanding a little bit on stuff, insted of just BAM Aliens. But I certainly look forward to any more coming up.

    Tonux

    1. I know what you mean, but I wanted that sudden connection to HL to relly HIT the reader.

  6. A good and imaginative mystery story, Phillip.
    Although the ending was a little weak and unrelated to the main body of the text.

    The mystery was well built but the end of the story seemed more like the beginning of a completely different story.

    I was left wondering what was the point of the money and why were purchased objects disappearing.
    Or was this just the first instalment?

    1. A good and imaginative mystery story, Phillip.
      Although the ending was a little weak and unrelated to the main body of the text.

      I’m glad you liked it. I felt the end was almost the best part of the story.

      I was left wondering what was the point of the money and why were purchased objects disappearing.
      Or was this just the first instalment?

      No, it’s not the first instalment, at least not when I wrote it, but it could easily lead into a series of short stories based on the character going to City17 and finding this “Barney” person.

      The reason behind the purchased objects disappearing was to highlight to people that it’s really only experiences that matter. “things” come and go and all we are left with are memories.

      The original ending was that the envelopes stopped arriving and that was to suggest to people that they should enjoy what they have, while they have it.

  7. Great story, but I felt the ending was haphazardly thrown in there just so it would relate to hl2

  8. I remain intrigued so I’ve read that again.

    I copied the whole thing into my wordprocessor
    I removed these 3 paragraphs:

    Who would have guessed that the whole human race could be subjugated so quickly. I hadn’t heard any planes or explosions during the night. Nothing out of the ordinary.

    Some aliens called the Universal Union had arrived through some portal and had decided our planet had what they needed.

    There was no money it this time, just a note saying “Go to City 17 and find Barney Calhoun. Tell him Freeman’s coming”.

    I didn’t want to add or edit anything, obviously, as this is your work.
    This gives your mystery an enigmatic, almost surreal, ending without detracting from your point.
    It reads a treat.

    I have a suspicion that this is what you wrote in the first place!

    Also understandable by the non-HL cognoscenti.

  9. Tom

    I like the story, but the end does not seem to fit with the story. There was no illusion to aliens or anything being that far out of the ordinary. I think you may need to either foreshadow possible alien activity, or give some illusion that the money may be out of this world. Good attempt, but the twist seems to completely ignore everything that happened earlier in the story. Loved the 1st half, seemed a little disjointed in the end. Keep writing!

    1. You are absolutely right. I changed the end because I mistakenly thought I shouldn’t post stories unless it was related to Half-Life,so I changed the end just to fit the theme.

      I wish I had left it as I originally wrote it.

      You can read more of my stories on DeviantArt.

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