Posted by: Kathryn Hulick | October 10, 2009

The Message

Waterville, ME. January 24, 2004.


The first message arrives with leaves and flowers: a text file open on the screen. I recognize the excerpt from Hemmingway, from A Farewell to Arms. One sentence is highlighted:

The things of the night cannot be explained in the day, because they do not then exist.

I pick up the dried flowers and stare at them for a moment. Asters. My namesake. That’s an easy one. I’ve had boys give me those before… but the maple leaves! My last name is Acero, “maple” in Italian. But who could possibly know that? Is some random Italian guy from last semester’s Western Literature 101 class stalking me?

I sweep the flowers to the side and close the window. Over. Done.

Until the next message two days later.

How many people have you ever loved?

Another one from Hemmingway, but this time it’s not a text file. The words are spelled out with small stones across the top of my desk. This one took time.

I imagine some love-struck boy standing in my room, a pocketful of gravel, arranging letters. I feel sick.

“Hey, Aster, got a stalker?” It’s my roommate, Penny. She’s sipping a vitamin water and practically bouncing up and down in a new pair of white sneakers. About to head out for a run.

“It’s nothing.” The last thing I need is Penny spreading rumors everywhere. If I’ve learned anything from experience, at least ten guys will come forward claiming to be the one leaving messages.

No, I’ve never had a boyfriend. And no, you’re not going to be the first. How many times have I recited those lines? How many boys’ hearts have I broken? Each time I feel awful. Like I don’t deserve to be curvy in all the right places with perfect skin, piercing eyes, and lips just the right shade of pink.

I wish they would just leave me alone.

When Penny’s gone, I rearrange the stones. “Leave me alone.” I write.

There, no Hemmingway, but close enough.

I come back that night to find the stones swept away, and the leaves and flowers arranged in a heart. Pathetic.

I spend the next week trying to catch him in the act. I stake out the bathroom across the hall, listening at the door until I surprise Penny’s boyfriend trying to surprise Penny. Oops.

They want alone time. Of course. It’s after midnight but I head outside, kicking at the walls, the door jam, glad it’s getting colder at night and I can finally wear clothes that don’t show off any skin.

Outside, I nearly walk right into a girl carrying a handful of leaves. Our eyes meet, and I’m stunned. They are the most deeply black and beautiful eyes I have ever seen.

She yelps and dashes, dropping her gift. Maple leaves.

It’s not a him stalking me. It’s a her. A her I’ve never seen before. And a week later I can’t get her eyes out of my head, or the curve where her chin meets her neck. But she’s gone, not a single message, not another glimpse of her eyes.

I’ve never thought about anyone this way before — girl or guy. I always thought something was wrong with me. But now? Something’s still wrong — I’ve scared her away. If she even existed in the first place.

The things of the night cannot be explained in the day, because they do not then exist.



  1. I LIKE THIS ONE. It’s different….keep going with it! (plus, I like the Hemmingway….)

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