A young student enrolled at a community college was in the habit of taking a series of crosstown buses to reach his campus several times a week. With diligent effort and a series of largely menial jobs, the young man had managed to wangle the purchase of a relatively recent model sedan, but shortly after that coup, the vehicle died on him. So he found himself living back at home with his parents and commuting to classes. It was a bother, but he tried to offset that bother by ogling all the pretty women the city bus passed on its way to the university. Jason always made sure to secure a window seat for what he told his male friends was “perv duty, so much better than jury duty.”

It was a windy autumn morning, brisk but sunny, and Jason was making his way down a steep hill fast, since he risked missing his first bus in a series of connections. That’s when a piece of wrinkled paper blowing in the wind hit him smack in the chest. He involuntarily caught it in one fist. He voluntarily unwrinkled the ball of paper, but then involuntarily laughed when he read what was scrawled on the bedraggled sheet of lined notebook paper. “I AM GOING TO KILL YOU” this piece of wind-trash promised.

He thought it was funny. He did. He looked left and right down the two sides of the long suburban street he was presently passing at an intersection. No one. Not even that many parked cars. And all of them empty. He looked back over his shoulder. Ditto. And the hill he was descending was similarly devoid of humanity . There were only a few scattered houses here and there with bits of forest between them that the deer loved to haunt. Since it was mid-morning already, the serried, cold suburban houses sat there mostly rid of their human burdens, doing whatever it is houses do when we leave. Maybe every third or fourth house found itself saddled with a stay-at-homer or a sick child hidden deeply away inside. But most were on a non-human holiday, their empty windows staring at the cold blue sky where, high above, the clouds hurried along.

Jason tossed the paper back to the wind. He figured it had fallen from a fork in a tree above where it had temporarily lodged. He wondered at the backstory, who had written the savage message and to whom. He considered the possibility that it might not be savagely intended at all, that it might in fact be a joke between friends, or possibly even a love note.

Jason had to admit he found it strange when less than a week later he caught another piece of paper against his leg on a day of heavy winds. Because, amazingly, this one too had a threat scrawled on its surface. This time it read merely “KILL YOU.” The young man scanned the street he was walking, but there was no one. And he was nowhere near the block where the original note had impacted his chest. He looked up at all the dormer windows of the houses on that street. But no one. The only ones on the street were Jason and the wind. Even the birds had taken shelter on a day of heavy gusts.

When his friend Craig asked for the specifics of the notes (“What were they written with? Pencil? Pen? Lipstick?”) Jason explained that they appeared to be scrawled only in dirt or maybe charcoal, just smudges, as though someone had written them with the fingertips of filthy gloves used to unload coal from a hod. It was odd.

A few weeks later, Jason had nearly forgotten the messages with all the busywork of college. It was the first truly windy day in several weeks when he found himself face to face with another note. He literally came face to face with it, as the wind blew the crumpled page of notebook paper flat against his features and it covered him like a surgical mask. The young man felt his heart beat faster. He knew how irrational this fear was, but when he grabbed the paper and looked down, he again saw the same dirty scrawl. But there was only one word now: “You.”

This is the note they found gripped in the young man’s hand when they dug his body out of the rubble of the fallen church belfry. The old, long-abandoned crumbling mess of a church had been an eyesore in the community for decades. After Jason’s death, which was followed by several rounds of municipal finger-pointing, the town finally took a wrecking ball to the vaguely Gothic monstrosity where no one had worshipped in more than a generation.

Jason had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Everyone said it, even the coroner. The belfry had no bell. That had vanished in time immemorial. Possibly it had been melted down for the war effort all those years ago. The belfry was even missing its little roof. It was just a stack of bricks that, unfortunately, fell as a unit. And it landed on Jason.

Some people talked suspciously of the note found clutched in the young man’s hand and the single word scrawled on it like a threat. It was the sort of troubling detail people talk about for years. But nothing ever came of it. And no threatening writer was ever found.

The coroner put the town paper straight on the facts. “You might as well say that young man was killed by the wind. It’s as innocent as that.”

Writer, visual artist. Books include Sanskrit of the Body, which won in the U.S. National Poetry Series (Penguin). https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/532348.