Nobody Needs to Get Hurt

Do as C.L. Mah says (if you wouldn’t mind) and everything will be fine.

Good morning. Keep reading and do not make any sudden movements — this is a ransom note!

That should be obvious to you from the way I’ve individually cut and pasted each of these 4,253 characters from back issues of Martha Stewart Living onto this scrap of neon construction paper, which I’ve fixed to your refrigerator using a Disney magnet. Make no mistake: what I am about to tell you is quite terrifying, even if the font itself suggests “rustic chic.” (In retrospect, I should have used text from a more ominous publication, perhaps The Christian Science Monitor, except I could only afford one magazine subscription and have been hopelessly lacking festive autumn recipes.)

I have kidnapped your daughter, and have a list of demands in exchange for her return!

Not laughing now, are you?

That’s right, late last night, under cover of darkness, I tranquilized your toy poodle with a blowdart, crept into your house, finished the last piece of cheesecake from your refrigerator, and left without a trace. Then I remembered what I originally came for, went back inside, snatched your sleeping teenage daughter from her bed, and whisked her away on my tricycle. I also folded your laundry and loaded the dishwasher. You people live in filth!

Rest assured, your daughter is safe. For now. My intent is not to harm her. You’ll be grateful to learn that I am making her as comfortable as possible by providing her with a private clean room filled with Lisa Frank stationary, a jump rope, a sandbox, a poster of the Full House cast, and several other items which I have been told teenage girls enjoy. If you do not meet the following demands within 48 hours, however, I will begin to cut off her fingers, one at a time, for every day that passes, until her hands are nothing but grotesque stumps, or at least until my weak stomach and aversion to blood forces me to devise some other torture method that does not cause me debilitating, day-long bouts of vomiting.

My first demand is for $75,000 in unmarked bills, neatly stacked in a black suitcase, and deposited in the blue recycling bin outside of the Panera Bread on 4th. Do not confuse this with the Panera Bread on 7th, as I am technically not allowed within 50 feet of their building and would thus have no legal means to retrieve the suitcase there. I would prefer that you pay the amount all at once, but if that is not possible, I will also accept a series of monthly checks, made out to my ex-wife’s attorney and bearing the memo line, “Alimony Payments.”

For my second demand — and I hope this isn’t too forward, but I understand you have a colleague whose son went to middle school with Jimmy Buffett’s daughter, Sarah Delaney Buffet — I was really hoping that you could get me tickets for next Friday’s show. Ticketmaster is all sold out, and you know how those scalpers will rip you off. So if it’s not too much trouble, I was wondering if you might ask your colleague about the tickets. No pressure, though!

Third and lastly, I demand a getaway vehicle, preferably one with four wheels and which does not come with pink streamers on any handlebars. The vehicle should be parked not so close to the suitcase that it raises suspicion, but not so far that an overweight middle-aged male smoker could not walk from one to the other without needing to take breaks for air.

Do not take these words lightly. I am not joking around — not like that time I told the flight attendant I had a bomb in my pants but really it was just a zucchini. I was joking then, but I am not joking right now, not after I learned how people get treated for joking. If you do not believe me, here’s a picture of your daughter, bound and gagged. (Don’t worry! She’s still safe — the picture is just for effect.) I was not able to take a photograph, but the crayon illustration below is frighteningly accurate.

If you are trembling in fear, good, because you should be. If you aren’t crying hysterically and wringing your hands over what a negligent father you’ve been, then, well why aren’t you doing that too?! And if, as you read this, your daughter wanders sleepily into the kitchen, asking if breakfast is ready, you should ask her why, why was her bed occupied last night by a decoy of herself made from pillows and an uncannily realistic paper-mache head? And moreover why was her second-floor bedroom window left open, the wind wafting those soft white curtains inward, a ladder of tangled bed sheets hanging so casually close to the ground? Had she snuck out to spend the night at her boyfriend’s again, thinking the decoy would fool her father, unaware that it would also fool an overweight, middle-aged, impotent, far-sighted male smoker?

Quick, before you do anything else, pack as much cash as you can into a grocery bag and head to Panera Bread (4th Street). We’ve no time to waste! Don’t worry about the tickets, and you can even forget about the getaway vehicle. The money is enough. Whatever is in your wallet is fine, really. You can stop at the ATM if so compelled, but just get out of the house without making any noise. Head to the handoff spot as quickly as you can, and be sure no one follows you. Throw the money in the bin and drive away or, if you’re not busy, you could come over to my shack and we can hang out. I don’t have a couch or a TV, so you’ll have to bring your own, but we can also play cards or ride bikes if that is more to your liking. In fact, don’t even worry about the money; just bring some ice cream over and we can talk about the weather, or politics, or the struggles of being a middle-aged man in today’s unforgiving world.

Just follow my instructions and nobody will get hurt.

Illustration by Hallie Bateman

C.L. Mah lives, works, and occasionally writes in Seattle. His work has been published in McSweeney's, Yankee Pot Roast, and on various personal blogs which have all been deleted due to lack of pageviews.