Chains that bind the world: In the electronic age, the curse of the chain letter is only going to get worse

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The chummy-sounding chain letter my wife received looked like a normal circular with the address typed faintly on a self-adhesive label. But the fate that the letter invoked was as awesome and bloodcurdling as anything in Struwelpeter. Some anonymous, misbegotten twerp had thought to improve their station by directing a version of magical, self-activating curses through our letterflap.

This letter has been sent to you for good luck. The original is in New England. It has been round the world nine times. The luck has been sent to you. You will receive luck within four days of receiving this letter provided you send it out. John Elliott lost pounds 40,000 because he broke the chain. . .Carlo Dadi, an office employee, received the letter, forgot it had to leave his hands within 96 hours. He lost his job. . .Gene Welch lost his wife six days after receiving this letter. However before her death he had just received dollars 7,773. . .

I just hope Mrs Welch stayed around long enough for him to count it.

Tired of reading about rapists, murderous child molesters and thieves of pension funds? Why not participate in a risk-free manner in the mayhem out there, with the postal equivalent of a computer virus? Abusers of electronic mail can be bombarded or 'flamed' by other circuit users. If God is truly responsible for the incubation of witless tormenters such as the misbegotten twerp, She would be ill advised to give out her E-mail code, for it would be permanently a-flame.

In my time, I confess I have in feeble-minded moments sent chain letters on, fatuously expecting to win the cosmic pools. But I've included my address, an answerability, a gormless admission of joining in the game. Now it seems you don't even have to give out your name to raise other people's ire. The chain letter is a primitive and rather unpleasant version of the interactive novel.

Please send 20 copies and see what happens in four days. . .for some strange reason it works. In 1987 the letter received by a young lady in California was very faded and barely legible. She decided she would retype the letter and send it on, but she put it aside to do later. She was suddenly plagued with a lot of automobile problems and expensive repair bills. The letter did not leave her hands in 96 hours. She finally retyped the letter and sent it out and won a new car within days.

As my infinitely descended letter tells me, the First Letter in the Chain was pulled or perhaps pushed from Venezuela, written not exactly by the Moving Finger Up There, but someone close to Him.

This chain comes from Samuel Anthony Legroup, a missionary from South America. Since the letter must make a tour of the world, you must mail 20 copies to friends and associates.

Father Sam-The-Chain was probably awarded a cardinal's hat within days of spending the mission's smallpox vaccination fund on postage stamps, and took it as confirmation of the hand of God in his scheme. However, this wretched being, the self-duplicating two-headed gypsy curse he willed into existence, is still circling the world today.

The original is in New England.

The singularity puzzles me. But perhaps in the beginning one letter, not 20, was necessary to scare up what you wanted. There's inflation for you. In the future, our children will have to toil at the electronic equivalent of Tibetan prayer-wheels to get lucky.

Constantine Olar received the letter in 1953. He had his secretary make 20 copies and send them out. A few days later he won the lottery for dollars 2m.

Instead of the idle sod being fired for misusing the firm's time and stationery, Mr Olar scoops up wealth beyond the dreams of avarice. The moonlighting secretary, presumably, was not showered with the same gold dust. In 1953 there were no photocopiers, but Underwood upright typewriters and dirty rustling carbon paper. Others fared differently.

Nolan Fairchild received the letter and not believing it, tossed it away.

Like the base Indian and the pearl richer than all his tribe. No, Nolan, don't do it] Nine days later you will be worm-fodder, your shade will be trembling on Lethe's mortal strand.

Why on earth do we, as a species, do it? Most animals are canny beasts compared to us, far too wise to plague each other thus.

Do not send money as fate has no price. Send no money and DO NOT ignore this.

Chain letters aren't going to die off. I once advised a busy friend of mine to save time and use her fax machine to send on the chain letter she feared, but had no time to deal with. Snatching up her address book, in minutes she had eluded the letter's curse by redirecting its menace electronically all over the globe. My advice is to put an incoming call selector on your electronic mailbox.

For some strange reason it works. This is true even if you are not superstitious.