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The following piece of flash fiction first appeared in issue 8 of Doorways, an American magazine that only ran for eight issues before folding.

The Hole That Peter Found

by David Buchan

It was only when Peter stopped walking that he noticed how quiet the street had become.  It was a mild afternoon, the street devoid of traffic and other pedestrians, and he suddenly realised that his solitary movements had been shrouding an eerie silence that had been there all the time.  If it were not for the hole, he would never have stopped and noticed it.

Peter remained standing on the pavement in his crumpled work clothes, clutching a battered briefcase in his hand, and stared down at the oddity below him.  The hole was oval-shaped, and stretched across the middle of the pavement like an open wound.  It was deep enough to drop a rugby ball into.

He considered stepping over the hole, and perhaps reporting it to the council the next day.  He was already late for his dinner, the one that his mother still cooked for him, because he’d had to take the long way home from work.  His usual route home had become the hunting ground for a group of teenage girls who had taken to taunting passers-by.  Peter had found himself an easy victim, becoming the recipient of wolf-whistles and shouted requests to expose his genitalia.  His face would explode in crimson, leaving him running up the road, lit up like a beacon.  Girls were an alien species to Peter.  He had been scared of them ever since he was a boy.  Even at thirty-four, he was still a virgin.

But as he peered down at the hole, he felt a twinge of curiosity.  He looked around the street.  On his side:  an old warehouse.  On the other:  a row of houses, obscured by a thick green wall of trees and bushes.  Peter was quite alone.

He placed his briefcase on the pavement, and bent down, moving around the hole for a better look.  Some of the afternoon sun spilled into it and illuminated a layer of damp, brown leaves that looked like dead slugs.  Peter reached into the hole and brushed the slimy leaves away.

Somewhere in the distance a peal of girlish laughter broke the silence.  Peter flinched, quickly withdrawing his hand from the hole.  Feverishly, he looked around but saw no one.

He looked back inside the hole . . . and gasped.  His hands tightly gripped the rim.  He’d never seen anything like it.  “What are you?” he whispered into the hole.  But he got no response.

It looked like an opening in the bare earth; a slit, about a foot long.  In the poor light he thought he could see it quivering, like a child’s mouth before he’s about to burst into tears.  Moisture glistened over the opening.  Something, it appeared, was seeping out of the slit.

Peter’s mouth became dry.  He felt horrified and thrilled at the same time.  Again, he reached into the hole, his hand trembling towards the slit.  As the tips of his fingers touched the wetness, the lips slightly parted.  The whole of his hand slipped inside.  It felt soft and warm, and only a little damp.  He smiled.

Something glinted down there.

Peter saw them before he felt them:  two rows of needle-sharp points, shining like knives; then the crunch of sinew and bone.

A muted shriek escaped Peter’s mouth.  Blood spattered onto the sleeve of his shirt.  He tried desperately to pull his hand free, crying in pain as he struggled, but was drawn deeper into the hole.  Soon, his entire arm had been consumed, chewed to the bone.

The cold, hard surface of the pavement pressed against Peter’s face.  His eyes bulged.  Unable to speak, he mouthed silent pleas of help, whimpering to the empty street, before the pavement around the hole began to crumble beneath him.  Peter’s head broke through, and the rest of his body fell into the hole; for a moment, his legs stuck out in the air, kicking spasmodically, before they eventually disappeared, too.

Amid the commotion, the leaves in the hole stirred, jumping around and then settling over the slit, so they looked like a nest of dead slugs.  All was quiet again.

Only the battered briefcase remained, standing alone on the pavement, frozen in place, like an abandoned child.

© 2009 David Buchan

 

This tiny piece of flash fiction appeared on a webzine called AlienSkin, which is no longer around.

Ovation

by David Buchan

There was something about him I couldn’t quite put my finger on.  His words were hollow, and even puerile, yet everyone at the rally had lapped them up like a pack of hungry dogs, still wanting more.  Even my wife was clapping.

I looked up at him on the stage, at his flaring eyes, filled with the vitriol that he’d spewed onto us an hour before.  The applause that had followed was fervent and wild, and still going strong.

I’d stopped clapping when I realised something wasn’t right.  My palms were still aching.  A guard at the front narrowed his eyes at me.

The leader grinned, raised his arms, and wiggled his fingers like a puppet master.  His eyes glinted red, mesmerising.

I clutched my wife’s arm; gasped at her bloody hands.  She turned briefly, and smiled, her glazed face freckled with dark spots.  She didn’t appear to recognise me.

© 2008 David Buchan

 

The following story originally appeared in Ballista, a literary journal of speculative fiction that was published by Flapjack Press in Manchester.

Life and Limb

by David Buchan

I had my first encounter with Tony when I was seven years old.  He’d apparently been delivering letters to our house for years, but the only evidence I had hitherto seen of his existence was a pile of fat envelopes sitting on the hallway floor.

On the occasion of my seventh birthday, filled with excitement, I had stationed myself near the letterbox, readying myself to grab my birthday cards the moment they came through.  When they finally did, I eagerly grasped the bright-coloured envelopes with grubby fingers.  But they wouldn’t yield to my impatient tugs.  I peered through the open crevice, and nearly cried out when I saw a big metal hook dangling in front of my face.

Most boys would have probably run off, but I opened the door, instead.  After all, it was my birthday, and no-one could hurt me on my birthday, of that I was certain.

He greeted me with a sly grin.  I greeted him with an open mouth.  He towered over me on the doorstep in his smart postman’s uniform, and offered me the envelopes, which were carefully skewered onto the hook that should have been where his hand was.  “Sorry, lad,” he said.  “I thought you were a dog.”  He let me pluck the letters off his hook.  I did this tentatively, and only after I made him promise not to poke me full of holes with it.

Tony had lost his left hand to a couple of Dobermans a few years before.  It was a team effort on the part of the dogs:  one of them had clamped his wrist on the other side of the letterbox, while the other had gnawed on his hand.

If any more dogs were to try the same thing again, he told me, they’d get the sharp taste of metal, instead.

I had found my hero.

Every morning, before I left for school, I would wait by the front door, listening for the clang of the gate opening.  I’d suddenly jump out at him, and he’d always pretend to be surprised.

At school I told my best friend about him.  Standing in the playground, he regarded me with jealousy.  His postman didn’t have anything as interesting as a metal implement for a hand, only a dour face and a tendency to grunt when spoken to.

I found out that Tony had once been a soldier, but had packed it in to become a postman.  He even fought in a war.  It was the kind of war that people don’t like talking about, the unpopular kind, where the good guys suddenly turn into the bad guys, and no-one’s sure why the whole thing started in the first place.  There was even mention of Tony having been in the Special Forces.

One day, without warning, Tony stopped coming to our house.  Another postman came in his place.  Tony had had another one of his accidents, he moaned, as though my hero were some kind of buffoon.  He was nowhere near as cool as Tony.  He still had both of his hands.  I asked him if he had any razor-wire sprouting from his armpits, or a knife instead of a tongue, and he told me to fuck off.

The next week, Tony came back.  He was missing an ear.  He had a thick, white patch over the wound, and his face was covered in scratches.  He looked like one of those jungle tribesmen with their painted faces, except that he didn’t have a spear and a shrunken head hanging from a cord around his neck, only a bag bulging with letters.  “Magpies,” he said, grinning.  “The little buggers wanted to add me to their nest.”  He brandished his hook; its steel glinted in the morning sun.  “This sorted them out, though.”

I told my mother that I wanted to be a postman, just like Tony.  It was the only time she ever came close to hitting me.  She didn’t like Tony that much.  I don’t think anyone did.  It was because he smiled a lot, and I think that frightened them.

The next time Tony disappeared he came back without his right foot and ankle.  He hobbled into our garden on his new plastic limb, smiling and mumbling something about a bear trap.

Then it was his left arm, all the way up to the elbow.  I would never see his hook again.  He could see that this had upset me.  “It comes with the job, son.  These things happen,” he cheerily said, before ruffling my hair with his one remaining hand.  I wondered if his smile would one day disappear, too.

By the time I reached my teens, there wasn’t much left of Tony.  It was clear that he wouldn’t be able to deliver letters for much longer.  It was about this time that my mother and I moved house, into another area.  I wasn’t there to see Tony deliver his last letter.

To the relief of my mother, I never became a postman.  As soon as I turned seventeen, I got my driver’s licence, and became a courier, instead.

A couple of times I had to deliver parcels to the local mail sorting office.  That’s where I saw Tony again.  He waved when he noticed me.  He’d lost both legs, and was balanced in the seat of a wheelchair, happily popping letters in and out of various pigeon holes, quite literally, single-handedly.  He shouted something at me from across the room, but the array of buzzing, oscillating machinery surrounding him drowned out the words.

I still think of the things that happened to him, of the limbs he lost.  The way I look at it, he’d fought for his country, but never sustained a single injury.  Then some force in the Universe caught up with him, and balanced things out.

The last time I visited the sorting office, I found someone else sorting letters in his place.  Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted something.  What I first thought to be a sack of letters propping a door open was in fact Tony, in the shape of a torso and head.  His eyes had been replaced by glass ones, reflecting the interior lighting of the sorting office as though they were marbles; they had probably succumbed to the same accident that had mangled his mouth.

He still looked happy, though.

© 2008 David Buchan

Posted December 8, 2013 by David Buchan

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