Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A fictional post

An unusual post tonight as I don't often post fiction.

I've just been putting the finishing touches to a screenplay for a comedy horror film I was commissioned to write. If all goes well (and the finances come in), shooting could begin in late Summer. And I might just get paid. I'm realistic enough to know that things don't always go to plan so I have retained the rights to the script just in case. I'm actually rather pleased with it.

The story takes place in Ireland and, while I was putting it together, I raided my folders of past work, notes and sketches to see if there was anything I could use. And I found this very short story - The Man of Hunger - that I wrote back in 1990. It's getting on for 20 years old now (1990 seems so recent ... sigh) and I therefore make no apologies for some of the more hackneyed prose and cliche. I was learning. I'd like to think I've got better. Enjoy.

The Man of Hunger

The O’Halloran’s convenience wasn’t at all convenient. It stood at the bottom of a long and rambling garden and, here and there, scattered on the rough crab-grass and cobbles, lay the shards of broken flower pots. It was bad enough trying to negotiate this dangerous obstacle course by day, let alone in the middle of the night. And, in addition, the night held terrors for eight year old Padgraig. He wasn’t sure what he should do. He’d drunk too much water at supper time and now he needed to relieve himself. But how? He had no chamber pot (He’d broken a brand new one a week ago but hadn’t built up the courage to tell his father yet.) There was no other choice. He would have to go outside.

Into the garden.

Into the dark.

Since he was baby, his Nana had told him stories of the night people that inhabited the moonlit world. Just as grey was neither black nor white, so moonlight was neither night nor day and the folk that lived and bathed in it were something less and yet something more than human: The Banshee who wailed and screamed across the marshes; the one-armed and one-legged Fachan; the child devouring Ghillie-Dhu. Padgraig respected the faerie folk. And he feared them. However, the pain in his bladder was growing worse and he knew that he would have to go soon or burst.

He slowly pulled back the bolt on the back door and his stomach growled. He was hungry. Everyone was hungry. Padgraig prayed to God that his hungry tummy would stay silent as his bare feet touched the cool stone of the back step. An owl hooted and somewhere, in the distance, a vixen, sounding for all the world like a woman howling with misery and loss, called for a mate. Padgraig's courage nearly deserted him but desperation drove him on.

One step.

Two.

He made his way carefully down the garden path towards the little shed. All was silent except for his gentle footfalls and a shuffling, rustling noise like dry leaves whispering wind-blown over flagstones. He stopped still, hardly daring to breathe. He listened closely. A cat? The whiffling, soft scraping noise was coming from the Baxter's garden. And there was another noise; a low moaning like the noises his uncle made when he'd drunk too much poteen. Padgraig slowly and silently tip-toed to the wall and peered into the garden next door.

His eyes opened wide with astonishment. At the back door of the Baxter’s house stood a scarecrow of a man; a stick figure dressed in grubby rags that floated around it as if pushed by a warm breeze. It had the face of a dead man; skull-white, old as parchment, slivers of red muscle and pink flesh clinging in tattered sheets. The eyes were deep-set and staring. The teeth were yellowed and chipped. Wisps of wiry hair grew in clumps upon its wrinkled leathery scalp. The creature was peering through the window and moaning softly to itself. Padgraig was so mesmerised and so scared that he hardly noticed that he had wet himself.

The skeletal figure seemed to become even less substantial as, soundlessly, its arm slid into the wall. Its body followed, slipping through the solid bricks and mortar like a man wading into a pond. The wraith was gone and Padgraig stood trembling in his damp socks. He knew this being. He knew what it was and what it did. This was the Man of Hunger - the Man who stole into houses at night in order to clothe his wasting body in muscle and skin, sinew and bone, taken from those who were close to death. It was a sad, pointless existence that the Man of Hunger endured, for as fast as he re-built his body, it would immediately begin to crumble and wither away. He was a damned soul, destined never to be whole, spurned by God and the Devil.

Despite his terror, Padgriag felt unable to leave the wall and stayed waiting for a further ten minutes, his eyes glued to the rear of the Baxter’s house. His perseverance was rewarded when the Man of Hunger re-emerged rubbing his saggy belly. Muscle and skin now clothed his skull and barely any bone shone through. The pitiful creature let out a last, lonely, mournful wail and walked slowly towards the gate. Then it stopped and those terrible empty black eyes stared straight at Padgraig.

“Not your time”, hissed the Man of Hunger and then, he was gone.

The next day, Padgraig admitted to his father that he’d broken his chamber pot. Calum O'Halloran cuffed him gently around the ear and said, “Accident’s happen.” Then he insisted on Padgraig putting on his Sunday best and going next door to pay his respects to old Mary Baxter who had died in the night. She was 83 and had been ill for some time.

The only person Padgraig ever told about the Man of Hunger was his best friend Terry Colhoun. He didn’t believe a word of it, of course, and Padgraig was so cross that he didn't call for Terry for a week.

And he never again drank water at supper time.

Copyright (c) 1990 Steve Colgan

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