The Thankless Man

Submitted into Contest #121 in response to: Write about someone in a thankless job.... view prompt


Contemporary Fiction Urban Fantasy

The doorbell rang, so I opened the door. There was a man there. He was long, so long, it took ages before I found his face. It was up high, high, high in the sky.

I said to the face at the end of the long man, "Hello-oo".

The long man also had a long face, and on it were black eyes, raven black and the eyes locked onto me, and they screwed tight, so tight that the forehead creased and the nose wrinkled. Moreover, the face was presented to me by a body entirely dressed in black, except for broad turquoise straps over the shoulders. The body was very skinny and not worrisome at all, but the face was.

At first, I thought it was an escaped mummy from a mausoleum. It had that petrified polish to it, tobacco yellow with patches of tan on the tip of the nose and around the bony cheeks, like some prehistoric creature trapped in a glacier for centuries. The skin was stretched way too tight, it looked like it might rip at any moment, and there was no muscle or fat under the paper skin. The head was skin and skull shrink-wrapped and balanced on the bones of an undertaker's body.

I was staring at it, and no matter how long I looked, the face did not move at all. Maybe it was a mask glued onto someone sinister. I really should not have opened the door so recklessly. I made a grave mistake. This was not a laughing matter.

So much time seemed to pass between the door swinging open and the utterance of that solitary word. Still, the face just stared at me with all of its shiny black beads, and then without warning, the head tilted, and the eyes blinked.

Do you know how lizards blink? A membrane slides up from somewhere underneath, so the reptile can keep watching you while it lubricates the eyes? Well, his blink was not like that at all. It was a normal one, like this: blink. And it was done. His blinking made my eyes go dry, and then they copied his: blink.

A meatball bobbed in his thorax. First, it went up disappeared under the chin. Then it came back down and slid under the collar. Then an area of skin between his chin and nose was sliced open horizontally by the blade of a pinkish purple tongue. The flesh peeled apart. It looked vulgar.

"Deliveroo-oo?" said the slit in his head to the empty corridor. His brows raised, and his eyes rounded by the effort of the extended syllable. Ink drops on china saucers.

He placed the word in between us. The problem with words is they are messy. They just go off everywhere the moment they are pronounced, so the corridor filled up. I am pretty sure some of the sounds even managed to squeeze past me and sneak into my apartment. Still, the majority of them loitered in between us.

I regarded the interconnected syllables hanging there. Finally, I shook my head and decided that, in reply, I would say, "No, no! Oh. I do not think so, so".

It seemed to be a simple "No" on its own, was a bit weak. It needed some furniture, something to help it travel through this tough old world. So I added way more furniture than I needed, and then I gave my fortified sentence to the man.

"No, no! Oh. I do not think so, so," said I.

He looked at me.

He straightened his titled head.

He looked at the floor.

He waited down there on the floor, looking and blinking, and then he brought the obsidian eyes back up to mine.

Betwixt me and thee exists infinity, I thought to myself.

"Where do you need to be-eeee?" I asked.

His back marble pupils rolled into the corner of each eye and slightly down and pointed at his palm; my eyes followed. His hand was opened flat, and it was glowing blue. He did not smile.

I looked at his hand, and etched in the glare were words. I read them, but it was difficult because each letter was wiggling; it took a while to catch all the tiny ants and understand what they meant. It was an address. I did not own that address. It was not mine. So I shook my head at the address, and suddenly it extinguished and turned into a black mirror. I could see me in his palm.

I kept watching to see what his hand would do next. It dropped to hang down beside the torso. My curiosity followed the arm up to the shoulder, paused on the turquoise strap and continued over to the head.

The chin skin split open and peeled apart again. The sticky fresh-cut said nothing. It just twisted horribly, opened a little more on one end, and flapped as he exhaled, and the escaping air made sense.

"I don't understand these bloody bloody people," he said through his nose.

The man deflated somewhat, the mouth cut healed. He unfolded one of his long thin articulated fingers, pressed a button, and two aluminium doors slid open behind him.

Suddenly I felt sadness intrude on me. Pity for him.

"Sorry-eee," I said.

He entered the double doors and pressed another button, and my elevator ate him. I could hear him being chewed by giant gears and swallowed by my machine. I listened to the long intestine take him down, down, down to the hinged sphincter on the ground floor, and just like that, I was rid of the long man dressed in black with the strange face.

I closed my door.

I noticed the keys swinging.

I pressed my eye to the peephole.

The corridor looked buckled and ominous. I did not like how that peephole treated the hall. All the emptiness in the passage looked funny from inside the peephole. But not funny (ha-ha), it was funny (peculiar), so I locked and unlocked the door five times and sighed.

Then I had a little giggle to myself.

"Heee heee", I said to the passage of my cosy little apartment.

"Heee, heee," I said to my rubber walls and bendy floor.

"Behave yourself," I said to the trillion fluorescent ants crawling around the ceiling.

It was so difficult to keep my smile hidden away when the man was pointing all his eyes at me and vomiting words everywhere. But he was gone, and I was safe to smile, so I did for the next four hours.

I set my smiling loose all over my home. It was more or less like paint. Yes, that particular one was like paint, applied by my eyes. So I painted everything I looked at. That was quite a job. All the intense staring left my throat thirsty.

There is a cupboard above the kettle. Inside is a bottle of lemon and a bottle of honey. I put generous squirts of both into a cup of piping hot tea and closed the cabinet. The colour changed from wet red to copper, and it tasted so good.

"Ooof, that's nice", I said.

Nobody was listening to me, but it felt nice talking to myself.

I closed my eyes to magnify the taste and took a long slurping slip.

"Oh, yes-ss!" I confirmed to myself with a nod.

And then the man was there. He made me jump and the tea slosh. I stopped breathing. But when I opened my eyes, he was not there. He was residue stuck behind my lids, so I closed my eyes again, and sure enough, there he was, and he was gradually fading. I was absorbing him into me. Perhaps tomorrow, I would retrieve him, from my memories, and all of his peculiar longness. I kept my eyes closed while he extended me. My strange little life now included him, and in the same way, I was embedded in him.

And then I looked around and yawned. From my window on the eighth floor, I admired my neighbourhood. The sky had painted everything white, except for the road with its ashen dashes that went off to the left. Then, just before the black lane turned from sight, I saw an elongated man in black with a massive turquoise cube on this back. He was hunched over, his skinny legs stitching up and down, driving him forward awkwardly. I watched him pedal until he was gone.

November 21, 2021 18:29

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Tommy Goround
12:33 May 24, 2022

THEME: Don't knock on my door when I have the ants. THEME: Each visitor, interaction, results in a change in our person and process. “The problem with words is they are messy.” AMEN. LIKE St. Paul talking about angel-speech and everyone forgot he said to get a translator. Like all those ants, everywhere; It is the season of words and letters; get some poison. THIS MIGHT BE...THE _EVERYTHING_ OF THE STORY “My strange little life now included him, and in the same way, I was embedded in him.” MY HEART GOES TO WANTING THE VISITOR TO BE AN...


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Tommy Goround
21:56 May 23, 2022

Unpeel: Layer 1 is the story. But POV changed for me on the rubber room. Does a prisoner always know he is a prisoner...and the shared coffee. Layer 2 and beyond. I have a worry that there is four to five dimensions to the story because of the rubber room. This scares me to some degree as I stop to consider the choices of symbols. Like I am following The treasure of your mind in a path... Then the path will double back as if you don't want me to follow.. the rubber room. Ok. I must go pick up my children so they are not put in jail. I wil...


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Francis Daisy
00:58 Dec 02, 2021

Your way of describing is incredible. I loved the line about vomiting words. That struck me as so powerful and rich.


Bruce Thomas
20:30 Dec 03, 2021

Thanks Francia, you made my day today :D


Francis Daisy
04:03 Dec 04, 2021

You are quite welcome.😀


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