Following is one of the eleven fictional stories from my book "I Leapt Into the Night, And Ten Other Stories". The book is a compilation of quirky stories I wrote as an English major focusing on creative writing at the University of Alaska from 1990-1992, and which I've edited a great deal since then.
"A Struggle Against an Unknown Enemy"
by Gabriel Morris
One cannot easily comprehend the surprise of finding a wooden chair stuffed inside a post office box, until such a moment has already arisen. But you may well imagine my astonishment, being only an ordinary postman on his daily rounds, having emptied post boxes for nearly thirty years with hardly a complication—aside from the occasional garbage and a few childish pranks, of course. I did come across a frightened tomcat once, trapped inside the large blue box, scratching and screaming frantically, most likely put there by the neighborhood children. But as soon as I unlocked and cracked open the little door, the cat ran out and across the street and into the bushes on the other side, so that I had little time to think before it was gone. It brought me no prolonged trouble whatsoever—only a frightening surprise which made my heart jump, and then a chuckle throughout the rest of the day.
But the situation in which I now found myself was quite different. For one thing, it took a terrible struggle just to get the thing out. The chair had been wedged in somehow, so that it was crushing many of the letters and packages inside. How it might have gotten there was beyond me. Myself and the post office manager—who was surely not the type to pull such a ridiculous stunt—were the only two people in the world with the correct keys. And the lock appeared not to have been tampered with. But there was no denying it—there was clearly a chair in there, as my aged but strong hands confirmed what my eyes could hardly believe.
I committed myself to trying every possible angle in which to remove the cumbersome thing, and eventually succeeded, though not before unbuttoning my shirt to keep from sweating in the hot afternoon sun. When finally I’d wrenched the object from its confinement, I set it down on the sidewalk and wiped my brow with relief, having just exerted myself to an extent not achieved since the last time I’d locked the front door of my house with the keys inside and been forced to climb through the side window, a few weeks earlier. For some reason, I do that quite often. At the age of fifty-five I still retain some of my youthful immaturity—though, of course, now I’m not in the same condition to take responsibility for my recklessness, as when I was in my prime.
The chair was a sort of dull burgundy red, quite worn and faded, as if perhaps it had been sitting on someone’s front porch in the sunlight for many years. It appeared, however, that it had been a striking color at one time, a blazing red that would have captured one’s attention wherever it rested. It didn’t seem the sort of item that anyone in this small town would have bothered to purchase—at least no one that I’d known in my half-century here. It was an exotically perplexing antique, almost frightening in its mysterious aura.
The chair was covered in thick velvet and was quite small, which was why it had been able to fit inside the post box at all. It had only three legs, which came out in a triangular formation from the center of the seat. The small seat back was very straight and hard, so that I imagined whoever had made use of it regularly must have been rather stern and strict, with something of a punishing disposition. I hadn’t seen such a piece of furniture in my entire life, and knew not at all what to make of it.
The longer I stood there on the sidewalk, my shirt unbuttoned, the hot sun blazing down on me, the more puzzled and disturbed I became. I just stood there staring at the blasted thing for a good five or ten lengthy minutes, not knowing what to do with it or in any way how to resolve the bizarre dilemma before me.
I couldn’t very well throw it out, as it appeared it might be a relic of some kind, maybe even worth something, either historically or monetarily. But neither did I have the desire to take it home with me. My wife would probably have thought I was crazy, especially once I explained the manner in which I’d obtained it. And besides, it attracted too much attention to remain in any normal person’s home. Any visitor would likely find themselves in discomfort at the sight of this strange creation resting so imposingly in the corner.
I tried sitting in it. But as well as looking ridiculous there in the middle of the sidewalk on a sunny day, it was extremely uncomfortable, and made me want to jump up and get the hell away. It wasn’t any normal person’s chair, that was for sure, and I knew then that I wanted nothing to do with it, whatever its value. I decided finally just to leave it right there, for whomever might happen upon it and take enough fancy to it to take it home with them. I was losing time in my state of indecision and needed to carry on with my route.
But as I was lifting the chair cautiously to the edge of the sidewalk, to set it beside a large Elm tree, I noticed something on the chair that I couldn’t readily ignore. A rectangular area on the back of one of the wooden legs had been indented, and something was apparently written or carved there.
I looked closer, and saw one terrifying word burned clearly into the wood: “Hell”. And just above that one word was a postage stamp, of the denomination six dollars and sixty six cents—as if it actually had a destination and had been paid for, putting it plainly in my responsibility.
I was so surprised and confused and frightened all at once, I jumped backwards, tossing the chair away from me, so that it clattered onto the sidewalk on its side as I fell onto the grass beside the sidewalk, staining my elbows.
I lay there on my back for a few long moments, resting in the grass in a sort of bewildered stupor, staring at the chair as if it were a dying leper, contagious and writhing before me, begging for something which I had no intention of giving it. But even as I found myself partly in shock, I also found a strong resolve welling within me. I had always enjoyed a good challenge. There was nothing like a good fight to make you feel like you were alive.
It was as if I were suddenly faced with a battle against my own perceptions that I knew somehow I needed to win. I felt that I had to do something with this thing other than simply leave it sitting there, only to plague someone else. But neither did I want to get up right away, since that would have meant committing myself to action. So I just lay there thinking for a few long minutes, staring at the cursed object, hoping that no one had seen me and my ridiculous display.
When I considered it, six dollars and sixty six cents was actually about right for something of that size and weight. But I wondered where the stamp could have come from, for I was certain that the post office hadn’t printed it. I knew all the current stamps, and there was none for that specific denomination.
Finally, I got up from my resting place on the grass, slowly and warily, and walked over to the chair, crouching to look at it carefully, as if at any moment it might jump up, snarling, and sink its teeth into my leg.
The stamped side was now facing down. I kicked the chair so that the stamp was facing up, and studied it. The stamp was just above and to the right of the word “Hell”, and appeared to have been torn from a sheet, as the sides were ridged like any normal stamp. The picture was of a bull from behind, looking back with nostrils flaring, red, angry eyes, and two menacing horns protruding from the sides of its bulky head. Below that was printed $6.66, and the words United States Postal Service. It appeared to be completely authentic.
As I was staring at the stamp, noticing the details in the background—flames shooting upwards and the leaves of trees hanging down similar to the Elm behind me—the image of the bull suddenly threw its head upwards and down in one swift motion, and then was still again.
There I was, standing in the sun staring at a strange chair resting on the sidewalk, just as before—but I suddenly felt as if my spirit had been invaded, like my soul had been tampered with. I was leaning over the chair tentatively, forward a bit on my toes, and now with my mouth hanging open, my eyes wide in amazement, body frozen stiff in fear. In one fleeting instant the intensity of the situation increased a thousand-fold.
For a brief moment I lost the ability to move. My muscles became frozen in fear—and then another moment later they were tense in anger and hatred, towards what I wasn’t sure. I couldn’t believe what had just occurred before my eyes. I felt compelled to lash out at the object that seemed to be the cause of my anger.
But I held back, and instead crouched even closer to the chair to peer at the tiny postage stamp, trying to somehow make sense of what I’d just seen, to confirm or deny my distorting perspective. I put my eye closer to the image, scrutinizing it for any other source of movement—a bug perhaps that had flapped its wings, or a speck of dust that had blown away. But there seemed to be nothing out of place, only the very real image of the bull staring back at me through the flames.
The image was quite still, as before, convincing me that the sudden movement I had seen must have been only an illusion, a trick played on my eyes in my old age, a little heat stroke in the midst of a long workday.
But then, even more unexpectedly than before, the bull threw back its devilish head, as a deep, bellowing laugh of pity came from the depths of its throat to invade my ears, sounding as if it were echoing all around me. And yet, this laugh was clearly directed at no one but myself. It sent chills through my bones that rushed through my muscles and arrived at my fist, ready to strike. But the tail of the bull moved suddenly, quicker than I could have reacted even if I’d anticipated it. Before I could think, the tail of the beast came out from its little cage, getting rapidly larger and longer; until it struck me on the side of my face, leaving a clear, thin red line that went from my left eye to the comer of my mouth and immediately began to bleed.
Once again I was thrown back, against the Elm tree in the grass behind me. But I instantly rebounded and lunged at the tiny image of the bull, which I could see now had turned to face me. I struck at the chair with my fist and sent it tumbling across the sidewalk. In so doing, I scraped my hand across the knuckles and they too began bleeding.
I ran again at the chair to kick it and send it flying into the street, where hopefully it would be shattered on impact or crushed by an oncoming car. But as I was running towards it, certain of overpowering it, I could hear the sounds of the bull snorting and pounding its hooves, scraping up clouds of dust before charging and trampling me.
I feared that it might escape from its tiny cage and kill me if I didn’t act quickly enough. I grabbed the wooden chair as the sounds of snorting and pounding of hooves echoed violently in my ears, my face and hands sweating profusely. The chair, or beast, or whatever it was seemed actually to be coming alive as my arms grasped it.
I stood and lifted the object in the air. I could feel it quickly becoming heavy, as heavy as the creature that seemed intent on destroying me. It seemed to be rapidly transforming. I held the object high above my head, and then ran towards my mail truck parked alongside the curb, my legs almost crumbling beneath me from its increasing weight. And then I hurled the thing into the side window of my vehicle. The window shattered as the bull struck the side of the truck, and the many shards of glass became flame which leapt out and penetrated my body, and sent my reeling back and crashing down onto the sidewalk.
I regained consciousness—what felt like days later, but was probably only a matter of minutes—to find someone lifting me upwards and screaming in my ear:
“Sir, sir, are you okay? Wake up! Wake up!”
“What?” I said. I was wholly disoriented, as can be imagined. “Hey, what are you doing? What’s going on?”
I jumped to my feet, staggering to stay upright, clutching my ears. A young boy stood on the sidewalk beside me, looking up with curiosity and fright.
“What happened to you?” he said. “Your face is bleeding.”
I could barely see from the blood caking my face, holding my eyelashes together like the bars of a cage across my eye. I put my hand on the boy’s shoulder to steady myself.
“Jesus Christ,” I said—which was all I could think to say upon the sight of my mail truck mangled from the impact of a large object (which appeared to no longer exist) and glass and blood scattered across the sidewalk. The bull, nor the chair, were anywhere to be seen. The driver side of my truck, facing the sidewalk, was fully caved in. But there was no remaining evidence of what might have caused it. Tiny shards of glass were stuck to my pants, as well as my skin. My left arm was bleeding profusely from glass cuts, which would have likely rendered me blind if I hadn’t raised my arm to protect my eyes.
“Jesus,” I said again. “Did you see what happened?” I said to the boy.
“No, sir. All I saw was you lying here like you were dead. I just finished school and was walking home. Are you the mailman?”
“Well, yes, I sure am—as of now, at least. I’ll see if I still have a job once my boss gets a hold of this truck.”
I raised my hand to my forehead. “Jesus holy Christ. What the hell happened to me? I feel as if I just wrestled with the devil himself.”
The sun was shining down, as before, and a few people drove by and stared.
“Well, sir, all I know is I gotta get home, ‘cause my mom is waiting for me. You better go see a doctor right away, you look scary.”
The boy ran off, leaving me standing there alone. I wasn’t sure whether I should report the incident immediately to the police, or simply run to the nearest mental institution and admit myself. I slapped myself a couple of times to make sure that I was awake, but it only hurt my already bruised cheeks. Finally, I decided just to walk home and allow my wife to attend to my wounds and fix me a hot cup of coffee, despite the weather. Whatever it was I’d just battled against, at least it appeared that I had won.