The Postmaster

Chain Border

You walked into the outer office and I saw you instantly for what you are; a nondescript man over-dressed in a pompous attitude. Your post-office issue uniform was as starched as your demeanour, no doubt painstakingly upkept by a hen-pecked and oppressed little wifey. Only a short man, yet you obviously see yourself as someone to be reckoned with. "No Shit Shortie." That's what I'll call you because no one will give you any crap, will they mate, eh?

Stubborn to the end your only concession to the stifling heat is the fact that you have undone your jacket. Dark blue staining is visible to your pale blue shirt as sweat leaks by the bucket load from under your armpits. The creases on your trousers are too pressed, the shine on your shoes too thorough, the beads of perspiration caused by stress too unnecessary. In a word my friend, and on thirty seconds' observation, I feel justified in thinking of you as a dick.

I almost checked the soles of my shoes for smeared dog turds as your gaze fell upon me with all the brevity of a gavel. Okay so my skirt probably had the odd piece of lint on it and my work shoes are slightly scuffed with wear, but does that instantly make me so much less than you?

You are the master of all you purvey. The sole employee of the small sorting office on King's Road. That makes you the Postmaster General in your eyes. Ruler of your mighty empire, king of your pristine castle.

"Can I help you, Madam?" you asked, adding the matrimonial title in the form of a loaded insult.

"Yes please, I believe you have a parcel here for me. My name's…"

You cut me off rudely mid sentence.

"Card," your hand extended over the counter in expectation of the proffered card. "Please." you add as an after thought.

"I'm sorry, I'm afraid I don't have one, you see I have just moved…"

"Oh well if you don't have your card there's nothing I can do to help you." This is without a doubt your favourite sentence of the day. You must lie in wait in your Mr. Sheen lair waiting for some unsuspecting innocent to utter the phrase "I don't have a card." Only so that you can leap on them with relish and batter them into the ground for such a heinous indiscretion. You sneer visibly. That made your day you little prick didn't it? You remind me a little of Captain Mainwaring off Dad's Army though without the humour. You begin to move the papers on your overly tidy desk from one side to the other, eyes cast downward. I have been dismissed.

I drop the apology from my voice and adopt maybe just one cube of ice. I enunciate each word with all the patience you would use with a recalcitrant three-year-old. "A parcel was delivered to my old address yesterday. I don't have the card because I no longer live there and there was no answer when I knocked earlier. It is an important parcel and if you would just look for me please I have all the I.D you need and I would be most grateful." The last phrase was, I shamefully admit, laden with sarcasm.

"If you don't have a card then how do you know it was delivered?"

"Because it was sent."

You open your mouth to retort in this tit for tat game of verbal tennis, but realise that if you fail to acknowledge delivery of the parcel then you are admitting fault with your beloved post office and the institution thereof.

You glare at me balefully. The stare would send a lesser woman rushing off to try and locate the errant card. I stand my ground and meet the stare dagger to acrimonious dagger.

"All the returned mail is logged in the work ledger, I suppose I could look in there for you." You concede grudgingly.

I smile a thin smile of something just less than gratitude. So kind of you to put yourself out to such lengths.

You heft up your version of the Doomsday Book from a shelf underneath the desk. The effort involved is visibly immense, and you huff and puff in exaggerated throes of physical exertion in order to show the lengths you will go to, that are above and beyond the call of duty to serve your ungrateful public.

"Name?" No 'please,' grudging or otherwise, this time. My name doesn't impress you and is rewarded by a loud sniff of disapproval. I refrain from apologising for the lack of barrels and hyphens that may have favoured your approval.

Still sighing audibly you retrieve the current page of entries and scour them using a finger to mark your progress down the list.

"There is nothing listed in that name for Friday, the fourth of May."

"Then please try Thursday."

"You said it was yesterday."

"I assumed that it would be delivered yesterday, it may in fact have been Thursday."

Giving me a look akin to sheer hatred, you laboriously skim to the previous page. A glimmer of genuine pleasure lights up your eyes when you don't find the entry.

"Nothing." you announce with glee.

"Then there must have been a mistake in your filing, perhaps you could go and have a look wherever the parcels are kept please."

You looked at me with scorn. "Lady; there are a hundred pigeon holes out there, your parcel, if its there at all, could be in any one of them. Now if you can find your card with the corresponding serial number of the parcel on it, maybe we can find it for you." And here came your piece-de-resistance. "That's why the postmen put cards through your door when a parcel can't be delivered. They don't just do it for the exercise."

That was yesterday. I left the office fuming over what a jumped-up, pompous, officious, egotistical jobs-worth of a smarmy little bastard you are.

But you're not so grand now are you Mr. No Shit Shortie? Not so grand at all.

Henry Burton followed his usual end-of-day routine. He re-checked the front door that he had already locked before cashing up the till and made sure that it was secure and that both dead bolts were fastened. That's when he noticed the woman leaning on the bus-stop over the road. He recognised her instantly from the previous day. She had been a stroppy madam, that one, but he had dealt with her in his usual efficient manner. In the end, not many of them argue with officialdom and Henry prided himself on playing everything exactly according to the book.

She was staring in at him now, her direct glare flustered him a bit and he broke the eye contact between them first. He hastily pulled down the door blind. Next he checked the door to the night safe and went round turning off the lights. It was his custom to let himself out of the back door after setting the alarm.

His briefcase was in his left hand and he was about to set the alarm when the door to the rear alley burst open. Henry wheeled round to be confronted by a figure in front of him. The sun shone behind the person blinding him momentarily. He opened his mouth to speak, but before any sound came out something hit him hard in the face and he fell to the floor with a soft thump.

Instinctively Henry knew that he didn't want to wake up. Please God just let the blackness remain, but wake up he did, despite his prayers. However what he had control over was whether or not he chose to open his eyes. Why the hell then did he opt to open the bloody things? Why not just remain in blissful ignorance of what was going on around him?

He did open his eyes. And it did hurt. God-sodding-almighty it hurt and that's swearing, something that Henry Burton never ever did. Today was his first exception to that rule, 'Fucking hell to twating bastards' was the first phrase that rose unbidden to his brain. Not bad for a complete novice.

Henry Noble Burton had led a sheltered life and never in his fifty-four and a half years had he ever experienced pain to equal the pain that drove like a jack hammer through his nervous system now. Whether due to the beating he had taken around and about his head, or simply due to the complete alienation of his circumstances, he couldn't at first work out why he was unable to move. He soon came to understand though that he was choking on a mouth full of lose teeth that he couldn't spit out because of the tight gag that was rubbing cruelly on his broken mouth.

As he looked down inviting the legions of hell's agony to burst torturing sunrays behind his eyes, the reason for his plight was plainly visible. He was tied at ankle and wrist to his normally comfortable office chair. Because the seat was on casters and didn't have legs, his ankles had been tied together behind the central post of the chair. His wrists had been similarly tied behind him. He tested his bonds and winced as a new, fresher pain bolted like the legions of the apocalypse through his trapped veins to the sites where the blood flow was restricted. In one rapid lesson he learned that it wasn't prudent to do that.

He smelt her before he saw her. Henry recognised her perfume from the day before. Cloying, sickly, cheap. The woman had no class; he'd known it the moment he laid eyes on her. But this! Well this just proved it didn't it?

She came towards him and he felt his body stiffen in the chair as he tried desperately to keep as much space between himself and the crazy woman as possible.

"So Mr. No Shit Shortie. Are you going to be more helpful today?"

His eyes blinked in indignation at the jibe by which she addressed him. Henry Noble Burton was not a man accustomed to being ridiculed and even in his present, somewhat restricted predicament he felt that he deserved a modicum of respect.

"Oh? You don't like being called that? So what should we call you then? Mr. Congeniality? Mr. Always attentive and helpful to his customers? No I've got it. How about; Mr. Sunny disposition who makes the world a better place just by being in it? I don't think so. Do you?" She had been stalking round the chair as she ranted and on the last phrase she put her face inches from his jabbing at him with her words, making him flinch as her venom rained down on him like steel knuckled blows. Henry whimpered and the gag cut further into his ruined flesh.

He could see now what she was holding, it was the large stapler that he used for any parcels that came undone. All part of the service that he prided himself on. She brandished the yellow plastic stapler in front of her as she moved towards him. What had always seemed so innocent, something like all the other tools of his trade that he took for granted as simple workaday implements, suddenly seemed like a fearsome switchblade in the mad hag's hands. Again he shrank away from her in fear.

"My name is Susan," she said to him, moving ever forwards as his eyes widened in terror. "Do you like my name?"

He nodded yes and the first tear of the evening rolled down his wrinkled cheek. Gripping his uniform tie between her finger and thumb as if to test the quality of the material, she doubled it back upon itself and firmly stapled it together. He actually managed to bluster in affront, and in a moment of sheer bravado he thought that if he hadn't been so tightly gagged he would tell her that it was a criminal offence to deface Post Office property. Or perhaps he wouldn't say anything at all. He was crying freely now as much through his lack of courage whilst in uniform as from any physical discomfort.

Click, click, click.

Click, click, click. She stapled several times down each lapel of his work jacket.

"Now what can I staple?" she asked apparently looking about his person for something suitable. She was amazed afterwards that he remained conscious the whole time that it took her to staple his eye lids in a permanently open position. "There now." She cajoled. "That will teach you to pay attention when I'm talking to you. It's very bad manners to close your eyes when someone is speaking." Blood dripped from his lashes giving him the appearance of a bastardised Aunt Sally.

Ranting, ranting, ranting, for several more minutes she continued pointing out the error of his ways. Every so often she would look over into the corner of the room. It made him nervous. Strange that even at the core of his sheer, mind numbing terror and agony, he could define, pinpoint and separate a small emotive of nervousness from the general chaos of his senses.

The mad hag, as he now thought of her, finally moved over to the source of her attention. He knew her. The horrible fact was, that Henry knew this woman enough to realise that he was about to find out what she was up to. He also knew her enough to know that he wasn't going to like it.

Something rattled in the furthest corner of the room. He strained his stapled eyes to be able to see what was happening and for the first time became aware of the heat. It was very, very hot. His senses had been so overwhelmed with sensation and pain that he hadn't until now noticed that the fire had been on full. That ominous rattle again, and then it stopped the hag was on her way back.

He took in her latest game in a matter of seconds. She was holding the largest metal date stamp, the one with the five-inch rubber. Only the rubber had been removed from the date wheel and the whole stamp had been heating in the calor gas fire until it burned searing red in the late afternoon sunshine.

She was disappointed that he didn't remain conscious this time. The flipping wimp. She wasn't accustomed to foul language either. And she wasn't entirely sure whether he started to pee before she branded the previous day's date on his forehead, or during. She only became aware of his misdemeanour when she moved her foot and heard a sloshing noise as it made contact with his pooled urine. His flesh hissed loudly as the date stamp bore into his skin. If she had chosen to brand him on a fattier part of his body she was sure that the stamp would have left a deep indentation in his sizzling meat. But the forehead is very quickly bone and although it blistered huge and satisfyingly, she could see the creamy white plate of his cranium clearly through the opaque blister. She studied it for a while as he slept; she was fascinated with her handiwork. He was starting to look like some bizarre patchwork misfit doll.

He wasn't out for long and groaned loudly after the first couple of moments of blissful awakening confusion. Eyes unable to blink and moisten themselves very quickly become dry and chaffed. Despite all his areas of torture, the worst of which was undoubtedly the screaming agony of his forehead, he was still able to identify the pricking sting of his arid eyes. He watched in morbid fascination as she took from the stocked shelves some paper clips and three green treasury tags. She fastened the paperclips together to make two chains of about six clips.

"What do you think of punk rockers. No Shit? I bet you don't think very highly of them do you? Imagine what it would be like to be in their alternative shoes, to be shunned and ostracised by society. Do you think you'd like that? Huh Shortie?"

She picked up a compass that she had ready on the desk and Henry had an inkling of what was coming next. She pierced his ears first. It wasn't so bad. Hah he must be almost as mad as she was. Here was a crazy hag the likes of which his worse nightmares couldn't drum up, sticking compass points through his flesh and he was telling himself it didn't hurt much. The truth was that with all his other pain he barely felt the thick compass passing through the tender lobes of his ears, and he watched in an almost detached manner as the blood turned his pale blue shirt into a magenta colour. She passed the paperclip chains into each ear lobe and smiled, pleased with the result.

Henry wasn't so complacent when she passed the compass through the tender cartilage of his nose. He squirmed in his chair and screamed against the gag, but not much in the way of noise was released. The hag put a treasury tag though his nose, the green string was prevented from slipping right through by the little metal tips on each end. Finally she put two large holes firstly through his upper lip and then his lower lip on either side of his mouth. After doing the first side she had to wait for him to regain consciousness once more before starting in on the right hand side. The treasury tags were just so long enough to fasten top lip to bottom lip. After of course, making Henry promise not to make a noise and removing the gag. It didn't matter if he did manage to scream, there wasn't another soul around to hear him. It was well-gone six-o clock and all the business premises on the street were shut up for the night. Their staff abandoning the salaried husks to scuttle about their nightly activities.

Of course Henry's wife would soon be back from her sisters house where she went for her evening meal every Saturday. As soon as she found her punctual and fastidious husband missing she would raise the alarm. The hag had done her homework well. Mavis Burton usually left her sister Eunice's at about seven thirty. She would not return home much before about eight fifteen.

Henry was finally able to open his mouth, though only the few centimetres that the green tags binding his mouth together would let him, it was enough to eject the residue of blood, teeth and vomit that he hadn't swallowed throughout his ordeal. He made no effort to scream realising as much as the hag did the futility of such an act. He knew that he may need every ounce of his weakened physical and mental reserves before one way or another this terrible night was over. He seriously doubted whether he would leave the back office alive and he was beyond caring, he just wanted the end to come NOW.

"Now then Henry I need a little bit of information from you my love. What is your address?"

She was playing with him; it was all part of the game plan. She already knew fine well where he lived. In fact just that afternoon she had called on Mrs. Burton with a copy of 'The Watchtower' that she'd had thrust in her hand by eager Jehovahs canvassers the week before. Nice lady, Mrs. Burton. No interest in being converted to the cause of course, but polite. Mr. Burton's torturer liked that, manners cost nothing after all.

Henry flung back his head in an act of defiance. Never would he lay his wife open to the torture and abuse of this crazy woman. Not so long as he had breath in his body. Never. She moved menacingly towards him with the date stamp, at some point she had placed it back between the bars of the calor gas fire to heat.

Now our Henry is no hero. He opened his mouth those few precious centimetres and sung like a raucous crow through his chipped, broken and missing teeth. His words bubbled around the blood and gore. She branded him on his thigh anyway. It was nice to watch the nylon mix material of his work pants melt. The stamp did indeed indent some way into his flabby leg.

She was addressing an envelope to Henry's wife. This seemed to Henry as un-sportsmanly and obscene. After all she had him at her crazy mercy, what did she have to go and bother Mavis for.

"We'll send her a little note eh?" She muttered aloud to herself as she wrote on one of Henry's finest notelets retailing at £4:99 for six with scented envelopes.

"My dearest Mavis. I haven't seen you for awhile my love so let me rest my eye on your loveliness now." She signed the note with a flourish and murmurings of everlasting love, seeing as Henry was in no current position to write to her himself.

Henry was surprised to discover that there comes a point of burnout where the body can take no more stimuli and the nerve endings all go pleasantly to sleep. He neither lost consciousness nor made a sound when she gouged his left eye out with a ball point pen. Henry had already stepped over the cliff towards lunacy.

He giggled when The Mad Hag dropped his eye into the scented envelope and sealed it. The optic tendon had caused quite a problem for her and she had to cut the eye lose with a pair of scissors as it flopped loosely on his cheek. She kindly offered to drop the letter in to Mavis on her way home.

"I'm going to leave you to think about your behaviour for awhile now Henry. I do hope you have learned a little lesson tonight, it was for your own good you know. All people want is a little courtesy and respect. Not too much to ask now. Is it?" She smiled down on him with the shining eyes of a benevolent and loving nun.

"Oh just one last thing Henry love before I go."

She went over to the rack of pigeon holes. Henry followed her with his one intact but still stapled eye. It took her less than a minute to locate her missing parcel.

"Don't mind if I take this do you love? It's a Birthday present to me from my friend." Henry shook his head and mumbled through his wreckage that he didn't mind at all. Henry had flopped into Wonderland and was conversing politely with the Mad March Hare.

She kissed him tenderly on his cheek where just minutes earlier his gouged eyeball had hung. And then she quietly let herself out by the back door and disappeared into the night.

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