There once was a man who lived at the outskirts of a busy important city. He was a regular man, by all accounts. He lived with his wife. His daughters were grown up, and had moved out to homes of their own. He used to sell insurance for a government company for many years, but now he was old and had retired. Everyday after he woke, the man would strip away his clothes and examine every bit of his bony body. Then he would call for his wife, to examine the parts he couldn’t see for himself. His wife had protested initially at this meaningless exercise, and had even suggested he see the doctor if he was so worried about his health. But over the years, she had resigned herself to this bizarre morning routine.
When he was employed, the man would take the train to city everyday. He would get off at the station close to work, and take a bus to his office. His office was in one of the biggest buildings on one of the busiest roads in the city. He would reach his office by ten in the morning everyday and head to the cafeteria for a cup of tea. Then he would head to his little cubicle, pick up the list for the day, and head out. His job was to visit companies or important people and convince them of the benefits of insurance. He did his job fairly well, and his superiors had no complaints about him. He was a quiet sort of man, who was fairly easy to overlook. If you walked into a room in which he was sitting alone, you would tend not to notice him. He had the quality of old furniture that way; he looked like he was part of the environment around him, wherever he was. Because of this he wasn’t promoted very often. Like I said, he was easily overlooked. But that didn’t bother him. He wasn’t an ambitious sort of person. He was happy with his work, and his pay, so it didn’t occur to him to push for a better cubicle or a car, even when people junior to him were given all of this.
One day, a few months before he retired he visited the home of a rich businessman. His office had received a call from the businessman requesting for an insurance policy. The businessman had specifically named the man as the person he wished to liaise with. The office found this strange. The man wasn’t particularly popular or someone who moved in the businessman’s circle. Nevertheless, the businessman was an important person, and it was possible than he could generate a lot of income for the company, and so the message was passed on to the man. The man arrived a few minutes prior to the appointment as he always did.
The businessman lived in an affluent part of the city, where movie stars and politicians stayed. The streets were broad and well paved, and big trees lined either side of it. The businessman’s house was old and looked like it had been in the family for centuries. It had gabled windows and creepers clinging to its white walls. At the gate, the man gave his name to the guard, who glanced at his notepad, and waved him on. The man walked up a big gravel driveway to the house. The ground floor of the house was converted into a modern looking office, with steel and glass doors and fancy potted plants. Though the office itself was very nicely laid out, it seemed to the man that it looked distinctly ill at ease at being an inseparably attached to the old house.
The man announced himself to the receptionist who asked him to wait. The businessman was in a meeting. The man thanked her and settled himself on a plush sofa next to the window with a view of the garden. The receptionist returned to her phone, and promptly forgot about the man. The man was used to waiting, and so he looked out the window at the garden. It was after a little while that the man realized that the garden was looking back. He blinked, and squinted at the hedges again but he couldn’t see anything. He looked towards the receptionist to see if she had noticed anything, but she didn’t seem to have, busy as she was chewing gum and speaking on the phone. The man turned to window again, and jumped a little. There was a monkey outside the window, looking right at him. When the man got over his initial shock, he realized that it wasn’t a monkey, but a very old man. He was so old that he was bent almost double. His skin was wrinkled many times over, and he had grey stubble over his chin. The monkey-man beckoned to him, and hobbled towards a little shed at the edge of the garden. The man normally didn’t do things outside his routine, but he was curious about the monkey-man, and a little scared. He glanced at the receptionist, whose back was turned towards the cabinet behind her, and stepped outside the office. He traced the monkey-man’s steps to the little shed.
The man’s eyes took a little time to adjust to the darkness of the shed. A powerful smell of something decaying hung in the air. The shed had windows, but it looked like it hadn’t been opened in ages. The grime on the windows let hardly any light in. The shed had no electricity, but was dimly lit by three candle stubs on a weathered wooden table. The monkey-man smiled at the man, somehow making his face seem even more monkey-like.
‘You have come because of the Wood’, whispered the monkey-man. Most of his teeth were missing, and so his words had an undertone of a hiss.
‘The wood?’, asked the man, also whispering, though he had no idea why.
‘There is Wood in you, I can see it’, continued the old man.
The man turned to go. This was making no sense to him. The monkey-man was evidently not well. He was a practical sort of man, and he was getting uncomfortable about following the monkey-man to the shed. What if the guard came, he thought.
‘Wait’, hissed the monkey-man, ‘my son will not be finished with his meeting for a while’.
The man turned back. ‘Your son?’, he asked.
‘Yes, he is my son. But there is no Wood in him. There is no wood in me. I haven’t seen one with Wood in years’.
The man, deciding that he had had enough, started backing away towards the door. The monkey-man suddenly moved aside, and the man let out a strangled scream. In the flickering light of the candle stubs he saw rows upon rows of mangled human bodies carved inexpertly from what looked like driftwood. All the bodies had similar pained expressions on their faces, and their limbs were twisted into strange positions. The man turned and ran as fast as he could to the office. The monkey-man screeched, ‘Give me the Wood. Give me the Wood’.
The man pushed aside the glass door and ran into the office. The receptionist stared at him.
‘There’s a madman in that shed’, he yelled, pointing to the window. The inner door opened and the businessman stepped out.
‘I see you’ve met my father. I apologize on his behalf, please, do come in’, said the businessman.
The receptionist got a glass of water for the man and smiled at him sympathetically.
When the man was seated in the businessman’s room, and had resumed breathing normally, the businessman spoke.
‘My father isn’t very well. He usually keeps to himself. I don’t know what happened today. I am truly very sorry’.
‘Those figures’, said the man.
‘My father was a painter once. He turned to sculpting after he became unwell. He carves those grotesque figures from driftwood. Again, I am very very sorry about what you had to go through’.
‘No, it’s all right. Your father didn’t do anything. It was just, in that light, and those figures, it was all very spooky’, said the man.
‘I understand’, said the businessman.
No more was spoken about the episode. The businessman took a very expensive policy, and a bigger one for all the employees of his office. The businessman apologized again and walked the man to the door. The man was escorted to the gate by a guard, and he made his way back to office.
It was on the train when it began. He was on his way home from the city, where he had gone to pick up his pension. He had been expecting it; he always knew it would come. Being on a train made it inconvenient, though. At least, his wife wasn’t with him, he thought. The train stopped at a midway station. The man got out. He walked quickly to the railway postal service office, spoke to the man behind the counter, and wrote something down. He thanked the man behind the counter, and left the station. He crossed over the tracks and walked as fast as he could away from the station. Evening was falling, and soon there was no one in sight. The man doubled over in pain, and fell to his knees. He lifted his shirt, and felt his stomach. His stomach had turned to wood. Old, weather-beaten driftwood. He dug the earth where he had fallen. Scratching, clawing, pulling up large chunks of earth and stone, like a mad man, he created a hole in the earth, into which he sank. Crouching in the hole, he retrieved as much mud and earth as he could. The man was burying himself. When dawn broke, all that remained was the weathered wooden stump of the man’s hand protruding from the earth, as if reaching for the sky, or for help, who knew. People passing by didn’t give it a second look. It looked like the stump of a burned shrub, and it blended well into the shrubbery surrounding it.
The next day his wife received a letter in the post. The letter simply said: “I did not want to become part of his collection”. In the letter was enclosed the man’s pension cheque.