Letterbox, by Cameron Trost
Description: LETTERBOX is a dark thriller about how fragile the fabric of small town society really is and how one man, by pulling the right strings, can expose dirty secrets and trigger underlying tensions between neighbours.
Ian Carew left London to become a teacher in Mirebury, a town lost in the moors of Cornwall where everybody knows each other and life is quiet and pleasant. His elderly neighbour, Mrs Mary Hopkins, treats him like a son, and the local butcher, Jack Cochon, is his closest friend. All that is missing from Ian’s life is a good woman to share his bed with and a little adventure.
Little does he know, he is about to get a taste of both.
One day, when Mrs Mary Hopkins opens her letterbox, she makes a gruesome discovery and suddenly Mirebury is thrown into a state of shock and outrage.
At first, they assume it was a random act, but the horrible deliveries continue and, before long, the townsfolk of Mirebury are forced to acknowledge that they have become the target of a campaign of terror – and nobody’s letterbox is safe.
Is the dreaded “Postman” one of them, or is he an outsider?
Tensions grow and the solid communal values of Mirebury crumble as suspicion and accusations tear the town apart. Neighbour is pitted against neighbour and tempers flare.
The enemy only strikes at night and moves through the fog like a phantom as he makes his deliveries – it seems impossible to catch him. The fate of Mirebury will come down to one man.
LETTERBOX is a dark thriller about how fragile the fabric of small town society really is and how one man, by pulling the right strings, can expose dirty secrets and trigger underlying tensions between neighbours.
The boy pried at the bug. He was trying to loosen its stubborn grip on the rough mossy bark of a tree in a busy suburban park. But the creature wasn’t going to let itself be taken from where it clung without resistance. Its clawed limbs held tightly to the trunk.
The unfortunate insect had been randomly selected to participate in the boy’s latest study, just one of many in a long series of observations. The course of its simple and inconspicuous existence was to be irreversibly altered, and its chances of surviving until nightfall were extremely slim.
The boy didn’t pull too forcefully at the bug, it would be of no use to him if he maimed or killed it before its time was due. The subject had to be in working order. So, he pulled at it firmly but carefully.
Meanwhile, not far away—indeed much too close for his liking—dozens of other children occupied themselves with more typical activities. Some were swinging like primates from the monkey bars or playing football on the miniature field, laughing and shouting with the excitement triggered by being released from the classroom after hours of listening to the teacher and doing repetitive writing exercises.
The park was only a block away from his school, so most of the other youngsters there were fellow classmates. But they were not his friends. He rarely spoke to them inside the classroom or in the playground, and never beyond the confines of the school property.
Several mothers were also in the park, surveying their children while they chatted and gossiped about other parents and speculated about various aspects of their private lives.
Sometimes their words would reach the boy’s ears.
I heard from Jenny’s mum that Betty’s mum is getting her socks off with Timmy’s dad.
Oh, really! Well, I heard that Sarah’s mum has a drinking problem and that her daughter might have to be taken away from her. She really needs to get her act together.
The bug was determined, and the boy couldn’t help but feel admiration for it. Its tiny but powerful limbs continued to resist being ripped away from the tree even though there was really nothing that it could do against the giant hand harassing it. The boy thought for a moment that its six exoskeletal legs would be torn from its armour-plated body if it didn’t let go, but he had decided that it was taking part in his study and he certainly wasn’t going to be discouraged.
He was the one in control, not the bug.
‘Yeah!’ Several voices roared out suddenly. One of the boys had just scored a goal.
The winning team made fun of the losers as loudly as they could and for a moment it seemed as though a brawl might break out, but one of the boys quickly put the ball back into motion.
‘Come on, Paul, go it alone!’
The child’s hand finally forced the bug to loosen its grip without dismembering any of its six limbs. It struggled ridiculously, its limbs scratching at thin air.
He then dropped it into a glass jar that he had prepared that morning before going to school. He always organised his experiments in advance so that he would have everything he needed in his school-bag and wouldn’t have to go home before coming to the park.
In fact, he avoided going home as much as possible. His mum was always there with her new boyfriend, and more often than not he was either in the process of menacing her into submission or beating her black and blue. He also did other things to her, but the boy was only aware of the beatings at that point in time, that was already more than enough for him to know about at his tender age.
‘Good shot, Paul! I’ll take the corner.’
The boy looked disdainfully at the other children for a moment, as though verifying that they were a safe distance away and oblivious to his undertaking. He didn’t like them being close to him when he was occupied by his studies. So long as they were distracted by their silly football match, swings and monkey bars, they wouldn’t be tempted to bother him. The greatest risk of being noticed by them was if the ball was inadvertently kicked in his direction. They wouldn’t expect him to pass it back to them because he never did, but it would draw their attention to him, and perhaps even result in him being insulted. Not that he really cared about whatever idiotic remarks their simple minds were capable of thinking up.
Insects were not the only subjects of the boy’s studies. He often manipulated his fellow pupils as well, but of course, they were completely unaware of what he was doing. One of the best examples was that of Brad and Henry. That particular episode had taken place several weeks earlier.
The top position in the schoolyard hierarchy was occupied by the strongest boy, Brad, who, instead of using his advantage in order to help others, bullied anybody who resisted his dominance. So, naturally, most of boys tried to stay on his good side and went along with whatever he wanted.
Henry was one of Brad’s henchmen, that is, until he made the mistake of deciding that the weird boy who always stayed by himself needed to be bullied. In doing so he made himself the target of a simple but effective act of social manipulation.
One lunch-hour, the big redhead, in the company of Brad and in an attempt to impress him, towered over his designated victim who was sitting against a brick wall and reading.
‘What are you reading, loser?’
The boy looked up at him defiantly and then went back to reading.
Outraged at being ignored, and at having his authority mocked in front of Brad and the other henchmen, he snatched the book from the boy’s hands and started ripping its pages out.
The pages floated to the ground like the feathers of a bird shot in mid-flight.
‘Try reading it now.’
He tossed the twisted and torn book at the boy’s feet and laughed at him.
The boy looked down at his ruined book and then up at Henry.
He didn’t get angry and he wasn’t afraid, he simply said, ‘You’ll regret that.’
Henry stopped laughing, he had expected the boy to cry or to run away, maybe even to attack him, but he hadn’t expected the matter-of-fact threat that the boy had uttered with a cold expression of complete calm.
He could have hit him or spat on him, but instead he just walked away and joked nervously with his friends.
‘What a freak! He’s such a loser.’
The next day, at lunchtime, the boy saw Brad give Henry a dirty magazine and the latter slipped it discreetly into his schoolbag—but they hadn’t been discreet enough.
Once they had finished eating, the bullies went off to pick on other boys and left their bags unattended long enough for a certain someone to sneak over and remove the pornographic magazine from Henry’s schoolbag.
At the end of the lunch break, when Mr Dawkins went into the classroom to prepare for his next class, he was shocked to find an item of inappropriate reading material sitting on one of the desks. Since the other desks were clear, it stood out like a sore thumb. The offended teacher snatched up the magazine in horror and stormed out into the corridor where his students were arriving for their class.
‘Bradley! There you are, you’re coming with me to the head master’s office—you have some explaining to do!’
Brad saw what the teacher had in his hands, so did the other students. The girls looked at him in disgust and muttered to each other about how he was perverted. The boys tried to hide their smirks, they didn’t laugh openly at him because they knew that he would remember who had made fun of him and would make them sorry. Henry was, understandably, in a state of disbelief and as Brad was marched past him, dragged along by Mr Dawkins, he growled at him.
‘You’re dead meat!’
The boy had been very pleased with that manipulation. It had been a complete success and Henry never tried to climb the schoolyard hierarchy ladder ever again.
The bug stumbled around in the glass jar, trying to find its way back to the tree where it had been minding its own business. The captor held the glass vessel above his head and looked up at the bug through the base. He studied the way it was reacting to its changed situation. One of the aims of the project was to identify how basic lifeforms coped with unusual circumstances and to measure their capacity to adapt to such changes.
‘Good save!’ One of the fathers commented from the sideline.
The boy glanced briefly towards the miniature football field before turning his attention back to his bug, which was still moving clumsily around the circumference of the jar.
He had never really known his own father, he had some vague memories of him, but they had all been negative ones. He used to beat his mum even worse than her new boyfriend did, that was what the child remembered about him mostly.
She had broken her finger once; he could remember her hand being bandaged for several weeks. He didn’t know whether his dad had done that to her but thinking back he realised that it had probably been the case.
Then something changed. His father gradually beat her less and less often, then he stayed away from their tiny apartment more and more, then he just seemed to have disappeared from their lives altogether.
His mum told him that his dad was scum and always would be, and that he was better off not bothering to think about him at all. So he tried not to think about him. But sometimes he couldn’t help himself, especially when other kids’ dads came to the park and played with them while their mums sat around spreading rumours about each other.
The boy stayed among the trees, unseen by the other children and their parents. From time to time, he looked over towards them to see if anybody had noticed him. He hoped that they hadn’t, but occasionally he caught the gaze of a mother looking at him strangely, wondering why he was so weird and why his mum never came to the park. But these were just fleeting glances and he ignored them.
The grey sky threatened rain, but for the moment, it was holding off. The boy wasn’t concerned about that anyway. The others would rush away if a downpour broke out and he would have the entire park to himself, without anybody to disturb him. He didn’t care if he got wet, and under the trees he would be protected from the rain just as he was protected from the attention of the other children and their parents.
He looked again at the bug in the glass jar. It was still crawling around the circular bottom while the boy walked stealthily through the trees, further away from the others.
The destination was the ant castle.
He had fabricated an arena out of an old toy castle that his mother had once bought at a local garage sale.
He could still remember that Saturday at the garage sale, even though it was nearly a year ago. His mother had been better than usual at that time because she hadn’t had a man in her life then. The instant he had seen the old toy castle he knew that he wanted it but it had not been until several months later that he envisioned its potential as an instrument of social research.
The boy considered the trapped bug with curiosity. He suspected that it would not be able to integrate into the ant castle, but he needed to be sure of this assumption, and he had to know exactly how the ants would react to the presence of the outsider.
He slipped past the last tree before the ant castle. He was as far away from the football field as possible.
On the far side of the ant castle, a rusty wrought-iron fence separated the park from a main-road that was throbbing busily with peak-hour traffic. The headlights of the cars flickered through the bars of the park-fence as the vehicles went through the usual evening routine of mindlessly accelerating and braking.
Gathering the ants had been more difficult than taking the bug from its tree but they had been easier to find. Once he had located a nest he had placed the plastic castle next to it so that the transfer would be as direct as possible. He looked into the plastic castle, the ants were still inside, some were trying to escape but the water filled moat which surrounded the fortified walls prevented the insect occupants from fleeing their stronghold.
Letterbox, by Cameron Trost