The Revenant Postman
a horror short story by Ben Coppin
I guess it’s October, so maybe it’s time for some horror offerings. Or at least this one, a timely story about a postman who returns from the dead and one kid’s unforgettable summer. Is it taking the Underside too seriously? Well, for some people, the underside of the ground can’t keep them down!
The Revenant Postman
by Ben Coppin
One summer, when I was a kid, we had a revenant as our village postman. He’d started out as a regular, living postman, but then one July day he crossed the road without looking right. I felt like I’d lost a friend: we’d rarely exchanged any words, but he’d often nodded at me when I’d passed him, me on my way to school, him on his morning round.
It took them two weeks to hire his replacement, and on the day she started, the old postman dug himself out of the ground and started to walk around. A revenant, my mother called him.
“He’s come back for a reason,” she said. “You’ll see. Unfinished business. He might not even know he’s dead.”
After three days of wandering the village, he started to deliver the letters that had accumulated while he was underground. One letter each day. The new postwoman delivered the new letters, and he delivered the old ones.
The other kids kept out of his way, taking photos of him from a distance on their phones, but something about him fascinated me, so I began to follow him. I wanted to know where he went after he’d delivered his letter. It turned out he’d found a spot between a tree and the barn at the back of the McCain’s farm.
Watching him became my summer ritual. He’d shamble across the field, and onto the road. He’d turn left into the village square. I never knew why it was called that, given that it was clearly circular. But that’s where he went, because that’s where the Post Office was.
The one person who didn’t move to avoid the postman was his brother, Crazy Jack, who stood in the middle of the square shouting at everyone and no one about the evils of social media. He really had it in for one app in particular, although he wouldn’t say its name out loud, so no one was really sure which one it was.
“It’s destroying your souls!” he cried, eyes screwed shut. “It’s the end of times, and that app is the Devil’s final trick!”
The postman would stand outside the post office, waiting, until someone opened it for him. Then he’d lift one disheveled boot up and place it carefully inside the door, followed, slowly, by the other.
The staff would quietly move aside and he’d head for the back where his pile of letters was kept. Mrs. Craven, the Head Postmistress, didn’t like me following him in, but she never made a move to stop me.
Once he’d picked the day’s letter, he’d hold it out in front him in both hands like a royal decree, and would carry it like that all the way to its destination.
Aside from the strangeness of it all, the summer had started out peacefully enough. And then the killings started.
It was the first murder anyone in the village could remember. Mrs. Craven’s body, sticky with blood, was left tied to a lamppost in the village square. Right above where Crazy Jack preached. They took her down, of course, but not before he’d found a way to build her death into his narrative of doom.
“This was her punishment! Punishment for what she said online. On that app!” he crowed.
“You’ll see—it’ll come to you all, if you don’t stop using it.”
In spite of his exhortations, the people of the village connected online to form their plan. And next morning a huge mob was waiting silently in the village square for the postman.
They bundled him into Mr. Craven’s car. He made no effort to resist, showed no signs of distress. They locked him up in Mr. McCain’s barn while they figured out what to do with him. A regular trial—jury, judge and justice—wouldn’t do, they said, not for a revenant. Killing him would not be bad enough punishment, nor, some said, would it do any good, since he was dead already.
But later that day, they found the second body. It was a young teacher from the village’s only school. And given that the postman was locked up at the time the murder must have taken place, it started to look like maybe he wasn’t the one doing the killing.
Even so, it took one more murder to convince Mr. Craven and the rest of the village that it wasn’t the revenant postman who’d sliced up his wife.
“If he can come back to life, who’s to say he can’t walk through walls?” he asked.
So he spent the night sitting watch outside the barn. But the following morning, there was a third body, killed like the others, in the village square.
Mr. Craven let the revenant postman go, and now we had a dead man and a murderer, both at large in our small village. The online village forum was abuzz. A meeting was scheduled for that night in the village hall. All the adults attended, including my parents, which meant I was left alone at home. And somehow, as soon as my parents left the house, I knew something bad was going to happen.
I walked slowly around the house, locking all the windows and doors and drawing the curtains. If the murderer was out there, coming for me, I could perhaps keep him away if I simply did not see him, chose not to acknowledge his existence.
An hour after my parents left, the doorbell rang. It couldn’t be anything good, since everyone was supposed to be at the village hall, so I went upstairs and locked myself in my bedroom. My bedroom door didn’t have a lock, so I sat with my back to it and my feet pressed up against my bed.
Once my heart had slowed down and my breathing was back to normal, I carefully unfolded myself, stood up and opened the door, just a crack, wide enough for me to slide my body sideways through it.
Before I was all the way through, the banging started. It was more like a knock, at first: an irregular, almost cheerful rapping of a knuckle on wood. But after five or six knocks it began to get louder, more forceful. I could almost feel the front door crunching, bending inwards toward me. I slipped to the top of the stairs and peered down at the door. My heart was beating in time with the knocking, which by now was a solid thud, but with no let up in pace.
“What do you want?” I shouted, or rather squeaked. I coughed to clear my throat and tried again. “What do you want?”
Abruptly, the banging stopped.
There was a second of silence, two maybe, before the front door crashed inwards, followed by a dark figure. Was it him, the revenant? Why would he be doing this? I was the closest thing he had to a friend in this village. Why would he be going after me?
I ran back to my bedroom, shouting “please, just leave me alone!” before slamming the door shut behind me and taking up my previous position concertinaed between the door and the bed.
I could hear his steps, ponderous but heavy on the staircase. I knew there were thirteen stairs, and with each step I counted out loud. One. Two. Three.
I looked around my room for something to use to defend myself. Four. Five. Six.
The window? It was too high to jump. Or was it?
Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. He was coming faster now.
I ran to the window and opened the latch. I pushed against the wooden window frame. It sprung up four, five inches and then stopped, stuck. I swore at it, pushed it back down and tried again, but again it stuck. It wasn’t even wide enough to fit my head through.
I realised I had not heard his footsteps for the past few seconds, and stopped breathing, still as the window, listening. The door flew open, a shadow behind it, and I gave one final shove on the window. It opened all the way, and without a single thought I threw myself out of it.
I don’t remember the fall, but I must have landed on my arms, and when I came to, they were both twisted under me at weird angles, throbbing agonisingly. And the murderer, the man whose clutches I had leapt to escape, was there, right in front of me in the doorway, silhouetted against the hallway light.
I tried to lift my hands in front of my face, but my arms wouldn’t work.
“Please,” I said. “I’m sorry for following you. I won’t tell anyone where you sleep.” Even as I said the words I knew they didn’t make sense: he had made no effort to avoid being found this morning, so what difference could killing me make?
He was stumbling towards me now, something large and heavy hanging from his right hand. As he stood over me and raised it, I saw it was a huge axe, but more shocking than the axe was the face. I could see it now, lit by the street light. It wasn’t the postman. It was his brother, Jack. Crazy Jack from the village square. He was mumbling something, and in spite of myself, I strained to hear what he was saying.
“It’s not my fault, you know,” he muttered. “It’s that app. I have to stop it.”
As his axe began to fall, I closed my eyes. But instead of the silence of death there was a tremendous crash, followed by a thud and a scramble, a scream, a sickening sound like a butcher cutting a side of beef, and then silence.
I opened my eyes, just a crack, but above me was only the night sky, sprinkled with flickering stars. On the ground beside me with an axe in his head was Crazy Jack. Standing above him was his late brother, the revenant postman. For the first time since he had returned, he turned his eyes to mine. He nodded, just once, and walked slowly away.
I must have passed out, because the next thing I knew, I was in bed with my parents both looking anxiously down at me.
My father looked grim, my mother’s face was white, streaked with tears.
“It was that revenant, wasn’t it?” my father was asking.
“He killed Crazy Jack and he nearly killed my little boy, too,” my mother wailed.
“How did you get away from him?” my father asked.
I wanted to tell them what had happened, that it had been Crazy Jack all the time, that the revenant had saved my life, and they should leave him alone, but my mouth wouldn’t open, my vocal cords couldn’t vibrate.
So my parents rounded up the rest of the village, and they spent the remainder of the night hunting for the postman. But when they found him, it wasn’t behind his tree in McCain’s field: they found him in his own grave. He’d walked there and lain down in his coffin, pulling the smashed-up lid down over himself.
Once I recovered my voice, I told my parents what had really happened, how the revenant postman had saved me from Crazy Jack, and how Crazy Jack had been the real killer. I’m not sure to this day that they really believe me, but either way the whole thing was over, with both Jack and the postman dead. To make really sure, Mr. McCain cremated both of them in his furnace.
It was only years later that I really understood. He hadn’t come back for the backlog of letters. He came back for me, to stop Jack.
I never have set foot in a post office again. Too many memories. But nothing Jack said or did kept me or any of the other villagers away from social media. I guess it’d take a lot more than a crazed murderer with an axe to achieve that.
Do you like this story? You might also like:
Meet the author:
Ben Coppin lives in Ely in the UK with his wife and two teenage kids. He works for one of the big tech companies. He's had a textbook on artificial intelligence published, as well as a number of short stories, mostly science fiction, but also horror, fairy tales and other things. All his published stories can be found here: http://coppin.family/ben. Most of Ben's interactions with the underside recently have been through fiction: Seanan McGuire's amazing Wayward Children books, and the movie Smile. <shudder...>