The Replacement – a short story

By the time I reached the village, it was dark. The bus dropped me at a dilapidated bus stop and speeded away. I was not expecting a warm welcome, but a familiar face would have been reassuring. Maybe, that was too much to expect. After all, I was but a humble postman.
I looked around but could not find any street signs or landmarks. Thick clouds covered the sky. I knew I had to hurry and find some shelter before the heavens opened. The village was famous for its heavy downpours. No one came there voluntarily. The previous postman, the man I was replacing, had disappeared. One fine morning, he stopped returning calls from the head office. They waited for a month and then sent me.
‘Do not go near the old graveyard,’ said my friend, ‘It has stories around it – bad stories.’
He told me tales about the village, which I had laughed away. The stories had passed hands the day my ex-colleague gave me a send-off. All that seemed a lifetime away.
In the distance, I saw a dim light and started walking towards it. The ground was slushy. I assumed it was from the previous day’s rains. Luckily I always travelled light. A suitcase and a holdall. One change of clothes and a lot of books. My entire life, packed in those two pieces of luggage!
As I neared the light source, I saw it came from inside a hut made of bamboo and mud. Rusted corrugated sheets pretended to be the roof on top. Big drops of rain started hitting me. I jumped inside the hut without waiting for an invitation. It seemed a wise move at the time as the sound of the raindrops drumming on the iron sheets on the roof began to increase. The light came from a hurricane lamp sitting precariously on a rotting wooden table. The glass on the lamp was covered in soot and was desperately in need of some cleaning.
“Sorry, it is a mess, but you have all the time in the world to clean it up.” The voice from behind made me jump. I dropped my things and turned around. It was a silver-haired man sitting cross-legged in a corner. I estimated him to be about seventy, but he could have been older. I had not seen him while entering.
“Is… is… this your house?” I said.
The man laughed. The laugh echoed around the room and seemed to come back from all corners. I thought that strange. An echo in such a small room? I did not have the time to follow up on my thoughts as my eye caught something written on the walls.
A sign on the wall spelt out “Post Office” in faded red and white.
“You must be joking! Is this the post office?”
Getting no response from the man, I turned around. There was no one in the corner. I looked around the room and found that I was alone. A nameless fear gripped me. I grabbed my bags and rushed towards the exit. Suddenly a gust of wind blew the door shut. I dropped my bags, grabbed the door handle and pulled with all my strength. The handle came clean out of the wooden frame. Another gust of wind blew the lamp out. The last thing I remember as I stood there in the pitch darkness was the sound of the man’s laughter echoing in the room.

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