A dark mysterious short story about loneliness…and a toad. 

Reading age – 13+

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He sat alone, his world afore him; the balance having finally toppled.

The sluggish toad with its gold rimmed eyes, stared at him from a far corner of the table. He wondered how long the now familiar creature had been keeping him company, at this place. Other than the toad he was quite alone. Completely alone. Not a soul was present. Just him. And the toad.

It must be a week now since he and the creature of the bog had made each other’s acquaintance. It must have been the day he got “let go” from working at the factory, because he’d been walking home in the sunshine, and normally he never saw the light. Normal was working the night shift. Was.

There never is much employment in a rural area. Most of the town worked at the factory, or in the care home for the elderly, or, not at all. It wasn’t an especially beautiful or striking or characterful place – Tombland didn’t dangle the tourist-carrots. Most inhabitants had moved away, especially the young, who’d left for cities that promised fun, money and open doors. An alternate world. Tombland’s present population: 301.

This life he’d had was all he knew. He had never known anything other than the factory and being lonely. He worked the night, slept the day, sometimes he saw his brother; when Carl was at home. He’d accepted these cards Life had dealt him. No questions asked.

Until the day he met the toad.

The toad is blinking it’s gold eyes, looking hungry. There are enough flies buzzing about. Surely his long, adept tongue will lash out and steal one?

He shifted in his wooden chair, the seat was hard, quite uncomfortable. In this room, the walls were packed with books, there were shelves packed with books too. He couldn’t remember coming into the library.

Apart from the annoying buzzing flies, he was quite alone.

Why wasn’t even the librarian present?

His normal route from home to work was a 3 mile walk from the old farmhouse – which had seen the lives and deaths of two generations of his farming family – down the steep hill, where barren fields flanked the narrow road, which then turned an oblique right, to run alongside the bog. The bog stank, but it’s thriving community of gnats, flies, frogs and toads did not seem to mind. They were thriving but farming here was dead. With the last farmer gone, it seemed the sparkle had been quenched from Tombland.

The bog, to the left of the road, ran on for half a mile or so into the dense copse beyond where the black trees scratched the sky. Following the road, with further empty fields either side, a mile on, to a square of houses; and a little further still, stood a small shop selling the usual daily produce like bread and such, a tiny dis-used school, and the factory. Nextdoor to the factory, Tombland’s cemetry and church.

But the cemetry had never worried him.

And yet he had never liked the bog. As a young boy of six, walking alongside his older brother of ten, on the way to school, he had even feared the bog.

Carl told him not to let the bog worry him. The bog stank, wasn’t pretty, but it wasn’t a threat.

Ah, back to the toad!

Life had been staid, flat, colourless, until that day they told him they didn’t need him anymore. For the first time, he felt fearful of his future: what was he to do now? He knew nothing else. He was afraid of something else…And, it was while these thoughts jumped about inside his head, that the large toad jumped out from the bog, and sat before him, in the middle of his path, blinking gold rimmed eyes.

He had never seen such a large toad before. He had never contemplated both their ugliness and beauty before. But this one made him think.

Suddenly, he didn’t feel alone. Fear evaporated like mist.

From that day on, the toad followed him about, almost everywhere. At nightfall it disappeared, he presumed back to the bog at the bottom of the hill. At dawn it was there again, at the foot of his bed, contemplating him, above the bed sheets.

He started questioning things. Why was he here? Where was everyone? Where had they gone to? What was he to do now? And, really, WHO was he?

While perspectives alter from one being to another, and indeed shift, he had never had any real sense of being…identity…who am I?

Why the toad had brought this all on, he didn’t know.

Oh, the library is full of flies now…they are thickening the air, turning the space black – a writhing mass of tiny insect bodies – making the air too thick to breath…

Why doesn’t the toad catch them? He hasn’t even caught one.

He hadn’t seen Carl for days now. He also questioned his absence. Why? Where? What…?

The librarians told the people to make space, the doctor was called – he was in the building at the time, returning a book for his young daughter – he rushed to the man’s side and found him dead. It had been too late. No one had noticed, no one had cared. The man had been a misfit, a loner, strange and even a little frightening. Alone without family or friend, his only brother, Carl, whose fate had been the swallowing bog ten years ago.

Copyright / by Faith 2006

toad

Copyright / photography by Darren Melrose
– – – Click on the Toad to visit his Blog!

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