Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Hole, by E. Allan Flanigan

When the devil's gaze fixed upon me, I didn't see it so much as feel it. And it was covetous.

For weeks I had passed the old man without incident. Each morning as I walked by the decrepit building he called his home, I noticed him there — hunkered against the brick wall, bottle in hand, eyes closed against the bright morning sun

In a neighborhood wasting away into spilled bricks and graffiti, this building's mass of knotted pipes made it stand out like a sentinel. But it was a sentinel that the old man could not see.

As I walked by this day, I felt a curious chill like a tiny death, and my vision was drawn to the old man. His eyes were open, and the sight of one of them stunned me, pulled the breath from my lungs. The eye was dead — a milky, pale blue — and motionless. And it was looking at me.

Oh, how I wish that eye had been closed! But once the eye found me, the end was already written.

When I was a child, my Tante once said, "The devil is active in this world. Trust yourself to recognize him when he is revealed."

I became acquainted with evil when I met that gaze. I had been seen, my content exposed, and the only response was to blind the eye forever.

From that moment forward, I made my choices with care — so rational, so aware. I carried myself as a man of God, knowing His plan.

Each day as I walked by, I studied the man's face. The eye was always closed, the old man asleep. For seven days this occurred, and each night I prayed for the Lord to give me the strength to close the eye when the moment came.

On the eighth day as I approached, the eye fluttered briefly, a glimmer of white. The street was deserted; my opportunity had arrived.

I swiftly rushed to the old man, hauling him up from the ground by his thin frame. He cried out just once as I dragged him toward the heavy wooden doors, threw back the latch, and shoved him inside the darkened building.

It was pitch black as we fell to the floor, I on top of him. He was small beneath me, all bones and ribs.

"Who are you?" he cried. "Why are you doing this?"

I hesitated for a moment then, only for a moment. I could hear his breath, a gentle wheeze with each exhale.

What is the cost if you're mistaken?, I asked myself. What price will be extracted from you?

But by God's will, a beam of light in that moment shone through a hole in the door and settled upon the man's face, upon the man's eye. And the eye flickered there, searching for me.

In the darkness, he did not find me.

I know what the Good Book says, I know about the fear that overtakes a man when he's asked to perform a difficult task. I know about being tested. And in this knowledge, I began to squeeze the old man's neck.

He struggled for air, but his gasping only provoked me to tighten my grip. I held on until the eyelid stopped its desperate movement and was fixed open. I squeezed until my existence was erased from its memory.

Then I rose and escaped the pale eye. I had lifted its weight from my soul. I felt invisible again, and free.

For three days I walked past the building without fear. I admit I even experienced pride, so sure of myself and of God's presence in the world.

But on the fourth day as I walked by that place, I felt the familiar chill, the spotlight gaze.

As I focused upon the building, upon that sentinel, I saw it. A mere flicker in the darkness.

From behind the hole in the door, I saw the shimmer of an unblinking gaze. And from within the darkness, I knew it saw me.


Melanie Avila said...

Creeeeepy. I love the subtext in this -- that evil cannot be banished.

I got a little confused if the eye had seen him more than once, or if he was just remembering. This paragraph was where I stumbled:

Each day as I walked by, I studied the man's face. The eye was always closed, the old man asleep. For seven days this occurred, and each night I prayed for the Lord to give me the strength to close the eye when the moment came.

The paragraph itself is clear (and very good) but given it's placement I was sure if the eye saw him more than the one time.

Sorry for my bumbling. :)

Jude Hardin said...

Nice. To me, the theme is that the clouded thought and paranoia sometimes caused by religion and superstition is way more dangerous than anything we might think of as evil. Well-written, and I think you got your message across.

LurkerMonkey said...


What I especially liked about this story was that is stayed true to the voice and "feel" of the original, but offered a different interpretation. Poe was clearly writing about one man's insanity, and I thought you expanded on the theme to include a religious angle and more ambiguity about the NATURE of evil.

It's always tricky, I think, to handle famous material in any fashion, especially something as beloved as this particular story. But I thought you carried it off really well, so I was reminded of all the reasons I love Poe (it made me want to look up the story again), but also find new pleasures.

E. Flanigan said...

Melanie, thanks!

I re-worked the section you mentioned several times, so I'm not totally surprised if it didn't work for you. I read it so many times over, I lost all perspective! Maybe I should have moved that paragraph somewhere else?

E. Flanigan said...

Jude, that was definitely what I was going for, so I'm glad that came across. Thanks!

E. Flanigan said...

Lurker, this was sort of a re-imagining of "The Tell-Tale Heart," because when I saw that hole in the door, it reminded me of the lamp shining on the eye in the original. There are actually several homages to Poe within my story, just because it was fun to do. ;)

It was very intimidating to attempt this, because I'm such a big fan of the original. And does the world really need a new version of such a perfect story??? (Um, no.) Having said that, I did try to bring something a little different to it, in terms of the nature of evil as it interfaces with religion. But I still wanted to retain the issue of WHO was ultimately revealed as evil, just like the original.

I doubt I accomplished all that, but it sure was fun trying! LOL

Melanie Avila said...

I feel like a complete dope because I didn't realize it was based on Poe. Doubly well done. :)

Jude Hardin said...

Don't feel bad, Melanie. I didn't catch it either. Been a long time since I've read any Poe.

Erica Orloff said...

I loved the Poe influence (Poe figures into Magickeepers II, so I've spent quite a bit of time with him lately).

Enjoyed the atmosphere a lot. And the language--you did a great job with consistently keeping the flavor.

E. Flanigan said...

No doubt about it, this was a hard one to do .... Maybe the story actually works better if the reader doesn't know the inspiration — if the story just stands alone.

As Lurker pointed out, messing around with beloved material is dangerous territory. So the less you draw attention to the original, the fewer unfavorable comparisons you're likely to inspire! ;)