Short Story
                                         The Broken Man
                                                                  By Karen King

  Once upon a time, many years ago, there was a broken man, who was shocked to find that, on visiting
his wife’s grave, giant, vicious-looking weeds had grown overnight and he could no longer find his loved
one’s resting place.  He pushed his way through the weeds in dizzying circles of distress as he
desperately looked for his wife’s grave.  The weeds had becoming increasingly long and unkempt and
graves could barely be seen.  Nettles stung him, brambles tore at him as he desperately searched.  

  The church gardener had recently died and the graveyard had such a bad reputation of all things dark,
prowling in the night, no one had taken his place.  He had briefly wondered about the position, but he
couldn’t pull himself out of his misery to go to work.  His life consisted of being in his house, rocking in his
rocking chair, furiously, (as if that would bring her back) and going to the graveyard to visit her.  The man
was lost and could no longer reach great heights in his earthly existence as he was broken, like an owl with
a broken wing.  

  The broken soul continued to frantically search, stumbling and tripping over gravestones until, suddenly,
he found himself propelled downwards at great speed into the greedy mouth of the earth.  Rocks reached
out to him as he shot towards the centre of the earth, like giant teeth having their first taste of human flesh.  
He was like Alice in Wonderland as he rocketed down at top speed towards the bottom of this giant hole.

  Eventually, he hit the bottom of this enormous hole.  He looked around, dazed, realising that he felt as
tiny and vulnerable as a mouse.  He also realised that falling into this hole was like a metaphor of his life.  
He had sunk so deeply in his life, like he had in this hole.   This broken man actually felt relieved to be
away from the everyday demands of life and willingly surrendered to his inevitable death as darkness
enveloped him.

  Days went by.  He ate, snails, worms, beetles, slugs and drank the rain as it coursed down his hole, as if
trying to wash away his sins.  At first, he had wanted to disappear altogether and enter another world, like
Alice in Wonderland.  Yet, he had time to think.  Thirteen years had passed since his wife’s death.  Surely,
his wife wouldn’t want him to be stuck in the past, ruining his life?  He thought about what he wanted from
his life, what she would want from his life and if he could try and think of some sort of life and future for

  Every day, he saw a woman and her Son, walking past, chatting and taking photos.  She took photos of
the fungi on the graves or sunshine shining between the headstones or the gigantic weeds that encircled
the graves in a menacing manner.  He felt like he wanted a potion to make himself larger, so he could
climb out of his tomb to meet these intriguing people.  He had tried to call to her on occasion, but she had
just looked around, questioningly, thinking that she was hearing voices of the dead calling in the breeze.

  She did give him a glimmer of hope, for she was always there and her heart seemed to be wondering
between the light and the dark.  He started to pray, something that he had given up many years, for God
had never heard him.  He prayed she would hear, him, see him, help him.  He felt he recognised her, as if
he’d known her from a previous lifetime.  This broken man started to feel a glimmer of hope and no longer
wanted to be stuck in his reverie.  Once again, she passed him by and he was left, alone, in his hole of
coming darkness.

  Crows formed a circle around the hole and cawed as they sat and stared at him, menacingly.  Their
beady eyes shone, reflecting the remaining streaks of light and hope in the sky.  He realised he had
stayed too long in his abode of unrelenting doom as lost leaves fell down his hole, as if pulled by some
irresistible force, wanting to bury him alive.  The broken man continued to lie on the ground in his open
pit.   A dead moth landed by his lips and he ate it, greedily, suddenly wanting to find life again.  He could
taste death in the darkness as the devil’s hour was nearly upon them.  All kinds of evil was let loose at this
hour.  They arose from the depths of hell and the darkness of the mind.  

  Muddy tears of fear and sadness fell down his cheek, forming clear streams between the mud.  He felt
like his lungs were full of earth, weighing him down and slowly suffocating the life out of him.  He could hear
the darkness and chaos in his resting place; the clinking of chains and wails echoed around his hole.  The
forgotten man lay, with his hands firmly over his ears, trying to block out his existence.  The evil beasts had
a wonderful night of terror ahead while he waited, wondering if he would ever see the light again.

  The crumpled man continued to lie in his shrunken skin, resembling a specially-preserved Mummy.  His
light only glimmered lightly, like a candle soon to be extinguished.  He lay on the damp earth; cold,
bedraggled, desperate and wondering if he would ever be found.  He felt so lost.  He no longer wanted to
be defeated – a victim!  He wanted to live, to be a candle burning brightly and to be released from his self-
inflicted darkness.  

  Eventually, he fell into the welcome arms of sleep, the sounds of the malevolent crows still surrounding
his suffering soul.  His arms and legs were cramped from his fetal position as he tried to find some
comfort.  The unwanted smell of the soil strongly hit his nostrils as the recluse lay, rejected, on the ground.  
He drifted off to unwanted nightmares while the ghosts and ghouls danced on the gravestones in delight,
waiting for the untimely death of this broken man.

  The next day, he was awakened by the sounds of laughter and wondered where it was coming from.  He
spotted the woman laughing with her Son.  She had her camera dangling around her neck, bumping,
triumphantly, against her red robin Christmas jumper.  They sauntered past his new, unwelcome, home.  
The broken man wondered, sadly, if this was going to be his final resting place.

  He had little energy and was quickly becoming delirious, for he had been hidden down his hole for
several days and, he had only been able to drink the droplets of water that had fallen into his mouth through
his opening to the outside world.  Perhaps, seeing the Mother and Son was just wishful thinking and he
was hallucinating?  The broken man knew he had little time left, so he opened his dry, cracked lips and
tried to shout.  All that escaped from him was a faint, croaking sound, like a frog that had been recently
partially squashed by a car.

  He tried to get up, his weak legs defied him and he dropped, reluctantly, to the ground, slipping and
sliding, like a mud wrestler.  He found himself staring straight at a crow as it nodded its head in delight and
cackled with laughter.  It flapped its wings in joy as if emphasising the poor soul’s lack of freedom as he
lay, trapped and terrified, in captivity.  The crow was soon joined by the others and they jumped and
flapped their wings together, screeching in a threatening manner.  

  Voices were coming closer and he realised he could hear a young man talking. The tortured soul craned
his neck and spotted the boy and his Mother again.  They were near his hole and he could just about see
that they seemed to be staring at something.  The man made one last attempt to push himself off the
ground.  Dirt dragged under his nails as he slipped and skidded around.  He crawled over to the side of
his soon-to-be grave and levered himself up to a standing position.  He staggered over to the centre of the
hole and stared at the mirage.  The young lad and his Mother were staring at the camera.  The lad was
pointing at the camera in an authoritative gesture as if he were giving her strict instructions in its use.  

  The broken man opened his mouth to cry out again and started waving his arms around in an SOS
gesture, only to be drowned out and overshadowed by the waiting crows.   They cackled as if celebrating
his demise and he gave up, devastated and defeated.  

  Suddenly, the boy looked straight at the crows and saw them surveying and surrounding the hole.  He,
purposefully, walked away from his Mum, towards the crows and stopped dead in his tracks, just short of
the abyss.  The pathetic man in the hole stared at this miracle of a boy; it felt like he was seeing things, yet
he knew the boy was real as he had been counting the days with broken sticks in a tally on the earth.  

  This was his fourth day and he had seen both the boy and his Mother every one of those days.  His
second saviour appeared, in the form of the boy’s Mother this time.  She stood, as if shell-shocked, as she
stared down at him from the edge of the abyss.  He was a shadow of the man he had once been,
shrunken, saddened and dishevelled. Yet, as she looked at him, she could sense the strong, brave man
that he once was and she felt slightly hopeful for him.  Perhaps she would be able to help to lift him out of
his physical demise?

  With shaking hands, she took out her phone from her rucksack and called the fire brigade.  She threw
down a bottle of water and a snack bar for him.  The crows cawed in disgust and flew away in anger.  The
boy was very chatty and the man felt his heart soften as he was drawn to him.  Some of the man’s troubles
were forgotten as he listened with great interest to the boy’s stories.

  The sound of sirens approached, a fire engine and an ambulance appeared in unison.  The rescue
operation started.  The broken man was starting to feel uplifted and whole as he was lifted out of the hole.
The experience felt surreal and the man started to wonder if there was such a thing as God and angels
after all.  He gazed at his surroundings and marvelled at the gorgeous, orange and pink, setting sun.  

  This new man was amazed to see that weeds no longer stood, sentinel, in the graveyard, surrounding
the graves.  They were no longer there.  The grass was neatly cut.  Fresh flowers had been placed on the
immaculate gravestones.  His world had been a nightmare, but had become a dream.  He wondered if his
more positive attitude and faith had changed his life or if a new gardener had been employed in the last
few days.  He had, however, not heard anything being cut down, grass being cut or, indeed, heard any
voices.  The answer, dear readers, is up to you!

About Karen King

Karen comes from
Bedfordshire, England.  
She has been writing for
four years and writes all
types of poetry and prose.  
So far, she has written
nineteen books, has her
poems in two anthologies
of poetry and contributes
regularly to an on-line
magazine called, “The
Creativity Webzine”.
To read other short stories,
click one of the titles below.