Tinkerman by Brian Coughlan

But there would be no point. Not all roads in this locality are named. Maps don’t explain areas known only by allusions to obscure not-so-recent events. You need to be from round here to fully understand what I’m saying. The place I’m talking about is set right on the tip of a vast icy lake. Stunning views. Just absolutely stunning; and I’m not just saying that because of my occupation. Really, the view is outstanding. A very discrete entrance to the property. Recessed cattle-grid. Simple iron gate. An extended winding causeway between interlaced black trees. Darkness always; on account of the trees. Enormous glacial boulders standing guard in a rough circular pattern.

Being outsiders they had to follow me in their car.

It was the view of the lake that had attracted them. Or so they kept insisting. She especially, in that querulous whisper. The view, yes but more than that, the isolation was what they really wanted. To be left alone. Their privacy being excessive, fanatical, even then. To get so much as a sliver of information out of them was torturous. It’s important to know a certain amount about people before leasing them a property. Common sense. I don’t want hassle with a tenant. Especially with them being outsiders. He claimed to be a teacher; and she…something about performance art. Whatever that means. All a little vague, even then – but I couldn’t help but be attracted to them. Despite their odd and secretive natures.

It was quite obvious on the day that they viewed the property that they did not tolerate others. Despite pretending to be oblivious I was struck by just how agitated they were by my presence, in what they had already decided was their new lair. When they moved into the property a week later, they were tortured by my insistence on going through every item of the lease in painstaking detail. Perhaps I enjoyed it, seeing them squirm with impatience, even pretending that my pen was not working. Yes, perhaps I enjoyed that moment of panic in their eyes as I shook it and joked – that maybe it was a sign. And when their signatures were drying on the paper – how they longed to escape my questioning eyebrows.

That was in late August. I’m sure the exact date is written down somewhere. From that date onwards, in fact from the moment I handed them the keys, nobody in the community set eyes on them. I know because I made numerous subtle inquiries from time to time in the local shop, the pub, the petrol station – over the course of the months that followed. Nobody had seen them. Nobody even knew they were living there. When I described their appearance to locals they shook their heads.

Near Christmas it occurred to me to go and pay them a friendly visit. The weather was particularly atrocious on that occasion; it was so bitterly cold by the lake with a wind whipping and shearing through my coat that as I tried to access the site with a gift-wrapped bottle of whiskey under my armpit, I was half-tempted to postpone it to another time. But I was curious. There’s no point denying it. However at the entrance causeway to the site I discovered a fallen tree so mangled into place behind the cattle grid that it completely barred access. From the car I tried to call the phone number I had been given. No answer. To do something about the fallen tree meant contacting the owner and being Christmas it took a few days for him to get back to me.

In the meantime I had made several more attempts to contact them. There was a thick forest either side of the causeway that contained deep crevasses hidden by a matted strangulation of wild vegetation. I wasn’t willing to take that chance. Otherwise I could get there via boat; which seemed excessive. Instead I waited a few days and accompanied the tree surgeon. In no time at all he had carved a way for me to squeeze through with his ear-splittingly loud chainsaw. From the cattle-grid to the house was another couple of minutes by foot in darkness. Naturally I was alarmed: If I couldn’t get in – then how had they managed to get out? And there was the question of who was liable if something…?

The car they had followed me to the property with was parked up against one of the huge glacial standing rocks at what appeared to me as a strange angle. The closer I came the more wrong it looked until I was close enough to see that it was stuck there head first: the front of the car was crushed, the lights broken, the hood bent out of shape so that it looked as if the car had been driven at speed and repeatedly into the rock to cause so much damage.

With my sense of alarm now spilling over into an uncomfortable dread I looked to the nearest window in the house. The woman was standing there, stock-still, peering out at me, expressionless. “He’s here!” she screamed “Tinkerman is here”. Then she moved away from the window. Disappeared into the un-seen interior of the house. Despite knocking on the back door and on the windows neither she nor the man would come out or answer my requests. I realized that I’d made a very serious error of judgement in allowing them to have the property. There was something very wrong with them.

Once the tree surgeon had carved up the fallen tree into manageable chunks I helped him heap them into the back of his trailer. Everything ok? he asked. It must have been showing on my face as I slammed those pieces of sawed wood into the metal flooring. I told him everything was just fine – when in fact I was furious, with myself, for allowing these outsiders to come in and take over a property that they had no claim on. It was entirely my fault. Now I would have to notify the owner (a kindly old man with no stomach for confrontation); contact the local authorities, initiate court proceedings and fuck-knows what else to get them out.

That night I returned home and once inside immediately took down the bottle of whiskey from the shelf. Tearing off the gaudy Christmas wrapping, and with a sudden twist I snapped the neck. A hot feeling down the back of my throat and then a burning sensation in my chest. I collapsed in front of the television and stared into that empty rectangle where my reflection was ready to drink itself into oblivion. What did ‘Tinkerman’ mean? They must have talked about me in such a tone that I was afforded a nick-name to distinguish me from others. What did they say about me? There was a chance, wasn’t there? There was a chance that she was being kept there against her will.

A narrative began to unfurl. An unlikely hero’s journey.

In the small print of the lease I have always insisted on the right to inspect a property at a mutually agreeable time and date. Having made three calls to the tenants to arrange these details, with no response from their side – I took it upon myself to choose a day and a time that suited me. Armed with a spare key I arrived at the property, pulled up, and saw that they had barricaded the entrance causeway once again – for make no mistake about it – they had forced the tree down the first time around. In this instance they had used smaller rocks and branches torn off the trees to construct their barrier.

All of this was illegal. Completely against all local laws. It made me angry to think of them giving two-fingers the community in such a blatant and unsavoury manner. It outraged me to think they could just come here, take over, and tell us to keep out. The bloody cheek of them. If they wanted to live here – they should abide by our rules. They should integrate into our local community. Be respectful to the way we live our lives. Did they really think this stupid cairn would keep me out?

I smashed my way through it in a fury; kicked the smaller stones aside, rolled the heavier ones down into the deep ditches, pulled at the branches until I had a clear path; then got back into my jeep. By now I was sweating and red-faced with anger. I drove across the cattle-grid and it produced a loud clattering clang of warning for the couple. I drove through the dark corridor of trees with my full headlights on, not knowing what to expect next.

Parking next to their car wreck I looked up to the window as before but she was not there. I walked around the back of the property, I did the decent thing and knocked repeatedly on the door. With nobody willing to answer me I used my key and turned the lock.

Inside the property was far worse than I could have possibly imagined. They had torn out every piece of furniture in the entrance hallway and kitchen. Every table, every chair, the dresser, all the cabinets, all the carpets torn-up, everything in terms of furnishings and fixtures had been pulled from the walls and floors – I tried the light switch – the hanging fixtures pulled clean out of the plasterboard. No lights working anywhere in the hallway, kitchen, living room. They had gutted the place like a fish – pulled the bones out – leaving only the fleshy walls. Bare walls. All wallpaper had been stripped off. Floorboards in the master bedroom pulled up to expose the grey concrete beneath them. All the while I was shouting for them as I inspected the carnage; shouting for them to come out of wherever they were hiding.

I take out my phone to call the nearest Garda station. To my mind this is a crime scene. But there is no coverage in this location. No way to contact anyone by phone. I hear a low moaning. A continuous long low moan. My hand tightens around the weapon in my pocket: a small claw hammer, as I follow the sound. It is so hard to locate the source, muffled – only faintly audible.

Is it coming from outside?

There is a small shed. A boat-house. Closer to the water’s edge. Go then. Down to the boat-house. As if being drawn there in a dream trance. The moaning louder. Louder muted moaning. Open the boat-house door. The emaciated naked figure trapped in a rough cage. A wooden cage. The eyes downcast. Moaning like a beast. The woman naked but not caged. Full-breasted, lacquer-eyed, hungry.

She speaks to the creature in the cage “See I told you he would come! I told you the Tinkerman would come for me” She points to the cage and nods her head. It must be done quickly and without any more of this undue suffering.

Outside the boat-house a full moon. My head swirls from the crisp air. Torrents of white moonlight shred the darkness. The wheelchair we use keeps getting stuck. Enormous un-rolled ferns forming a creeping guard of honor along the overgrown cinder path. The wind blows his lank black hair back into his eyes. My reasons for calm are blown like dandelion clocks. Following the flaming torch, we struggle down the slip-ramp to where the boat waits, still bobbing on the lap of waves. Careful in the manner of handling the body. We place him at the prow, resting his back against the smoking pyre. We push the craft out into the moon’s dappled reflection in the water.

But all of that business was months ago. Before our marriage: celebrated in the orange glow of the funeral fire; a hurried formality before the barricade was rebuilt and my jeep put beyond use. Before the cage that I would require was hastily constructed from the remnants of the floor-boards. Before the strength to fight-back or even argue left my slender body for good. Now safe in my cage the dull screams that nonetheless echo, are all my very own and when she whispers about the Tinkerman, when she says “The Tinkerman is on his way to put manners on you” – I know that she is not referring to me, or to any other real flesh-and-blood man, but rather to an ideal, as her silence dances in the nearby darkness.


Brian Coughlan has a Masters Degree in Screenwriting from NUIG. He has published work with The Bohemyth, The Galway Review, Storgy, Write Out Publishing, Toasted Cheese, Thrice Publishing, Litbreak, Lunaris Review, LitroNY and Unthology. In 2014 he was shortlisted for the Industry Insider TV Pilot Contest as a co-creator of the drama series Panacea. He is an active member of the Galway Scriptwriters Group since 2013.