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I remember reading this story about 20 years ago as part of a scifi/fantasy compilation.

It's about a guy remembering a very weird event that happened when he was a child, and many years later returning to the place where it happened. He remembers a hole that he fell through, and this scary old man with no legs that lived down there. The legless man had a mute wife, that "quacked", and there were golden trinkets in his lair. I think the old man wanted the boy to stay down in the hole, and while the boy pretended to accept his new fate, was always looking for a way to escape. In the end, the boy tries to get out and the legless man tries to catch him, dragging himself through the tunnels with his powerful arms.

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  • The boy tries to get out? Did he make it out, or not? (Don't worry about spoilers.) What does he find when he returns years later? Is the old man or his wife or the gold trinkets still there?
    – user14111
    Aug 17, 2016 at 23:17
  • Eventually, the boy gets out. And years later, when he tries to make sense of his memory by returning to the scene(and to see if he could find some of the gold), he's almost convinced that it was all imagination..until he sees one of the trinkets sticking out of of the ground. But it turns out to be just painted plastic.
    – kith
    Aug 18, 2016 at 17:23

1 Answer 1

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Under The Garden by Graham Greene.

Yes, this is a very compelling story, that I too sometimes think about decades after first reading it. Hard to even say what it was about, except it sticks with you. Luckily, in high school in the 90s I started a personal collection of quotes I liked, shortly after I read this, and have it listed in that collection.

The legless man and his tongueless wife lived underground based on a theory that only accidents killed you, by living in a safe place one could be effectively immortal. The narrator remembers this as an adult, when he is diagnosed with cancer, and goes looking for the half remembered tunnel to the underground as a chance to be saved.

The legless man dispensed an array of interesting wisdom, such as, "Be disloyal. It's your duty to the human race. The human race needs to survive and it's the loyal man who dies first from anxiety or bullet or overwork."

Excerpt from a review:

These chapters remind me strongly of John Cowper Powys as we follow WW (one moit (a word used in the text) himself as a child dreaming and the other moit himself now older, in terminal illness, remembering real events as a child under the garden), a mix of Long John Silver and Robinson Crusoe, and finding first this fish and a newspaper (Colchester Guardian) from fifty years before smelling of fish, and an oldish man sitting on a decorative lavatory seat (except there is a pit underneath) and his quacking wife.

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