:: Article

Haunted Prosthetic Limb Rescued From the Dumpster Near the Produce Stand

By Gregory Frye.

Yesterday, walking back from the produce stand, I saw a leg on the sidewalk by the dumpster. Not a real leg. A prosthetic one from the upper thigh down, complete with a white sock and a black shoe, just laying there next to an abandoned dresser (which provided a whole other set of temptations). How did this get here? Who would throw away such a thing? My eyes traced the rusty hinges of the joint, ran along the dangerous-looking hollow where the previous owner’s stump must have sweated away hours of bumping and grinding. Do stumps sweat? I don’t know, I-I … I’ve never known anyone with a prosthetic leg before. Or have I?

So, I’m looking at this leg, still wondering what happened. Did the previous owner of this specially-designed contraption die? Did he find a better, more sleek and modern replacement? Or maybe he lost his other leg and was now permanently wheelchair-bound.

Realizing this rare find for what it was, I looked around to see if anyone was watching me, threw a number of personal phobias to the side, and seized the leg by the ankle. It was both lighter and heavier than I thought it would be. Arm extended, holding the leg away from body as if it were covered in shit, I ran the rest of the way home, my mind teasing at all the artistic possibilities. I could turn this leg into a post-modernist lamp, or hammer it full of nails and paint rainbows all over the surface. This leg was going to put me on the map, was going to launch an artistic career full of oddity projects for which artsy collectors would pay $500 even $2,000. The nailed rainbow leg lamp alone would probably fetch a grand at least.

This explanation didn’t go too far in convincing my wife. She stood there in my study, arms folded below her breast, shaking her head, eyes glued to this weird, creepy leg I’d dragged home like a cat leaving a dead rat on the stoop in the attempt to please its master. But, as usual when it comes to my creative ambitions, she abided and the leg got to stay. And there it did stay, just lounging in a dark corner of my office, haunting me whenever I sat at my writing desk, or when I came in to read. The leg just looked at me, accusingly, as if to say: well, you brought me home, what the hell are you going to do now?

What happened to the post-modernist lamp idea? Where had all that artistic fire gone to? The truth was, I couldn’t get past the fact this leg represented another man’s tragedy. My spooked imagination ran wild at the story behind this leg, and I couldn’t bring myself to manipulate it to my creative will, or throw it away, or even touch it. You may have heard of this condition called phantom limb, where someone loses a leg, an arm, a hand, a finger, and they can still feel it as if it were attached.

Instead of phantom limb, I had a case of phantom man.

All the hours spent at my writing desk, staring at this leg when I should have been working, I could practically see the poor soul attached to this cursed contraption of plastic, rubber and metal. No matter how much my wife hounded me to get rid of the thing, or how many times my children were too scared of it to come into my study for a goodnight kiss, I could not alter the situation.

Exactly three months after rescuing this leg from dump land doom, three things happened:

1) I looked back on all the writing I had done in that time and realized everything I’d composed had been about this leg. Stories about the leg’s origin and how it ended up in the trash and even more stories where the leg itself was the protagonist.

2) My editor called mentioning something about deadlines and wanting to know why the new manuscript wasn’t on her desk.

3) The voices started.

Maybe it was just one voice but in different tones, I still don’t know. But I knew not to mistake this as a sign of mental instability. The god damn leg was talking to me. Whispering.

I did what it told me and sent my editor the manuscript as is, thinking I’d become the joke of the publishing house and maybe even lose my contract. Sure I could have gone through and changed the leg to an actual person, but it would have just made things worse.

Waiting for Sheila my editor to respond, I stayed out of the study and away from the leg, holding my breath for the fated call. I promised myself I’d throw the cursed, talking prosthetic limb away, put it right back where I found after Sheila phoned me to ask if the manuscript was my idea of a prank.

But that’s not how it went down.

She rang me two days later, bubbling with excitement. Augustus the Lost Leg was the most original, quirky manuscript the publishing house had seen in years. After a bit of polishing, they wanted to publish it immediately.

From here, I’m sure you can guess what happened. The son of bitch book became a cult classic, particularly among amputees. I even had to do a tour, and I don’t remember whose idea it was to bring the inspiring prosthetic limb with me, but the thing is still talking, and this baby has sequel written all over it.


Gregory Frye is a journalist and struggling novelist who teaches English in Athens, Greece. His short story, Mr. Electric, received honorable mention in the 78th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition. That story and other literary/cultural oddities can be found at his new site: Dog in the Sand.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, May 6th, 2010.