Master Plotto Week Two Winner: Ian Bassingthwaighte

Masie Cochran

This was an international week for the Master Plotto Contest with writers from Indonesia, London, Ireland, South America, and all over the US submitting entries.

Our editorial board was impressed by the various ways highwaymen (mostly on horseback) were able to steal the love letters, bills, and packages of an unsuspecting public.

Congratulations go out to Ian Bassingthwaighte, whose story reminded us of Sam Peckinpah and the importance of letters left undelivered.

Last Week’s Prompt: A, a highwayman, is robbing the mails


I point my rifle at the horse’s most fragile organ and fire. Then I sit by the body while the heat departs. I don’t cry because highwaymen don’t love their horses. We don’t love our horses. I have never once been in love with my horse!

I put my head on its chest but it’s not heaving anymore. So I think about my poor dead mother and cry about her instead.

We are not empty men! Not just vessels.

I clobber the postman to keep him sleeping. He’s in the grass, still breathing, bleeding just a little bit, clutching his bag of letters.

Who wants the mail anyway, he can keep it.

Remember the mantra: math, murder, profit.

Practice it: count men before you shoot them, take what can be sold, but always leave what’s sentimental in case loved ones come later and discover what you’ve done.

A robbery-gone-wrong is poetry in retrospect. Very circular, what-goes-around-comes-around. But while it’s happening—that is something different. Because here I am, not a bad man. Not a bad man who started his day with not a dead horse.

Who robs the mails: collectors of sentiment, maybe. Collectors of love notes and contracts and apology cards. Who robs the mails! Collectors of old photographs that are slightly burned at the edges, of mittens shipped to newborns, of impromptu propaganda, like postcards from distant and happy places that are neither of those things, not really.

I clobber the postman again to keep him sleeping then give him my coat to keep him warm.

Since it’s quiet now: in the distant past I was a farmer. Before that I was a child. And before that I wasn’t made yet, which means I was dead or something like it. For literally an infinite amount of time, try counting.

I time travel via memory and I’m doing it now: the postman is riding his horse, moving along, doing his various deliveries. I am galloping toward him. In the interim between this moment and the one where we collide, I begin taking measures. The size of his body, the size of his arms, the size of his pouch. The chance that I could take him.

His pouch that is definitely filled with letters and possibly filled with the money spent to ship them.

Instead of saying howdy I charge up and hit him from behind, and that is how everything begins.

Then more violence happens in the way it always does—quickly. At some point in the fray: the leg on my horse pops then bends in a way it shouldn’t.

Coincidentally: horses are better vehicles than pillows, so I stop trying to sleep on mine. I stand up. I pet the postman’s horse. That one is sort of milling around without any real allegiance.

I clobber the postman again but he dies this time. I don’t cry because highwaymen don’t love the men they kill. I take his money and his horse but I leave his yellow hat.

Ian Bassingthwaighte’s work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Event, Guernica, Adbusters, and many others. Last year he was a Glimpse/National Geographic correspondent and he recently returned from Egypt, where he was a Fulbright fellow for fiction.