This is a short story I submitted for a writing magazine. The criteria for the story was that it had to focus on the holiday season and be no more than two pages. Yesterday, I received a rejection letter from the publication saying they received so many submissions that mine was unable to be published.
For lack of having anything else to do with it at this point, I’ve decided to put it up here. It’s not a horror story, but I hope you’ll enjoy it just the same.
The Old Man
The young boy stared at the old man exiting the department store. He was dressed in a three piece suit, a rather elegant attire for mall shopping; but there was nothing elegant about the face. The old man looked to be every bit of 90 years old. His face was wrinkly and haggard with spectacles that hung low on his nose. What was left of his hair were white wisps. It almost seemed the old man stepped out of another time period. The appearance of age wasn’t what troubled the boy though, it was the man’s countenance as he stared downcast while he walked. The boy also noticed how the old man’s body trembled. It was plain to see the old man as on the verge of tears.
“Don’t look”, the old man heard the sister whisper to her brother as he walked past them. The old man, whose name was Thomas, made his way to his old Buick in the parking lot while still trying to keep the feelings at bay. After he made it to the car, he sat down and went over the events of the past half hour.
His trip to the store was supposed to be a simple one. His aim was to purchase a bottle of cologne. The chill December air did his arthritis no favors, and his joints cracked on his way into the store. The chill also brought back memories of better days, when he was young and had a family. All of that was in the distant past and made this time of year all the harder.
As soon as Thomas had opened the door to the store, he realized he’d made a mistake. The sights and sounds of Christmas were overwhelming. Christmas music was playing over the PA system. The current song was “Silent Night, Holy Night”. The things meant to bring cheer and tidings of goodwill assailed Thomas with pangs of nostalgia for the holidays when he wasn’t alone. “….mother and child”, the angelic voice on the PA sang. Thomas fought valiantly against the onslaught of feelings and made his way to the cosmetics department. The girl behind the counter was young and very pretty. In spite of himself, Thomas smiled. The girl, (her name tag said “Heather”), smiled back, and asked “Can I help you, sir?”.
“I’d like a bottle of Floris No. 89, please”, Thomas answered.
She looked at his suit and knew he could afford it, which is why she regretted having respond, “A great choice, sir, unfortunately we’re sold out for this season.”
The look on his face was almost too much for Heather to bare. Thomas’s large brown eyes watered, “My wife used to buy me a bottle every year. She’s been gone ten years. Each Christmas, I buy a bottle to remember her. It’s the cologne I was wearing when we first met, and she loved it’s scent. Please, can you help me?”. “Silent Night, Holy Night” ended and “The Little Drummer Boy” took it’s place as Heather started to answer, “I’m sorry sir, we only had a few bottles on sale this year and they sold out rather quickly. We have some more ordered, but it won’t be until next Wednesday before they arrive. That will be after Christmas though, unfortunately”.
Thomas looked at the ground . “I understand”, Thomas said. As the chorus on “The Little Drummer” boy sang “I have no gifts to bring, pa-rum-pa-pum-pum”, Thomas made his way to the stores exit. He’d planned for the cologne to be part of his Christmas ritual. He spent the past ten Christmases opening the box of Floris No. 89 in front of his fireplace, while sipping a glass of wine. He was a man sustaining himself on memories, all family and friends taken from this world over time. The bottle of cologne was an avatar of the past; an emblem that his wife existed. Each year Thomas asked himself why he went on this way and not put an end to it. It kept getting harder to come up with a good answer. He planned to hang himself this year. No one cared and there was no reason not to. “Don’t look”, the girl had said to her brother. No one ever did really look at him. He was already a ghost.
As Thomas sat in his Buick, softly weeping, there was a knock at the window. Thomas looked to see the little boy from before. The boy smiled at Thomas kindly, and asked “Hey mister, are you ok?”.