Short Story: The New Customer

Halloween is almost here. Spooky, eerie and fun. Let’s get in the spirit with a mysterious short story, shall we?

Here is my latest piece, called The New Customer. I hope you enjoy the read!

Bookstore

A Bookstore and a Short Story (Photo credit: ImaginaryGirl)

The New Customer

The bookstore hadn’t always been a deserted one. Paula was coming up on her five-year anniversary of owning it and was determined to bring in new customers. There was no way that this place was going to go under. She had invested so much time in it. She already had two failed marriages. This place felt like a mate, only it didn’t yell at her when she drank too much of the champagne.

Clanking of bells at the front door brought her chin up expectantly. From her perch at the side counter she watched an older man with an unkempt beard walk in. His wool overcoat was black, and she noted rips along the left sleeve.

As he walked by Paula, she nodded at him, and he stared down at the floor. She wondered if he was searching for coins or whether he intended to avoid eye contact. The faint smell of alcohol wafted by her.

As the man disappeared down the store’s middle aisle, Paula couldn’t help but be intrigued. She had never seen him before, and it really was fun to meet new people. She recalled how her Mom used to say she was always too forward with people. Once, her Mom had suggested that was one reason why Paula’s second marriage hadn’t worked.

Paula shrugged off the voice of the woman she had put to rest only two months ago. Her Mom hadn’t known how the bills were piling up. Now, the empty bottles piled in the bedroom closet, where she hid them from her friends who come over to check on her mourning process. Process. That was the word her friend Harriet had used last week.

Turning the papers on the counter upside down, Paula took a deep breath. She walked toward the aisle the man had taken minutes earlier. She found him with a book open on his lap, sitting on the wood floor.

“Find something you like?” she asked, and he jumped just a little.

“Oh,” he said, in a low voice. “I- I was just catching up on some reading.”

His voice was shaky, and she noted that he had immediately moved the book to the side away from her. She looked around him to try to see which book he had chosen. They were in the History section.

“May I see which one you’ve chosen?” she asked, nodding toward the hint of white cover that popped against his black coat. Immediately she heard her Mom’s voice in her head, telling her to mind her own business. “I’m the owner here,” she said, in a softer voice.

His grave face made her wish she could take back the words. She was about to offer an apology for intruding on his quiet read, fearing she had lost another customer, when he handed her the book. His expression took on a brave quality she hadn’t herself used since the day of the funeral.

“I’m done with this one anyways,” he said and thrust the book toward her. As she looked down at it for identification, he brushed past her and hurried out of the aisle.

“Wait, I-“

She stopped herself when she heard the bells chime again. Silence surrounded her.

Looking down, she noted it was a hardcover of the town’s most famous murder. It had happened ten years ago. Rumors still circulated as to who had killed thirty-year-old Julie Pecken in an alley just a few blocks away.

She chalked his chosen read up to another person out to crack the mystery and started to file the book back onto its shelf.  As she lifted the item, a paper fell out of it onto the floor. Paula knelt down to pick up the folded white sheet.

Opening it up, she gasped. There on the page were two handwritten sentences:

I killed her because she didn’t understand how to love me. She used me and threw me away.

Startled by the bells, Paula looked up from where she stood in the aisle. There was the bearded man in front of her again. His eyes passed from the paper to her face and back again. She wondered if her facial features gave away her suspicions.

As he moved toward her, he lifted his hands toward her throat. The smudge of blue ink on his left hand was the last thing she saw. Her Mom’s voice told her to mind her own business before silence crept back into the aisle.

©2013 Christy Birmingham

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This is christyb, saying I am always open to feedback. Let me know if there’s anything you think looks like it could use improvement! Thank-you.

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51 thoughts on “Short Story: The New Customer

  1. Janine Huldie

    Just what I needed right before Halloween and absolutely loved your latest short story. Love how her mom was right in the end!! Hope you had a great weekend and now wishing you a great week ahead! 🙂

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  2. Rolly Chabot

    Hi Christy…

    Loved the read and the unexpected ending… a reminder for us all… smiles… you have solved the murder of Julie Pecken. You can now at to your resume…

    Very well done and held the attention of this reader as you always do…

    Hugs from across the mountains

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  3. Tobias

    Wow I love it. Very spooky! The story is short but makes you think a lot about both the store owner and the murderer, their lives before this encounter and what is in store for the future of the stone cold killer. “shudder”

    Very well done.

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  4. Aquileana

    ►Hello there Christy►

    Your brief story is very well written and I really liked the way you have structured the main topics …

    That “new customer” who is in fact “the last one”: Yes, I really found that the tittle is quite an ironic wink with the reader …

    I enjoy how you have mixed reality and fiction here using the plot of the book (that the murderer is reading in the bookstore) and the characters´s stories…

    I also have to mention the temporary dialectical game that seeps here in your story, as the recent past and the present are juxtaposed.

    In this sense, the voice of Paula´s mother´s is really a great literary tool to tie together the different chronological facts… The voice of the mother who has just passed away… That mourning process which is not finished yet…And the lingering echoes of that dead voice which is still alive… (“Paula shrugged off the voice of the woman she had put to rest only two months ago”)

    You have well highlighted the literary “warning signs” you have chosen to anticipate the outcome. Meaning here :

    >The bells implicitly warning her (twice) about the impending danger… (“She stopped herself when she heard the bells chime again”/ “Startled by the bells, Paula looked up from where she stood in the aisle”)

    >And then the mother´s voice coming back again from the recent past to tell her “to mind her own business”…

    The last part of the story is totally unexpected as the unknown man has left Paula a handwritten note (the last warning sign) confessing her the reasons of his last crime (“I killed her because she didn’t understand how to love me. She used me and threw me away”)…

    The ending- properly said- is astonishing: The smudge of blue ink on his left hand ( the last thing Paula would see) and her Mom’s voice reminding her again to “mind her own business” (the last sound she would hear)… Finally, silence sliding again into the aisle to become the exclusive owner of the place…

    What can I say?… Your short story is really outstanding… So I must encourage you to keep on writing brief stories;

    Love to you;

    Aquileana 😉

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    1. Christy Birmingham Post author

      Amalia,
      I do enjoy the way you dissect my work and am flattered that you enjoyed the read. Your support and kindness is wonderful, my friend.

      The bells are chiming for our friendship and we are happy as GalPals!! 🙂 xo

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  5. Corrie Woerde

    DEAR CHRISTY,WHAT A GREAT SHORT STORY…I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO MORE OF THIS KIND OF WORK!
    THE NEXT TIME I WILL BE NOSY I WILL REMEMBER MAMA’S LESSONS….MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS!!!
    LOVE AND HUGS! ♥♥♥

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  6. filbio

    Another great piece wriiten by you. Nice and creepy, and with an ending that offers a few interpretations. Was it her imagination? Was it real? Is she dead? Did he get away?

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  7. Tessa

    Great short story, you kept my interest from the very start. You have such a descriptive way of writing. Setting the stage, adding the intrigue and descriptive words…catching the reader’s attention. Well worth the read. Keep it up!

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    Reply

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