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!
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.
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
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.