Author’s Note: I have a weird love/hate relationship with the horror and paranormal genres. I cannot articulate exactly why something I find repulsive one moment can be of high interest the next. For example, one of my favorite shows is “Dexter,” but I have an aversion to vampires – yet I didn’t mind American Horror Story’s Hotel. The August edition of ‘Nathan Burgoine’s 2018 monthly flash fiction challenge,‘ features a tobacco shop as this month’s location, the object is an earring, and the genre is a ghost story – all in 1000 words. I would love to develop the story deeper, but that is the fun in flash fiction. Thanks for reading and much thanks to Wifey, Cait Gordon, for her much needed editing help!
Harold jumped out of bed and turned off his annoying alarm. Today, he officially owned the Up In Smoke tobacco shop. He whistled as he entered the bathroom to start his morning.
He admired himself in the mirror. The same, plump, balding 46-year-old stared back. He noticed his moustache looked a bit greyer, and the handlebar curls were a bit unkempt. Perhaps a trim is in order.
“Now, then,” he said to his reflection, “the first thing I’ll do is rename that store. It needs my own personal touch.” He liked the pun of the original name but thought, How about Export, “Eh?” Perhaps he could get a sponsorship from the real Export “A” and obtain some extra cash.
“Harold, you’re a genius,” he said while applying some deodorant. He grabbed a fresh shirt, pants, and tie. He liked what he saw in the mirror and blew himself a kiss before bolting out the door of his apartment.
Up In Smoke was a few blocks away in the downtown core. The skyscrapers’ shadows always made the streets dark and gloomy, even on the sunniest of days. He unlocked the door to his shop and walked in.
The Bagley family had owned the establishment for nearly 80 years, and it still maintained its 1920s charm. It remained pretty much intact, with the last renovation being the laying of a red carpet. Harold liked how it complemented the oak cabinetry in the dimly-lit shop. A few tables in the far corner rested near a magazine stand. He walked over to take in the old photos hanging on the walls. One perked his interest–that of a familiar beautiful woman sitting in between two young men. One gentleman resembled a younger, athletic version of himself.
Taken aback, Harold diverted his attention to the fully-stocked glass displays. He went behind the counter and spotted some beautiful Montecristos. Laying his phone down on the counter, he grabbed one and placed it under his nose, taking in its rich aroma. This will be a cool perk of ownership, he mused, then struck a match and lit the cigar.
He inhaled. This is amazing. Contently smoking, he checked his cell for messages. None. That was a bit disappointing because he’d expected more on his big day. Miffed, he took an exaggerated drag and blew a dense, thin stream of smoke aggressively over the counter. Instead of dissipating, it morphed into the apparition of a woman’s head and shoulders.
Startled, Harold dropped his Montecristo, and BUZZ-BUZZ-BUZZ, his phone vibrated non-stop. Harold jumped out of his skin as his heart thumped rapidly. He unlocked his phone. Text messages flew in, reading, “WHERE IS IT? WHERE IS IT?” over and over.
By the time all stopped, the smoke had long vanished, along with the facial silhouette of the woman.
Over the following weeks, Harold got to know the regulars. Rory, a handsome young man in his twenties, wore solid-colour cardigans with bow ties. He never said much or bought anything, but every afternoon at precisely 4:30 he parked himself in a chair for an hour to read a high-brow magazine. Customers ignored him as they rushed to buy their evening smokes. The beautiful Rachel Pennington also came in before closing, to buy cigarettes. She always stayed late to chat.
Harold was totally enamored by her. He looked forward to their heart-to-hearts. They were both completely oblivious to Rory, even as he exited each day at closing. Harold particularly enjoyed flirting, making Rachel laugh, and bragging about his entrepreneurial exploits.
Rory arrived uncharacteristically late one day. Instead of grabbing a magazine, he jabbered with an empty chair. None of the other customers cared, but Harold ached to hear the conversation in the distance. The discussion continued as the store emptied. Rachel did not care or notice. He did observe Rory saying, “I will look harder,” over his shoulder as he left. Rachel did not even bat an eye at it.
The next day, Rory yelled at the empty chair, “I have not found it! I don’t know where it could possibly be!” Harold was the only one in the store that noticed.
Rory arrived a little later, behaving a little more agitated each day. No one cared, but Harold observed the changed behaviour. It often distracted him from Rachel, who felt insulted.
Finally, Rory showed up near closing with a joyful expression. He sat down and started a civil conversation about the weather with the chair. Rachel, as always, ignored his appearance, but Harold had something special planned. He took out a jewelry box and placed it before her on the display case.
Before Harold could say anything, Rory stood up and emphatically pointed at him screaming, “HE HAS IT! IT’S IN HIS POCKET!” Rachel put her hand over her heart and blushed as she stared at the box, but Harold looked nervously at Rory.
From the no-longer empty chair, the woman from the photo stood up. Her left ear was bloodied, and a deep red scar lay visibly across her neck. Harold noticed she wore on her right ear the earring he’d once given her.
He shouted, “Get out, Rachel!” but she looked confused. Rory tackled Harold to the floor and pinned him down. Rachel screamed–she’d only seen Harold fall.
“WHERE IS IT?” the woman from the picture yelled as she walked across the floor. She knelt down, put her hand in Harold’s pocket, and smiled. “There it is.” She extracted the matching earring and twirled it between her fingers. “How many of these little souvenirs have you collected from your victims over the years?” She stared at a trembling Rachel, who clutched the jewelry box as she gazed wide-eyed upon Harold’s late wife.
“There will be no more,” said the ghost, placing her hands to his throat. All Harold saw was black.
The woman vanished. Rachel opened her box to find the exact same pair of earrings.
Export, “Eh?” – A Canadian Ghost Story © 2018 Bruce Gordon. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without permission except in the case of brief quotations in critical articles and reviews. For more information, contact Bruce Gordon.
Bruce Gordon lives in the ‘burbs of Ottawa with his author wifey, three basses (hers, but she lends him one), five guitars (totally his), and one drumkit (hers and hers alone). A musician since his teens, he still plays, but has also ventured down the writing path. His upcoming novel, Dissatisfied Me, A Love Story, is about a 49 year old on the verge of his 50th birthday, who reminisces about his life while sitting alone in his room in his mother’s basement.