Short Story 10

Present and Future


A man who looked like an older version of him appeared in a flash. Rex froze, eyes fused to him. Time felt like it stood completely still as they took measure of each other and then in a similar flash the older man was gone. Blinking several times, he challenged the thought and then his own sanity. Crossing the street on the next light, he went to the small alley where he had seen the man standing. Though it was possible he had cut down one of those further back, there was nowhere to hide. And even if he did go further down there was no way he could have done so without him having seen anything.


Rex glanced around the street. There was hardly anyone out yet. It was only six in the morning, most of the shops wouldn’t open until closer to nine. Their town was a scenic tourist attraction, like most small, well-kept, historical downtowns. There were a few people coming early for breakfast or stopping to get a cup of coffee, but the area wouldn’t hit its stride until closer to nine.

Backing away from the spot he decided it was just a figment of his imagination. It wasn’t like he had been staring at it for more than the blink of an eye anyway. It was possible he just made it up, nothing more. His mind tried to make sense of something he wasn’t fully able to process.

He went to his small shop near Lola’s Bakery. It was nothing all that spectacular to the owner, just a small carpentry shop where he gave weekly lessons and sold some furniture and carvings, some done by other locales of the same trade or talent.


Going through the back he passed through the workshop to the front turning on the lights. He was good at cleaning the day before, he preferred it that way, it allowed him more time in the morning. Going to the main entrance, a show piece he had made to replace the old door and show his craftsmanship he unlocked it without turning over the open sign.


Instead, he passed straight through stepping out onto the sidewalk making a bee-line for Lola’s. The door opened despite the fact that they wouldn’t be open for another hour. Locals knew they could stop whenever, it was just to keep the tourists out until a proper time.

“Here for the usual Rex?” Grace, the typical front woman for the bakery came to the counter.

“Have I become that predictable?” He smiled.

Grace was a little passed forty and just the right kind of plum. There were still more than a few of the single men in the town who chased her and Rex wasn’t ashamed to be one of them.

“I’ll have it out in just a second, we’re a little slow this morning.”


“That’s fine, take your time, I’m not going to open until nine.”


“Want some coffee while you wait?”


“No, I’m good.”


Rex turned toward the window, Grace receding into the back part of the shop. The large windows facing the front showed a few stragglers beginning their morning walks, enjoying the fresh air. There was something enjoyable about the early mornings, when everything was rustling out of their squelching sleep.


Rex’s lungs tightened. The figure was there again, across the street staring at him. Despite the distance he was uncannily distinct; every wrinkle around his eyes, the slender hairs that made up his silver stubble.


“Here you are Rex.”


He nearly jumped out of his skin at the sound of Grace’s voice. For a second, he removed his eyes from the window, and in that single second the person had disappeared.


“You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”


Placing a hand to his clammy forehead Rex attempted a smile, “I feel like I’ve seen one. By the way did you see a guy across the street a moment ago.”


“No, but I wasn’t looking. Honey, I think you might need to sit down.”


“Me, no, I’m fine. Thanks Gracie.” He took the bag of pastries and the tall paper cup filled with rich black coffee, leaving.


An unsettling feeling came with the idea that she hadn’t seen this person. He couldn’t imagine what was going on. It was possible to call the whole thing a coincidence when he had barely seen this person the first time, but now it was getting harder for him to make excuses.


Was this some kind of crossing parallel universe? Had his doppelganger come to foreshadow his death? Was someone playing some kind of cruel joke? He couldn’t understand what was happening. Passing through the front of his shop Rex hid himself in the back by his work bench. Opening the bag, he took out the cheese and raspberry Danish taking a bite.


He was killing himself over nothing. There just had to be something wrong with his eyes, or his brain. He would go to the doctors before lunch. But then if he did, they would think he had gone insane. He couldn’t for the life of him imagine that he had a guilty enough conscious to start seeing things. He had never done anything all that bad… at least not as far as he could remember. There had to be some reason for this.


Finishing he took out the last which was a steaming cinnamon bear claw, this he dipped in his coffee allowing the sweet glaze to relax and disappear into the brown liquid so black it dissolved into nothing.


Was it possible that his parents had a child before him they adopted out? Did one or the other of them have a love child they had kept a secret? There was no finding out that. His father had been dead for ten years and his mother was the type never to remember further back then was necessary, she would have forgotten her own name if it was possible.


The food was gone. He sat sipping at his coffee until a quarter past eight. Danny his apprentice would be coming soon. The eighteen-year-old had been working for him every summer since he was eleven, he was like a son to him and at this point he had watched enough of his life go by where he practically was a member of the family. Rex had no choice but to let go of the plaguing mystery, insisting on in his own daze that there had to be some kind of rational explanation for what was going on.


Rex did a quick inventory of the workshop before heading to the front of house checking to make sure that all the display items were as expected. This being done he glanced out the window relieved to find there was no figure watching him, no older version of what he saw reflecting like a pale ghost through the glass. Going to the front door he flipped the closed sign to open stepping back toward the counter feeling somehow at peace with the idea that all this had to have been caused by lost sleep or some other explainable malformity to his recent schedule. It was nothing he couldn’t put to rights in a day or two.


The string of bells on the door, a gift from Grace, jingled. Rex smiled tying his apron. “Welcome is there anything…” His voice died.


The image of his own face twenty years from now stood gazing at him. There was a grizzled sense of self embedded into the features. A wrinkle tanned by lack of care to the face. The hair around his temple and forehead had gone gray, but the latter half had maintained a deep muddy brown. It was a startling image of himself at sixty something.


“Who…” His breath cut out, his throat as dry as sandpaper.


The older Rex smiled, something between cruel and weary spread through it. He didn’t say anything his eyes pinpoint sharp on his younger self.


“I don’t understand,” Rex tried again to wrestle logically with the thing he had been convincing himself he had made up, “What do you want? What have I done wrong? Why… Why are you here?”


These questions floated like smoke between them. The older Rex seemed to feel no obligation to express his thoughts or at least no hurry to do so. They stood and breathed, neither turning from the other. Time as was its habit during tense moments, seemed to stand on its head, holding this section hostage.


“Speak darn you!” The younger Rex was visibly losing his nerve, the tension caused by the constant harassment reaching a level he could hardly take.


The older Rex shifted opening his mouth.


-


When Danny entered through the back he was struck by the sound of screaming. It was so shrill he thought a woman was being murdered in the front. Running past the work bench, practically leaping over the counter he found his boss Rex Alderman bent over shrieking at the floor with his hands over his ears.


“Mr. Alderman,” Danny found it difficult to be heard over the shrill nose, “Mr. Alderman.” He raised his voice, but it still didn’t do a thing.


Running from the shop he went into Lola’s Bakery, “Something’s wrong with Rex, he’s just screaming, and he won’t stop.”


Grace and two of the other women ran back with Danny, another phoned emergency. When they entered the shop Rex was a sweating heap on the floor unresponsive to their prodding or their voices. Grace went in the ambulance sitting beside Rex holding his hand. It was a thirty-minute drive to get to the emergency room. When they arrived Rex was awake, but unresponsive. A battery of tests were performed every one of them coming back normal.


When at last he was able to leave it was as a changed man. He never spoke unless it was absolutely necessary. He didn’t smile much. His flirting with Grace was no more, he didn’t come to Lola’s Bakery, instead Grace would deliver his food to the shop. Danny ran most things in regard to the business, taking to it like a fish to water.


Rex just stayed in the back, whittling away. Every now and then he would start something that he seemed terrified to finish and before anyone could view what it was he would throw it in the small fire kept in the back, watching it till it burned to cinders.


End



Thank you so much for reading everyone!!



Prompt Sentence: A man who looks like an older version of you appears in a flash.


Word Count: 1747


©DecemberKnight 2022


Special thanks to Lum3n from Pexels for the use of the image!


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