I wrote this story with the intent of entering it in The Writer’s Digest Short, Short Story Contest. The stories could be no longer than 1500 words. I wrote a few others and decided not to enter this one. So here it is for your reading pleasure… I hope.
The Lamplight Stranger
Every evening he was there. Standing in the lamplight and staring up at her kitchen window. And every night he departed in the same way, entering a yellow cab that drove him off into the darkness. The first time she saw him standing there leering up at her apartment Margaret was terrified. It was enough to make her want to pack her bags and head back to the small Midwestern town she had been raised in. But there was nothing and no one to go back to; not since Albert had died. She was completely and utterly alone. So she did what any woman in her position would do and called the police.
She kept a close eye on the stranger until she heard the wailing of an approaching siren. The man never flinched or turned away, but kept his vigil until a cab arrived and took him away. The officers were less than sympathetic when they learned they’d been called out to investigate a man waiting for his ride home. Margaret was mortified. As the chuckling officers exited her home she vowed never to call them again. Though she resented their nonchalant attitudes she also hoped they were right about the stranger.
But night after night he was there, never varying from his routine. In time Margaret was not only not afraid of him any longer, but now looked forward to his presence. When his time came she would go to her kitchen window and push back the lace curtains and there he would be… watching. Once she had even thought to invite him in for coffee. She waved her small bony hand in his direction and though his eyes never shifted from their fixed gaze he gave no impression that he had even seen her.
Time passed and Margaret continued to subsist in her little apartment. Like a lonely ghost she was but a faded effigy of the woman she once was. She clung to the nightly visits of her lamplight friend, until one night when she pushed back the yellowing lace from her window pane and he wasn’t there. Margaret strained her stiff arthritic neck this way and that searching the street, but he was nowhere to be seen. Finally, surrendering to the truth of the empty street, she went to her favorite chair and slumped down into the seat feeling the heavy, black blanket of loneliness threating to smother the life from her.
As she closed her eyes, giving in to the dark demon, her doorbell rang. Startled from her depression she jumped from her seat in the hope that her stranger would be there. Opening the door she was both shocked and disappointed as her old eyes fell on the person of a postman.
“Mrs. Margaret Wilson?” he asked
“Yes,” she answered.
“This is for you.” He presented her with an envelope. She reached out her shaking hand and snatched it away. Before she could ask him why he was out so late or where the letter had come from he was gone having disappeared into the encroaching fog.
Margaret closed and locked the door. She held the envelope at arm’s length analyzing it. Nothing marred it’s whiteness but the black ink of her name. No return address, not even a stamp. With trembling fingers she pulled open the flap and removed the letter inside.
Enter the cab when it comes for you.
That was all. No salutation. No signature. Nothing but a command to enter a strange cab. Whoever wrote this must be out of their minds to think that she would do such a dangerous thing. What if this person wanted to kidnap her or worse kill her? But then again did it really matter she thought as she remembered the suffocating loneliness that threatened to swallow her alive. No, it didn’t matter, at least it was something. She would enter the taxi when it came for her.
Minutes later the yellow cab pulled to a stop in front of Margaret’s apartment. Giving her little home one last look she walked out into the night, not even bothering to lock the door behind her. In the cold air she felt more alive than she had in years and she boldly took her seat in the back of the strange cab. The driver slowly pulled away from the curb but did not turn to look at his passenger. Margaret’s courage began to wane after several minutes with her silent companion. In a timid voice she asked “Where are you taking me?”
“It’s time to go home, Margaret.” Her driver turned to look into her eyes and in that moment she recognized her lamplight stranger as her dear husband Albert. The cab was suddenly lit from within by an unearthly glow. She watched with wonder as the years fell from her like leaves falling from a tree. Albert took her hand, young and firm as it was when they first married. No longer in the back seat of a dingy cab the two stood together in a blaze of light that drove out all fear, all loneliness, all depression.
“We’re home,” he said.