The Obituary-A Short Story

John Mason had the odd habit of reading the obituaries every morning while eating his breakfast.

“Maybe it wouldn’t be so odd if you were in your seventies,” his girlfriend complained, “but for a man in the prime of his life…it’s just weird.”

She was right. John was forty-two and very fit, obsessively so. He ran marathons, followed a strict diet and rode his bike to work. He had only one defect and that was his heart. When he was a teenager he was diagnosed with a heart condition that threatened to take his life, but John was intent on living as long as possible. And with all the scientific advances, he believed he could very well beat Death all together.

“Who are you looking for?” asked his girlfriend Lisa.

“I’m not looking for any one person,” he answered. “I’m looking at their ages.” John gave a satisfied sigh and flipped the page.

Lisa looked exasperated. “That is so morbid. Why can’t you just enjoy your life and quit obsessing over death.”

“This is how I enjoy life. Death tried to take me once and I’m not going to let it happen again.”

“You say that as though death were a person, bent on killing you. It will happen to all of us sooner or later.”

She could see he was not paying attention to her as he had gone back to scanning the names of the dead and sipping his mineral water. Lisa kissed the top of his head, grabbed her bag and left his apartment. She had heard his story before and knew she wasn’t going to change him; it was just one of John’s little idiosyncrasies and she would have to learn to put up with it.


            The next morning was like every other. John sat in his exquisitely clean kitchen, at his glass-top table, eating his whole grain toast and fruit.  He opened the local newspaper, ignoring sports and world events and went straight to the obituaries.

Ashley Blake, he read, died at age thirty-two. “Ha! I beat her,” he said out loud. He went on reading name after name while nibbling at his breakfast and feeling more and more pride each time he came across someone younger than himself. After a time of gloating over the dead, his began to feel a little guilty over his somewhat callous attitude and decided he would read only one more today. Scanning the long list of recently departed he came across something that made him nearly choke on his perfectly toasted bread.

It read: John Mason, age forty-two, died October 19, 2016. The notice went on to tell of his activities in life and list the loved ones he had left behind.

John took a drink of water and swallowed the toast sitting in his throat, then reread the obituary thinking it must be another John Mason. But no, it was most definitely him.  His heart skipped a beat. Clutching his chest as he always did when this happened he said out loud, “Calm down. Remember your breathing.”

Breathe in… one, two, three. Breathe out…one, two, three. His heart began to beat regularly again. Now who would play such a prank? Someone with a sick sense of humor. Brad! Brad Lewis from the office, he was always pulling practical jokes. It had to be him. I’ll just call him and clear this whole thing up.

John went to his room to retrieve his cell phone. He flipped the light switch by the door. Nothing. He flipped it again. Still nothing. In his frustration, he cursed. These light bulbs are supposed to last for years. He tried the lights in the bathroom and hallway, none of them worked. Did he forget to pay his bill? No, he nether forgot anything; it must be an outage. It wasn’t important right now. Right now, the most important thing was to speak to Brad.

John grabbed his phone and scrolled through his contact list stopping on Brad’s information. We’ll just end this now, he thought as he tapped in the number. Nothing happened. No service? What was going on? John’s defective heart began to beat out of rhythm again. He sat on the edge of his ergonomic mattress and tried to control his breathing. Alright, I just need to get out of here. I’ll go see Lisa.

He dressed slowly always aware of the beating of his heart. Deciding that biking would be too stressful he opted to walk. John pushed his way through the crowds unaware of the people he was irritating. If he could just see a familiar face it would make everything better. Taking the elevator rather than the stairs he reached the third floor and turned right, his pace quickening as he came closer to her door.  He rang the doorbell. No answer. He rang it again. Still no answer.  In his frustration, he banged on her door. On the opposite side of the hall a woman opened her door a crack and peeked out. She cleared her throat. John turned around, embarrassed by his actions he attempted to make an excuse, but she quickly cut him off by telling him that Lisa had gone away for the weekend. That’s right, he had completely forgotten. She was visiting her family this weekend.

I’ve got to see Brad. He must be behind this. John walked briskly, but not too briskly, still being careful of his weak heart, back to his apartment to get Brad’s home address. John was feeling calmer now, having convinced himself this was all just a joke. He pulled the keys from his pocket and inserted one in the deadbolt. The key wouldn’t turn. He checked again, it was the right key, maybe in his agitated state he had gone to the wrong door. Looking up at the number painted there he saw a for rent notice taped to the door.

John’s heart began beating out of rhythm. He clutched at his chest and tried to control his breathing. One, two…His mind kept returning to the obituary. Breathe in…His heart gave a final thump and John fell to the floor.


Through choking sobs Lisa spoke, “How could this happen? He was so careful about his health.” Brad put a comforting arm around her shoulder and gazed down at the body lying in the satin lined casket. “I just don’t know,” he whispered.

At the foot of John’s casket, unseen by the mourners, stood a dark cloaked figure, its bony fingers tapping on the lid. A grin spread across the fleshless face as he hissed out the words, “I win.”


Waiting for Albert- A short story

“Excuse me sir, could you please tell me the time?” Charlotte asked politely. The man with the small mustache and round bowler hat did not so much as incline his head toward the sound of her voice. They always do that, thought Charlotte, when had people become so lacking in common manners. She rested against the back of the wooden bench and watched the passing crowds. Nannies with their small charges in hand walked them quickly home from a day of play in the park. Men with folded newspapers under their arms and briefcases in their hands, hailed cabs to take them home to their families or off to one of the local gentlemen’s clubs.

Charlotte turned her attention to the town clock again. There must be something wrong with it, she thought, for the hands never appeared to move. It seemed always to be four- fifty. She rubbed her gloved hands nervously as she again surveyed the crowd looking intently for him. He had promised to meet her at five o’clock. Calming herself with the belief that he would keep his word she pulled from her satchel an ivory boar’s hair brush and contentedly groomed her thick black tresses.

Mother and Father simply didn’t understand what a good man Albert was. They didn’t know him like she did. And they were much too old to remember what it was like to be truly in love. Yes, Albert gambled a bit too much and drank a bit too much, but that would all change once they were married. He only needed the love of a good woman to help him change his ways and if only her parents could see that, she could have a proper marriage and wouldn’t have to run away with him in secret.

Charlotte returned the brush to her satchel and pulled out the letter she had written to her parents explaining everything. She would post it when she and Albert arrived in Franklin. It was there he had promised to make a respectable woman of her… and of course he would. He wasn’t anything if not honest, having only once committed the smallest indiscretion with that barmaid. But he assured her that he had had too much to drink and didn’t know what he was doing and that it would never happen again. Charlotte rubbed her hands more intensely with the thought.

Again she turned her attention to the town clock looming over the square. Charlotte felt it looking disapprovingly at her and averted her eyes. Watching the women walk by she noticed their dress, such uncommonly straight skirts and large brimmed hats. Charlotte felt rather old fashioned in her hoop skirt and bonnet. And the men weren’t wearing the top hats that father wore when going out. Odd, she thought. An elderly gentleman came meandering slowly toward her. She could see his watch chain bouncing against his protruding stomach as he walked. Surely he was not in such a rush that he could not be bothered to answer her question. “Excuse me sir, but could you tell me the time? I think the town clock has stopped.”

He halted his steps and pulled the gold watch from his pocket checking the time on the towering wooden timepiece and being assured that the two were in accord he nodded his head in approval and walked away.

He must not have heard me, she thought, but surely now I know that the time is correct. Only ten minutes before Albert would arrive. She had never been so happy. To have such a handsome and charming man turn all his attention to her was more than she had hoped for. Mother and Father had tried to convince her to marry that dreary Charles. How could a mere bank clerk compare with such an exciting man as Albert? She would have done anything for him… and did. But that would all be rectified when they were married. Again that burning sensation in her hands. She rubbed them furiously and the pain subsided a bit.

Time seemed to stand still. Only the people and buildings showed any signs of change. Charlotte pulled the brush from her bag, groomed her long hair, returned it and pulled forth the letter. She requested the time from men and women only to be ignored; and always the burning feeling of her gloved hands. Her mind would wander into imaginations of Albert and the barmaid, she would see him in her arms and with all of Charlotte’s will she would push the nightmarish picture from her mind and replace it with the happy thoughts of her wedding day.

The shiny glass-walled buildings reflected the sun’s rays down on Charlotte but she felt none of the heat. As though she sat in a shadow she was chilled to the bone and wrapped her shawl tightly around her shoulders. What funny clothes the people wore, spiky heeled shoes and such short skirts. Mother would never have allowed her to show so much of her legs in public. And the men, not even wearing a tie or jacket. No one turned an eye toward her or answered her pleas for the correct time. Albert had to be here soon, he simply had to. She had many times thought to rise and search for him but could not summon the energy to move. Charlotte reached for her brush but the burning in her hands became too much for her and she removed her white lace gloves to examine what the cause might be. Turning her hands over she saw that her palms were stained a dark violent red. Charlotte’s mind reeled as she saw it all again. Albert and the barmaid embracing with such passion as he promised he had only for her! The smile on her wicked red lips as he kissed her neck! There on the counter lay a knife the tool that would end this nightmare and send it back to Hell. Charlotte’s vision was blurred with red, the red of Albert’s blood. It was all she could see, it was all there was until there was the bench.

“Excuse me sir, could you please tell me the time?”

A Short, Short Story

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.