Don't Forget

January 20, 2013
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The old man hobbled into a town that had forgotten him.
There were whispers that this old man had once been important. At some point in the distant past he had been someone worth knowing, but no one now knew why. The whispers faded with the man’s footprints, and he was nobody once more.
Whatever the old man had looked like in youth, he now cut a ragged figure. He leaned heavily on his cane, its hollow clump sounding with every other step. He was hunched over and his knees were bent slightly and, as a result, he appeared shorter than his full height. His pale face was today flushed red from the frigid wind that sent clouds of snow swirling about his feet.
He limped inside the town’s grocery store a few minutes before it was set to close, prompting a look of displeasure from the shopkeeper.
“Can I help you?” the shopkeeper grumbled.
“Yes,” the old man’s voice was frail. “This morning I was supposed to receive my delivery for the week, but it didn’t arrive.”
The shopkeeper half recognized the old man’s face as a customer, but he had forgotten anything he ever knew of him.
“I’m sorry, sir. The delivery boy must have forgotten. I’ll have him bring it tomorrow morning.”
“Everyone forgets an old man,” he sighed. “I would rather get it today.”
“Well that’s not really possible,” the shopkeeper had no patience so near closing time. “The shop’s about to close and our delivery boy went home.”
In an instant, the Old Man snapped from frail to fearsome. He pounded a fist on the counter. “I need it tonight,” he roared.
A woman shopping in the corner, the only other person in the store, quietly shuffled out.
The shopkeeper was dumbfounded.
“I- I think I saw a package in the back room. It’s probably yours. I’ll just give it to you now?”
The Old Man’s demeanor softened again. “Do you expect an old man like me to carry a week’s worth of groceries all the way up the hill to my house?”
"I could carry it for you," the shopkeeper heard the words before he even realized he had said them.
The old man smiled.

“After you.”
Pointed directions from the old man guided the shopkeeper through the town to a long, icy flagstone driveway. Their two figures were soon only shadows in the fading winter light. One upright figure led the way. A hunched, nearly shapeless figure shuffled behind. Even these shadows were soon swallowed by the overgrown hedges that marked the edge of the old man’s property.
Darkness was coming quickly now. The shopkeeper could barely see his way along the path. He was constantly tripping on roots or slipping on the ice. The old man, however, hardly seemed affected. If anything, he hobbled along with more speed than when his footing was sturdy.
The old man tapped the shopkeeper’s shoulder. “This way,” he growled, pointing a gnarled finger at an imposing dirt path that branched from the driveway and ran directly up the hillside to the house’s front door.
The going was steep, and the shopkeeper struggled to stay ahead of the old man who was, once again, miraculously untroubled. They at last reached the front door and the shopkeeper waited, panting steam into the frigid air, until the old man fumbled a key into the lock and opened the door.
Disconcerted, the shopkeeper squinted into the gloominess that filled the house, his eyes straining to see anything in the total darkness. The last dismal rays of sunshine had fallen below the horizon, and there was no light to be seen anywhere.
“Right through here.” The old man's hoarse growl came from a few inches in front of the shopkeeper's face, making him jump.
The shopkeeper followed the sound of the old man’s footsteps into another room. There was something strange about the sound, something different.
“Right on this table.”
The shopkeeper’s leg brushed something, and he tossed the package onto what he guessed was the table. The only sound was the old man walking back to the doorway, his two feet tapping the wooden floor in almost perfect time. The shopkeeper’s eyes widened. There was no uneven third clump of a cane.
The door slammed shut, making the shopkeeper jump. The sound quivered about the room. Then there was the scraping of a deadbolt being closed. Then silence.
The shopkeeper’s heart was racing, pounding on his ears. The darkness and the quiet were pressing in, suffocating him. Blindly, he fumbled forward, his hands sweeping in front of him to avoid any unseen obstacles. He reached the back wall of the room and felt along it. The texture was strange, dry and rough, as if the whole wall was covered in paper. The shopkeeper ran his fingers along this strange surface, desperately searching for an opening or even a source of light. But he could find nothing.
It was then that he remembered the package. It contained, apparently, a week of supplies for the old man. Surely something in there would be of use. Inching blindly to the center of the room, the shopkeeper once again found the table. He reached out, found the package, and tore the paper off. Digging around, he found a box that rattled. Inside the box were lots of small wooden sticks. Matches.
He struck one, sending a flickering glow across the room. The shopkeeper’s eyes first lit on the door. Rushing over, he grasped the knob, turning it with all his strength, but to no avail. In desperation, he threw his full weight at the door itself, but the massive oak slab didn’t flinch.
The flame was now burning his fingers, so he dropped the match and stuck another. Holding it out, he made his way to the back wall. In the dim light, he could see why the wall had felt papery before, it was covered with newspaper clippings. Holding the match closer, he could just make out the headlines.
They all dealt with a series of murders. A child, a woman, a young banker, all with slit throats. The shopkeeper followed the story from murder to murder until a front page headline proclaimed the killer had been captured, with a mug shot just below. The shopkeeper leaned in closer, his heart thundering. There, staring back at him from decades old newsprint, was a younger version of the old man.
Fear made the shopkeeper's breath come sharply. The sound covered the noise of the deadbolt being undone and the door gliding open. He could feel his heart pounding on his rib cage, fear spreading through his body. He was trapped in the house of a murderer.
“Strange,” said the old man. The shopkeeper spun around, his heart almost stopping. The first thing he noticed was how much taller the old man seemed. No longer hunched over and feeble, the old man towered over him. Then, the match flame reached his fingers and he had to throw it to the ground, filling the room with darkness once more.
“What’s strange?” the shopkeeper managed to stammer out.
“People forget so quickly.”
“It was you? All those murders?”
"How did you escape?" the shopkeeper whispered, fear pressing his words to the back of his throat.
The shopkeeper's racing mind turned to escape. He bolted forward blindly. Feeling his way frantically along the wall, he reached the open doorway and dashed through. It was a straight path to the front door through which he burst out into the night. Unsure if he was being followed, he started to sprint. He made it only a few steps before he tripped and was sent tumbling down the steep hill he had, until that moment, forgotten about.
The shopkeeper reached the bottom in a battered and feeble state, utterly unable to move. Within a few minutes, he heard footsteps approaching quickly. With one hand, the old man lifted the shopkeeper off the ground. The shopkeeper saw the glint of something metal at his throat.
“I shouldn’t be forgotten so easily,” the old moan growled.
“Why- why not start over? No one remembers…” the shopkeeper could barely whisper.
The shopkeeper saw the old man’s teeth clench.
“It’s better to be feared than forgotten. Being nobody is a terrible thing.”
The shopkeeper saw anguish in the old man’s face.
“Why me?”
“Why not you?”
The shopkeeper saw the old man’s hand flinch.
The next morning, the shopkeeper’s bloodied body was found in front of his shop. The shop's windows were smashed, and every box inside had been torn open. Perhaps most haunting of all was a note found nailed to the front of the store. It read simply
“Don’t forget.”

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GeorgePonding said...
Jan. 24, 2013 at 7:48 am
OMG!! tis was incredible!!!! love it
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