Thomas and the newspaper

BridlewayJust a bit of fun: this story was created in three stages, as responses to writing prompts at  – (1) write about a crime, (2) write about money and (3) write about a character experimenting with a new identity. This has no connection with my WIP!

The bell on the door tinkled as Thomas pushed it open. Two boys on the inside, eager to escape with their purchases of sticky sugar, almost pushed him over as they rushed out to the street. No patience, that’s the trouble with youngsters today. No patience and no respect.

He shuffled over to the newspaper section. Piles of each of the national titles stood on a shelf at ankle level. This meant bending over to pick one up, he would have to be careful not to fall over again. He read the headlines and didn’t understand any of them. References to people he’d never heard of, words he didn’t know. Huge pictures of death or flesh that meant nothing.

Still, he had to have his morning paper. He usually bought the Express, but the pile was especially low today, he didn’t think he could reach that far. The Mail would do, and there were more of them, so he picked one up. Now, what else did he want today? There was definitely something else he meant to buy, what might it be?

Thomas tried to remember, and pretty soon had forgotten that he was even supposed to be trying to remember something. This was no good. The nice girl at the drop-in centre had talked to him about this a few days ago; she had tried to give him some tips for managing in situations like this. What had she said?

Oh yes, that was it. Retrace your steps to the beginning. Go back to where you were when the thought first came to you, and see if something comes to mind. He went back towards the door of the shop and stood there for a moment next to the lottery display. It was covered with bright colours and patterns and invitations to win millions. Thomas didn’t understand the lottery, either. He had bought a ticket once, when it was new, but didn’t know what to do with it. The ticket was probably still at home, in the kitchen drawer along with all the other unexplained pieces of paper.

He was standing at the door of the shop, where was he supposed to go now? He looked at the paper in his hand. Ah, yes, that must be it, he’d bought his paper and now it was time to go home. He pulled the handle, the bell tinkled again. Why does it ring when you are leaving, surely it’s only to let them know that someone has just come in?

Thomas had just stepped onto the street when he felt a firm hand on his shoulder. “Not so fast, mate. You’ve not paid for that.”

He turned, and saw that it was the shopkeeper, a burly man who didn’t look like he was about to take any prisoners.

“I’m very sorry,” Thomas said. “I didn’t mean to leave without paying, but I forget sometimes…”

“That’s OK, just come inside and we’ll get sorted out, shall we?” The man ushered Thomas back to the counter in the cool of the shop. “Fifty-five pence, please.”

Thomas reached for his purse, which was always in the right pocket of his jacket. His daughter teased him whenever she saw him wearing a jacket and tie even on a hot day like today, but he had standards to maintain and he wasn’t going to let them drop now. Besides, he would feel naked walking down the street without his tie, and a tie without a jacket just looks silly, like some office junior who’s been sent out to buy lunch.

Now, where was he? His hand was in an empty pocket, and for a moment he didn’t know why. Then he saw the expectant face of the shopkeeper, and the hand reaching out for something. Oh, yes, money. There was none in his right pocket, how about the left? He started to tap all of his pockets in turn, but could find nothing of any value.

The shopkeeper lowered his hand.

“Could I bring the money tomorrow?” Thomas asked.

“Sorry, no credit. Not that I don’t trust you personally, but if I let you then off I’d have to let everyone out without paying. Perhaps you could pop home and come back later?”

Thomas’s head dropped. There was no way he was going to manage the journey twice in one day, but he couldn’t argue. He put the paper on the counter, and shuffled back to the door. No news today, then.

A fit young man might have managed the journey home in five or ten minutes. For Thomas, it took thirty, and by the time he reached his front door he was exhausted and hurting. Even his aches had pains of their own.

He fumbled in his pocket for the key and let himself in. Once inside the familiar surroundings of his hallway, he was able to relax for a moment. He rested his hands on the console table, and felt the strength return. It flowed from the very fabric of the house, through the stout solid oak of the table, and along his arms.

Wrinkles smoothed. Pains disappeared. Muscles, long since withered, were reborn. His stooping posture was replaced by an upright position, his chest thrust outward and his biceps rippled.

He was no longer Thomas, the old man at number 72.

He was ElderMan.

The newborn hero reached into the coat cupboard, retrieved his cape and mask, and put them on. He retreated to the small garden at the back of his house, where he could not be overlooked by nosey neighbours, and soared high into the sky, seeking justice and vengeance on behalf of old people everywhere.

First stop was the newsagent.

When Thomas pushed the door open this time, it didn’t so much tinkle as chime with the power of Big Ben. The door smashed into the lottery stand behind it, and two small boys ran for cover. Thomas marched up to the counter, where the man who just a few minutes earlier had refused him fifty-five pence of credit was cowering, wondering whether to reach for the baseball bat that he kept under the till.

“Don’t even think about it,” boomed Thomas. “I can see that bat with my X-Ray vision and it wouldn’t even put a crease in my cape.”

“W-w-what can I do for you, sir?”

“You can stop being so damned rude to your older customers, that’s what you can do. Show them some respect. Next time a regular customer leaves his cash at home, you let him take the paper and pay you the next day. Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir, of course, sir, sorry, sir…”

His first mission for the day complete, Thomas returned to the door with a single bound. He listened, carefully, for any signs of distress in the vicinity. What was that? Mrs Tobbs having trouble crossing the road? He leaped over the row of shops opposite and landed in the next street, where the exceedingly frail Mrs Tobbs was indeed stuck.

Thomas was having none of this. He picked her up and, in less than a flash, had her on the other side of the road. “Oh, thank you, thank you,” she said.

Pausing only to rescue Mrs Johnson’s cat from one tree and to retrieve Mr Wall’s hat from the next, Thomas zoomed back to the wood behind his house where he could safely remove his costume without being identified.

Just another day for ElderMan.

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