In the Wee Small Hours – Short Story

In the still of the night, as the crickets’ chorus crescendoed and slowed to a scarcely recognizable tune, the cold air crept onto the property of Charles Douglas. The peaceful silence, which had always been the best salve for his tired and restless body, came upon him as it had most nights. At 87 years old, Charles appreciated every ounce of sleep his mind would allow. After all, Charles had seen more shit in his lifetime than anyone else he knew, and that made him an angry old man, unloved by everyone with whom he came into contact in the few times a week he would venture to show his face in public. But that was the way he preferred it; if he didn’t make any new friends, he would never have to lose them in one tragedy or another.

To any normal man, a rattling at the door at three-thirty in the morning would have immediately overthrown him in fear. But Charles was no normal man, and he was ready.

The night before, he set about his usual routine of brushing and soaking his dentures, combing his hair, shutting off all the lights in the house, locking the doors and scrubbing the end of the stump where his left leg had once been. Staring at a man he could barely recognize in the mirror, he studied the lines on his face and the drooping skin under his chin, the scars he received when he was hardly old enough to hold a gun, and his ears. He never knew his ears could get so damn big, yet here they were, enormous and encumbered by years of gravity tugging down on them. He took one last look at the man staring back at him and he knew it was time.

The sounds of his prosthetic leg against the hard wood floor always bothered him the most when the rest of the clamor of the evening had gone to rest. He clunked and thudded his way slowly to the kitchen, where he nonchalantly turned on all of the gas lines on the stove. Nodding with a sneer at the act, he sluggishly made his way to the front room where his fingers searched through the records on his table. “In the Wee Small Hours” by Frank Sinatra. “How fitting,” he thought. He pulled the vinyl from its sleeve and placed it on the turntable, letting the sounds fill the room. It brought him back to the night when he first met Eleanor.

He allowed the smile to creep across his face, peacefully remembering all of the good things she represented to him, forgetting the sadness that often found him during the day. He turned the ring on his finger, pulling it off and placing it on the stand nearby. Pulling open the drawer, he slid the revolver into the palm of his hand. And he waited.

When the time had come for the expected rattling on the door to commence, Charles could barely move. Nearly overcome by the natural gas in the air, his consciousness slipped away until the rattling, knocking, pounding came to his front door startled him just enough to see the frame of the door splinter and break down. Death had come for him at last.

Standing in the doorway, the skeletal figure cloaked in tattered black locked its gaze upon Charles. As Death approached, ready to scoop the man into his bony arms, Charles’ arm found its way up in a shaky stance, one that it has been in too many times before. With no hesitation, Charles coldly fired the pistol at his prey, emptying every round directly into its skull. As if nothing had ever kept the skeletal figure together at all, Death fell backward, bones flying in every direction. Finding new strength, Charles marched and stomped his way over to the fallen bones of Death, picking up the cloak in one arm while still holding the handgun pointed toward it.

Mouth quavering from excitement, he knew that he had finally gotten the best of Death. He pulled the cloak around his figure, putting the hood up around his head. He took one last look at the bones on his floor and spat from his toothless mouth upon them. He walked through the open doorway into the darkness of the night, announcing to the endless abyss outside, “I’m coming Eleanor.”

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