THE LITTLE MAN

February 05, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

THE LITTLE MAN:

And now for Something very different from me. 

I am entering an essay contest for a local Coffee/Books store.
The PROMPT for the story was "From the outside looking in, you’d never guess what could truly happen at Editions..."
I have had some of my photos/artwork on their walls since the day they opened and my mind went to one in particular.
The image above was the inspiration for the story, it's not exactly as it is in the story, but it is the basis for it.
This photo was printed on metal and was up on their wall for about a year or so.

 

THE LITTLE MAN:
A short story by David Roman

 

From the outside looking in, you’d never guess what could truly happen at Editions…

     Driving by Editions in the sleepy ex-mill town of Kannapolis, NC you would assume it was what it seemed to be, a great place to grab a cup of joe. Maybe find a paperback to read while you enjoy some local artists' work.   You might think that the people working behind the counter were just like the rest of their neighbors, normal folks, selling great coffee and books.  

  That’s what Allen was thinking on that cool late September morning when he walked in to grab his normal order, a Caramel Crème Latte.  He had been coming to Editions for a long while now, well over a year.  He enjoyed the friendly staff, who always made him feel like one of the family.  This Tuesday morning was no different than dozens before, he had time to kill before work, so he was walking around the store checking out the books and some of the artwork hanging from the walls.

  One piece, in particular, was a beautiful metal print of a beach, he wasn’t sure where, but it was a sunset shot and the photographer captured the pier, the fun of the people in the sand, as well as the beauty of nature.  He had seen this print many times but had never really looked closely at it.  For some reason today as he was looking it over, he noticed something he didn’t see before.  Under the pier right where it met the shore was a man, but unlike the other people who looked more like a painting of people, this man was perfectly clear.  You could see him digging in the sand, he had a metal detector, a faded red shovel, and a blue and red striped bucket, he looked like he had already made a small hole.  It was strange that Allen had not noticed this man before, as the man really did look different than the others in the print.  Allen really didn’t think a lot about it, as he moved on to other photos and then realized it was time to head to work.

  It had been a few days since Allen had been inside Editions, he had been using their drive-up window to get his morning dose of sugar and caffeine.    But it was a nice day, he was early for work and the drive-up line was pretty long.  He went in and got his usual, and began his wandering.    Allen again walked by the beach sunset photo, he didn’t think much of it, and as he walked past he had to go back and check it out again.   Something was not right.  It took him a few minutes to realize what it was.  The little man with the metal detector and shovel was not under the pier anymore.  In fact, he was nowhere to be seen in the photo.  This made him question if he had really seen the man before or just imagined it.  

Again, he realized he had to head to work.

    That Saturday he made a special trip to Editions to check this photo out again and to talk to Dawn, the owner about the photo.  It was pretty busy and so he grabbed his usual and asked Dawn when she had a min if she could talk about the photo.  She said it might take a little.  Allen went back to the photo and again checked it all over for this little man.  He was nowhere to be found, but this time, where he had been the first time he saw the man, there was a small mound of sand and a bucket.  Almost like something had been buried in the sand, or someone was stacking the sand up to make a sandcastle.  

     Dawn was able to come by after a few minutes and went to speak with Allen.  He asked her if she had ever noticed a man digging in the sand under the pier.  Dawn said, “I don’t think I have ever seen anyone like that in this photo, but I do know the photographer, he is local and might have some information.”

Allen got the name and email address of the photographer and set about shooting him a quick email.

He asked the photographer if he had noticed this man in the photo, and if so, did he have a better shot of him.

     It was a day or so before the photographer answered back stating that he had no idea what Allen was speaking of.  He included a close up of the pier and where it met the beach.  There was nothing there, no man, no bucket, no pile of sand.  Nothing.     The photographer said he would be glad to meet him at Editions if Allen wanted.  

     They met up the following afternoon.  The photographer, David, brought a printout of the blown-up section of the beach photo.  Clearly, there was no man, no pile of sand, and no shovel.  When they walked over to compare this to the metal print on the wall, they matched perfectly.  What was in the metal print, looked exactly like what was in the blown-up section.   Allen was confused, he swore up and down that he saw the man, the blue and red striped bucket, the shovel.  But David assured him those things were just not there.

     Allen decided it must have been his early morning brain playing tricks on him.  He really didn’t think much about it for the next few months.  Fall moved out and Thanksgiving came and went. Christmas time came and he thought he wanted to find something special for his wife Teresa. She loved the beach and he thought that maybe he would get a smaller print of the beach sunset, the photographer had a lot of sunset photos to choose from, and he was sure he would find the perfect one for his wife.

     He started to look through the photos, most were empty beaches, or lakes, amazing skies, and the colors were beautiful.  After a few minutes of looking, he found a smaller print with another beautiful beach scene, this one was a similar beach location to the metal print where he had seen the little man.   It showed a smaller section of the beach looking out from under the pier, the same pier from the metal print.  He hoped for a minute he would see the little man, but he wasn’t there.

    The print was reasonably priced and he bought it as well as another one of an empty beach scene.  Allen figured he would find a couple of older frames at the Habitat for Humanity Restore Store to mount these prints.

Allen framed them and wrapped them up for his wife for Christmas.

     Christmas morning came and presents were exchanged back and forth with his wife, son, and two daughters.  His wife loved the framed photos, thought they would look great up on the wall in the family room.  His two girls, 6-year-old twins; Cindy and Verna, helped their mom hang the photos just like any 6-year-olds would, by making it ten times harder to do. 

    The holidays came and went like they seem to do, way too fast and getting faster every year.  Allen headed back to work after his holiday break and grabbed his coffee on the way in.   He didn’t have time to spend inside this week.  It was a few weeks later, closer to the beginning of February that he and his wife Teresa went to grab a cup of coffee at Editions and to spend some time in the store just wandering around.

     Teresa was looking through the photos in the stack of smaller prints and found a duplicate of one of the two he had purchased for her.   She called Allen over and showed him the print, telling him “Allen, this looks just like the one you bought me, but it doesn’t have the man in it like the one at home”.  Allen was taken aback, “What?  What do you mean the one at home has a man in it”?  Allen had not looked over the photos since he wrapped them up.

     Teresa told him “The one of the pier has a little man sitting next to a bucket and shovel with one of those, what do you call them, metal detectors”.  Allen told his wife that he wanted to go home and check the photo out for himself.  Allen had never mentioned the little man to her, he thought maybe Dawn had told Teresa and they were playing a game.

     Allen and Teresa arrived home a few minutes later, they went straight to the photos.  Teresa pointed to the one looking down the underneath of the pier and said “See, he’s sitting right there”.  Allen looked and was shocked to see the man sitting under the pier; plain as day.   Allen couldn’t understand it at all, but there he was, sitting just like he had spotted him the very first time, next to a bucket, a shovel, a pile of sand, and a metal detector.  Not knowing what to say, or how this was possible, they both shrugged it off. 

      Later that day Allen emailed the photographer, this time he didn’t ask about the man, he asked where these photos had been taken.  The photographer told him on Pensacola Beach.  The pier there is famous.

     Allen decided then and there to book their summer vacation on Pensacola Beach.  He got a hotel right near the pier.  No, he didn’t think he would be able to find a lone man from a photo from years earlier.  He just wanted to see this place for himself.  His wife and kids loved the idea.  Even with their vacation months off, they would talk about their trip nearly every day.  Asking dad if they might walk on the pier in “moms’ photo”.  

     Time came for their trip; school had let out for the summer and it was time to head to the beach.  They arrived, got their suitcases unpacked, and settled in the hotel.  That evening after supper they all walked along the beach from the hotel up to the pier.  They all felt like they had been there before as the photographer captured it so well.  The weather was beautiful, with the breeze blowing in from the ocean, making the heat of the day fade.

     A few days into their vacation Teresa and the girls were playing in the sand near the surf, while Allen and their son Mark played in the breaking waves.  It was one of the hotter days of the summer, well into the 90s, nearing 100.  It got too warm for the girls and mom so they moved under the pier.  Cindy and Verna were playing in the sand making themselves a sandcastle.  They asked mom to help, she jumped right in to help.  

     As evening came, they all decided to head out for some fish at a local restaurant.  They headed back to the hotel, got showered, and dressed for dinner.  They enjoyed some grouper sandwiches, a local specialty, deciding to go walking on the beach after dinner.  

     While walking hand in hand Allen noticed that Teresa’s wedding ring was missing.  He asked her where it was, she was shocked, she had not even noticed it was missing.  They started to panic, trying to remember when she had seen it last.  It took her awhile but she remembered having it when they had gone out early in the day to the beach.  As they had been up and down the beach and in and out of the surf, they both were upset, thinking they would never see the ring again.   As it was getting late and the sun had already set, they decided to try and look for the ring in the morning.

     Allen had a very fitful night's sleep.  He woke up early and went to the front desk of the hotel and asked if they knew of anyone who had turned in a ring.  The desk clerk told him that unfortunately, no one had turned anything in, but he did know of a man who walked the beach most evenings with his metal detector.  He had not seen the man in a while but said he lived across from the hotel.  Allen decided to take a chance and went to the man’s house.  

     An older woman answered the door.  Allen explained his situation to the woman and she started to get a tear in her eye.   She explained that her husband Herbert had taken ill last summer.  He had to give up his evening walks after suffering a stroke.  She told Allen her Herbert had loved walking the beach, with his metal detector looking for “treasure” as he called it.  Unfortunately, he had passed late last September and she had not had the heart to get rid of his “Treasure hunting tools”.  She told Allen he was welcome to use them to look for the ring.  She said she would go get them.

A few minutes later she came back with a metal detector, a faded red shovel, and a blue and red striped bucket.

Allen stared at them; every item was precisely what the man in the photos had with him.  He stammered “Thank you” and headed toward the beach. 

   With the tools in hand, Allen knew, absolutely knew where to dig.  He went right to the pier, to the spot he had seen so many times in the photos.  He waved the metal detector around listening for the beep.  It took most of an hour and a few false beeps later before he heard a loud ping.   He started to dig, before long he was sifting through the sand, and there it was - his wife’s ring.  As he was standing there, dumbstruck, he saw his wife walking up to him, she stopped about 10 feet away and said to him “You look just like the man in my photo.”   Allen showed her the ring and told her the story of the man who owned the metal detector and tools.  Neither one could quite believe the whole situation was real.  

     Allen took the tools back to the woman and told her they had found the ring.  She smiled and told him Herbert would have loved that his tools helped them find their ring.

The vacation went on and they had a wonderful time, playing in the sun and sand, laughing and eating.  

The vacation ended as all vacations do, too quickly.  

     A few weeks went by before Allen came home one day to see Cindy and Verna standing by the photos of the beach sunsets.   Allen asked them why they were staring at the photos.  

They pointed to the photo and said “Daddy, the little man, and his bucket are gone”.


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