“The Director:” A Short Story by Mike Bayles

Sunlight from the windows fell upon Jack as he sat in front of the corner store. Settling dust danced as gold flecks, as he waited for something magical to occur.

A bell jingled, and the door opened, letting in a breeze. He let two ladies pass him. He nodded at them as their two stooped figures passed, and listened as their footsteps on the wood floor echoed through the store. Although sure they meant no harm, he decided to keep an eye on them.

He couldn’t help himself, to want to keep all the dreams to himself. The store owner, who looked old enough to be his father, appeared behind the register and shook his head. Each aisle played out a scene, as if he and the ladies were in a show. Maybe we are, he thought, although unsure of how to direct the action.

Aisle One, Cornucopia. His thoughts turned to harvests and bounties, and banquets at The Community Center. He thought of making them his waitresses and maids.

Aisle Two, Piquaint. His thoughts turned to that missing spice in his life, tart, but sweet, something to spice up his bland diet of life.

Aisle Three, Fedora. Hats, hats hats, he wanted something to speak for him. A baseball cap didn’t seem right, although it was the start of baseball season. He needed something more, and a fedora would be the right thing.

Aisle Four, Specialty. A statue of a blue elephant, a crystal figure of a hummingbird casting rainbows, a three-legged card table, an unopened deck of fifty cards.

Aisle Five, Feathers. Feathers of reds, feathers of blues, dark feathers and light feathers, all contained in a cage.

He followed the women as they went from aisle to aisle, as if marionettes on a string, smiling, and talking among themselves. He was pleased; the scenes were playing out just as he wanted. In a moment of excitement, he said hello to them, but they ignored him. He had forgotten that he was not supposed to be part of the scenes. Something inside of him took great pleasure as they went through each bin, and something inside of him was scared. Wouldn’t he be a little less if they bought and took away one of his dreams?

A ceiling fan strobed the pale light streaming from an overhead fixture. Two statues of gargoyles at the end of Aisle Three stared, as if getting ready to pounce on him. He took a handkerchief out of his back pocket, and wiped a bead of sweat of his forehead. He felt as if someone was watching him, everyone. He had moved back into town after his mother died, hoping to live unnoticed, but everyone was watching him.

A hand rested on his shoulder, and he gasped. “Can I help you?” the owner of the store asked.

“No, I’m fine.”

The owner gave a look of concern, and pointed at a chair. “Sit here while I get you a glass of water.”

He brought back the glass. Beading drops of condensation felt cool to the touch, but when Jack took a sip, he only tasted air. “This is strange,” Jack said.

The owner chuckled. “Nothing’s as it seems.”

Jack shook his head. When the ladies approached the store, he jumped up, and headed to the door. The owner grabbed his wrist. “Afraid of losing your dreams?”

Jack shook his head.

The owner pulled a thick, leather-bound book of the-shelf and dusted off the cover. Up front, the ladies disappeared. The title, The Town That Was No More.

The owner proceeded to read a story about a drought and a factory closing, about a farm and city that died. Jack wiped a tear from his eye. “All of this seems so long ago.”

Dazed, he wandered around the store, gazing at shelf after shelf, each now empty. He stopped and gazed at the owner, who looked sad. “These were not your dreams,” the owner said.

“Then what?”

“That’s up to you.”

The room spun around as Jack sat on the chair. Near the ceiling, he saw his face aglow, looking at his figure sitting on the chair.

“What do I do now?”

“You must find new dreams.”

The figure of the owner faded into the sunlight, and a gust of wind blew the front door slammed open. The bell let out a sharp ring as it crashed to the floor.

Jack blinked his eyes, and found himself across the street in a playground where he played as a child. The emerald grass glistened, as if spring, but he felt a chill in the air. The figure of a girl he knew approached and disappeared. He raised his hands and touched his face, only to discover it had wrinkled.

He looked around to notice that all the houses were gone. A curtain of clouds to the east lifted, showing an open land, in his mind, the start of another scene.