A short little man scurried down the street. He was glancing around, looking for a store, a particular store. He was just going to look into it, and see if the owners could frame his photographs. The sweet smell of early spring filled his nose: those first few days when the snow is still on the ground but melting, that first moment when you can smell the earthy scent of spring. Water from the melting snow ran merrily down the sides of the road, and all creation sang with joy.
The little man stopped in front of a nice house just off downtown, and looked at the sign. Timmy’s Frames, it said. It was a quaint little house, two stories but with that look like it wanted to be only one story. It was well painted: dark burgundy, and seemed a nice, tidy place.
Yet the little man felt nervous. He never liked new things, and he hated going into stores and not being able to get away from the clerk. He always felt that these little stores were too small, as if there was no place in the store that wasn’t his personal space.
Also, he always had a nervous attack at anything remotely out of place, or new. Once, when he was younger, he had bought a new coat in all ways exactly like his old coat. But it never felt warm, and he always felt awkward in it, so he wore the old one instead until it had enough holes that he would have frozen, then he was able to get the new coat out (now a few years old) and wear it, ever so gingerly, until it was broken in.
Now, as he approached the house, he felt cold and shaky –nothing too out of the ordinary for him. Not really. He always shook a little, unless he went to the shops he always went to. He stepped inside.
The little bell on the door rang: tinkleinkiling… He never liked that sound either. It was the sound of the door shutting, and himself becoming trapped inside. He wasn’t actually claustrophobic, but sometimes, inside stores, he felt that way. He looked around, there was no one in the store. It was the size of a living room, with the model frames all liked up like so many carpenter’s squares. In one section, on the other side of the room, was a small alcove. It was a lovely place for a table and chairs, just the right size for a brunch table and two chairs, with windows in all three sides. Here, however, there was a plastic child’s table. One of those that is multi-colored with the atrocious sense of taste that people use for everything made for children. (As if children needed ugly things in their lives…) On it was a sign in yellow-green finger paint: Timmy’s Table. It also had some toys of the same plastic and bad taste as the table.
For some reason, the effect unsettled the little man even more. The building stress of knowing that he would have to interact with a stranger, the room, the little child’s toys. He told himself his uneasiness was especially due to the delayed encounter with the store-keeper (whom he had to ask questions… something else he never liked). He had steeled himself for the encounter, and then it had been put off, though it was still impending. He felt the weight of the coming clerk like stones on his chest, although instead of boldly calling out ‘More weight’ he wanted to leave. He waited some more.
The room grew large in his eyes. It seemed to him that although the light didn’t dim, it no longer illuminated anything. The light was there, but it wasn’t piercing through the darkness. It felt more and more like the dim twilight of dreams, where you can never quite see what you absolutely have to see, where you cannot rub the dimness out of your eyes, because of course they are closed, but your mind doesn’t remember that. It’s the same as when you need to shout or scream in a dream, but you cannot, because your mouth won’t open. You rub your eyes, you put on glasses, whatever you do in the dream, you can just see, but the light has lost the part of its essence that illuminates.
Another thing started happening in his mind. He started thinking that the room, though square, wasn’t trustworthy in its squareness. Like it might cease to have right angled corners at any given time. The little man had quite an imagination. His mind danced and sang, but sometimes the dances were with daemons, and the songs were drafts of cold air from his long dead Norse ancestors.
Now his mind started to go wild. Though he knew that everything he was experiencing was just a trick of his precocious mind, he also felt increasingly driven to flee. His chest tightened and his breath shortened. Panic. Although there were many things that the little man didn’t like or stressed him greatly, he almost never felt fear. The reasonable man inside him was at war with the savage. That ancient Viking inside who believed in spirits, in flesh eating after-walkers, the Viking that would have believed the stories of wendigo without question, that man was winning the war. Then he heard a noise in the back. It was just a door shutting normally. And yet, and yet, to the little man it was the end. The imagination in his mind won the fight. He fled the store.
Out in the sunshine, a few blocks away, his heart started to slow, and the adrenaline released by his mind to fight or flee from the imaginary spirits of the house started to subside. He laughed at himself, yet he knew he would have his work framed somewhere else.
Inside the store, a woman stepped into the showroom. She had been sure she heard the bell… but there was no one around anymore. She had been in the bathroom and missed the customer. Oh well, Timmy would have to go hungry tonight, but she wouldn’t tell him why… oh no, that would never do.