The Ultimate Money-Back Guarantee

The Ultimate Money-Back Guarantee

A Story by Stanley R. Teater
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Take a walk down the street and discover a shop unique in all the world. This world, that is.

"

L. Jameson Whitlock was a very careful man. He always locked his apartment door but before he would get halfway down the hall he always went back and jiggled the knob just to make absolutely, positively sure the door was, in fact, locked. Any time he awoke during the night he checked the alarm, to make certain he had set it correctly. He never married because he had been unable to find a woman who wasn’t “frivolous to a fault”. He never ate food he didn’t either prepare himself or watch being prepared because “you just never know what filth they might put in it.” He never drove in the rain, walked under a ladder, or went hatless on a sunny day.

One morning after brushing his teeth for the second time he felt a slight tickle in his throat and decided he was coming down with a cold. For most people a cold is simply an occasional annoyance, but not L. Jameson Whitlock. For him a cold is a crisis, an unwelcome reminder that life is not infinite. A cold, after all, can be a precursor to pneumonia and that is just a cough away from death. He checked his medicine cabinet and noted that the bottle of aspirin was half empty. If the cold lasted more than a week that would never be enough so he decided to buy some more. At once. Before the cold had had a chance to fully manifest itself.

It was a lovely autumn day so rather than foolishly waste money on gas Whitlock wrapped a wool scarf around his neck, lifted up the collar of his coat, tugged his hat down tightly on his head and set out to walk the mile and a half between his apartment and the drug store. Walking was the only form of physical exercise he enjoyed. He doubted the physical as well as emotional benefits of jogging and lifting weights. The sweat, the pain, the huffing and puffing and groaning all seemed rather crass and undignified. On the other hand, the simple act of placing one foot in front of the other felt elegant and purposeful.

Whitlock lived in the downtown area of a large city. When he walked he liked taking his time and studying the people and places he passed. The city was an ever-changing tapestry of movement and color and sound. It invigorated him and gave him a sense of renewal. And safety. Being just one person among thousands made him feel less of a target for fate, the devil or whatever malevolent spirit was up there doling out misery and misfortune.

At about the halfway point of his walk as Whitlock was warily crossing a street, he glanced up and noticed a shop he couldn’t remember having seen before. It seemed odd that he would never have noticed it. It had a garish red and white striped awning flapping in the breeze above a heavy wooden door that had elegant carvings of cherubs surrounded by flower petals. A hand-lettered sign in the window read, “Ask About Our Ultimate Money-Back Guarantee”. There was no name on the shop window and no hint at all of what they might sell inside. Visiting new places was not something Whitlock liked to do so instinctively he walked past. But then he paused, and turned around. For some reason he was intrigued. Intrigued enough to make what he would usually call a reckless decision. He took a deep breath, reached for the knob, turned it, and stepped inside.

An old fashioned bell tinkled, signaling his arrival. On the wall to the right of the door was a shelf full of very old magazines. On the left was a table piled high with used shoes. There was a sign on the table " “Buy one get one free.” On the walls there were old photographs and crude childlike paintings. There was nothing he could see that would peak the interest of a buyer. He still couldn’t understand the purpose of the shop.

At the back of the store was a counter. From behind it an elderly man who couldn’t have been more than four and a half feet tall was smiling broadly and staring back at Whitlock. “Good morning, sir,” said the man. “And how are you today?”.

“I’m coming down with a cold.”  

“That’s too bad,” said the tiny man. “You should buy some aspirin.”

“That’s why I’m here.”

“That’s very sad because I don’t sell aspirin.”

Whitlock walked up to the counter. “Are old magazines and shoes and cheap pictures all you sell here? Surely there can’t be much profit in that.”

“On the contrary” said the man. “I sell many things. No aspirin. But many, many very unique things. Items of fancy and wonder and great beauty. My shop is like no other in the world. And best of all, sir, absolutely everything I sell comes with the ultimate money-back guarantee.”

Whitlock studied the face on the other side of the counter. It was pink and round and trimmed with tufts of white hair that peaked out from behind his ears and then disappeared, leaving behind a broad expanse of ancient scalp. The smile was warm and seemed genuine, not a typical shopkeeper’s nice-to-take-your-money smile. The pure blue eyes almost twinkled in the light. “Tell me about that,” said Whitlock. “What’s so special about your guarantee?”

“It’s very simple,” said the shopkeeper. “If you aren’t completely happy with any item you buy, just bring it back. I’ll cheerfully refund twice the amount of money you paid for it.” He leaned back on his heels and puffed out his chest proudly. “And then I’ll kill myself.” The wave of skepticism that Whitlock felt must have shown itself on his face because the man quickly added, “And don’t you doubt it, sir. I take my guarantee very, very seriously.”

“I see,” said Whitlock, absently tugging at his ear. “I’m impressed. But how can you make an offer like that on used shoes? How can anyone be completely satisfied with a shoe that probably stinks with a stranger’s sweat?”

“An interesting point, sir. And if I let people pick out what they buy it could certainly become a problem. But I don’t trust people to decide what they need. I decide for them. And I never make mistakes.”

“You decide?”

“Of course. I leave nothing to chance. Not with the ultimate money-back guarantee. Would you like me to pick something out for you?” The shopkeeper rubbed his chin thoughtfully and studied Whitlock’s face. “Hmmm. You know what?” He slapped his hands together and rubbed them excitedly. “I do believe I have just the thing for you. Would you like to see it?” Without waiting for an answer he disappeared through a door behind the counter. In less than thirty seconds he came back carrying a package wrapped in brown paper. “Take a look,” said the man as he put the package down on the counter. “No charge for looking.”

Whitlock picked up the package. The paper was tattered and very dirty. There were stamps up in the corner. The post office had cancelled the stamps on August 22nd, 1946. When Whitlock glanced at the delivery address his hands began to tremble and a prickly sensation shot up the back of his neck. The addressee was L. Jameson Whitlock and the address was his own. He dropped the package back on the counter. “This is a very peculiar joke,” he said angrily. “Clever. But peculiar.”

The shopkeeper frowned. “Joke?”

“This package is addressed to me. And it was mailed in 1946. I wasn’t even born until 1957. And I have only lived at this address for five years. This must be a practical joke of some kind.”

“I assure you, sir,” said the shopkeeper, “this is no joke. I’m not clever enough to make jokes. All I did was select the item that I thought was ideal for you. Would you like to buy it?”

Whitlock stared down at the package. This must be a dream, he thought. It makes absolutely no sense. He ran his finger across the address on the package. It was badly faded and the brown paper was covered with a layer of dust. This simply cannot be. He looked back at the shopkeeper. “How much?”

“One dollar.”

“One dollar?”

“All right,” said the shopkeeper, “I can tell you’re a shrewd bargainer. I’ll let you have it for seventy-five cents.” He shook a withered index finger in Whitlock’s face. “But not a penny less.”

Whitlock pulled three quarters out of his pocket and handed them to the shopkeeper. “Thank you,” said the shopkeeper. “It’s a pleasure doing business with you.”

“I’d like to open it here,” said Whitlock. “Right now.”

“Of course. Be my guest. I would love to see what it is myself.”

Whitlock tore off the wrapping paper and revealed a cardboard box that was sealed with cracked and yellowed tape. The shopkeeper handed him a pair of scissors.  Whitlock sliced open the top of the box. Inside was a wooden box that had been decorated with very intricate carvings of animals. They were animals no zoo on earth had ever seen. They were nightmarish animals with long teeth, sharp claws and menacing eyes. On the front of the box was a brass plate with a keyhole. Mr. Whitlock licked his lips nervously. “There is no key,” he said.

“Sometimes,” said the shopkeeper, “just wishing something open is enough to do the trick.” Suddenly the top of the box sprang open. Startled, Whitlock dropped the box back on the counter. He took a step back and stared down at it. A long moment passed. “Aren’t you going to look inside?” asked the shopkeeper. “Remember my ultimate money-back guarantee. If you don’t like it I owe you a dollar and a half.” He smiled. “And my life.”

Whitlock stepped forward and looked down into the box. What he saw took him back to his boyhood, a time of comfort and warmth and hopeful tomorrows. It was a very old rubber ball. It was white with blue stars. He picked it up and turned it over in his hands. The initials LJW had been scraped into it. With a rusty nail, he remembered.

“Do you like it?” the shopkeeper asked.

“Such a harmless thing. In such a scary box,” said Whitlock.

“Yes,” said the old man, nodding. “A bit like life.”

Whitlock turned the ball over and over in his hands. “I lost this many years ago,” he said. “I couldn’t have been more than five or six. I remember crying about it. I was sure it was gone forever.”

“And now you’ve found it,” said the tiny old shopkeeper. “So you’re a satisfied customer? I can keep my money? And my life?”

Whitlock nodded.

“I’m so happy that you’re happy. Because this would have been a very inconvenient day to die.”

“But how? How could you get it? How could a ball be mailed to me before I ever owned it?”

“If I had the answer to questions like that I would be much more than a humble shopkeeper.” He lifted his hands, palms up toward the sky. “Sometimes,” he said, “it’s best not to question. Just accept.”

Whitlock nodded silently and walked slowly to the door. He opened it, paused, and turned back to the shopkeeper. “I may come back,” he said.

“Of course. If you can find me again. My little shop is a bit out of the way.”

Whitlock walked out of the shop and into the cacophony of the city. The afternoon sun was warm. He turned the ball over and over in his hands and then bounced it on the pavement. He caught it, bounced it, and caught it again, just like he had done so very many times so very many years before. He felt flushed with an emotion that he had experienced very rarely in life. Happiness. Simple, sweet, childlike, almost giddy. He smiled and turned back toward the shop. The red and white striped awning and the wooden door had vanished. The sign in the window now read “A-Plus One Hour Cleaners”. Whitlock opened the now-glass door and walked in. There was no tinkle announcing his arrival. There were no old shoes or magazines, or pictures on the walls. The sound of steam presses filled the shop. A middle aged woman stood behind the counter, sweat beading on her forehead. “Can I help you?” she asked cheerlessly. “You here to pick up?”

“No,” said Whitlock. “I think I have everything I need.” He waved at the woman who stood there stooped, weighted down with work and the world. “Good day,” he said, then turned and left. He forgot about the aspirin and walked home, whistling, almost skipping as he went, drawing stares he didn’t notice.   

                                     © 2016 Stanley R. Teater

                              All rights reserved

© 2016 Stanley R. Teater


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This is one for all to enjoy, great write. Kathie

Posted 4 Years Ago


Hello Stanley R. Teater,

It's a very good story. I really like the twist with the shopkeeper deciding what the customer purchases. It has a strong Gremlins/Twilight Zone mystery feel to it. Great job!

There is one suggestion I have. I noticed a few areas were a comma would serve your sentences justice. Perhaps give it another read with fresh eyes and you'll notice them too.

Thank you for sharing!

Kind regards,

Schatzi

Posted 4 Years Ago


This is a very publishable piece. It pulled me right along and kept me guessing the whole time. Congrats!

Posted 4 Years Ago


Stanley R. Teater

4 Years Ago

Thanks for your kind words.

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Added on September 1, 2016
Last Updated on September 7, 2016

Author

Stanley R. Teater
Stanley R. Teater

Cedar Park, TX



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Writing fiction has always been a dream. After 36 years working in television station marketing and advertising I grew tired of writing 30-second commercials and promos. I retired and I now write fict.. more..

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