Mr. Smith

📅 Published on September 25, 2020

“Mr. Smith”

Written by Kandrel
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 9.50/10. From 4 votes.
Please wait...

“I’m sorry, Mister Aching, but could I ask you to remember for me what was giving you trouble?”

Remember?  Oh, yes.  I remembered.  It had been last night—not a good night by any measure.  Kyle had come home from work, and I’d forgotten our anniversary.  He said it was okay.  I cared more about special days than he did, and even then, we’d had a whole decade of married bliss during which I’d made my feelings for him quite clear.  I’m not sure whether that last part was said with loving tease or sardonic sarcasm.  The two were indistinguishable from each other coming from my partner.

What I didn’t tell him, though, was that he didn’t quite catch what I meant.  I hadn’t just forgotten the date of our anniversary.  I’d forgotten our anniversary.  Oh, sure, it’d been ten years ago, but you’d think that’s the type of experience that sticks with you.  We’d gone to a government office, hadn’t we?  We must have.  I’m not religious, and I doubt I could drag Kyle to a church even if I wanted to.  So we must have gone to see a civil servant, who had us say vows.  It had to have happened this way, so why couldn’t I remember?

“Mister Aching?”

“Sorry, sorry,”  I said.  I was still feeling light-headed after last night.  Maybe it was the heat.  The heat!  Right.  “It’s the air conditioner.  I think it crapped out last night.  Could you take a look?”

“Of course.  Wouldn’t want you to go without in this heat.”  My landlord, Mr. Smith, smiled at me—though I was assuming that the lumpy lifting of lips on his face was what he called a smile.  He was a doughy sort of man, with skin that sagged just a little.  It wasn’t that he was ugly or unpleasant—just that he looked unfinished.  He was pleasant enough, though he was always asking personal questions when he came around.  I did my best not to give him reasons to visit when it could be avoided.

Mr. Smith wiped his bald head with a cloth he procured from his back pocket.  He stepped in from the vicious sunlight into my house.  It wasn’t much cooler given the faulty AC, but at least it was in the shade.  It must have been hot out there in his suit.  He wore a blank gray blazer that hung over his shoulders like a shell.  The whole ensemble was devoid of any personality at all, which didn’t do any favors for his puffy, sallow skin.

“Hon, is that the landlord?”  Kyle called from upstairs.

“Yup.  If you come downstairs throw some pants on.”

Mr. Smith let out a perfunctory “Hah” on his way to the cupboard where our boiler and AC unit sat.  All the while, he engaged me in what I’m sure he thought was small talk.

“So how is that lovely husband of yours.  Kyle?  I so rarely see him when I visit anymore.”

“He’s fine.  Just busy with work.”  I wasn’t going to mention that he’d had to pick up a few consulting contracts on the side after rent had last gone up.

“I see.  It was your anniversary yesterday, wasn’t it?  Congratulations.”

“Thanks.”  I drawled.  It wasn’t his fault that I’d forgotten.  He dug around behind the unit, coming up with a chewed-through power cord.

“Not keeping pets, I hope, Mister Aching?”  He leaned his head back and smiled at me.

I bristled.  “Of course not.  We’re not allowed, remember?”

“Yes, of course.  Was just a joke.  This looks like a weasel.  Marten, actually.  Pine martens live around here, and they’ll chew anything.  Just need some foam and I’ll seal up the hole.  I’ll be right back.”

While he headed back outside, I checked on Kyle.  He was sat at his computer, an incomprehensible scrawl of code and diagrams on his screen.  Head swung around when he heard me come in.  “Is he finished?  I didn’t feel the AC come on.”

“Grabbing something from his truck.”

Kyle stiffed when I hugged him from behind, but relented after a moment.  “Couldn’t he send a plumber?  Or an HVAC technician?  Or whoever it is that fixes air conditioners?”

“I figure he’s probably trying to save money.”  I took one of Kyle’s hands and he gave it a squeeze.  I brushed some of his blonde hair to the side to make room for my chin as I leaned over his shoulder.

“Why?  As if we’re not paying him enough.”  That came out as a snarl.  My better half certainly had opinions about landlords, and Mr. Smith specifically.

“He’ll be out of our hair soon enough.  And I don’t really care who it is as long as our AC gets fixed.”

Kyle shrugged.  “Keep an eye on him, okay?  He’s always asking so many questions.  I don’t trust him.”

“Just trying to be friendly, I think.”

“You don’t need to defend him.  It’s no reflection on you if he’s a creep.”

“Okay, I’ll stop.  He’ll be gone soon.”  I threw my hands up in defeat, and Kyle returned to work.

When I returned downstairs, Mr. Smith was already elbow-deep in our air conditioner.  When his arm re-emerged, it was holding a small foam gun.  “There we are.  No entry to the closet now from the outside.  I’ll just replace the cord and you’ll be all set.”

“Thank you.  Will that take long?”  I asked.

“No.  And while I’m at it, last time I was here you were telling me about Barbara.”

“My mom?”  I asked.  “I guess.  Why?”

“Oh, no reason, Mister Aching.  I’m just very interested in people.  I hope I’m not being too personal.”  He smiled again, and I waved his concern away.  He was being too personal, actually, but I had all the willpower of a limp sock.

By the time he left again, I was feeling drained from having to chat with him.  But the AC was working, and the cool air was a salve for my bruised brain.

* * * * * *

“I’m very sorry.  It’s just, we’ve had a problem with the car, and I need the car to get to work.  We can have it to you by the fifteenth, okay?”

I was chewing the inside of my lip—it was a stress reaction.  Mr. Smith paused, as if he were processing the information.  He’d come by for a property inspection, but his first words through the door were that it was past the fifth of the month—our normal rent anniversary.

“Of course, Mister Aching.  I’m sorry to hear you’re having difficulties.  The fifteenth will be fine, though you are aware there’s a late fee in your contract?”

“Yes, I’m aware.”  I’d hoped he’d waive that, but clearly empathy wasn’t among Mr. Smith’s friendly qualities.

“Good.  Now, I hope I’m not being too forward, but last time I was here you were talking about childhood bullies.  I had bullies when I was…”  He stopped again, as if he were trying to formulate something before he continued.  “A child.  They were very unkind.”

“Oh, Markus?  He was just a confused kid.  Took it out on me, yeah, but I don’t blame him for it anymore.”  The topic strayed, from bullies to snow days, to first loves.  He led me around the house, checking corners for mold and measuring cracks in the drywall where he suspected subsidence.

“Thank you for your forthrightness, Jimmy.”  Mr. Smith smiled at me through teeth that appeared to be rounded lumps.  Like the rest of him, they seemed like a poor simulacrum of teeth rather than the genuine article.  Though since I’d last seen him, had he grown some hair?  I’d never really paid attention before.  Maybe he’d shaved it off for the summer—that made sense.  He had short mousey-brown hair that peppered his scalp.  “That’s what your mother called you, right?  Jimmy?”

I shrugged.  “I guess?  It was so long ago.”  I didn’t remember the nickname, but it made sense.  Maybe I’d talked about it last time he’d been here, and it’d slipped my mind.

“You’re my favorite tenant, Jimmy.  Thanks for your stories.  Everything looks in order here.  Oh, may I remind you that next month I’ll need to be here for the boiler inspection?”

I nodded tiredly.  At least the property was being maintained, and it wasn’t much effort to let Mr. Smith in, was it?

“Oh, and don’t forget to call your mother.  It’s her birthday today.”

When he left, Kyle felt safe coming downstairs for breakfast.  “You shouldn’t let him walk over you like that.”  He muttered around a mouthful of toast.

“Like what?”

“You’re always telling him everything about yourself.”

“I’m just being a good host.”  I shrugged and sat next to him.  A bowl of cereal in front of me promised a good carbohydrated start to the day.  Maybe it’d wake me up and I wouldn’t feel so muzzy-headed.

Kyle reached over and pulled my head to the side.  “Oh my god, Jimmy.  You’re going gray!”  He laughed around his next bite of toast and plucked a hair from my head.


“Don’t complain, big baby.”  He held out a white hair, devoid of my normal deep-brown color.  “You are.  Hah, don’t worry hon.  You’ll be my silver fox when you’re all gray.”

Kyle kissed my cheek, then put his plate in the dishwasher.  As I masticated a bite of corn flakes, I mused that I hadn’t remembered Mom’s birthday today.  Usually I was punctual, but a lot of things had popped up to stress me recently.  It wasn’t really a surprise that I’d forget a few things here or there.

* * * * * *

“And Alexis, was she pretty?”

Mr. Smith asked, while the inspector disassembled the electronics of our hot water tank.  I wasn’t really paying attention.  I’d started to get headaches recently, and today I was nursing a real banger.  I’d taken some paracetamol and was waiting for it to take effect.

“I guess?  That was never really why I liked her.”  I tried to think back.  My school days were so hazy recently, as if twenty years on they almost weren’t my own life anymore.  “Mostly I just wanted to have a girlfriend so no one would guess.”

“Ah, I see.”  Mr. Smith reached up and adjusted his glasses.  They were new since the last time he’d been here.  He noticed my glance, and lifted them from his nose, showing off the slim frame and slimmer lenses.  “Do you like them?  They’re only for reading, you see.”

I nodded.  I had a similar set, for any time I needed to pore through letters or a book.  They were sitting on my bedside table.

“They suit your face,”  I said, and as I said it I noticed that they did.  Was his face different?  It seemed some of the lumpy unfinished quality had faded, leaving behind a pronounced jaw line and just a little bit of stubble—not entirely unlike my own.  I reached up and rubbed my chin, reminding myself that I needed to shave.

“Thank you.  Ah hah.  Yes.  I had allergies this summer.  Terrible allergies.  They always make my face puff out a little.”

I nodded.  He must have guessed what I was thinking about.  I tried to think back to last winter.  Hadn’t he been just as sallow and doughy back then, too?  But I must have been mistaken.  I couldn’t remember.  Stress will do that to you, I reminded myself.

The boiler inspector finished his dis- and re-assembly as I told Mr. Smith about my string of girlfriends, followed by finally admitting to my parents that I hadn’t really been interested in them all along.  It had gone better with Mom than with Dad, but even he’d come around after a little while.

In an hour, the house was empty again, save for myself and Kyle.  He took a break from work for lunch, and with him he brought another two painkillers.  I swallowed them with a gulp of diet Coke.  “Why do you tell him so much?”  Kyle asked, brushing my hair back as I prepared two sandwiches.

“Oh, no reason, I guess.  I don’t mind it.”

“Are you okay?  You’re looking a bit—I don’t know.  Were you stung by a bee?”  He touched my cheek.

“I’m fine.  It’s just this headache.”

He nodded, and dutifully ate his sandwich.

* * * * * *

“I’m sure it will clear up soon,” Mr. Smith said as I recounted my recent medical woes.  Some skin issues—my doctor put it down to dermatitis—and some early male-pattern hair loss.  It was nothing to worry about, the doctors had said, even though at the time he’d been leafing through a medical manual he’d pulled from his desk drawer.  Nothing to worry about, even though he couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was.

“I hope so,” I nodded.  Mr. Smith was in my house again, but this time I was having some difficulties remembering why.  It must have been another property issue.  Kyle was working, and I’m not sure he’d heard the front door when I went to get it.  “Is something wrong with the house, Mr. Smith?”

“Jim.  You can call me Jim.”  It struck me as odd that we shared a first name, even though it was a common enough one.  “No, nothing, Mister Aching.  Just checking in on my favorite tenant.  Is everything else well?”

“Of course,” I lied.  “Nothing a bit of rest won’t solve.  Just stress, you know.”

“Oh yes, I understand.”  His head nodded, and I noticed that his allergies had cleared up quite remarkably.  His face had lost all of its uniform lumpiness, and now he had a smooth chin and a broad smile.  Blue eyes, too, like mine.  There was something uncanny about his features, almost like I was looking into a fogged mirror.  At least, a mirror that looked back a few months, before my skin problems.

I heard footsteps, and Kyle called from upstairs.  “Is someone at the door?”

“Just the mail.”  Mr. Smith called out, and his voice was higher-pitched, and his accent had shifted slightly.  Not unlike my own.  Upstairs, Kyle hesitated, then footsteps went back to his office.

“Take care, Mister Aching.  I’ll be by next week to make sure everything is okay.”

* * * * * *

Kyle was at his friend’s place, spending the weekend.  I was meant to go as well, but I wasn’t feeling up to socializing.  My skin had gotten worse, and the headaches were constant at this point.  I had an appointment with the doctor again on Monday.  Hopefully, they could find something definitive this time.

The doorbell rang.  Before I even answered it, I knew it was Mr. Smith.

“You’re not looking well,” he stated, coming into the house unbidden when I opened the door.

“I’ll be fine,” I scowled.

“Yes, I’m sure you will be.”  His smile was familiar.  I’d seen it every morning while shaving for most of my life.  “Don’t you worry.  Everything will be fine soon.”

“You’ve changed, Mr. Smith.”

“Jim, remember?  Jimmy to my friends.  And do you like it, Mister Aching?  I’m almost complete.”

His voice was different, too.  He spoke with an east-coast, almost New York twang.  Like he was from New Jersey, just where I’d been born.  He put a hand on my shoulder, and I felt heavy.  His smile seemed to glow as he absorbed the last little bits of my individuality.

“Don’t you worry about Kyle.  I’ll take good care of him.”  Jimmy grinned my own grin down at me as my knees stopped holding my weight.  “You’re my favorite tenant, Mister Aching.  I’ve always wanted a good life, and yours will do.  It will do just fine.”

I clawed my way across the carpet to put my back against our couch.  I tried to shy away from Jimmy’s hand as he knelt next to me.

“Shhh, shhh, don’t worry.  Don’t you cry.  I’ll take good care of your life for you.  And you won’t feel a thing.  Isn’t that nice?”

I had to admit that did sound rather nice, right about now.

“There we go.  Jim Aching.  Jimmy Aching.  That sounds good.  I think I’ll go by Jimmy.  Thank you so much.”  My own face stared down lovingly at me.  “Don’t you worry, Mr. Smith.”

And then I realized he was referring to me.  Mr. Smith.  A lumpy, unfinished mockery of a man, with all my hair fallen out, and my skin pallid and puffed out, like dough waiting to be baked into shape.

“You have other tenants to see to, Mr. Smith.  Don’t forget to take care of them for me.  And maybe if one of them is friendly, you’ll find a favorite tenant, too.  Just like I did.”

He stripped out of his clothes, leaving the blank suit for me as he went to raid my bedroom.  He came down in a band t-shirt and shorts, and as I was shuffling my way into his old discarded shell, I heard my voice—his voice—on the phone.  “Hey, hon!  I’m feeling much better.  I think I finally got a good night’s sleep, and my skin’s cleared up.”

I heard the muffled twitter of Kyle’s voice through the earpiece of the phone as I stood and adjusted my new life on my shoulders.  I had a few more properties to see to today before I could rest.  I waved goodbye to Jimmy and wished him well for the weekend.  I envied him.  I wish I had a life like his.

Rating: 9.50/10. From 4 votes.
Please wait...

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Kandrel
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Kandrel

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

More Stories from Author Kandrel:

No posts found.

Related Stories:

No posts found.

You Might Also Enjoy:

A Ritual Misguided
Average Rating:

A Ritual Misguided

Death’s Inkwell
Average Rating:

Death’s Inkwell

The Luckiest Bastard Alive
Average Rating:

The Luckiest Bastard Alive

Ruby's Last Raid
Average Rating:

Ruby’s Last Raid

Recommended Reading:

Family Reunion (The Snow Family Book 2)
Knuckle Balled
Don't Scream 3: 30 More Tales to Terrify
Long Dead Before Dying

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Skip to content