The Cost of Living. Short Story.

Fiona looked down at the coffee, then took a sip. It felt like everyone was looking at her. She took a deep breath, no one cared what she was doing. Besides, it’s not like she was some giant loser, she was actually waiting for someone. She glanced around the coffee shop, scanning the people coming in. No sign of her yet. No worries, she wasn’t too late. Only like ten minutes or so. Fiona pulled out her phone and checked for messages. Nothing yet. She went into the message chain and saw that her last message had, in fact, been sent. Ok. She probably hadn’t seen it because she was in such a rush to get here. She took another sip of coffee, just remain calm. She’d arrive any second now and people would stop thinking she was some weirdo just sitting there by herself.

twenty minutes later Fiona stood from the table and head down, cheeks bright red, she left the shop. They were probably all talking about her, about how she’d been stood up, but like that was any different from every other day. Outside a cold wind was blowing, she paused for a moment, enjoying how cool it was on her face. She sent a quick text, then started walking again. It didn’t matter anyway, she had to go into town to get a few things so it wasn’t like she came in specifically for the coffee. She wove through the crowds, going towards the bookshop.

She was reading the back of a book when her phone beeped, she checked the message:

Omg! I’m so so so sorry, I got held up. Are you still around?”
Fiona felt her heart thud heavily in her chest. What should she do? She took a calming breath and with shaking hands she sent back the response.

Twenty minutes later, Fiona arrived in a different coffee shop. She had been purposely late this time and had already decided that should Debby be absent, she was just going to go home, it wasn’t worth it and there were other people she could see instead. There she was, sitting at one of the tables, reading a book, looking calm and relaxed. Damn, why hadn’t Fiona thought of bringing a book the first time? She looked like she belonged in the coffee shop, no one would think Debby was just some friendless loser. Fiona joined the queue and ordered a drink, hot chocolate this time, she didn’t want to be too jittery, then she approached the table.


“Hey Fiona,” Debby stood as Fiona put down her cup, then she pulled Fiona into a hug,

“I’m really sorry, I lost track of time completely and then I ran into traffic, it was ridiculous.:

“It’s ok, I had some stuff to do anyway.”

They sat down at the table and after a few seconds it was just like old times, except of course for the snide looks Debby threw her way every now and then, not that Fiona had expected any different. Fiona had missed the times she spent with Debby when they were younger, but that was in the past now, there was no point in trying to capture it again. The entire conversation she felt nervous, Debby didn’t notice though, she never noticed things like that, why would she? She was just selfish. Everything was always about Debby, it had to be or she’d freak out. Finally, the coffee was over, they stood together and Debby again went for a hug, Fiona smiled, expecting it this time.

When they parted, Fiona took out a small bag and carefully deposited the hair she had gotten and smiling, she started to walk towards the bus stop. It had been a good day. On the way she stopped into the bookshop and bought the book she was looking it, she was elated, it didn’t matter if people looked at her now.

It didn’t take her long to get home. Her parents were both at work, she still had a few hours in the house by herself. She went the kitchen and got a glass of water, then she went up to her room. How sad was that? Her tiny, little room that had a single bed (Why would she need a double? Wasn’t like guys were queuing up to ask her out or anything), a small desk with a small light and a few shelves where she could store her things. The rest of her stuff was boxed up in the attic. There since she had moved back in three years before. She had a life then, a boyfriend, a job. Now she had none of that. She lived at home for Christ sakes, at twenty eight she was just some unemployed loser. She could see it in her parents eyes when they looked at her, how ashamed they were, how disappointed. She could hear it when they talked about their friends children, how they’d always say something positive about them, then pointedly looking at her. They thought they were being subtle. Ha. They couldn’t have been more obvious if they tried.


Fiona closed the door to her room and sat on the bed, still covered in the bright pink duvet she had when she was a teenager. She took the small baggie from her pocket and studied it closely. It had the root and as luck would have it, it hadn’t been dyed, that made things a bit easier apparently.
She lay out everything she needed carefully copying it down from the book, realistically she didn’t need the book now, she could do it from memory, but it was better to be careful, she didn’t want any mistakes. She couldn’t risk herself like that.


It wasn’t long before he was sitting in the centre of a circle. He wasn’t what she had expected the first time she did it, though the first time she did it she never really expected anything to happen at all. He looked like a regular man, wearing jeans, a t-shirt and a black hoodie, handsome enough if you liked the rugged side of things, the only strange thing about him was his height, he was perhaps twelve inches high in total. Apparently if the circle was bigger he would be taller when he appeared, this height was just for “comfort”.


“did you get it?”
She held up the baggie.
“Good, brilliant in fact, you’ve everything you need now.”

He grinned up at her, she smiled back.

“So how long will it take to work?”
“Oh, it’ll be almost instantaneous! It will be great, I promise. You’ll have money again, your own place to live, friends will be back in your life.”
She looked at the hair, it was such a little price to pay and really, she wasn’t the one going to be paying for it. Debbie would have a few surprises in store for her.
“No tricks? It’ll be real and legal?”
“Completely. You have my word that everything that happens to you will be completely legal and no one will come after you for anything.”

“Ok, so do I just pass it to you or?”
“Yes, exactly as we discussed, just that one tiny little hair and in exchange, you get everything you wanted.”
Fiona carefully moved the hair over the circle, not letting her fingers pass the barrier. He reached up and took it, it seemed comically oversized in comparison to him, he opened one side of his hoodie and suddenly the hair was gone. He smiled up at Fiona, then clapped his hands, rubbing them together furiously.
“There we are. Done and done. Enjoy.”
Downstairs someone was knocking on the door. She frowned at the noise, but the little man just continued to grin.
Fiona opened the door to two police offices.
“Fiona Stephenson?”
“I’m afraid there’s been an accident. Your parents were in a car crash, they died on impact.”

The policeman had expected grief, tears, he didn’t expect her to begin laughing. He took a step back, unsure of himself.
“Are you all right? Is there someone you want us to call?”
Fiona managed to choke out that she was all right between laughter. It had really worked, the demon had fallen for it. They were dead, really dead. She’d get it all, the house, the life insurance, the extra car. It had really, really worked and it had cost her nothing at all.

About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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