The story takes place on Christmas eve in a small town, and its central character is a man by the name of George Pratt. Though the town is alight with cheerful, brightly coloured lights, Pratt is not feeling the Christmas spirit. He is, in fact, completely miserable. He finds himself on the town's bridge, staring at the dark, swirling water. Mesmerized, he leans over the bridge railing, farther and farther.
Leaving his grieving parents, George realizes that he desperately needs to see Mary. He goes to their house, where he notices that the yard is now untidy and neglected. Shaking and hardly able to talk, when Mary comes to the door George once again pretends to be a salesman and gives her a "complementary" brush. While he's there, Art comes staggering in drunk, causing his two children to warily back away. He slumps down on the couch, belligerently demanding to know who George is, and Mary tries to explain about him being a salesman. Art cuts her off, hiccuping and telling George to get out. Sickened, he does so, leaving the satchel behind and breaking into a run, heading for the river, desperate to find the little man who started all this. To George's relief, he sees him standing by the bridge. Gasping he tells the little man that he has to put things back the way they were. Raising his eyebrows, the man points out that he gave George precisely what he asked for, and that he has no responsibilities and can go wherever he wants and do whatever he wants. Broken, George pleads with him, saying that it's not just for him, but for others; the town is in a terrible mess and they need him there. The little man says that he understands that ... he just wanted to be sure that George did. He tells George to close his eyes and listen to the church bells which have started to ring. When he opens his eyes, George finds that the little man has disappeared, and that it has started to snow. He wonders if it was all a dream, or some sort of hallucination, but decides it doesn't matter. He now realizes what a gift his life is.