The Shakes (Excerpt 2)

From Chapter One

One day Eddie and my mom sat me and my sister down in the living room after supper to tell us something important. Eddie said he had gotten a promotion and that he was being sent to work in Chicago. I didn’t know why the hell anyone would want to promote Eddie, but they did. At first, I was fine with it because I thought it meant he wouldn’t be around much anymore. But then my mom said she was going to go with him and help him settle in and things like that, but that it was just going to be a small apartment so my sister and I would have to go live with our grandparents, “them damn Beasleys” as my daddy called them, up in the Badger Sate, that’s Wisconsin, for a while.

Eddie went on and on about how it would be best for everyone while he makes his way at the new job and makes a good impression. He didn’t need too many distractions. Then he talked about how the big city was no place for us kids and that we would come later when they were officially married and had a house set up in the suburbs and then my mom stuck out her hand and wiggled her fingers in the air and there was a new ring on it. It wasn’t the ring my daddy gave her. She probably threw that one away. They said we were going to be a new, happy family. They acted like they were excited, and they wanted my sister and I to be excited, but I wasn’t very excited, but then why would I be?

In the summer of 1979, Eddie helped momma sell the house and he got it packed up. He sent most off to a storage place in Illinois. A lot of it was stuff that belonged to my sister and me. A lot of it belonged to my daddy, too, and that made me mad as hell. Magnolia and I were only allowed to take a few things with promises that everything would be back to normal once we were all reunited in Chicago. I didn’t believe Eddie and part of me was hoping he was making it all up anyway.

My Grandma Mavis and my Grandpa Roman were my mom’s parents. I think she kept them disappointed much of her life. They never really liked my daddy too much either. They thought he wasn’t motivated enough and wasn’t giving us a good enough life. I don’t think it affected them too much when he died even though they acted like it did.

They lived in a nice house near Lake Michigan in a small town called Blue Shore and it was full of blue people and cold people but there were streaks of sunlight, too. And it was the sort of light that made your guts jump a bit with lonely happiness if that makes any sense. It was the sort of light that made its way through the trees and filtered through the autumn leaves set to fall and it cast color like loaded dice. It was September light, October light, and it would come in on an angle through the trees like I said, and it would hit against a neighborhood of neat little houses of white and yellow and pink and sweet ocean blue all lined up in Americana serenity and the echoes of life there called down to the fallen bodies of yesteryear in triplicate. I had been to Blue Shore a few times or so, Nola some too, and I liked it. I would have liked it more if the adults around me had just left me alone.

Them damn Beasleys would come and visit us in Arkansas once in a while, but they didn’t like the heat or the food or our living conditions. Not that they were terrible, just not up to their standards. Grandma Mavis would spend most of the time trying to clean and organize our house and Grandpa Roman would get to lecturing my daddy at the kitchen table on how to be a better man. My daddy would just nod his head up and down and say real seriously “I know, sir. I know.” I say daddy did the best he could. He worked odd jobs. Mostly construction and electrical and fixing things and we always had something to eat and had the lights on. I never understood what was so bad about that. There were a lot of other men in the world who did a whole lot worse.

My Grandpa Roman was an overly stern man, and he was pushy, too. He worked at the newspaper in Blue Shore for more than half his life. Worked himself up all the way to editor. He was opinionated and he was always pressing people to be better than what he thought they were, but not in a good way. He was arrogant and critical. He didn’t like laziness or mistakes. He didn’t like unruly kids either, and so he’d get on my momma for that if Magnolia and I made too much noise or ran around too much. He’d tell her that we weren’t disciplined enough because we were acting like animals and that we’d end up just like my daddy if she didn’t lay down the law. I thought he was a mean and heartless man, and I don’t see why he seemed to be so proud of that fact.

Grandma Mavis kind of followed in his ways. She was a fussy lady. Their house was clean and neat, and it looked like no one even lived there, like it was always up for sale or something. Grandma Mavis always kept herself polished, too. Seemed like she even dressed up to clean the house. The only time I ever saw her in something else was when she was riding the mower around in the yard cutting the lawn. She steered that thing with authority and in straight lines. I wanted to ride on it one time, but she wouldn’t let me.

She had worked for Lake County for a long time. She oversaw the running of the museum and historical places like that. She had something to do with the art center, too. I guess she was kind of important because she had to go to town meetings sometimes and talk. She could be a very pointed and serious woman at times, and I always thought she would have made a good guard at a jail.

I don’t think either one of them were ever very fun. Maybe at Christmas. That’s one time we would usually visit if the weather wasn’t too bad. There’d be other people there too, like uncles and aunts and cousins from different places. Some we hardly knew. We got a lot of presents, though. Nola and I would play outside with the cousins while the grownups stayed in the house drinking cocktails and gossiping loudly about family members that weren’t even there. Believe me, my daddy wasn’t much for cocktails and talking and so he’d usually end up coming outside to watch us run around. Grandpa Roman took it as an insult and thought daddy couldn’t stand on his own with the adults.

Grandma and Grandpa Beasley had about seven acres of land and where the yard ended in the back there was a wooded area with some walking paths worn into the earth and a trickle of a creek. The trees were thick in places. Magnolia liked to call it the “100-acre wood” like in Winnie-The-Pooh, but I don’t think it was a hundred acres, but maybe to her it felt like it. I guess it could have been.

One time after a Christmas lunch I was out there with my cousin Angela from Oshkosh, and we were just walking around hitting sticks against trees and not really talking much. Maybe some stuff about school. It was winter but the sun was shining, and it was even kind of warm and I had to unzip my coat.

She was a year older than me and just out of the blue she asked me if I had ever kissed anyone. I said no, which was true. She said she hadn’t either and wanted to know if we should try it with each other. She was pretty decent for a cousin, so I said yes. Then she kind of backed me up to a tree. She was a bit bigger than me, and I remember her face was really close to mine and she smelled like the bubblegum she just spit out. I was nervous because I wasn’t sure what to do. I just closed my eyes, held my breath, and waited. Then I felt what must have been her lips on me and it lasted for about 10 seconds and then she was done. Her mouth was soft and felt warm and cold at the same time. I think she lied about never doing it before because she seemed pretty well versed in it. I was suddenly worried I had to deal with a cousin for a girlfriend, and that I’d have to write letters or call her up on the phone every day. But it was stupid for me to worry because I never had to do any of that because she just shrugged her shoulders and looked at me like it was nothing special. We went back to walking around and she never said anything more about it or wanted to try kissing ever again. I was relieved and grateful.


The Dweller in the Christmas Mustard (Ep.3)

Oswald Madness was sitting at the end of a very long table in a very white room that had a long line of narrow vertical windows against one wall. The windows were covered with chemical blue curtains, the bottoms of which gently swayed because of some sort of artificial air being pumped in.

His eyes hurt. His throat felt like he had been screaming for a long time, but he didn’t know why. There was some sort of lingering cloud over the table that silently churned like a butter thunderstorm. Then someone spoke and the cloud began to twirl into a tighter vortex and then drifted up and out of the room through an invisible hole.

“Can you pass the Christmas mustard?” the young girl called from a seemingly long way away. “I have some vivacious ham here that I would like to add a little more zing to.”

Oswald looked down in front of him at the table adorned in a crystal white cloth. There before him sat a jar of unopened Christmas mustard from a deli in Chicago that he used to know of because his Aunt Sharlene would never shut up about it at family gatherings around the holidays.

He looked up and called out. “Who’s there?” He saw the vibrations of his voice shoot across the long table and stumble into something on the other end.

The girl’s voice came back. “Do I need to come over there and get it myself? You really don’t want that.”

Oswald pushed his chair back and got up. The floor didn’t feel real. He picked up the jar of Christmas mustard and started walking toward the other end of the table. He walked and walked and walked. “This is the longest table I have had the displeasure to encounter,” he said out loud.

“Just keep going. You’re almost there.” A small hand suddenly reached out and snatched the jar from him. “Thank you.” And then the mist around her cleared and she slowly came into view. He just watched as she struggled to open the jar. “Fuck!” she said loudly, and then she handed the jar back to him. “Could you open it please?”

Oswald pushed his hand against the lid and turned. There was a little audible pop. He handed it back to her and she smiled up at him. “I don’t know why they make those things so damn hard to open. What if this had been an emergency?”

“A sandwich emergency?”

She gave him a dirty look as she did not care at all for his sense of humor.

He quickly altered the awkward moment. “I know you,” Oswald said to her.

“That’s right,” she said as she smeared Christmas mustard on a piece of rye bread with a silvery knife that flowed like liquid. “I know you as well.”

“What is this?” Oswald wanted to know. “It seems that just a minute ago I was chained to a very different table. I was in some sort of trouble, I think.”

“You were in trouble, but I decided to get you out of it,” the girl said, and she looked around with admiration. “This is my home and I have invited you for lunch. Are you not hungry? I assure you the meats and breads are top of the line… Top of the line.” She took a monstrous bite of the sandwich she assembled and chewed. She casually swung her legs beneath the table and hummed while slowly moving her head side to side as if she didn’t have a care in the world. She was wearing washed-out blue jeans cut by ragged stone, red high-top tennis shoes and a Nirvana T-shirt. She swallowed and looked back up at him as if she was annoyed. “Are you just going to stand there and stare at me all afternoon?” She took another bite of her sandwich and chomped. “Go on now. You can go back to your seat and have your lunch.”

Oswald looked to his right and down the long length of table to a chair in the distance. “We can’t possibly carry on a conversation with so much space between us,” he said to her. “Can’t I sit closer to you?”

She ran her hand across her mouth and looked at him as if he had requested something horribly unreasonable. “Why would you want to do that? We’re eating, not talking. There’s a time for talking and it’s not when we are eating.”

“We can’t do both?”

“No! They’re two totally different and unrelatable things. It would be a mess!”

Oswald decided it was not in his best interest to push the subject, so he turned and walked away from her toward the other end of the table, a table that seemed to have become even longer than before. When he reached his end, he sat down in the chair there and scooted it in closer to the table. He sighed when he realized he forgot to bring the Christmas mustard back with him. “Hey!” he yelled out.

“What do you want now!?” the girl answered sourly.

“I forgot the mustard. Can you bring it to me?”

There was a cackling, childish laugh. “You’ve got some nerve, Mr. Madness. You’re in no position to ask me to do anything for you.”

“I just want some mustard. You can’t expect me to eat a dry sandwich. It’s not like I’m asking you to jump off a cliff.”

“You want me to jump off a cliff?”

“No! I just want some mustard!”

He heard a plate clank in the distance and then it was quick footfalls coming toward him. The girl suddenly appeared, and she slammed the jar down in front of him. “Here’s your fucking mustard!” she barked. “I wouldn’t want you to choke on a dry sandwich… Or would I?” She scowled at him, turned, and walked away toward the other end.

Oswald cringed and called out to her vanishing trail. “Thanks.”

He worked on assembling a sandwich and when it was built to his satisfaction, he took a big, deep bite. It was very agreeable to him. But then he realized as he reached out in front of himself that there was nothing to drink. He looked all around to see if he had perhaps overlooked something. He swallowed what was in his mouth, cleared his dry throat and called out to her again. “Hey!”

“Jiminy Cricket! What the hell is it now!?” the girl replied from the other side of the vast distance.

“I don’t have anything to drink. I could choke without something to wash this rye bread down with.”

“Ugh!” she scoffed loudly. “Seriously, Mr. Madness. You are becoming a real pain in the ass.”

“You sure do swear a lot for a young lady.”

“So fucking what!”

“See.”

“I’m sorry if I offend you, but I was unfortunately raised in not the most stable or proper environment. I’m afraid I’m the product of poor parenting… But despite my personal woes, I persevered. As you can see. But try not to be so judgmental.” She reached for and rang a small bell.

He thought he heard her whispering to someone. And then that someone suddenly appeared beside him balancing a small silver tray on his hand. He was tall. His bald head was large and shiny. He had small facial features. He was dressed in a black and cornsilk-colored suit. And when he spoke it was in a very soft, almost undecipherable tone. “The lady has asked me to bring you something to drink.”

Oswald hesitated to answer the strange man at first. “Yes. What do you have?”

The strange man nodded his head and a slight smile appeared on his face. “Whatever you want, sir.”

Oswald thought about it. “Chocolate milk.”

“Fine, sir. I’ll bring it straight away.” He gave a quick bow and then was off. He returned in nearly an instant, and the strange man’s hand, clad in a tan glove, set down a tall glass of chocolate milk in front of Oswald.

Oswald peered up at him and tried to smile. “Thank you.”

“Oh, you’re quite welcome, sir,” the strange man answered. “I do hope you enjoy it. I worked it out of one of our brown cows myself… May I get you anything else?”

Oswald nodded. “I think I’m good.” He lifted the glass to his mouth and took a deep drink. He smacked his lips and looked at the strange man who had brought it. “That’s the most incredible chocolate milk I ever…” The glass suddenly fell from his hand and the chocolate milk pooled on the table and began to seep into the tablecloth. Then Oswald’s eyes flickered and closed, and he collapsed headfirst into the spill. The strange man got down on his knees and moved his face closer to where Oswald lay. The man shook his head and made a noise with his mouth. “How unfortunate,” he whispered. Just then the girl appeared. She was whimsically eating a chocolate covered banana as she looked things over.

She cocked her head and asked. “What happened to him?” Then she laughed before taking another bite of her treat.

The strange man looked up at her and grinned. “Must have been a bad cow.”

TO BE CONTINUED

Go HERE to read the previous episode.

The Dweller in the Christmas Mustard (Ep. 1)

The sound of the jet airplane’s engines had lulled him into a half sleep. He was drifting in and out of a panoramic dream — something about floating on clouds — and then when his head jerked hard enough to snap him back into wakefulness, he looked out the small window next to his seat and saw that his dream had come true.

At that very moment, he wanted to crawl through that impenetrable opening and just fall like an angel into those mushroomy blooming puffs cut now like vibrant jewel prisms by the perfectly angled falling light of the day. There was a ding sound in the cabin and then an indecipherable voice came over the sound system. He could feel the plane beginning to dip and soon they were swallowed whole by the very same clouds from his dream come true.  And when they finally emerged from the bottom, he could see the land below, wide western meadows and low rocky ridges and far off into the distance he saw the snowcapped peaks that Colorado was so famous for, and they sprang out and up from a mirky soup of yellow pollution hovering over a city called Denver.


He moved through a pulsing hot throng of people on his way to the mile-long escalators going down to where the train arrived that took travelers to the main terminal of DIA. Even though he had no particular place to be at any particular time, he walked fast, constantly adjusting the backpack he carried with him because it kept slipping. People zoomed by him in both directions. The voices all mingled into one loud hum in a hive.

He dashed into a crowded men’s room to relieve himself. He had to wait in a line to use a urinal. Once finished he washed his hands, splashed his face, tried to comb his hair into some semblance of order with his fingers. He studied himself in the mirror for just a moment because he thought it was overly vain to look at oneself for too long. And for some reason it made him uncomfortable to look at himself, as well, almost embarrassed. That’s why he always did it quick. He decided he looked very tired and moved on.

Once back into the rush of the main thoroughfare, he slipped out and took a seat in the mostly unoccupied waiting area of a darkened gate where a flight to Detroit wasn’t set to depart for another two hours. It was a quiet reprieve for the time being. He lifted his pack into the seat beside him and retrieved his cell phone. He squinted as he looked at the screen. He took it out of airplane mode and waited for the technological pipes to clear. No calls. No messages. Nothing erupted now that he was back on the ground. He was almost glad for the fact he wasn’t popular among any crowd but his own. He took a deep breath and tried to stretch his neck by bending it from side to side. He could almost hear the tendons strain and crackle.

He sat still there for a long time, his thoughts getting caught up in the traffic of human beings continually parading by like a perpetual mountain stream. Some moved fast, others dawdled. Some had a trainload of luggage behind them, others merely a single bag slung over a sore shoulder. He wondered about where they had come from and where they were going. Why were all these people moving so much? What was with all the here and there? What great grief or passion was calling to them? His life in comparison seemed so much slower and simpler. But was it? Not really, after all.

He glanced at his diamond digital watch from Hades, but then realized it didn’t really matter what time it was. He was at that place in life where time was something that only other people dealt with, not him.

Then for some strange reason his thoughts drifted to childhood in the lakeside burbs of upper middle crust Chicago and about the Christmas mustard his Aunt Sharlene used to proudly serve with her platefuls of fancy meats and breads and cheeses during the warm, crystalline holidays. Aunt Sharlene was always wearing a dress, he recalled. Even if she was cooking eggs and bacon at 6 a.m., she had on a dress. Back then he even thought that she most likely slept in a dress. Maybe she did. But the mustard, that Christmas mustard. It came in a fancy glass jar, and it had a fancy foreign label and lid and Aunt Sharlene boasted about how she got it from this peculiar owner of a deli in the brick and gold shopping plaza in the neighborhood because he thought she was something special and would know exactly how to use it as if it were fragile magic. His Uncle Drake always frowned when she brought that part up because she would always throw something in there about how this particular and peculiar deli owner was also tall, dark, and handsome. His Uncle Drake was none of those things.

But the mustard was something special in exchange for the pricks of jealousy, as well, he supposed. And his Uncle Drake would lovingly slather it all over his rye bread. It had a bite to it that was somehow extraterrestrial and made the person eating it feel like they had traveled somewhere very far away. The man’s imagination had always been bright, and he believed the Christmas mustard must have had come from Saudi Arabia or perhaps Yemen or even Tatooine. But why would he think something so foolish? He shook his head at his own youthful naivety, and then he was suddenly hungry for a sandwich even though he knew that no one would have any Christmas mustard in the airport.


He settled on a faux New York deli type of sandwich place that pretended it was authentic but really wasn’t — merely corporate fantasies for sale. It was crowded and hard to move around inside the little box in a long line of other boxes aglow with money suckers. His broken velvet eyes the color of underwater gold scanned the menu for something that wasn’t gross. He settled on a New York Clubber — roast beef, turkey, ham, Swiss cheese, bacon, lettuce, spicy (not Christmas) mustard, black olives on a crusty crunchy dick-like stick of white bread cut and spread open like a lover’s legs.

The pace of the place was frantic, and the man’s nerves began to tick and twitch as the people pressed in on him, the mingling of sandwiches and skin like uneasy sex in a musty dark cellar, and he reached forward to pay at the counter quickly because the pressure was on him. People were watching and waiting and staring at the stranger from somewhere else. He felt like they all hated him.

He found a small table in the very center of the food court outside the deli joint and the roar of people eating and talking and slurping and bitching and babies wailing was all around him. He unzipped his backpack and reached in for an orange bottle of pills. He uncapped it, shook out two white bars with score marks and tossed them into his mouth. He washed them down with a bubbling iced Fresca.

He unwrapped his sandwich and laid the paper out flat. He opened a bag of salt and vinegar chips and poured them out onto the paper. He brought the sandwich up to his open mouth and bit into it. He chewed and as the flavors and textures mingled, he looked to his left where he saw a young girl in a periwinkle blue dress and her hair in pigtails sitting at a table all by herself. She looked very different from everyone else. She looked like she belonged to a strict old religious clan that rebutted the ways of modern, sinful life. She looked like she should have been in a barn, knee-high in hay, not inside one of the busiest airports in the world.

The girl was staring at him for a long time for some strange reason. Did he have something on his face? He instinctively reached for a napkin and wiped it across his mouth. He glanced over at her again. She had weird eyes and she looked unsettled. He put down his sandwich and sucked on the straw connected to his plastic cup of Fresca. A strange man and woman dressed similarly to the girl suddenly appeared at the table and they set down bags of food and cups of drink. She looked up at each of them in turn and smiled. Then she said something to them that he could not understand through the cacophony of humans communally filling their guts.

Then all three of them turned to look at him and their faces were dusted with disgust. He watched them watch him through the clouds of humanity. He couldn’t understand why they were looking at him that way. What did the girl say to them? And why? He had done nothing wrong. Was it because he was so different from them? Had she read the inner linings of his soul and discovered there was a reason why he was now drifting listlessly through time? Did she discover that he was merely a living ghost after all, and it upset her balance of beliefs and familial rituals set forth by her spinning God?

He quickly finished eating, gathered his trash and stood to carry it over to a receptacle to dispose of it. When he did, an eerie quiet fell upon the food court and seemingly the entirety of Denver International Airport. A billion heads turned to watch him with scathing glances. He moved slowly to the garbage bin and dropped in the remains of his meal into the wide hole. No one else moved or spoke. He hoisted his pack over his shoulder and gazed at all of them.

“What do you want!” he screamed out.

And when they just continued to stare and not say anything, he backed away from the coital mob and made his way back onto the main thoroughfare of the concourse and walked as fast as he could. The people there too now stared at him, watched him with sallow unfamiliar eyes like he was some murderer on the loose. He quickened his pace as the swarm thickened. He started bumping into bodies, pushing bodies, kicking at bodies. He pulled the pack off his shoulder and started swinging it at the people closing in. He hit a young woman in the face, and she fell. No one screamed but instead they just hummed like a hornet’s nest plump with menacing insects.

And then he ran. He ran as fast as he could and the tunnel like artificial air of the airport whooshed by him in an effort to keep pace with his speed. He glanced behind him, and the people were floating toward him effortlessly. He glanced in front of him, and there he saw that a thick wall built of human beings was erected to keep him from passing. He suddenly stopped and looked from side to side. He saw an emergency exit door and made for it. He pushed on the thick silver bar and an alarm immediately began to wail. He ran down the jetway that was untethered to any airplane. Once at the end he could taste the open air and he saw an attached metal ladder in which he could use to get to the ground, and he swung over and onto it and climbed down.

Once his shoes hit the pavement he ran and ran and ran until he was breathless and limping. A jet loudly swam above him and then he was suddenly surrounded by white cars with flashing blue lights on their rooftops and men in uniforms quickly jumped out and corralled him. They pushed him to the ground and made him lie on his stomach. They handcuffed him. They yanked him up and led him to one of the cars and shoved him into the backseat and slammed the door. He was in a cage now, and he was headed for another cage. He was sure of it.

TO BE CONTINUED


Applesauce Cat

Warning: Mature Content

I was sitting in the din of another rum-soaked afternoon on High Street in some far away town. I was alone as usual. The clock was ticking behind my head like a reader counting down the days to my ultimate demise.

I looked out the balcony fortress at the world all messed up and angry with itself, and I saw a cat eating applesauce down on the sidewalk around the perimeters of chalk art and lonely hearts.

I was cut like dynamite all up in my guts… my face so fucking worn away from the droop of negative gladness that I felt like gravity sucking at a skull through a circus straw, clowns all mad and boisterous running around with shaving clippers to cut away the dirt of dope all muddied in my blood.

It’s the countdown to broken neck as end of summer lawns hiss as the sprinklers spit at the grass like riots, I am hungry and in pain deep down in the belly welly of life on bourbon street sans street, the plastic puppets of a childhood tossed in a bin scream redemption but the oily candles only bleed sin and throat blessings designed to curb the swearing are merely molestations of the skin.

So God, do you have a dick in which to fuck the universe and all its celestial holes?

Alcoholism and roughed up love meet in a bar down on Bleeker Street. It’s puke and madness and a dying heart just trying to reach out to another Rings of Saturn soul, blowholes and arrows, hard drinks and drugs and tattoo flu shots trembling at river’s edge, in upper north Wisconsin, where I want them to spread my ashes, like tumbler cheese on a cracker, and GODmother is dead because money is more important than any sensibility of love and honor… fuck you Chicago and all the piss you dump and pray for… my ass hurts, like a tiger biting into the bone, and I tremble Atlanta, my home, my five-fingered mannequin bone, restless and destructive like a coffee-scented angel on the 285, running circles round the metro like a honey-bee hive, all full of stings and poison and air machines for the lungs, my head, my life, so heavy and strung out like Christmas candles in a circus, a mall walker carrying a tombstone and a blowtorch, attacking the restless kiss as if in a never-ending dream.


A Crab Crawl Crucifixion (Ending)

They trailed after me and I readied my rifle as I walked. It was the only light on in the entire town and it cast an odd yellow glow against all the ruin. It was a narrow building made of brick like the others and there were two large windows in the very front. We took cover across the street and tried to study the place. The light inside was very bright and I thought I saw someone sitting in a chair and reading a newspaper. “My god,” I said. “It looks like a barbershop.” And that’s when we noticed the barber pole at the side churning red, white and blue in the yellow light like cake batter. “I can’t believe it.”

Rob started walking out into the street toward the shop without any care. “Wait!” I snapped. “What are you doing?”

“I’m going to get a haircut,” he said.

“You’re crazy. You’re good as dead if you do that,” Daisy warned him.

“You’re both wrong. This is an answer to my wish. You remember, Ed, I said I wanted a haircut and here it is, a place in the middle of deathly nowhere, a barbershop. Someone’s listening to me. It must be apocalyptic God or something.”

“You’re delusional,” I told him. “Delusional and downright stupid if you go over there.”

He smiled at us oddly and he turned and just kept on walking, right up to the shop. We saw that he was looking in and then he pushed the door open, and the light swallowed him up.

“We have to go after him,” Daisy demanded.

I pressed a finger against her fish lips. “Shhh. Let’s be really quiet and check it out.” We crept out into the glow and up to the building, one to each side, and we peered in through the glass. Rob Muggins was sitting in a barber chair of chrome and burgundy vinyl and a man was wrapping a cape around the front of him. I looked over at Daisy and even though I knew she saw the exact same thing as I did, I couldn’t really believe it. I pointed to the door, and we went in with our guns drawn.

A little bell rang, and the barber looked up at us and smiled. “There will be no need for weapons in here,” he politely said to us. “I don’t cause any trouble. I just cut hair.”

He stood on a booster stool and held a pair of scissors and comb over Rob’s head and started to snip away very carefully. He was a very odd-looking man of small stature with a dead-serious emotion in his cleanly shaven olive-toned skin. His hair was jet black and combed back very slick and neat against his scalp. He looked up at us again. “Were you here for a haircut sir?” he asked. Then he looked at Daisy and smiled with apology. “I’m sorry miss. I don’t cut women’s hair. Far too much emotion involved in that endeavor,” he explained.

There were three chairs against the wall and Daisy sat down. “It’s okay. I’ll just watch.” The barber smiled and went back to work. There was a small radio on the counter behind him and it played old time music very softly. The barber began to whistle along as he cut Rob’s hair.

“What are you doing here?” I finally asked him.

He stopped cutting and looked at me. “What do you mean? This is my barbershop. I cut hair.”

“But there’s no hair to cut,” I pointed out. “This place is dead.”

The barber seemed confused. “I don’t understand. I’m cutting this gentleman’s hair right now. What’s the problem?”

“Don’t you know what’s out there?” I moved to one of the windows and gestured. “This place is deserted. Why are you here?”

The barber clicked on an electric clipper and moved it carefully against one side of Rob’s head. “I don’t know what you want me to say. I’m here every day. I cut people’s hair. This is my life, my livelihood. I have an apartment right upstairs if you want me to prove it to you… I’m sorry, who are you again?”

“My name’s Ed. Ed Dick. This here is Daisy and the man you’re snipping on is Rob Muggins.”

The barber chuckled some. “Odd names,” he said. “But good to know you all just the same. I like my customers to consider me as a friend and not just a barber. It’s the personal touch that matters most,” and he looked over at Daisy and flirtatiously worked his brow up and down for a moment.

I looked over at Daisy and she looked at me. I could tell she was feeling unsettled.

“Do you have any food and water?” I asked the man.

He chuckled. “Of course, I do. I’m not a savage. If you don’t mind waiting until I’m done with this gentleman’s haircut, it would be wonderful to have you all upstairs. I haven’t had many guests lately.” He clicked off the clippers, leaned back and studied his work. “That looks pretty fine,” he said, and he hopped down off his stool and spun the chair around like a carnival wheel so Rob could see himself in the mirror.

“Wow,” Rob said, admiring himself. “That’s a damn fine haircut. What do you guys think?”

Daisy got up, walked over, and looked at him. “You clean up pretty well Mr. Wall Street,” she said.

I felt a twang of jealousy in my guts. “But he needs a shave,” I suggested. The barber studied Rob’s face. “Hmm… I really like his beard, but I suppose I can do that,” he said.

We all felt a bit nervous as he reached for the straight razor and some fluffy cream. He lathered Rob’s face and then very carefully scraped the blade across it, clearing away the stubble every so often as he went. When he was done, he wiped Rob’s face clean with a warm wet towel. “After shave?” he asked as he held up a glass bottle containing a blue liquid. Rob nodded. The barber smiled as he patted his face. “It might sting a bit,” he cautioned.

The barber undid the cape and Rob got up out of the chair and ran his hand over his head and across his face. “This feels great,” he said.

The barber shook out a towel and smiled. “Okay… That will be 23 dollars.”

Rob instinctively reached for his pockets, but they were empty. “I’m sorry. I don’t have any money.”

The barber was confused. “No money? Then why did you come in here for a haircut? Give me a break. I’m trying to run a business here!”

Daisy sensed his oncoming tirade and tried to calm him. “We’ve been traveling for a very long time. Don’t you know what’s happened to the world? There is no more money.”

“No more money? Ah blah, that’s a bunch of rubbish. I’ve got a till full of it.”

I stepped forward to get a closer look at him. I wanted to see if he was real. His eyes looked weird. “Who are all these people who come for haircuts?” I asked him. “Don’t you understand? There’s no one here.”

The barber grabbed a broom and pan and started to sweep up Rob’s fallen locks. “You keep saying that, and I still don’t understand. I get plenty of business from the hill people and the ranchers and the water barons. They come all the time.”

Daisy stepped in front of me. Her arm fell back a little and her hand accidentally swept over my crotch. “We’d love to see your apartment. And maybe we could work something out to pay you for the haircut.”

The barber looked at her porcelain face the color of flour and noticed the ring in her nose. “That’s a funny thing,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that on a woman before. Okay, let me just lock up and we can head upstairs. But I don’t want any funny business.”


The stairs were old, and they creaked as we went up. The hall smelled of cooked meat and dust. He looked at us and smiled as he fumbled with the key in the lock of a red worn door. “My apologies, but the place isn’t as tidy as I like,” he said. “I’ve been busy with other things.” He got it unlocked and pushed it open. It looked old and charming. I couldn’t understand why he was worried about what the place looked like. Everything was in order.

“Please, come in and sit down,” he offered. “Would anyone care for a grape soda?” We all heartily accepted. “Good,” he smiled. “I’ll make us some cheese sandwiches as well.” He fiddled with an old phonograph before disappearing through a swinging door that must have led to the kitchen. Scratchy weird music began to fill the room.

I went to a window, pulled the cranberry-colored curtains aside and peered out. The moon was higher now and the landscape littered with desolation. I turned to see Daisy sitting close to Rob on the couch. She seemed attracted to him now. She put a hand on his thigh as they whispered to each other about the place.

A few minutes later, the barber came back out carrying a tray with grape soda and cheese sandwiches. He set it down on an old coffee table and invited us to eat and drink. I squeezed in between Daisy and Rob on the couch and stuffed a sandwich in my mouth. The barber took a chair across from us and watched.

 “Is the food all right?” he asked. Our mouths were full, and we were very pleased. I sucked down my grape soda and belched loudly. Daisy elbowed me.

“Excuse me,” I said. “I haven’t eaten in a while. It’s so good. But, where do you get your food?”

“Little elves bring it to me,” the barber joked, and then he crossed his hands in his lap and smiled. “I’m glad you appreciate good soda and cheese.”

“Thank you so much,” Daisy creamed. “This is all so wonderful.”

Rob clomped on a sandwich between sips of the soda. “Yeah. It’s great of you to help us out like this.”

“Well, I try to live a godly life. You know, do unto others …”

I looked around the room and noticed there were no photographs of other people. “Do you have a family?” I asked him.

“No,” he answered somewhat sternly. “They all died in a terrible house fire many years ago. I grew up an orphan.”

“I’m so sorry,” Daisy said to him.

“I’ve learned to carry on.”

“Do you know about the monsters?” I blurted out.

He turned to look at me, it was a cold stare. “I don’t know what you are talking about. There aren’t any monsters here.”

Daisy leaned forward and looked at him. “Don’t you know about the end of the world, and all that has followed?” she asked.

He blinked at her in confusion. “I heard a rumor about a terrible war, but that’s all. I enjoy my life here as a simple barber. I don’t want to know about such things.”

I adjusted my hat and rubbed at my rough face. “The monsters are a product of social disease. There’s no cure. They have no heart or soul.”

He looked at me with the same puzzled emptiness. “Sometimes they wander in and out, but I just turn off all the lights and pretend to be dead.”

“So, you have seen them?” I asked pointedly.

“I’ve seen others, yes, if that’s what you’re getting at, like you were talking about, but they are not my customers. Those people are real. You speak of phantoms.” He suddenly got up and changed the record. He seemed uncomfortable.

“Where are you from? Originally,” I asked. He turned to look at me over his shoulder after plopping down fresh vinyl on the phonograph. It spun slow and rough. “Chicago,” he finally answered. “I was born in Chicago.”

I thought he was lying. “What part?”

“Arlington Heights. My father came here from Appietto on Corsica many years ago and opened his own barbershop. That’s why I do what I do. Then he burned to death.”

I could tell he was getting uneasy about the subject. “I was hoping we could rest here if that would be all right. We’ll leave you in the morning.”

He studied us one by one. “You want to stay the night?”

“You’ve been more than generous,” Daisy began, “But we understand if you don’t want strangers sleeping on your floor.”

“It’s okay,” he said. “Just one night?”

“We’ll head out in the morning,” I said, answering for her.

“Okay, you can stay,” the barber said as he lifted the arm up off the record and carefully set it in its resting place. “But I’m getting tired now. I think I’ll go to my room and rest, but please, make yourself comfortable. We can settle things in the morning. I hope you sleep like angels in the hay heap of a warm barn.”

I was hoping Daisy would lie down next to me but instead she rolled herself out on the floor right next to reincarnated Rob Muggins. I thought I heard them kiss, but I might have been mistaken. Whether it was real or not it still hurt my guts and heart. The place was too quiet, and I struggled to sleep. I wanted to be on top of Daisy and thrusting against her, but I felt her interest was rapidly waning. Maybe I was too old for her. Maybe I was too rough around the edges. What kind of life would we have together anyways? The world was a ruined place. I focused my eyes on a slit in the drapes as they grew heavy. I started to see some stars twinkling above the dead land. I was starting to feel sad and hopeless but tried to find peace in the thought of the coming morning. I finally fell asleep and dreamed of nothing.

The barber tip-toed to a table in his bedroom where sat an old phone and he picked up the receiver. He worked the dial with the tip of a crooked finger. It rang on the other end — four times before someone picked up and breathed.

The barber whispered in the grim darkness. “Yes, they’re here now. I think it would be a perfect opportunity to come get them. I’m sure you’re very hungry.”

END