If this is the first part in this ongoing chapter that you are reading, go check out the first four parts of chapter one if you don’t want to be lost.
Mad About You
Chapter One, Part Five
By: Patrick Hart
Samuel opened his mouth to continue his protest to all of the smoke and mirrors if his host could have simply shown himself in the first place. Peter caught wind of Samuel’s mounting frustration and said, “Consider this an act of good faith, an ever loving olive branch if you will.” This, like most of what had been said at this point, was apparently meant to be funny he gathered. Peter’s face lit up in what Samuel had always considered a shit-eating grin, the type of self-satisfied smile reserved for those of whom believed themselves quite clever.
“You’re just a child.” Samuel said.
Peter’s shit-eating grin widened so far that Samuel thought perhaps it would engulf this problem-child’s ears if it widened any further. “I’m sure friend, that you had a mother who once told you not to judge a book by its cover? But that’s neither here nor there for the moment, such questions will be answered in time. Besides, if you take into account current events, you’ve only just been born into this existence, making me you’re elder.”
Samuel knew that he couldn’t argue with this, which served to annoy him further. He nodded with what he hoped would come off as truculence. Though it was true, this world was strange and new, he felt much in the way a child might feel, were it born unto the world with full-fledged cognizance. Annoyance aside, he thought perhaps he should, for the sake of answers, let this fellow go about what seemed to be his job and stop arguing points for the time being. Peter was correct about one thing of course, words were getting them nowhere, as much as he did not trust the man, Peter didn’t seem to be misleading him in any malicious fashion. He seemed only to be friendly in a way that Samuel hadn’t been with anyone for the eighteen years give or take, since he had lost his family, and that was more his fault than it was Peter’s.
“So now, without further au dieu.” Peter grabbed the handle to the door and pushed. Samuel noted how the previously locked door opened with ease at Peter’s touch, no key had been required.
Samuel only said one word, “How?”
Peter only turned his head far enough to give Samuel a great shining grin and a wink, replying with, “That’s for me to know, lad, and I’m sure you know the rest.”
A second later Peter spoke up again, “I meant it when I said no more questions, or words between us, at least not now. Until I say, just follow my lead, and let yourself experience what comes next. Do that for me, and I’ll answer your next question, do we have a deal?”
Samuel didn’t say anything, only nodded once to the back of Peter’s head, and followed him into the plain, twin compartment to the one he had just left. When they were both inside, Peter shut the door, and then Samuel saw something happen that he thought he would never get used to.
The moment the compartment’s door shut, a fog started filling the room—not filling exactly, it wasn’t coming from anywhere, only forming—exactly like the fog that had become Peter moments ago. This unsettled Samuel, as he had no previous experience from which to pull in a moment like this. Still, he kept to their agreement and said nothing.
“Relax, and watch.” Peter’s grin still wide.
A barbershop came swirling into view, causing Samuel’s unease to turn into tentative wonder and a long forgotten joy. The chairs were next, Samuel remembered all of the times as a child his parents had pumped up those chairs with him on them, spun them, and hit the lever to lower it, sending him whirling downward toward the ground as if caught in Dorothy’s twister.
The fog started forming into human shapes, Samuel had always been a practical man, yet he found it hard to think of any of what was happening as nothing short of sorcery. The first form to take shape was his uncle Calvin, it was strange for him to watch. The fog swirled in what looked like a portly naked shape. As it solidified, clothing morphed out of the form like a slow moving dream. Calvin was laughing about something, that full bodied laugh that of which children attribute to Old Saint Nicholas. As his movements gave notice, the sound of the laughter began to rise, tinny at first, as if out of an empty grain silo, or a tin can telephone; it had an odd effect on his ears, he felt a discomfort like they needed to pop, that they were striving to hear more clearly.
A small child-sized puff of fog came running into the scene, doing its strange solidifying trick as it skirted around Calvin’s current seated customer, Samuel recognized himself at what couldn’t have been quite ten years old yet, but close, perhaps a short time past when his father had passed away.
As the sound of this place finally turned stereo. “…nc’ Cal, Unc’ Cal,” Samuel remembered how he used to make Uncle Calvin sound like a broken version of the word uncle and cringed. “Susie Ackerman won’t quit chasing me, she keeps tryin’ to kiss me. Her’n’her friends chased me through Warwick field, can I hide here ’til they go away?”
Calvin’s big belly fell up and down in a fit of laughter as he shifted his shears to his right hand and tousled the boy’s hair. “Sure, sure. Y’know pally, pretty soon you’ll be the one doin’ the chasin’, and you’ll be wishin’ the girls was still chasin’ ya back. Ain’t that right fellas?” A chorus of voices and grunts met in agreement as the patrons of Calvin’s shop slapped their knees, or threw up arms as one man getting a shave did.
“Hey!” Peter clapped Samuel on the back hard enough to warrant a look of near anger back, “That’d be you right? Aye, sure it is. You were a handsome lad, what happened?” Peter snorted as Samuel tried to ignore him. Now that he thought he knew what was happening, he wanted to be part of it.
Samuel walked toward his younger self and his uncle Calvin, delighted for the first time in years, because this man had taken place as his father figure after his own had passed, if only for four years, until his own passing. “Calvin you old dog,” he went to clamp his hand down on his uncle’s massive shoulder, “I never thought the first person I’d co…” as his hand came to what should have been its resting point, to his horror and dismay, it continued right on through Calvin. This created a mess of jumbled fog and color in its wake until settling back down into its shape as his hand fell back at his side.
He turned to Peter, wiping his hand on his suit jacket, as if to wipe off some sort of phantom dust he feared now contaminated it. Understanding dawning within him that he must have missed the point of what was happening here wholly and completely. That outrage of which we are all prone to when we can’t comprehend, softened when he saw that Peter, just a moment before with his idiot grin, now looked troubled, concerned even. Steadying himself, “What…what is this, Peter?” said Samuel. Peter, sad-eyed now, shook his head and gestured for Samuel to turn back around. “No! No goddamnit, I am no Scrooge, and you are not the ghost of Christmas past, tell me what the fuck is going on, Peter. If you are here to help me in some way, tell me, because I certainly can’t understand why it is that you are showing me ghosts. And if this is to be a memory of some significance, I certainly don’t understand, I did this every day for years, this was noth…”
Samuel felt a tug on his hand, and in the heat of his anger, this frightened him a great deal. He spun and almost clouted the younger version of himself. But, children often have fast reflexes, so the boy simply leapt back a foot to avoid a bludgeoning, his wide eyes now fixed on the tall man in front of him.
“Hey mister, where’d you come from? An’ who you yellin’ at?” The boy didn’t seem scared, only puzzled. Samuel the elder, however, was in a terrific amount of astonishment, and, he thought, at least a few thousand times the amount of puzzlement of the boy standing in front of him.
“I…uh…I was…” Samuel cast his gaze back to Peter, who was now nowhere to be seen. He thought in that moment that he had finally lost it, that he had gone careening into the land of the white coats. “I…I’m not sure actually, not sure of anything at the moment really. You…can see me?”
The boy gave him a look of which seemed to have the words “you’re crazy mister” attached to it, and pulled a wooden yo-yo out of the front pocket of his overalls. Samuel recognized the yo-yo immediately, he and his father having made it together just months before his death. He had lost it about a year later. His eyes watered, but didn’t spill over as he saw this relic of his past that this version of himself now held in his hands. He had the uncontrollable urge to warn this child about the day he lost it, but, he didn’t think that would do much good, this wasn’t time travel of the H.G. Wells variety, at least, he was beginning to feel that it wasn’t.
“You wanna see a trick?” The boy said, smiling, seeming to have forgotten that he had just seen this man appear out of thin air.
Samuel looked in wonder, had he been that accepting of strangers in the beginning, it was so far back now that he couldn’t remember, so much life lived, so much hurt and mistrust. At last he smiled back, “Sure, bubba, show me what you’ve got.”
The boy’s eyes lit up in delight, “Okay! Watch, my dad taught me this!” His face grew intense with concentration, as if preparing for the hundred meter dash. Samuel found himself really grinning now, watching himself at this age made him think of his own son, Brandon, his grin faltered at this recollection. How many years had it been before his death since he’d seen his son? Far too many than he would have liked to remember. Brandon hadn’t been more than twelve when the court had taken him away. His grin was gone, what was left in its wake was a sort of forced smile that looked more like a grimace.
“Hey, did ya see?” The boy looked concerned, like he’d just walked on water and was worried Samuel had turned his attention to watch the birds fly by.
Samuel tried to cover up his wandering attention with an exuberant “That was fantastic!” The boy didn’t look at all convinced. “You said your father helped you make that?” This made the boy’s face light up, but his eyes showed a tinge of sadness, he remembered how hard it had been when he had lost his father.
“Yeah, pop an’ I used to make a lot of stuff together. He died last spring, he was tall, like you.” The boy started sniffling, water was brimming on the outskirts of his eyes until a tear rolled down his dirty cheeks, he wiped this away with an annoyed look that would follow him beyond the grave, then looked back up at Samuel, making an effort to smile again. “You look just like him y’know, I…” He gave a sheepish look. “I thought you was him, but momma told me only foolish boys believe in ghosts, that he was gone forever an’ he wouldn’t want me wishin’. You wanna see another trick?” He seemed chipper again.
“Sure, have at it.” Samuel watched the yo-yo as the boy let it fly downward into a wobbly walk the dog routine, thinking it so strange to feel such pity for this child, since after all, it was himself he was talking to. He wondered if this would be considered self-pity.
A few tricks later the boy pocketed the yo-yo, and told Samuel that it was probably safe for him to head home now, that Susie and her troupe had most likely done the same themselves by now, so they said their goodbyes and his younger self bolted for the front door of the barbershop and was gone around the corner in a matter of seconds.
Samuel looked around, he had forgotten about the rest of the men that had occupied this space before, his Uncle Calvin, and the regulars. They were gone, it might have been that they had disappeared at the same time as Peter. He looked at where the latter had been, and wasn’t surprised that his Christmas ghost was nowhere to be seen. He closed his eyes, and laid his head in his hands, thinking for what seemed the millionth time, how odd death was turning out to be, and a great deal more stressful than he’d ever thought it would be as well. Certainly there was to be no rest for the weary, or the wicked, not yet at least.