The Barber and the Gerbilsucker
"Just a trim?" said Fred, adjusting the seat of the frail old woman in front of him.
"Yes, just a little trim, please," she said, flipping through a magazine.
"Alrighty, then, if all you want is a little trim, I guess I won't need my chainsaw!" Fred laughed merrily, but the old woman was too mesmerized by her magazine to notice his witticism. He heaved a heavy sigh and started snipping at her whispy white hair. Three seconds later, he had finished clipping her hair. "All done, Lorraine," he said.
She looked in a mirror, and grunted. "It looks acceptable," she said, then prowled out of the barber shop, leaving Fred alone.
"Alone," he said to himself, as he gathered Lorraine's hairs into a dustpan, and carried them back to his workshop.
His workshop was full of little human-shaped dolls, made out of hair. Fred dumped Lorraine's hair onto a table and pulled out some glue, with which he carefully, meticulously assembled a small stick figure. He then turned to the other dolls and said, "We have a new friend, a new person to join our club. Her name is Lorraine. I'd like you all to be very friendly to her, but speak up. She's old."
Fred gently placed the Lorraine doll beside an obese clump of hair named Richard. Fred then pulled out a copy of his favorite book, The Yellow Pages Phone Book: 2007 Edition and started reading it to the friends he made for himself.
The screams of the children deafened Darlene. She needed a gerbil and she needed one fast. It was the only way she could deal with the constant noise of the preschool where she taught. The kids screamed, cried, laughed, threw things, and vomited everywhere. Darlene's only escape from this stress was to use the gerbils.
She waded through the screaming children over to the gerbil cage. For a minute, terror filled her--she couldn't see the gerbil! But then, she breathed a sigh of relief as a gerbil emerged from a small cardboard tube. She reached into the cage, gingerly removed the fuzzy animal, and popped it into her mouth. There, she sucked on it for about 15 seconds, feeling it squirming against her cheeks. Then she put it back in its cage.
The gerbilsucking made her forget her troubles. She could no longer remember when she started sucking gerbils; all she knew was that she had done it for a long, long time. Now, she fell to the floor and let the wonderful effects of the hallucinogenic gerbil lift her out of her stressful life and send her drifting into a state of euphoria. She would remain in this state for a half hour or so, she knew, then drift back into consciousness. She loved gerbils much more than she loved people. She was, in fact, morbidly afraid of the children she was paid to teach. That's why she ignored them most of the time.
Gerbils were nothing like children. Gerbils were predictable. Gerbils were Darlene's escape. Darlene firmly believed in Fhuufnuu, the Gerbil King, a character from a short story she read as a child. She believed that one day, Fhuufnuu, a giant, majestic gerbil with a hairy mane and age-worn eyes, would come to lift her out of misery and show her a life of true happiness. In the meantime, there were plenty of small gerbils to suck on.
When Fred was with the friends he made out of hair, he often lost track of time. He would sit reading to the dolls, talking with them, or singing to them for hours and hours at a time--yet to him, it would feel as if less than five minutes had gone by.
Every night, after reading to the hairdolls for a time, Fred would pull out a chalkboard and teach the hair various things about the world. Today, he was working on language.
"The key to speaking is opening your mouth," said Fred, smiling at his pupils, Since you guys don't have mouths, that will be difficult. But I'm sure you'll find some way to talk when you're ready. I know you're all alive, and that you all love me and care about me, but you just aren't ready to move or speak yet. You have to be taught how to communicate. Well, I'm a loyal friend, and I'll teach you all how to talk. We'll discuss direct objects today."
For the rest of the night, Fred talked to his dolls because he had nobody else to talk to. When the sun rose, he was shocked--to him, it felt like only ten minutes had passed.
"Morning already! I've gotta go take care of customers! I'll put on some Bach for you guys, I know he's your favorite! Just give me a shout if you need anything!"
Fred ran the barber shop all by himself. He was the cashier as well as the only barber. Sometimes, he would give two haircuts at once (one customer for each hand). Other times, he'd give four haircuts at once (though that often lead to injured customers).
He was alone. No family, no friends other than his hair friends in the workshop. He talked to customers, but it was meaningless chatting--the weather, sports, Euclidean geometry, that sort of thing.
But he knew that one day his friends, the hairs, would master the english language and be able to have conversations with him. Then he would have somebody who cared for him. Then he would have somebody to hold on to.
Darlene was having yet another rough day. The children were asking her to teach them the alphabet.
"It's not that we don't like running around and screaming all day," said Ludwig, the most popular of the children, "But you don't supervise us at all. It'd be nice if you actually taught us something. Without the alphabet, I won't be able to read my favorite Greek philosophy textbook."
Darlene massaged her temples in silence, not saying anything. The children were used to this. She hadn't said a word to them since the year began. She wordlessly pointed at the gerbil cage; Ludwig had learned what this meant. He brought the gerbil to Darlene, who popped it into her mouth.
Darlene's doses were getting more intense. She now sucked on the gerbil for 30 seconds instead of fifteen. She liked the way the gerbil's toes scratched her tongue--it really made her head spin.
Ludwig watched as his teacher's eyes rolled up into her head and she keeled over backwards. He sighed and pulled the disoriented gerbil out of Darlene's mouth. He plopped the soggy gerbil back in its cage.
Meanwhile, Darlene was having a bad trip. She hallucinated that she was tied to a train track, face down, with the rumbling of a train growing louder and louder in her ear. Every time the train was an inch away from her, it stopped abruptly, shifted into reverse, and backed up about forty five feet, before speeding towards her yet again. Every time, it got about a centimeter closer to her face, but she knew it would never actually hit her. This was what scared her. She woke up drenched in sweat.
"You passed out," said Ludwig, "Are you getting enough sleep? Do you need some help?"
She shook her head no. Shaking her head made her dizzy; she toppled sideways into a desk full of boardgames. Her vision had been left blurred by the power of her last trip; she couldn't see a thing. The children all looked weirdly distorted, and from where she was lying on the ground, they looked fifty feet taller than she was. There was something white on the ground--it was moving. Was it a gerbil? She popped it into her mouth hopefully.
"No, that's a chess piece!" Ludwig's voice boomed from somewhere far away, "You're not supposed to eat those!"
Ludwig pulled the chess piece out of his teacher's mouth, and said, "Come on guys, let's go play chess." They retreated into a corner where they discussed advanced chess strategies while their teacher rolled on the ground, drooled, and dreamed of the day Fhuufhuu would come and save her from this horror.
"Hello sir," said Fred, yawning and peering at the well-dressed man who had walked into the barber shop, "What can I do for you today?"
"I need a haircut," said the man, who eyed Fred suspiciously. Fred didn't know it, but this man was a therapist. He'd heard rumors that Fred wasn't mentally stable; he'd been sent to observe Fred's behaviour. Fred did indeed look exhausted (this was because Fred hadn't slept in over four days--he'd been staying up late to talk to his hairy friends).
"Well, haircuts are my business!" said Fred, sitting the therapist in a chair. As Fred cut the therapist's hair, the therapist chatted with him and observed his behaviour. By the end of the conversation, the therapist had decided that Fred was simply overworked. Fred needed somebody to help run the barber's shop so he wouldn't be overly stressed.
The therapist took the liberty of hiring Fred a young assistant, nineteen year old high-school graduate Findle. Yes, his name was Findle. Findle was an eager young redhead who hoped to open a barber shop of his own someday. When Findle arrived at the shop, Fred was asleep--Fred's exhaustion had finally got the better of him, and he'd passed out in a chair behind the cash register. Findle walked through the barber shop, surprised by how clean it was, and then wandered into the workshop.
Findle was shocked by what he saw. Over two hundred miniature people, all of them neatly sculpted out of human hair. "What a mess!" bellowed Findle, repulsed. He grabbed each of Fred's friends and, one by one, tossed them into a dumpster behind the shop.
Fred awoke with a start, and said, "Oh no! It's nine o'clock already! My friends probably miss me!" But when he ran into the workshop, it was empty. Spotless. The friends Fred had carefully manufactured since the barbershop had opened--the only things Fred ever could talk to--where gone. He screamed, and without another word he walked into a closet and locked himself inside.
Findle didn't witness this episode; he had been at the dumpster at the time. When he walked back into the barbershop and saw that Fred was gone, Findle shrugged and said, "He must have taken the rest of the day off." Rather than closing the barbershop, Findle simply assumed Fred's duties and started performing haircuts himself--after cutting the hair off somebody, he carried it to the dumpster and threw it inside with Fred's friends.
Darlene had lost all sense of self. She had no idea where she was or which way was up. She was a disembodied soul floating in space.
Her last gerbil sucking had lasted a full minute.
Ludwig started down at her. She was flopped on the ground, her mouth slightly open. She showed no signs that she noticed Ludwig standing above her.
Ludwig said to his friends, "We should help her. We'll start by hiding the gerbil." An obese boy stuffed the gerbil into his belly button, where it fit comfortably.
"When she wakes up, we'll have to tell her that she needs to go on with her life. That this gerbil sucking habit is destroying her."
Darlene didn't wake up, or even move, for another five hours.
When she finally woke up, she said, "Where am I? Who are all you people?"
"I'm Ludwig", said Ludwig gently, "I'm one of your students."
"Students? What? Am I a teacher? Where?"
"At a preschool."
"It's a big building where kids like us go to learn."
"To learn," echoed Darlene. "I'm waiting for Fhuufnuu," she babbled.
"Who's that?" asked Ludwig, genuinely alarmed.
"Fhuufnuu is my lord and savior. He's the king of all gerbils. He is wise and kind. He is watching over me always. He loves me very much and I love him. One day he will come for me and bring light and joy to my life."
"Darlene," said Ludwig, gently lifting his teacher up with the help of other students, "There is no Fhuufnuu. He's a character in a kids' story, nothing more."
"What are you doing to me?" she asked blankly.
"We're trying to help you stand up," said Ludwig.
"Move your legs," said Ludwig. Darlene did with mechanical obediance, and walked into a wall.
"Now what's all this about Fhuufnuu not being real?" said Darlene, still moving her legs (apparently she hadn't noticed that she'd fallen).
Ludwig wordlessly pulled a copy of the kids' book off a shelf and showed it to Darlene.
"F-f-" she stammered, "F-Fi-...I'm stuck. Help."
"It says 'fiction,'" said Ludwig, "It means the story isn't true."
Ludwig's words shattered through Darlene's mental state like a hammer smashing a cookie. She numbly thanked Ludwig for pointing this out to her, then wordlessly walked out of the preschool and down the street. There was no Fhuufnuu. Nobody looking out for her. Nobody to lift her out of her misery. Nobody. Nobody. Nobody.
The Barber and the Gerbilsucker
Findle was counting the money in the cash register, getting ready to close for the night. He was exhausted. He had given over 20 haircuts in the last eight days. He couldn't think straight. He kept losing count of the money. "One...two..." he tried, "Two...uh...where was I?" he asked the night.
He suddenly became aware of the fact that he was being stared at. He looked up to see a horrifying woman standing several feet from him.
"Uh..." he said, "Would you like a haircut?"
"Fhuufnuu isn't real," she said. "I've devoted my life to a...fiction. I've sucked all those gerbils for nothing." Darlene had been wandering the streets for eight days, walking into random buildings and telling this to people.
"What...would you like a glass of water?"
"Haircut." Darlene repeated blankly. The word seemed so meaningless. All words did now that she knew the truth. Findle took her use of the word "haircut" to mean that she wanted one; he steered her into a seat. She didn't resist.
"How short would you like it?" he asked.
"As short as possible," she said. "In fact, why don't you just cut off my head and throw it out with the rest of the hair. As a matter of fact, why don't you just throw out my body with the rest of the hair."
Findle, in his exhausted state, decided not to argue with her. Instead, he scooped her up and gingerly carried her to the dumpster, where he dumped her in with all the hair. Then he left.
Fred, meanwhile, was still locked in the closet. He had grown a massive beard in the last eight days, but he didn't even notice. He simply sat, staring at the darkness, drowning in the dreadful truth: his hairy friends had all been thrown away, and now he was doomed to spend the rest of his life completely and totally alone.
Darlene slowly climbed out of the dumpster covered head to toe in hair of various colors. She walked into the workshop, sobbing. Fred heard the sobbing and thought, "who on earth is that?" He stepped out of the closet, and saw Darlene. His jaw dropped. Because she was so covered in hair, Darlene looked like a giant blob of hair that was shaped like a human being. Fred's heart leapt. "My hair came back to me!" he thought to himself, "It learned to walk on its own and came back to be with the person it loves!"
Darlene, meanwhile, was staring at Fred, her mouth open. Who was this? His eyes looked wisened with much sorrow and agony. But what truly caught her attention was the beard. IT was unlike any beard she had seen before. It was magnificent. He was magnificent. And she knew she'd been wrong to despair--for here, before her very eyes, was Fhuufnuu, revealing himself to her in her hour of darkness.
Darlene and Fred sprinted into each other's arms, laughing, crying, basking in each others' warmth. Gerbils and hair, teachers and barbers. They were in love, and neither of them had any plans.
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