by Josh Medsker
John John was shifting around in his sleep when the alarm clock went off. He sat up in bed for a moment and ran his hand across his face. He didn’t notice it yet. It was five o’clock. Only four hours till had to be to work. He’d better hurry. He liked to give himself more than enough time to get ready. You know, just in case.
He made his way to the bathroom and clicked on the light. That’s when he noticed it first. Something was different. His hair didn’t look right. It seemed a little longer than usual. Had it been that long since he’d had a haircut? He didn’t have any way to get it cut before work, because his regular barber shop didn’t open until ten. He didn’t want to risk going somewhere else; his barber cut it just the way he liked it. He decided to wait until lunch. In the meantime, he’d deal with it.
He dabbed a big smear of pomade on his palm and slicked back the sides. No, that wouldn’t do. He put in more pomade, so that the sides were plastered and black like a vinyl record. It wasn’t perfect but, at least, it was flat.
He ran his hands under the faucet and wet his hair back. He snapped his finger and pointed at himself in the mirror. He gave a puzzled look and wondered why he did that. Best not to think about it.
Not white, no blue? Was everything dirty? John John looked through his closet for a shirt to match his black sport coat. He finally chose to wear the pink one his mother had given him last Christmas. It had been hanging untouched for six months, and to top it off, all of his ties were at the cleaners! He thanked heaven it was casual Friday.
He finished getting ready and decided to have breakfast at the new café down the street. He smiled as he walked out the door. Right on time.
He felt peculiar and was walking more slowly than usual. He thought he felt his hips swaying, but he wasn’t sure. By the time he reached the café, he had slowed down to a near strut. He opened the door for a young lady coming out, and said, “Hey.” The girl smiled back, but John John was busy puzzling. He thought some food might make him feel more himself.
“What can I get you?” the cashier asked.
“Ah, give me a toasted onion bagel, a cup of decaf coffee, blueberry muffin, and a deep-fried peanut butter and banana sandwich. And some grits too, boy,” John John said.
The cashier gave him a sideways look. John John immediately blushed.
“Ah, sorry. Yeah, just the bagel and the coffee,” John John said. “And the muffin.” He retreated to an empty table.
“Nah, I’m more a Beatles fan,” he heard from the table next to him.
“His early stuff is okay, though.”
John John smirked. Nothing but classical for him. Nothing with electric guitars. Never. Too wild. He was startled by a spider crawling across the table. He shuddered. If there was one thing that creeped him out the most, it was bugs. He killed it with half-a-dozen wadded up napkins and gingerly tossed it in the trash, as if it were on fire. He had once found a cockroach in his apartment and called in sick from work so he could scour each room. Even the caulking in the bathtub. The rest of his breakfast was uneventful and without incident.
At work, he began his usual Friday routine: rearranging his desk alphabetically, left to right. He sighed with pleasure, knowing that everything was in its proper place with a half-hour left over before he had to start working. He went to the vending machine where he saw Denise from payroll.
“Hey, John,” she said, giving him the old up-and-down. “That’s a new shirt? I love it.”
His face flushed and he stammered out a thank-you.
“See you,” Denise said, smiling as she walked away.
He hunched and gave a quick wave. When she was out of sight, he rushed to the bathroom to splash his face.
He stopped dead when he saw it. He kept touching his face. It felt different, under the skin. And his hair had grown visibly since he’d left for work. He took an Alka-Seltzer from his pocket.
Back at his desk, he happily crunched numbers, the medicine doing its work. He heard some kind of humming or singing, barely audible. He asked if anyone heard humming. They hadn’t.
The noises subsided for a few minutes, then came back louder, more distinct. He didn’t want to say anything this time, for fear people would think he’d lost his mind. He stood up to stretch and take a walk, and the voice got louder still. He swore he heard it call his name.
John John labored through work until lunch, unable to concentrate. He was allowed to take the rest of the day off. He managed to get an appointment with his shrink. First he got a haircut.
“So, you say you’re hearing voices?” his doctor asked, writing something on a yellow pad.
“Yes,” John John said. “Singing, too. Also, it feels like there’s something wrong with my face.”
“With your face?” the doctor asked, concerned. He scribbled something on a prescription pad. “John,” he said,“you need to take some time off of work. You are clearly suffering from acute anxiety.”
John John hesitated, and then said, “Doc, what will I do with all of my time?”
“I don’t know,” the doctor said. “Re-organize your bookshelf?”
John John smiled and thanked the doctor.
“Whatever,” the doctor said.
“I said you’re welcome.”
“Oh, okay. Thank you,” John John said. “Thank you very much.”
The psychiatrist smiled. “Hey, that’s pretty good!” he said.
“You a fan?”
“Never mind,” said the doctor.
John John went home, trimming his plants restlessly for an hour, before turning in early. The next morning, he awoke with renewed vigor. No voices, no nausea, and definitely no sideburns. He’d taken care of that at the barber.
He made his way to the kitchen and, as he passed the hallway mirror, he drew back in terror at what he saw. His sideburns had grown back overnight, and so had his hair. He looked like a wild animal! His upper lip began to twitch.
He rushed to the bathroom, frantically dragging a razor across his face, nicking his face in a handful of places. He vainly covered them with toilet paper to stanch the blood. He dashed out into the living room and began frantically rearranging the furniture. He moved on to the bookshelf, repeating A, A, A, in a fever.
After hours of sweet toil, he had finished rearranging the bookshelf by author, then release date, and finally genre. He had also dusted under each book.
He began his work on the carpet. He danced around with the vacuum cleaner. The music had returned in his head, and it wasn’t Mozart. Unable to stand the noise any longer, he flung the vacuum cleaner down in disgust and grabbed two scrub sponges — one for each hand — and began violently cleaning the hardwood floor. His legs shook.
After a few moments, the voices stopped. John John was drenched in sweat. He grabbed up a new pair of pants and a shirt, wet down his hair, and walked to the restaurant down the street. He’d forgotten about his bloody, toilet-papered face.
John John sat, jittery. He flagged down a waiter and ordered in a voice that was not his own. The waiter looked at him askance, nodding slowly, backing away. John John was dripping sweat onto the table. His left knee jived to and fro, banging the underside of the table. The waiter returned with the manager.
Someone next to him said, “You know, there really are two kinds of people in the world.”
John John felt he was going to be sick.
“Beatles people, and—”
John John leapt up from his seat, flipping the table over. He grabbed his chair and began dancing around with it, singing the song he’d been hearing in his head. He jumped up onto the table next to him and shouted, “Everybody! Let’s rock!”
The manager walked briskly over to John John, who jumped down from the table. He grabbed the café manager by the shoulders and shouted, “Bless my soul, what’s wrong with me?”
John John grabbed a compact from the woman whose lunch he’d just kicked to the floor. He shook his head in horror and disbelief. “No,” he said almost inaudibly. His face had indeed changed shape.
“It’s not possible!” he shrieked.
He crashed out the front doors and ran down the street, clawing at his shirt, stopping every so often to dance with a stranger on the sidewalk. He came to the intersection and kept running, into the street. A long, black Cadillac with tinted windows and fuzzy dice in the mirror flew past him, barely missing his foot. He turned his head to watch the Caddy pass and didn’t see the VW Bug.
John John heard a dull thud and felt a sharp pain in his legs. That’s when he realized the gravity of his situation. He somersaulted through the air, landing on his head. He lay on the ground, unmoving for a moment, and then jumped up, gushing blood from his temple. Onlookers stood gawking, some taking pictures with their cell phones.
“It’s okay, folks,” John John said, still unaware of the blood streaming down his face. “I’m all right.” He karate-chopped the air and threw out a kick. “It’ll take more than that to stop... The King.”
The ambulance was already on the way.
Copyright © 2017 by Josh Medsker