A man's hair had grown so long that the town barber knocked on his door.
“You’re making me look bad!” the barber complained. “Please, let me give you a trim -- I'll just take a little off the sides and the top.” But the man sent him away.
Eventually, he got so thin that the town baker knocked on his door.
“You’re making me look bad!” the baker complained. “Can I give you something to eat? Maybe a nice loaf of bread?” But the man sent him away.
After more time had passed, the man appeared so haggard that the town innkeeper knocked on his door.
“You’re making me look bad!” the innkeeper complained. “I’ll give you my finest room for free -- just, please, rest for a bit.” But the man sent him away.
It was later that same evening that Death let himself inside (Death doesn’t knock). He found the man in the kitchen, seated at the table. PEOPLE WILL SAY I’VE BEEN REMISS, Death observed. ARE YOU HUNGRY? YES, LOOK AT YOU, YOU MUST BE FAMISHED. LET’S SEE WHAT THERE IS.
Death rummaged through the ingredients in the man’s pantry and threw together a simple meal, which the man promptly ate. When he was finished, Death tied a bedsheet around the man's neck and gave him a trim, gently turning his head from side to side. Then Death encouraged the man to get into bed, clucking as he covered him with a quilt.
REALLY, BERNARD, he said. MUST YOU BE SO STUBBORN?
But the man didn’t reply. He’d already drifted off to sleep.
Teetering Thomas was the most popular attraction at Zyke’s Famous Circus and Menagerie. People would come from far and wide to see The Ultimate Gareth, whom one could kick and punch repeatedly for the duration of twenty seconds; or they could spend their hard-earned cash on Sweet Yasmine, who ate broken glass without apparent concern for her digestive system. But without Teetering Thomas, Zyke’s commercial enterprise would’ve failed.
Teetering Thomas was billed as a balancing act, but his performance entailed so much more than that. “Balancing act” doesn’t do justice to the tower of detritus he perched himself upon, the sheer magnitude of this column. Desks, palettes, and crates -- wider things were stacked at the bottom. Suitcases, stools, and stemware -- narrower things were stacked at the top. Barrels. Egg cartons. Flashlights. Medicine balls. The whole thing was over forty-two meters tall.
(It should be noted that a column of stuff is not a ladder. A ladder is a metaphor; this stuff was only stuff, foremost and finally.)
The pivotal innovation came when Dr. Florence K. Detweiler, best known in her capacity to guess the condiments associated with your last three meals, designed The Earwig™. This device allowed the user to hear sounds normally too faint for the human ear. Dr. Detweiler's intent was to explore the mysteries of the lower intestines; but when a young consumer inadvertently pointed The Earwig™ at the sky, she found that Teetering Thomas’s voice, heretofore inaudible due to winds and high altitude, was now clear as day. The potential for profit was immediately obvious.
One wondered: what had Teetering Thomas been saying to himself, all these many years? Alone atop his giant column, where he was neither bothered by unwarranted attention or the frivolous demands of small talk?
help help help help help help help
A woman was going to market.
“Why can’t I come with you?” her daughter complained as she watched her mother consult the pantry.
“Because the market is too far away,” the woman replied. “You’re not big enough to walk quickly and too big to carry.”
“But I’ll be all alone!”
The woman peered inside the squat, cantankerous icebox. “You’ve been alone before,” she said. “How about the time you played in the woods?”
“That was different! You told me to take a bath. You wanted to comb my hair! I ran to the woods so I could have fun.”
“You still need a bath,” her mother murmured.
The girl crossed her arms defiantly. “Let me come with you," she said. "I’ll walk very quickly. I’ll be so fast you’ll run to keep up.”
“What about the time I found you in the basement?” her mother reminded her. “You were there for hours and hours. I thought I’d have to deliver your meals.”
Prompted by this memory, she opened the door to the root cellar and walked halfway down the stairs, the sound of her footfalls echoing in the cramped space. The girl waited for her mother to return before providing her explanation.
“I was afraid! You said the doctor was coming to check my throat. I doesn’t count if I was hiding. Anyway, that was my choice -- I decided to be there. Please don’t make me stay. I’ll be so lonely without you.”
As she passed her daughter, the woman paused to give her a kiss on the cheek. Then she continued from the kitchen to the anteroom, where she pulled on her boots.
“We do not always get to decide,” she said, donning her coat and worming her fingers into her gloves. “Sometimes we’re alone because we need to be. I won’t be very long. The house is warm. You have your toys to distract you. When I get back, we’ll make dinner together, and maybe even wash your hair.”
She didn’t give her daughter the opportunity to speak. Twisting the knob, she stepped outside and pulled the door closed behind her. The woman waited until she heard the bolt in the lock before turning to face the woods ahead. The light was dim -- soon it would be dark. Her breath shrouded her face like a cowl. In her kitchen was nothing. There was nothing in the root cellar. Nothing.
Into the stark night she walked.