“Dude! Your hair is getting so long. You’re gonna have a man bun before you know it,” Julien said as he saw me. My shoelaces did their signature slap on the hardwood floors as I strolled over.
“What do you mean? The girls dig it,” I said defensively. Running a hand through my hair, I winked at Stephanie who was by her locker with a gaggle of her friends. She scoffed and made a big show of sticking a finger down her throat.
“Cut your greasy hair and maybe I’ll let you take me out to that new diner!”
Stephanie’s friends laughed, and to my annoyance, so did Julien. I punched his shoulder lightly to shut him up, but the reddening of my ears only made him laugh harder.
“I gave you solid advice, and then you try, keyword ‘try,’ to disprove me, and I’m still right! As your best, and only, friend, I only tell you the truth, man.”
This time, it was my turn to scoff.
“Fine, fine. I’ll get a haircut afterschool. And wowww, I’m so lucky to have you as my only friend. Thank goodness there’s no Choir meeting today though,” I said as Julien and I started walking to our first period. When I looked up to make eye contact with him, I caught him smiling. “What?” I asked, thinking that he would call me out for being a “geek.” However, Julien just cleared his throat before answering.
“Nothing, buddy. You’re just such an interesting guy.”
We went into Biology class. From then on, school zoomed by in a blur. Literally. As soon as the last bell rang, I was cruising past school in my lime green 240z. Now, not to brag, but my mom is pretty awesome. She’s a single mom and managed to wrangle raising me alongside working as an auto mechanic. As a mechanic, she has a ton of cool perks too. One such perk, is the 240z an old rich customer gave her as a thank you.
I started to slow down some as I pulled into the parking lot of Rick’s Barbershop. I’d never been here before, but I’d figure I’d treat myself. It was located in the uptown area where lots of buildings were painted vibrant colors. I liked it. It gave the area a sense of personality, and the atmosphere just felt very personal.
My keys jangled when I stuffed them nonchalantly in my jean pocket, and jostled again when I jogged up the barbershop’s steps to the entrance. The big “OPEN” sign beckoned me inside.
“Welcome to Rick’s Barbershop!” exclaimed an electronic automated voice as the door opened. A burly man with a tiny apron on emerged from the backroom to greet me. It looked almost comical to see such a small garment on such a large man, but it matched the shop’s aesthetic.
Rick’s Barbershop could only be described as a stereotype-come-to-life. The floors were black and white checkered, the seats were red leather cushioned, and old vintage signs hung on the walls. Even the typical red, white, and blue spirals were scattered throughout the shop.
It took a minute, but I realized that I was the only customer in the shop.
It took another minute, but I realized that the burly man was still smiling wide and I had yet to say anything back.
“Oh sorry! I didn’t mean to be rude. I was just admiring. You’ve got a great place. Are you Rick?”
The man only continued smiling widely, and to ease the tension I gave a small smile.
“So...how much do you guys charge for a trim?” I asked.
The man smiled even wider in response.
I heard the second hand on a hidden clock tick two times.
Then the man pointed a beefy finger at a menu on the wall above the cash register.
“Hmmm, $5.00 for a trim? That’s pretty solid pricing. Especially for this area. Can I get that one?”
The man gestured for me to sit in one of the chairs, so I did. The chair was comfortable. It was one of those chairs that let you sink in it, yet was still firm enough so that your spine didn’t feel like it was Jell-O when you got back up.
The man put the barber cape over me and started wetting my hair.
Pst! Pst! Pst! The spray bottle went.
Snip! Snip! Snip! The scissors went.
La! La! La! The barbershop quartet went.
Wait...the barbershop quartet?!
In my daze, I hadn’t realized the barbershop quartet that had started performing. Which was a shame because I was an avid acapella fan. My mom would always take me to musical theatre and acapella performances when she wasn’t busy. She’d blast Billy Joel, The Four Seasons, and Barbara Streisand. However, her ultimate favorites were the Ronettes. She loved them.
She would have loved this performance too.
The haircut was done, but I found myself rooted in the spot by the music. The group of men continued to sing and smile.
“I think you ought to know that,” they sang. The lead singer made a hand gesture for me to sing along, but I politely declined. I didn’t want to mess them up!
“I intend to hold you for,” they continued to sing. The lead singer made the gesture again, and finally I relented.
“-the longest time,” I sang along.
Every member of the quartet suddenly had ear-to-ear stretching smiles. I thought that they would finally stop singing, but they plowed on.
The lead singer gestured for me to join them again, but I just shook my head. I needed to return home since it had been awhile. I hadn’t even told my mom that I had gone to get a haircut. I could just imagine the worry and frustration she would feel when she got home from work.
“Guys, this had been a really cool experience, but I gotta go. Thanks for singing though! I’ll definitely recommend this place. Can you lower the chair so I can pay?”
I addressed the last remark at the beefy hairstylist who had been by my side throughout the whole exchange. I turned to look at him, but he rapidly swiveled my chair back to face the quartet. Then he pumped my chair up, so that it was even higher off the ground than before.
“What the...dude what’s your problem? Can you just let me go?” I asked.
Grasping the barber cape, I decided to yank it off myself. However, one large meaty paw encased mine and I felt the barber cape pulled even tighter.
The barber cape got wound up tighter and tighter until my vision began to get spotty.
It began to block my air stream and I clawed at my throat with my other free hand. Desperately, my body started thrashing. The hairstylist was far too strong though.
Through the struggle, I could only hear two things: my gasps for air and the quartet’s continued singing.
They had gone through a medley of songs at this point, but a realization started to dawn on me.
They weren’t singing classic doo wop hits anymore.
They were singing lyrics of warning.
“Watch out! Rick’s got you! Let’s see how long you fare,” they harmonized. My body began calming while I listened more intently. Feeling less of a struggle, the hairstylist’s grip slackened.
Immediately, I seized the moment and slipped under the barber cape. I wish I could’ve seen the look on the hairstylist’s face when I escaped. However, I figured that dashing for the door and driving off to the police station outweighed any facial expression.
My shoelaces gave their signature slap on the tiled floor, but just at a faster tempo.
I was dashing for the exit.
I was about to reach the exit.
My arm stretched out to reach the doorknob...and I got slammed by the door as another customer walked in.
“What? Oh! I’m so sorry I hit you dude! I didn’t see ya there!”
Even through the nasty headache I just acquired, I’d recognize that voice anywhere.
“Julien! Thank goodness you’re here! Look, man, you gotta get outta here! These people are crazy! Listen! I just figured it out! The quartet is still singing! They’ve been singing ever since I got here. You gotta believe me! They’re singing warnings, just listen,” I frantically exclaimed. “Don’t you hear? See? Now, they’re singing something else. ‘Watch out! Rick’s son’s got you! Let’s see how long you fare,’ See? Don’t you hear those lyrics? They’re kinda different from what they were singing before, but you get the jist! Julien, listen!”
I was pleading desperately for Julien to get out of the barbershop with me, and my panic was only increasing.
I looked up at Julien and waited for him to make eye contact with me. To assure me, just like he used to when I was a new kid that transferred into Warren High. To comfort me, just like he would before all my performances. To soothe me, just like he used to whenever I worried too much. The second hand of a clock ticked twice. “Julien, don’t you hear?” I asked again.
Finally, Julien’s head slowly swiveled to face mine.
And a wide smile began to slowly form on his face.
“Julien?” my voice dropped to a whisper.
“Dude, I don’t know why you can’t just enjoy the music. Your voice would blend perfectly into this quartet. Your voice is fresh and youthful. These boys I’ve scouted have all gotten so old. It’s hard for Dad to enjoy the music anymore. You’d be a perfect addition to spice things up.”
“Spice things up?”
“Yeah. Dad lost his voice after a prototype surgery gone wrong. He loved to sing. A lot like you,” Julien nudged my now-numb shoulder playfully, “but he can’t now. Obviously. So we ‘recruited,’ I use that term loosely, by the way, a quartet.”
“But if I’m added, it won’t be a quartet…”
“Well, that’s where the fun comes in! Like I said, these guys are getting a bit old, vocal-quality wise. It’s only reasonable. They sing anytime Dad wants them to, and that happens to be at almost every hour. It’ll be a simple process. Think of it like a transaction. We’ll only take your vocal chords, and the nerves that come with it, to transplant into one of our guy’s body.”
Julien only smiled wider.
I started to back away and inch towards the exit.
“You’re crazy, Julien. That plan won’t ever work. How are you even keeping these guys here?” My head was spinning, but maybe if I kept Julien talking I could make a break for it.
“Ah ah ah. I forget how smart you are. Let’s just say that, the perfect victims are the ones most easily forgotten. Sam, the lead singer? An orphan who transferred into my elementary school. Jackson? Single mother who sent him to middle school and never picked him back up. Frederick? Hudson? Similar stories. And now you…” Julien gave a cheshire-like grin. “Single and hardworking mother who will have a much easier time financially once you’re gone.”
I was right. Julien couldn’t stop gloating. I was so close now.
One more step...
My hand closed around the doorknob.
As I was about to run, Julien’s chuckle washed over me.
“You didn’t think we’d let you go that easily, now did you?”
Smooth harmonies were all I heard as everything faded to black.