Tipping Your Terrors

            You are not most people. You know this because most people, when asked what they fear most, have boring answers. They’re afraid of falling, or spiders, or disappointing their parents, or a host of other terrors that essentially boil down to an eventual death. Not you; your fear is greater and deeper and yet somehow realer than any human being you’ve ever met. Simply this: you fear the barber. You hate going to the barbershop. But “hate” is a strong word that people use to describe something they only dislike, croon the voices of people who have never had cause to hate anything in their lives. They don’t understand: you detest the barbershop, you loathe it, you even find yourself looking up synonyms for hate in your spare time. Abhor, despise, abominate. You’d burn every barbershop in America down if you felt brave enough. Not, you suspect, that it would do you much good.

            The reason for your fear is this: every time you walk into the barbershop, the same man cuts your hair.

            Not that you noticed at first. After all you were a half-formed child for most of your early years, concerned only with what your parents told you, and making friends, and doing well in school, and sports, and recess, and kisses, and keeping a watchful eye on your siblings, and birthdays, and presents, and always always what there was to eat. Your developing mind could hardly be expected to keep up with the identity of the man who trims your follicles.

            You must have been fifteen when this man’s familiarity suddenly occurred to you. Indeed, you realized how frequently you’d seen him standing that exact way in that exact bow-legged position. He worked, a slightly stooped willow branch of a man, crooked and greying, with a half smile on his face that hinted of mischievous warmth. Perfectly normal though—you’d lived in this town and gone to this shop as long as you could remember, why wouldn’t your barber be familiar? So you watched him steadily sweep the last few tufts of fallen hair away and left the door jangling shut behind you. You were sure you’d see him again, after all.

            In the years to come, you never truly talked to him. At least not beyond banal conversation about the weather, recent movies, what classes you were taking. You never asked him his name either. What if he’d told you once and you’d forgotten it? What if he was offended you hadn’t already asked? No, better to keep the exchange of personal information to a minimum. That was how you liked your haircut experiences: bland, unobtrusive, and archetypal, the way they were meant to be.

            It was only when you went off to college that his presence began to unnerve you. You were headed to the closest local barbershop, fresh off of the phone with one of your new (fair-weather) friends. And there he was, spinning the high-backed chair around to meet you like it was business as usual. You were stunned and struck dumb all at once. You couldn’t think of anything to say. Or at least you couldn’t muster the ability to say any of it. What are you doing here? Did you get fired? Are you stalking me? Is this some kind of a prank? Very funny guys, where are the cameras? Come on guys, this isn’t funny. Guys? Please? Much to your dismay, none of your friends actually believed your crazy story about the barber who’d followed you to college.

            It took two weeks of hair in your eyes before you were willing to step back into a barbershop. It was a different one this time, several towns over, but it didn’t matter. He was the only barber on staff. The other customers seemed to accept him as just another fixture of the establishment, or at least didn’t acknowledge his presence. You had little choice but to sit and wait your turn. And true, the haircut itself was uneventful…but you couldn’t shake the feeling that he was sizing you up, like a particularly juicy piece of clean-shaven meat.

            And now every time you need a haircut, no matter what barbershop you visit, you know you’ll see him. He is the permanent presence in your life. He is your eternal nemesis, your darkest nightmare, the master of your soul. Always watching, always anticipating your arrival. On the day you can take it no more and blow your own brains out the back of your head, he will be standing at the door to Hell’s Barbershop, scissors and spray bottle in hand.

            You know you are greater than God, because God never had to tip Lucifer twenty percent every month.