Side Swept: Suspense Flash Fiction By Colby Potter
Colby Potter, author of Side Swept, is a former intelligence analyst who came in from the cold. He received his MFA from the University of Denver. He lives in Colorado.
Her last appointment of the day is a first-timer. “Edmond”—no last name. Except for the Colombians next door, Janice doesn’t typically draw the male crowd. And she’s usually more discriminating with new clients. In these times, how could you not be? Then again, in this economy, how could you afford to be?
He’s punctual, a shadow arriving against the shade of her door window. His silhouette is patchy, as if the sunlight can’t quite grasp him.
“Hello. Welcome to Vantage Styl—” Janice says, before caging a surprise frog in her throat.
Her last appointment of the day is a first-timer. “Edmond”—no last name.
Standing in the open doorway is at least three appointments’ worth of necessary labor. Edmond is, quite simply, the hairiest man Janice has ever seen. He sports a veil of curls down to his elbows and a beard that looks like an exploded ramen noodle factory. Tufts of eyebrow obscure his eyes.
“Come in. Have a seat.”
At first, she doesn’t see the woman slinking in after him. She appears from behind Edmond like a morning finch—small, ruffled, jerky.
“Oh! Hello,” Janice says.
The woman smiles perfunctorily and follows Edmond inside. Vantage Stylists is a converted basement in the same two-story brownstone in which Janice grew up. Edmond shuffles to the lone barber’s chair. His face multiplies in two separate mirrors. Janice catches something familiar, but trying to pin it down, it escapes her. The woman, watching intently, takes a seat against the back wall.
“So, Edmond,” Janice says, “Tell me what you like, sweetie. How can I make you look like you?”
“Cut the beard short,” interjects the woman. “Not too short. And with the hair, give him a long side sweep. Like this.”
She hands Janice a framed picture. It’s of a young man, dressed and coiffed like a desert preacher. His groomed beard and hair curl invitingly around a warm face. He stretches out his arms, wrists extending well beyond his peasant blouse. His smile is nothing short of redemptive.
Janice isn’t sure who to ask. “You want it long on the sides, then?”
“I understand that is fashionable,” says the woman. “It is permitted.”
Edmond sits stone-still, gazing beyond the mirrors. Janice looks to him for confirmation—rarer than a man in her salon is a man in her salon without an opinion—but he offers no indication that he cares what she might do to him. Janice again is struck with strange familiarity, as though she’s opened a door onto her own child trick-or-treating.
Edmond is in his twenties, and the woman…early forties? It’s possible they’re mother and son. Janice had her own kids later in life, so she doesn’t know how such proximity in age affects the maternal bond. Her own children, for their reasons, stopped calling years ago.
Edmond’s hair is too long for clippers, so Janice resorts to the shears. Heaps of hair fall to the floor. Janice preps the shaving cream for Edmond’s beard.
“Will that be necessary?” the woman asks. “We want to keep the beard.”
“This helps smooth the tangles for the scissors. It works wonders with tricky situations.”
Hair falls. Janice gets a better sense of Edmond’s face—handsome but worn. Underneath the mane, there’s terrific bone structure. A face that deserves to be in lights.
“This is a nice establishment,” he says.
“I converted it years ago. It’s an English basement, with windows above the ground and separate ventilation. It’s my little hidey hole.”
“‘Hidey hole’,” Edmond repeats. “Nice.”
“Being below ground has its issues. Spiders, mostly. Camel crickets. But it works.”
When Janice takes the trimmer to Edmond’s sideburns, she realizes something. His face, revealed now to have the weathered sheen of a used basketball, is indeed familiar.
“Have I seen you before?”
“Unlikely. I am nobody.”
“We are nobodies,” says the woman.
Once she has shorn the beard to length, Janice is certain: she knows this man. She trims further, cutting the unruly eyebrows, exposing his gray eyes to the vanity lights.
Suddenly, Janice recalls grocery store tabloids from a year ago: the high-profile disappearance of a rising B-list celeb; esoteric communities relocating to the Mojave, drawn in irrational veneration by some commune hippie named—what was it?—Joshua Omega? The sort of thing that passes for normal these days in this part of the country.
“I am nobody,” he says. “I…”
“He is Edmond, sister,” says the woman, now from someplace closer. “Nobody else.”
Janice, lost in retrospection, doesn’t hear. She’s a lifetime fan of the daytime soaps and, she’s none too embarrassed to admit, young adult dramas. It clicks.
“You’re Jonathan Hill! From Serenity’s Harbor!”
Edmond manages “I am…” before Janice senses a shape behind her. It is little, fast, birdlike. In her mirrors, Janice sees an arm hoist something shimmery above her. The arm handles the shears effortlessly, and when it brings them down, it does so with a conviction, a certainty, that Janice has only an instant to understand she has never known.
There’s a bolt of sensation, a flash of luminescence. After a moment, Edmond’s still-shaggy silhouette appears overhead, backlit by dimming mirror lights. The glow struggles to frame his shape, and everything begins fading.
“This was a mistake, Aurora Omega,” he says.
A much smaller shadow joins. “Nonsense. You need grooming for your next purpose. Do not fret, Edmond Omega. All that is necessary must be done.”
“All that is done is necessary.”
“Now,” says Aurora Omega, “What a mess! Grab the shaving cream, novitiate. It will clean these stains.”
“Oh yes. It works wonders.”
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