Cal Smith’s Barber Shop

When you lived in hunter-gatherer tribes, things were simple. In that era, we spoke only through shamans and dreams. When you settled into farms and villages, however, things became much more complicated. Every day, it seemed, you tried to open new doors to our side. Oracles, prophets, temples, and all manners of “holy men” proliferated.

I admit, we were amazed at your ingenuity. We still are. This is a gift that we lack. We are much slower and simpler than you. We were delighted with your creations, but we did not know how to react. We couldn’t keep pace with your innovations. In short, you created a beautiful mess. We are nearly done cleaning up that mess, but not quite. There are still a few doors left open and unguarded. One of them happens to be Cal Smith’s Barber Shop in Galesburg, Illinois.

There are only a few genuine doors between your side and ours. What you call “haunted houses” are barely worth mentioning. (Imagine a projector connected to a battery, replaying the same images over and over again until the battery eventually dies and you have something close to the truth about these places.)

But Cal Smith’s Barber shop is a genuine door, one of only seven that we know of. (The most dangerous door, in case you were wondering, is an off-white limo slowly rusting away in a junk car lot on the outskirts of Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal.)

Mr. Smith built his shop on the grounds of what your ancestors would have called a “gate-place.” Without getting into too much ancient history, let us just say that a gate-place was a ritual ground for shamans. The ground itself is quite harmless unless a shaman carries out a certain ritual on it.

Your rituals are mostly play-acting. Their power derives mainly from the effects they have on your minds rather than any genuine communication with our side. The ancients, however, had access to one “active ingredient” that, thankfully, you now mostly ignore: blood. The shamans would dance and make art and carry out all sorts of interesting behavior, but it was all prelude to the real communication, which only commenced when they shed their blood on the ground.

We had mostly forgotten the door left open at Cal Smith’s Barber Shop because the shamans have long since faded away, their rituals and beliefs forgotten. One day, in July 1961, however, a young man named Gregory McDonald stopped at Cal Smith’s Barber Shop. Mr. McDonald was, unknown to him or any other human then alive, a direct descendant–a blood descendant, if you will–of a powerful African shaman named Aasir.

If you will permit me a digression, I happen to have had some dealings with Aasir long ago and knew him as well as anyone from our side can know someone from your side. He was a very good man, but like so many of your good men, he held grudges. I believe he occasionally used his privileged access to our side to indulge his vengeance, but I cannot say for sure, as I do not deal in those sorts of transactions.

In any case, Aasir’s matrilineal descendant, Mr. McDonald, stopped at Cal Smith’s Barber shop for a haircut. And a shave. Mr. Smith, working with a razor badly in need of sharpening, nicked Mr. McDonald’s skin and, as bad luck would have it, a drop of Mr. McDonald’s blood landed in a crack on the floor and worked its way into the dirt-floored basement of the shop.

This was quickly noticed by some of the less respectable elements of our side, and I have it on good authority that they will soon turn this event to their purposes. Maybe in a few months, perhaps a few years. In any case, I strongly recommend you stay far away from Galesburg, Illinois for the next several generations.


Genre: supernatural
Random Nouns: era, limo


This is the seventh story in my Random Roadside series. In this series, I pick a random image from John Margolies’ Roadside America photography collection at the Library of Congress and use it as the setting for a story. I allow a computer program to randomly select the genre I will write in and two nouns, which I must work into the story.