An alternative ending of the short story "Lather and Nothing Else" by Hernando Tellez
| I can see his hands shaking as he is shaving the remainder of my once bushy beard. Cold beads of sweat are creeping down his brow like ants swarming over a carcass. There is steel in his eyes as his finely honed razor nears my pulsing jugular vein. This fool of a barber is actually going to do it! He is going to kill me. As the blade angles towards my neck I look back on my life. Will my death be mourned? I, Captain Hernandez Cortez Fernando Torres the Third, am not a well-loved man. I have brought death to countless men, perhaps even more men than the stars in heaven. Their screams of anguish still act like shackles of sorrow which weigh upon my soul. My own demise will be penitence for the lives I have cruelly stolen...
5 Minutes Earlier (Flashback)
I had walked into a corner barbershop this afternoon. It looked like any other barbershop except for one crucial fact - The barber was a revolutionary. An informant of mine had warned me of this in the morning. I remembered the warning and the veiled threat underneath it, “Be careful, Captain, for the barber is a member of the revolution. If he gets the chance he will kill you!” I had decided to come to this particular barbershop to see if this was true. I wanted to see what type of men these self-proclaimed “revolutionaries” were. Perhaps deep within my subconscious I also had another hidden motif. Maybe the world would have been a better place without me always snuffing out the sparks of life as if they were no more than match flames. I had tried not to let my thoughts wander.
As the barber applied lather to my face, I decided to test if he really is a member of the rebellion. I goaded him with my stories of the captured rebel leaders and my plans for what I will do with them tonight. How would he react? Would he strike in a fit of anger? Or would he appear insensitive? He did neither. Although he did not seem angry he was not indifferent either. He had stiffened visibly at my comments and his replies were erratic, jumping about as if they were ticks in a frying pan. I pretended I had not noticed. He continued with his work and I could feel my face becoming lighter by the minute. The barber deftly shaved the scantier amount of hair left. The lather felt cold to my face. It foamed and frothed and resembled the surface of a tumultuous lake. I loosened my stiff shoulders. If I was going to die today I might as well enjoy my last moments.
I remember closing my eyes, waiting for the descending blade to potentially sever my jugular as easily as a bullet tearing through a human body. But this man is not a murderer. He is too soft. Would visions of glory overpower his common sense? I could have imagined the whirlpool of thoughts flowing through the barber’s head as his audacity wrestled with his good judgement, two titans each struggling for supremacy of his mind. ‘It would be so easy... how could I let this opportunity go by... he killed my friends, family... comrades watching...’ But in the end, he is a mere barber and not a murderer. I didn’t want to cause an innocent to stain his hands with blood.
The elderly barber slowly angles his razor towards my throat. He’s the image of anxiety. He is sweating rivers, which are flowing down his neck staining his shirt. His hands start shaking uncontrollably as if caught in an earthquake but only affecting them. His forehead creases over with worry, which appears to age him by a decade. He begins to toy with the razor, already dangerously close to my skin, by shifting his grip. The cutting edge hovers closer, closer, even closer! Three inches, two, one! I begin to wonder what will happen after death. Suddenly a sigh escapes him, so quietly that maybe it wasn’t even a sigh that I heard. His eyes are blank, staring off into the horizon. He helps me rinse and hands me a mirror. I look years younger than when I entered the shop. I readjust the belt and holster and take out the appropriate change for the shave.
“They told me you would kill me. I came to find out if it was true. But it’s not easy to kill, is it? I know what I’m talking about.” I explained.
As I get up to leave I hear a bloodcurdling shriek. I only have time to turn and gawk at the eyes which hurtle towards me. They are clouded by the fires of hate, anger and possibly even regret. I feel one last surge of remorse at the things I have done and the things I could have done. I brace myself for the intense pain that will surely follow. With my eyes opening in defiance I leave myself undefended while the blade whistles through the air in a horizontal arc towards my neck. Tearing through my skin and…
Epilogue (Through the Eyes of the Barber)
I don’t know what has come over me. One moment I was about to gracefully accept his fare and the next I was ready to rip out the captain’s throat. My eyes became unfocused and a surge of anger overwhelmed me, like a tidal wave of emotion that washed away my entire good judgement and sense of self preservation, and stressed my self-restraint. I crouched and prepared to spring, a tiger primed to ambush its prey, when the captain abruptly turned around.
“They told me you would kill me. I came to find out if it was true. But it’s not easy to kill, is it? I know what I’m talking about,” remarked Torres.
The next thing I knew I charged at Torres. My sight was clouded with red and all I could see was Torres and nothing else. I threw my arm in a wide sweep with my razor angled to kill. The razor blade screamed through the air toward its target. I was surprised at my ferocity. I put so much force into my thrust, the razor cutting through skin and soft tissue like a predator’s teeth that shear through its prey, that I almost fell over. Blood began to gush out, a gruesome version of a hot spring, and flowed over his corpse and my hands and on to the ground. A strange gurgling noise left Torres’ mouth and then all fell silent. Torres’ unseeing eyes misted over. One last spasm, as if he were attempting to reach for me, caused me to jump back and my heart to skip a beat. And then he stopped breathing. I checked his pulse. None. Could it be? Yes! Finally my allies could rest in peace knowing that there would be no one pursuing them! I sat down and contemplated what I had finished. A brutal man for whom thousands could blame for their deaths. Subsequently, the true magnitude of my actions then hit me as if I had run into a brick wall.
I did it! The hero of the people! My comrades in arms would celebrate my name for decades. I would be the barber who has vanquished the scourge known as Torres. My name will be passed on from generation through generation. This feeling of ecstasy that spread throughout my body was so strong that my knees buckled. My body hit the ground but I couldn’t get back up, my legs weighing a ton, so I had to lie on the rigid floor. It was then that I lost feeling in my limbs. Something was going wrong!
The pain started in my chest and then spread outwards, a ripple travelling across a pond, and forced me to keel over. I could feel my heart convulsing rapidly. I could sense my arteries and veins begun to clench up and constrict. The flow of my blood became increasingly strenuous. My brain was starving for air! I was losing my vision! My senses each started to shut down. First my sense of smell left me, then my hearing, and then my sense of touch. I managed to crawl ever so sluggishly onto the street. A crowd gathered around me, like a flock of vultures, as if they knew what was going to happen. Another flood of pain mushroomed outwards. It couldn’t be but it was! My heart was failing!
“Please! Help me! Hel…”