by James Tyler Reichle
This is a short story I submitted to and subsequently had accepted by a local collection several years ago. Unfortunately, during the Great Mental Collapse of 2018, I had it pulled a week before the collection went to print. I recovered it in January 2021 and formatted it so I could host it here. I hope you enjoy this story. I worked very hard to keep it under the word limit, which is always a challenge for me.
April 7th, 2011
El Dorado, KS
At last, Isaac Michaels could indulge in his long-standing pastime under clear skies. His previous two garage sale hunts had been cut short by rain.
He shuffled up to his latest site and spotted a fellow treasure hunter scrutinizing an antiquated CB radio.
“Gorgeous day, huh?” Isaac asked.
The man grunted, “Rainin’ tomorrow.”
Isaac shrugged and took his leave of the pessimistic scrounger. He didn’t want negativity spoiling his hunt.
He spent thirty minutes poking around various junky items. As he considered moving on to the next house, he chanced upon a shoebox marked “Hats.”
He muttered, “Might as well,” and opened it.
Myriad hats were crammed inside the box, but he located the true prize with veteran instincts.
He didn’t waste time haggling. He handed the sale’s proprietor a $5 bill, then departed with his vintage hat in tow.
Isaac returned home and showcased his plunder for his wife, Andrea. He flipped the slate grey Stetson onto his head, then tipped it and nodded to her. “Howdy, ma’am,” he uttered in a mock Southern drawl.
Andrea couldn’t stop herself from laughing.
Thumbs in his pockets, he sauntered over to her with a jaunt in his step. He braced one foot on a dining room chair and continued his mimicry. “Ma’am, I reckon you find something funny.”
She waved at him and joined his act with her own superior accent. “You keep up with all this ‘ma’am’ business, and I’ll just about think you’ve mistook me for my mama.”
He pushed the hat upon his forehead and leaned close to her. He lowered his voice and said, “We don’t want that, do we, little lady?”
She pecked his lips with her own. “No, siree, we sure don’t.”
They joined hands and headed for the bedroom, giggling all the way.
Twenty-seven years lay behind Isaac and his first day at D. B. Tractor. He started his part-time employment at the age of fourteen. He painted, mopped, stocked, and performed dozens of other entry-level duties. He graduated to maintenance before becoming a junior mechanic. He was transferred to sales after obtaining his MBA.
Two weeks after purchasing his new favorite possession—which adorned his head even as he spoke to a customer—a middle-age Isaac Michaels felt absolute thrill in the possibility of a sale. Over two decades, Isaac’s love of the sales game had diminished almost completely. During the past week and half, however, unprecedented charisma and brilliance had surged within him.
He sold tractor after trailer and warranties to boot, and his streak was growing stronger. The regional sales director had pulled him aside, congratulated him, and invited him to lunch the day before. His last paycheck was double its usual figure. He and Andrea had enjoyed dinner at a fancy restaurant for the first time in five years. He felt unstoppable.
Andrea worried about her husband. For fifteen years he had been, if nothing else, steadfast and stable. He was never commended at work, but he was never reprimanded, either. He was never excessively jovial around her, but neither had he been depressed or mopey. Some people found him boring, but his consistency was an endearing quality to her.
The past month he had behaved with a whimsy that bordered on mania. One day he'd come home riding the high of a big sale, the next he'd slip through the front door and straight into bed. There was no pattern to any of it.
He'd also become aggressive. Like all couples, they quarreled on occasion, but the past few weeks it occurred every other day. If the mood swings didn't cease soon, Andrea promised she'd drag him to a doctor.
A week later, Isaac drove home in a furor. His entrance into his own driveway betrayed aggression beyond road rage; both passenger-side tires bit into the curb as he cut sharply right. He killed the engine and burst out of the car, slamming the door.
In the kitchen he poured himself a glass of whiskey, but as he raised it to his lips his hand trembled and he dropped the glass. It met the ground and shattered, spraying glass and liquor everywhere.
Isaac screamed, "Fucking figures!" He threw his fist into the wall, leaving a hole in the plaster.
He growled, "Fuck!", and kicked the liquor cabinet.
He scratched his head; the line where the hat met his hair itched like Hell. He gripped the hat and tried to remove it, but his hand refused. Despite the itching and numbness of the band tightening around his skull, he loved the feeling the hat gave him. He felt like a Western anti-hero; he’d just as soon kill a man over poker as he would save a damsel in distress.
He was tired after his tantrum. This had been a common occurrence as of late; he'd reach some emotional climax—rage or ecstasy—then sink into exhaustion. He made it as far as his recliner before passing out.
He'd figure out later how to tell Andrea he’d been fired for punching his boss.
Andrea led Bible study at her church, and she arrived home late every Wednesday. On those nights, Isaac would microwave leftovers and wait for her in front of the TV.
Andrea chirped her husband's name, "Isaac, I'm home."
He didn’t answer.
"Isaac?" She called again, dropping her voice several octaves.
He didn’t respond.
Her chirps sank to a concerned stammer. "Isaac, where are you?"
He was silent.
She spotted him in the recliner, sleeping with his Stetson still resting on his head. She chuckled. "You're a weird man, but I love you for it." She approached the recliner. "Let's take that off."
She touched the hat; her skin chilled, and her stomach reeled. The hat appeared motionless, but she felt it undulating beneath her fingertips. Muffled slurping sounds wormed their way into her ears. The cloth of the hat produced a scaly sensation instead of the soft fuzz she expected.
Mustering her resolve, she yanked the hat from Isaac's head. She screamed at what lay beneath. Where once stood her husband's lush hair now sat a black crater filled with yellow puss that oozed from his deteriorated brain. Odors of rotten meat and feces assaulted her nostrils, and she collapsed.
August 25th, 2017
Wade Alvarado ambled up to the counter of "World Antiques." He smiled at the clerk and said, "Good morning, friend."
The elderly clerk looked up from his newspaper. He mumbled, "Yeah?"
Wade's smile widened. "Listen, I'm in a pinch. My band has a gig tonight in the Lower East Side. This is a big show, and I want to jazz up my wardrobe. Something vintage, but flashy."
The clerk sighed. "Clothing’s in the back."
Wade clicked his tongue and shot the clerk a thumbs-up. "My man!"
Most of the clothing was gaudy or moth-eaten, but after ten minutes of browsing, Wade found what he wanted. He hooted with pride and marched back to the counter with his accoutrement.
The clerk took the item from his enthusiastic patron. He said, "This ugly thing?”
Wade clapped. "Damn right! My outfit says 'classy gentleman', but this piece says 'Mafioso badass'. When I lay into those keyboard solos tonight, unsavory thoughts will fill the audience, men, women, and all others alike!"
The clerk shrugged, but took the young man's money.
Wade exited the building and donned the slate grey fedora. He shouted, "Watch out! Wade Alvarado is hopping on the C train!"