Write Stories

Jim Cowles

Bald-Bellar

MEET MR. NERVOUS

You might say Tim Needles has an appropriate name. He is one of the most nervous guys you will ever meet, always on pins & needles” and with a bad habit of worrying about every little detail of life. He has always seen the glass half empty.

Tim was married in the early nineteen-sixties at the tender age of nineteen, to a bride who was only sixteen and pregnant. That alone would burden most men, but he was a worrier long before that. He seemed to have unique abilities many would accept as a gift, but he wanted no part of them; they were a nuisance. “Nothing good in that stuff,” he’d say. Unfortunately, this gift bewildered him, adding stress, so he never had a desire to develop it. What about those so called abilities? The first time he knew he could see things others couldn’t was when he was only eight years old, sitting on the sofa in his living room. His mom had asked him to take out the garbage and he said, “NO” and in no uncertain terms. “Nope, I ain’t gonna do it!” He said! “And you cant make me!” His mother, a quiet, rather meek woman, told him he would be sorry for sassing her; still, he showed no fear and foolishly stuck to his guns. “You can’t make me, mama” he said, laughing in her face. He did not realize he was about to learn a very hard lesson. It would change his life.

Tim’s next door neighbor, James, had a maternal grandmother who often babysat him when his parents needed an evening out. She was happy to allow Tim to visit during those times. During one of those visits, she told the boys about an awful spirit she called, the Bald-Bellar. Granny was a full-blooded Cherokee native American and Tim loved her as much as James did. He also loved hearing her stories. She seemed to be full of odd tales, many of which were from her childhood. They were fascinating to young impressionable children. Of course, Tim’s visit had an added benefit for Granny; it kept James from getting bored during the evening and adding stress to the aging baby sitter. She would always insist the boys sit in the kitchen with her, with the rest of the house in total darkness. This was a way to keep the boys near her, so she could keep an eye on them and not have to get up to chase them; never mind they were always too scared to move anyway, mostly because of her tales.

Now, sitting on the sofa in his living room, Tim was remembering the warning Granny had given the boys, telling them she had seen this awful spirit once when she was a bad little girl. She cautioned them that if they didnt want to see this horrid creature they should, “be good children.” It had indeed proven an effective tool to keep them quiet and close during her baby-sitting duties, but was it real? Tim remembered those words, the creatures head is spoon-shaped and brown, the color of an angry sky, with an ugly “sharp-toothed mouth” and “big red eyes.” “He only appears when children are bad, ” she said and “He also has been known to bite bad little children with his very sharp teeth and sometimes even eat them.” That part had made Tims blood run cold and he shivered with fear when she said it. The old woman had a very strange look on her face as she told the story; it was downright scary. Now, siitting on the sofa, he laughed to himself, as he remembered her tale and the warning she had given. She just wanted to keep us close, thats all, he thought. He began thumbing through his Boys Life magazine, thinking about going fishing, but he couldnt help but notice his mother crying softly. He tried to ignore her, determined to stick it out and not feel guilty. She was also a very nervous person, a trait Tim no doubt got from her. He knew she was hurt deeply by his words, but he looked straight ahead, trying his best to ignore her tears. From his position he could see the door to the only bathroom in the small house and although he couldnt be sure, he thought he saw a slight movement there. At first he thought his eyes were playing tricks, because he knew his mother and he were the only two at home and he could see her standing just ten feet from him. As he watched the bathroom door, something that looked like the ugly Bald-Bellar Granny had described, suddenly stuck it’s head out and ground its teeth at Tim.  It was staring menacingly. He was pretty sure he wasn’t dreaming and for the first time, he was convinced this hideous creature actually existed. Grandma wasnt so crazy after all, was she?

All he could think about was his need for protection, so if course, he ran to his mother, hugging her and apologizing for sassing her. Now, both were crying. She hugged him and couldn’t imagine what he was blubbering about, but decided to use this as a time to deliver a life lesson. She said, I told you, you would be sorry, didnt I? Dont, ever sass me again, young man, do you understand me? Of course Tim agreed immediately; he did not want to go back into that living room to see that thing again. The garbage got emptied quickly and when he returned, he wisely decided to linger in the kitchen with his “mom.” Later, when he told his friends what had happened, they laughed and told him he was crazy, but that day became a day of change for Tim Needles. He immediately became more aware of how he treated others. It was not his imagination, no, no, it wasnt. He knew he did not want to ever see that ugly bald creature again.

When he turned twenty-one, his mother became very ill with stomach cancer. In many ways, his three sisters, all older than him, still treated him much like a child. They knew how ill their mother was, but were concerned the truth might upset Timmy, so they kept it from him as long as they could. They surmised that he had enough on his plate, what with a new baby and both he and his wife being so young, but Tim already knew something was terribly wrong, he just didnt know what. He wasnt sure how he knew, but he spent weeks coming home from work, eating a light supper and going straight to bed. He didnt tell his wife, but he sensed an impending disaster and sleeping was somehow a way of avoiding reality. He thought it was a good defense, so he feigned illness, telling her he was just working too hard. Somehow, he knew someone in the family was going to die and it scared him to his core. He had death on his mind almost every second of his life after that and kept thinking, if he slept, at least the pain would stop, but it didnt. When his youngest sister finally confided in him, he was sure that God, an Angel, or a Spirit of some kind had been trying to prepare him for his mothers death and oddly, he felt comforted.

When she died, he became more deeply religious, going to church every time the doors opened. Still, he resisted developing his spiritual sense, although he had finally fully recognized it. Despite being a bit more mature, he remembered that Bald-Beller and he stressed out when he thought about messing with the spirits. He feared he might conjure up something very evil if he wasn’t careful. Tim had plenty of smarts, but even though he scored high on an IQ test, he didn’t realize he had above average intelligence. He had a silly notion that he lacked intelligence and that it was somehow linked to his stand with the spirits. This young man was screwed up in so many ways. Perhaps the only good thing that came from such an early marriage was how it forced him to focus on his future. As a result, he decided he needed to find a way to make more money to support his small family. He was determined to be successful.

A HEAVY BURDEN

In todays terms, Tim would easily have been diagnosed as having a severe case of ADD, but in the nineteen-sixties, such a diagnosis was rare. When he was in high school, his attention span was practically nil. He was always daydreaming and often waited until the last minute to study for a test or complete a project. Still, his grades were mostly above average, but never-the-less, he believed he had a cloud over him and had thus developed a tendency to see himself as the target for bad things. His negativity often led to the very result he dreaded most. No one could say he was the product of positive thinkers, as both his parents were unable to complete high school. It was not their fault, as both had lived in a very rural sitting and had never had very much materially. However, both seemed satisfied with living meager lives. On the other hand, Tim wanted to improve his lot and when his employer offered him a program that would pay for college, he jumped at it. As he grew older, this self-determination was the key that caused him to actually focus on scholastics. He worked hard during the day and went to school at night, quickly completing all hours of his major in record time. Still, the pressure he put on himself didnt end.

Within two short years, another child came along and now he had four mouths to feed. Despite that, he continued working hard and going to school, attempting to better himself and his family. He knew it was the right thing to do and was determined to not let up. Before, he had worried about completing all the hours of his major first, but when a counselor at the University told him “that’s what I would do,” he used that positive statement to believe he was doing the right thing and took every hour of accounting and business he could force himself to take. He let the basic courses wait ’til later. He was motivated by a desire to provide more for his kids, something every parent wants and although he had never received straight As in high school, he easily made them in college. For the first time, he seemed able to focus and that gave him great hope and confidence in the future. Unfortunately, he still had a nagging problem of being a worry wart, a terrible tendency he couldn’t seem to control. His good friend Joe had once told him, “95% of what you worry about will never happen, Tim,” but still, he just couldnt help himself. Worry was his constant companion.

He could not help but wonder if either of his parents could have a touch of unwanted psychic ability; maybe his mother conjured up that Bald-Bellar? That made sense. He knew his mother was always wringing her hands at the slightest problem, while his fathers first response was usually anger. Both are no doubt traits of a person with low self-esteem and although Tim recognized that, it still didnt solve his problem. He surmised that he had been trained to bear the brunt of negativity for years, most likely caused by his fear of and sensitivity to the spirit world. He wasnt sure what part his parents had played in his development, but he knew it was logical to have their traits. Naturally then, he was always concerned about losing his job and was afraid he might inadvertently cause himself to lose it. Well, he thought, If mom could conjure up an ugly creature without even knowing it, maybe I could inadvertently conjure up a lay off at my company. Now he was faced with it; something he had worried about actually happened and now he was even more worried he had caused it. He lost his job and was scared half to death for his family. While some might have taken their time to find a new job, drawing unemployment as long as possible, Tims fear got the best of him; he was afraid he might never find another job, so he began searching the very next day. He hit the streets, knocking on doors all over Lyndon.

MEET MR. HANDY MAN

Tim’s best friend, Joe Handy, a friend of Tims since childhood, was Tim’s exact opposite. He didnt worry a whit about anything and could have cared less about losing a job. When Tim suggested Joe might lose his job if he took too much time off, Joes response was, So what? Ill just find another one, Timmy. You worry too damn much, son. Like Tim, Joe’s sir-name fit him well. He was indeed a handy fellow, with the ability to figure out most any mechanical issue. His old car occasionally broke down, but never for long. He seemed to always know what to do to get it running again. Although he was a bit clumsy, he was also a pretty good carpenter, even making his own kitchen cabinets. He had no training to speak of, but amazingly, could watch someone do a job just one time and from then on, be able to do it. Indeed, he was a handy fellow!

Joe was not married, so couldnt empathize fully fully with Tim and unlike Tim, he had a swagger about him, although it was difficult to know where it had come from. His father had to contend with a mental issue and out of pure necessity, his mother became the family bread-winner. In some ways, Joe became man of the house and that may well have given him the confidence he needed in life, making a positive out of a negative. With his mother working full-time and his father sometimes really out of it, Joe was mostly on his own and as a result, it was inevitable he would get into trouble; unfortunately, he did, several times during his teen years. Once, when he wanted to get some friends out of high school so they could just hang out, he called the school and reported he had planted a bomb somewhere inside the building. The story went viral of course and was all over local news channels. As it happened, Joes TV was busted, so he came over to Tims to watch the news, which Tim thought was pretty strange and it didnt take long to figure out that Joe was the culprit. Joe was glued to the TV and it appeared he was scared half out of his mind. Later that night he confided in Tim and asked him to swear he would never tell anyone. Finally, a few days later one of the kids Joe was trying to get out of school, “ratted on him” and as a result, he spent a full month in juvenile detention. That was something that would have probably killed Tim, but not Joe. No one was surprised when he came out of detention sounding like a gangster, bragging about all the things that had happened while he was, incarcerated. He had learned a new word, which he seemed to revel in. It was one he had never heard before he was given first-hand knowledge and he talked about his time incarcerated as if he had just escaped death row. Tim knew that was mostly a ruse, as he was pretty sure Joe had cried himself to sleep a few nights; he knew Joe would never admit it.  

STRANGE OPPORTUNITIES

Tim and Joe had known each other from early childhood and one always seemed to know what the other was thinking or feeling. You might say Joe was the Yin to Tims Yang. They needed each other much more than either realized. When Tim had a problem, Joe seemed to be able to calm him down quickly and when Joe had a “I don’t give a damn” attitude, Tim knew he really did care and somehow helped him come to grips with it. They knew each other so well and trusted each other so much they felt comfortable sharing everything in life. When Tim told Joe about his seemingly strange ability, Joe immediately suggested that he and Tim explore it, look into it and see what was cooking. He even said he was willing to help Tim become a ghost hunter, but Tims fear of the spiritual world and that Bald-Bellar, kept him from it.

Tim had never had more than one other apparent paranormal event in his life, but now, with his job loss, he may have suddenly been brought into a world he feared most. Who is the first person he decided to talk with about it? Well, Joe of course and later, after Joe heard all the details, he was more than eager to recount Tims extremely odd experience with whomever was willing to listen. In fact, he had actually asked Tims permission to call the local media and try to find someone who would either print the story, or recount it on TV or Radio. Tim had reluctantly agreed. His only condition was Joe couldnt use Tim’s real name.

Halloween was not far off and Joe knew he had the perfect story for it, if only someone would listen. It wasn’t his story, by now that he had been given the okay by Tim, maybe someone on one of the local TV stations would like to hear it, or maybe it could be printed in the newspaper? After all, Tim had okayed it and all Joe had to do was be careful not to mention his name. He could do that. He made calls to severaI TV stations, as well as the local newspaper, but all he was able to do was leave a voice- message. Everyone seemed to be too busy to hear the story. When Joe told Tim about it, Tim was actually relieved no one had called back, but Joe had not given up. Early one morning, a few days before Halloween, he got a call from one of the local public radio stations. A “Mr. Wright” said they were looking for scary stories” for their Halloween week special. In fact, they planned to pick several stories to run on Halloween eve and he told Joe his story sounded interesting. However, Mr. Wright had an unusual request; would Joe tell the story over the phone and allow the station to record it? If they decided to use it, they would choose appropriate music to run behind the story and if Joe did a good job telling it, they’d just use his recording on the radio. He was a bit nervous, but agreed to give it a try. Clearing his throat, he began to tell the story.

“Alright, he said, let me tell you, you are not gonna believe what happened to my buddy the other day. I can’t tell you his name, because I promised him I wouldn’t, but he lives right here in this very city, right this minute. Joe was attempting to be dramatic. “Maybe he lives right next door to you. Anyway, this is a true story I can hardly believe it myself, but I know its true. It started this way. My friend, well call him, Ralph, called me and wanted me to meet him for a beer. Now, if youve ever had a best friend in trouble, then you’ll know what I mean my buddy was in a panic when he called, scared half to death. Now this is not the only time he has panicked, but just listen to this. He said he had lost his job and had hardly slept a wink since. People can be weird about the funniest things, but he is a tried and true friend and Id do anything for him, God knows I would. He told me something unbelievable happened to him and he couldnt wait to tell me all the details. He said, I think Im going crazy, Joe. Its got me so danged upset, Im even afraid to go looking for another job. I could tell by his voice he needed help and as I said, weve always been there for each other, so naturally I agreed to meet him. Anyway, he had me really curious and I wanted to know what the heck was going on, so I agreed to meet him and help him hash it out. By the way, excuse my excitement. Ill try to keep a little calmer from here on, but I really cant help it when I get to tellin’ this story.

So, anyway I know how nervous that boy can get. He just didnt want to talk by phone, like maybe someone or something might be listening, you know, so we decided to meet at a favorite place, Uncle Louies, where the beers cold and even better, its cheap. I love that place! Forgive me, I know you dont like to run commercials, but it is an awfully good place here in our neighborhood. Anyway, Ive never known Tim to lie and the poor guy doesnt even kid very much. I mean, I couldnt imagine what had him so upset and I worried about him most of the day. I was really anxious to find out about this big mystery, so I showed up at Louies a little early to beat the crowd. I got us a fairly private booth and had drank about half my beer when I caught a glimpse of him as he came in. He saw me and headed my way. As he approached, I motioned to the waitress to bring him a cold one. He was carrying this kinda big brown sack and as he sat down, he leaned in toward me and immediately began whispering excitedly. I tell you, the boys face was white as a sheet. He said, You know Ive been lookin for a job since last week, dude. Its only been a few days, I know, but it seems like forever, man. Anyway, the day after I lost my job, I stopped at Freds diner, you know, the one over there on South Third?” He swallowed hard and continued. He said his wallet was not as flush as mine and he really needed to get back to a job. He said, “It was the day after I lost my job, but see, I figured I wouldn’t waste time, so I started looking for another job right away. I started knocking on doors at 8:00am that morning and I was tired and hungry by lunch, so I spent the last two bucks in my pocket on a grilled cheese and a coke. I know the owner and he gave me a cup of soup for free. Anyway,” he said, “Dude, I had had zero luck that morning and I dont know why, but I just kept thinking, Im gonna get a job offer today, then he said, “Just as I took my first bite, I overheard a conversation at the booth right behind me. A well-dressed older guy said, we need to hire another man, right now. Well, I could feel my palms start to sweat and I just wanted to shout, Hey there – Im your man” He paused, then said, “Joe, you know I would dig ditches right now, man.” I nodded, and he just kept talking. “Anyway, I figured, what have I got to lose and I took a deep breath, stood up, turned around and said, I need a job!” Tim said everyone within earshot quit talking and the two men at the table began laughing. Finally the older man said, “Hello son, my names Lenny and this is my son, George.” Tim said he was so embarrassed, he apologized, saying, “I’m sorry, gentlemen, but Ive been knockin on doors all morning. My names Ralph Weedles; I lost my job last week and Im looking for a new one.” He said the old man just smiled and said, Thats okay young man, were gonna fill our position soon – maybe youre our man? Were looking for an accountant son, can you do that job? ” He said, “Yes sir, I sure can”; then he said he stuttered, “I’m, I’m, still in University, I’m an accounting major and I’m making straight A-s!” Then he paused again and said, “Joe, I tell you, I was so proud I could say that. What irony; how lucky could a guy be? And Joe, these guys were dressed to kill, but they seemed more like characters in a thirties movie, wide lapels and all, man, but I needed that job so bad, I could care less what they were wearing. Anyway, I was pretty sure they liked me.”

So, Lenny, the older guy, gave Ralph his business card and said, “Now, you call me next week.” Ralph said the phone number on his business card was strange. It had letters in front of the numbers, but he said, “Man, I dialed it and to my relief, it worked. Mr. Lenny was just as nice on the phone as he had been in person and he wanted me to come in to talk with him right away. I dont know why I found myself calling the old guy, Mister Lenny but I found out later that it’s somewhat of a southern tradition, showing respect for both age and position. You just dont hear people talking like that anymore, but something seemed to compel me to call him by that name. Joe, look here! Heres his card. See, it says President, Hopewell & Chance. Mr. Lenny said H&C was a brokerage house in Lyndon and he told me just enough to whet my appetite. I set the appointment for the next day and all I could think was, Im gonna be an accountant for a stock broker.” He said, “I thought I had died and gone to heaven.”

 He said, “I didnt tell Karen about it; I think I just wanted to surprise her.” Ralph was really excited now and I couldnt help but wonder if he was gonna tell me he saw that darn Bald-Bellar again last night. Oh, you dont know about that thing, do you? Ill tell you later. Anyway, I thought, if he is pulling my leg, Im gonna blow my @#&! top. Oh, sorry about that! Its darn hard not to use a little saucy language now and then, you know, especially when I get excited. I hope you can clean that up. Now, about that Bald-Bellar. its just an imaginary creature, a real ugly mean thing Tim, er, I mean, Ralph claims he has seen at least once in his life. It only appears when a little kid is bad and it came to visit him one time when he sassed his mother. See, Ralph has the ability to see things others cant. He said an old Indian woman told him about the Bald-Bellar and now that he had actually seen one, he knew she was telling the truth. He sure sounded convinced, but I dont know. By the way, youll need to take the name Tim out of my story. Maybe you can just beep it, or something?

Anyway, back to the story. Now I personally don’t remember the building, but Ralph said it looked pretty old and was on North 7th street in downtown Lyndon. They just tore it down, so if you dont remember it, you can ‘t see it now. Anyway, he said it was easy to find and as he entered the foyer, a bell rang, supposedly announcing his presence. He looked around the lobby and said he noticed an old spittoon that showed signs of recent use and he remembered thinking ugh; not very appealing. He said he waited quite a while before looking up the stairway and there, silently and somewhat eerily, stood a smiling Mr. Lenny. Tim said he scrambled up to shake the old mans hand and get his first view of the office. He said it was arranged oddly, like an old style office, bull-pen, with every desk except one unoccupied, supposedly his, that is, if he they hired him, and everyone was very busy. He said the people looked odd and not a single person looked up. Was that an Abacus? Yep! Tim said he knew what it was, but it startled him to see someone actually using it. Then he noticed a crank phone hanging in the center of the bullpen and thought, How curious; surely its just a conversation piece. There was also an old black box ticker tape clicking away and he said he couldnt help but notice that everyone had an old fashioned manual Remington typewriter on their wdesk. At that point he said he had about decided to leave; but he did not want to be rude.

He said it scared him when he saw the headlines of a newspaper lying on one of the desks. It said in very large print, CRASH! He said the font was strange, but to top it all off, as he looked around the bullpen, all he saw were dingy green walls, with no art or pictures of any kind, except for a few calendars hanging over several of the desks; they looked old and faded, just like the newspaper. He said he could have sworn he actually saw the year 1929 at the top of one, but then, he wasnt sure. He said all the employees were men and they all were wearing what he described as out of date clothing. Every man was wearing a visor on his head and they all just sat silently, almost ghostly. Not a one spoke to him and he felt himself beginning to sweat. It was as if he had stepped back in time. The dingy walls made the place look haunted and he said, I had to tell myself, relax, you need this job.

He said the interview was lengthy and Mr. Lenny asked some pretty strange questions. Had Ralphs father lost anything in the 29 crash? Had any of his relatives committed suicide during the turmoil? Had any of his fathers friends or relatives ever committed suicide? Ralph said, “I told Mr. Lenny, none of my relatives ever had a lot of money, but he just kept on talking about the horrors of 1929.” He didnt ask one single question about accounting or give Ralph a job description. Tim said, er, I mean Ralph said he was puzzled (take “Tim” out of this recording, please!) and he felt pretty uncomfortable and when it finally came his turn to ask questions, the first thing he asked was for a job description. He said Mr. Lenny just laughed and said, Oh, Im sure youre qualified son, now let me introduce you to our treasurer shell tell you more about the job. Then he said Mr. Lenny led him through the office and showed him the desk that would be his, the same one that he noticed earlier. Once again, not a single person looked up. Mr. Lenny introduced him to Miss Molly, and as he reached out to shake her hand, a small, sweet-faced lady with a quirky, but gentle smile was staring up at him. She was probably in her seventies or even early eighties and her hand was icy cold. She just started talking and didnt even bother to offer him a seat. Ralph said her questions were eerily similar to Mr. Lennys and he said he just stood there, facing a large open window answering questions the best he could. He said he had a clear view of the street below and something outside caught his eye. At first, he said, I saw a horse and carriage, then, vintage automobiles and horse-drawn wagons began appearing all up and down the street. Then came the sounds, and a lot of them; old time horns honking, horses neighing and in general, a lot of commotion. Tim said there were no special events, nor was there a parade scheduled that day, at least nothing he knew of, but he noticed all the people on the sidewalk were dressed in old clothes, like in old photographs. He was shocked to see the streets were cobblestone and he said it caused him to momentarily lose concentration. He could hear Miss Molly, but her voice had become an almost distant drone; he knew she was telling him about the job, but still he continued to be drawn to the noisy scene below and when he finally came out of his stupor, he was thinking, Pay attention Ti, er, I mean, Ralph dont blow this! Try as he might, he couldnt shake the feeling that he needed to be finished with the interview and get the heck out of there. He said, I just hung in there, answering Miss Mollys questions and she finally lifted her eyes and nodded to Mr. Lenny, who had stayed the entire time, as if to say, hire him. Ralph said he never once received a job description and before he knew it, Mr. Lenny was leading him to the stairway, shaking his hand, saying, Youre a good find, my boy. Thanks for coming in Ill ring you back soon, dont worry! By now Ralph said he was sweating so profusely he could actually feel the sweat running down his nose. He was afraid his nerves were showing, but Mr. Lenny didnt seem to notice. He just smiled and said, Please be careful out on that street, son! Ralph said the old man gave him the strangest look and said, You know, its very dangerous out there, and he said he felt a weird sensation come over him and was greatly relieved to be leaving. He rushed down the long stairway, skipping steps all the way, and then practically flew across the foyer and out the big front door, bursting onto the sidewalk. He said the feeling of stepping back in time was still fresh and he was expecting to see wagons and old cars and oddly dressed people, but the street was normal, nothing unusual and especially no horses, no cobblestone and no old cars. Everyone was dressed in the fashion of the day, everything was modern, just as it should be; nothing at all looked old and there was no parade, nothing out of the ordinary in sight.

ENOUGH PROOF?

Well, the look on Ralphs face told me the story was going to get even stranger. He said, ” I was standing on the walk, Joe, contemplating it all and I heard a horrible scream from directly above me. When I looked up, I saw a person, dressed a lot like Mr. Lenny, jumping from a 5th story window. He was careening right toward me, so I panicked and leaped from the sidewalk onto the street, only to hear the sound of screeching brakes. A bus had barely missed him and now, he said, I stood looking up into the angry eyes of a bus driver, with my hands firmly planted on the front of his bus, as if I were trying to stop it. Breath Ralph,” he said he told himself, and as he regained his composure, it became apparent that no one had jumped. He said, “I was thinking, I surely didn’t just imagine all this” and when he turned toward the building, he saw a very prominent sign in the front window that read, Urban Renewal Project. The building, the one Ralph had just come out of, was empty and ready to be demolished. He said he stood quietly, tears filling his eyes, nerves in shambles and for the longest time, he said, I just stared at the sign in that window. A cold chill ran down my spine as I listened to his story and I was sure he expected me to say, Youre crazy, but I didn’t. I know him well enough to know when he’s kidding me and if he was, it was one great acting job. At least it wasn’t another Bald-Bellar story. I tell you what, if I ever find out he was lying to me, the boys gonna pay, big time. Ill kick his behind clear to Sunday.

Anyway, as I sat there with him at Louie ‘s, Ralph’s eyes began to fill with tears as he continued. He said this whole thing was the main reason he was having a hard time looking for a job. He said he went home that same day and didnt want to tell anyone about it, not even his wife. It was obvious he hadnt slept a bit, his eyes looked weak and red and he was trembling. He said he decided to spend an afternoon at the library yesterday, trying to find out more about Hopewell & Chance and was surprised that he was able to find an old 1929 newspaper and an article about H&C. The head-line was a story about a very successful stockbroker, one Mr. Lenny Thompson. The news article said that Mr. Thompson had began clerking for H & C at the tender age of seventeen and had worked his way to the top. In 1929, Mr. Thompson was one of the wealthiest men in Lyndon, but he lost most everything as a result of the stock market crash. In deep depression, Mr. Lenny had leaped from an empty 5th story window of his office building, and unfortunately, he had landed on an innocent passerby. Now, listen to this; old Ralph began almost sobbing and said, Joe, that unlucky guy was my paternal grandfather, Jesse.

Ralph told me his grandfather had died in some strange way, but no one had ever shared the details with him. Now that he knew, how in the name of glory could he explain all that had happened to him? I get cold chills just thinking about it, he said. Youre the first person Ive told. The most astonishing part, Ralph found out that his grandfather had interviewed that same morning for an accounting job at H&C, just as he had done! He said, Im a terrible wreck every time I think about it. All I could say in response was, Im here for you, my friend. I just wanted to try to give him a little support and comfort; I certainly didnt think it was the time to talk about his strange powers, although I knew at some point I had to try and help him get over his unrelenting fear of the supernatural. See, Ive known old Ralph had some kind of strange powers for a long time, but I cant get him to accept and develop it. He has a gift, but the poor boy is afraid to death of it.

He also researched the old building at the library; it had been vacant for at least five years and scheduled for demolition. He said he wanted to get inside the the building just one more time and tried to force the door, but he couldnt open it. Nevertheless, he said, it was torn down just yesterday and he said, he made it a point to spend the day watching them demolish it. Then he said, after everyone had left for the day, he stepped under the yellow tape to look around and there, near the sidewalk, he found an old Abacus. Was it the one he had seen during his interview? Yes, more than likely. He asked me, Do you think my grandfather was trying to tell me something, Joe? He had a bewildered look on his face, then he reached for tha paper bag he had with him and he pulled out a beat up old Abacus. He laid it on the table between us and with his other hand he laid Mr. Lennys business card right on top of it. He paused and looked up as if to say, Heres the proof brother what do think about all this?

Once again, there was silence. I knew he was asking me what to make of it all and I had absolutely no answers. One thing for certain, I knew when he lost his job he would be desperate for a while. Hes just so darn nervous. I guess he could have imagined everything; hes made for that, but then, what about that Abacus? And where did he get that old business card? They were his proof, they were his documentation. He told me he held everything in as long as he could and he said, “Karen is gonna think Im crazy, but I have to tell her. Should I tell her, man he asked?” Why would he ask me, I really dont know, but I quickly replied, no, no, no. Wait awhile on that. I wanted him to think about it a little more and give me some time to think about it too and I gave him all the money in my wallet just to help him out. Then we stood and hugged. Hey, Im not a big shot, but when my good buddys in trouble, you better darn well believe Im gonna help him.

Uh, uh, Ti, er, Ralph, told me I was the only one he trusted with his story, because he knew I wouldnt ridicule him, that Id support him and even help him. I was pretty proud of that. He even apologized to me. “It had to be you brother; am I crazy, man, or what?” I finally had the opening I had been waiting for and cautiously began talking about his quirky strange powers, his ability to see things that others dont. He listened as I told him he wasn’t crazy, but he should think more seriously about developing those powers he has and that it was time to get over his stupid fear of them. What else could I say? He didnt say a word and we hugged again. I wanted him to know I believed every word he said, so I simply said, I believe you, man. It was all more than a little convincing and I have to tell you, I really believe it all happened, but I have exactly the same question as Ralph. Why? I just wish I knew, why?

SCARY ENOUGH?

“So, Mr. Wright, now that you’ve heard it; how do you feel about usin’ this story on your Halloweenn show? I mean, can you use it? I can’t answer all the questions you probably have, like, was Mr. Lenny a specter? Did he choose Ralph because of his grandfather? That seems plausible, but I still cant tell you the real reason. Maybe he was looking for an accountant who could make it all go away, or maybe one who could help him hunt his lost fortune? Maybe he’ll spend eternity looking for that special accountant, if thats even a possibility and maybe he and Ralph are inextricably linked in some odd, even spiritual way. Hey, maybe this is Mr. Lennys special tale and somehow, because of his grandfather, Tim, uh, I mean Ralph, got pulled into it. Who knows?

Anyway, I can tell you this. Ralph was greatly relieved to tell me this story and to know that I believed him. My believing seemed to give him the peace of he needed. Think about it. Suppose it was you in this story, would you do more than just go to the library? If you had Ralphs crazy power, wouldn’t you use it to find out more? I sure would. But for old Ralph, it seemed all he could hope for was that he’d soon find a job. Oddly, it gives me peace to think I may have helped a good friend by just listening. By the way, I really appreciate you listening. Anyway, Ralph is a smart guy with a lot on the ball, but he has a little quirk, you know. I suggested he talk with his pastor, or maybe a good psychiatrist. I even told him he might want to talk to a mystic, or a seer. I also told him I’d even go with him!

Hey, Mr. Wright, I know I said Tim a couple of times, but his name is Ralph. I had just been talkin’ with my cousin, Tim, about this thing earlier and I had him on my mind. You can take that out, can’t you?

Mr. Wright, I think you’ll agree, there sure are a lot of desperate people these days. The country is split right down the middle and a lot of people are finding it hard to find a job, especially now this Coronavirus thing has screwed us up and everything. Anyway, I still have a lot of questions about all this. I mean, Mr. Lenny may only come around when times are like this, but I tell you what, if you are interviewing for a job, I’d say you’d better get a close look at a calendar, especially if the place looks anything like that office old Ralph described. And, if the calendar doesn’t have the current year on it, or if the place looks weird, get the heck out, and do it fast. You know, maybe the main lesson would be and nothing against the profession – but wouldn’t it make you want to forget about ever being an accountant? If you think about it, an accountant has somewhat the same demeanor as a mortician. And darn if they dont practically dress the same. The mortician might even be a little more trustworthy. Whats the old joke? A good accountant can tell you exactly what your bottom line is and a great accountant will ask you what you want it to be.

Thankfully, Ralph has completely lost interest in accounting, which is of course understandable. He said he is thinking about becoming a plumber; and listen to this. Yeah, you might want to include this on your show talk about crazy; he told me he dialed Mr. Lennys old phone number again, just for the heck of it and to his surprise, Lennys Plumbing answered. Then he said, thats how he became interested in plumbing.

All I could say to him was, surely you are kidding me, ain’t you Ralphy? Ralphy, Ralphy, Ralphy. If you really want to be a plumber, whatever you do, you sure as heck don’t need a job at Lennys! And dont you think its time for me to see this Bald-Bellar thing you keep telling me about? Come to think of it, the description sounds a little like those aliens that are supposedly abducting people all over the place. Why not try to find out what is happening in your life, man? If you ask me, I think its time for you to finally get serious!

Anyway, I would say those exact words to him, but he’d probably go bonkers. Thats my friend old Ralph; he is just a big bundle of nerves. Okay, but that aint his real name. I mean, I changed it like he asked. I dont know why I keep calling him, Tim, my cousin, but that aint his name either. Okay?

So, what do you think? Are you gonna use this story? You are? Oh boy, wait til I tell Tim, uh, and old Ralph. Hey, thats great, man. Do you want me to tell you more about the Bald-Bellar? I could get Ralph to call you. Well, okay, I suppose you do have enough, but, dont leave out the part I told you, you know, about that Bald-Bellar, okay? Yeah, I know; sorry about the curse words. They just come out naturally sometimea and I can get pretty loud. Clean this thing up any way you can, okay? Thank you again, sir and Ill be listening to your show. I’m sure anxious to hear how I sound on your radio station. Bye now!

THE END

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