Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Miracles of Harrison H. Hardigan's Beard.

The beard itself began as unremarkable stubble on the pale face of a pre-pubescent Harrison Hardigan. Perhaps it was in an effort to impress the young girls at school, or perhaps it was a misguided effort to save money on razor blades, but one day on the school's lawn Harrison H. Hardigan swore in front of the flag, with his hand over the Holy Bible, that he would never ever shave his beard. He swore that no razor would cut through the hairs on his face. Among his remaining family members it is whispered that Harrison vowed the uniquely binding oath to spite his father, who was a barber by trade.

By the time Harrison had reached high school he had become an impressive athlete. He was particularly well known for his talented take-downs on the wrestling mat. Among the more religious members of the community many joked that he was Samson come to take revenge on the philistines of Franklin Pierce High. The fans who watched young Harrison in his blue singlet would often chant "Smite 'em, Smite 'em, Smite 'em hip and thigh!" and Harrison H. Hardigan would oblige, with a shrug of his shoulders and a twist of his torso he would toss his opponents to the floor and pin them there until the unfortunate youth would scream or bleed too much for the referees to allow the match to continue. In the showers after wrestling meets Harrison could be found telling stories from the lives of those he had pinned .

When Harrison arrived at college his beard had grown past his waist. It seemed that there was some mysterious connection between the beard and the strength of his limbs. Doors came off their hinges in his grasp. Desks flew across classrooms when he tried to gently move them out of his path. Tables broke in half when he sat down to eat. When he was allowed to join the wrestling team his enormous strength led the coaches to believe that the innocent young man was taking steroids. They could find no other explanation.

When he reached his sophomore year young Harrison had lost all contact with those around him. He was ostracized. No one would listen as he told the life stories of those around him. Fellow students were afraid to socialize with him. Even the kindest professors turned him away from their classrooms. Society had begun its long judgment of Harrison.

Several times during these years he attempted to shave the beard off, and when that didn't work he would attempt to turn the scissors and razors on his wrists. However his oath to the flag and the Bible held so firmly that the scissors and razors dulled against his skin.

Then came the unfortunate day when Harrison attempted to catch a young red haired woman who had fallen out of a dormitory window. Her bones shattered as he caught her in his arms. He shouted for help and was immediately arrested for assault. The woman’s parents asked the judge to lock the young man away for life. They assured the court that their daughter, still unconscious in the hospital, wanted Harrison to be put in prison. During the proceedings Harrison sat meekly in front of the judge, and would not utter a single word in his own defense.

Harrison spent ten years in prison. Upon his release Harrison struck out to find gainful employment. He worked a series of low paying jobs and was fired from each one. Once, while working at a construction site he had rushed to the aid of a fellow worker trapped beneath a pile of rubble. Harrison threw the stones and boulders aside with ease. The man’s life was saved but the stones landed on the houses and buildings in the surrounding area. The construction company was forced into bankruptcy to pay off the damages. The man Harrison saved would later complain about the loss of his job.

So Harrison began the lonely life of a vagrant. He walked around the country and begged on street corners. In every town he found the need for his strength. In Atlanta he pulled children out of burning houses. In Seattle he pulled a sinking ship safely to the shore. In Omaha he saved workers from a stampede at the stockyards. He stopped runaway trains, and cleared wreckage. He once held a collapsing building up for three days as the residents calmly moved their possessions out on to the street. Instead of gratitude Harrison was met with anger and hate. More often than not he was blamed for the catastrophes he had saved people from, and the townspeople would run him out of town in a great mob. At the back of every mob was a red haired woman.

One day, while Harrison was silently begging for change on a street corner, a man in a suit approached Harrison. He was an advertising agent and was putting together a promotion for a razor company. The idea of the campaign was to film homeless men shaving their beards. The commercials showed before and after shots of the men, who were given suits to wear in the second photo. The man in the suit contracted Harrison for the promotion, despite Harrison’s silent warnings and promises that the beard would not submit to any mortal blade.

When the time for filming came the production crew found that all of Harrison’s predictions came true. They tried every razor the company produced. None of the razors could cut through mystical beard. The advertiser called the company, who quickly sent a man in a lab coat to examine Harrison’s facial hair. When the scientist could find no way to cut the beard he contacted his supervisor. After a brief conversation the man in the white coat asked Harrison to come back with him to the company’s headquarters.

For the next several decades the razor company employed Harrison as a consultant. His job consisted of sitting in a chair while men in white laboratory coats attempted to cut his beard. Several options were tried, pneumatic scissors, diamond blades, focused plasma beams, and microscopically sharpened edges. Nothing worked on the supernatural hairs. Despite the all of their failures the company advanced man's understanding of shaving technology by leaps and bounds. NASA sent inquiries into the project and soon the company had a government grant to cut Harrison's beard.

Over the years Harrison began to lose hope. He stopped talking to the technicians. He reached such a state of depression that he would not leave the laboratory and spent the long hours of the night sitting quietly in the chair where they attempted to cut his beard. Harrison grew so despondent that he blinded himself, not in the usual manner of fire or gouging. Harrison simply stopped using his eyes. He closed them and refused to open them. For years he lived in a darkened world of whispers and questions. Until one day a red haired woman appeared next to his chair in the laboratory. She calmly sat down next to him and began stroking his beard. Feeling a gentle pull on his chin Harrison opened his eyes.

When his vision cleared he was gripped with a sudden terror of words he began to speak without end. Narrating the events of his life he told her of the flag and the bible and the girl on the ground. He told her about the man trapped beneath the rubble and the long years on the road. He became lost in an endless stream of words until he was no longer narrating his life, but the events of every person’s life he had ever met. He told her childhood stories of the lab technicians. The histories of all of the towns and people he had saved poured from his mouth. In great detail he described the lives of people he had never met.

One evening, after talking for five years Harrison paused in the middle of a sentence. He closed his eyes, and fell out of his chair. Harrison didn’t notice when the red haired woman kneeled next to him. He didn’t protest when she pulled an old straight-edged razor from her pocket, and he didn’t raise a hand when she calmly began to cut away at his beard. Written on the strands of hair that the woman cut were the stories and histories Harrison had spoken.

In the morning a janitor found Harrison’s, clean shaven, smiling corpse. Nobody could identify the body without the beard. An article appeared in the newspapers declaring that an old man had broken into the building and died of unknown, but assuredly natural causes on the laboratory floor. The body was cremated and put into a cardboard box in the county health department’s storage area. Months later, no one noticed when the box mysteriously disappeared. In towns all across the country nobody noticed as a red haired woman was seen scattering ashes.

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