The Bell

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
Don’t ask for whom the bell tolls…

Submitted: October 07, 2018

A A A | A A A

Submitted: October 07, 2018



It’s not like I have anything against toys.  Or stores that sell them.  It’s just that I knew something was up, as soon as construction started on the toy store downtown.  

A little background first. I’d spent the past 40 years working in the securities business in New York City.  Talk about a cutthroat business.  I hated every minute of it.  But the money was good.  Every day, I dreamed of retiring to a small town somewhere, where life moved at a slower, quieter pace.

When I found East Northampton, I knew it was where I belonged.  A tiny town in western Massachusetts, small enough that I could walk from one end to another in thirty minutes.  It would be my retirement paradise.

The people were nice and made me feel at home.  I bought a house on Main Street, and settled in.  When I visited the barber shop for my usual buzz cut, I made friends with the barber right away.  Yang was a middle aged Korean lady, and she invited me to eat at the Cracked Egg Diner on Saturday morning with her breakfast club.

The club consisted of Yang, John Davies, and William Beard.  Both men were retired.  John had been the mayor for decades, and William had been the chief of police for almost as long.  Everyone called them the Mayor and the Chief.  They took a liking to me, and proclaimed me to be the newest member of the Saturday morning breakfast club.

Life was good in East Northampton.  A year went by.  I spent my days fixing up the house, playing golf with the Mayor and the Chief, and strumming my guitar on a bench in the park downtown.  The breakfast club was the high point of the week.  Then, construction began on the toy store.

I tried to warn the rest of the breakfast club.  The toy store was going up in the vacant lot, next to the diner.  They laughed me off when I said, “That place is evil.”

Things took a turn for the worse when a truck showed up at the nearly finished store, hauling a large copper bell.  A crane hoisted the bell to a set of mounts on the roof.  I was walking past the construction site while this was going on.  My paranoid inner voice said “Why the hell does a toy store need a gigantic bell?”

I was filled with dread.  When I complained again at the breakfast club, I got the usual responses.  The Mayor gave me his best condescending smile.  The Chief looked down and shook his head.  Yang laughed and said, “Bucky, you’re getting more crazy by the day.”  Bucky was the nickname she had given me.  My real name is Charles Campbell.  

Nobody paid attention to me, and the toy store held a grand opening sale.  Everyone in East Northampton showed up.  Except me.  I refused to set foot on the property.  Instead, I sat on the bench across the street, in front of Yang’s Barber Shop.  I watched everything, with suspicion.  I saw adults and children, walking in the store, then walking out with arms full of toys.  The children seemed happy.  Still, I knew something was not right.

My fears were confirmed the next morning.  It was Saturday, and as usual, I was on my way to the diner.  When I got near the toy store I crossed the street, refusing to walk any closer to that abomination than necessary.  

At precisely 8 a.m., I passed the store.  I knew the time, thanks to the bell.  It rang eight times.  That was when things got funky.

The door at The Cracked Egg flew open and Yang came running out.  She began playing hopscotch on the sidewalk.  The other members of the breakfast club streamed out.  The Chief tapped the Mayor on the shoulder, screamed, “Tag, you’re it!”, and began running down the street.  The Mayor took off after him.

Seeing a fifty-something Korean lady hopscotching, and a retired mayor and police chief playing tag was more than I could take.  I felt lightheaded, and sat on the curb.  I didn’t know what to think.

I took some deep breaths and listened to Yang sing a children’s song while she hopped through the pattern of numbers.

The children went a skipping, a skipping, a skipping

The children went a skipping upon a winter's day

My curiosity overcame my sense of panic.  I walked across the street toward Yang.

She stopped hopping when I approached.  “Well, hey there Mr. Campbell!  Want to play hopscotch?”

I couldn’t remember the last time Yang called me anything but Bucky.  I’m certain she’d never invited my to a game of hopscotch.  I was having trouble thinking of something to say.

Finally, I managed to blurt out “I’m going to walk down the street now.  I’ll see you later.”

“Bye bye Mr. Campbell.  If you want to play later I’ll be here.”

Quickly I realized the entire town was afflicted with childlike behavior.  Anyone driving a car had stopped where they were on the road, turned off the ignition, and gotten out.  I saw a middle aged man, climbing a tree.  Passing Friedman’s pharmacy, I saw Mr. Friedman tossing a Kleenex box, back and forth with the clerk, like a football.

I’d seen the Mayor and the Chief run off the sidewalk into City Park.  I headed in that direction.  The Chief let out a howl as I turned the corner.  The Mayor had found a garden hose and gave him a good dousing.

Just then, the bell at the toy store rang.  This time, a solitary peal.  I turned and looked up the street toward the toy store.  From behind me, the Mayor spoke. 

“Hey Bucky, you as hungry as I am this morning?  I’m thinking about a four egg breakfast plate with the endless stack of hotcakes.”

The Chief slapped my shoulder as they walked past me, heading up the street to the Cracked Egg, oblivious to the fact he was soaking wet.  I succumbed to peer pressure and followed.

Everyone was back to their usual adult behavior.  The drivers got back in their cars and resumed their journeys.  Near as I could tell, they had no idea that moments before, they were acting like kids.

Inside the Cracked Egg, it was business as usual.  No indication that the entire town, aside from me, had just suffered a temporary reversion to childhood.  I began to question my sanity.  Did I just have some kind of hallucination?

So I played along.  I resisted the urge to ask anyone if they were aware of their recent behavior.  They didn’t act like anything was different.  I ate my breakfast and listened to the talk around the table, just like any other Saturday morning breakfast club.

By 10am the talk was running dry and the restaurant began to empty.  Usually I walked with Yang up the street to her barbershop, which was on the way to my house.  I noticed the hopscotch grid, neatly drawn on the sidewalk with pink chalk.  I got an idea.

“Yang, let’s sit on the bench for a minute.  There’s something I need to ask you.”

She rolled her eyes and said, “Make it quick, I’ve got customers waiting on me at the shop.”

“I know this will sound crazy, but I want you to take off one of your shoes.  I want to look at it.”

Yang rolled her eyes again and said, “Bucky, if you’re trying to get in my pants you don’t even have a clue how to ask.  You’d be better off showing up at my house with a bottle of wine.”   But she took off a shoe and handed it to me.

I turned it over and saw what I was looking for.  Bright pink chalk on the sole.  I wasn’t having a nervous breakdown.  I knew the chalk came from the hopscotch Yang had been playing that morning.  I gave her back the shoe.

After walking Yang to the barber shop, I headed home.  I needed time to think.  To sort out the morning’s bizarre occurrence.  Was it an aberration?   A one time event?  Or will the same thing happen again, tomorrow at 8am?  I opened the refrigerator.  The twelve-pack of beer I’d bought yesterday was still there.  I pulled one out and popped the top.  Maybe some alcohol would lubricate my brain.

I spent the rest of the day drinking beer and thinking.  By the time I’d finished the last one, I hadn’t come to any conclusions.  I still had no idea what I’d seen that morning.  But the beer dulled my senses.  I reclined on the couch and passed out.

The next morning after I woke up, I laid on the couch, trying to fight off the cobwebs from the alcohol I’d consumed the previous day.  When I heard the toy store bell ring at 8am, I practically jumped off the couch and ran out the door.  My worst fears were confirmed.

All around me, the townspeople were behaving like children, just like the day before.  I heard a woman crying next door.  I could see my next door neighbor, Mrs. Drew, ten feet up the oak tree in her front yard.

“Mr. Campbell, please help!  I climbed up the tree and I don’t know how to get down!”

I ran to her garage.  I knew she had a ladder, I’d borrowed it before.  After leaning the ladder against the tree, I climbed up and got her down.

Bobby Johnson was a plumber who lived next to Mrs. Drew.  He was sitting on the curb, wearing roller skates, holding on to his knee.  I could see blood trickling down his leg.  I approached.

“Bobby, what did you do?”  

“I fell down while I was skating.  I’ve got a booboo on my knee.”

I pulled his hand away from his leg.  Sure enough, he had a nasty abrasion, complete with dirt from the road.

“Stay right here, Bobby, I’ll be back in a minute.”

I ran to my house and got my first aid kit.  Tears streamed down his face when I cleaned the wound with alcohol.

“Be brave, Bobby, this will only hurt for a minute.”

“Yes sir, Mr. Campbell.”

I put a bandage on the wound.  Then told him, “Bobby, I want you to take off the skates and go home.  Spend the rest of the morning watching cartoons.”

“Yes sir.”

I went back to my house, put Mrs. Drew’s ladder in the bed of my truck, and the first aid kit on the front seat.  I headed into town.  No telling what other disasters I would find.

By the time I’d broken up a fight and convinced Mr. Friedman to stop playing in a ditch, the bell rang again.  Just like yesterday, the childlike behavior ceased.  Just like yesterday, no one seemed to realize what they had just been doing.

My next course of action was clear.  I headed to the toy store.  It was time for a confrontation.

I’d heard the breakfast club talk about what a nice man Mr. Safer was.  From their descriptions, I’d gathered he was a small, elderly, bald man.  That’s not what I saw when I entered the store.

Instead, the man behind the counter was the splitting image of Killer Kowalski, a professional wrestler I watched on TV when I was a kid.  At least 6’4” and probably 280 pounds.  I said, “If you’re Louis Safer, I’ve got a bone to pick with you.”

The man reached out his hand for me to shake and said, “Good to meet you Charles, I was wondering when you’d show up.”

“Let’s skip the formalities and why don’t you tell me exactly what the fuck is going on.”

“Whoa, Charles, let’s not get too excited.  I’m just a guy who runs a toy store.”

“And I suppose you have no idea what happens to everyone in town when your bell rings?”

“No, I’m responsible for what you’ve witnessed the past two mornings.  You see, I don’t just sell toys.  I create happiness.  People take their lives too seriously.  They stop having fun when they become adults.  And end up dying prematurely from heart attacks and strokes because of it.  I decided to do something to fix that.  East Northampton is my pilot program.  After I work out the kinks, I’ll expand the program across the globe.”

“So why does the bell not affect me the same way as everyone else?“

“A fair question.  But before I answer, I’d like to ask you something.  Why did you never have children?”

“Because I suck at relationships.  And, I don’t even like being in the same room with kids.  As far as I’m concerned, they are nothing but spoiled, snot nosed brats.”

“Fair enough.”  His face broke into a broad grin.  “To answer your question, karma is a bitch.  Children need a parent, and you’ve never experienced that exquisite torture.  I chose you to be the town’s adult, because it is your turn.  I can’t force you to do anything.  You can stay at home, or move to another town if you like.  But I know people well.  You’re a good man.  You won’t shirk responsibility.”

My knees got weak.  I had to lean against the counter to keep from falling.  The thought of enduring an hour of parenting an entire town, every day, was too much.

The door opened and the Mayor walked in.  “Hey Bucky!  Good morning, Mr. Safer.  I decided I am going to buy that model battleship I was looking at yesterday.  I can’t wait to start putting it together.”

I’d turned to look at the Mayor when he came in.  When I turned back to the counter, Killer Kowalski was gone.  In his place was Tojo Yamamoto, a Japanese wrestler, also from the 1960s.  The Mayor didn’t seem to notice that Mr. Safer had a shaved head, was at least 300 pounds, and was wearing wrestling trunks with no shirt.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, the Mayor said, “Mr. Safer, why don’t you join our breakfast club.  We meet every Saturday morning at the Cracked Egg.”

That’s how the peace and quiet of my retirement got shattered.  Every day, I spend an hour being the adult of East Northampton.  And every Saturday morning, I sit next to Satan at the  breakfast club.  Every week, he appears as a different pro wrestler from my youth.  It didn’t take long to figure out.  Louis Safer = Lou Safer = Lucifer.  As Billy Crystal would say, “Mahvelous.  Simply mahvelous.”

© Copyright 2020 Serge Wlodarski. All rights reserved.

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