“It’s really cool that you invited me over,” Jarrett Allen said sheepishly as he sat in the unfamiliar living room. “I guess I can’t say that you were ever one of my idols, but I watched a bunch of your highlights on YouTube before I got here.”
Artis Gilmore let out a deep laugh. “Understandable. My career ended a decade before you were born.”
“So, when do we hit the court?” Jarrett asked. The point of coming all the way to Jacksonville had been to work with one of the greatest post players of the 70’s, and he was eager to get started.
“Patience, young friend,” Artis said with a smile. “I got something I want to discuss with you first.”
Jarrett was slightly annoyed that the actual basketball was going to have to wait, but reminded himself that receiving wisdom from legendary Hall-of-Famers was not an everyday occurrence. So he sat quietly and prepared to listen well. However, the first words out of Artis’ mouth were not what he expected.
“I really like your afro, son,” Artis said, with just a hint of longing in his voice.
“Oh, yeah, people think it’s cool,” Jarrett replied, involuntarily reaching up to pat his hair with his palm. “I saw you used to have a fro too, but I guess you’re not about that life anymore.”
Artis ran his own hand over his short, diminishing hair. “I would have kept it except for my this damn balding,” he muttered bitterly. Then, his tone again switched to one of longing, and his eyes became unfocused. “I would do anything to have it back…” Jarrett didn’t know what a proper response to this was, so he waited patiently while the older man reminisced.
Finally, Artis seemed to come back to reality. “I just love looking at young, fresh afros like yours,” he said, and now Jarrett was starting to feel uncomfortable with the quasi-sexual attention his hair was getting from this man. “That’s actually why I invited you here.”
Jarrett stood up to leave just as Artis reached into his pocket and withdrew an electric hair trimmer. Jarrett’s proclamation of “No way, I’m out,” was drowned out by the sound of the trimmers coming to life.
“Your hair will soon be mine,” Artis said with malice, getting up from his deep recliner with more speed and grace than Jarrett expected. Jarrett began to run towards the front door of the home, thoroughly disconcerted but confident that he could get in his rental car and drive away. However, when he reached the front door and ripped it open, he saw something quite different from the the quiet streets and prim houses of a Florida subdivision.
The blue sky had been replaced by one that was brown and dusty. The bright sun was now a murky orange disc brooding behind swirling clouds. Jarrett’s car, which he expected to find parked on the street, was gone, and the front porch of the house was now a rocky outcropping overlooking a bottomless abyss which howled with windstorms. Remembering his pursuer, Jarrett wrenched his eyes away from the unexpected sight in front of him to turn around.
The house was gone as well, replaced by a sheer rock face disrupted only by the dark entrance to a cave. From this cave a winged creature was emerging. It had a face vaguely reminiscent in features to Artis, but a muscular body clad in a black shawl that was very different from Artis’ flabby body dressed in slacks and a polo shirt. It was some kind of demon, Jarrett decided, but he couldn’t spend long pondering this information, because Artis’ trimmers had been replaced with a blood-flecked battleaxe, and Jarrett knew he had to escape.
“Your hair will soon be mine!” The Artis-demon repeated in a screeching voice that caused Jarrett to wince in pain. Jarrett stumbled in panic along the ledge, which was wrapped around a sort of spire whose top was just barely visible in the burnt sky. He looked for any way up or down, or a place to hide, but found none, and the approaching sound of flapping wings only disordered his thoughts further.
When he heard the clang of a swung axe against stone not two inches above his head, Jarrett turned around to face his pursuer. Artis’ face was contorted in fury, but when Jarrett tried to knock the weapon out of his grip, he only laughed. “Foolish, impertinent child! It is no use to resist me!”
Jarrett ran past him in the direction he had come, thinking illogically that if he could get back into the cave, everything would return to how it had been before. He began to run as fast as he could, but lost his footing when he slipped on a loose rock, and realized with horror that he could do nothing to save himself from tumbling into the chasm below. As the demon’s cackling filled the air, he closed his eyes and waited for the end to come.
Unexpectedly, he felt himself land on a solid, feathery mass. Opening his eyes, he saw that he was riding on the back of some great white falcon that had the head of a human. An afroed head. A familiar head.
“Josh…Childress?” Jarrett asked weakly.
“The one and only,” Josh replied. “Let’s get you out of here.”