The Transmogrification of Casper Piver

Casper Piver was one of those lonely people who populate the world but go unnoticed, having no family, friends, or loved ones. He’d been placed in an orphanage at two, where he stayed until he graduated high school. When high school was over he was greatly relieved, and anxious to get out into the real world. Not that he had any great expectations, but anything would be better than the State Home. Thankfully he’d taken some vocational courses and found he had an aptitude for bookkeeping. It didn’t hurt that he was suited for it, allowing him his little niche, finding comfort in the straightforwardness of it all. He went to a placement service and was hired as a temp at a downtown industrial supply firm. Things seemed to be mutually beneficial as he was still employed there some twenty years later. He’d even shown some initiative by augmenting his skills at a local business school, auditing several basic accounting courses, which earned him a full-time promotion to head bookkeeper, and made him invaluable to his boss, Mr. Peters. Not a boastful man, he basked in this modicum of success; he was infinitely more secure and confident at work than he was in any other part of his life. Deferential but not obsequious, he got on fine with the handful of employees at the firm.

Lately however, he’d been vaguely dissatisfied for some reason, getting the feeling that life was passing him by. He didn’t like that feeling and didn’t know what to do about it. He was made for bigger and better things, he thought, and whatever that meant he felt it would happen soon.

Not long after that he woke up one morning with horrible thoughts, an unusual occurrence for him. Perhaps it had been the dream he’d had although, as usual, he couldn’t remember a thing about it. Ever fastidious, he tidied up his dark apartment before he went out into the cold winter night, moving about as if he were sleepwalking. Tiny, it didn’t take him long. Unlike him to venture out in the evening, especially on a snowy night like this, it must be a matter of dire urgency. In fact, early to bed and early to rise had been his habit most of his life, and he was nothing if not a creature of habit. It was even more curious that he wasn’t even sure why or where he was going. Something was drawing him out, however, and he felt compelled to follow until he discovered what it was.

Even though it was dark it was clear by the streetlights festooned with Christmas lights the season was fast approaching, which he had always enjoyed in spite of having no one to celebrate it with. As he walked down Chippewa Street in a run-down, mostly deserted section of town he immediately spotted someone he thought he recognized, a younger man with a sparse mustache in a shabby overcoat with a long soiled green muffler, and a battered fedora atop his head. Mr. Piver couldn’t help staring at the rather dissolute young man, who hadn’t seemed to notice him, wondering why he looked so familiar, saddened that someone looked so seedy in what should have been the prime of life. He decided to follow him, lurking in the shadows along the wall of a brick factory building adjacent to him. He let the young man continue on then followed as unobtrusively as possible in the silent night, hoping he wouldn’t be seen. He drew to an abrupt halt outside a sleazy looking bar the young man entered. He stood transfixed to the spot, not knowing what to do next. He peered into the dark cavern but could see very little through its steamed up, grimy windows.

Maybe it was his long lost son, he thought momentarily, at the same instant knowing that was impossible, him being a confirmed bachelor and involuntary celibate. I must be losing it, he said to himself, but he couldn’t help it and continued to dwell on this. Yes, his son, why not, and wouldn’t it then be perfectly natural for him to saunter casually through the doors of this establishment to buy him a drink, to while away the time in a reverie of music, drink, and a casual yet intimate conversation about all that had transpired in the intervening years, which would all fall away amidst their joyous reunion. From what he could see it looked warm and cozy inside and no one was leaving, which for some reason was important to him.

I’ve got to get myself together before I go in, he realized, banish these thoughts, or whatever they are, I know they’re not real. Before he knew it he was inside and there was no turning back. He steeled himself to make his way to the bar, where the young man was sitting, without looking at anyone and in turn not being noticed. He got to the bar successfully and realized he, a teetotaler, needed a drink in the worst way. He didn’t dare look to the other end of the bar where the young stranger sat. As the burly mustachioed bartender approached, he tried frantically to remember the name of a drink he’d heard mentioned somewhere one time…it had something to do with baseball…oh yes, he blurted out, I’ll have a highball.

He had no idea what was in the drink but what did it matter? How bad could it be? He watched the bartender pour what looked like whiskey over ice, add some ginger ale, then come over and set it down in front of him. Maybe if I nurse it, he thought, take small sips, I can get it down. Why didn’t I just ask for a beer? The first sip told him it was much worse than imagined. Oh, he liked ginger ale all right, but the whiskey overpowered it so much he had to force it down, sending chills through him. It was just the three of them at the bar, and Mr. Piver, thinking it would be rude otherwise, looked down at the young man and nodded slightly. He did not respond, in fact pretended he hadn’t seen it when Mr. Piver knew that wasn’t the case.

Oh well, he thought, unperturbed, let’s just see what happens, the night is young. Besides, I need a little more courage.


Mr. Piver, normally very careful with his money, saw that the stranger and the bartender were having the tête-à-tête conversation he’d hoped to have, and decided he’d break it up by seeing if they wanted a drink, on him. The bartender looked down the bar and said, No, thanks, I’m on the water wagon. The stranger said nothing so Mr. Piver decided to push it. How about you son, he asked, would you like a drink? The stranger finally spoke, replying surily, No thanks, and I’m not your son.

Mr. Piver was very flustered now, but he wasn’t going to let it go. Of course I know you’re not my son, he said, I was speaking figuratively, don’t you know that much, all the while thinking, I don’t have a son, I don’t have anyone, really.

Neither the bartender nor the stranger said anything and Mr. Piver was really embarrassed now. He immediately got off his stool and headed for the door. I’m sorry to have bothered you, he said, looking back. There was no audible response but as he was crossing the threshold he thought he heard the word “nut”. Maybe I am, he wondered, but then said to no one in particular, I am not, I am not.


When Mr. Piver woke the next morning he was still convinced that he was going to make his mark somehow. In spite of what had happened the night before he was undeterred though perhaps not quite as confident. Meanwhile he thought he’d ask the landlord if he could get a dog, something he’d meant to do for a long time but couldn’t bring himself to. He knew it wasn’t allowed but he’d been a good tenant for over a decade, and if he said no he’d move elsewhere. Yes a dog, he said, have to start somewhere. Man’s best friend and all that.

Feeling parched from the whiskey the previous evening, he got up to pour himself some seltzer. Now that’s more like it, he said, after taking a deep swig and belching. He suddenly remembered how he’d had those strange dreams the night before and now was certain that was what had impelled him to go out. He’d have to watch it or he would end up in the nut house.

He’d been talking to himself for a long time, as long as he could remember, sometimes out loud sometimes in his head, but he didn’t once think it strange, as he rarely had anyone else to talk to. He told himself he needed to get showered, shaved, then out and about. Maybe he’d visit Mrs. Clancy two floors down. She was a grand lady, much like the mother he never had.

He wanted to talk to her about last night, see if she could make any sense of it. He always brought her something when he paid her a visit, candy or flowers, and went down the street to a candy store. She likes the cherry cordials, Mr. Piver remembered, and bought her a box.

Returning to his building he went straight up to her apartment. Her hallway always smelled like cabbage or brisket, and he often had to wait a while until she realized someone was at the door.

Why hello Casper, Mrs. Clancy said. Were you there long? I see you come bearing gifts.

Good afternoon, Mrs. Clancy, he said. No, I didn’t have to wait long. Yes, I did bring something for you.

Why, aren’t you a dear, she said. Come in, come in and sit down, I just brewed a pot of tea.

Mr. Piver sat where he usually did, on the turquoise recliner with the antimacassar to the right side of the fireplace, and Mrs. Clancy on its twin on the other side. He loved the pungent smell of the peat fire Mrs. Clancy always had going in the winter. He heard her rummaging around in the kitchen and called out to see if she needed any help.

No thanks, Casper. Everything’s ready so sit tight and I’ll be right in.

A few moments later she came in the room bearing her silver tea set and porcelain tea cups on a silver tray.

It’s so nice to have you here, Casper, said Mrs. Clancy. I hardly get to use these anymore, only when special company comes. They were my mother’s from the old sod.

I’m flattered to be deemed worthy, he replied, they’re lovely.

Mrs. Clancy was alone, her husband having died several years ago. In her mid-seventies, she still looked hale and hearty. She’d lived in the apartment for over forty years, and it just wasn’t the same now that her Jimmy was gone. But what can you do, she’d say, you have to make the best of it. She was a devout Catholic, attending Mass every day, her social life revolving around the church, and lived for her Friday night Bingo. She’d asked him many a time to come with her but he hadn’t as yet.

She wasn’t so interested in saving his soul as having him participate in their singles group. He’d managed to put her off but if she asked him this time he might just take her up on it. She hadn’t mentioned it as yet though, which was unusual. I can always bring it up, he thought, if I can do it without embarrassing myself.

So what have you been doing with yourself? Mrs. Clancy asked, interrupting his reverie.

Mr. Piver, slightly rattled, replied, Oh the usual Mrs. C., you know me. He was thinking about the dream he’d had and what had subsequently taken place at the bar. It had to be a sign, he thought, but of what? All he knew for certain was he’d changed in some way since having it, though he hadn’t yet figured out how.

As if reading his mind Mrs. Clancy said, Have you given any more thought about coming to church? Tomorrow is Sunday, you know.

So it is, said Mr. Piver, smiling, I might just take you up on that. What time?

9 o’clock mass, Mrs. Clancy replied. We can meet in the lobby and walk there.

It’s supposed to be a fine day.

Will do, Mrs. C., Mr. Piver said, standing up to leave.

I’m so excited you’re coming with me, Mrs. Clancy said. That’ll give ‘em something to talk about.

I doubt anyone will notice, thought Mr. Piver, but he replied, See you in the morning Mrs. C. Thanks for the tea. Bright and early she called down the stairway.


When he got back to his apartment he immediately sat down in his easy chair. Ever cautious, Mr. Piver was wondering why he’d done what he had just done, wondered about the other things he’d done in the past twenty-four hours, and was unable to account for his actions. Maybe I am off my rocker he decided. Oh well, might as well go whole hog. He got up and looked around in the kitchen until he found the dusty bottle of Madeira he kept on the top shelf of a cupboard for a special occasion.

Now’s as good a time as any, he thought, breaking the seal and quaffing the musky wine from an old heretofore unused sherry glass. Just one to take the edge off, he rationalized, which it did. Feeling flushed from the sherry he settled into his easy chair and let out a sigh. After it had warming it up he tuned the Philco console next to him to his favorite music program, “Jazz in the Night” which played big band more than bebop, all the rage these days. He had listened to it so often he felt like he knew the deejay, whose name was Al Steele. He had a clock radio in his bedroom and would listen there until he fell asleep, but that evening his mind began to race as “Begin the Beguine” came on, which usually got him where he was going. Not that night however and as he lay there unable to sleep he realized something strange was going on and he didn’t like it. He didn’t know what to think, his whole life was discombobulated. Something was making him feel this way, had drawn him to the young man, though he still had no idea what it was. He even wanted to go back to the bar (which he probably passed every day on his way to work but had never noticed) to see if he would be there. Something had also made him agree to go to church with Mrs. Clancy, but again, he had no idea what it was. Ah, it’s probably nothing he said, I’m just a fool to think I’m something special.


Casper knew he was meant for bigger and better things, how or why he didn’t know, just that he did. He’d always thought it, it was what kept him going, but he never had any inkling as to what it could be. Now he felt the faintest glimmer of hope that he might realize it, a result, no doubt, of recent events.

Perhaps it was a new start, beginning with going to church that morning. He hadn’t been to church regularly since the orphanage, where attendance was mandatory. He met Mrs. Clancy as promised and they walked to church huddled together against the bright sunny but freezing morning. Out of the blue, perhaps to make things seem warmer, Mrs. Clancy observed that Easter would be here before you knew it. You must come to the Sunday morning Easter Mass, Casper, she enthused, it’s so beautiful with all the flowers and lovely new spring dresses and hats!

Mr. Piver didn’t want to commit to anything so far off, didn’t even want to hope that spring would come, he still had to get through Christmas after all, but even he thought it sounded wonderful, and blurted out uncharacteristically, Oh, I think I’d like that. We’ll have to see though.

Oh fuddy duddy, Mrs. Clancy replied, we’ll have to see my foot.

Mr. Piver grew red in the face and couldn’t help but think in three weeks you could be dead Mrs. Clancy. I’ll probably go, he said softly.

That’s better, Mrs. Clancy replied. It’s a date.

As soon as they got inside the church Mr. Piver smelled the incense, candles, flowers, and polished wood. It was so overwhelming he felt a little faint. He was glad when Mrs. Clancy stopped at the second last row, genuflected, and sat down, Casper right behind her. He looked around the church, which was only half filled, and up at the beautiful stained glass windows.

This city is known for its beautiful churches, Mrs. Clancy said, taking a handkerchief and a black-beaded rosary out of her purse. Now ssshhh, church is about to start. Mr. Piver was fairly conversant about the city churches as he’d been in many of them (though never for long), looking for something so evanescent he could never find it (if he even knew what it was, but he’d know when he found it) and then he’d given up. He had to admit he felt some faint stirrings as he sat there during the first hymn. He’d always loved the liturgy and the music, he had no problem with that. It was mostly the people he disliked, he thought they were hypocrites, no doubt feeling this way as the result of the boys at the Home recommencing their persecution of him as soon as service was over.

He looked over at Mrs. Clancy as she held the missal in her white-gloved hand. What he’d give to be as content as she was, bolstered by her faith! He just didn’t think it was going to happen for him, which was the way he thought about most things. Born alone die alone. Anything in between was gravy. He suddenly remembered why he hadn’t gone to church much as an adult; it engendered maudlin thoughts (mostly about the distant past) he couldn’t bear to dwell on. Suddenly he got up and sidled down the otherwise empty pew then bolted out of the church without looking back once.

What compelled him to do this (aside from the maudlin thoughts) he didn’t know, it just got very stuffy in there and he had to get to get out before he fainted. He walked over to Louie’s, a hot dog joint just down the street. He went in and ordered a foot long with everything on it, and a cup of coffee. The lunch crowd hadn’t arrived yet and the place was mostly empty. He spotted a newspaper that had been left behind by someone, the Sunday edition too, with the funnies and crossword puzzles galore, and ads for store sales and food coupons. His copy would be waiting for him when he got home but he thought he’d just pass the time with it until his food arrived. He often spent the entire day with the paper, and looked forward to its arrival each Sunday, hearing it carom off his apartment door with a heavier plop than the other days, which he’d warned the paperboy not to do as it often was scattered all over the hall.

What he saw on the front page stunned him. The headline blared out BODY FOUND IN ALLEY, FOUL PLAY SUSPECTED. It had happened the night before, right near the bar where he’d been. No name was being released until the next of kin were notified, but he was a male in his mid-thirties and had been bludgeoned to death. Mr. Piver felt sick when he read that. When his food came he asked if it could be wrapped to go, and beelined home to watch the noon news.

When he reached his place he immediately switched on the television. The news was just coming on, so he’d made it in time. It was the lead story but he didn’t learn much as it mostly repeated what he’d just read in the paper. Maybe this was what I was waiting for, he suddenly thought, hurrying back to the bar he’d been at a few nights ago. Maybe the same bartender would be there and might know something, it hadn’t happened that far away. He went up to the bar and soon a short stout man with a pencil mustache appeared. What’ll it be, he asked. Mr. Piver wanted to ask him about the bartender from the night he’d been there but knew he’d have to order something first. I’ll have a ginger ale he said, and, scanning the shelf with all the pretty bottles lined up in a row, saw some pickled eggs and pig’s knuckles in jars on the counter and said he’d have one of each. And some beer nuts, he added.

He heard the bartender muttering under his breath as he slammed the plate down so hard the pickled egg almost rolled off. He inspected both the egg and the pig’s knuckle, neither of which he’d ever had before nor looked very appealing up close. As he peered closer at them their odor wrinkled his nostrils. He needed that information, though, so he shoved first the egg into his mouth and chewed without tasting it, swallowing it too soon, which made him gag. He washed it down quickly with the ginger ale, and, looking dubiously at the pig’s knuckle, grabbed it and began gnawing on it. The brine almost made him choke and there was hardly any meat on it at all, so he soon put it back on the plate and took another long pull on his ginger ale. At least the beer nuts were good, he thought finally, and they assuaged his hunger. The bartender was watching him so Mr. Piver ordered another ginger ale and asked him about the other bartender when he brought it.

Last night or Friday night, the man said, there’s a different bartender here every night.

Definitely Friday night, Mr. Piver said.

Big guy, the bartender asked.

When Mr. Piver nodded his head yes he said, that’d be Lenny. Who wants to know?

When does he work next? Mr. Piver asked.

The bartender looked at a calendar on the wall and said, Tonight, as a matter of fact. Six-thirty. You wanna leave a message?

No that’s all right, Mr Piver said softly. I’ll come in and see him tonight.

Have it your way, the bartender responded, shrugging his shoulders.


While he hated the thought of having to go back there, he knew he needed to in order to find out about the stranger’s whereabouts or the identity of the murder victim, or both. As he trudged back to the bar he passed by the scene of the crime, it seemed nothing unusual at all had taken place, things were eerily back to normal. Funny how that could happen, he thought, all that hubbub, violence, and death, and now looking as if nothing had happened. When he went into the bar there was another bartender working, not the one he’d come to see. Now completely befuddled, Mr. Piver didn’t know what to do next; he knew he needed to ask the question (or several) but didn’t know where to begin. A) Should I ask where the regular bartender is? B) Should I ask where the stranger had gone? C) Should I ask who the murder victim was? Maybe they were interrelated he thought, which could make for many permutations. He settled on D) All of the above. In reality the answers were (in order):

a) Dead

b) Whereabouts unknown

c) see A

Armed with this logic he walked up to the present bartender to ask question A but he’d hardly gotten in out when the bartender interrupted him.

Who’s askin’, he said suspiciously.

Rather than explain what he couldn’t begin to Mr. Piver lost his nerve and stammered his thankyous and goodbyes while backing out of the bar, turning suddenly when he hit the entrance and running home as fast as he could.

When he arrived there he tried to settle himself down by sorting out the facts. The bartender was dead, the victim of the aforementioned murder. It didn’t give him the answer he really wanted, i.e. who/where was the stranger, and had disrupted his line of questioning so thoroughly none of it made any sense, so much so that he might as well be back where he started.

He was so confused/upset he began spinning around and around like a whirligig, finally hurtling toward his bed.

The same instant he collapsed there the younger man he had been seeking woke up with horrible thoughts…

Tom Evans is a librarian living near NYC, having had 3 poems published recently in ‘The Basil O’Flaherty’ and with 3 book length manuscripts at publishers awaiting decisions.