The Follicle Chronicles - Pt 1: Lifter of Wigs

Submitted into Contest #181 in response to: Write about a character who, for whatever reason, retreats to a remote cabin.... view prompt

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Adventure Funny Speculative

This story contains sensitive content

CW: Swearing. Mild Peril.


I didn’t realise how pale people from the city looked until I moved away. Tove thinks the urban water supply is laced with hair growth inhibitors, and I believe her—that would explain why everyone is hairless and smooth all over. Now that we’re convalescing at the cabin, our detox pathways have had a chance to eliminate the chemicals completely, and our follicles are sprouting for the first time. I don’t know what the history books will say, and I don’t want to speak too soon or sound arrogant, but this feels like a nascent revolution.  


Mornings at the cabin are perfect; Tove turns to face me in bed, and I inhale the delicious tang of her tufted armpits. She stares at my stubble, and I gaze at her lashes and swoon. She combs my brows and pits every morning, measuring with callipers and noting any growth in our journal. We take walks at dawn so as not to be seen by people in the nearby village. I get the impression that they’re not as anti-hair as city dwellers, but we can’t risk anything—even the tiniest sprout could land you in prison. Needless to say, we don’t plan on swapping our cosy cabin for a cell any time soon. We’re just getting going. 


Privately, we’ve taken to calling ourselves ‘follicle farmers’. Maybe those are generous titles considering we’ve only sprouted our own follicles so far, but we plan on welcoming others to grow in what will become our commune. Once we have enough turnover, we’ll sell armpit, pubic, and head wigs on the black market to sustain our lifestyle. With hair being virtually non-existent, and the collective mammalian unconscious hungering for the hirsute, I’m sure they’ll fetch quite a price


✂️✂️✂️


I welcome Mace into the cabin; fresh from the city—emaciated and follicularly challenged. He seats himself at the table next to Tove. She pours him a glass of fresh water. He boasts of being an experienced wig runner, one who can ship our product to the underground market called ‘the exchange’, and have it sold for a profit right away. Tove and I exchange looks. Bold claims, her face says. 


‘A wig runner?’ Tove asks. 


‘I had no idea,’ I say. ‘So there’s a demand, huh?’


‘Absolutely,’ Mace says. ‘People want ‘em for all sorts of reasons. For starters, guys want to look virile, and gals want to look pretty. In private, of course.’


Tove knits her brow. Always the skeptic. Her doubts about bringing Mace onboard to connect us to the exchange aren’t irrational, but who else are we going to consult? No-one—if she had her way. She would prefer that we do all the growing and selling ourselves, but I keep telling her to have faith (or blind faith, as she calls it). Yesterday she was hung up on the idea that when Mace visits, he could easily sneak off to the bathroom, pluck a wad of hair out of our shower drain, and report us to the authorities. ’One strand is all he needs to usurp us and our property,’ she said. ‘I’m ridding this cabin of all hair, so he has no chance.’ To me, Mace doesn’t look devious enough to pull that off, but who knows. 


‘So—what does one eat for breakfast on a follicle farm?’ Mace asks.


‘We’ve got some goop, if you’d care for it,’ I offer. 


‘What flavour?’ He asks.


‘Number nine,’ I say.


‘That’ll do.’


I scoop the powder into a canister, fill it with uncontaminated tap juice, shake it up, and present it to Mace on my forearm with a flourish. ‘Your gourmet goop, sir. It has been aged for six years in a chipboard cupboard. Notice the notes of MDF. Care to try it first?’


Mace chuckles and rubs his bald head in circles. His pate wavers like a sea of blancmange. ‘No, I’m sure it’s fine,’ he says, necking half of the goop in an instant and wiping his jowls with his sleeve. ‘You know, I was a helium harvester.’


‘That’s a lucrative career,’ Tove says. ‘I’m impressed.’ But her face says otherwise. Could a man of Mace’s standing have made it through the years of schooling required to handle helium? I’ll admit it—he doesn’t seem like the academic type, but more an animalistic brute. Not a physics whizz, but a man who knows how to score you some whizz. 


‘Helium minin’s a boomin’ industry,’ he says. ‘But I needed to diversify; I needed to get ahead of the curve and lift some wigs.’


Tove folds her arms. ‘Lift some wigs?’


Steal. Pinch. Boost,’ Mace says with a grin. ‘Since you got outta the city, ankle length hair has become the status symbol for the elites. The posh’s locks are protected from ‘trailin’ in puddles and collectin’ street grime’ by hair nannies. 


I shake my head. ’You don’t say… Those sons of bitches.’


‘Them hair-nannies is trained in tae-kwon-do. Gotta be smart to lift a wig these days. Takes two men.’ 


Mace tilts his head and raises a bald eyebrow at me. At least, I think he does. It’s hard to tell when there’s no hair involved.


‘What are you implying? You want me to help you flip a wig?’


Lift a wig. . .’ he says. ‘Lift wigs, plural. Lift ‘em and shift ‘em. I know a buyer at the exchange who can sell ‘em at a profit.’


Tove does not look impressed. ‘Easy as that, is it?’ 


‘Well, there’re risks involved, as with anythin’ that’s worth doing.’


Tove gets up, walks over to the sink, leans over it and sighs.


Mace clears his throat. ’Lux, listen. There’re only two heads in this cabin—yours and your good lady’s. That ain’t enough hair to fetch any kinda moolah. You need to do some harvestin’. The elite’s got plenty of hair to go around. They’re hoggin’ it all, for Gawd’s sake. It’s there for the takin’.’


Though she has her back to me, I can feel Tove rolling her eyes. Mace does have a point, though. If we intend to go on living as recluses, we’ll need regular injections of cash, and if dipping into the city every now and then to raid the rich and snatch some locks is the answer, maybe she’s just going to have to accept that. And so am I. 


✂️✂️✂️


Mace’s massive hand weighs on my shoulder like an anvil. He tells me that this park is where the elite come to have their hair walked. There are several well-to-dos strutting around with their shoulders back, locks on full display, no doubt attempting to make each other jealous. They nod almost imperceptibly to one another. It’s passive-aggressive-body-language for ‘I got you beat in the hair department, bitch.’ The stocky East Asian nannies scurry along, trying to keep pace with their lanky masters while holding their hair aloft.  


‘Don’t look so worried, Lux. You’re properly groomed. Not a hair in sight. You’ll be fine as long as you don’t get Karate-chopped.’


‘Very reassuring,’ I say. ‘But I don’t think I can do this.’ 


Seeing the nannies with their brick-breaking fists in the flesh is enough to put me off. I beg Mace to skip wig lifting duty so we can head straight to the exchange and drop my hair off with the wig maker. Then we can collect our dough, and get the hell out of the city altogether. But he’s caught up in the hunt like a bloodhound following the aroma of hair conditioner through the park. It’s a smell that, even in my anxious state, I find alluring—a luxury in this landscape barren of hair. Call it olfactory override, but it is lessening my agitation. 


‘See her with the knee-length hair? That’s our girl.’


I sniff deeply. ‘Bloody hell. She’s tall. Like a giraffe on the Serengeti. Please, can we just—I don’t want the shit kicked out of me by a nanny.’


Mace grabs me by the shoulders and shakes me around. ‘There’s no backing out now,’ he says. ‘Target locked on. The lift has begun.’


‘Oh, God… So how do we do this?’


‘You distract them up front, and I’ll demobilise the nanny from behind. Then, you pin the madam down and lop her locks off.’ 


Mace hands me a pair of shears. I inspect their blades. ‘But I’ve never scalped anyone before.’


‘Don’t scalp her, nitwit. Cut her hair as close as possible—but leave her dang skin alone. Got it?’


‘What do I say to her to distract her?’


‘Ask her about her hair regimen or somethin’. Ya know, what conditioner she uses. Narcissists love talkin’ about themselves.’


I conceal the shears up my coat sleeve and Mace physically encourages me onto the path which the madam is winding her way down. I stumble, and style it out into a trot. God, that is some intimidatingly long hair. I mean, really long and silky, but forbidding. 


I step in front of the madam. Her nanny rolls in front of her, commando style, and plants her bulk down in a kung-fu stance; angry hedgehog, maybe? ‘Hi-there-what’s-your-regiment-your-hair-smells-good,’ I say, taking a quarter bow and addressing the madam directly.


The nanny growls, and I take a step back. 


‘Look, Jing, a proletariat... and its eye is twitching,’ the madam says, craning her giraffe neck down and talking to me as if I’m deaf or dumb. ‘What are you doing in this park? Are all of the taverns and brothels full?’ 


She cackles. Her piercing gaze analyses my features with cold detachment. The madam’s eyes shift from my spasmodic cornea and settle on the point between my brows. I feel her irises honing in on some detail there. The madam gasps and covers her mouth. ‘That prole—it’s got a—hair on its glabella. It’s not supposed to have a hair on its glabella! Jing—my tweezers. Quickly.’


The hair nanny reaches into her utility belt and retrieves a pair of metal pincers. She passes them to the madam. What other weapons does she have squirrelled away in her pouch? I hope I don’t find out. At least I’ve got both of their attention. What in the fiery heck is taking Mace so long to get over here? Cut the damn hair already.


‘Forgive me, madam, but I have to ask again. What is your hair regiment?’


Regimen. How typical.’ She wags her finger at me as she edges towards me with the tweezer. ‘You’re not supposed to have hair, you filthy little prole. As a guardian of the strand, I am legally obliged to remove it.’ She pinches her nose and reaches for my head with the the tweezers. ‘Stay very still,’ she says. ‘Outrageous... unbelievable’ she says quietly to herself.


The nanny’s mouth has fallen agape. She seems as morbidly fascinated with my lone brow hair as the madam. Finally. Mace has shuffled close enough. He reaches into his trench-coat and takes out a switchblade.


‘I’m a unicorn!’ I shout, galloping on the spot, dodging the madam’s attempts to vanquish my monobrow. ‘Stay still!’ She shouts. I dance my brow up and down, and she chases it with her posh looking pincers, pecking at my forehead skin.


Mace lifts the madam’s hair up by its leash and cinches it up nice and tight. Now I stay a still as possible for crunch time. The madam yanks at my hair. ‘Got it!’, she shouts. ‘Another pluck for Madam Scanlon!’ Mace strokes her hair in a fluid motion with his blade, and pulls the leashed locks away like a wheat sheaf, darting off through the park. Jesus, that was smooth. Thank God that hair doesn’t have nerves in it. She’s oblivious; she’s too focused on my hair crimes. 


The madam holds my hair out at arms’ length in her pincers. ’Look at this, Jing,’ she says. ‘The authorities will have a field day!’ 


The madam carefully deposits my hair in a small plastic bag held open by the nanny. That one tiny hair is the difference between living a blissful life at the cabin with Tove, and a miserable existence in prison with multitudinous baldies. It’s a no brainer—I snatch the bag, and the madam wails. Instead of hanging around to have my internal organs pummelled by the nanny, I make use of the ample getaway blood in my thighs, and spring over the park wall. Landing on the street, I sprint after Mace, gripping the bag tightly in my fist. As I run, I think of Tove and how she didn’t agree with the wig lifting, and how I did it anyway without telling her. As far as she knows, I’m only here to hustle to the exchange and sell our hair—not that of the elite. Bad husband? Me? No. I’m a provider. Look at me go, harvesting strands from snobs; running as fast as the bicycles on the road; keeping pace with taxi cabs; chasing the dream. I’m an invincible hair thief. I’ve never felt more alive.


I round a corner and see Mace waiting for me by the rendezvous point—a small, family-run laundrette a few blocks from the park. ‘Mace, Mace, Mace! D’ya feel that rush? Huh! Whattarush.’ 


He coolly takes a strand of the madam’s hair out and flosses his septum with it, inhaling deeply. ‘Oh, yeah. This is good stuff. Smells like cookies.’ 


‘No way! It does!’


‘You got yours and your wifey’s hair, kiddo?’


I nod, gasping for air, hunched over. ‘Did you leave a leave a hair on my brow on purpose? You were supposed to clean me up 100%.’


‘It worked, didn’t it? It was highly effective bait. . .’ 


Mace pats me on the back with those shovels he calls hands, and I cough up blood and phlegm onto the pavement. Mace scans the streets, presumably for a stocky East Asian woman furiously eating up the pavement. When I regain my breath, I gander, and I see only the usual drones shuffling along at a depressed clip. ‘Why isn’t she following us—that little ball of fury?’ I ask.


‘That was one sub-par nanny. Veeerrrrry docile. You got lucky on your first lift.’ 


‘Are they trained to stay with their master after an attack, or something?’


Mace shrugs his shoulders. ‘Who cares. It’s cashin’ in time. Let’s get to the exchange before it closes. We can discuss my cut on the way.’


I check my pocket for the two plastic bags filled with mine and my wife’s hair. It’s all still there. 


‘Right,’ I say. ‘Let’s do it.’


‘I want a third of the profits,’ Mace says, as he steps over and opens the door to the laundromat. Its bell rings.


‘Oh. We’re here?’


‘We’re here,’ he says. ‘Now how about that percentage, kiddo?’ 

January 20, 2023 15:46

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14 comments

Alec Riley
00:36 Jan 26, 2023

An interesting take on a dystopian world. To be fair, who knows what will be the next commodity to be wheeled and sealed in the future? Fun stuff.

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Jim Firth
15:57 Jan 26, 2023

Yes, who knows? 😲 Thanks for reading, Alec!

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Aeris Walker
13:08 Jan 22, 2023

Zombie apocalypse, EMP, alien invasion—anything but baldness!! (Ok, fine, it’s not THAT bad.) Oh the ridiculous originality. Fantastic world building haha—I think my favorite visual/detail is the fact that the “elites” flaunt ankle length hair. That’s super clever and interesting, and sounds like it would be fairly realistic in a world like this. “Hair Nannies”…😆😆😆

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Jim Firth
13:51 Jan 22, 2023

I agree, all those things would be much worse, lol. But hair austerity might feel apocalyptic to some people! There will be more of this world coming soon. THE WIG SAGA?! I don't have a title for the series. . . Thank you for taking the time to peruse and comment so kindly 🫠

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Aeris Walker
16:32 Jan 22, 2023

The Follicle Chronicles LOL

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Jim Firth
17:32 Jan 22, 2023

🤭 Perfect! I am definitely using that

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Wendy Kaminski
04:10 Jan 21, 2023

So refreshingly different, Jim! Delightful and unique - did something inspire this idea? I was totally enthralled... and I particularly enjoyed the scissor separators. Nice! :)

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Jim Firth
13:40 Jan 22, 2023

Cheers, Wendy! I'm glad you had some fun reading it. Without sounding too pretentious, I was writing some stream of consciousness gibberish to flex the muscles of my subconscious again after an extended break from writing, and this guy started talking about 'selling his beard'. So it all came from there, haha. That's usually how my stories are born, from the tiniest and daftest of ideas.

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Wendy Kaminski
15:46 Jan 22, 2023

I love that process! I will have to try that next time the tank is dry. :) Very neat!

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Michał Przywara
21:35 Feb 09, 2023

Ha! This was great :) Super original, both silly and serious, and touches on some nice themes of getting away from it all and class warfare. "uncontaminated tap juice" love it. What an amazing phrase :) I wonder what sent the world down this path. A moral anti-hair revolution? A bald and charismatic tyrant? Dastardly wigsmiths creating artificial demand to corner the black market? Looking forward to checking out the follow up stories :)

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Jim Firth
12:58 Feb 10, 2023

Tap juice, Adam's ale, council pop. S'all good. Having a bald, charismatic tyrant as the catalyst is a great idea. I already have a villain, but I could work another one in. Maybe he could have died and things have continued his way. I agree with 'silly and serious'. The absurdity of the premise doesn't always undercut the drama of the scenes in the way that I initially intended, but I'm sort of locked in on that tone now. Haha. Cheers, Michal.

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Mike Panasitti
16:43 Jan 29, 2023

Jim, as a guy in my 50s who's been concerned about losing hair since his teens this story definitely struck a few chords. I agree with the commentators who say you've built quite an original dystopian world here. If a novel could be written about a character driven to dysfunction by his olfactory sense ("Perfume"), I honestly believe an equally powerful novel could be written about clandestine hair harvesters in a setting where only the elite are allowed to sport shag. Excellent work. I look forward to reading the next installment.

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Jim Firth
17:29 Jan 29, 2023

Mike, thanks for stopping by and perusing. I feel ya, I could probably benefit from a propecia pill, or two. Thanks for bringing Perfume up as a comparison, I'd forgotten about that novel. I remember reading it as a teen when I heard that it was one of Kurt Cobain's favourite novels. I remember it being pretty good, and pretty dark! Haha! 'Sporting shag' is a phrase I'd love to use in the next instalment. It really rolls off of the tongue beautifully... Plus, I was running out of synonyms for hair. But now I have a new one! So cheers 😋

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Mike Panasitti
17:57 Jan 29, 2023

Don't hesitate to use international terminology for strands of keratin. "Coif" when referring to hairdos would also be apropos.

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