The Follicle Chronicles - Pt 2: A Fistful of Follicles

Submitted into Contest #182 in response to: Set your story in a society where everyone is constantly aware of unwanted surveillance.... view prompt

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Adventure Funny Speculative

Apparently, the best spot for a clandestine wig-slinging operation is the basement of a laundromat whose opening hours are zero. Well, zero for everyone except those clutching a fistful of follicles, like myself. I’m fresh off of my first job with Mace, laden with more hair than I dare carry in the streets, and I’m wondering how much the wigmaker pays for a spectacular haul like ours. There’s 15 grams of my own hair, 42 grams of my wife’s, and a sheaf of blonde lifted from the elite madam whom Mace and I robbed like the highwaymen of old. Or should it be hairwaymen?


‘You’ll have to give me all yer hair before we go inside, kiddo,’ Mace says.


‘Why’s that?’ I ask.


Mace glances up at a metal unit bolted to the top of the laundromat door. ‘See that?’


‘Yes.’


‘See this?’ He says, pointing to a metal bracelet so bulky, I can’t believe I missed it. ‘This here fine piece of jewellery scrambles that scanner up there, so our valuable cargo goes undetected by the authorities, and we remain—relatively speakin’—free citizens. If you walk under it now, all those follicles in yer pocket’ll sing like a choir, and the pluck squad’ll be here to chuck ya in the clink faster than ya can button yer proverbial lederhosen.’


I push my chin out, and pass him my stash. ‘So, surveillance is encroaching on everything now…’ 


‘Yeppers. Scanners are everywhere, Lux.’


‘Do you need to check me for hair growth before we go through?’


‘Oh, shoot. I nearly forgot. We’d better get you stripped down before you go in!’


I feel the blood drain from my face. ‘Really?’


No! Scanners only detect growth over 4 millimetres. But surveillance is advancing at an alarming rate, so don’t count on it staying that way.’


Mace bludgeons the laundromat door with his gargantuan fist. I hear a creak inside, and an elderly man hobbles over and unlatches several locks. Is this the delicate genius himself? Judging by that glittering purple waistcoat, most likely. He opens the door just a hair. 'Ahhh, hello, there. Do you have some laundry to do?’


‘Yes, sir,’ Mace says. ‘My clothes are filthy.’


‘Hoo-hoo—well, you’d better come in, then.’


We step into the laundromat, and a verification jingle plays from the metal box overhead. ‘Fortune favours the shaved,’ says a monotone voice. ‘Thank you for complying.’ 


Inside, there are rows of yellowing washer-dryers, carts filled with mildewed clothes, and old detergent bottles strewn everywhere. The countertops are sprinkled with fallen plaster. Does anyone actually do their laundry in this place? I hope not. That would be highly unsanitary. 


The man in the purple waistcoat mutters to himself while checking the street to see if we were followed. I assume it’s some sort of protective mantra that he recites when bolting the locks shut. 


‘Is that him?’ I whisper to Mace, ‘the wig master?’ But he doesn’t seem to hear me.


‘That’s Harlan. Master of wigs,a voice at the back of the room says. 


My eyes peer through the dimness. There’s a woman sitting on the countertop by an old cash register. 


‘You Mace’s new coworker?’ She asks.


‘I’m Lux,’ I say, thinking of shaking her hand, but thinking better of it when I see her spiky rings and bracelets.


‘Vega,’ she says, hopping down and brushing plaster dust from the backs of her thighs. ‘So, you’re dumb enough to work with Mace?’


‘Well, I—‘


‘Good luck on surviving your probationary period with him,’ she says.


Mace elbows me in the ribs like a jackhammer. ‘Ha-haw! You’re the new cannon fodder, kiddo.’ I clutch my side; that man doesn’t know his own strength. 


There’s a woman standing in the street, carrying a laundry basket, whom Harlan shoos away by pointing profusely at the ‘Closed’ sign, sweat dripping down his forehead. Was the woman who Harlan was muttering at the whole time?


‘My apologies,’ Harlan says, toddling by, and parting a set of curtains behind us. ‘Shall we?’ He asks, gesturing down a set of stairs. ‘I think you’ll be pleased with the news I have.’ 


I crouch under the basement doorjamb and clop down the wooden steps into what looks like a workshop. It’s filled with mannequin busts sporting half-finished wigs in different styles; some of them correspond with photographs of starlets and leading men from centuries past. Others are being assembled from primitive sketches by clients: pastel drawings of rainbow-coloured mohawks, pencil sketches of lush curls, and crayon renderings of bouffant afros.


‘So what’s the news, Wig master-general?’ Vega asks.


‘Hoo, yes. I’ve found a defector,’ Harlan says, donning his spectacles and firing up an ancient computer. ‘Or more accurately, he found me. He’s willing to leak information about the elites and their goings on.’


Really?’ Vega says, rubbing her hands together. ‘Who exactly?’ 


‘The personal assistant of Madam Scanlon, head of the strand.’ 


‘Pah! I wouldn’t trust anyone who’s worked in those circles in a million years,’ Mace says.


Harlan’s computer whines. He taps the stuttering monitor, and it fizzles into focus. ‘I’m cautiously optimistic. His disgruntlement seems very real. Imagine working for a monster like Scanlon…’


‘Scanlon’s probably driven him mad,’ Vega says, ‘That pompous witch.’


‘But what if this PA is a mole?’ Mace asks. 


Harlan holds up his finger. ‘Ah-bah-bah… It is prudent to be cautious, yes. But that’s why I’ve arranged a preliminary meeting for you all to dig up dirt on Scanlon.’ 


‘Scanlon? She’s the one whose hair we just lifted, isn’t she?’ I inquire of Mace. He takes the bag containing the fresh bale of blonde hair from his coat pocket, opens it up, and takes a long sniff before handing it to Harlan. 


‘There’s only one way to find out if the hair is Scanlon’s,’ Harlan says. ‘I’ll run it through the system.’


I put on my best upperclass voice, ’“Madam Scanlon is duty-bound to pluck your hair, you filthy little prole.”


Vega honks like a goose. ‘Is that what she said to you? Sounds just like her. Who else would refer to themselves in the third person?’


‘I know, right?’ I say.


‘Wait, are you saying that she plucked your hair? You can’t grow hair, can you?’ Asks Vega.


Mace delves deep into his coat and passes Vega the two parcels of mine and Tove’s produce. They’re a pittance compared with the volume of Scanlon’s crop, but hey, we tried.


‘Did you really grow this yourself?’ Vega asks.


‘On this very scalp,’ I say, pointing to my shiny pate. ‘Me and the wife, Tove, are starting a commune at our cabin in the countryside for that purpose.’


Astonishing,’ Harlan says, positioning a blonde fibre under the microscope and tapping his keyboard. ‘I would love to visit sometime.’


‘Me, too,’ Vega says. ‘My plan is to make enough money to leave the city.’


Mace drums his fat fingers impatiently on the polystyrene head of a wig-less mannequin. ‘Well, is it Scanlon’s, or not? That computer is incredibly slow.’


‘Hoo-hoo!’ Harlan exclaims, dabbing his brow with a handkerchief. ‘We have a match. Madam Ariadne Scanlon…’


Mace extends his palm in my direction, and I slap it with gusto. 


‘We nailed her, kiddo!’ He rubs my scalp with his knuckles.


‘Yes, yes, that’s all very good,’ Harlan says. ‘But you have more parcels here. Let me see them. Let’s get them weighed.’


The wig master doesn’t seem as impressed with my hair, or my wife’s, but he says that he’ll be able to use it as filler to round out some unfinished wigs. He calculates the value of my haul, and his printer spits out a receipt, which he passes it to me with quavering hands. I’m too fixated on the multiple zeros due to enter my bank account to give his arthritis any credence. The payment for the madam’s hair is generous, and I’ve no doubt that somebody will get a kick out of parading around wearing her hair while doing the vacuuming. I squint at the receipt and see that Mace hasn’t taken his cut. Is this a mistake? It’s best not to question it. I’ll put the extra dough towards the upkeep of the cabin and establishing the follicle farm with Tove. Speaking of wifey, she’ll be wondering where I am. I’d better get back to the cabin. 


After I’ve made my excuses, and Mace has bear hugged me, and Vega has warned me to watch out for hand-held scanners on my way to the tube station, I exit the laundromat. Apparently the pluck squad can pick up a whiff of hair from 50m away, so before walking through the door scanner into the wild of the streets, I check myself for hairs clinging to my clothes, or any escapees in my pockets.


I leave the laundromat clean of hair, bank balance healthier, with Harlan’s advice echoing through my head: ‘It would be prudent to lift as many wigs as possible before the rising tide of surveillance engulfs the city and makes it impossible.’ But all I want to do is lay by the fire with Tove at the cabin and rest. Forget everything. But something else demands my attention immediately. The woman with the basketful of clothes is still loitering across the street. Didn’t she get the message the first time? I should probably try and get rid of her. ‘The laundromat is closed. C-L-O-S-E-D.’ I shout. She narrows her eyes, drops her laundry basket, and marches towards me, huffing and puffing. Her scowling, chubby face looks familiar, as does her stocky frame. Run, Lux! Why are you stood here like a lemon? The woman balls her hands into fists, and I tear away from her, aiming for the nearest tube station. She screams after me ‘Where’s the haaair?’, but her short legs are no match for my mine, and I sprint to safety. I duck into the nearest underground station, dissolve into the darkness, and filter through the turnstile with my annual pass. I’ll board the first carriage that arrives. But was she a hair nanny? The same one who was protecting Scanlon? They must be watching us. They could be watching me, right now… I’ve got to throw them off somehow before I get to the cabin. Tove can’t know anything of this business.

January 27, 2023 10:53

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14 comments

Wendy Kaminski
14:54 Jan 29, 2023

Loved this second episode just as well, Jim! Really good action, great dialogue, solid plot. I am hoping the cliffhanger means there will be more of these, because this was awesome at working in the prompt, too! So many great lines (and just a great concept): - whose opening hours are zero. - I love how dry the main character's asides are - hairwaymen - lol :) - the pluck squad - :D - ‘Fortune favours the shaved,’ - the puns in this are worth the price of admission! - We’d better get you stripped down before you go in!’ - the casual hum...

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Jim Firth
15:24 Jan 29, 2023

Wendy, thanks for your amazing encouragement! I'm so glad you picked up on all of those bits, and came back for pt.2! Ah, of course - it should be bouffant afros, so i've changed it to that. Afros are probably buoyant if thrown in the sea, but that's not what I was getting at... Pt.3 coming this week. I'm having too much fun to stop now 😁

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Wendy Kaminski
15:36 Jan 29, 2023

Awesome!!! :)

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Aeris Walker
19:23 Feb 10, 2023

Hi friend! Sorry I’m falling behind here on the Follicle Chronicles, but this one was just as ridiculous and entertaining. Loved these descriptions here and think this would be a neat scene to have illustrated: “It’s filled with mannequin busts sporting half-finished wigs in different styles; some of them correspond with photographs of starlets and leading men from centuries past. Others are being assembled from primitive sketches by clients: pastel drawings of rainbow-coloured mohawks, pencil sketches of lush curls, and crayon renderings o...

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Jim Firth
13:06 Feb 11, 2023

Hello, friendo! As the creator of the series' title, you are allowed to check in fashionably late. I'm glad you dig this instalment, too. Having illustrations would be awesome. Didn't 'Roxy Gone Rogue' get the 3D treatment? Speaking of, I have a friend who's publishing the first issue of his printed zine this year which will feature 'Bureaucats' along with a movie poster type design of a cat and an escalator... If you'd like a story featured, I'm sure you could, because he is always looking for content. I agree. A crossover could work. ...

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Aeris Walker
01:12 Feb 20, 2023

Jim, Oh, congratulations that's great news! Bureaucats was such a fun story!! I can't wait to see the poster art made for that one...love it. Please share a link when it's done! Yes! Russell is the one who read my Roxie story and thought enough of it to really bring it life. He's done comic strip style illustrations for the whole thing now, which is up on his Blue Marble Storytellers site. ;)

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Jim Firth
16:38 Feb 20, 2023

Wow, the Roxie comic is absolutely ace. And I look forward to Song of the Forest coming out! My friend's zine is called Distraction Machine, and I think there'll be a digital copy so I'll send you a link for sure :)

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Michał Przywara
23:14 Feb 09, 2023

Heh, great follow up :) Things are going much too easily for Lux - he's stealing hair successfully with his wife none the wiser, he's passing scanners, he's getting paydays, he's looking at a lucrative opportunity with Scanlon's mole - so it's good to see the nanny return :) The whole thing feels like it's building up to a spectacular collapse. Looking forward to part 3!

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Jim Firth
13:03 Feb 10, 2023

Yes, where are the obstacles in this? Haha. I'm going to need a big collapse in the arc of the series before it resolves, for sure. Thanks for pointing that out. Helpful feedback, as always :)

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Mike Panasitti
17:24 Jan 29, 2023

The second episode of a most imaginative and entertaining series. A suggestion: that you eventually use the word "piloerection" somewhere along the line. Perhaps the nasty chemicals that the government puts in the tap water to deny the underclasses their hair also renders them impotent - as you mention in the first part, hirsuteness has long been symbolic of virility. I look forward to further Follicle Chronicles.

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Jim Firth
17:36 Jan 29, 2023

My God, you're so on the money it's scary, haha. I planned on introducing the impotence thing (or maybe sterility) in the first part, but thought it was too much backstory to dump right off the bat. Piloerection, eh? I had to google that, and I got that it means Goosebumps. Skin erection? Hmmm... Nice. Maybe I can work that in somewhere. It's great to have your input, and thanks for reading, bud!

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Mike Panasitti
18:02 Jan 29, 2023

According to my dictionary, the word is defined as "involuntary erection or bristling of hairs due to a sympathetic reflex usu. triggered by cold, shock, or fright or due to a sympathomimetic agent." Oh, the shortcomings of google searches! They sometimes do deny us the finer things in life.

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Jim Firth
18:47 Jan 29, 2023

Oh man, I gotta get me a proper dictionary. Thanks for that!

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Mike Panasitti
22:14 Jan 29, 2023

A highly advisable and wise investment, and it shouldn't be too difficult in the land that generated Oxford!

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