The Follicle Chronicles - Pt.3: Hirsute Pursuit

Submitted into Contest #183 in response to: Write a story that includes the line “We’re just too different.”... view prompt

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Adventure Funny Speculative

Nothing is complicated with Mace. According to him, infiltrating Madam Scanlon’s private grounds will be as straightforward as ‘taking a dump’. Sometimes, I think we’re just too different to work together, but he has this undeniable knack for getting things done.


He parks his pickup truck next to the compound boundary so we can scale the wall. 


‘Mind the drop on the other side,’ he warns me. ‘And watch out for the moss.’ 


But I slip on the green slime, and tumble off the wall into a hedge that provides perfect camouflage. I wriggle down through the hedge and force my way out, stinging with scratches. Mace joins me, and we duckwalk across the grounds, periodically taking cover behind several statues of Madam Scanlon. How many does she need?!


We file along the walls of a few buildings, and at Scanlon’s headquarters, we crouch by a window. Mace jimmies it open. He takes out a small, circular mirror and surveys the room behind us. From what I can see, it’s filled with a dozen or so women sitting still around a long table.


‘Check it out,’ Mace says, angling the mirror towards me. ‘Scanlon’s got doppelgängers…’


I count six women with bone structures as severe as the Madam herself, all sporting shag down to their ankles. Though one of the doppelgängers’ hair is barely past her ears. 


‘That must be the one we snipped,’ I whisper.


Mace stifles a smirk. ‘She doesn’t look too happy…’ 


He swivels the mirror to reveal six other women with spherical faces plastered with prominent monobrows—the hair nannies; the crack team of martial artists who guard the madam’s coif with their legendary fighting prowess.


Mace unfolds a sheet of paper and hands it to me. It’s an agenda leaked by Scanlon’s PA, a rundown of the meeting we’re about to eavesdrop on.


  1. Hair nanny roundups 
  2. Doppelgänger roundups 
  3. Hair colour change for Madam Scanlon
  4. Caviar break
  5. Review dietary and exercise policies
  6. Hair nanny refresher courses: Kung Fu, Judo, Aikido, Hair Care Techniques, Matriarchy 101.


In Mace’s mirror, I see a figure dressed in a black cloak enter the room. The whole staff—doppelgängers and hair nannies alike—stands and acknowledges the hooded figure’s presence. It stands at the centre of the table, and gestures for everyone to sit.


‘Today, we mourn the loss of Audrey’s sublime strands, though her sacrifice brings with it great honour. Her hair contains all fifty-four kinds of keratin now thanks to Dr Doidge’s supplement. We hope that she’ll regain what she has lost very soon.’


The figure removes its hood, and sits in a high-backed chair.


‘Ahh. Scanlon,’ Mace mutters. ‘Nice of you to join us.’


She drums her black fingernails on the table and sighs. ‘GuysAs you know, I’ve been cutting down on carbs this year. Yes, bread was a struggle, but the cravings have disappeared and I think a ketogenic diet is on the cards.’ 


Mace and I look at each other in disbelief. Despite fifteen torturous minutes on ketones and turning white fat cells into brown fat cells, Scanlon’s minions are nodding along in delicious docility, eating up her words. I briefly consider disclosing a ‘Madam Scanlon Keto Exclusive’ to one of the celebrity gossip mags as a side-hustle, but a swift slap from Mace awakens me. 


‘Hey, kiddo. You zoned out.’ 


‘Argh. Is she on the agenda yet?’


‘All right,’ says Scanlon. ‘Round ups. Jing, let’s start with you.’ 


‘Finally. Let’s hear it,’ I say.


‘The hair thieves took the bait, Madam. I followed them to their den. It’s a laundromat run by an old man. From what I can tell, this is where they process the product.’


‘I want a piece of that operation,’ Scanlon says. ‘What can we use as leverage?’


The window above our heads slams shut. I press my back to the brickwork and crouch even lower. The window opens again, slowly, and a chubby hand appears from above and grabs the mirror out of Mace’s hand. ‘Thank you,’ a tiny Asian voice says. ‘Madam, your new makeup mirror has arrived.’


‘What the—’


‘Evacuate, kiddo!’ Mace says. He commando crawls along the perimeter of the building toward the nearest statue, and I follow suit. We reach the edge of the compound, but the wall is dauntingly high from this side. I climb the hedge I blundered into earlier, carefully stepping onto the mossy wall top. I worry that Mace won’t be able to make it, but he is astoundingly agile for a man of his size, and climbs faster than he runs. We hop down from the wall, into the rusty pickup truck. 


‘I’m gonna need a new mirror for peepin’ now,’ he groans, as he guns the motor down the road. ‘That was my ex-wife’s. Only thing I had of hers.’


***


Harlan struggles to slide his quivering fingers under the seal of the envelope. ‘Strong adhesive these days,’ he claims.


Vega offers him her flick-knife, but he refuses, and tears the envelope instead, along with part of the letter. ‘Oh, sugar…’


Dear Mr Harlan Guise,

It has come to the attention of Madam Ariadne Scanlon’s office that your place of business is structurally unsound. We have reported this matter to the city council, which will be in touch to arrange an inspection by a chartered surveyor at their earliest convenience. 

Yours sincerely,

Phillip Glazer,

PA to Madam Scanlon


‘And there’s more…’ Harlan says, tipping an additional slip of paper onto his lap.


Harlan,

Leave the laundromat asap. Don’t give Scanlon what she wants.

Phillip


‘Well, duh…’ Mace says. ‘Of course.’ 


Vega silences Mace with a dirty look. She pats Harlan’s back in a maternal way, even though he’s old enough to be her father. 


‘What about your place, Lux?’ Vega asks. ‘Do you have a spare room at the cabin?’


‘Uhh… Yes. Absolutely.’


‘But what if the wicked witch of the west finds him there?’ Mace asks. ‘She’s got spies. She’s probably trained the wrens and the goldfinches.’


Vega shushes Mace with her finger to her lips. 


‘He’s right,’ Harlan says. ‘Maybe it’s best if I just turn myself over to her. I don’t want to implicate you, Lux.’


‘Although,’ Mace says. ‘That cabin-bound wife of Lux’s is in dire need of a hobby. Show her how to craft a wig or two and you’d be doing us all a favour.’


‘Hoo-yes,’ Harlan says. 'I’d be happy to be of use.’


I didn’t plan on adopting an old man over breakfast this morning, but at least he’s a hair genius. An idiosyncratic one, yes. But is there any other kind? I’ll have to set some boundaries, though. His giant waistcoat collection, for one. I’m not about to schlep seven suitcases full of vintage garments to my cabin. It’s cramped as it is. Essentials only, please: wig crafting apparatus, unfinished projects, a few pairs of underwear, and a toothbrush will suffice, I think.


‘We’d better get a wriggle on if we’re going to catch the next train,’ I say. ‘There’s a—’ 


A rapid banging from upstairs cuts me off. ‘Oh, great. Who’s this?’ Mace volunteers that he and I go and investigate.


There’s a man in a hardhat slumped against the door. Mace swings it open, almost knocking the guy’s hardhat off. He nervously holds up his lanyard. ‘City Council. Can I come in and inspect the structure? We need a team in here right away to set up a bunch of support columns.’ He peeps past Mace at the inside of the Laundromat. ‘I hope you’re not thinking about operating those laundry machines. The vibrations could—’


Very convincing,’ I say. ‘Are you a trained actor?'


Mace folds his arms. He steps closer to the man, nose-to-nose. ‘You don’t work for the council. I can smell that a mile off. Nobody on city payroll is allowed tattoos like that.’


‘Uh…’ The man in the hardhat rolls his jacket sleeves down over his forearms. ‘These are temporary.’ 


‘Lux, would you go down and tell Harlan to get a move on? Tell him that high faultin’ biznatch has already dispatched one of her henchmen, and that I’m takin’ care of him.’


I turn to go downstairs, but another thought occurs to me, which I whisper into Mace’s cauliflower ear. His thin mouth curls at its edges. He nods, and resumes glowering at the imposter. 


I jog downstairs to get our plan underway. ‘Don’t mind me,’ I say to Harlan and Vega, extracting a singular strand from one of Harlan’s wigs, placing it in my pocket, and heading back upstairs.


‘You can come in under one condition,’ Mace says to the man. ‘Raise your arms.’ 


I pat his front side, his chest, and his legs.


‘Turn around,’ I say. 


His baggy jacket pockets are wide open and ready to accept. I make my secret deposit in his left pocket.


‘Is he all clear?’ Mace asks. 


‘Affirmative,’ I say. ‘Go on in, Mr Architect.’


He ambles into the laundromat, and the metal scanner box above the door warbles and fizzes with discordant tones. ‘Halt!’ A monotone voice says. ‘Illegal contraband has been detected on your person. Failure to remain static until the authorities arrive will increase the severity of your sentence. If you run, we will track you down.’ 


The man freezes, his cogs visibly whirring. The pre-recorded warning message loops again and again. The man, knees bent with arms out to the side, shuffles in the doorway, agonising over what to do. Mace and I snigger. This is better than the wildlife channel. Our sniggering breaks into chesty giggles that descend into full, roaring belly laughs. 


‘Better run, little man,’ Mace shouts. ‘Pluck Squad’s on the way!’


The fake builder spits - like a real builder - in our direction, and lobs his hard hat at us. Mace and I are leaking too much laughter juice out of our eyes to notice him leave.


'If that guy doesn’t find the hair first, the pluck squad will nail him with their hand-held scanners. We’d better get the old man out of here before the pluckers arrive,’ Mace says, wiping his eyes. 


‘Let’s mobilise!'


‘You made a good plan, kiddo. And thanks for the laugh,’ Mace says. 


He thumps the overhead scanner in an attempt to quiet it down, but it loops the same monotone threat over and over.

February 03, 2023 08:22

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10 comments

Wendy Kaminski
13:55 Feb 03, 2023

Gosh I love this series! Just the right amount of humor and snark, plus a sassy plot and decent action. You really have all the greatest elements, PLUS that awesome title! Loved the latest, Jim. :)

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Jim Firth
14:43 Feb 03, 2023

Thanks, Wendy! I'm having a blast writing this series but writing the action parts are the hardest bit for me, so I'm glad they come across well. There's definitely still some mileage in this series, but I'll probably have to stop when I run out of hair puns... Hope to see something from you this week (or next!) 😉

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Wendy Kaminski
14:48 Feb 03, 2023

Always so agonizing, waiting for the prompts...! I have one lined up, but we'll see if The Pronouncements will work with me on it. ;)

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Aeris Walker
01:29 Feb 20, 2023

I'm impressed by how you've managed to continue this series in response to the random prompts. I don't know if you've ended it yet with part five, but this week's prompts are definitely wild. I enjoyed the lighthearted banter and slapstick humor in this one, and I especially liked these lines: "He swivels the mirror to reveal six other women with spherical faces plastered with prominent monobrows—the hair nannies;"--I will never *not* giggle at the words, "the hair nannies." "I’ll have to set some boundaries, though. His giant waistcoat ...

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Jim Firth
16:25 Feb 20, 2023

I love me some Yiddish words. When there's a 'Sch' prefix, you know you're in for some fun. I recently learnt 'schlemiel' and 'schlimazel', and like you with 'schlep', I'm waiting for my opportunity! I initially thought thought that this week's prompts had foiled me, but I've found a way in, Huzzah! Thank you for the read and the comment :)

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Michał Przywara
21:36 Feb 14, 2023

Heh, I love how things just keep getting more complicated and convoluted :) Of course the initial hair was bait, and naturally, Scanlon wants a piece of black market action. And considering how quickly he offered up his cabin, and his wife's reluctance for getting involved more deeply, I wonder if this getaway is going to go as smoothly as they seem to think :) Great title too.

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Jim Firth
12:44 Feb 15, 2023

Haha, convoluted sounds about right. I'm just making it up as I go along, probably leaving threads dangling when I move onto another plot point. I've never done serialised stories before, but there's nothing like jumping in at the deep end to learn. Thanks for keeping up with TFC, Michal :)

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Mike Panasitti
13:31 Feb 06, 2023

This third installment didn't quite have the spark of the first two episodes in the series, but I'm glad to see that Follicle Chronicles is still alive. With additional world-building and characterization you could probably have at least another six stories in the series. Perhaps descriptions of "shag socialites'" meticulous rituals of hairy power could add an ethnographic dimension of exposition to the Chronicles. If you have any ideas you'd like to elaborate further, don't hesitate to write me, I'd be glad to help.

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Jim Firth
16:31 Feb 06, 2023

Mike, I'm always pleased that you read these. You were the first person on Reedsy that I saw writing serialised stories. Before then, the thought had never occurred to me! I'd love to keep going for another six parts without painting myself into a corner, plot-wise. I'm sure that can be done! Showing some 'Rituals of hairy power' by the 'Shag socialites' is a great idea. I'd definitely like to delve into that at some point and maybe make it a little bit creepy. I'm working on Pt.4 right now. And thanks so much for the offer of help. I m...

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Mike Panasitti
14:35 Feb 07, 2023

I think adding some creepiness, particularly of the erotic sort, to the lifestyle of the abundantly-haired is a great idea. This could drive home the point of the hirsute state denying the hairless not only their locks, but also their sexuality. Adding some Medusa symbolism for the villainess can also be a way to enhance the plot - just a thought.

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