The Follicle Chronicles - Pt.4: Fortune Favours the Shaved

Submitted into Contest #184 in response to: Start your story with someone saying “Houston, we have a problem.”... view prompt

12 comments

Adventure Funny Speculative

The footage on the laptop shows Audrey, the doppelgänger whose hair I stole, cradling herself in the corner of a cell. Houston, we have a problem. Her brow hair is extremely long. Like eye curtains.  


‘So the keratin supplement is working a bit too well?’ I ask Harlan.


‘Her body is undergoing excessive keratinisation,’ he says. ‘I’d wager that her nails are near indestructible.’


‘Couldn’t she be of some use to her madam with nails like that? I mean, she could shell all of her pistachios, open difficult packages and remove stickers…’


I jest, but I can’t seem to shake the guilt, what with my being partly responsible for Audrey’s mutation and incarceration.


Harlan consults his medical dictionary, probably for my benefit, as he already knows everything there is to know about the science of hair. 


‘K is for Keratin—he says.


Ok. I’m not five years old.


a fibrous, structural protein found in vertebrates. It fortifies tissues in the horns of cattle and rhinos, and the osteoderms of armadillos.’


‘What the heck is an osteoderm?’ Tove asks, peeping into the room.


I lunge over and slam the laptop shut to hide the video of Audrey. Tove is oblivious to my hair thieving exploits and still thinks we’re selling only consensual fibres—namely, our own.  


‘I’m here to learn,’ she says, thrusting both thumbs up in the air. ‘Wig school is in session.’


Harlan snaps his medical dictionary closed. ‘Very good, my dear. Let’s begin.’ 


He starts by measuring the circumference of Tove’s head, and comments on its pleasing shape. I, too, have always said that her formidable intellect is housed in a beautiful casing: twenty-two inches in circumference, draped with hazel curtains.


Harlan takes a canvas head wig block down from the shelf. ‘Our template needs to be an inch smaller than your head to ensure the perfect fit,’ he says.  


‘Are we using real hair?’ Tove asks.


‘Hoo-no. Just nylon for practising with.’ 


Cheap and cheerful, yes. But there’s no doubt in my mind that Tove will work with the real thing when she’s acquired the skills. She is capable of accomplishing anything she sets her beautiful, bulbous head to. She’s practically brimming with glee at the opportunity to do something else than sit around the cabin all day twiddling her thumbs, and I don’t blame her.


≈≈≈


Better make a cup of tea, I suppose. Everyone else seems too busy to offer me one. I stroll into the kitchen. Mace’s sleeping bag is crumpled up on the floor. He is sitting at the table with a camera set up on a tripod, addressing the lens directly. 


‘Alright, take two. I got this…


‘Sal-yoo-tations, people! Today, I wanna talk a lil’ bit about how we ended up the big mess we’re in.


‘In our ‘evolved’ society, individuality has been suppressed to the point where ya can only listen to state approved music, wear mandated clothing, eat prescribed foods, and drink government-promoted-swill—’


I open the fridge. Someone has drunk all the almond milk again. All signs point to vlogger extraordinaire over there. He always puts the empties back in the fridge. What a cheek.  


‘Mace, did you drink all of the—’


‘—I believe that the reason everything has become so homogenised is to appease the people who are easily offended. To start with, bald, bum-fluff-bereft bureaucrats were jealous of the hirsute and decided to ban beards. Then the skinnies got angry at the muscle-heads. Furthermore, the ugly and untalented got frustrated at their inability to compose beautiful sonnets, and sonatas, and selfies. So now mediocrity reigns, and no-one does outstanding, brave, or dangerous things like make art or music. All just so people’s delicate egos are protected. This mindset of overt political correctness has spawned—’


‘Mace, you hooligan! Did you drink all of the almond milk again?’


He waves me away with his hand.


‘—Ahem. As a result, my warriors, we can no longer sport shag because it might offend others. I want to change that. You want to change that. Guys, you could be cultivatin’ a virile mane. Gals, you could have silky smooth bangs that hang down your backs. It’s time to claim our individual liberties back, startin’ with our hair!’ 


He pounds his fist, and the tripod jumps off the kitchen table. ‘Sport the shag! Sport the shag!’ 


I catch the camera and tripod mid-flight. ‘Oi! This isn’t a hotel, you know. Replace what you use…’


Mace snatches the camera from me. He holds it close to his face and caresses his jawline. ‘Ya hear that, my warriors? That is stubble. That’s what a few days without government water and food does. Listen to that bristlin’—’


I’ve got to hand it to him, he is singleminded in his quest to ignore the domestic and focus on the bigger picture.  


‘—It sounds like walkin’ on a path littered with pine needles in the forests of Eden. You can experience it too, my warriors. In these forthcomin’ vlogs—’


‘Mace! I don’t want to disappoint your ten followers, but could you run to the shops? I’m dying for a brew, and I can’t have without milk.’


He sighs and turns the camera off. ‘Get it yerself, kiddo. Yer spoilin’ my sermonisin’. Why do I have to be the milkman?’


‘Because you didn’t—’ 


‘You know, it just occurred to me about Tove. Did you ever tell her about our hair thieving? I’m afraid that if I don’t finish my vlog now, your little secret might get out.’


Pah! Blackmailed in my own cabin. The place was supposed to be a retreat, but now I’m running a bed and breakfast for an ageing fugitive wig maker and an ungrateful anarchistic vlogger. Such is the quest for follicular freedom. 


≈≈≈


The village shop only has tabloid newspapers. Eurgh. Against my better judgment, I purchase one. And they’re out of almond milk too, so I have to settle for soy. Typical. But they do have satsumas, and I love a good satsuma.  


On the stroll back through the woods, I pause at a clearing overlooking the rolling fields. A bench invites me to sit and I take out my tabloid. Although tabloids are mind pollution of the highest order, browsing these lowbrow rags affords me some solace from the crowded cabin, and Mace’s antics. He can vlog his brains out, and Tove can make her first wig with Harlan, and I can just sit here with a pleasant view and do what I came to the countryside to do in the first place—relax


Judging by the headline, this front-page article looks like a transparent propaganda piece. Deep joy. More brainwashing for the masses. I can’t deny the alliterative quality of the headline, though.


‘Wily Wayfarers Whidder Wanton Wigs  


‘Strands. Cables. Fibres. Locks. Coif. Shag. Dangling Participles. These are the street names used by the black market hair traders who sling their wares in flagrant disobedience of the law. Legally speaking, only those worthy of hair status can obtain permission from the government. 


‘But a dangerous trend is emerging. A hunger for hair is growing. And it must stop. Purchasing hair on the black market is highly illegal and results in severe prosecution. You could face up to five years in the clink, and that’s no slap on the wrist, or spank on the bottom (depending on how you play your cards when you’re in there). 


‘Citywide scanners have been implemented successfully, as have numerous pluck squads. Yet the pirates persist. They evade capture. Their scanner jamming devices, and an ever expanding network of underground contacts make them more slippery than eels smothered in petroleum jelly. If you suspect anyone of engaging in the heinous hair trade, you must report it to the authorities. Standing idly by will only implicate you! 


‘As a reminder, the common man does not need hair. It is common knowledge that humans have evolved past the requirement, and that our genes simply do not produce it anymore. Hair is a luxury earned by those who are worthy. 

- - Fortune favours the shaved - -’


‘Ha! Evolved past the need for it? Codswallop.’ I roll the paper up into a tight cylinder and wring it with my hands. The black ink rubs off on my palms. Maybe a crossword will soothe my frustration. Except, it’s getting a little dark now, and I’d better be heading back to the cabin. 


The grocery bag underneath the bench rustles. I look down, expecting to see a squirrel sniffing my satsumas, but a shape darts away so quickly that its outline is blurred in the crepuscular light. In the breeze, the empty polythene bag floats away.


Whatever took my groceries made imprints in the mud that look too big for a deer. The snapping of twigs gives them, or it, away in the bushes. I cautiously step nearer. Gobbling erupts from the shrubbery. Woah, Nelly. An extremely hairy lady is tipping my carton of soy milk down her neck. She’s trying to rip open the net of satsumas with her free hand, but even with beastly nails like hers, she fails. The milk overflows and dribbles down her chin. She burps. Could it be— 


‘—Audrey?’


‘Huh?’


I edge nearer to the Sasquatch lady. ‘Are you Audrey?’


She lurches back and hits her head on a branch, trapped on all sides by thick vegetation. I move a little closer. 


‘It’s okay. I’m here to help. You can have—’


She throws the bag of satsumas at my head. 


‘—the soy milk.’


‘The madam never lets us have it. Never. She’s worried about the oestrogen,’ she says.


‘That’s a myth,’ I say. ‘You don’t have to restrict yourself anymore.’ 


‘Ketogenic diet; exercise; shampoo. Ketogenic diet; exercise; shampoo. Oh, and conditioning. Don’t forget conditioning. Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat.’


‘Sounds like you are carb-depleted. And maybe you could use some plant-based protein? You know, put your feet up, have a cup of tea.’


Albeit black tea, now that you’ve slurped all the soy.


‘My body needs protons,’ she mutters, and shuffles out of the bushes to join me. 


‘I’m Lux,’ I say, offering my hand.


‘Audrey,’ she says, with a piece of berry hanging from one of her incisors. 


‘Listen, I live nearby. We can get you cleaned up at my cabin.’


Have I just taken on another guest? Sweet Jesus, joy of man’s desiring… 


Her beige robes are crusted with mud. Traipsing through the undergrowth for God knows how long has shredded them up. And clumps are missing from her short hair, as though someone has attempted to shear it off. The poor girl. 


≈≈≈  


‘It’s a perfect fit,’ Tove says, stepping back from Audrey and examining the wig. ‘You have the same size head as me!’


‘It’s kismet,’ I say, admiring Audrey’s sleek, jet black bob. She’s dressed in a mishmash of Tove’s old clothes—ballet flats, a frilly skirt, a corset, and some grungy knitwear—and that seems to have worked wonders for her self esteem. 


‘I’ve always wanted to dress in Ballerina sleaze,’ she says. ‘These flats. They fit my feet perfectly.’  


‘Ballerina sleaze?’ Tove asks. ‘That’s a style? Fascinating.’ 


‘U-huh. It’s the offspring of the balletcore and indie sleaze movements. Preppy and grungy.’ She pirouettes on the spot and rocks out with an air guitar.


Must be nice to have some freedom.


≈≈≈


Harlan always leaves his laptop open; he’s a man with nothing to hide. I take a peek at his emails, just to keep abreast of the intel from Phillip, the disgruntled PA. 


Dearest Harlan,


The K takes effect very quickly. There are a dozen or so detainees in Scanlon’s compound being fed the supplement. They are volunteers who wished to grow hair for the first time.


Scanlon’s avarice knows no bounds. She’s completely ignoring the side effects of the K on her ‘participants’. I will liberate as many detainees as possible without giving myself away, and I will put maps in their hands so they can find their way to you.


Sincerely,

Phillip


With more hair jockeys headed our way, I’ve got a mind to build a shelter outside. I’m not having anyone else stay inside the cabin, that would be insane. The plumbing won’t stand it. And is it exploitative if I ask the Scanlon refugees to give me their hair in lieu of rent money? I mean, they should have plenty of it providing the special K works as well on them as it did on Audrey.

February 07, 2023 11:31

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

12 comments

Wendy Kaminski
21:50 Feb 07, 2023

I just love this series, Jim! I dunno where you get your ideas, but they are so fun to read! "mediocrity reigns" I would listen to that podcast! :) I do think I may have noticed a typo: "And they’[ve] out of almond milk too". Please excuse me if I'm mistaken. :) Looking forward to more of these as your mind takes the surreal/too real paths through them! :)

Reply

Jim Firth
11:25 Feb 08, 2023

Oh ya, that's a definite typo. Thanks for spotting, Wendy. I'm so glad you keep coming back to read. It's very gratifying : ) Stay tuned for more twists and turns!

Reply

Wendy Kaminski
12:11 Feb 08, 2023

Awesome. :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Aeris Walker
02:24 Mar 10, 2023

This section feels like it could be a scene in a commercial for some uber manly all-natural protein shake or bar soap or something lol: “Mace snatches the camera from me. He holds it close to his face and caresses his jawline. ‘Ya hear that, my warriors? That is stubble. That’s what a few days without government water and food does. Listen to that bristlin’—’” Sorry I’m so behind in this series. It’s wild how many details you’ve come up with for this world. It’s grown so grand, sometimes I forget you’ve made the whole thing up. These lines ...

Reply

Jim Firth
12:54 Mar 10, 2023

Thanks, Aeris :) You're dead on with that observation about Mace. I think an uber manly product would be a good venture for him in later parts. Some sandalwood beard wax or something. Or is that too hipster-ish? lol. It's nice to hear that you sometimes forget it's made up, because I want it to feel immersive. I've enjoyed building the same world and characters every week, and don't want it to end! Like you say, sticking with it is the key to improving, I reckon. Thanks for catching up with the backlog. That's commitment! :-)

Reply

Aeris Walker
14:31 Mar 10, 2023

Sandalwood beard wax lol! I think “hipster” culture has come full circle. Now it’s like, “oh you drink cow’s milk? Use non-organic commercially produced shampoo? What a hipster.”

Reply

Jim Firth
16:18 Mar 10, 2023

Haha, you're right. That reminds me of the bit on Parks and Recreation when the lifestyle guru/head of Bloosh magazine says 'Beef milk' is the new almond milk!

Reply

Aeris Walker
19:32 Mar 14, 2023

Beef milk!! Lol. Now I need to go watch that whole show again.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Michał Przywara
02:56 Feb 15, 2023

Heh, another fun episode :) What’s worried me about serials is being able to fit the weekly prompt, but these are doing just fine. Naturally, I wonder what comes next. Each piece answers some questions but also expands the world. Here, for example, we've got a remote cottage based hair resistance movement. But it looks like Scanlon has been inspired by some new ideas of her own. And what's the government up to during all of this? And what will happen when Tove learns of how deeply Lux is involved? Yeah, lots of fun places this could go :) ...

Reply

Jim Firth
12:57 Feb 15, 2023

Cheers for your continued encouragement, Michal. I'm glad each piece is raising some questions for you about what will happen in the future parts. Good feedback. I think you'd do just fine with (skilfully and tastefully) shoehorning the prompts in if you were writing serialised stories. Sometimes I completely forget do it in until the last minute, having meandered all over the place in my own little world, but I find the dialogue-based ones are the easiest to fit in. Yes - we all need them protons :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mike Panasitti
13:53 Feb 12, 2023

Love the title of this one. The circumstances of Audrey's escape are somewhat vague, but you've given yourself more grist for the mill by allowing her to flee Scanlon's clutches, overdosed on special K. Mace's vlog appeals to his "warriors" enhanced the plot and provided some additional details about the world your building here. One thing that struck as discordant is Lux being able to buy openly food that doesn't deprive consumers of their strands. You figure such comestibles would not be easy to get, given government control... Perhap...

Reply

Jim Firth
15:59 Feb 12, 2023

I think you're right, I probably should have explained Audrey's escape in this part. I keep moving forward and forgetting things! Perhaps Phillip, Scanlon's PA, helped her get free and she'll open up about it later. Oh yeah, absolutely. The food thing was an oversight. I'll have to write my way around that one. Maybe there's a whole clandestine industry producing uncontaminated food. Or maybe a villager grows food and sells it to the store where Lux shops. Thanks for getting me thinking, Mike. And cheers for reading!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply