Sylvia sat at the edge of her bed and sighed. Another day finished, another day closer to graduation and college. She had already been accepted to her college of choice. She’d be studying environmental law. She smiled at the thought of a triumphant courtroom victory over some morally bankrupt big oil villain. Maybe she’d even get to sue a Koch brother.
Her remaining days in high school were now winding down. Her last exams would be finishing soon. Her last play as a high schooler had finished. Track was over. The dance had come and gone. After all the flurry of college applications and finishing her high school work, she suddenly had a lot more time to reflect.
She had gone to prom with Jake after all, and it was a memory she would treasure. But he was off to a school far away from hers, so with some reluctance they agreed to let things be what they were, and keep in touch. He was a great guy, but it was a big world and she wanted more time to explore it. He seemed to feel the same way. Maybe someday later on they’d find one another again.
Warm afternoon sunlight poured through her window and onto her old rug. She remembered looking at the designs as a little girl and thinking they were faces she could talk to. Suddenly a tear pricked her eye. That little girl was gone forever, as were those wonderful moments when everything felt big and new and exciting. She wiped the tear away with another smile, this one a little curled at the edges. She was used to little moments like this. Over the past few months, the ghosts of her childhood had been gently haunting her in this weird wake between one life and another. She wondered if her thirty year old self would look back in the same way at her now. Probably.
She undid her bun, letting her yellow-golden hair slip free and flop down onto her bed behind her. She felt it accumulate against her bottom and lower back. She knew what it had made itself into. Piles, of course. She rolled her eyes. Now even her tresses seemed to be in on it.
Her fingers slid into her hair at the scalp and gently began massaging away the day. This was something Jake had taught her, and it was among her new favorite things to do. Each fingertip gently circled its own spot on her head. She thought of him a bit as she worked. Remembered the day she was comfortable enough to let it all loose in front of him. She was hoping he would find the same joy in it that she had, but he had seemed almost afraid of it all. It was the moment she knew he wasn’t really the one. He did give a good head rub though.
The next part was to slowly draw her fingers out through her hair, feeling its great volume slide through her hands, engulfing her wrists as she made two massive sections, one to her left and one to her right. Eventually her arms had gone as far as they could and gently set the remaining hair down, like two enormous golden wings resting against her body and bed.
She started brushing on her left side. Long, gentle, slow strokes, section by section, and her mind wandered amidst the trance-like peace. She saw herself on a boat in the ocean, cleaning up the plastic choking the high seas. Her brush moved lower, and she saw herself admiring a sign protecting an old growth forest from loggers. At another section of her long hair she imagined living in a home surrounded by thriving woods.
Finally the long left wing of her hair had been brushed to a shining, fluffy marvel that blanketed most of the area on that side. Shoulders, back, arm, bed, legs, floor, face-carpet. All drowned under the great blonde waves.
It was time to move on to the right side. The brush set to work again, the gentle sound taking her mind far off again. She saw three great, loyal dogs at this dream home and they loved her dearly. She imagined feeding them, wrestling playfully with the oafs and taking walks with them into her neighborhood. As she moved down toward the ends of one section of hair, she saw a little blonde girl come scampering around a corner into the living room to hug her. She had tresses well past her bottom already, just like mommy.
She began another section, but now she seemed to be imagining the past. Again. Always here. At first she was herself, younger and younger, brushing her hair on into the past, all the versions of her on into her early days, happily tending to her impossibly long, soft, thick tresses. As she grew younger though, her hair began to slowly grow shorter, matching the lengths it was in those years. It slowly retreated from the floor, and back up her leg. No! Her mind fought in panic against the journey.
She gasped as the brush abruptly ran out of hair, far before it should have. Sylvia whimpered reflexively as she was jolted back to the present. She had encountered one of the shorter locks. She braced herself. There were more. Too many more.
She resumed at another section, and within moments was imagining the little girl’s father sitting in a chair by the fire. The girl ran to him playfully, but the chair was empty. She looked worried and began searching around. Sylvia took note and started looking for him as well, walking through each room of the dream home. Then she heard a voice behind her. She turned to see Jake. But it wasn’t Jake. His face was blurred. “There’s no dad here,” the not-Jake man said. “Not for some half clipped weirdo.”
Again the brush came free, like a train running out of track too soon. Sylvia’s eyes pooled. She had to get through this part quickly. It was turning into torture.
She sent the brush down through another lock. In her mind, she was in a salon chair, reluctantly agreeing to have her longer locks cut to match the shorter ones. She clenched her eyes shut as the stylist began.
When she opened them, she was in the chair again, but a few years older. The stylist was telling her she had split ends from the length, which now ended at her feet. She really ought to go shorter anyway, the stylist advised, clicking her tongue in disapproval. Sylvia sadly consented, squeezing her eyes shut again before she saw the stylist begin slicing just past her bottom.
Opening them a second time, she saw herself in her late twenties, with hair now just brushing her knees. Her friend led her back into the chair. Trust me, it’s high time, the friend said. You’ll look so professional for your interview tomorrow. The stylist brushed it out one last time and began at her mid back.
The scene skipped forward to a mid thirties version of Sylvia and played out again as the stylist went to work on hair she had managed to regrow to her waist. In her forties, it was just past her shoulders. Sylvia gasped as the brush slid free again, returning her to her room. I’m really going to lose it all, aren’t I, she thought.
Now fully aware she was brushing deep into the sections Cynthia had cut into, her mind took her back to that awful night. She was tied up, and Cindy had a lock of Sylvia’s hair in her hand. Sylvia was there, maybe this time she could stop her faster, save more, save it all…
Snip! Her brush derailed again as she imagined the terrible sound. She took a moment to let a small sob free. Then she gritted her teeth and resolved to power through it. The brush moved faster now. There was no peace here. Dream Cindy grabbed another lock. Sylvia begged.
Snip. Every time, she thought, once again thrown back into her bedroom. It’s getting to be like this every time, isnt’ it.
She steeled herself and brushed again. This time it was Angela holding her hair, telling her it was time for a change, time to grow up. Ms Hammond was with her. They both took a section as Sylvia yelled at them to stop.
The brush snipped free again. Sylvia doubled over, weeping. She couldn’t keep doing this. It was too much. She looked to her right “wing” and it showed the damage her former enemy had wrought. It was a partially clipped wing. Some locks fell long and deep onto the rug. Others stopped short, not quite brushing the floor.
She was stuck between past and future. Childhood and adulthood. In limbo between endlessly long hair and shorter hair. She knew it would still be long if she trimmed the rest back to match. It would all rest just above her ankles. But she couldn’t do that, she just couldn’t. She loved the longer lengths too much. That was who she truly was. She came to understand that about herself just in time to have it partially taken away. She found herself wishing there were some other way to restore herself, or at least cope better.
Then her eyes were drawn to a flashing icon on her computer screen. Someone had emailed her. Someone with the odd address CFPants@BermudaTservices.com. She had no idea who it was. It was titled “Hello there! I can help.” What was this? She clicked to open it.
It was a long letter addressed to her, most of it was in some weird code, but the first part was in English.
"I heard about what happened, and I know how it felt when you lost something precious to you. Don’t fret anymore, because I’ve come to help! I can restore all that was taken away. If you’re interested, then meet me at this address. You need to come alone. I promise I will not hurt you.
1212 Haargrew St
I anxiously await your decision, Sylvia.
Was this some sort of stalker? Someone wanting to hurt her, even more than she already had been? How did this person get her email?
She knew there was a video posted online of her walk out through the party that night, and that it had gone a little viral. Many of the viewers wanted to get in touch with her, but their motives seemed questionable at best, and she hadn’t shared her info with anyone. Had one of those weirdos finally tracked her down?
The address listed was in town near an old warehouse facility that had long been abandoned. Whoever sent this, there was something strange about it that made it hard to ignore. "How it felt to lose something precious?" What could that mean? Somehow, Sylvia had an idea as she looked down at her shortened locks, lying atop the longer ones.
And what was with that code? The more she looked at the nonsensical string of characters, the more she thought she saw some meaning there. And the better she felt. How peculiar. As she studied it, trying to extract some meaning, she felt at peace in a way she hadn’t since before her run in with Cindy. She couldn’t ignore that, even if the absolute meaning there was beyond her. There was something good and pure there, hiding behind the code. She could sense it.
Sylvia felt like she had to go, now. She got into her car and drove to the address, quickly, before her rational side had a chance to weigh in on how foolish it was.
The place looked derelict. Broken windows littered the building’s worn front, and the old door was rusted and squeaked loudly as she went inside. Night had fallen, and inside everything was dark.
The door slid shut behind her and left her in absolute darkness. Startled and more than a little scared, her common sense came flooding back to her. She knew this was a bad idea! What was wrong with her?
She fumbled for her phone to provide a little light, hoping to avoid whatever it was this Fizroy had planned for her. She fought the panic bubbling up in her. Was it Cindy, come to finish the job? Or Angela, hoping to reconcile? Or just a creep who managed to lull her out here to do who knows what to her! One thing seemed certain: this had to be about her hair. She stifled a whimper at the thought, just as her phone came to life and lit up her corner of an enormous warehouse floor.
No sooner had she done that then a light started to flicker at the opposite end of the building. Something was walking into the light. The sound of boots echoed through the room as a very slender figure appeared. She was tall. She wore brown cowboy boots, simple jeans, and a white turtleneck sweater that hugged her body. A beautiful blue crystal necklace hung across her chest with little charms on it, which she swathed beneath a trendy scarf as she walked. She had a cute pudgy face, big blue eyes and a smile on her face.
She looked more welcoming then frightening. Syl immediately noticed the big brown bun at the back of her head, gloriously large. It shined in the light as two little hairpins stuck out.
Sylvia was amazed by this woman, but the fear was still there. She knew a bit about buns, and that hair had to be nearly as long as hers, at least. Did she see Sylvia as a rival, and bring her here to chop her down to size?
The woman spoke. "I can't believe you made it! It's so nice to see you in person, Sylvia. My name is Cheryl, and I wanted to meet you for myself." Her voice was cheerful, and she seemed genuinely delighted.
Sylvia found herself at ease somewhat despite the total weirdness of the situation. “How… who… I know karate!” she stammered. She knew it must sound ridiculous coming from her, but she had been through too much not to have a healthy amount of paranoia. And on the surface, this situation certainly called for it.
The woman, Cheryl, giggled in response and began walking slowly toward her. As she crossed the distance between them, light after light came on, illuminating the old building and keeping her out of the darkness.
Who was doing that? Come alone, the note had said. Of course, that way no one could save her! She had been so stupid to think any good could come of this. Sylvia reflexively backed up until she thumped against the door behind her. Her instincts told her this was a safe person, but her paranoia wasn’t leaving without a fight. Of all the bad things that could happen to her here, only one really crossed her mind. She felt silly even as she said it, but she had to.
As the brunette woman calmly closed the distance to her, Sylvia looked into her eyes imploringly. “Cheryl, please don’t cut my hair.”
Cheryl stopped abruptly, her eyes wide in shock. "What?! Ohh... I think I get why you’re scared now. You thought I was someone out to get you?" She slapped her palm to her forehead. "Ugh. I'm not good with introductions. Note to self. Don't put the part letting her know I can grow out her hair in code at the bottom. I should have put that part in English! I knew something was off!”
Sylvia’s mouth dropped. Was that what the coded part of the email had said?
Cheryl sighed, frustrated a bit with herself. "Ok, let’s try this again. Maybe I should explain. I can grow your hair and make it look much better than it does now. Not that it doesn’t look good now! It’s beautiful! Oh Cheryl, come on, don’t insult the poor girl.”
Sylvia couldn’t stop herself from giggling at this eccentric young lady. She was coming around to the idea that she was harmless, if a little off color.
Cheryl continued. “You know, the portions that were cut? I can fix that, make it like it was before. Is that making you happy? No, you still look worried. I thought you’d like that.” The woman looked a little bummed.
Sylvia wasn’t sure what was going on here. Maybe Cheryl needed help herself? She was interesting to watch, if nothing else. “Umm, I’m glad you want to help me, Cheryl. And I’m sure you think you can grow my hair back, but come on, we both know the only thing that can do that is time, and it’ll take years, even with all the tricks out there. And nothing can make it even again. Well, one thing can, but…” Sylvia pushed away the thought. “You seem to have long hair yourself, you should know all that,” she said, gesturing toward Cheryl’s giant silken bun.
She found herself wanting to see Cheryl’s hair down. Was she truly a kindred spirit or was there something making that updo look bigger than it was? If her hair was as long as Syl’s, they’d have a lot to talk about. Is this the company she would be associated with now? Despite how odd she seemed, the thought made her kind of happy. Maybe this brunette woman would understand her. No one else seemed to.
"Well, that is technically true. But." Cheryl spoke matter-of-factly as she spun Sylvia around. Before Sylvia could react, Cheyl pulled the blonde girl’s hair loose from its bun, sending a golden avalanche tumbling down. Sylvia gasped in surprise and stifled a lingering urge to stop her.
Cheryl surveyed the mountain of shimmering blonde waves before her. Then, finding what she was looking for, she reached into Sylvia’s locks and drew out a section of her shorter hair. Sylvia turned around to see what she was doing.
Cheryl smiled. "I have - insert dramatic pause -" She leaned in close to Syl. "Magic!" She made a cutesy face as her hands waved an imaginary rainbow.
Ok, thought Sylvia. She’s bonkers. And she has my hair in her hands.
Cheryl seemed to pick up on her reaction. "I sound completely crazy, don’t I?" She laughed at herself. "Maybe I should prove it to you,” she paused for a moment, thinking. “Alright. I’ve got it!" She dropped Syl’s hair and reached into her purse. She rummaged for a moment, then suddenly pulled out a pair of scissors, and smiled back at Sylvia.
“Whoa!” Sylvia shouted, backing away, pulling her hair behind her. “Don’t even think about it!”
Cheryl giggled. “I’d never! Here, take them,” she said, handing them over. "In order to show you what I’m talking about, let me show you something." She turned around.
Her hair dropped out from its bun as she pulled out the pins, and her beautiful hazel locks fell down on the ground in an amazing flurry. Her bangs fell into her face, lusciously silky, rich chocolate in color, shining under the warehouse lights. "I have been growing this since I was just a toddler. It's exactly 15 feet long. I have never cut it, and I never will."
“Wow,” Sylvia was amazed. This woman had longer hair than she did! Sylvia’s longest locks reached close to nine feet now, and she had never cut her hair either. Well, almost never. Cheryl didn’t look that much other than her. How could this be? Maybe she did have magic. Or maybe she ate rogaine for breakfast. Whatever had caused it, this woman was definitely a kindred spirit.
“Yeah, I know, right? Now try to use those scissors on it.”
Her eyebrow cocked. “Wait. You’ve never cut your hair, and never will, but now you want me to?”
Cheryl handed Sylvia a lock of her long brown hair. "I want you to try. If you really think I'm crazy, just watch what happens." She held out the lock of hair, letting the rest fall to the floor around her.
“Cheryl, are you nuts??” Sylvia screamed. “Your hair is gorgeous! I’m the last person you should be asking to do this. I’m sorry, this was fun, but I’m not going to cut your hair off. I hate these things,” Sylvia said, looking at the scissors in her hands.
Sylvia dropped the blades to the ground and turned to leave. “You know, I was hoping,” she paused, catching her voice before it broke. “When I saw all your hair come down, that we could be friends. That we could help each other. But I don’t think I can understand someone who wants me to cut off fifteen feet of her beautiful hair. I’d die if anyone did that to me. Well, if anyone did it again,” she said, fingering one of her shorter locks.
"Well I guess I'll just show you myself.” Cheryl grabbed the scissors from the floor and pulled almost all of her hair into one hand. She brought up the scissors, smiling the whole time. She was actually going to do it!
“Cheryl, wait, let’s-“ Sylvia was too late. The scissors were pumping through the woman’s hair. She winced as she watched Cheryl mutilate herself. But something was missing. No hair was falling free. She saw that while the woman was trying to slice through it, her hair remained stubbornly attached.
Sylvia thought that maybe the scissors were dull, or it was some trick, but she quickly ruled that out. She saw what she saw. Whoever this Cheryl was, she was definitely not lying to her about having magic. "Ta-da!" She said happily, fanning out her uncut chocolate locks proudly.
Sylvia blinked in disbelief. Maybe she was the crazy one, but she decided to roll with it. “Ok,” she began cautiously. “I’m listening. Your hair is magic. But what does that mean for mine? And why do you want to help me?”
Cheryl put the scissors back into her purse and let her hair drop down in front of her, taking a second to smooth it out. "Simple. I like to help with hair, long or short.” She took a step closer to Sylvia and again took hold of one of her shorter locks. “And I hate it when someone tries to cut another person's tresses against their wishes. It's wrong to do that to someone, especially when it’s as long as yours! You were forced against your own will!”
Sylvia’s eyes reddened.
“That’s why I came here. To help make it so no one will ever cut your hair without your permission." She ran her hand down Syl’s lock. "I don’t even want anything in return. I just like helping people like you. If you truly don't want me to, then I can leave. It has to be your decision."
Sylvia thought it over for a moment. “Wait, so are you offering to make my hair impossible to cut like yours?” She looked at her own hair for a moment. It would be nice to not have to worry about that. But so many things could go wrong. What if it got caught in a machine, or an elevator door? As much as she’d hate to have to cut it, dying from that sort of an accident would be a lot worse.
“I don’t know,” Sylvia mused aloud, running her fingers through her blonde hair, making it undulate. “I love my hair. I could never cut it. I definitely don’t want anyone to try and cut it again. But part of what makes it so special for me is that it is so fragile and vulnerable. I grew it this long in a world filled with perils. I labored to keep it healthy and strong. It’s my achievement. If magic had made it impossible to damage or be cut, then anyone could have this and it’d be less special. I’d feel like I was cheating somehow. I wouldn’t feel as proud. It’d be no different than someone with a wig or extensions.”
Then she thought about Cindy. The girl had spent most of her childhood angrily thinking Sylvia’s hair couldn’t be cut after she tried with safety scissors in kindergarten. It made the brat hate her that much more. What happened at the party was partially fueled by that magic hair myth. What would she have done if the scissors had failed again? In her desperation, would she have poured acid on her scalp? Tried fire?
Or, if Sylvia was here being enchanted by some magic, who was to say that someone else out there wasn’t having blades enchanted with even stronger magic to overcome whatever Cheryl could do? This could just become some sort of arms race.
If that were the case, she reasoned, having some protection was probably better than nothing. She shrugged. This was weird enough already. In fact, it was probably just a dream. While she rarely had that lucidity while asleep, this certainly had all the signs of bizarre dream land. Might as well roll with it until she woke up.
“Ok, Cheryl,” she said with a devilish grin. “I’m in. But I have a few conditions. First, you mentioned earlier you might be able to help me somehow regrow the locks Cindy cut shorter first? Let’s do that before we magically shellac my hair. I’ll go nuts if I’m stuck with it like this forever. Secondly, I will need a way to allow it to be cut in the event of some emergency where life is at risk. Thirdly, I won’t do it if the magic stops it from growing any longer. I know it’s already way too long, but I’m a weirdo. I’m Piles. And I want to see just how much longer I can grow it on my own.”
Sylvia dropped her hair and narrowed her eyes at the young brunette standing before her. “One last thing. I like you, Cheryl. And I have to say, I love your hair. I want us to be friends. But if this is still somehow a trick and you cut even a single strand from my head, I don’t care how much magic you have. It won’t be enough to stop me from getting revenge.”
Sylvia let the act drop. Her eyes brightened and she held out her hand. “Do we have a deal?”
"Deal." Cheryl shook her hand in agreement. "I will not cut a single strand. It is my mission to not have to cut anyone's hair, especially yours."
Cheryl then hit the main light switch. The entire warehouse was suddenly bathed in light. Sylvia saw a chair, next to which were some bottles that looked a lot like shampoo, and a large cauldron, just like witches use in cartoons.
Cheryl smiled again. She seemed to be always smiling. "I can do everything you just asked for. I can make your hair so if someone was to try and cut it, it would be completely invulnerable. I can make it so you have a way to turn off the spell, and lastly, I can grow everything back to where it was. Or longer if you so decide,” she said coyly, turning to remind the blonde girl how long her own brown hair was. “All per the deal."
Cheryl walked Sylvia over to the chair and invited her to sit down. As Sylvia sat down, her thick, velvety golden tresses pooled heavily onto the floor behind the chair. Cheryl took a section into her hands. “Wow, Sylvia. Your hair is amazing! It’s so soft. And there’s so much of it!”
“Thanks Cheryl,” Sylvia beamed, facing forward. "As tempting as your offer is to grow it longer, I think just returning the shorter locks to their full length is fine. I'd like to grow it further under my own abilities. Like I said, no cheating for me. It’s a pride thing."
“Suit yourself, sweetie. Frankly, I can’t believe you got it this thick and full already without magic.”
“There are many kinds of magic, aren’t there though?” Syl wondered aloud as Cheryl worked through her dense tresses. “There are grand sorcerous spells, and then there’s subtle magic. Patience, devotion, love. Perseverance. Angela used to tell me I had magic hair as a joke. In a way though, I think she was right. It sure feels like magic to me.” Both women chuckled at that.
Cheryl reviewed the steps to the process in her mind, and her heart thumped in her chest as a realization dawned on her. “Oh, shoot!” she gasped. “Umm, Sylvia? I know we had a deal. Please don’t hate me for this,” she paused, trying to find a way to soften the news. “I, uhh, I forgot that I have to take at least one lock of your hair.” She chewed her lip nervously.
Sylvia shot up out of her seat and whirled around to glare at Cheryl.
Cheryl held her hands up apologetically. “I'm not forcing you to do this. But in order for me to do my magic I need to have a sample of it. I won’t cut any more than I need. I promise." She held one hand to her chest and put her other up into the air to signify her solemnity.
“We had a deal,” Sylvia growled, pulling her hair back away from Cheryl.
“I know! I know. Look, your hair’s so thick you won’t even notice one little lock.” She offered a smile with her compliment.
“I absolutely will!” Syl yelled. “You lied to me, Cheryl.”
Cheryl was getting a little nervous. Magic or no, this girl was angry. “I’m so sorry honey, but I promise I’ll grow it back with the rest once I get going on you.”
“Oh sure,” Sylvia puffed. “And I’m supposed to just sit down and trust you. I had one condition. Not a strand. Now you need a whole lock! What if it doesn’t work, or you botch it somehow? Will I need to sacrifice more hair for you to try again? I swear, if this is some ploy to cut my hair off piece by piece…”
Sylvia saw the hurt look in Cheryl’s eyes and some of her anger subsided. “Look, put yourself in my shoes. I just met you. I’m out here in this spooky warehouse with you, alone. By all logic I should be booking it to my car right now. I obviously have a thing about cutting my hair.” To illustrate her point, she fanned out her thick blonde hair with her arms outstretched, letting lock after lock tumble down ceaselessly around her, shimmering in the light as she spoke. “There has to be another way. Can’t you use, I don’t know, a barrette or a hair stick? Or a tear, or even a drop of blood?”
Cheryl sighed. This wasn't easy. "I’m not a master sorcerer. I just picked up a few things here and there, that’s all. The only way I know how to use this kind of magic is if I get some DNA from you. Strands of hair work the best since it’s painless and that’s what I'm trying to grow. I’m not sure how it would go if I used something else. But I am keeping my promise. I don't want to force you to do anything you don't want. I know I may seem very untrustworthy right now.”
Cheryl didn’t seem sure what to do next. She opened her mouth to say something, but then stopped. In frustration, she sat down next to Sylvia and handed her a lock of her hair. “Here, hold onto this.” Sylvia could sense how strongly Cheryl felt about it. This was a significant gesture for her. Slowly, gently, she took the brown lock and held it carefully. It was every bit as soft as her own.
The brunette girl spoke again. "I'm going to tell you something that I’ve told no one in my life. Not even my own husband, since I didn’t know how he’d react.” She paused and drew in a long breath. “A long time ago, when I was only five, my father forced me to cut my hair," she began sadly. "My hair fell to my waist at that age, and even then I knew I wanted to grow it longer; as long as possible. But father thought otherwise. He made me go to a salon. I was crying. My mother was crying. She just wanted me to be happy and enjoy my life.”
Cheryl paused to dab at her eyes. She sniffled. “When it was finally over, I was left with a little bob cut. I hated it. And the worst part is people made fun of it and called me ‘Shorty.’ I wasn’t very tall for my age, so it was both my hair and my height they were mocking.”
Sylvia gently patted Cheryl on the back. That could easily have been her. On her first day in kindergarten, another girl had tried to cut her own knee length hair. She had been five then, too. And she had gotten her own nickname that day, which had irritated her for years.
Cheryl giggled ruefully. “It wasn't even a good insult! But it still made me so sad." She wiped away another rogue tear. "From that moment on, I think I probably wanted my hair to grow more than any other girl in the world. Then I foolishly listened to an evil witch, who offered to make my wish come true. Instead, she captured me. She put a curse on me, which did make my hair grow at an increased rate and made it impossible to cut. I think witches have a thing about having to be truthful in at least some respects. That ensured I would have the longest hair in the world. But I became her prisoner, too.
“It was from watching her that I learned what I know about magic. Eventually, the man who became my husband rescued me and slew her. After she died, the curse was finally lifted and it turned into a necklace."
She removed her scarf slowly and showed Sylvia the jewelry around her neck. "This is where all the magic went from her enchantment. I never remove it. Not even for a second. I’ve always been too afraid of what would happen. Would my hair fall out? To this day I don’t know.”
She paused again. She was struggling visibly. Her voice wavered. “But if you really don't trust me, then I want you to hold onto it while I work." Her face was a dam, trying to hold back a river of tears, and barely holding together. "If that’s what it takes to gain your trust. If you aren’t happy when we are done, I will let you keep it. I have faith that you will l-love it," she stuttered.
“But please, just let me help you first.” She pulled out her scissors, and held them carefully. “I hope you understand how much I hate these things, and even more how much I hate using them on you. So hold onto my necklace in one hand, and keep holding my hair in the other. If you decide I am cutting too much, I will be powerless to stop you from doing the same to me.”
With that, Cheryl reached behind her neck to undo the fastener. She started taking fast breaths, like a skydiver preparing to jump out of a plane. Sylvia started to say something, but Cheryl took action before she could. With a little yelp, suddenly the necklace was off her neck and in her hands. She looked around and behind her in a panic, and patted her head.
“Cheryl, your hair didn’t fall out,” Sylvia said, giggling a bit as she watched the girl twist and turn frantically.
“This is serious!” Cheryl shot back nervously. “I’ve really never done this before. I feel so exposed.” She looked over to Sylvia. “Here,” she tossed the necklace onto Syl’s lap. “And here,” she said, dropping an armful of her brown hair on top of the necklace. “And here,” she drew a second pair of scissors from her purse and handed them carefully to Sylvia. “Now my hair is in your hands, too. Can we begin? Before I lose it and totally freak out?” Cheryl stood up and walked behind Sylvia. Her brown hair hung down to the ground, looped around the chair and came back up into Syl’s lap from where she stood.
Mutually assured destruction, thought Sylvia as she looked down at the mass of brown locks on her lap. She’d been in a situation like this before, but far less pleasant. She was touched. A little horrified at the thought of ruining two great heads of hair, but she didn’t think it would come to that.
“Ok, just do it quickly.” Sylvia replied after a moment. “But be warned. It may be harder than you think to stop after one little snip. In my brief and awful experience on the matter, the act of cutting my hair seems to become quickly addictive for some reason, even to my friends.”
Cheryl held her breath as she held out a lock of Syl’s hair. She moved the scissors to a spot at the very end of the long blonde length, positioning them to cut just a tiny bit from the bottom.
Sylvia winced when she heard the snip. She looked into her lap. Cutting Cheryl’s hair was the last thing she wanted to do. Even if she did the unthinkable and went crazy with the scissors back there, Syl didn’t think she really had it in her heart to get back at her that way.
Cheryl had what she needed. One tiny snippet of golden hair, barely long enough to hold onto with her fingertips. She quickly dropped the rest of the lock back to the ground, put her scissors away and blew out a sigh of relief.
She showed Syl the small piece she had cut. "There. No more. No less. Thank you for trusting me." Sylvia noticed the girl seemed visibly calmer as she put the hair onto a nearby table.
Cheryl started moving the bottles into place, but stopped when she saw Sylvia still holding her hair on her lap with her scissors on one hand. “Are you going to...” she began, but seemed afraid to finish. Sylvia dropped the scissors and brought her hands to her face.
Cheryl immediately came over to Sylvia and gave her a big hug. "I'm so sorry." She tried to keep her cool as her own eyes welled up.
“It’s just that I’ve never had it cut in almost 19 years. Not one millimeter. And now it’s been cut twice.” She sniffled a bit, then exhaled and wiped her eyes with her palms. “I know you barely took anything. Thank you for that. I thought you would take the whole lock, so I think I got off easy. I just really liked being able to say I’d never had it cut before. But I guess I lost that right long before today.” She took another moment to mourn for the passing of another relic of earlier, simpler days.
When she finally looked up at Cheryl, she felt more content, if not quite happy. Burying pieces of your self identity is never easy. “Ok then. What’s next?”
Cheryl beamed. “Now the fun begins!”
Cheryl took all the ingredients over to the big witch’s pot and sprinkled the blonde wisps into it. She poured some steaming water in, then began to add more powders and liquids from the bottles, mixing it up with a spoon as she went.
As Sylvia’s hair dissolved away into the mix, a puff of green smoke floated up. She looked over to the blonde girl, who sat patiently in the chair, with her massive curtains of golden hair tumbling down behind and all around her. She actually couldn’t see Syl at all from this angle. That hair of hers blanketed every last scrap of her, and then some. Piles indeed.
Sylvia held onto the lock Cheryl had taken her sample from and ran her fingers along the ends. It was a very tiny bit shorter than the others now. That felt sad to her. The significance of having hair that had never been cut was something she took for granted before Cindy attacked her. Now it seemed like a precious, irreplaceable thing. Magic could make that hair long again maybe, but it could never undo the fact that it had been cut in the first place. She would always know. And now there was one less lock flowing from her head untouched by a blade. It made her feel reduced in a way. Less pure; less whole.
Cheryl continued expertly working on her process at the pot, but then gasped suddenly as her hand flew to her neck. "Can I have my necklace back? Please?" She had an edge of panic in her voice.
Sylvia looked up from her daydreaming and turned to Cheryl. “Huh?” she asked groggily. Then she looked down at her lap. Cheryl’s necklace was still there. “Oh. I forgot I still had it.” She began to bring it to the other girl, but stopped halfway, twirling it around her finger playfully. “Didn’t you say I should hold onto it until you were finished, so I could keep it if I wasn’t happy?”
Cheryl’s face turned white. “Yes. Yes I guess I did say that,” she said blankly.
Sylvia giggled. “Just kidding. Here you go,” she handed the jewelry over. “But I’m still holding you to that.”
Cheryl snapped it around her neck in a flash, and immediately Syl noticed her calm restored.
"Cheryl," Syl said carefully, "don't you think you maybe don't need to wear it all the time, now that you know your hair won't disappear when you take it off? Don't you feel just a little bit freer without it? I mean, it’s the remnant of an evil curse."
"No,” came the quick response. Cheryl quickly turned away back to her work, avoiding Sylvia’s eyes. "I don't feel safe without it. Especially since I just cut a poor girl’s hair," she said sadly.
Sylvia wanted to push the subject. It couldn’t be healthy to be so attached to it. How would she get along if it was lost or broken? She left it alone for now, though.
Instead, she watched intently as Cheryl poured a bottle of a shampoo-like substance into the mix. It was yellow-orange in color and reminded her of honey. As she emptied the bottle, the liquid inside the mix took on a lovely golden hue.
Cheryl turned back around, smiling. "All done. Now then." She dipped a spoon into the mysterious liquid and pulled it out full. Still smiling, she brought it close to Sylvia. "It's finally ready. This liquid is going to repair anything that has been cut off and return it to its previous length. Like it had never been cut in the first place. But stay still, it might feel a little bit odd in your hair."
“My hair!?” Sylvia squealed. “I thought I’d be drinking that! Are you sure its-” Cheryl only giggled and poured it into her long blonde locks. “Hey, wait a minute!” Syl protested, but her arms went up too late and all she could do was feel her head to see how sticky and gross it had become.
Her hair felt perfectly soft, clean and dry though. The liquid dissolved in it instantly and was gone without a trace. “Huh,” she muttered.
For a moment, she just stood there, wondering how this went. When nothing happened right away, she looked to Cheryl. “So… is this like an overnight sort of thing, or…?”
Cheryl winked and held up her pointer finger. Another long moment went by. Sylvia blew out a long breath and rocked back and forth on her heels.
Then she froze. Her scalp tingled ever so slightly for a moment. She looked down and gasped. The shorter locks of hair were visibly growing longer and longer, reaching down to match the rest. Before long, it looked like it had never been cut. Like that whole horrible night with Cindy had never happened.
Her jaw dropped wide open and she looked up in disbelief at Cheryl.
Cheryl was grinning ear to ear.
“Oh my word!” Sylvia shouted, and immediately spun around, sending her newly restored hair flying about her. A few locks picked up enough steam to gently slap Cheryl’s arms and legs, but she didn’t seem to mind.
Sylvia ran her fingers down the entire length, trying to find the sections that until recently were over three feet shorter. She couldn’t. It was all back, and it was all her. She was worried it would feel different, alien somehow or fake, but it really was her hair. Her essence, returned to her. She laughed, then fell to her knees and cried with joy.
“Cheryl, I really didn’t think this was possible,” she said through her tears. “I was slowly coming around to the fact that I was going to have to cut the rest of my hair back to match what Cindy did. I knew it would still be plenty long even then, but somehow it wouldn’t have been me anymore. That piece of me would have withered and died off, and the door would be open for further haircuts. I imagined getting older and giving in, letting people talk me into sensibly shorter and shorter cuts over time until I looked like everyone else.” She stopped for a moment, overwhelmed. “But you’ve restored me. Now I know I’ll never become that person.”
She ran over to the other girl and threw her arms around her. “Thank you. Thank you so much. Look at me, hysterical over a few feet of hair.”
Cheryl said nothing, but simply hugged her back.
Sylvia eventually got a hold of herself and pulled away. “Is it really uncuttable now, or do you need to do more magic-y stuff? How do I turn it off if I need to?”
"Hold on a second Missy." Cheryl cheerfully chided. "I'll answer all your questions in the order you asked them. Yes, No, and all you have to do is just do this." She drew an imaginary triangle in the air with her index finger. "That turns off the spell completely and brings your hair back to normal. It's an easy cancel option. You don’t have to say a word and since it looks very silly when you're doing it, no one should figure out that you’re actually dispelling magic," she said gleefully. "It’s a technique used by a lot of magic users. A ‘failsafe’ as I would put it. It cancels all the magic, but don't do it unless if you absolutely need to.”
Cheryl’s smile dropped and her face took on a rare serious quality. “I want to repeat that. Don’t do it unless you ABSOLUTELY need to, because it’s a one way ticket. You won’t be able to turn it back on."
“What? I thought I’d be able to switch it on and off as I needed to. You’re saying once I cancel it, no more invincible hair?”
“Unfortunately. The only way to do turn it back on would be to rework the spell again, and those ingredients you saw aren’t easy to find. It would take years to gather them again.”
Sylvia twirled a lock of hair absently as she considered this. “So then I’d better take care not to accidentally draw any triangles with my finger.”
“You really shouldn't. I kind of wish you hadn’t wanted it in there, but I understand your concern for safety." Cheryl lifted one of Sylvia’s fluffy locks in her hand and gave it a little pet. "But enough of that. You're very welcome. And I can see why they call you ‘Piles,’” she teased, gesturing to all the heavy silken tresses accumulated around Sylvia’s feet. “I think it's a cute name,” she said as Sylvia’s face went red with embarrassment. “I’m not done helping you, by the way.”
Sylvia looked up. “What do you mean? I thought the spell was finished?”
“Oh, the spell is done. But if you don’t mind,” Cheryl scratched shyly at the ground with her boot. “Maybe you’d let me wash it or just brush it? Anything you like. Maybe you would like to do mine, too?" She asked quietly.
Sylvia gave Cheryl another hard stare, but couldn’t hold it for long. Her face melted into a goofy grin within seconds. “I thought you’d never ask!” She turned around, reached beneath her heavy blonde hair and fluffed it out behind her. It thumped audibly when it hit the ground again, and sent the piles at her feet spilling out backward along the floor. The thick, brushy ends, now all one length once again, unfurled across the ground to Cheryl’s boots and left the entire floor between them buried under a yellow-gold carpet at least three inches deep.
Cheryl’s eyes went wide. This girl's hair was crazy thick.
“I’m in your hands,” Sylvia offered. “I hope you understand the monumental task you’ve just signed up for. And of course, you’re next.”
"I’m up for it!” Cheryl squeaked with joy. “It's my job after all. Besides, I have to take care of all of mine. Fifteen feet sounds like a lot, because it is a lot." She giggled as her hands dove back into Syl’s dense tresses. "Your hair is really beautiful. Very soft and thick, just like mine, and it looks like pure gold." She ran her fingers through it.
“Thank you,” Syl said, blushing, as Cheryl’s hands ran soothingly through her blonde locks. Cheryl was amazing. She handled Sylvia’s treasured hair with gentle dignity and respect. She shared with her many of the styles she had practiced while she was a prisoner.
When it was Sylvia’s turn, she taught Cheryl the six braid style she loved wearing herself. Sylvia found it just as relaxing working with Cheryl’s hair as she did working with her own. Having to work with six extra feet over her own lengths was a challenge, but a fun one, and she came up with some creative ideas on the fly.
They chatted idly as they worked on one another, but their time didn’t seem to have any end in sight. As soon as one of them finished a creating a style, the other girl seemed to immediately get inspired to try something back. And taking those elaborate creations back down was too much fun to resist, so they never seemed to last too long.
Cheryl uncorked a bottle of wine at one point, and out came her brush. Sylvia always kept one of her own in her purse, so they were able to work on one another at the same time, giggling and getting a little tipsy as the finished the bottle together.
Eventually the wine and brushing joined forces and a soothing exhaustion set in. Sylvia didn’t remember falling asleep. She definitely didn’t remember going home.
Butterflies fluttered in Syl’s stomach as she woke up in her bed the next morning, giddy with joy over what had happened the night before. Then reality took a swing at her, and she was confronted with the obvious fact that it had all been a silly dream. There was no way any of that could have really happened. She was heartbroken and sat in bed staring up at the ceiling, afraid to look down at her hair and see it still partially shortened.
If she didn’t look, she thought, she could hold onto the fantasy a while longer, and pretend her hair really was back. If only things like that happened in real life. What an amazing person her brain had concocted for her. She sighed, letting go of the imagined friend.
Her computer bleeped once from her desk. She looked over to see she had a new email. It was titled ‘Thanks’ and came from CFPants@BermudaTservices.com. She jumped out of bed to open it quickly.
Dear Sylvia… or should I say Piles
I had a blast last night. Thank you for everything. I hope we can get together again someday, but unfortunately the magic that allowed me to visit your world is nearly spent, and I have to get back home. Best of luck in college! I know you’ll knock ‘em dead.
PS – hope you don’t mind that I drove you home. You were a little worse for wear. Hairbrushing and wine are not a good combo if you need to stay awake! Your car’s in your driveway.
PPS – Remember! No drawing triangles!
Sylvia looked down at her hair. It was all there streaming powerfully down her back and sides, fully restored and full of luster. Sylvia let the tears come freely. It wasn’t a dream then! She really was whole again. "Thank you, Shorty," she said quietly to the screen.
She blinked back a few tears, and when she looked back to her screen, the email was gone. She clicked around her folders, checked her junk and deleted files, but it was nowhere. "Huh," she said, beginning to wonder if she had imagined that part too.
She looked back down to her locks. All still there. She sighed in relief. She definitely wasn't imagining that. What really happened then, she wondered? Was it some strange freak act of nature then that caused her sudden regrowth? Was Cheryl just her mind's way of helping her reason out how her hair had somehow grown back in full overnight? If so, she might need to start talking to her shrink again. She liked the idea that the kind brunette sweetheart with fifteen feet of hair and cowboy boots was out there somewhere. She decided that whatever had really happened, that’s what she wanted to remember.
Was her hair really uncuttable though? She reached for a pair of scissors and brought them to a section near the bottom, then hesitated just as she was about to snap them shut. She was ahead of the game right now. By a course of events no one would believe, all her hair was back to its former glory. Why tempt fate? She shrugged and put the scissors back. Best to leave well enough alone. It nagged at her briefly, the desire to know for sure. But the potential cost in learning the answer was just too high.
It would be a conundrum then. Like those old Zen questions. What is the sound of one hand clapping? How do you find out if your hair can’t be cut without risking cutting it? This one she hoped she would never need to learn.