Conor Reid, Contributor
Getting one’s hair cut was always an unpleasant obligation for Patrick Smith. It was somewhat a problem of trust, as Mr Smith did not trust many people, let alone those who repeatedly placed sharp blades near his neck, but also his haircuts were so sporadic and unplanned that he often did not wash beforehand. Not a criminal offense by any means, but a condition that often left him feeling self-conscious in his barber’s chair. He had developed the habit of looking anywhere but at himself when sitting opposite to the barber’s mirror; straining to even look at the progress on his greasy, matted hair.
On the afternoon of September 18 2017, Patrick sat in his usual chair of his usual barber shop, on the usual street and avoided the usual potentiality for conversation with his hair-care professional. Mr Smith’s usual chair sat between a tall mirror and the back wall of the barbershop, in which was sat a door Patrick always guessed led to a staff room. On this afternoon, Patrick noted multiple usual things during his haircut; a nearby razor, a pair of scissors, a folded white towel (cleanly pressed), and a pile of loose hair swept in to the corner of the room, resembling a mound of fuzzy, fallen autumn leaves. He also noticed in the mirror’s reflection that the staff door behind him was slightly ajar. A small crack was all that could be seen through, and as Mr Smith’s eyes scanned it from top to bottom to sate his curiosity, he felt a sudden jolt of cold rip through his spine as his gaze met another’s. Inside the crack in the door was an eye, staring back, three feet up from the floor. Shaking steadily, layered with thick red veins and a cloudy white filling, a single dot of blue in the middle, unmoving, focused, at him. Patrick had never seen an eye so, wrong. He thought too, that he perhaps heard the sounds of licking.
The next month or so was filled with Mr Smith’s unconvinced acquaintances. He tried to argue, “I told you, I saw it, a child, behind the door! It can’t be anything else!” but, nothing. An inquest was made to the police but, similarly, nothing. Patrick may have been self-conscious on occasion, but he did believe that underneath his edifice of inadequacy there was a more brave, more virtuous man. All he needed was the right incentive to pull this braver man out. When the time came for his next haircut, on the afternoon of October 25, Patrick Smith saw an opportunity, to prove his worth as a concerned citizen, or at the very least, prove he was not crazy.
This latest haircut proved to be a unique torture for Patrick. His eyes were trained hard at the reflection of the staff door, his forehead sweating and his palms and fingers being rung inside and around each other underneath the cover that caught his falling hairs; greasy, as always. No eye emerged this time however. No piercing gaze or sense of quivering dread or sounds of licking came forward at all. Before he knew it, his haircut was over, and he found himself wondering, maybe he was crazy. Or maybe, he thought, he was not trying hard enough.
When the police turned a blind-eye weeks ago, Patrick thought he’d perhaps need to break the law to find his answers. With online tutorials and the purchase of a lock-picking kit a week before October 25, Patrick Smith was ready to admit this was the only way he could ever know the truth.
Later, now deep in to the night of October 25, Patrick Smith was at the usual barbershop, on its usual street, standing at its usual door in a very unusual way, hunched and nervous. The shop was old, and thankfully old-fashioned. Without much coaxing, the front door clicked open, with no alarm or hint of wrongdoing apart from a low creak on the door’s rusted hinges.
Patrick reached for the light switch, which clicked, and lit up nothing. No matter, he thought, he knew the layout of the shop from memory and started feeling his way through. Railing, railing, chair, railing, counter, counter, usual chair, and now the usual mirror. He drew a long breath as his fingers touched the cold glass, his own reflection obscured by darkness. He took a cautious step backwards, turned, and faced the staff door. He reached for the door handle, slowly, pressing down with his palm, fingers clenched and knuckles protruding. It was unlocked. He opened the door. There was a dripping sound. He reached for the light-switch inside. He felt a chilly air meet his face. There were sounds of slopping. The light clicked on. The room emerged. Not a staff room, no; staff rooms don’t have bare grey brick, a single uncovered light, a stench or rot and a full, steaming bucket of waste in the corner. A cell, and in the middle was a pile of hair, arranged in a mound, with a child nestled on the top. A child, no older than ten, sat there, in a knee-high treasure trove of bristly hair, hunched, looking barely living, wearing a stained pillow-case over his torso, eyes manic and dotted with piercing blue, hair unkempt and smelling of the droll of the long-since-dead. His face was covered in collections of hairs, glued to his cheeks and mouth with thick pastes of saliva. He was holding something in his hand, and Patrick saw and realised, that the boy had been, and still was, eating hair. Thick clumps clenched in between his bony fingers, shoved harshly again and again past his lips, the boy’s bulbous lumped tongue lapped and swished hungrily at the strands, before plunging each and every bushel in to his mouth, chewing, running his tongue everywhere. He simply kept going, bundle after bundle, colours and textures mixed together and sandwiched in his teeth, showing a manic, perverse joy in the act of repeated, violent consumption. ‘What creature is this?’ Patrick thought. How. Why. From who. It made him gag, the stench alone bringing forward images of the rotting masses, heaps of dead tissue, of clipped life, all swirling in the stomach of this small, sad creature.
Patrick stood still, watching as the boy took another bushel of clipped, shimmering hair; greasy hair. The boy squealed in joy, Patrick seeing his mouth more, seeing hairs protruding into and out of the boy’s gum line, now obscured, he closed his lips around the greasy hair, and began to suck down hard on them. The slackened hairs were like straws in a cup with just a bit of delicious nectar left teasingly at the bottom, the force of the boy’s inhaling like a slime-ridden vacuum. Patrick could feel bristles in his mouth just from staring, and upon thinking these just may have been his own greasy locks, he ran, screaming.
To this day, Patrick Smith has refused to get his hair cut. It now hangs low, to the back of his knees, and is easily messed and hard to manage, often becoming tangled and tatted. His work and social life has become minimal, and he does not dare entertain the notion of cutting his hair on his own, not ever, especially in his own home. He fears that allowing his hair to hit the ground will call the boy back, allow him in, and while Patrick Smith lies in bed at night he may feel the bristles in his mouth again, feel an itch on his scalp again, hear the sounds of licking again… because out of sight, the boy may be there, suckling hungrily on his greasy hair. What once was Patrick’s, now his to digest.