Getting that swoop is hard work. Especially when one stubborn hair wants to “be himself,” whatever that means. Take a peek at “Parting Ways,” and let me know what you think.
“Oh, for the love of Pete — Terry! Get down from there!”
Darkness still clung to the world, but Terry knew light would break very soon. “No way, Dave. Today’s the day. I can feel it.”
“No, Terry. Today is not the day. Just stay down.”
Dave doesn’t understand. Not like I do. Understanding felt joyous, and it fluttered down Terry’s keratinous body. His follicle shuddered in barely bridled anticipation. There were many elements of being a strand of hair that were beyond his control: his despised chestnut brown color, the rigidity of interwoven fibers that didn’t let him breathe, the placement of his root so close to the edge of the world.
Worst of all, though, was the Lean. For too long, Terry had spent his days being bullied about, forced to conform to a ridiculous angular standard. “Swoop this way, and only this way,” had been beaten into Terry’s mind since his emergence. Even as a wee rootling, he had tried to sneak off to the Other Way. A bend in the other direction, a swoop that way. Perhaps youthful rebellion had tingled too pleasantly and he craved the feeling, as resisting the Lean had become a daily occurrence even in this middle age.
Time and again, though, his act of defiance would be thwarted, and the Lean would be reestablished. If his compatriots like Dave didn’t “correct him,” some unfathomable force would drive him back into line, every fiber of his body screaming as he was shoved into his “proper place.” Terry had yet to learn the nature of this force, like where it came from and why it hated him so.
Regardless, Terry would not be swayed. And especially after Charlotte had said she was leaving him for Dave, he was more determined than ever to reach the Other Way. He stood tall and proud, defiant against the odds of a good swooping.
“Terry, c’mon man, this is stupid. If I don’t bring you down from there, You-Know-What will do it for me.”
Dave reeked of the primal fear that infected every follicle in the land. Most of the time, when a hair stepped out of line, they were unceremoniously returned to their place. But tenacious-enough individuals would suddenly vanish in a fiber-twistingly terrible sound, a dying root marking the place they once stood tall.
From Terry’s height, the smell diminished considerably. “I don’t care. Go hang out with Charlotte. I have work to do.”
“Oh, is that what this is about?” It wasn’t. Dave and Charlotte were meant to be together anyway; Terry had never much enjoyed their dream-quashing. But Terry let his pal carry on. “You were never around, Terry. Always lost in this fantasy of yours. You had responsibilities — a life together. You disappeared, relinquished all that. What was she supposed to do?”
As he said this, Dave had started his slow descent into the Lean. Basic fear drove most of his friends, but this daily ritual had become pedestrian and banal for Terry. He let loose an ugly yawn while Dave shook with a rising fury. Or, at least as much as his fibers could shake whilst in the Lean.
“You’re not being sensible. Every day, Terry. You lose this dumb fight every day. Just come hang out with me, with Charlotte, all your friends.”
Life had taught Terry the value of silence. It was easier to coax the truth out of friends when he kept quiet. Not that they would outright lie to him, but with silence, he would forgo the dusting of half-spoken things and omissions that politeness demanded. The naked truth was always exceptionally interesting. Terry straightened up more than he ever thought he could. And that pissed off Dave more than he ever thought possible.
He was quivering from his nearly-prone position; Terry almost laughed, but stifled it by tightening a few fibers. “Dammit, Terry! You can’t be different! It’s not possible.” Dave’s anger intensified when Terry stood firm. “Yes, Charlotte loves me! And yes, you don’t deserve her. Don’t you stand up there all high and mighty thinking you’re better than me.” He huffed. “Besides, you’re gonna get me in trouble!”
That was ridiculous hyperbole. Dave had escaped unscathed whenever You-Know-What materialized and corrected Terry. An involuntary shiver crept up his body when the scent of fear, empowered by Dave’s confused anger, reached his high station. For Terry, it was an unfounded fear, an irrational anger that demanded no response. Dave could have Charlotte. Terry would have glory.
Lost in thought, Terry just about missed the dawn. He felt the light first, his fibers warming and tightening, aware of what loomed on the horizon. Dave’s words fell away, buried in the burst of a new day. With an open root, Terry greeted the challenge.
“Here it comes! Today’s the day! Finally!”
The alarm clock buzzed seven minutes earlier than it should have. Knowing the exact time he had set it for when he went to bed, Pete thought to replace its batteries. Perhaps returning the clock to proper functioning order would give him back his lost sleep. A foolish thought, of course, to a well-rested man. But Pete had certainly been lacking in that department these days.
His boss had derided him mercilessly for his unkempt mop of hair. That was frustrating, as Pete had tried a host of solutions to wrangle in the mess. Most of his hair was positioned perfectly, even when he woke up seven minutes too early. But one strand of hair, perennial in its defiance, kept sneaking out of his careful swoop. The barber had said it had something to do with his part and the way that strand grew, but Pete wondered if it simply held some mortal grudge.
The chilly tiled floor sped up his trip to the bathroom. With groggy eyes, Pete stared at his wrinkling face, marred by that same thin and flustering strand. The blasted hair had snuck its way down once more.
“Hmph…another bad hair day.”
He was running low on pomade, the special brand he ordered from a small farming community somewhere in Europe. It was the only hair care product capable of maintaining order. He rolled a dab between his fingers while he glared at the meddlesome hair, willing it to fall in line. But it stood tall and proud.
“Get outta here,” Pete muttered as his gelled hand deftly swooped everything into a neat coif, enough so he could bear the image looking back. “Swoop this way, and only this way, how many times I gotta say it…..”
And today, the hair remained defiant, jutting out in a cruel taunt.
“Boss is gonna kill me.” He pulled open a few drawers. “Where are those scissors? I’ll take care of this.”
In the bottommost drawer, his fingers slid right into the plastic loops. He tested the blades, and they snapped together in a satisfying crunch. Pete couldn’t help his smile as he brought the scissors up to the lone standing strand. “Should’ve swooped this way, buddy.”
Thanks to my sister, Alyssa, for her continued efforts at making this story tolerable. Thanks a lot, sis!
And to the dev team for their strenuous work at telling me what I did wrong, including: EEsDoNotItNow, Pompílio, YFWE, DrummerMax64 and Berserker88. Thanks, gang!