A Trip Home

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Two lanes of winding road meandered through a forest of pine trees. The smell of their sap
released from its frozen prison permeated the cool air. Through this picturesque landscape
a single car navigated its way.

Anna jiggled an empty soda can in hopes of few last drops to quench her thirst. Over an hour
had passed since she sped by the last convenience store certain she was almost to her home town.
With a hollow clunk the can joined the other five in the passenger wheel well junk pile.

It was like a gift from above when the trees passed behind her, giving way to open fields. The
town of her youth sprawled out from growth of the community college at its core. “You’ll do,”
Anna pulled into a gas station on the town’s edge.

A male college student gave her the once over from behind register. “Not from around here?”

“Born and raised, actually,” Anna held her hand out for the key to the bathroom.

“Wouldn’t have guessed,” The attendant dropped the key into her hand.

Minutes later she gave it back, her tension from holding water gone. She thanked the attendant,
and left with a cold bottle of water. “Where are we meeting up?” she texted her sister Jenna.

Anna leaned against her car while she waited for Jenna’s response. Her auburn hair streamed down her
side, contrasting with the blue of her rental car’s door frame on its way to her knees. A feeling of
something being off crept over her. Her weight shifted against the hard metal of the car. “Oh,” her
eyes searched for a counter point to her observation. She counted about two dozen girls, with hair
above their shoulders. Bob, bob, pixie, shorter shags, bowl cut?  Anna retreated into her car.
Shutting the length of her locks in the door in her haste. The door popped back open. Then with the
length retrieved, it shut again. What am I doing? Anna started feeling silly. There was no way everyone
in town had hair so short. Not the town she grew up in.

“Moms. She’s out for a while.” Anna’ sister texted her back.  Anna turned her key in the ignition. Surely
the native town folk were somewhere else.

***

Anna, and Jenna parked their cars down the street from their mother’s house to hide their arrival. An extra
key not moved from its hiding place since they were in junior high let them inside.

Peering out the kitchen’s bay window Anna kept watch for her mother “I’m telling you, it’s not right.
It just feels wrong.”

The microwave dinged. Stomach gurgling shoved her fork in, and stuffed her mouth with her mother’s homemade
macaroni and cheese. “Thing’s change,” she swallowed before continuing. “Not this, though. This is still the
fucking best.”

“Do they still hold the hair contest? It was the biggest event at the pumpkin festival,” Anna paced between
the table and the window, taking a peek after every trip.

“Think we could finally win?” Jenna shrugged looking down at her red-brown ends beside the chair legs.

Anna scowled at the attempt at levity. “Something is up. Tell me you saw one person with hair past their
shoulders, and I’ll leave it alone. I traveled cross town. Not a single woman with hair that even touched
them. No young girls, no one from the college… no one.”

“I saw you. And… Mom! Mom has kept her hair. She still had it when she last Facetimed me!” Jenna took
a victory fork full of food.

The sound of rubber tires on asphalt startled Anna. “We’re about to find out.”

Jenna forced herself to swallow then waited beside the door. “She’s going to flip when she sees us!” Keys jingled,
the door nob turned. “SURPRISE!” Jenna threw her arms into the air.

Anna’s mother gasped, dropping her purse on the floor to embrace Jenna. “I was suppose to come to see you two!

“I fucking told you!” Anna held her arm outstretched pointing at her mother’s banged bob.

***

“Never shorter than hip length, never! I’m going to get to the bottom of this.” Anna was single minded in her
search for a small salon her mother said had become the hottest spot in town two years ago. Eventually winning
the town over to the owners short hair vision.

Locations to buy an air mattress were listed on Jenna’s phone .”The town is going through a fad. Chill out.”

“Two years. Two years, and the whole town has just done away with their culture? Anna shook her head emphatically
back and forth. “Mom’s always told us how pretty our hair is. For fuck’s sake she was the lead judge of the
competition!”

“Probably why we never won. Anti-favoritism,” Jenna chuckled.

“Isn’t it supposed to be around here? Did we pass it?”

“Chill out. It’s a salon,” Jenna kicked the cans by her feat in boredom. “Why are you so determined to go to a place
that is supposedly chopping off hair left, and right? Aren’t you concerned you’ll come out with one of those Chic
bowl cuts?”

Blood flushed from Anna’s face. “You’re right, I have to be more careful.”

“There it is! Shear Lengths!”

Anna pulled in beside the curb across the street. “Mom didn’t say she had long hair.” Across the street the owner
of the salon, her knee length blonde hair shining in the window, was trimming a young girls brunette bob. “Why would someone
with hair like that be cutting everyone’s hair so short?”

“Maybe she made everyone give up? She had to win every prize at the festival…”

“I have to know more,” Anna pulled back into traffic. “We’re coming back after we get the mattress. She’ll be closed
by then.”

“Are you going to do a B and E at a salon?”

“We’re not going to steal anything. Just look around.”

***

A group of town folk trailed Anna, and Jenna through the isles of the large box-store, fascinated by the girls that had not
yet done away with their hair.

“How are we the odd ones?” Jenna grunted tossing the queen sized air mattress into the cart. “We left this place as perennial
losers of everything hair. Now we’re being looked at like freaks?”

“I fucking told you,” Anna grabbed extra C-batteries from a display at the end of the isle. “This place is not right.”

“And now you want to go into the mouth of the beast? These people are weird. What if something fucked up happens in there?”
I like my hair, Anna. I like it attached.”

“Now who needs to chill out?” Anna pushed the cart through the crowd at the end of the isle.

***

The first street light warmed to incandescent orange. Under it’s glow Anna, and Jenna sneaked their way to the salon.

“At least the town still closes early,” Anna shimmied her her credit card into the salon’s aging lock. The door lurched open,
sending her forward into the dusk lit salon.

“When this place grabs your ass, I’m out.” Jenna pulled the salon door shut behind her.

“There has to be something there.” Anna pushed her auburn covered frame up from he kneeling position, then pointed the salons
storage room.

“I’m right behind you.” Jenna checked the front door was still unlocked.

The supply room door creaked open. Behind it an almost sterile room lay empty except for shadowed objects hanging around the
periphery. *CLICK* a cone of light from Anna’s small flashlight flitted over the walls.

“Are those-?”

“It’s hair. A fucking lot of hair.” The walls were lined with hooks. Each skewered a carefully braided ponytail at its top.

“She’s collecting?” Jenna took two braids off their hooks. “They’re all so long.” She ran her hands along the trophies.

“They’re all at least eighteen inches. She took them all short in one go.”

“We should go. I don’t feel very welcome here,” Jenna placed the trophies back in their spots. “It was a bad idea to come here.”

Anna ran her flashlight over a group of photos, and new paper clippings among the collection. “Look,” she pointed out the dates
of the articles. “These are a hundred years old.”

“Holy fuck… Is that her?” A black and white photo of dead ringer for the owner of the salon accompanied an article about a town’s
female population being bobbed in 1923. “I’m out, fuck this.”

Anna turned off her flash light. “Hey! Wait up.”

“And who are you two?” The owner of the salon guided Jenna back into the salon. “How could I have missed two ample heads of hair
such as yours?” She held up her hand.

Anna’s eyes rolled back into her head, the world went dark.

***

Backs straight, Anna and Jenna sat caped in black. Unable to move in the salon chairs. Their straight glossy hair hung loose, detangled, ready
to be collected.

“Bobs are so overdone,” The owner of the salon held her shears to her chin devising a suitable style for her two new clients. “I suppose I
only have myself to blame,”

“Who knew this town still had such a crop.” The scissors snipped in excitement. “Feet of hair. I have to wait for fresh students to even
have a chance at single foot!” She laid her hands on Anna’s shoulders. “I know just the thing. You’ll make a stunning Dorthy Hammil!”

Anna wanted to scream as loud as she could, but her body refused to respond. “Who the fuck is Dorthy Hammil?” she thought, forced to stare
at her reflection. The owner gathered her hair below her neck. Try as she might her body remained a statue. A sickening series of *SHNICK*s
made her want to puke, but her body refused to wretch.

“You two will sustain me until I find another town. This one has run its course.” The owner went to place Anna’s hair on a hook.

“Come on,” she thought. “I can’t let her get Jenna,” Anna white knuckled the chair. She blinked in disbelief. With all her might she
lifted her right hand.

“You’re turn to get rid of the bulk, little miss,” The owner searched her smock for her shears. “Don’t move. I’ll be right back.”

“Hair!” Anna thought. “She controls people with their hair!” She forced her hand forward with all her concentration.

The owner returned with her shears. “For you, a bowl cut. Haven’t done one of those in ages.” The owner ran her finger tips across Jenna’s neck.
“Let the world see how pretty your nape really is.”

“Uhh!” Anna fell forward, grabbing the hair clippers on her way to the floor. Her rough lob covered her face.

“What do you think you’re doing, little lady?

“Uhh!” The clippers came to life triumphantly in Anna’s hands. The owner jumped on top of her. “Fuuuck, you!” Anna drove the clippers straight
down the center of her own forehead. “You’re. Not,” every pass made her stronger. “Touching. My. Sister!” The Anna kicked the salon owner off her, and
into the counter.

“This is why I never do two at once. Give me those!”

Clippers buzzing in Anna’s hands, the two collided. “Need my hair to fuck with me, huh? What happens if I take yours?” Anna kneed the salon
owner in the stomach, bending her over at the waist.

The owner grabbed her stomach through her disheveled hair. “You don’t know what you’re doing.”

“I’m saving my town. Now shut up,” Anna grabbed a giant chuck of the owner’s hair, and yanked her head back. “How does it feel?” Yards of blonde
locks slid across the floor as they fell from the clippers teeth.

The owner laughed as her head was shaved. Then, her strength fading, she cried. “It’s yours now. It’s yours…”

Anna dropped the clippers, and the owner. With a smack they both hit the floor.

“Anna?” Jenna called from her chair. “Did you get her?”

“I got her.” Anna grabbed the garbage can, and threw up.

“She’s gray.” Jenna kicked the owner’s corpse. “Oh fuck…” dust covered her foot.

Anna spit into the garbage. “She said it was mine now. What did she mean?”

“Who the fuck knows. Let’s get the fuck out.”

“I don’t feel well.” Anna’s head spun, then burned like it was in a furnace.

“This is your gift.” A deep voice spoke in Anna’s mind.

Auburn stubble pushed its way out of her scalp, growing into strands that rushed down her neck.

“This is your curse!” The voice boomed.

Anna stood, her gift fell like a loosed bun down her back. “The collection is mine now.” She said monotonously.

“What?” Jenna stood in shock as the owners body collapse into dust under its own weight.

“She held a spirit at bay. One that hunts for human hair,” Anna held her face in her hands the spirits past filled her memories.
“It controls people by using their hair. I had to shave my head to break its hold.”

“Looks like that worked out…”

“It’s a curse. I can’t cut it or it will get free. I don’t think anyone can without being cursed themselves.” Anna pushed the spirits voice to the
back of her mind. “She lost the battle long ago.”

“Are you going to be OK?”

Anna put the clippers back on the counter, knowing one day a pair like them would be used to end her time as the spirits keeper. “For now.”

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