Influence and Inspiration – The Power to Inspire

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It was a quiet Tuesday morning, and I was sitting outside my barbershop on a bench in the lane, watching people pass by. I was regularly drawing on my electronic vape device and watching the large clouds of vapour released into the air. With little else to do, I had become an expert at this mindless activity. During quiet mornings like this, I could not help but think about how slow business was. I needed a challenge.

= * = * =

My name is Juliette, and I am a woman hairstylist. Mid-thirties with long black hair, usually scraped back into a high ponytail, and dressed in a tight black top, miniskirt, black tights, and knee-high leather boots. My hairstylist uniform.

I had been a senior stylist in a top city salon, but when my grandpa left me his traditional barbershop in his will, I could not resist the allure of having my own business. However, I also had a vision of modernising the shop and attracting a more diverse clientele. The regular flow of men and boys wanting “trims” was all well and good to keep things ticking over, but I wanted more opportunities to use my extensive knowledge and skills. Edgy modern haircuts, bold colours and dramatic makeovers were my specialty, but there were not too many senior gentlemen looking for me to apply those skills on a Tuesday morning.

I had got as far as renaming the shop Inspire, although everyone still referred to it as The Lanes Barbershop. Women would often slow down by the window, look inside out of curiosity, but they rarely came in. I imagined the austere male environment of the barbershop was a deterrent for them.

To pass the time during the quiet moments, I often sat outside the shop and vaped. I used to be a smoker, but I switched to vaping several years ago. It was healthier, and I enjoyed the variety of flavours that were available. At the weekend I had been moaning to my friend Jasmine about my decision to resign from my senior position and run the barbershop. As I explained to her, if only I could persuade women to enter, and give them a fantastic haircut, then I was sure to get recommendations and my business would snowball. I know it sounded far-fetched, but my excuse it that we were draining the second bottle of wine by then.

However, the wine may have relaxed Jasmine’s tongue a little too much. She told me about a substance that could added to vape liquid called Hypnolitol, derived from a plant that a friend of hers had procured. If someone breathed in the vapour containing the substance, they became more open to suggestions from people around them. The effect varied from person to person. Some people functioned as if they were completely hypnotised, while others would be open to discuss suggestions but failed to react further. The effect lasted for no more than a couple of hours, and there were no known side effects. For obvious reasons, the person vaping must not inhale.

The morning after, most of what we had discussed had become a blur. I laughed when I saw the small bottle of the vape liquid that Jasmine had left for me. I debated pouring it down the sink. Instead, I dropped it into my bag.

= * = * =

I had been sceptical about the alleged effect of the doctored vape liquid that my friend Jasmine had given me. But on that Tuesday morning, a couple of days later, I was feeling more bored than usual, so I decided to try it. I carefully filled a spare vape pen with the liquid and waited for a potential customer to walk by.

After ten minutes, I spied a woman with long black hair, meandering down the lane, looking into shop windows and occasionally popping inside. As she approached, I released a huge cloud of vapour for her to walk through, being careful not to inhale myself. As she walked past, she coughed and rewarded me with a reproachful stare. She opened her mouth, clearly about to harangue me over my apparent thoughtlessness at blowing my smoke in her direction.

‘I hope you know, I’m terribly sorry,’ I pleaded.

She closed her mouth and screwed up her eyes as if she had forgotten what she was going to say.

‘Yes, I do know you are sorry,’ she shrugged, smiling. ‘Thank you.’

To me, the woman’s reaction seemed strange. Furthermore, she looked as puzzled as I was over what had just transpired. Unconvinced, I speculated whether the vape liquid might have had a part to play in her behaviour. Mischievously, I chose to experiment further.

‘Isn’t it a lovely day today?’ I remarked, despite it being a dull morning, with a chilly breeze blowing down the lane. ‘I think, it’s going to be hot later, don’t you?’

‘Yes, it is lovely,’ she agreed, looking perplexed at the grey clouds overhead, ‘and, actually, I do feel quite hot.’

‘I imagine it’s having so much hair that makes you all hot and bothered,’ I empathised. ‘Don’t you feel you should have your hair cut short?’ I asked, feeling ridiculous as I delivered the foolish script that I was creating in my mind.

‘Er …’ The woman froze but looked ready to snap at me for my impudent suggestion. Suddenly, she adopted a more conciliatory and thoughtful expression. ‘Yes, you’re quite right, I do need a haircut. I’ve had this thought in my mind for … for … for a time … the thought that having all this hair is making me feel so hot.’

‘Great, this is your lucky day,’ I said with a smile, gesturing to the new, but underappreciated, Inspire sign above the window. ‘Please come inside. I’m Juliette.’

= * = * =

The woman in the lane who had breathed my doctored vape cloud and surprised me when she confidently marched inside Inspire following my invitation. She sat in one of my two worn red and chrome barber’s chairs facing the mirrors.

‘I’m Ellie,’ the woman said by way of introduction. ‘So, what do you want from me?’ she continued, sounding as confused as I was by her question.

‘Well, I think you said you would like a haircut, didn’t you?’

‘I did?’ she questioned, looking perplexed as she played with the ends of her hair and took in her traditional barbershop surroundings. ‘Yes, sorry, of course I did. I would like a haircut, please, Juliette.’

I could feel the excitement bubbling inside me as the signs were that she was succumbing to the Hypnolitol. However, I remained sceptical that it was the doctored vape that was resulting in her odd behaviour.

‘No problem, Ellie. I imagine you would like me to cut your hair very short, wouldn’t you?’ I prompted, trying to gauge her preferences while hiding my own enthusiasm.

‘Yes, short,’ Ellie accepted, although a flicker of concern, caused by the impending loss of her long hair, punctuated her mild expression. ‘I want my hair very short,’ she added more firmly, as if she had been fighting her own thoughts and had finally come to a conclusion.

‘Ellie, I think you would look good with a flattop, don’t you?’ I suggested daringly, pointing to a framed and faded black and white photo on the wall. It portrayed a man with a traditional flattop haircut with a brush-like crown and the back and sides shaved down to the skin.

‘How strange, a flattop is just what I was thinking too,’ Ellie replied, oddly agreeable but with disbelieving eyes. ‘Er, I think it was, wasn’t it?’ she murmured quietly to herself.

‘That’s great,’ I confirmed, covering her with a black cape. ‘Initially, I think it will best if I cut off the bulk of your hair and then -’

‘Yes, Juliette, so do I,’ she said excitedly, although her anxious eyes contradicted her joyful voice.

I pulled all her hair back into a rough ponytail and slowly sawed through its great thickness. Her bemused expression briefly switched to fear with each thrust of my scissors.

‘There!’ I announced proudly, holding up her ponytail triumphantly. It had been quite a while since I last did such a big makeover. ‘I imagine that feels much lighter, and so much more comfortable now.’

‘Yes, Juliette, I feel so much cooler,’ she said, grimacing as I laid out her ponytail on the shelf below the mirror, right in front of her. ‘So, have you finished?’

I looked at the horrible uneven bob that was all that remained of her once glorious long hair. ‘No, you want it shorter, don’t you?’

‘Yes, of course I do,’ Ellie confirmed with a chuckle. ‘Silly me.’

‘You’re going to enjoy feeling the clippers, buzzing off most of your hair,’ I instructed, continuing to evaluate the impact of the vape cloud.

‘Cl- … cl- … clippers?’ she stuttered, a horrified look temporarily replacing her previously relaxed expression. ‘Buzz …’

‘Yes,’ I said casually, ‘is there something wrong, Ellie?’

‘No, of course not,’ she snapped, before giggling and making a buzzing noise. ‘I’m looking forward to the hairclippers?’

I was starting to accept that the doctored vape was having the prescribed effect. However, I was concerned by Ellie’s drug-induced mood swings. Her unconscious mind was fighting my out of character suggestions. I realised I needed to be more careful with my approach to avoid any lasting issues.

Oddly, Ellie became calmer as she watched me run the clippers through the back and sides of her hair. She appeared vaguely interested but with a slightly bemused expression that she might have reserved if she had been watching it happen to someone else.

Using a large comb and scissors I began to lift the short strands on her crown and snip them off to a uniform length. Ellie’s thick hair was perfect for a flattop and, once it was short enough and all levelled off, it stood to attention perfectly without the need for styling products.

I graduated the short lengths on her crown with the buzzed back and sides, then faded those bristles down to her skin at the hairline. It was a perfect facsimile of the severe man’s flattop I had indicated in the photo on the wall. It was an uncompromising man’s haircut, but Ellie was one of those beautiful women who could look completely feminine, even with such a severe hairstyle. I swished the cape away, before holding up a mirror for her to see her new haircut from every angle.

‘Wow, Juliette, you’ve cut it just like the haircut in that picture,’ Ellie gushed. ‘That’s what I asked for, isn’t it?’ she asked, with a trace of doubt creeping into her voice.

‘It’s exactly what you asked for Ellie,’ I stated boldly. ‘Because of the heat, you wanted me to cut your hair very short, if you remember?’

‘Yes, of course I did. I won’t feel hot now,’ she laughed fleetingly, but sounded slightly reassured by my reminder. ‘It’s just that I’ve always worn my hair long and … and … and now it’s short.’

‘You look fantastic, Ellie!’ I exclaimed honestly, trying to suppress any residual doubts about me chopping off her long hair. ‘I think this style suits you perfectly, don’t you?’

‘Thanks. Yes, it does,’ Ellie replied, looking surprised, but in a good way, as she fingered the bristles on her crown and caressed her bare neck. ‘I’m surprised I hadn’t had this done before.’

She paid, and then left me a large tip which she insisted I had thoroughly deserved. She walked off with her head held high, looking delightful to my eyes. I wondered if I would see her again.

= * = * =

As the morning dragged on, with no further customers, I had time to grow anxious over what I had done. I wondered how Ellie would explain her sudden change of appearance to friends, colleagues, or a partner. I wondered if she would have any recall over where she had been and what had occurred. Although I had experimented to gain a more varied and interesting clientele, I was now hoping she would not remember where she had been. I was hoping she would not return to confront me or, more worrying, with an irate husband or boyfriend, or even the police.

A feeling of guilt crept up on me for taking advantage of Ellie under the influence of Hypnolitol. I was delighted that I had the rare opportunity to exercise my past hairdressing skills but, I wondered at what cost to that poor woman. By the end of the day, I decided that I should not use the liquid again but should focus my efforts on formulating a proper business plan to take the Inspire salon to the next level.

= * = * =

Over the next couple of weeks, as the fear of reprisals and retribution faded, the allure of using the doctored liquid niggled at the back of my mind. However, during my quiet mornings, I focused my mind on making cosmetic changes to the inside of the barbershop to improve its appearance. It kept me occupied and kept temptation at bay.

One morning, I was struggling to fit a new blind to the shop window when I saw a woman marching down the lane, clearly on a mission. It was Ellie, and she was clearly intent on a mission.

‘Good morning,’ Ellie said as she burst into my shop, ‘I want a word with you.’

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