I wake up and start to comb my fingers through my hair.
It’s falling out, you see, faster than it grows back in, and every morning I take a perverse pleasure in eradicating the loose strands with my fingers. Here, says my fingers, lies your “crowning beauty.” Your hair. It’s long and thick, thicker than any normal two women’s hair put together, and I’ve always taken it for granted. “Horse hair,” my hairdresser, Nancy, calls it. Every morning a scattering of delicate strands dangles from my fingers like spiderwebs, and I roll them into a ball and throw them into the trash in the bathroom before I sit down to pee. At this rate, it’ll be years before I turn bald.
But this morning is different.
When I actually touch my hair, I feel not delicate strands but a jellylike paste. I can feel the hair underneath when I scratch my head, but it breaks under my fingers, almost as though it were dissolving. My fingers freeze.
Luckily Craig’s already gone for work. He gets up before dawn so he can work out, holding old age and infirmity at bay. Still holding my hand to my head, I sit up slowly. Although the sun is just up, it’s still dim in the bedroom. With my other hand, I fumble around on the nightstand for my glasses and slip them on.
A cold trail of something runs down my back. I shiver and make a mental note to wash the bedding today. Before Craig gets back.
The room smells of that sour smell when a group of old ladies use the toilets at a movie theater. Great, I think. Must have a yeast infection.
—On my head?
I stumble into the bathroom, turn on the lights, then twist on the shower, bend forward, and lean into the cold water, letting it wash whatever is on my head into the drain.
The sludge is a warm, dark brown. The exact color of my hair, in fact, if you don’t count the few twinkling strands of silver. It pools up in the bottom of the shower, promptly backing up the drain and causing the level of water to rise.
I rub my hands over the back of my head, feeling bare skin.
Well, that’s it, then. I’m bald.
I scrub my scalp until it’s hairless and clean. The skin seems unbroken. When I lean around to look at myself in the mirror I don’t appear to be bleeding. Two brown streaks where my eyebrows used to be, and a dribble of brownish liquid from my nose that, when wiped, isn’t blood.
I suddenly remember the shower and turn off the water, which is finally hot and casting up clouds of gross-smelling steam.
The sludge in the drain has mostly disappeared, and the water in the shower stall is slowly glugging down through the cracks. I pull off a wad of toilet paper and notice that the seat is down, a sure sign of Craig having a good sit, first thing in the morning. Maybe the smell is from him. I’ll have to see if he’s feeling all right.
I start to wipe the sludge away from the drain. As lovely as it would be if it all just disappeared, it would be wiser to throw it out in a plastic bag. We have enough trouble with the sewer line as it is, with tree roots always growing through.
Something scratches against the bottom of the shower stall.
I turn over the paper. There, in the middle of the brown sludge, is a tooth.
I run my tongue around my mouth, but no, no teeth missing. They’re gummy and badly in need of brushing. But all there.
I walk over to the mirror and put the wad of toilet paper down on the counter, sludge downward. The tooth clicks on the countertop.
I riffle my thumb against Craig’s toothbrush, my stomach heaving. It’s dry.
I blink at myself in the mirror. My eyelashes are gone, everything that makes me feminine is gone. Hairless, I seem like an alien.
My eyes in the mirror grow darker and darker until the pupils fill them up from edge to edge, not a single fleck of white remaining.
Behind me in the mirror, Craig’s workout bag is balanced on the edge of the tub.
What? Still in the mood for horror stories? Check out my collection of horror, dark fantasy, and ghost stories: A Murder of Crows: Seventeen Tales of Monsters and the Macabre.