House on Hairless Hill
The House on Hairless Hill by Sabrina S. & HeadBoy
“Welcome to the house of fun, now you’ve come of age/Welcome to the lion’s den, temptation’s on its way.” • Madness
Melissa woke to find herself strapped to the rack, the room was dark, her joints ached. As she felt the ropes around her hands and feet tighten and stretch, she knew that clown time was over. She knew that the contest had begun. Begun, and claimed its first victim. The ropes tightened more, she felt it in her spine, through her fingers, in her eye sockets, and then the pain erupted through her mouth, in an uncontrolled wail of the soul that shook through all three stories of the house. So loud was it, that the other girls suddenly wished, collectively, that they had taken the $50,000 apiece instead of bargaining for this. This “Last woman with hair on her head wins $10 million” madness. What sicko had thought of this? Melissa wondered the same thing as she felt gloved hands grab her hair, her golden locks, and pull them until they felt as if they’d come out by the roots. No such luck, it would be more painful to watch. And watching herself get scalped was what Melissa had in store. As far as contestants, Melissa was the most vain.
The most vain and, apparently, the least observant. She was an easy catch, and the still-faceless villain brought the razor up to her hairline, a floodlight came on to illuminate the basement, and a mirror on the ceiling showed Melissa her fate. Her hair fell away without a struggle. It had been pulled so tight that the razor left nothing but burning, itching skin in its wake.
Burning, itching skin, and a sobbing, broken, Melissa. Instead of $10 million, she would get a bus ticket home. A bus ticket. That is all her now dead uncle had left her? A bus ticket and a stupid contest. A contest she had lost in a hurry. A contest that, for the others at least, was just getting started.
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Upstairs in the drawing room, the five girls heard the deafening silence as Melissa’s anguished wails ceased.
“Are we crazy?” whispered Amanda. “That’s my sister having her hair cut off. Your cousin. FAMILY.”
“Ten million dollars is a lot of money, Mandy,” hissed Holly, who at 27 was the oldest of the six cousins. “And hair will grow back.”
The room was in darkness; Amanda could barely make out Holly’s face in the gloom. The deal was they could either take $50,000 apiece in the kind light of day in the smooth elegance of the lawyer’s office, or spend one night in their uncle’s old mansion, a relic that belonged in a Hitchcock film, and be in the running to walk away with a cool $10million. Providing the winner was in a condition to walk. And had hair on her head. The conditions of Uncle Hugo’s will were questionable, but he’d been of sound mind and body when he wrote it. How could such a sick mind be a sound mind, Amanda wondered, fingering her shoulder-length blond locks in an automatic gesture. One night in the house had sounded like a walk in the park, Amanda reflected. They’d all thought so, so what could go wrong?
They’d barely been in the house five minutes (long enough to discover the power had been cut off and the house was freezing cold and black as sin) when they’d noticed Melissa was no longer with them. They’d searched high and low as best they could. None of them had thought to bring flashlights so it was a case of fumbling in the dark, barking their shins on the musty, ancient furnishings. The only locked door had been the basement, and they surmised correctly that Melissa was in there.
When Melissa started screaming Holly, the natural leader, decreed that they were not to attempt to rescue her. It was every girl for herself from now on.
Outside the wind was picking up speed, howling around the house, rattling the windows and making the shutters squeak. Inside, little noises in the walls indicated the rats in residence were interested in the new arrivals.
Candy shuddered. She hated rats. She hated rodents of all descriptions and, naturally, cockroaches and all insects were on the wish list for a one way trip to hell, too. Candy’s perfect world would be a brand new condo with an ocean view and a daily cleaner, and six monthly visits by a pest inspector. Especially if he were good looking. That’s how she was going to spend her $10 million when she won it. Candy stood petitely in the centre of the room. She didn’t want to be near any of the furniture as it was dusty and dirty and the brand new jeans she was wearing were designer and had cost a bomb.
“I’m thirsty,” Candy complained. “Has anyone got any water?”
The girls looked at each other. No flashlights, no water. Really, they’d been dumb. They hadn’t thought this out at all well.
“Huh,” Candy shrugged. “I’m going to the kitchen to see if the taps work.” Her pricey boots were loud on the once-polished floorboards as she thudded down the hall.
Candy was delighted to find that at least the water hadn’t been cut off. A cold, clear trickle ran from the tap. There were no drinking glasses so Candy tossed her long chestnut hair over her back and leaned down to drink directly from the tap.
The hand that swept in front of her face and clamped a strongly-smelling cloth pad against her nose was the last thing she knew.
Candy had no idea how long she’d been unconscious. She woke with a parched, dry mouth to find herself lying on a bed. The mattress was lumpy and smelt mouldy. Candy’s face took on its usual petulant wrinkle of disgust. That was when she discovered a strong adhesive tape was firmly covering her mouth, and the scream that was a reflex action was a muffled yelp.
She tried to get up, but discovered her hands and feet were tied firmly with gaffer tape to the posts of the creaky old bed.
Candy was suddenly very frightened indeed.
And her hair felt funny. Someone had taken the trouble to brush it all back over the top of her head, so it lay over the back of the pillow rather than caressing her face and neck. And then someone had poured something on it, so it stayed there in a sticky mass.
There was a metallic clank from the far wall of the room. Candy heard anxious squeaking and her heart quaked.
Frantic pattering on the floorboards told Candy that the rats were no longer in the walls, but coming her way in a pack.
Candy jerked against the bedposts, making the springs squeal for mercy, but the gaffer tape held firm. The rocking bed didn’t frighten the hungry rats. The smell of Candy’s hair – a delicious scent of honey, jelly and other fine delicacies – far outweighed their fear of humans.
Noses twitching, claws scrabbling, the rats jumped on the bed. They were big rats, the size of half-grown cats. They stank of rat pee, a rank, rodent smell that made Candy’s gorge rise; she fought off the vomit, knowing it would choke her.
The animals clambered over her body, their sharp claws digging in as they galloped this way and that in search of the wonderful food they could smell.
Candy closed her eyes in terror as the first rat stepped on her chin, then her cheeks. It paused, and sniffed her nose, then nipped it experimentally.
Candy screamed as best she could, and tossed her head from side to side, but the rat smelt supper, and leaped onto her hair with an excited squeal.
It was the signal for all of them, and Candy felt over a dozen rats gallop like tiny racehorses over her body and face, stopping at the winning post of her chestnut locks.
Their teeth tugged at her hair as they hungrily ate it, gnawing through the soft hair close to her scalp, where the food had been slathered on the thickest. Tug, bite, squeal, swallow, pull, cut. Their teeth were razor sharp. Candy’s hair was being bitten away as efficiently as if it were being cut with a pair of clippers.
The rats bit off all the hair on the top and sides of Candy’s head. She held her breath as she felt them nip around her ears, dragging her hair out by the roots so often that she didn’t even wince any more. Her head had been numbed by pain.
Candy fought back tears, knowing crying would choke her. Better to be hairless and alive than hairless and dead, she supposed.
The rats were still hungry. They chattered and squealed, their fetid breath hot on Candy’s cheeks. Finally one of them stroked her head with its knife-like incisors, creating a two inch long contusion above her right ear.
Candy screamed behind her gaffer tape, and shook her head violently. The rats kept nipping and biting the right side of her head until she got the message, and turned her head so they could shear away all the hair still lush and long at the back.
Which, with excited noises, they did, ravaging the silky hair, fighting over it, ripping it from her head and munching it.
Candy hoped it formed balls in their revolting little rat stomachs and killed them. It may be deduced that Candy would never convert to Buddhism.
At last the tugging on her head ceased. Hot little paws and eager little jaws searched her head. Rough tongues licked the last of the goodies from her scalp, cleaning it efficiently.
The rats had finished. As one, they scrabbled back down the bed and across the floor, vanishing into the wall where they made enough noise for Candy to believe a small herd of elephants lived there too.
Her scalp stung where the rats had scraped at it. Her head felt tight from their saliva. Candy let out her breath, unaware she’d even been holding it as the rats disappeared, and allowed herself the luxury of a tear rolling down each cheek.
The wind howled mercilessly outside, windows shook, making an eerie din of souls lost in torment. Dust fell from the wood trim, cobwebs fell from the corners of the room. Terror coursed through Mandy, though her exterior showed a calmness, however temporary it might be. A Ghandhi-like cool under pressure. Inside, she was tumult. A tumult that sprang from too many self-realization classes at that Deepak What-his-name? Center for Actualization and Harmony. They hadn’t worked. Sure on the outside she was tough to ruffle, but her mind was painting images on the dark walls, she was hearing footsteps that didn’t exist, feeling hands that weren’t grabbing for her throat and imagining how constricted her hands would feel tied up. Imagination on hyper-drive is a horrible thing.
Mandy cursed the “Slaying Your Inner Dragons” book she’d just finished, it had given her plenty of mental pictures, mostly stolen from The Bible, mostly from the Book of Revelation: The ceiling above her was black, like sack cloth, the walls were a deep red. Red like the blood of a thousand virgins, sacrificed to some rough-hewn Norse God, Odin, or something. Her skin began to crawl with the odd sensation of ants and roaches, but there were none on her. The dryness in her mouth caused her to couch, a muffled, muted, cough.
That was enough. Mandy was certain that she’d unleashed the Hounds of Hell onto her trail, and she began to sob. Slowly at first, sliding her way into a corner to hide from them, then she started to shake uncontrollably. She was certain they were coming for her. She could hear the dogs snarl, smell the brimstone-tinged breath, see the red dots that were their fiery eyes, feel the room fill with ominous dread. Mandy slid down the corner into the fetal position, weeping like a baby, muffling her own sobs in an attempt to keep the Hounds from finding her. She wished she hadn’t worn perfume, so her scent would not stand out so dramatically from the musty stench of the house. She felt the blood from the walls oozing onto her back, she reached up to, tentatively, touch the wall behind her. She tried to remain calm, to go to her happy place, but to no avail. Her happy place had been overrun by savage dogs and barbaric Demigods, bent on shaving her head or worse!
Wet, thick, hideously, wet walls were what she found.
Mandy looked at her hand, it was covered in blood so dark, so red, it appeared black. She fought the urge to pass out, but felt the pack of Hounds sniffing closer and closer. Heard the heavy, un-metered tone of smoke-breathed jackals panting with vengeance. Calm was not to be found, panic was.
Mandy fled, running for the door on the far wall. Her legs pumping, trying to find traction on the dusty floor. She fell. A pair of hands reached down to pick Mandy up off of the floor. Not the hands of Odin, but not the hands of an ally. Mandy was sunk, and she knew it. The terror that had sent her into this place, and the adrenaline had run through her body, leaving her spent.
She did not put up a fight.
Mandy heard giggles, sinister guffaws more likely, as she was thrown, like a sack of potatoes, into a chair. Her head slumped down until her chin rested on her chest. The guffaws turned to positively drooling laughter – wet, sick, laughter. Laughter, spiked with the sound of scissors taking her curly mane of hair, almost too quick for her to notice. Her head slunk to one side with the push of a gloved pair of hands. Hands that snipped away, making an insidious kind of trance music beat when coupled with the repugnant tape loop of laughter that haunted Mandy’s ears. It was a sound that would ring all the way back to Victoria as she rode back on the bus. The laughing stopped, the jet-black room got deathly quiet. Mandy sat perfectly still.
She wondered how much of her mid-back curls had been sliced away?
What would Roger think? Would that “Zen into the moment, sweetheart” philosophy of his understand? Would he understand the fear she felt? The chance she took? Would he embrace her after her failure? At this moment, it didn’t matter.
The quiet it the room was pierced by the scraping sound of a razor, running over Mandy’s head. Without gel, without ceremony, without pity. With, in fact, a palpable sense of satisfaction. The burn on the sides and top of her head stung more with each scrape. Gloved hands, working away as happy as a mom making lunch for her brood, scraped away the last remnants of stubble, leaving nicks, burns and stark blankness in their wake. Finally, the pain dulled enough for Mandy to ask, “why are you doing this?”
“Why do you insist on shaving us as part of this contest?”
There was only silence. Then, a voice, a macabre croak really, asked Mandy a question… “Why did you take part? Better still, why did you imagine all those horrors in an empty room?”
She too was speechless. Hairless and speechless.
“I’m worried about Amanda,” said Belle quietly. “She just ran off.”
“Then let her go,” said Holly firmly. “I’m not risking $10 million.”
“There are only three of us left,” Patrice pointed out. “Ten million is a lot of money, even split three ways. Why don’t we form an alliance? We look out for each other, survive the night in one piece and split the money three ways.”
Holly snorted. “No way, sweet cuz. It’s winner take all as far as I’m concerned. And believe me, baby, I can look after myself.”
They didn’t doubt it. Holly was tough. She’d gone through a divorce that left her ex-husband speechless, penniless and houseless. She’d had a meteoric rise through her company’s ranks that had seen the glass ceiling in that very male-oriented company come shattering down and spraying sharp shards of crystal into many a male back. You didn’t mess with Holly. She was an arrogant only child, son and daughter rolled into one.
Belle and Patrice were twins. Belle was the quiet one, the soft one, and Patrice feared for her tonight. Belle’s face was pale, pale almost as the baby-fine white blond hair that hung softly around it.
Patrice was the older twin by five minutes, and had been looking out for Belle all her life. Neither of them had ever liked their Uncle Hugo. Belle had called him “creepy” as a child, and refused to sit on his lap. Despite their closeness as twins, Patrice never really got to the bottom of her fear, and suspected Uncle Hugo had tried to molest shy Belle. It made Patrice all the more determined to win Uncle Hugo’s fortune for herself and her sister. Belle deserved it and more. Holly could be a bitch if she wanted – but Patrice and Belle were in this together, as they’d always been.
“Man, I’ve gotta pee,” muttered Belle, uncrossing and crossing her legs.
“Well, go!” snorted Holly.
“Come on, I’ll come with you,” said Patrice. She looked around the room for a suitable weapon in case whatever mysterious person that had grabbed the other girls came for them. The handy tools – the fire irons – had been removed. But an ugly brass statue of what looked like a Barbie doll was the right weight and shape. Patrice held it firmly in one hand; she grabbed Belle’s cold little paw with the other.
“I don’t like leaving Holly alone,” Belle whispered as they tiptoed down the hall, ears on stalks for odd noises.
“She’ll be fine, I have no doubt,” Patrice said grimly.
The toilet was one of the old kind. In a room off near the back porch, it had a wooden seat and a chain to pull rather than a neat button.
Patrice waited outside the door while Belle relieved herself. She looked at the luminous hands of her watch. It was 1 am, past the witching hour, Patrice thought wryly. God, Belle was taking ages! If she had to take a dump, couldn’t she have held on until the friendly light of day?
Patrice rattled the door. “Belle!” she hissed. “Hurry up!”
There was no answer.
Patrice’s heart missed a beat, she’d swear it did. She pushed at the door, but it wouldn’t budge. “Oh, shit!” She took a run at it, and kicked it open on its rusty hinges with a leg-jerking thud.
The toilet was empty. There was a hinged section on the wall that backed onto the open porch. Perhaps it dated back to the pre-sewerage days when the toilet pan was changed regularly by a stout-hearted man with no sense of smell. The hidden door swung in the night breeze, and through it Patrice could see no sign of her sister. None at all.
Belle woke to find herself in a parody of a child’s bedroom. She was lying on the floor, surrounded by dolls that were missing eyes and limbs, broken children sad in the darkness. A child’s cot was festooned with spiderwebs against one wall. The happy frieze of alphabet letters below the picture rail had faded to sepia. A child’s rocking chair squeaked as it rocked in and out of the shadows.
“Little Belle,” said a croaky, distorted voice from the blackness beyond the rocking chair. “Little Belle who didn’t like sitting on her Uncle’s lap.”
“N-no,” gasped Belle, feeling faint. If she hadn’t already peed, she’d have peed on the spot.
“Why didn’t you like your Uncle, Belle?” the voice persisted.
Belle was six years old again. Uncle Hugo, that “rich old bastard” her mother despised, was someone they visited as a duty once a month. He was single and childless, and when he held Belle his thick, pudgy fingers crept around her back, down her bottom, and between her legs. Even worse, when she was forced to sit on his knee for a jolly bounce up and down on his legs, his legs weren’t the only thing that bounced up. She could feel his willy, thicker and pudgier than his fingers, press against her bottom and her wee-wee hole. She had nightmares about it. The big girls at school had told her what boys did with their willies, and Belle sure as heck didn’t want Uncle Hugo’s massive willy in her.
“Noooo,” moaned Belle, and rocked back and forth, hugging her knees and sucking her thumb like the little one she’d once been. At twenty, she was still a virgin. The fear of Uncle Hugo’s willy had only died when the old bastard himself died six weeks ago. But now it was back. Would Belle never escape? She began to cry helplessly.
The voice said, “Uncle Hugo won’t hurt you.”
“Yes, he will!” wailed Belle.
“Let’s make a deal,” said the voice, cajoling her in its own croaky way. “You let me cut your hair, and Uncle Hugo will never hurt you again.”
Belle sniffed. She could feel the first signs of an oncoming asthma attack, and fought it off, breathing steadily despite her fear. Uncle Hugo – or no hair. Uncle Hugo – or no hair.
“Want my mommy,” Belle said, her thumb back in her mouth.
“If you’re a good girl and do what I say,” the voice promised.
“Don’t want Uncle Hugo’s willy!” Belle’s voice rose on a panicky note.
A figure clad totally in black come out of the shadows. Over its head it wore a black mask and balaclava. It had black gloves on its hands. And in one hand carried a pair of cordless clippers, shiny and new in the dusty old room.
Belle remained numb and silent as the clippers popped to life with a soft hum that echoed around the walls. She was still numb and silent as the first pass of the clippers stroked across the top of her scalp and sheared off a mound of fine blond hair which tumbled to the floor at her back. She sat sucking her thumb, eyes staring unseeingly at the far wall and the unattainable door, as the person in black shaved a second path down the top of her head, and a third. Her thumb remained fixed in her mouth as her sideburns were buzzed away, and the sides of her head left bereft of their silky covering. She didn’t utter a sound as her head was bent forward, and the clippers nuzzled her neck and peeled up the back of her head again and again until her hair had all gone.
“Good little Belle,” said the croaky voice, patting her naked scalp. “Now Uncle Hugo won’t bother you any more.”
Belle was beyond comprehending. She crumpled onto the floor in the foetal position, sucking her thumb, bald as a baby and as helpless as one too.
Patrice had gone looking for her sister, she found much more. As she crept around the dark corner, the wind howling like a banshee outside, she came upon the Black Clad person that had been tormenting the cousins all evening. Both were taken by surprise, Patrice jumped back and shrieked, the Black Clad demon cackled, “You’re early, but you’ll do.” His voiced croaked with the delight of a child on Christmas morning.
Patrice’s shrieks stopped, she fell against the wall, helpless, sliding to her doom, or at least her hair’s demise.
As she slid down, her hand hit something dusty, something crawling with spiders, a phone. A phone! A heavy, old, black dial phone that weighed a good five pounds. A phone that could be used as an effective weapon against the hair-robbing devil approaching her.
In his self-deluded grandeur, The Black Clad devil didn’t notice the phone until it hit him in the face. Patrice used it like a club over his head, raining blows down on his head and back as he slumped down to the ground. Out of his element and robbed of his clandestine ability to catch the cousins by surprise, it was a fair fight; a terrified girl with more intestinal fortitude than anyone imagined vs. some skinny, oily lawyer with a pair of clippers and an evil disposition.
Clippers that fell to the ground out of his hands as he was beaten, kicked and thrown by Patrice as she turned into a one-woman war zone. She hadn’t seen her sister, but she knew what had happened when Belle was a kid. $10 million wouldn’t fix Belle, but it would solve a lot of other problems in Patrice’s and Belle’s and Holly’s lives.
Patrice kicked him in the head. She felt a squishy feeling as her boots hit his temple. The clock in the other room began to chime, it was 3 a.m. and Patrice had opened up a whole new frosty can of pain on the lawyer clad in black. She pulled the chord off the phone, yanked his hands behind his back, tied them to his legs and shoved him into the corner.
Holly crept up slowly, she’d heard the melee, but had no idea who had won. She peaked around the corner to see Patrice standing over the broken Lawyer, mocking him and attempting to kick a confession out of him. “Where’s my sister?” she asked between boot heels to the ribs.
“At dawn,” was all he would say. “Everyone will be brought back together at dawn.” The Lawyer couldn’t say anything, he’d forfeit his $2 million fee if he did.
Holly walked up slowly, “Patrice?” Things became a little less fuzzy and dark as Holly approached the scene. “You got him? You got him!” Her voice lifted a level as she still felt her hair falling about her face.
Panting and uneven breathing came out of Patrice, she managed a winded “uh-huh.”
Holly bent down over the Lawyer. “You lose, fucker,” she said, getting down on one knee, mocking him in his hog-tied state.
She was so busy laughing at the Lawyer and pointing at him that she didn’t notice the clippers running through her hair, chewing it away as Patrice shoved them over the back of her oblivious skull. Holly tried to stand and put up a fight, but she slipped in her haste, falling to the ground, defenseless. Defenseless and staring up at Patrice, who let the clippers buzz away a path down the middle of Holly’s greedy, self-absorbed, head.
“Every woman for herself, you said.”