It took a whole minute of staring in the mirror for real estate agent Matt Garvey to realize he was no longer bald.
“You did it. You dog, you really did it!” He danced in his underwear around the toilet, cradling to his chest a bottle of pills, newly-opened. This one was called Regrowacil.
He picked up the phone to call his ex-wife Jodi, who’d always shamed him for his obsessive search for the right hair product.
“My salon guy swears by it,” he’d say, about some new cream.
“Your salon guy needs to sell you something, it’s not like you’re getting a haircut.” Jodi always knew what to say.
Garvey got her message machine and thought about doing a wacky voice--but she would just think he was drunk. He hung up without leaving a message and got a beer from the fridge to celebrate. He’d save the wacky voice for if he actually did get drunk.
He popped open the beer and turned on the news. What he saw made him hollow with despair.
The normally bald television anchor was wide-eyed below a bushy mullet and talking fast. ”-rates are doubling, tripling all around the world! Everyone’s affected, nobody knows what it means or when it’ll end! I’ll stay with you, folks, but know that this reporter’s head grows heavier with each passing moment.”
The chyron at the bottom of the screen read "Hair Growth Epidemic - What Does it Mean?"
Garvey barked a curse and threw his beer across the room. Then he went to get another one.
An hour later he walked to the bank, tipsy. It was a nice day, the first in almost three months, but he was jaded. What had seemed like a blessing at first had just been a collective curse. The sponge on his head grew heavier, itchier, and when he scratched it sweat poured down his face. “Put me in the chair now,” he thought out loud. “I’m ready.”
He didn’t mean it. He was pissed. He'd been on top for a moment, only to find he was really at the bottom with everyone else. He had an idea.
The people on the street were all hippies. Grizzly Adams and his fifty twin brothers passed him, most with fingers plunged greedily into the thick of their beards, tugging, as the hair on their heads pushed itself out like play-doh in a squeezer.
At the bank, the sight was even stranger. Men in suits looked like lead singers, like surfer bums, like samurai. Some of them were getting it in their heads to tie the mess up with rope, but the knot would sink with new growth and ten minutes later it had to happen all over again.
“Everything in my checking and savings, please. Cash.”
The acne kid at the window swam through his beard to complete the transaction.
Garvey kept the news on at home, and the panic they were selling gave him an idea. He used his own old scissors to chop his floor-length brillo off and drove across town to the Buy It All and bought their stock of scissors and hair trimmers. Then he leased one of his own real estate properties, a little storefront between a used bookstore and a sushi restaurant.
On Monday, after a whirlwind of work, he opened his makeshift barber shop to the public.
In twenty minutes there was a line out the door, and the only thing stopping Garvey from being rich was the speed at which he could shear.
He’d gotten ahead of the crisis, and gotten a head of hair out of the deal as well. He thought of phoning Jodi just to rub it in, but she was probably dealing with her own hair.
A month later the sun was out all the time. No nighttime, like Alaska in the summer, only this was Pittsburgh. Hair grew twice-as-fast as the thrice-as-fast it had before. It grew on dead people too, and detectives were solving murders left and right, as tendrils and tufts led investigators down wells and through sewers to every previously missing body.
Habeus too many corpus, Garvey remembered thinking when he saw this on the news, and nowhere to put them.
Hair on skulls grew so voluminous and fast, strands escaped the coffins and dug up cemeteries from the inside, creeping their way to and through the surface like some species of morbid daisy. Groundskeepers with weed-whackers went at the growth with gusto, but more than one cemetery employee got his own hair caught in the hungry buzzing machines and met an end that way. Finally the hair was left alone, and cemeteries became hairy plains, each grave a hill of hair, sprouting from the skulls beneath the headstones.
It was scary times, but Matt Garvey could only worry about himself, and sometimes Jodi, when he thought of her.
Every morning Garvey woke up in a new blanket of Irish scruff, and had to cut it off with the heaviest-duty pair of scissors he still had, a rubber-gripped spring-loaded gnashing-tearing-shearing contraption he’d special ordered from the internet.
One morning, as he pulled together the last lock and cut, the scissors broke apart and fell, joining their bisected brothers among the shaggy carpet made of past follicles. He picked up the morning’s pile and walked with it bundled in his arms to the road, where he dumped it into the trash.
An elderly neighbor was doing the same in her own driveway when one of the flimsier trash bins down the road got a gust of wind and went end-up, spilling a threaded mass of blond strands of hair ten meters long into the avenue. It swirled there like cotton candy until it formed a sort of great albino tumbleweed and began to make its way toward them, picking up swaths of hair on its way.
His neighbor just stood there, bag of hair in hand, unable to move. Garvey knocked her out of the way just as the killer hairball passed. It ran a red light and knocked into a black sports utility vehicle in the intersection.
The SUV rocked on two wheels then came back down, accelerating forward unharmed.
Garvey breathed a sigh of relief, right as a man driving a convertible intercepted the hair blob head-on and was propelled upward, spinning. All Garvey could see of the driver was his hair, a bright orange flag that caught on the traffic signal sign and ripped the poor man’s head off.
His neighbor got up, brushed herself off, put her hands over her face and walked backwards back into her house without saying a thing to Garvey.
Things were getting out of control.
Two months after the hair had started to grow, nobody drove anywhere. Garvey had already sold his car to buy scissors, but he had a bike. It felt a lot better to have a bike and not be able to ride it than it would to have a car and not be able to drive it. You couldn’t, because there weren’t roads anymore.
There was only hair. Scratchy, velvety, fine, voluminous, pubic, nose and ear, beard and back hair. Living and dead hair, cat and dog hair.
The sun was out every day, warming the everywhere piles, and the bodies of the homeless stank through, gurbling burps of putrid sweet that attracted flies and beetles. Vehicles didn’t run anymore. There was hair in the engines, tied around the axles, pinning tires to their chassies. The internet was choked off, and soon the news didn’t play anymore either. Before long the only source of insight Garvey had was his own thoughts.
He weathered it well, running his barber shop during the day and at night tinkering in the basement with tools, making a better scissor.
He was inventing.
He fed his hair through guide-loops into a bucket of acid in another room, so he didn’t breathe the fumes except for when he was replacing the solution (it got diluted with hair after about an hour).
Acid was only the latest solution - before this, he’d used his own hair to power the whole house, by feeding it into the furnace and treating it like a steam engine. But he ran into an issue: burning hair at such a large scale bothered the neighbors. They waded over, one after the other, demanding he stop.
The dark-haired woman he’d saved told him he was single-handedly destroying the rest of the ozone layer.
“Besides,” she said with a finger in his face, “it smells worse than that guy who was coming around asking for food last week.”
That guy was dead and buried under a bed of hair in the woman’s front yard. She hadn’t fed him, and he’d died. To Garvey, this was quite poor behavior, and he'd have called the cops on her if the cell towers still worked, if the police still patrolled.
He told her he'd try to do better. After she left he resolved to burn hair in smaller batches while he worked on his scissors. He almost a new pair ready by then.
These were double-jointed, so as to collect and deliver a strong pinch with minimal effort, so even the weakest child could chop through the thickest braid. They were notched, designed to pull strands into evenly-spaced cutting troughs and neatly slice through.
Everlasting shears he thought of calling them.
He went through bad periods too. Often the sheer futility of it all got him in a bad mood and there was no beer. He’d have to barter for some.
He neutralized the rest of his acid and dumped it down the sink.
By the third month, barber was the only occupation worth having, and Garvey was the only barber worth going to. He’d constructed an empire around his “everlasting” shears, become the most important man in the state, in the time zone.
People needed him.
He kept the design of the shears to himself, and hired a team of barbers to shear the unwashed masses as they approached. They dropped to their knees and prayed to him, and their hair was hauled off and dumped into lakes of acid. People came from all around, wading through hair for hundreds of miles, eating nothing but flies and beetles.
When the reached Garvey’s kingdom and felt how his shears could take the weight off their shoulders, they worshipped him.
At six months, he released the design of the shears and mass-marketed them across the country, across the world.They wrote songs about him and stamped his face on money.
Garvey sat on his throne and smiled, sipping beer, thinking of Jodi and what she’d say now. He'd call her, see if she'd survived, but that wasn't an option. Anyway, what did he care? His hair was constantly tended to, shorn away by a beautiful naked woman whose own hair was likewise constantly tended and shorn away by more beautiful naked women and so on and so on. It was too good to be true. It might never end.
Garvey had it all figured out.
A few minutes later clouds came and covered the sun and the hair stopped growing.
Garvey looked up from his beer. His eye twitched.
It was starting to rain.
It fell hard and heavy and all at once, and it burned. A drop of it got near his left eye and before long he couldn’t see out of that eye anymore.
Acid from the sky.
Everyone did their best to run in the sloshy clingy hair, trying to guard themselves from the acid rain. Each drop as it hit Garvey felt cold, then hot, then itchy. It ate through hair, it ate through skin.
There was no time for Garvey to think a way out of it, but there was pain, and there were screams.
It was the rain that ended the reign of Garvey and the surface people, and it is recorded here.