Her world was drowned with light, and something uneasy followed, like waking up too early from a dream she swore was true. The distant, almost-familiar voice of a man muttered something about shades. The rustle of window blinds followed, and the light faded.
Beeping from a machine to her left was the next annoyance. She couldn’t open her eyes yet, so she tried to speak. She gagged on a tube that was shoved down her throat, causing her to writhe in panic.
There was commotion as the familiar voice and another man bickered about “the apparatus.” Next came the sound of latex gloves snapping.
“I know how to do it,” the familiar voice said. “They taught me.”
A gentle hand held her face while the tube was removed. She didn’t have a reason for it, but if she had tears to spend, they would’ve spilt. Her head’s functions didn’t seem to be working, so the pang just sat in her temples and throbbed.
“I don’t believe it.”
Now she recognized the familiar voice to be her husband’s.
“Brynn? You hear us?” The other man said.
“Mm-hmm,” Brynn said. Her voice was like a frog’s.
“How do you feel?” Her husband said.
“Nothing good.” She tried to open her eyes, but her eyelid’s didn’t budge. “Galen, baby? Who else is here.”
“Your brother, Derk.” Galen said.
“Hi, Derk.” She smiled in his direction.
“What do you remember?” Galen asked.
She thought for a moment. “Christmas.”
“Brynn, two days after Christmas, you were in a car accident.” He said.
“You hit ice and spun into a tree.” Derk said.
It took her a bit to process. “How long was I out?”
The two men were silent, and she asked again.
“Four.” Galen cleared his throat. “Four years.”
“Yes.” Galen said.
Now the tears came. It hurt to let them out with the way her head quaked from the release, but there was nowhere else for the pain to go.
She felt one of them grab her forearm with a soft grip. “Brynn.” It was Galen. His voice was cracking. “You’re back.”
“I love you, Galen.” She brought her hands to grab her head, but she found a mass of hair instead. Her sobbing stopped as she explored the mass with her hands. “My hair…”
“Brynn,” Galen said, “there’s something you should know.”
She frowned towards him, wishing she could open her eyes.
“Your hair grew…well, it accelerated.”
“It’s a miracle,” her brother said.
“What do you mean, ‘accelerated’?”
“You’ve made Guinness,” Derk said.
“Right now the measurement’s at five hundred seventy-four feet.” Galen said.
The room was silent. Brynn held her mouth open.
“Scientists are still trying to put it all together,” Galen said.
“You’re pulling my leg, guys.” She grabbed her hair and pulled towards her. It stretched, but felt heavy, like it was tied to the other side of the room. “This is a prank.”
“You’ll see when your eyes can open,” Derk said.
She lifted her eyelids with her fingers, moaning from the soreness. Everything was blurry. Even with the shades drawn the room was still too bright, but she tried to hold a squint anyway.
She locked eyes with Galen. Through the blurred eyes, she melted at the sight of his face, for it held the same expression as when they first met. They couldn’t speak, and they didn’t move. She studied his aged face, heartbroken over the loss of time. They exchanged smiles and savored each other’s subtleties until she couldn’t keep her eyes open anymore.
“I’ll get you some food.” He said, resting his hand on her shoulder, then left the room.
Her brother stepped beside her. “You’re a gift from God.”
“What?” She laughed, massaging her closed eyelids.
“You hold the chance for something big.”
She stopping massaging and frowned, eyes still closed. “Is that so?” she said without emotion.
“We’re set for life. Scientists are eager to get into what’s causing the anomaly, but they need to examine at the cellular level.”
“That’s too heady for me right now,” she sighed. “You can fill me in later.” She opened her eyes again, stretching their limits. The room was clearer now, and upon seeing her brother she flinched. Four years seemed to accelerate his age, or maybe it was the dim light that shrouded most of his face in shadow. He was chunkier, and his hair was thinner than how she remembered it. His eyes were dark, but she assumed it was the shadows.
She smiled at him, then examined the room. It was the master bedroom in their house. A sea of blonde hair scoured the walls and ceiling, then funneled through a hole above the door. She stared at it until she couldn’t let herself doubt anymore.
“Oh my,” she said.
“It’s something,” he caressed the strands nearest to him. “A miracle.”
She turned to him and tried to determine what was different about him. “What have I missed?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know where to start.” He seemed to be in thought for a moment, then turned back to her, spouting off the various tragedies and joys of their circles, major and minor. “Let’s just say,” he concluded, “life hasn’t been able to move on without you.”
“Did everyone think I would pull through?”
“At first, but time has a way of spoiling hope.”
“Must’ve been hard…”
“We had a,” he hesitated, “discussion about what to do. When we thought you would–”
Galen’s footsteps in the hall cut him off. He entered the room with a steaming bowl and a cup of water with a protruding straw. “I’ll need to call Dr. Thurn about the good news. She’ll be eager to check up on you.” He placed the bowl and cup on the end table to her right.
“We’ll find out when you can get your hair cut,” he smiled at the mass of strands, imagining them cut and thrown away, “and get back to living.”
Derk cleared his throat. “Remember what Steve Lamiere offered, Galen?”
“She’s not going to agree with it.” He shot Derk a frown.
“This is bigger than Brynn now.”
Galen stood up and squared off to Derk. “I read the material. It’s not a guarantee, and the side-effects are unknown.”
Derk looked down to blankly stare at his shoe. “His compensation is impossible to decline.”
“Money?” Galen’s jaw tightened. “Really?” He sighed and put his hands on his hips. “Why am I surprised that you’d bring that up?”
Derk looked up and held out his hands in a feeble surrender. “It’s not for me. I’m just thinking of you guys, you know? You can retire, right now, with Lamiere’s offer.”
“And you won’t?” Galen leaned forward and raised an eyebrow.
“Please,” Brynn said, barely audible. “Just tell me what’s going on.”
Galen turned and knelt beside her. “I’m sorry.” He turned to Derk. “I’ll talk to her in private.”
Derk held his ground for a moment, then gave a small nod. “Brynn,” he said from behind Galen’s shoulder, “just think of the long-term. Lamiere will–”
“If I hear that rat’s name one more time…” Galen said.
Derk inhaled, apparently ready for another bout of words, but then he exhaled and left the room dialing his cellphone.
“What’s going on, Galen?” she asked.
“Lamiere,” he almost gargled the name “works for a scientific organization and wants to use you for tests and will pay a fortune for it, regardless of how successful they are. I guess your strange case is a possible breakthrough for rapid cellular regeneration. It could be a huge advancement. But there’s a catch.”
“This is all in a contract.” He took a breath. “Upon signing there will be no turning back. You’ll need to go back under…in a lab…for however long ‘they deem necessary.’ But they hope it won’t take longer than two years to get all they need. And obviously you’ll need to keep your hair the whole time.’”
She was silent for a moment. “Baby, what about you?”
He didn’t want to imagine. “The choice is yours. They could’t go forward with this until they had your written consent.”
She looked out the window with a blank face. “Our debts…”
“Get out o’ here, Galen.” Derk said when he burst into the room, holding a piece of paper. “Lamiere is on his way to explain everything to her.”
“You did not just call him here.” Galen stood up and faced him, eyeing the paper in his hand.
“It’ll help her decide.” Derk said.
Galen glared at him. “Let’s take this somewhere else. She needs to collect herself.”
Derk took a cautious step towards Brynn, then placed the paper on her lap before heading for the door. Galen told Brynn to think for a bit, gave her a kiss, then followed Derk.
“I think…” Brynn said, lightly tugging her hair. “I want to be free, back to normal.”
It took a moment for the two to process her choice. Galen smiled at her, but Derk looked at Galen. He tightened his arm and rammed his elbow into Galen’s chest. Brynn screamed, and Galen groaned. Derk grabbed Galen by the shoulders and threw him against the hallway’s opposite wall, then shut the door, locking it.
Galen got up anyway and railed against the door, pushing the handle down until it risked breaking. He shouted through it and kicked the door, rattling it in the frame.
When he paused he heard Derk and Brynn arguing, with her occasionally shouting for Galen. He went at the door again, harder. He heard Brynn scream, followed by the crashing of medical equipment. Derk hollered something about Brynn going to sleep. More sounds of struggle followed.
“No!” Galen said, looking around for something heavy. He darted down the hall and ducked into each room, body quivering, eyes fuzzy. Nothing presented itself, so he went back and followed the trail of Brynn’s hair that emerged from the hole above the door and trailed into the living room, where a small portion of it was constructed into a seven-foot tall sculpture as an exhibit for the tourists while the bulk of the hair went outside through the another hole in the wall for “the main event” outside.
The marble plaque for the sculpture caught Galen’s eye. He picked it up to test its weight–it could bust the lock. He hauled it back to the room, smiling at finally having an excuse to destroy it.
The room was quiet, but Galen bashed the door handle with the marble anyway.
“Cops are called.” Derk said through the door. “You’ve gone hostile, Galen. I had no choice.”
“This is my house!” He hit the handle again. Something cracked.
“She kicked me in the face, left a good mark. Wait…I was hit so hard I can’t remember who hit me. Was it you? You certainly had motive, didn’t you?” He let Galen think about it before continuing. “Either way, good luck explaining yourself to the police.”
“She’ll tell them what you did.”
“Might be hard for her to do.” Derk said. “She’s asleep again, for however long they deem necessary.”
Those last words bit. “You sedated her?” Galen railed on the knob, leaving it bent.
“Lamiere will be pleased that she agreed to the experiments.”
Galen paused. “She didn’t sign the contract.”
“Oh please, Galen. I grew up with her. I think I know her signature.”
Galen raised the marble again, poised for another blow, then thought better of it.
“You’ll thank me with the check in your hand.”
Galen ignored him and snuck down the hall to the living room. He cradled the marble under his left arm while he pulled his car keys from his pocket, and peeked out the window to make sure the driveway was clear of any early-bird tourists lined up for the daily tour.
It was clear, but when he opened the door the sound of a siren sounded closer than he liked. He was too late to make it to his vehicle; the flashing lights of a squad car were at the end of the driveway. He ducked into the bushes in the front of the house, using them for cover as he put distance between him and the front door.
He passed the hole where Brynn’s hair streamed out. Towering above the roof stood a metal frame in the shape of a tree, constructed to house the blonde monument. The hair now outgrew the frame and had now began to droop off the ends, creating the likeness of a golden weeping willow. The sun shimmered on the strands, forcing Galen to squint at the luminosity as he trotted past.
He reached the corner of the house and threw the marble plaque into the shrubs. He then tucked himself into the oversized mugo pine, which concealed him with its thick canopy of needles, and stopped to listen. He heard car doors shut, the approaching footsteps, and the dispatchers’ voices on the radios.
The police knocked on the door, waited, then rang the bell. A minute later Derk let them in.
Galen slipped from the mugo and went around the house to the master bedroom window, trying to remember if it was locked or not. It was too high to reach from the ground, but around the corner to the backyard was the pool ladder. He snuck towards it, then froze when he heard Derk’s voice coming out the back door.
“He must be out here somewhere,” Derk said. “He may still have his weapon.”
Weapon? Really, Derk?
“Bensen, call for backup and monitor the suspect’s car,” one of the officers said. “I’ll search the yard.”
“Need an ice pack for you eye?” Bensen asked.
“I’ll be fine. When do you want to take my statement about the assault?” Derk asked him as they went back inside.
Galen whirled around and sprinted back to the mugo before the other officer spotted him. He laid prone on the mixture of dead needles and bark mulch. He wrestled his breathing into a gentler rhythm and cycled through his options. He heard the front door opening, followed by Bensen’s radio confirming the request for backup.
Galen felt his pocket, smiling with relief, then pulled out his cell phone. It dialed twice, then the voice of Miss Everetts answered–the woman from Channel 7 he grew to despise with her persistent efforts at getting “an exclusive interview” with him about Brynn. Now he told her about his change of heart. He spoke in a hushed tone about “a top news story.”
“Derk will bring you to her,” he said before hanging up.
The backup arrived, which was only three more officers. Galen laid motionless on his back as he watched blonde willow glisten through the mugo needles. Cops strolled by him, twice, and on the second time were about to peek into the pine when commotion in the driveway pulled them away. The news crew had arrived, and the two parties were both surprised to see the other.
Three officers kept the news crew at bay, while another called for Derk. The other one was presumably still searching the yard. He came out and insisted they should come back another day because she “needed rest.” Once Miss Everetts mentioned Galen’s recent call, Derk forced a smile, gave them a final “no,” then slipped back inside.
Derk sprinted through the living room, knocking over the small table holding the donation box. It broke on the floor, and the scattered bills and coins grabbed his attention. He glanced around, then quickly brushed them under the couch, out of sight.
He set the table and box back where it was, then went to the hall, but was immediately confronted with hair that had come loose from the wall. It sagged into a messy obstacle, forcing him to crawl underneath.
He reached Brynn’s door and flung it open to see a web of blonde blocking the doorway, sparkling from a source of light beyond it. He shouldered through, but was soon caught in the strands. He growled and strained his neck forward enough to see the now-open window, and movement around it: Galen was crawling out, presumably on a ladder, and Brynn was seated on the floor beneath the sill.
“No!” Derk stepped forward but the strands wrapped around his neck, arms and legs.
“It’s over,” Galen said, reaching back inside to lift Brynn through the window.
Derk thrashed again, but the more he squirmed, the more his limbs were constrained by the golden trap. His breathing was shallow from the pressure on his neck, but he managed to get out plenty of curses and threats.
Galen carefully guided his bride through the window, placing her on his right shoulder while he kept his left hand on the ladder.
Derk continued his tirade until the officers, who had finally dispelled the news crew, heard his guttural spouting when they came inside. They found their way through the hairy hall and, upon seeing his ensnared form, pulled out knives and soon cut him free.
They asked questions, but he just grabbed his throat, breathing carefully. He crawled through the mass of hair, as a child would in a ball house, to the end-table, where a pair of scissors sat. He grabbed it and meandered to the window, frowning at the sight of the pool ladder below. He then stared at the trees in the distance with a blurry daze. The police kept questioning, but he just held his stare, slowly plucking out loose strands wedged in the implement.
Galen carried his unconscious wife through the woods, alert for the other cop. At times his vision blurred adrenaline, but most of the time his heart twitched at the way her hacked hair danced in the wind. They came to her favorite overlook in the nearby park, where the river below snaked through ridges of sand and rich brush of summer. It now glistened in the afternoon sun.
He laid her down and positioned her against a small knoll that created a makeshift bed. He waited for her to wake up, hoping, praying. She had a pulse, but he feared the worst. Minutes passed, but no amount of saying her name waked her.
He laid next to her, watching her breathe, and watching for cops. He gawked at the sight of her short hair, often touching it with disbelief. He imagined how she would respond to the brutal haircut if she saw it now. This made him smile, but the longing brought him back to anxiety.
Sleep tempted him, but he fought it. After what was maybe an hour, he saw her eyes open. He assumed he was imagining it, but when she smiled, he sighed with relief. They could only speak with their eyes, but that was just fine for them because words couldn’t voice what they shared, what they had lost, and what they now had.