Dear Reader, prompted by a convo in Merovee comments about rabbits and bad hair days, I’ve decided to post my story from Underdog Anthology IX: Well Haunted…
*Thanks, Clicky… /pats snout… I’ll format the story and you go get a Song for the end…*
… called ‘Fountainhead’. I was saving it to post for Halloween, but I’ll post ‘What Time Do You Finish?’ from Underdog Anthology XII then instead 😀
by Roo B. Doo
“Okay, Thom?” Jess placed on her hands on Thom’s shoulders, and gave them a friendly squeeze. “You still want to do this?” she asked him, addressing the brightly lit mirror before them.
Thom studied the reflection of the woman standing behind him. With silver hair, thickly plaited, and intricate henna designs adorning both her arms from wrists to biceps, Jess was an odd mixture of old and young. He nodded slowly before leaning his head back, to look up directly into her wrinkled face and sparkling eyes. “Yes. Let’s do it.”
“Alright then,” Jess said with a smile. She pushed Thom’s head forward playfully, and looked down at the shaved skin she’d created near the crown of his head. She tenderly caressed it’s smoothness with her gloved fingertips before swooping down to lightly kiss it.
“Hey, is that part of the ritual?” Thom asked. “Doesn’t seem very hygienic.”
“Yes and no, it’s not.” Jess took the bottle of Povidone-Iodine from the trolley beside her and quickly swabbed the pale patch on Thom’s head, turning it umber. “But this stuff tastes disgusting.”
Thom’s reflection stared hard at her from the mirror.
“Seriously, Thom. Dis. Gus. Sting.” Jess laughed jovially. “Trust me, I’ve kissed all the ones I’ve done before,” she said with a shrug. “They all turned out okay. Please, grant me a little superstition. It is Halloween.”
“Okay, Jess. I trust you,” Thom replied. He watched her pick up a scalpel, but his eyes lingered on the electric drill that lay passively on top of the trolley.
“Thank you.” Jess placed the scalpel blade against the orange patch of skin beneath her gaze. “Now, this may hurt.”
Thom’s hands tightened their grip on the armrests of his chair, hidden beneath the heavy, flowing cape that Jess had made him wear. “No problem.”
Thom Lusher’s headache had been with him for as long as he could remember. It had taken up residence in his skull during childhood, whilst Thom watched his mother die of cancer, and squatted on throughout adolescence, as Thom’s father attempted to drown himself in vodka. The nagging, low throb was a constant in an otherwise unreliable world. It was something Thom could rely on, even consider a friend.
The headache had once come to his rescue, when Thom’s PE teacher had attempted to get handsy down his gym shorts. It had immediately flared into a raging, sparking tempest, forcing the contents of Thom’s stomach out of his mouth and down the front of his fumbling teacher, revealing the damp outline of a sad erection. Yes, the headache hurt Thom, but not nearly as much as the world did.
The only time the headache disappeared completely was when Thom dreamed ‘the floating dream’. He’d be in the thick of a situation, when, suddenly, his feet would leave the ground and he would start to rise. As he looked down, observing the action below, Thom would be acutely aware that he was steadily floating higher, and that his headache was gone. Levitating upward in a world made of sky, Thom felt serene and pain-free. Until he bumped up against the hard, dark arc of space above, at which point Thom would wake to reality and a fierce ache in his head.
The headache was part of Thom’s life and he’d steeled himself to the fact that it always would be. Until he met Jess, that is. She was the hippy, dippy proprietress of ‘Curl Up And Dye’, a hair salon on the edge of town. They’d got talking at a shared smoking table, outside Starbucks on the High Street. Little did Thom know then how Jess would change his life forever.
“Go anywhere nice on holiday this year?” Jess asked, as she started to peel back the flaps of skin she’d incised with the scalpel, to expose Thom’s skull.
“What?” Thom asked incredulously.
Jess was concentrating hard on the wound she’d inflicted, but stole a glance at Thom’s reflection. “I’m sorry. Force of habit,” she replied sheepishly. “Day job.”
Thom smiled ruefully at her via the mirror and resisted the temptation to shake his head. “Not this year. You?”
Jess had resumed scraping back the skin. “I like to spend November in Thailand. I leave tomorrow. You’re lucky we met and I could fit you in.”
Thom didn’t know if he should feel lucky or whether he’d gone completely mad. He’d only met Jess by chance earlier that day and now here he was, sitting alone in her dark and empty hair salon, completely at her mercy. The yammering pain in his head reminded him that he’d not exactly been blessed with luck in his life so far, but Jess had given him hope that somehow this could change.
“Have you done many of these?” Thom asked, to cover the sounds of faint scratching that filled the silence.
“More and more this year since Bore-Heading became a thing again. Of course I did mine back in the Seventies.”
“You did it on yourself?”
“Yes, for the purpose of enlightenment, not to follow some silly rock star like the kids do today.”
Thom frowned; that wasn’t why he was there but considered it ill advised to argue given his present situation. “And were you enlightened?”
“Yes. I discovered trepanning others is entirely more lucrative than trepanning myself. Thank goodness for silly rock stars, eh?” Jess flashed Thom a wink in the mirror. “Okay, Thom, I’m down to the bone. Ready for me to open you up?”
Thom stared into the violet eyes of his reflection and took a deep breath. “Go for it.”
Jess returned a solemn nod before turning to pick up the drill.
“Do you mind if I sit here?” the old woman asked Thom, as she placed a steaming cup of coffee on the table in front of him.
“No, go ahead.” Tom smiled up at the woman before going back to his book. He rubbed his brow and took a drag on the cigarette sat idling in the ashtray on the table.
“Ta,” she said sitting down and placing her shopping by her feet. She pulled her coat tighter and took a sip of her coffee. “Brr, it’s cold today.”
Thom nodded his agreement but he wasn’t in the mood for chitchat; he wanted to finish the chapter he was reading.
“Perfect for Halloween, of course.” The woman continued talking undeterred. She looked up and scanned the sky. “Cold and clear of cloud. Perfect for piercing the veil.”
“I’m sorry, what is?” Thom asked. He wasn’t paying attention but didn’t want to appear rude.
“The veil between worlds, here and beyond,” the woman said. “It’s thinnest at Halloween. We have perfect conditions today for piercing the barrier.”
At her words, Thom immediately pictured himself sailing upward through an ocean of sky before hitting impenetrable nothingness. The dull throb of his constant headache suddenly spiked, causing him to wince.
“Are you okay? You’ve gone quite pale,” the woman asked with concern.
“Yes,” Thom answered abruptly. He squeezed his eyes shut and saw his fists impotently beating against smooth blackness of space; a fragment of his dream from the night before. “Sorry, yes I’m fine. I have a headache.”
“Wait here.” The woman ordered, before rushing off inside the coffee shop. “And watch my bags.”
Thom felt confused; he wanted to leave, but felt obliged to stay until she returned. His headache had started to settle down but his curiosity was piqued. How could this woman, a stranger, have described his floating dream, when he’d never told anybody else about it before?
“Here we are.” The woman returned, placing a mug of hot water in front of him.
“Er, thanks,” Thom replied sceptically, as he watched her rummage through one of her many shopping bags.
“It’s for this,” she said, brandishing a teabag and a wide smile. She dropped it into the steaming mug. “Ginger tea. It’s the most wonderful tension reliever. I always drink it if I have a headache. Please try it. My name is Jess, by the way.”
Thom dunked the teabag, turning the clear liquid amber. “Thom Lusher.” He took a tentative sip of the hot tea. “Thank you.”
Jess sat back and observed Thom contemplatively. “If you don’t mind me saying, Thom, you have the look of someone who knows suffering. Have you had the headache a long time?”
Thom froze mid sip. He felt the hot liquid burn his top lip but his headache had ebbed away. He stared at Jess’s frank and open face, encouraging him to unburden. He put down the tea and lit a fresh cigarette. “All my life,” he said thickly.
Jess sniffed the cold air before glancing skyward. “Well, Thom. I think I can help you.”
“No, wait!” Thom sprang from the salon chair and turned toward Jess. He backed into the mirror unit, scattering pots of hair product to the floor. “I’m sorry, Jess. Can we just wait a moment?”
Jess placed the silent drill back on the trolley and rushed round to comfort him. “Of course. Oh my goodness, Thom, you’re trembling. Just sit down a moment and I’ll tidy up this mess.”
“I’ll help-” Thom started to bend down but Jess stopped him.
“No, you’ll get blood everywhere. Sit there, I’ll sort this out.” Jess handed him a towel. “And wipe your face, you have blood trickling from your hairline.
Thom perched on the edge of the salon chair, holding the towel to his forehead, while Jess got onto her knees and started gathering the strewn pots.
“I’m sorry but it was when you gunned the drill twice,” Thom explained. “I don’t know, it just set me off.”
“And I’m sorry, too. You’re obviously not ready for this procedure. Oh no, this one’s broken open.”
Jess got to her feet and wiped her hands on spare towel. “I’ll have to get a mop.”
“No, Thom, it’s okay.” Jess grabbed Thom’s right arm and shoulder, pushing him back into the chair. “I’ll mop first and bandage you up, then tidy up your hair. Nobody will notice the bald spot. Promise.”
Thom let out a noisy sigh of relief. “I don’t know what the hell I was thinking.”
“I shouldn’t worry about it,” Jess called back over her shoulder as she made her way the the back room of the salon. “We all shock ourselves from time to time. I’ll make you drink.”
Jess stopped. “No, I’ve got something special for shock. I’ll be back in a jiff.”
Thom stared at himself in the mirror whilst Jess was gone. He picked up a hand mirror from the trolley and held it at and angle over his head so that he could see the damage. All he could see was a pool of blood that lapped across the shaven skin, soaking into his hair. Thom grimaced at the sight of maroon and black wound with crimson tinges. “Fuck!”
“Here we are.” Jess returned and handed Thom a dark green, steaming brew. She took the hand mirror from him and replaced it on the trolley. “Drink up. This is my own recipe, tell me what you think.”
She left again to collect the mop, leaving Thom to gingerly sipped at the hot concoction. “Hey, this is delicious, Jess” he shouted out. He took a slurp. “What’s in it?”
“Oh a little of this, a little of that.” Jess returned with a mop and bucket and set about cleaning up gloop and splashes of blood from the floor. “Mostly sugar. Sugar’s good for shock.”
Thom drained the cup. “Well, I thought-”
Jess quickly placed her fingertips over Thom’s mouth.”No, sit back and be quiet, Thom. Let the tea work,” she said firmly.
Thom sat back in the chair and watched Jess clean up. She moved the mop from side to side and returned the pots of creams back to the mirror shelf, all in rhythmical, moving silence.
Thom looked at the bloody towel in his hands and thought about his crazy day, and how it wouldn’t be over for a while yet. He felt the tension drain from his body and his eyelids droop. I must tell Jess that her tea is better than the ginger stuff, was the last thing Thom thought before he nodded off to sleep.
“Help me, how?”
Thom took a drag from his cigarette and looked over at Jess. She took a gulp of her coffee and stared back at him. “Help me, how?” Thom asked again.
“Thom, there are many ancient rituals and practices that have been mostly forgotten by the modern world. I happen to be a practitioner in a number of them.”
“Like what? Voodoo shit?”
Jess chuckled. “Not exactly, no. What I’m thinking of for you was stolen by the medical profession and renamed something ugly to put people off.”
Thom was perplexed. The conversation he didn’t want to have, then enticed into having was taking a turn for the bizarre. “What are you talking about?”
“Trepanation, Thom. It has been practised for thousands of years. Until quite recently that is. Now it’s called a Craniotomy and only doctors are allowed to perform it.”
“Wait.” Thom could suddenly feel his seat leave his chair and his knees bumped under the cafe table, hard enough to knock the ashtray to the floor with a clatter. He grabbed on to the edge of the table. “You want to drill a hole in my head?!”
Jess plucked up her coffee cup from the table before it flipped over. “Oh, but I’m trepanning you right now,” she said to the departing Thom, who was floating higher and higher, feet first. She pointed an index finger toward him and retracted it twice, like pulling a trigger. “Rizzz Rizzz. No more headache.”
“No, wait!” Thom screamed as at first a laughing Jess, followed by the High Street, the town and then all the land below shrunk from his sight. He zoomed up through the cold, blue, cloudless sky. Thom knew exactly where he was heading but this time he did not know what he would find.
Suck Glug Slurp
“Oh shit, he’s a gusher!”
A fountain of blood erupted from the hole Jess had made in Thom’s head and splattered over her face, neck and chest. She hastily grabbed the wadding from the trolley, in order to stem the blood spouting from the top of Thom’s lolling head. Blood streamed from between her fingers, across her hand and flowed down along the henna tattoos on her forearm. It dripped from Jess’s elbow and pooled at her feet.
She placed an arm across Thom’s chest and pulled him upright, all whilst holding his head steady, maintaining pressure on the gaping wound. Jess stayed like that, chanting quietly until she was certain the bleeding had slowed enough for her to remove the sodden wadding and she could take a look. Deep at the centre of the circle of blood and matted hair, Jess could see the pulse of pinkish brain.
She covered the wound with a bandage and removed his bloody cape, before setting about cleaning up. Once Jess was sure the floor was clear of blood, she placed black candles around unconscious Thom’s chair and lit them. Finally she hung a mournful looking goat skull, from the top of the brightly lit mirror, so that it replaced Thom’s head in his reflection.
As she finished, Thom opened a fiery eye. “Daughter?”
“I knew it! I knew he was the one!” Jess howled with glee, before dropping to her knees to kiss Thom’s hand. Tears streamed from her twinkling, eyes. “Oh, Satan, my Lord and Master. You have come at last!”
Thom gently lifted Jess’s blood-flecked face toward him and smiled radiantly down upon her.