Ghost In The Machine by Sabrina S.
Julie hurried through the tangle of pedestrians in the underground city. Life in the 21st century was great – the massive underground pedestrian malls in the CBD kept people off the street and increased traffic flow for vehicles. And she could wander along without having to worry about cars running red lights and knocking her down as she galloped across the street in a rush to get her shopping done during her lunch break.
At last Julie found what she’d been looking for: the little Instant Haircut cubicles. There were three of them alongside the Very Fast Food outlets.
Julie’s job as a robotics programmer kept her frantically busy. Too often now she’d arrived home late at night to find there was no food in the house or she’d forgotten to pay one of the bills and the power was off. She’d made a new year’s resolution to start the year 2060 off on the right foot and actually take a lunch break and use it to do necessary things like grocery shopping, bill paying and personal grooming.
The Instant Haircut booths were a boon as far as Julie was concerned. Occasionally she’d treat herself to a proper salon haircut, but the booths meant she’d only take fifteen minutes out of her lunch break and feel one hundred percent better afterwards. Of course the booth didn’t take the care a salon did. If you wanted a bob you got a blunt cut, but for the money it was a good – and quick – alternative.
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There was one booth free and Julie hastily opened the door and jumped in before anyone else could.
She sat in the chair. The sensors felt her weight and the touch screen in front of her lit up.
ARE YOU MALE OR FEMALE? it asked.
Julie selected female.
PLEASE SELECT WHEN YOUR HAIR WAS LAST WASHED.
Julie selected “This morning”
PLEASE SELECT WHICH STYLING PRODUCTS ARE IN YOUR HAIR.
Julie scrolled through the list of mousses, sprays and gels and picked “none”. So she was boring! So what?
PLEASE SELECT YOUR HAIR TYPE.
She clicked on “medium density” and “straight.”
The machine processed the information in a nanosecond, and a new screen came up: PLEASE PICK A STYLE.
Julie was conservative. She liked her soft brown hair long enough to tie back, but not long enough to be a nuisance, and usually wore it in a bob that just reached the top of her shoulders. It had been three months since her last haircut, and her hair was driving her mad. Swiftly she scrolled through the pages of photos and found the one she usually chose: Number A165 (Shoulder length bob with a fringe just touching the eyebrows).
PLEASE PAY THE AMOUNT SHOWN.
Julie pushed her credit card into the slot and the transaction was swiftly processed.
The instruction came up on the screen: PLEASE SIT UP STRAIGHT IN THE CHAIR AND PLACE YOUR ARMS ON THE ARMRESTS. DO NOT MOVE UNTIL YOUR HAIRCUT IS COMPLETED.
Julie obliged. Despite being a robotics programmer and knowing that these devices were very reliable, this bit always made her a bit nervous. When her arms were in place webbing bands snapped around them, and around her chest to hold her still for her haircut. Her legs, too, were held steady by webbing around her calves. From either side of the booth gentle guides pressed against her cheeks to hold her head in place; they had arms that adjusted automatically under her chin to hold it steady too. Julie was forced to sit and stare straight ahead. Because Julie wasn’t very tall, the chair was raised automatically to bring her head to the correct height for the machine to cut her hair satisfactorily. A plastic cape materialised from the back of the booth and was fastened around her neck. She was essentially a prisoner at the mercy of the booth.
The booth went dark except for the screen. It said: ANALYSING HAIR, and Julie was aware of a bright light behind her which shone up and down the length of her hair. It moved all around her head, and Julie shut her eyes as it came to her face.
The light went out, and the screen said: BRUSHING HAIR.
This always felt peculiar but rather nice! Robotic “hands” wielded brushes on the sides and back, brushing her hair firmly. Julie sighed, feeling the bristles against her scalp, drawing her hair back, pulling her too-long fringe out of her eyes and over the top of her head. Once the machine had processed that Julie’s hair was tangle free, the hands finished their task and flipped back to the walls of the booth with a metallic clang.
PREPARING TO CUT, said the screen.
A helmet came down and covered all of Julie’s head. There was enough space at the bottom to allow air for Julie to breathe.
“Hey!” Julie said to nobody, knowing the machine couldn’t hear her. “What’s going on?” She’d never had a helmet before in a haircut. Usually another pair of hands came out and snipped her hair to the required length.
She tried to pull her arms free from their restraints, but there was no response from the machine or chair other than a loud CLICK and humming sound inside the helmet.
Julie froze. What was going on?
Then to her disbelief, she felt something nuzzling her head, just in front of her ears. The buzzing turned to a snarl as the something met her hair, and Julie gasped. Clippers!
“Stop!” she shouted, and tried to wriggle. But the webbing bands held fast, and Julie was trapped in her helmet, with the built-in clippers ravaging her hair.
She had no idea how short her hair was being cut. In the dark cocoon of her helmet, she was sightless, and her other senses had sharpened.
The clippers were loud and merciless in their bee-like humming. And the sensation of the warm, vibrating blades gobbling up her hair made Julie shudder.
They crept up her temple, clipping away the first portions of overlong fringe. Julie watched in disbelief as long locks of hair slithered away from her head, down over her shoulders, through the bottom of the helmet and onto her lap.
The clippers returned to their original position, moved slightly towards the back and started up again. A sensor inside the helmet prevented them from cutting Julie’s ear, but as soon as the quivering blades were past her ear tip, they sank into her hair, buzzing it away.
Julie was powerless to stop her hair from being sheared away. Nowhere in the booth was there an “emergency stop” button, she realised. And if there was, how could she access it with her hands and feet firmly anchored to the chair? Numbly she realised she had no choice but to have her hair cut the way the machine wanted – she only wished she could see the damage it was doing!
Now the clippers were behind her ear, snarling as the blades met her thick, brown locks and minimised them. Up, up they went, all the way to the top of her head.
Julie felt the clipped side of her head was a lot cooler than the hairy side – obviously her hair was being cut very, very short.
The helmet and the guides holding her cheeks and chin moved, and Julie’s head was encouraged to look down to her chest. Her hair swung forward from the back, caressing her neck comfortingly.
But not for long.
The hungry blades adjusted themselves to her head’s new position, and rested against her nape, cutting off extraneous inches of hair at the nape on their quest to sit against Julie’s skin. Then they were off – racing up the back of her head, over the occipital bone to the crown, shearing away the luscious, shining locks.
With mechanical precision the back of Julie’s head was denuded of its soft, brown hair. The clippers clicked into pre-determined positions on the helmet, each move slightly overlapping the path clipped previously.
Julie watched in agony as her beautiful, healthy hair slid down onto her knees and then gracefully to the floor of the booth.
The clippers tickled her neck each time they came in for the kill, and Julie shuddered as the blades met her hairline and began to shear away her hair. Her head was starting to feel quite cold.
Then the helmet clicked and groaned to the upright position, moving Julie’s head with it. The cheek guides positioned her head straight again, and the clippers swiftly attacked the right side of Julie’s head, buzzing and crackling efficiently as they completed their programmed task.
Now all that was left was the top and Julie dreaded to find out what would happen.
The clippers slid on a guiderail up the helmet and rested on her forehead. Then – bzzzzz! – they moved back into her hair, clipping it off straight down the middle of her head. Julie’s overlong fringe would bother her no longer – it was buzzed off in an instant. Again and again the clippers moved over the top of her head, cutting off the last of Julie’s hair near the crown.
“Thank God that’s over!” Julie muttered, waiting for the helmet to lift off her head and the restraints to be unlocked.
But it wasn’t.
A swooshing sound came from inside the helmet, and Julie felt something warm and soft on her scalp.
“Noooooo!” Julie screamed, and wriggled as hard as she could. But the cheek and chin guides tightened.
The shaving cream was smoothed over her scalp by a mechanical device. A computerised voice piped through the helmet.
“A razor is being used on your head. Please do not move for your own safety.”
Click! A soft sensor touched Julie’s forehead, swiftly followed by the blade. Then the blade scraped back into the stubble of her hair, shaving it off to her scalp. With each pass the razor was drawn back up into the helmet for cleaning, then it touched her skin again, cold and alien.
Julie had no option but to sit and suffer her head being shaved to her scalp. Her heightened senses made the scraping razor sound one hundred times louder than it did. Her skin felt tight and tingly where the razor had shaved her hair away.
The top of her scalp was now completely bald.
The robotic razor sensed where her stubbly sideburns began, and removed them, shaving up the side of her head until it met the area it had already shaved. It shaved around one ear, then began on the other side, relentlessly embaldening Julie, who was by now almost in shock.
The guides and helmet forced Julie’s head forward again so the razor could shave the back of her head as closely as possible. It started at the back of her neck, almost down to her collar, so no stray hairs were left anywhere on her head, and in one smooth motion drew through the cream all the way to the crown.
Julie felt the razor make five sleek passes up the back of her head, and then her head was being forced upright again.
A soft sensor pad emerged from somewhere in the helmet, and felt all over Julie’s head to ensure her hair had been completely, totally, utterly and smoothly shaved off.
The sensor was apparently satisfied and the helmet lifted from Julie’s head.
Julie gave an immense sigh of relief. She was beginning to feel extremely claustrophobic. Overcome by her ordeal, she started to tremble and shake as she realised her head had been shaved and she was now completely bald.
The vacuum cleaner appeared as the webbing around Julie’s arms, chest and legs was loosened. The soft pipe vacuumed Julie’s face and neck, moving down to gobble up all the lovely long locks left on Julie’s lap and the floor. She watched sadly, too shaken to move, as the last of her hair was sucked up and gone forever.
The cape around her neck was unclipped and whisked to the back of the booth.
With a hum, a mirror appeared at the top of the screen, and Julie gasped as she saw herself.
“Bloody hell!” Julie put her hands to her head and felt her smooth, shining scalp. The thing in the mirror didn’t even look like her! Okay, her face, but what was it doing with a white, shiny bald head? “My hair!” Finally Julie burst into tears as she realised how long it would take to grow back. She ran her hands all over her scalp and neck to try and find a hair – any hair! – but the razor had done an extremely efficient job, and her head was as hairless as a billiard ball.
With a beep, the screen came back to life.
YOUR HAIRCUT IS COMPLETE. YOU CHOSE C781, SHAVED HEAD. DO YOU LIKE IT?
Through her tears, Julie spat, “No!” and pressed the NO button on the screen.
WOULD YOU LIKE ANOTHER HAIRCUT INSTEAD?
“How can I have another haircut when I’ve got no hair left!” howled Julie, and hit NO again.
THANK YOU FOR VISITING THE INSTANT HAIRCUT. WE LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING YOU AGAIN. HAVE A NICE DAY!
Julie stumbled out of the chair and yanked at the door, almost tripping as she sprang out of the booth.
“Look at the funny lady!” said a small boy, tugging at his mother’s hand. “She’s got no hair!” The embarrassed mother turned her attention to the Very Fast Food stall.
Julie leant against the side of the booth, gasping for breath and wiping the tears from her face. Her right foot slid from under her, and she noticed a piece of paper on the floor.
“THIS INSTANT HAIRCUT BOOTH IS OUT OF ORDER,” it said.
(c) Copyright Sabrina S 1999