The Hair-Eater by Mobmij
I don’t remember my parents at all. They were killed in a car accident when I was very young. My grandmother raised me. Though most people assumed she was my mother anyway, since she was always so young-looking. My earliest memory is of going into a barbershop with her that first year I lived with her and having the barber ask if “your daughter” was going to be getting a haircut too. I was very relieved – I think – when Grandmother said no, it was just her today. I remember that she was wearing a white sleeveless shirt and tight blue jeans. I’ve tried to figure how old she was back then. She couldn’t have been more than 45 at the time and looked ten years younger. She always stayed very active, and her fieldwork in anthropology kept her in excellent shape. I remember how she climbed into the barber chair and how the white cape swirled in front of her. I had never been in a barber shop before. I was a little scared by all the bright lights and strange, pungent smells. But what I remember best was watching the barber take a big pair of electric clippers and start shearing off Grandmother’s hair.
I could see in the mirror how the barber just put the machine at Grandmother’s hairline in front and pushed the machine into her chin-length bob and how the shorn hair fell away leaving a short stubbly pathway. Grandmother never batted an eye as the machine stripped off her hair close to the skin, row by row. Grandmother’s hair was always very thick, and the dense crewcut hair stuck up straight. I don’t think the whole haircut took more than five minutes, including the little bit of more careful tapering at Grandmother’s neck and around her ears. The clippers worked fast, and the barber was probably used to giving little boys the same haircut at the beginning of each summer. I remember the barber showing Grandmother the back and sides of her shorn head in a hand mirror. Grandmother nodded her approval and ran her hand over her newly buzzed head. Then, the barber whipped off the cape, spilling a pile of Grandmother’s hair onto the floor. Grandmother paid the man, scooped up her cut-off hair from the floor and put it into a plastic bag. Then she took me by the hand and we left the shop. In the bright summer sunlight, I could see tiny hairs clinging to Grandmother’s white blouse and her strong, tanned shoulders. Some even dusted the big white earrings that she wore in the summer. I also remember going to bed that night and cradling Grandmother’s head in my hands as I kissed her good-night. She wanted me to touch her crewcut, to be sure I wasn’t scared of her new look. I liked the stiff feel of the short bristles, especially at the nape of her neck, where the short hair tapered away to almost nothing. I played with Grandmother’s shorn head for a little while, like petting a cat, and then fell asleep – almost wishing I had climbed into the barber chair myself and felt the purring clippers shear my hair as close as Grandmother’s.
As the years went on, I came to learn that Grandmother’s crewcut was a yearly ritual for her. It never happened on the same day each year, but every summer we went to the barber shop, and every summer, Grandmother got the same short, short buzzcut and carried away the shorn hair. The rest of the year, she just let her hair grow out, though sometimes I would trim an inch or so off for her when it had grown out unevenly. I was always scared that someday, Grandmother would tell me to sit in the barber’s chair and have him give me the same short crewcut that she got. Scared – but excited and hopeful too in a way. But that never happened. And every year, after Grandmother’s shearing, I would spend a few nights at a friend’s house for a sleepover.
The summer before I started college, on the day that Grandmother got her annual crewcut, she went into the attic and rattled through the books and boxes packed away up there. I wondered what she was doing. We had already taken down lots of stuff I would need for school, and I didn’t need more stuff since I wasn’t going away to school but would be attending the local university where Grandmother taught. That evening, right before I left to spend the night at a friend’s house, Grandmother came to me and rubbed her fresh, now-greying crewcut. The short hair complemented her large brown eyes and small head. I had grown to prefer her with her hair that short – now all salt-and-peppery. I still had never had the courage to sit in the barber chair myself and calmly ask for a short crewcut, as Grandmother did. In fact, I even felt a little guilty about my lack of courage – as though I were a coward or something. A truly brave and daring person would just walk into the barber shop and ask for a crewcut, I thought. But I was too mousy. A kind of failure.
“I suppose it’s time to explain why I get this haircut every year,” she said.
“Is there a particular reason?” I asked.
“Yes. There’s a reason. I want you to read something. It’s a diary that I kept on a field trip I made when I was a grad student. It will explain better than I can.”
Grandmother handed me a small leather-bound book.
“It took me a while to find it in the attic. But read it tonight, if you can. And keep an open mind.”
That night, I read Grandmother’s account of her visit to the Ainu people and her encounter with the Hair-eater. This is what I read.
* * * * *
I’m so anxious to see Professor Jenkins. I’ve admired his anthropological work among the Ainu for so long. They are under such pressure from the Japanese that their indigenous culture will likely be largely assimilated soon. The so-called “hairy Ainu” have such a distinct and idiosyncratic culture that it would be a shame for it to be lost. We have much work to do.
Professor Jenkins met me at the station and took me to his encampment outside the Ainu village. It was a long hard trip into the wild. The Ainu village is at the very tip of the northernmost island in the chain and very remote from the nearest modern facilities. It was a virtual sub-Arctic wilderness. The Professor told me that he wanted me to meet someone before he introduced me to the Ainu elders. In fact, the person he introduced me to was his new wife! They were married just a few days before I arrived. She was quite young and beautiful and had acted as the Professor’s secretary and personal assistant. Clearly she was of some Asian extraction, with bright dark eyes and high cheekbones. Her hair was black and straight and long, yet much fuller than the usual Japanese hair. I believe that she may have some Ainu heritage in her background, although she is adamant that she does not. She seemed quiet and almost withdrawn, hanging in the background as I met the clan elders. Quite the self-effacing Japanese wife – except for the look in her eyes whenever she was around any of the Ainu. Then she looked – I don’t know – excited.
Professor Jenkins explained to me that his first wife had died several years ago, leaving him with their young daughter. Soon after he arrived among the Ainu to begin his field study, he hired Setsu (his new wife’s name), and the two of them had hit it off quite well, and one thing led to another. His daughter, who is just nine years old, is with him in his camp. She is quite cute and curious – a pretty, sensitive girl with long blonde hair. The Ainu are quite impressed with little Anna’s hair. As a people, the Ainu are quite hair-conscious. I don’t know whether that is because they are so hirsute themselves – much, much hairier than the Japanese who have pushed them into their island enclaves and also much hairier than most Europeans as well. But, in any event, they are always staring at Anna’s long blonde curls and wanting to pat her on the head as she passes by. But they are a very gentle people, and the little girl doesn’t seem to mind. Setsu seems quite fond of the girl as well.
Tonight, there is a special ritual that we are going to be allowed to watch. I have heard the Ainu refer to the “Eating Moon” that rises tonight. Everyone seems quite tense. Professor Jenkins is quite excited. It will be the first “Eating Moon” rite since he arrived.
As I write this, the camp is swarming with Japanese police and hired hunters. I tried to tell the police what I saw, but it is impossible. My Japanese is not that good and with Professor Jenkins gone…
Let me set down here – now, in the light of day – what I saw last night.
The “Eating Moon” ritual was not the festive occasion that I expected. It began quite quietly, with some silent ceremonies presided over by the tribal elders. Then, a pretty young girl – about 19 or 20 – was led out of a hut. She had been chosen last year as the hairiest young virgin in the clan and had spent the year in partial seclusion. During that time, she was not permitted to cut her hair or shave any portion of her body. Last night, she emerged from her special hut and stood in the bright orange firelight. Light, insistent drumming began from drummers who were hidden from sight. The girl was then stripped of her woolen robes and made to stand naked for all the clan to see. There were quiet appreciative noises made, apparently approving of her extreme hairiness. Next, several older women began combing out the hair on her head, which hung black and thick almost to her waist. The girl really was extraordinarily hairy, with thick black arm hair and curling hair all up her legs that merged into thick pubic cover. And the attending women left no hair uncombed. Once the girl was completely combed out, from head literally to toes, the clan shaman stepped forward. At that point, the girl fell to her knees and put her head down. Her long hair fell forward, virtually concealed her entire body. Using a thick-bladed hand razor, the shaman began to dry-shave the girl’s head slowly and carefully, working upwards from the neck. Long, long tendrils of hair began to hit the ground around the kneeling girl. It took a dozen or so strokes of the razor, but finally a hairless patch began to appear at the girl’s neck and then slowly climbed up the back of her head under the shaman’s skilled hand. The rasp of the razor could be heard where we stood, just a few yards away. The shaman would occasionally stop and give his razor off to a helper, who would hand him a newly sharpened blade.
Carefully, the shaman shaved around the girl’s ears, scraping away the long hair. It looked to me in the dimming twilight as though the girl were a black-and-white cartoon character having her hair erased away. First there would be a long black tress hanging to the ground, then, with a pass of the blade, her naked scalp would appear, and the black tress would be lying on the ground. There was no middle ground – the girl went from having a long luxuriant lock of hair to having a shaved-bare smooth patch of scalp.
Midway through the head shave, the shaman tipped the girl’s head up and stepped behind her. Then he began shaving the front of her head, moving the razor back from the girl’s forehead. The girl’s forehead seemed to grow and expand under the shaman’s hand, the long hair simply disappearing. With a constant supply of fresh, sharp razors, the work went quicker than I had expected, with the supremely hairy girl being transformed into something else before our eyes. Finally, with the girl’s entire head shaven bare, the shaman held the girl’s face up and whisked away her heavy eyebrows with two or three strokes – including where they met above the ridge of her nose. The lack of eyebrows gave her a docile, bunny-like look. I noted Setsu paying close attention to the ritual, transfixed and excited as the shaving progressed. She had a sharp and hungry look to her.
At that point, the girl stood up, and several more assistants stepped forward with razors. Their constant movement back and forth obscured most of my view, but I could see that they were shaving the girl’s body, inch by inch. Her arms first were denuded of their thick growth of hair, and then the great, bushy tufts of hair of her underarms were shaven away. The underarms took several strokes of the razor, as the hair extended far up under the arm and forward towards her small breasts. Then the shavers began work on the girl’s legs, shaving down from her midriff and the swirl of hair that circled her navel. Finally, the girl was allowed to sit on a small ceremonial chair as her pubic patch was shaved. A single shaver applied herself to that final step, using the large clumsy-looking razor quite deftly to flick thick curling mats of black hair away. Slowly, the contours and curves of the girl’s womanly form emerged from beneath the undergrowth of hair. The girl showed no embarrassment or hesitancy about exposing her private parts to the entire tribe, nor did the shaver hesitate to apply herself to her duties. At last the girl was fully shaved. She stood up, naked and newly smooth, and an ornately woven robe was placed around her.
A second girl, all dressed in white, was presented with a red sash, apparently marking her as next year’s “sacrificial victim”, and then both girls retired. The shaman’s helpers all busied themselves with collecting the alarmingly large piles of shorn hair, which were then carried off and chopped up in bowls with various prayers and chants being recited over them. At that point, we were made to leave the village itself along with most of the clan. The ceremony concluded with the chopped up hair being cast about the perimeter of the village, accompanied by loud chanting and drumming. The chant, the Professor told me, was roughly translated as “The hair of the clan protects the clan.” “From what?” I asked. The Professor explained that there was a traditional Ainu bogey thing called the “Hair-eater” and this entire ceremony was devoted to keeping the Hair-eater at bay on the few nights of the year that it could roam at large. Probably, the whole ceremony was related to some kind of harvest ritual, he said.
Once the ceremony was over, we retired to our tents outside the village enclave. I watched as the clan elders said something to Professor Jenkins, gesturing to some huts in within compound. The Professor shook his head and walked off. I gathered that we had all been invited to sleep within the compound for the night.
Back in my tent, I found myself unable to sleep. I had been oddly excited by watching the young girl being shaved. I hoped I would get to meet her in the daylight and see up close some dark stubble left by the razor. Then I heard a heavy sound of thumping and crashing from Professor Jenkins’ tent. I grabbed a flashlight and crept over to investigate. Peering through the tent flap, I saw something large and yellowish moving. As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I saw that I was looking at some kind of huge, yellow creature hunkering down in the tent. The creature had long lank black hair and a broad, inhuman face. She – and I could tell it was a female as large flat flapping breasts hung from the front of it – held Professor Jenkins limply in one enormous hand. The top of his head had been bitten off, and he was already clearly dead. The thing held little Anna in its other hand. Mercifully, she was also dead. And merciful it was, because the creature was slowly and calmly munching the child’s long blonde hair, pausing with pleasure at every mouthful. Then, as the last of her long hair was bitten down to the scalp, the thing opened a great gaping mouth lined with several rows of irregularly pointed teeth and bit the top of poor Anna’s head off, sucking in the child’s brain with a sigh of pleasure. At the sound of the crunching bones, I must have made a noise. The thing looked up from its feeding, and its pupil-less yellow eyes fixed on me. It threw the two bodies it held to one side and quickly stood up, uprooting the tent. It seemed to me to be about 8 or 9 feet tall, but it was difficult to say in the dark. I did see that its long muscular arms were coated with black wiry hair, and the nails on its hands – which looked to span more than a foot and a half – were long and curved like talons. As the thing disentangled itself from the tent and the tent ropes, I finally began to run, fleeing blindly toward the Ainu village. As I ran, I could hear the thing coming after me, its long legs pounding the path behind me. As fast as I was running, the thing came closer and closer with every step. Just as I thought I would feel those long, rusted-iron nails clawing into my back and ripping the hair from my head, I reached the outskirts of the village. It took several yards before I realized that the thing was no longer close behind me. I began shouting and stole a glance behind me. The thing was pacing back and forth at the edge of the village, like a beast in a cage. Then it was gone.
The Ainu quickly came to my aid. I don’t remember much more except that, despite my pleas, no one would go back toward my or the Professor’s tent. At least, not until morning. Then, the local police were summoned. I was not allowed near the Professor’s tent, but someone brought me my things from my own tent. I was questioned, but less than I had expected to be. The official report was that the Professor and his daughter were killed by a bear, of which there were many in the area. The Professor’s wife was presumed carried off by the bear and dead also. I tried to explain what I had seen, but even a police officer who I had heard speaking perfect English pretended not to understand me. Eventually, I gave up. And now I sit here, packing my belongings and preparing to leave and wondering if I saw what I thought I saw. Perhaps it really was a bear. Perhaps the Ainu ceremony that I had witnessed had simply excited my imagination to such a degree that I turned a local bear into some kind of legendary monster. All I know is that I look forward to leaving for home.
I thought that I had passed the worst night of my life on the night that Professor Jenkins and his daughter were killed. But in fact last night was far, far worse, and I pray I never have another night like it.
I was on the night train to Tokyo, where I would catch my flight back to the States. I thought I had the sleeper cabin to myself, but when I returned from dinner, there was other luggage on the floor. Apparently, I was to have a companion after all. I moved some of my things, tossing my smallest bag onto the bed. Then I collapsed into my berth and quickly fell into a deep sleep.
I don’t know how much later it was that I heard the door to the sleeper click open. There was enough moonlight to see clearly as my sleeping companion joined me in the room. A hat came off and a long sheaf of thick jet-black hair tumbled free. My companion was getting ready for bed, stripping off her clothes until she was quite naked. I was much too tired to get up and introduce myself. That could wait until morning. So I pretended to remain asleep. As my companion turned and the moonlight caught her face, I had to stifle a gasp. It was Setsu, Professor Jenkins’ wife – and something worse. For, as I watched, Setsu began to change. Her skin took on a yellowish cast, and hair began to sprout all over her body, coating her legs and creeping up to fill her crotch with wiry weeds. Her arms and hands took on the look of coiled cables, and her entire body began to grow and swell, filling the small sleeping chamber.
I knew that I was the Hair-eater’s next intended victim. It must have followed me from the Ainu village to the train station. I despaired. I felt sure that I would die that night. But still, I instinctively fumbled around for something to protect myself. My hand found the bag that I had tossed on the bed, and in it I felt something cold and metallic. I remembered that I had taken away one of the ritual razors used in the Eating Moon ceremony for our university museum. Carefully, I clasped the heavy blade in my hand.
The thing had kept growing as I fumbled in the dark. Now, it began to creep close. I could see the huge mouth that seemed to wrap around the entire head and the sharp jagged rows of teeth inside the mouth and the solid yellow eyes. I prayed that fear wouldn’t paralyze me as I tried to escape. As one of the great hands began to reach for me, I struck at the thing’s head with the razor and twisted away. I heard the thing give a great cry of anger and pain, but I never looked back as I scrambled for the door. The latch seemed to stick for a fraction of a second, and I felt the thing rush toward me in the tiny chamber. Finally, the door opened, and I squeezed out into the hallway. As I was almost out, I felt my hair grasped from behind, but I kept moving. I could feel my hair being ripped away from my head in a great handful as I fled the cabin and reached the corridor. I ran as fast as I could, expecting to hear the heavy footfalls of the thing’s pursuit. At last, I came to a conductor, who sat me down and tried to get me to explain. I could barely speak. He went to investigate my sleeping berth, but all seemed normal except for the open window. No one could explain the large patch of hair missing from the back of my head. Or the long shank of foul-smelling black hair that I carried in my hand, sliced in passing from the head of the creature. And no one ever saw Setsu Jenkins – or whatever it was – on the train again.[pages are torn away here]
It has been many years since I have written in this journal. But I think the thing that I hoped never to see again has returned. It has finally found me. Last night, I heard a loud crashing in the woods near the house. I saw tracks in the morning – huge, barefoot tracks. I consulted my almanac and my old notes from Japan. Sure enough, last night was an Eating Moon. I don’t know why I was spared. I don’t know why it has come for me – unless it needs to retrieve the shank of its hair that I have kept locked away. I don’t know what to do.
* * * * *
Yesterday, I spent many hours researching lore about the Hair-eater. In fact, I was right – it must retrieve its own hair. It is compelled to do so. Hair is its Achilles heel. I could burn the cursed tress – but that would not kill the beast but only release it to return to its old hunting grounds. And my friends in Japan have told me that – as I feared – the Ainu have lost so many of their old traditional ways that the Eating Moon ceremony is a long-forgotten thing. The beast would run rampant among that gentle people. Therefore, I know what I must do. I will visit the barber today.
Well, today I went to the local barbershop. There were a few men waiting as I entered, so I sat to wait my turn. After about 15 minutes, one of the barbers nodded toward me, and I climbed into the chair. I had not had a real haircut in a long time. I lifted my long hair as the barber wrapped something papery around my neck and then fastened a white cape into place around me.
“What’re we doing today? Just a trim?” he asked.
“No,” I answered. “I need a short crewcut please. Very short.” The words sounded strange to my ears as I spoke them. “Crewcut”. What an odd word, I thought.
The barber seemed unimpressed. He simply turned his back for a few seconds, and then turned back toward me with some machine in his hand. At that, I closed my eyes. I felt my long lovely hair falling all about me as the machine vibrated against my skull. I simply couldn’t witness my own shaving – it reminded me too much of that horrible night that Professor Jenkins and Anna were killed. But I felt the heavy clumps of hair hitting my shoulders and back, and I heard the relentless buzzing of the tireless machine as it sheared my hair down to a dense stubble. When the buzzing stopped, I sneaked a peek at my new hairdo. My head looked round and naked. I was shocked at the way my ears stuck out for all the world to see. The barber shook out the cape. I picked up my shorn hair from the floor and the chair and left. By the time I reached home, I was already used to seeing my new, stripped-down reflection in windows and mirrors. I had stopped shocking myself and was coming to enjoy the simplicity and feel of my new crewcut. I looked sharp and defined. I had become a worthy adversary to the thing that was hunting me. I felt more in control – and less like helpless prey. That afternoon, I chopped up my cut-off hair, shaved my body clean and sprinkled my hair in a wide circle around my house. “The hair of the clan protects the clan.” That night, I heard sounds in the woods, but nothing came near the house. The Eating Moon is over now. I must find some way to kill the beast.
* * * * *
That was what I read in Grandmother’s journal. I thought it was silly, of course. I went off to my sleepover, amazed that a serious student of science like Grandmother could be subject to such a bizarre fantasy. Perhaps, I thought, she just liked having a reason for getting a crewcut every year.
And so I thought until last night. Grandmother was killed in a plane crash a few months ago at a dig site in South America. I was her only kin and her only heir. I was making a life for myself in another state at the time, working miserably hard at a job that I hated. But Grandmother left me so much money that I quit my job and returned to live in the old house for a while as I re-evaluated my life.
One day last week, as I returned from a short trip visiting friends, I found the house torn to pieces, as though a band of rabid burglars had ripped through it. Holes had been torn in the walls. But, oddly enough, nothing was taken. That disturbed me. After the police left, I checked Grandmother’s notes from her Japan trip. Sure enough, it was the first night of the first Eating Moon since Grandmother died. I was very scared. My disbelief melted away completely and instantaneously. I knew the thing was real. But its hair was securely tucked away in a safe deposit box in a local bank, so it hadn’t gotten it. That meant it would be back that night.
I took a deep breath and drove to the barber shop. I had to gather my courage to say the word “crewcut” to the barber who stood at my elbow. I wished I had had time to find a picture or something. My hair was highlighted, with the remnants of a pretty good perm still left toward the ends. I remember thinking the barber chair was cool and slippery. The cape was tight around my neck. I felt a sudden attachment to my hair – I didn’t want it all cut off and lying around me on the floor. But I said nothing.
The barber’s comb stuck somewhat as he combed out my hair for the last time. I felt like the Ainu girl in the Eating Moon ceremony. It seemed like an eternity before the barber was ready. Then, suddenly, his white coat was in front of me, and I heard the humming of the clippers. Unlike Grandmother’s crewcut, which I had always seen begin at the front of her head, the barber stood behind me and pushed my head down. He placed the whirring blades under the hair at my nape, and I heard a buzzing, whooshing sound from the clippers, and I felt something hit my shoulder. Slowly, the barber worked around the back of my head, sending clumps of my curling brown hair down my back. From the front, I looked exactly the same, my permed hair still curling into my face. But as the clippers came around the side of my head, I could see a small section of close-clipped hair. Then, the barber tipped my head back and began shearing me about the ears.
I liked the even, uniform look of the hair that the clippers left behind. I had my Grandmother’s small head and fine features. I wanted the barber to hurry and shave off the hair hanging in my face so that I could get a better look. Finally, the blades chewed into my forelocks and clipped-away hair tumbled past my face. I could see my new crewcut and the way the short-shaved hair clung to my head. I liked my new look. As Grandmother wrote, the haircut made me feel in control. I was finally brave – I had stopped being a coward.
When the barber was done, I picked up my shorn hair just as Grandmother had always done. Then I bought a beard trimmer at the pharmacy and went home. That afternoon, I stood before the bathroom mirror, admiring my head and the fine short hair that covered it like fur. My head felt fresh and new. Then I took a new double-bladed razor and dry-shaved my underarms, tapping the super-short hairs from the razor into my bag of hair. I shaved my legs and arms the same way, using short, quick strokes that scraped me. Then I took the beard trimmer and carefully shaved away the dark brown hair from my pubic area. I had never shaved there before, and I was afraid of nicking myself. The trimmer left behind a short, prickly stubble and some longer hairs that were difficult to reach. I rubbed my fingers into the scratchy stubble. Then I took a fresh razor and dry-shaved my pubis, erasing the tiny sandpapery hair stroke by gentle stroke, and finding any stray longer hair. Once I was shaved clean, I put the last shaved-off hair into my hair bag, and spread a handful of body lotion all over the newly-smooth me. Then, I chopped up my hair – just as described in Grandmother’s journal – and spread it carefully in a wide circle around the entire house.
From moonrise to sunrise, I heard sounds in the woods that surround the house, and I thought I saw a great yellow shape passing between bushes at the perimeter. But nothing came near the house. “The hair of the clan protects the clan,” just as the Ainu said.
I have a year to grow my hair out and try to find a way to kill the brute that is hunting me. Grandmother was right. Having seen the thing, I can’t burn its cursed hair and send it back to prey on the helpless Ainu. That would be too cruel and cowardly. Nor will I be a victim myself. So I will keep having my own Eating Moon ceremony, until I find a way to destroy the hairy beast, just as Grandmother had done.
The only thing I regret is having to grow out my hair. I need enough to circle the entire house, so it will need to grow for the full year. And I am already looking forward to my next trip to the barber.