Chapter 1:


SXRS (and other stories)

This happened when I was still in school. Back then I wore my hair long, longer than most girls wore theirs. There was only one person I knew who had longer hair than I did. Her hair was wiry and black, coarse, and it hung halfway down her back in a thick braid that was like a rope. She never wore it any other way. She was an odd girl. Hardly anyone ever paid her any attention. Most of the other girls tended to keep away from her and she went unnoticed even by the boys. Even the teachers seemed to ignore her most of the time. As for me, I was no exception. I rarely paid her any mind. It was as if she spent most of her life invisible, cloaked from view, only blipping back into existence on rare occasions and then seeming to blend back into the background just as quickly.

One evening when I returned to a classroom to retrieve a book I had forgotten, I saw her. She was holding a pair of scissors in her right hand and her hair, once so long and tangly that the braid she packed it into every day was barely able to contain its bristly mess, was much shorter. It fanned out around her neck, uneven in length and choppy. She had just cut her own hair, I surmised. It was a natural assumption to make given the scene before me. Why she had done it here and now was anyone’s guess, but I didn’t get the chance to formulate one of my own because that was when I smelled the blood. It was a hard and raw stench, the dull odor of metal melting together with the overpowering aroma of sickness, of disease. The blood was on the floor, pooled into thick puddles of festering maroon atop the scuffed tile, gunking and congealing to red-black where there were indents for it to collect into. It bent around the legs of tables and chairs and her shoes and slowly rejoined on the other side or not.

It wasn’t just blood. Settling in with the viscous blood puddles were sickly white-yellow piles of some kind of mucus or pus. The waxy scum was stagnant except where one or two blobs of it were bulging slowly into thick opaque bubbles or where cloudy trails of it had seeped into the blood. I breathed in and it was like I was breathing disease, could taste it on my tongue like it was leaving a sickly greasy film on the inside of my mouth. I covered my mouth, feeling like I was going to be sick. There was blood and filth everywhere. It was not only her hair that had been cut.

We locked eyes. She told me never to tell anyone what I had seen here. I told her I wouldn’t from behind my hand. She asked me if I knew the location of a particular abandoned building. I told her I did. She asked if I would meet her there that night and I told her I would.

The building was brick on the exterior. It wasn’t that old and was still mostly intact but it was already disused and gave off the impression of decay. Nothing much seemed to last very long around here. It was four storeys tall and on one side there was a metal fire escape crisscrossing down from the roof.

I got there before her and I waited. When she finally showed up she was holding her scissors. She told me to keep waiting as she slipped into the building through the jagged opening where the glass doors had been smashed through. The glass spiked out like blades and I imagined what it would feel like to catch yourself on a piece and be sliced open. But she made it through easily and disappeared into the darkness.

A few minutes later she reemerged on the roof. It was dark and I could only make out her silhouette. I saw her cross to the fire escape. The top landing was completely soaked in shadow. She stepped into the shadow. What emerged from the other side of that batch of darkness was something that could never be classified as human. It seemed to hang for a moment as it pulled itself free of the dark. Then its murky tendrils elongated like lengthening shadows and it began to descend the stairs, its unclear body leaking spore clouds of atomized darkness in its wake like it was shedding black mold. As it kept slinking down, its unclean outline continued to morph, bulge and bend and billow into shapes unimaginable and grotesque. I couldn’t stop looking. Yet the more I stared, the more I could sense my sanity being violated, molded, reshaped into something different, my sense of self twisting and warping and I knew that I had to force my eyes away, that this was something to which I could never bear witness if I wanted to remain myself. I tore my eyes from the sight, buried my face in my hands. I stood there, whole body trembling, waiting for it all to be over. When I finally dared to look back, she was gone.

My legs carried me into the building and then up. On the roof I followed in her footsteps, approached the fire escape. On the metal grating were the scissors. I picked them up in my right hand and with my left I reached carefully towards the back of my neck. Not since that night have I ever let my hair grow long. I never will again.