Hair Out of Place

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A traveller crashes his car and takes refuge in an old lighthouse, only to discover that it is populated by unpleasant characters.

Submitted: July 11, 2016

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Submitted: July 11, 2016

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My troubles that night were incredible, and they began when the storm hit. Violent plops of rain had been barraging my car for an hour and I could barely see two feet ahead of my windshield. The wind howled around me, and I felt the frame of my vehicle creak to the left and ewwell to the right with the horrid gusts. The crashes of the sea sounded like whales ramming themselves against the rocks. It was an awful night to forget an umbrella, and it was no wonder I wound up in that ditch.

I glimpsed a little furball on the road. The poor thing was must have been drenched. I swerved to the right to avoid it, sending myself bowling off the road and onto the side. The accident left me unconscious – I cannot say for how long, only that, when I woke up, my head throbbed and the storm was still furious. I tried to open the door to see if there was any damage, but discovered that something was blocking me from the outside. I threw myself against the side with force, and was only able to budge the door an inch. I then put my back against the passenger door and pushed with my legs for the proper leverage. The door opened, slowly, and slippery black mud began boobling into my car. I pushed harder until the door was open enough for me to slip out and examine the situation:

My car was partly submerged in a ditch that, thanks to the storm, was quickly turning into a mudding pool. The situation was worsening by the moment. The more rain there was, the more mud, and the more mud, the deeper my car sank. Tonight, there was enough rain to send my car to hell. Had I not woken when I did, I may very well have ridden this dirty elevator into my own grave.

And so I found myself loose in the storm. The wind was whipping, the rain slashing – this weather was no joy for my concussed skull. I felt as if the elements were pulling me apart in a thousand different directions, and all I wanted to do was find someplace warm and dry to stay put. But the only option was to walk along the road until fate provided me with shelter.

I went north along the highway with the crashing sea to my right. No cars passed for me to hail. I was alone in the cyclone. This was a cold storm, too, and I was without protection. My shirt was soaked ten seconds after I escaped my vehicle. Ten minutes into my walk and I was dressed in more water than cloth. Twenty, and I believe an as-yet-uncreated word was required to describe the immense abundance of liquid crowding on my skin. And I was so, so cold. A particular kind of chill appears in a windy rain that does not even in the most severe blizzards of the Yukon. The elements work together: the rain drenches the flesh, and prepares it like iodine for the harsh shot of the wind. My figure quaked and my skin goosed. Somehow, one seems to become thinner in this sort of weather. I believe my body was attempting to retreat into its own marrow. The trudge, in short, was unpleasant and I desired its end. So when I saw the lighthouse, my shivering spirit rejoiced.

A close blast of lightning illuminated the sky, and for an instant I gazed upon the awful tower as if in it was the bright of day. The base was a washed-white, and thick red spiral-stripes ran up and down the body. It was tall, too, perhaps a hundred feet. When I drew closer, I realized that it was quite old. Its paint was peeling off the aged wood.

But what struck me was that the lighthouse was not doing its job. The rains were falling, the thunder was crashing, the sea was smashing against the rocks, and yet the tower was dead and dark, about as useful to lost ships as a hundred foot noodle. I figured that it must have been abandoned.

Eager for relief, I found a large brown door where a sign hung. On it, the following was written in clumsy handwriting.

HEREIN: THE TEMPORARY RESIDENCE OF

MESSRS. HUMBERT AND FRUMPERT ESQ.

VISITORS WELCOME

I took that as an invitation and knocked, hoping to announce myself quickly. But, to my surprise, I found that it swung open immediately. The door was not locked, not even closed, and, upon inspection, I saw that the lock itself was broken. It looked as if it had been ripped from its hinges.

I pushed the door open, and an empty room greeted me. Something about it was odd. The room had been disturbed: chairs were knocked on the ground; clothes were lying on the floor. The relief of a dry shirt on wet skin is so comfortably tempting, and I wondered whether I was within my rights to change immediately. I decided to at least introduce myself to my hosts before I took advantage of their hospitality.

“Hello?” I called up the stairwell. No answer. “Hello!” I called again. “Is there anyone here?”

“Yes, yes! Come on up already!” cried a voice from far up the stairs, “Dinner is getting cold!”

The thought of dinner made hurricanes blow through my hollow belly. I thought myself quite lucky to find my way here. Tonight’s mess would best be explained to my hosts in person, preferably over a hot meal.

I hurried up the steps and could still hear the wind howling and the rain smattering against the walls. A delicious scent serenaded my nostrils: meat. I pictured a fat steak seared with peppercorn and basil, charred on the outside and red to the core, a prime cut that would fall apart under my knife and melt on my tongue. I began to exercise my jaw.

My host sitting on a table, lit by an oil lamp. His back was facing me. “You certainly took your time,” he said, without turning around. “I’d like to eat before our catch rots.”

“I’m so sorry, sir, I’ve had an accident – ”

He ignored me, eyes trained on his meal. “Oh hush up and sit down already! I put your half on the table. Your new recipe better be worth it.”

“I think you’ve made a mistake – ”

Either he growled or his stomach did. “I for one am eating and if you don’t start yours soon I will finish your half myself!” At that, he stood up, turned towards me and took a decisive chomp from a massive mutton leg. We made eye contact, and both took a shocked step back. He, because I was not his companion, and I because he was the largest and hairiest man I had ever seen.

My host was eight feet tall and five feet wide, easily. His arms were beams, his shoulders were barrels, and his chest a brace of cannons. The man was covered in his own hair. Completely. I could not tell whether it came from his head, his face, his chest, or all three, but there was not a single point on his body not wrapped in oily, black tendrils. Even his eyes and mouth were covered. He was not even wearing clothes; all that covered his nakedness was a veritable mountain of human hair. The man was beastly.

“Who are you?” he said, clutching the dripping mutton in his oversized paw. I tried and failed to stammer out an answer.

“How did you get in?” He began to advance towards me.

“My apologies, this was a mistake. I’ll…” – I backed away –  “…be going now.”

“Going?” said a voice behind me, and I turned around. There was another one, just as horribly large and horribly hairy as the first. I yelped, and made a break for the stairwell.

“Grab him, Frump! Get him!” the first man cried, pointing with his mutton. The second made a lunge for me, which I dodged. I might possibly have wet myself a bit as I did so. It was hard to tell both because I was already soaked and because the moment lives in my memory as a terrifying blur. The two men followed me down the stairs, tramping with shoeless, furry feet.

I had a head start, and, though, my heart was tumbling in my chest I could smell the rain through the walls and knew I would soon be free. Once I reached the ground floor, I threw myself at the entry. I did not, however, fall safely into the open storm. Rather, I hit the door hard and bounced back, falling to the ground with a sharp wump. For the second time that night, my world went dark. I felt arms reach around me, felt my body rise up and fall again onto some greasy saddle. I realized that I was on the second one’s shoulder and struggled to break free.

“Shoosh!” he shooshed, and patted me on the behind. I hit his back with my fists but he hardly noticed. Helpless, I decided not to speak until I was on my feet. The initial shock and panic had worn off, at least, and I could assess the situation sensibly. I had overreacted in a startlingly rude way. It was the middle of the night and I had barged in unannounced, uninvited, and dripping wet. My hosts must have believed I was a nut, or, worse, maybe even a burglar. And now they probably thought I had hurt myself and were kind enough to fetch me ice and a pillow.

I was wrong about all that, but the thoughts were a comfort.

My hairy hosts brought me back to the top floor of the lighthouse, where I was immediately dropped onto a chair and bound with rope. The first man then reminded his companion that dinner was “getting cold” and they proceeded to eat in front of me. Despite being frightened to death, I found the spirit to be insulted by this. I was trapped, clearly desperate, and these men had declined to offer me a single bite of their food. I focused on the lamp between them, and imagined how good it must feel to have a fire drying my skin.

My hosts did not care for vegetables, it seemed; their whole meal was red, dripping meat. The first man set down his mutton, and his companion, Frump, I believe, stared at it. The black locks on his face contorted into an expression that almost seemed upset.

“You started without me,” Frump said.

“Did not!”

“You did!”

“Did not not! Shall we eat now, Frumpy?” The first one rubbed his hands together.

Frump was not fooled. “I see where you bit it!” he cried, and indeed, there was a massive hole where meat had been torn from the leg.

The first one was silent for a moment, and then: “Oh, it was just a little bite! I thought you were him.” And he pointed at me with the mutton. Red drips splattered in my direction.

Frump began to pace. “I go to all this trouble spend all this time cooking for you and you go gobbling away before I can even come back!”

“I couldn’t help myself! The new recipe smelled… so delicious. I just needed a taste.”

Frump sat down and looked at his meal. “How was it?”

“Scrumptious.”

“Really? Really, Hump?”

“Really,” said Hump. “Shall we eat?”

The second clapped his hairy hands. “Let’s eat! Let’s eat!”

My hosts began, and they made a disgusting show of it, shoveling like barbarians, gnashing and snapping their way through more than enough meat to share. Drips and drops flew from the table as they obliterated their food. Each inhaled at least three times what would have satisfied me.

“Honestly,” Hump said, wiping his mouth with a hairy forearm and gobbling meat with the other, “you haven’t made anything this good,” – wipe – “since those miners,” – gobble – “in Teton!”

“They had spices in the closet! I put some… pap-ree-ka on it.”

“Exotic!”

I couldn’t resist my belly any longer, and I tried my luck. “Excuse me,” I said, “you wouldn’t happen to have any to spare? I haven’t eaten all day, and that dish smells absolutely delicious.”

My hosts stopped eating, looked at me, and laughed. The first even sat back in his chair and waved the meat in his hands back and forth like a baton.

“Oh boy, oh boy! I cannot believe it,” he said. “Our dear guest! We have been so rude to you, haven’t we? I don’t think we even introduced ourselves!” He stood up and took a big sweeping bow, swinging even more meat drips onto my face.

“I am Humpert.”

His companion stood up and eagerly repeated the motion, giggling as he did so.

“And I’m Frumpert!”

“We come from far away.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you!”

“Likewise,” I said. Actually, I did not think it was a pleasure at all.

“As a matter of fact,” said Humpert, “we did save some, just for you.”

Frumpert made an awful gurgling giggle and tossed me a chunk of the meat with his ponytailed fingers. It landed on my lap, and I took a long, awful look at the severed human hand resting on my legs. It was old and weathered and death-white. My stomach folded in on itself. I began to dry-heave, and my hosts practically broke with bushy laughter. Humpert stood up from his seat and picked the hand out from my lap, turned to me, and his horrific bearded jaw almost seemed to twist into a grin.

“Is raw paw not to your taste? A shame,” he said. “This is my favorite part of the feast.”

And he took the man’s fingers into his mouth, and shluuurped the flesh off them each, pinky, by pointer, by thumb. The hair above his lip whispered over the knuckles.

He spat out a golden wedding ring, right onto my lap. “Show us your hands, dear guest. I’m in the mood for seconds.”

My mouth opened, but I could not speak. Luckily, I didn’t have to.

“No, Hump, wait!” cried Frump, “We need to wait!”

“Oh, all I want is the fingers,” said Hump, turning back towards the table.

“We need his fingers!”

“Why?” said Hump.

Why? I thought.

“It’s been ages since I got a haircut.”

I actually snorted through my terror at this. They ignored me.

“I can’t do it myself anymore” he said, and the cannibal almost looked embarrassed. “My hands are too big for the scissors.” Frump looked down at his braided, greasy hands. Each slippery tendril of a finger must have been two inches thick. Hump grumpled.

“But look at his hands!” said Frump, “He has teeny-weeny baby hands!”

I made an effort to be offended. I happen to believe that my hands are rather masculine.

Hump sneered. “Why would he be able to give a haircut?” He turned to me. “Can you cut hair, my dear guest?”

I had never cut hair in my life but I was not about to expedite my death and tell them so. I needed to think of a lie, quick.

“Hello! You there! What do you do?” he said again, snapping his fingers twice. Yet, with all the fur, it sounded less like a snap snap and more like a thwig thwig.

“I can cut hair!” I said, alert and desperate. “In fact, my father was a barber! I’ve been cutting hair all of my life!”

Frump gasped and threw his hands into the air. “He grew up in a barbershop, Hump! He can give us old-style haircuts! Like the handsome people before the hippie days.” He turned to his friend like an eager child.

Hump tapped his foot. “Fine! But then we bash him. And then we eat.”

Frump clapped his hands, and said, “I want to be clean cut!”

It seemed I was in for a long night. I tried to cheer myself up by appealing to my own curiosity – there was certainly a part of me that wanted to see what these fiends looked like under their wretched manes.

You can get whatever you want,” said Hump, “But I only want a trim, nothing fancy… or unusual.”

I was unseated from the chair but not allowed to walk freely. Frump released my bound hands and Hump used the same rope to tie my ankles together. It was far too tight. I think he resented having to postpone his snack until midnight.

I considered that if they gave me a razor I could slit one of their throats. But then, of course, the other would become enraged and my bashing would follow. I couldn’t best them in a fight – escape was my only option.

Frump slung me over his back again and brought me to the closet I had seen upon entering this wretched lighthouse. I quickly scanned it for anything I might use to break free, but I was only given a moment before Frump grabbed a large pair of scissors and hoisted my body again to re-ascend the stairs. I did my best to keep the image of that closet in my mind and every potential resource it held.

Hump was my first customer. He sat down on the same chair where he had devoured that unfortunate man and said to me, “Don’t cut it too short, dear guest, it looks weird if you cut it too short.” Frump clapped his pawish hands together to watch me work.

I began.

Two things became apparent to me very quickly: first, that I truly had no idea what I was doing, and second, that it didn’t matter at all. He had so much hair about his person that it was virtually impossible for me to make a tangible mistake. The man was immense. When he was sitting down and I was standing, the top of my head came just to the tip of his chin. I made my cuts daintily at first, afraid of enraging my hairy host, but I soon lost my caution as the sheer volume of fuzz overwhelmed me. Cuts became slashes and slashes became hacks. I found myself at war with Hump’s oily mane, our first battle being the head, which I lost, the second being the shoulders and the third being the back, both of which I lost as well.

After perhaps half an hour of sweat and slog, Hump interrupted me with a gurgle. I assumed it meant stop. He asked Frump for a view of the back, and his comrade soon produced an ugly copper hand mirror. He walked up it to Hump who took the mirror and began to inspect himself with various “hrmm”s and “hrooom”s. I held the scissors in my hand and braced myself for the swift meaty clunk that would end my existence. After a long pause, Hump spoke:

“Excellent!” He jumped from his chair. “This is absolutely stellar work you’ve done here, dear guest. I haven’t been this prim for y-e-a-r-s!”

I made a little nod of gratitude towards my captor. Heaven knows why.

“You look so handsome!” said Frump. Hump thrust his hairy hands into his hairy head and gave the whole thing a joyful tousle, sending hair-snips all over the floor. He didn’t look any different than he did when we began. My efforts hadn’t made a dent.

“My turn! My turn!” Frump cried, and my hands ached. By all rights, I should have been starving too. Oddly enough though, my appetite had been spoiled.

Frump dumped himself down on the chair and demanded “A full job, with extra off the back,” and my second haircut of the night began. Frump’s hair was similar to Hump’s in that there was so, so much of it. I untangled tangles and unstuck sticks. I cut off crusts and sliced away sludge. It was dreadful business, and it went on. The discarded strands of hair had made a pile at my feet and, soon enough, they reached my shins. As per my host’s request, I paid special attention to his back. His hind was a dreadful brown canvas, hairy horkles drizzled with oil and sprinkled with mud. I feared reaching too far into his mane and losing my scissors in that gross wilderness. And then I feared that, if I reached too far, I might fall in and lose myself too. I wondered just how far I would have to reach inside that grisly garden before I would hit flesh.

And then a truly unnatural idea creeped into my mind. These men, my hosts, what if they were not men at all? What if, were I to probe his mane with these rusty scissors, I would find not a back, nor a spine, nor even skin? What if the person sitting before me was not a person, but a creature made entirely, strand for strand, out of hair? The thought first struck me as ludicrous, and surely arose from the vexing union of exhaustion, hunger, and fear, but I let it fester, and explored.  I could make out no discernible features on either: eyes, noses, ears were all encased beneath their heavy manes. That is, of course, if any of those existed at all. My hosts were astonishingly large beings and, perhaps, being made out of hair, grew outwards indefinitely until they were tailored down to size. Cautious and curious, I probed Frump with my scissors, reaching them as deep as I could stretch. Frump never jumped. I had probed nothing that was not hair.

It was a ridiculous thought, of course, but then I remembered them eating, gobbling that poor man away. I did my best to picture it in the dim light, and there was nothing in Hump’s mouth, not tooth to gnash nor tongue to taste. My hosts swallowed that man’s flesh into black, empty maws. At least I thought so. What were they? I am Humpert. And I’m Frumpert! We come from far away.

True or not, the thought disgusted me. But perhaps that was for the better, for the sheer volume of disgust brought with it a new desire to escape. My mind raced through everything I had seen, every advantage I had, all while cutting my host’s voluminous locks. I did not know how long it had been since I began, perhaps an hour, and it was taking a toll. Exhaustion and disorientation made the outlandish appear landish and, slowly, I began to compose a fiendishly clever plan.

“I want to see! I want to see!” said Frump, waving his hands about in excitement. He rose from his chair and plucked the mirror from the table. With whispered “Oooohs” and “Aaaahs,” he examined every inch of himself. “You gave me a new look!” he cried, “And I like it!” As with Hump before, I could not see any difference. But perhaps, if I squinted hard enough, he did look just a twinge smaller. I felt proud.

Frump was flexing and stretching in the middle of the room. “Look at me, Hump!” He lunged. “I’m so lithe!”

Hump issued an amused grumble from his seat. He had been sitting there since I began coifing his companion. I realized that he was only paying half attention to Frump – his eyes were on me, and he was tapping his fingers on the table with firm energy, restless. My scheme needed to come together soon.

A bolt of fear grabbed my bones, a terror that I had only experienced before in nightmares: the absolute certainty that death was here. Everything I had wanted to flee, screaming, from these hairy ghouls, every ounce. It was a tempting path that would have resulted in my end, I am sure, but I did not move. Some force held my feet in place. It was probably the fatigue in my joints after the labor I had done, but it might have been an irrepressible curiosity about my hosts, or even a sprout of courage that had waited until that very moment to reveal itself. It certainly was not faith in my plan – I am sure of that. But whatever strange compulsion it was, it weighed me down like ballast through thunderous waves of panic. It would sustain my wits through the horrific events that followed.

“Stop that racket,” said Hump, without an ounce of urgency, to Frump. Frump ended his jumping and sulked back into his seat. “Thank you, dear guest, for the service,” he said. I was standing motionless behind the chair. I am sure that if I had moved even an inch, the fear would have burst through and I would have been bashed. Instead, Hump began to speak, and I listened.

“This has been a full night, my dear guest, and we extend to you our sincere gratitude for your service and your company. But we ought to bash you before bed. It’s getting late, after all.”

I said nothing. Every part of my mind pretended that I had heard nothing too.

“Frump?” said Hump.

Fine,” he replied and slowly rose from his seat, walked behind me, and held my arms. Hump lumbered toward me, bringing a violent conclusion with him.

Fireworks were blasting in my ears. The survival instinct was screaming to every limb and tendon, begging me to thrash and fight. But I was calm. And I made my case.

“How long have you been here,” I asked, “a few hours?”

Hump stopped and peered down at me through his black locks. “We interrupted the owners this morning.”

“And how long do you plan to stay?”

“Until the meat runs out.” The hair-hole in his face curled into a grin.

“And then?”

Hump looked puzzled. “We’ll look for more meat. Elsewhere.”

“Sounds tiresome.”

“Sometimes it is.”

“Exhausting?”

“Often.”

“I’m sleepy, Hump, just bash him!” Frump said.

Hump nodded and turned to me, impatient. “If you have a point, you should get to it soon.”

“What I’m trying to say is that the two of you have an incredible opportunity. You can make travellers come to you.” My hosts were silent. “This is a lighthouse.” The silence continued.

“Go on.”

“I worked in a lighthouse, after my life as a barber, of course, and, if you wished, it would be remarkably simple to divert ships toward this building or even to crash them into the rocks. Anyone left on the beaches would be… perfect pickings. Meat would practically be leaping into your jaws every night.”

My hosts were listening.

“All you need to know is how to work the equipment, and the rest is a matter of course.” I spoke directly to Hump. “Do you know how to work a lighthouse?”

“I do not.”

“Well I do, and I would be more than willing to show you.”

“Would you? That’s quite kind!”

“Of course I would need to examine the equipment myself. Not all lighthouses are the same, you know.”

There was silence.

“Shall I?” More silence, agonizingly long. I could hear Frump breathing behind me.

Hump nodded, and hairy paws released my arms. Had he waited even half a second longer, I would have screamed.

I believe that I actually looked calm as I walked towards the massive bulb. There was a gear pad with a variety of buttons and levers on its face. It made no sense whatsoever to me, but that did not stop me from poking and prodding and testing and trying the mechanism as if I had the steady hand of an expert lighthouse operator.

There was an oversized lever topped with an important-looking red knob. I pressed a few buttons, and then pulled it with as much drama as I could muster. Unsurprisingly, nothing happened. I made a show of frowning. I pushed the same buttons again, this time in a different sequence, before pulling the lever a second time. Nothing, again, happened. I frowned and added a loud “Hrrm,” of perplexed disappointment. Once more I pushed the buttons and pulled the lever and nothing happened once more. I turned to face my hosts.

“Was this lit when you arrived?”

Frump was looking over my shoulder. “No, it wasn’t,” he said in a hushed tone that betrayed unfeigned intrigue. “What’s wrong with it?”

Time to lie. “Well, I suspect it could be one of two things. Either it’s a mechanical inconsistency in the filament ignition or a dead bulb. I’d be willing to bet it’s the latter, and that’s an easy fix.”

“A dead bulb? You can fix it?” said Hump.

I gasped. “Of course I can fix it! A dead bulb is the most basic problem a lighthouse operator can have.”

Frump and Hump stared as if waiting for me to perform a magic trick.

“Well I can’t do it on the spot, dear hosts. I need the materials! They should be together in the supply closet downstairs. I can’t imagine a lighthouse without its own lighthouse-light-bulb-changing-kit. If you’ll follow me…” And I was on my way down. My hosts followed like hairy, wordless devotees. Hump even opened the door for me when we reached the closet. I eagerly began to pick out my tools.

“What’s that for?” asked Frump.

“Safety,” I replied as I placed a thick coil of rope over my shoulder. I then slid a red flare in my pocket.

“And that?” asked Hump.

“A manual way to light the new bulb, if the electrical fails. Always good to have options.”

“Options, yes!” said Frump. My hosts made way for me to exit the closet, and we ascended the stairs again. Their hairy mouths were whispering behind me.

“He’s gonna change the bulb, Hump! He knows mechanics!”

“Don’t act so ridiculous. You sound like a child. Changing a lighthouse light bulb is simple.”

“Is not!”

“It is the most basic problem a lighthouse operator can have. I’ve seen it done before many times.”

“You have not!”

“I have to!”

“Not not!”

Frump sprinted in front of his companion to open the door for me. I was flattered. For the first time, I took a look at the massive glass that gave this tower its function. It was a truly magnificent piece of optical engineering. The glass resembled a grooved, four-sided egg, larger than both of my hosts with enough space inside perhaps to fit the both of them. The lens, of course, was not actually powered by a bulb. Rather, it generated light through intense reflection. But the light bulb did not have to work to grant me my freedom.

“Don’t you need to have a replacement?” asked Frump.

“Lighthouse operators keep an extra bulb in the compartment next to the glass,” I replied. “It’s like a spare tire!”

Hump chuckled at his companion’s ignorance.

The coil of rope felt heavy on my back, which was a good sign. It would need to be quite long. I had stepped behind the glass and before me was a balcony. My hosts had, thankfully, stayed back, and I was out of view. Only a red iron fence stood between myself and the blue sky. The storm had gone, and it had left a beautiful morning behind. A golden sun was budding on the edge of the sea.

I rapped my hand on the iron. It rattled more than I would have liked, but I was not in a position to be picky. The first end of the rope, I tied around one of the iron rods. The second, I tied around my waist. I secured both with tight knots, perhaps tighter than I needed. I can still feel that itchy cord digging into my skin.

“How’s it coming along there?” called Hump.

“Fine! Absolutely wonderful!”

I jerked the rope to make sure it was taught. It was. There was nothing left to do now but get on with it. I heard footsteps behind me.

“I want to see you do it! I want to see!” Frump was skipping towards my balcony. “Tell me how it works!” Another bolt of panic surged up my spine. This would not do at all.

“I’ll explain once it’s finished. I need to focus,” I said. Frump eagerly nodded and turned towards the glass. He placed a massive furry hand on the structure. I stared at his hideous limb, my mind absorbing every curl and knot and spot of sludge. Frump had no fingernails. All of him was hair.

“Frump?” I said.

“Yes?

“Who are you two? Where do you come from?”

He turned to me, staring without eyes.

“Well, I’m Frumpert. He’s Humpert. We come from far away.”

I looked at him, waiting for him to say more. He didn’t.

“Well it was a pleasure to meet you,” I said. And then I sprung myself over the balcony, clutching the slack of the rope in my arm.

My feet hit the rounded wall of the lighthouse and the rope pulled taught around my waist. I began to walk down the side as quickly as I could, letting portions of the rope go as I did: step, step release. It was a basic repel. Frump let out a cry of dismay and looked down at me from the top.

“Where’d you go?”

I kept moving.

“What are you doing?”

I did not respond.

“HUMP!”

All of my focus was divided between my feet and the rope. Step, step, release.

Hump joined his friend staring at me, and then roared something quaking and monstrous. He flew away, shouting back to Frump, “Cut the line!” I did not stop. Step, step, release. Step, step, release.

Frump fumbled with the rope trying to unravel my knot. His porky fingers were useless. I told myself it would hold, and I think I believed it too. Above me, I heard an infuriated gasp. My descent was almost halfway done.

Staring at the wall, red strip after white strip after red welcomed my escape. Each one brought me a few feet closer to freedom from this vile tower. My hands did not ache. My feet did not stumble. Twenty yards and I would live.

“Come to me, meat! Hump’s hungry!” Hump was on the ground, waiting, reaching his arms in the air, his grisly fingers grasping for my toes. His mouth was wide for me, and there was nothing inside but darkness and hair. He was right on time.

“I don’t even need to bash you – I’ll eat you raw!”

Step, step release.

I was about five feet above his reach when I took the flare from my pocket. With one hand, I bit off the cap and struck it against the red rod. It sparked, and flamed, and dropped, and fell, down into the beast’s waiting mouth.

I felt a concentrated wave of heat as the fire quickly caught on the monster’s oily body: his head, then his shoulders, then his chest and arms. Hump was wild, shrieking and thrashing, only aiding the inferno that engulfed him.

I let go of the rest of the rope and fell to the earth on my back. The impact was a thundering thrill. My host was still burning, running, and moaning. The fire, I saw, now reached down to his toes. As I undid the knot around my waist, I watched him and wondered what would be left when the flames had seared through. Charred bones? A burnt corpse? I had a dreadful hunch that the fire would leave nothing behind but hairy heels in a pile of ash.

For a moment, I wanted to stay long enough to find out. The moment did not last. I ran away blind, without a care for where. My legs carried me off like sails through a wind. I had not eaten for a day, but I did not feel any hunger – only terror and joy. Soon, I heard a horrible cry, the lonely howl of an unloved monster who had lost his only companion. It echoed across the sea and filled my ears with its grief. I still hear it now. The sun was peaking over the horizon when I escaped. It was directly above me when I reached town.

On the moment of my arrival, before I sought food or even water, I barged into the local barbershop. The men there looked up from their work and stared at my haggard body in shock. I did not care.

“Shave me bald!” I cried, “Cut it all off!”


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