The Curmudgeon


Saturday, December 13, 2014


A Fairy-Tale

There was once a boy whose hair grew so fast that by the time he learned to walk his head seemed twice the width of his shoulders. His parents did their best to control it, with scissors and shears and eventually a lawn-mower; but the hair always grew back, forming a near-perfect sphere marred only by the boy's face beneath it, like a lump of grey meat thrown under a well-clipped hedge.

The boy's hair continued to grow, at a uniform if prodigious rate, and with every month that went by less and less of his face could be seen, until finally it disappeared completely. One day, when his father was chopping away at the undergrowth so that the boy could be fed, he discovered that the face seemed a bit smaller than before. At first the father thought that the face appeared smaller because of the massive shock of hair surrounding it; but further application of the lawn-mower left no doubt. The boy's face, which had once been normally proportioned, was now barely wider than the top of his neck. The boy's parents marvelled at this, but the hair soon grew back and covered the face again, and they quickly forgot about it.

A few months later, the boy began to have strange seizures, when he would suddenly fall to the floor and thrash about uncontrollably, flailing his limbs and emitting terrible cries. His parents took him to a doctor, who had to cut away half a mattress-full before he could examine the surface of the boy's head. What he discovered was rather interesting: as well as growing out, the hair was also growing inward. The inward growth had so far been inhibited by the hardness of the skull, but over the years a few strands had penetrated the cranium and were now tickling the surface of the boy's brain. Whenever the brain convulsed from the tickling, the boy would suffer a seizure, and the doctor warned that the seizures would happen more and more frequently now that the skull had been breached. He advised the parents to keep the boy confined until the head and brain had been entirely consumed, whereupon hopefully there would be no more trouble.

So the father pounded an iron stake into the middle of the lawn, and built a rockery around it so that the neighbours wouldn't complain. Then he locked an iron fetter around the boy's ankle, since his neck could not be found, and attached an iron chain to the fetter, and fastened the other end of the chain to the stake. Whenever the boy had a seizure, the chain would rattle and chips would fly from the rockery, but the neighbours never complained because their own children found it all very edifying.

Gradually the seizures became less severe and the noises less disturbing, but something new and strange began to happen instead. The boy became gradually thinner and less substantial, until sometimes the parents could have sworn he was so light as to float above the ground. Of course they had long since given up feeding him, since neither jaws nor teeth could be found within the great globe of hair; but they had not expected him to become airborne as a result. Nevertheless, that is exactly what happened. Within a few weeks the boy would float above the house at the first sign of a moderately strong wind, and after three months the father could not haul him down for the night. The chain stretched and strained, creaking and nagging, and the boy floated in the sky like a mutant dandelion, whose seeds had somehow dragged their withered stem into the air with them.

One night the parents were woken by the sound of the chain falling onto the rockery. The boy was not on the end of it. The father said the links must have rusted, or the boy's leg must have become too thin for the fetter. The mother said the boy must have grown so light that the chain could not hold him; and through all her remaining years, every time a cloud paused above the house, she would swear it was shot through with fine filaments that grew ever longer, ever thinner, ever darker.


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