They called her Rapunzel. Everyone did. It was the obvious thing to say to a girl with hair that reached literally down to her ankles, if not farther. Even though when most people make drawings of Rapunzel or even just picture her in their heads, she’s blonde, like blonder than blonde, right? Not Lauren Graves, though. Lauren Graves’s ankle-length hair was as dark as her name and as straight as the fall off a building.
“I wish I had hair like yours,” girls were always telling her. “But I can never get mine to grow that long.” As if she’d wanted this. As if it was her choice. “You’re so lucky,” they would say, “to be able to grow your hair like that.” As if the luck was on her side.
Her parents had always really liked her hair, too. When she was younger. Some of her earliest memories were of her mother brushing it out for her and whispering love in the night-time. But it wasn’t love that made her whisper anymore.
When she was four, her father had finally said something to the effect that maybe it was time after all to take it in for a trim, but by then it was too late. Lauren’s Rapunzel-hair cascaded wet down the back of the barber’s chair, but the second the clippers were out, every strand turned into a viper.
Bundles of straight, black hair lifted up of their own accord, twisted and coiled round each other into thin prehensile limbs like tentacle-arms, and they found the shears, twisted them out of the poor apprentice hairdresser’s hands and cracked across her face like a whip. Fortunately, the hair was wet and still too young and unskilled to be very effective, so the apprentice survived with only a small scar by her eyebrow, but Lauren and the Graves family still weren’t ever invited back to that shop.
When she was at school, the hair tended to behave itself. Like it knew what was good for it after all. At home, though, its reign of terror was unceasing. It controlled the remote, it picked out all Lauren’s clothes, carefully calculating what would make her most odd and least popular as a result. And any time she did try to talk about it, at school or anywhere with authority, the bottom hairs hidden under the surface would twist into each other and pull most painfully at the back of her scalp, that sharp persistent kind of pain that makes any resistance just not worth the effort.
Even her parents could talk to her. Not really. Not in any meaningful way. They couldn’t tell her how they really felt about certain things, certain practices, without her hair acting out. Sometimes it coiled up and tripped them, tied around their feet and flung them about the room. Sometimes it wrapped itself down into sharp points and hovered threateningly in front of their eyeballs, but the worst, which the hair reserved for when it was especially displeased with either Mr. or Mrs. Graves, was when it wrapped tightly around the neck of the little girl upon whose head it lived and squeezed.
“You don’t think it really would, do you?” Mrs. Graves asked her husband. “It wouldn’t kill her—it needs her, doesn’t it?”
“I would assume so,” said Mr. Graves. “But do we really want to risk it?”
One day at school, finally, things got very bad. For twelve years, she’d been afraid to talk about it, the hair had been dormant and nobody had known. Boys—ones who “liked her” according to her teachers—had even pulled on it—as had girls who didn’t. But pulling at her hair didn’t seem to hurt the hair, as it turned out—only her scalp.
Until one day, Tim Brandanowicz got bored and decided to see how it would react with a bunsen burner.
Was he jealous? Did he like her? Had she turned him down for something? We may never know and it’s questionable whether we should care. Little Timmy held the coil out with just enough slack that he thought Lauren wouldn’t feel it—but even if she had, wouldn’t she have been curious to see what he would do? What her hair would do? Whether it would come awake in public, as it never had before? Worst case scenario, the hair would go wild and at least she’d never have to hear again how lucky she was to be such a Rapunzel.
Sure enough, no one called her Rapunzel again after that day. She would hear whispers in the hall now, people muttering about Medusa, and she was actually relieved. She was a freak, after all, and people deserved to know that, to be warned.
It was still a surprise, though, to everyone in town, when her house burned down three weeks later. Both she and her parents survived (though her gerbil Crunchkin, sadly, didn’t), but somehow, all of the hair had been burned off her scalp. It had done so, inexplicably, in a way that kept the scalp itself pretty much intact. So once the burn wounds healed, there was nothing to stop Medusa’s hair from starting to grow again.
Nothing, that is, except for the lifetime supply of razors she had just invested in. At less than a quarter of an inch in length, she found it no longer had as much power over her.