The Callous Curse
Chantal Schaul, 2000
During the olden days it once so happened that an entire village was cursed through the workings of a sad misunderstanding. The name of the village was Neachester. It had three hundred and thirty-three inhabitants, among which was a terribly wise woman called Annabelle. She was the salvation to everyone’s problems, both physical and emotional.
One day, the oldest village member decided that it was only fair to give Annabelle a huge recompense for all her trouble and help. First, the villagers wanted to buy her a racing ox cart, then they thought of an artificial sunbed, a bed surrounded by rows of candles disguised as suns. But Annabelle was far too altruistic for all these presents, and someone came up with the idea of a theatre. One of the women remarked that Annabelle was deaf, even if she never admitted to it and always pretended to have the most perfect hearing in the world. If they built her a theatre, she would take it as an insult and be extremely hurt and vengeful. Then, someone else suggested offering her a theatre with pantomime performances only. Everyone agreed.
The Neacunians started building the pantomime theatre behind a high wooden wall, so that Annabelle would not notice what was going on. Rehearsals for a range of thirteen different performances were held secretly in a private cellar. But on the day when the present was revealed to Annabelle, something terrible happened, sealing the fate of the little village. The presenter, who had been chosen from among the most handsome villagers, although amazingly good-looking, was very bad at sign language. In his sign speech he missed out on the fact that the theatre was meant for pantomime performances only. He not only ruined the present, but also filled Annabelle with disappointment and fury against the insensitivity of the Neacunians.
Annabelle left impulsively and without a word. No one had the opportunity to explain the misunderstanding. She locked herself in her tower and let no one in. She reflected for a long time what would be the most horrible punishment for the village, and, finally, her curse took shape: “Every Neachester lad over seven, shall forthwith be bald forever. Not one hair to his skull shall remain attached, nor shall any from elsewhere be fetched.” No sooner had she spoken these terrible words than Neachester was drowned in a sea of male hair. Outbursts of trauma rang through the air; echoes of woe imbued the wind. Neachester had become a haven of misery.
One lad of eighteen called Michael, who had been in possession of the most voluptuous and opulent headfull of thick hair which had been his strongest asset, was so furious and full of hatred for Annabelle that he forced the door to her tower open and with his own hands strangled her pitilessly. Only afterwards did he realize what he had done. No one would ever be able to lift the curse from the village now. It was forever doomed.
At first the villagers thought they could cope with their fate. After all, to have hair or not to have hair should not be of ultimate importance in life. The women coped surprisingly well with the new look of their husbands, sons and lovers. But the men themselves developed post-traumatic syndromes. They tried to glue horse or sheep hair to their heads. It fell off within three hours. They gave each other scalp massages, anointed their heads with balms and lotions of all kinds, spoke magical spells, used all kinds of fertilizers, even dressed up as women in the hope that their hair would grow back. But everything was utterly futile.
One of the local artists specialized in drawing 3-D haircuts on the cranes of the destitute. The surgeon attempted to stitch female hair into the scalp of the hairless victims, but it often resulted in infection and death. Wig makers emerged on every corner of the village streets and sold wigs for every budget, ranging from straw and hemp and horse hair to female hair and golden thread. The hirsute business was flourishing.
Time went by and new generations were born. Soon, nobody found it unnatural for the seven-year-old males to go bald on their birthdays. The village had even slightly expanded, proving that procreation was not impeded by baldness. The only threat to the male villagers was the visit of outsiders. Many years previously a special guard had been placed in a circle around the village. Their duty was to prevent all hirsute males from entering the village for fear that they might imbue the females with desires that could never be fulfilled and were therefore best kept suppressed. Even the males were unaware of their anomaly, as only a small elite of very self-confident and strong-minded men was secretly chosen to be part of the guard.
One day it so happened that one of the young lads, called Rudyard, stumbled upon the secret. He had always been a studious boy and had been borrowing books from a nearby monastery for years. A special messenger, one of the elite males, transported all supplies to and from the village, including religious books. The fatal book that fell into Rudyard’s hands was about the architectural enterprise of castle construction. The book itself was harmless, but unfortunately it had between its pages a bookmark with the drawing of a hairy man on it.
Rudyard was completely dumb-founded. Never, in his wildest dreams had he imagined the existence of male cranial hair. He had always believed that this kind of hair was an exclusively female attribute. A whole world inside him crumbled to dust. He felt betrayed, completely alone and robbed of his identity. After some serious thinking, he secretly sneaked out of the village one night to see for himself if there were any cranially hirsute males out there.
Armed with the woolen hat that his grandmother had knitted for the harsh winter times, he set off. He managed to fool the guard by pretending to be a cat and ran until he saw the lights of another village. He quietly approached a window from which he could hear male voices and looked inside. What he saw inside were three males, two youngsters and one middle-aged man, all in possession of a perfect full head of opaque hair, voluptuous and opulent, dense, replete and impenetrable. Rudyard’s deepest anxieties had come true. He was an anomalous case, an outcast, a social misfit. After mewing his way back into the village, he went to his straw bed and dug himself into it as deep as he possibly could, shedding bitter tears until the straw was soaked through and through.
The next morning, Rudyard was woken up by a knock on the front door. When he caught sight of his visitor, his breath was taken away, his feet lost touch with the ground and he felt his physical outlines melting away and dissolving into ethereal bliss. Before him stood the most delightful, graceful and utterly lovely damsel he had ever seen in his entire life. The most ravishing thing about her was her sumptuous and lavish hair. It was thirteen feet long, as blond as if it consisted of fine gold thread, and shining in a thousand nuances from copper to silver in the morning sun, despite its restraint into a plait that was so artful and thick that it seemed to possess a life of its own.
Rudyard gasped. His first reaction was to grab his woolen hat, hanging on a nail just around the corner, and to cover his nakedness. Then he said: “Fair damsel, are you a natural blonde?” To this request she did not have time to reply because Rudyard was already engaged in delicately loosening the tip of her voluptuous plait from the entwined and thorny branches of a rhododendron bush, which it had got caught when she entered his property. She looked at him gratefully with her all too lovely eyes.
She uttered in the sweetest and most harmonious voice: “Dear sir, I am looking for the local smith and I have been told that you are the very one.” Rudyard nodded, slightly disappointed by her mundane quest. She proceeded: “I am in dire need of your services. I need a second copy of a key for my mistress within an hour. Could you fulfill this task?” Rudyard nervously assured her that this would be no problem and asked whether she would like to wait, to which she, to his utter delight, agreed.
Rudyard produced the required key in his usual infallible style. As he let it slip into the damsel’s fair hand, he could not contain himself from asking her name. She replied melodiously: “Lily, like the flower. I was born in a meadow filled with lilies, hence my name.” Thereupon she departed, displaying such grace in her steps that she seemingly floated above the ground. Rudyard had some trouble in gathering his senses. Then he quietly followed her, because he had head over heels fallen in love with the damsel, and could not let her disappear into the deep recesses of the forest. His quest for cranial hirsuteness would have to wait.
Lily stopped at a clearance, in front of a tower. Rudyard knew the tower. His grandmother had told him that a wise woman lived there years and years ago. Now it seemed to be inhabited again. The top window was open and out of it came the croaking, ear-shriveling sounds of an untalented female singing voice. The appearance of a horrendously ugly face in the window followed the emission of the terrible tunes. It shrieked: “At last! I told you to hurry up! Have you got the key?” Lily replied: “Yes, milady.” The witch-like creature screamed: “Then get yourself up here and clean the tower, cook dinner and get ready for the prince’s visit tonight!” Lily obeyed silently.
Rudyard, who had witnessed this whole scene, could hardly restrain himself from rescuing the damsel in distress and killing the evil witch. The only obstacle that prevented him from doing so was the awareness of his naked head. Even the woolen hat did not help. In the end, he decided to half resolve his dilemma by sneaking into the tower and hiding in the guestroom. Suddenly the extremity of Lily’s golden plait passed his window in a movement not unlike a common rope being carelessly flung down.
Only seconds later, a good-looking prince, impregnated with masculinity and in full possession of his hair, speedily climbed the golden pillar of hair. Rudyard waited for Lily to call for help, but in vain. Half an hour later, the gorgeous prince leapt down the plait again and met the ugly witchy woman at the foot of the tower. Rudyard heard her croak: “I am raising the price next time, so be prepared.” The prince grumbled and disappeared into the opaqueness of the forest.
Dejected, Rudyard sat down on the stone floor and outlined Lily’s face in the layers of dust that covered it. He noticed that a number of words had been carved into the stone. Before his eyes was the curse of the wise woman. Rudyard’s was inwardly torn. He felt enormous hatred for the person who had wittingly ruined his life and that of a few hundred other eternally bald males and their descendants. Helplessness, dejection, betrayal and worthlessness uprooted his tortured soul.
Rudyard was returned back to reality when the ugly woman appeared in the guestroom. He noticed for the first time that she had ugly warts on her nose and above her upper lip. Secretly he thought to himself. “At least I haven’t got any warts in addition to my baldness. That would just be too much.” He was stirred from his thoughts by the woman’s shrill words: “What the hell are you doing here? I only accept princes as customers. Get out of here immediately, or I’ll give you a good whipping!” Rudyard hastily fled from the disturbing tower, back to his humble abode in the village. He went to work and constructed a multi-dimensional and multi-spiked iron fork, with which he intended to mercilessly impale the wicked witch.
Rudyard was not the impulsive type. He had laid out a plan as to what exactly he would do after the witch was eliminated. He could not just step in front of Lily and say: “I’ve just killed the witch. You are free.” Rudyard was much too self-conscious to play the hero. Therefore he went back to the neighboring village, found a good-looking farmer’s son who was suffering from mild amnesia and had a very short-term memory, He would conveniently forget everything about the cursed village later on. His name was Pierre. Rudyard paid Pierre well to be his servant for a short time. Then he composed a brilliant love poem for Lily, which began thus:
Oh goddess Lily, thee I love forever.
Thy splendid beauty captivates my eyes,
Thy vocal harmonies this heart will sever,
Th’ imbue’st me with never-ending sighs.
Rudyard returned to the tower with Pierre. He knocked. When the witch opened, she did not even have time to gasp before the multi-spiked fork perforated her abdomen. She died within seconds. Then Rudyard disappeared behind a thick blackthorn bush and Pierre stood underneath Lily’s window. Rudyard called her name. As soon as Lily’s astonished face appeared in the window, Pierre opened and closed his mouth according to Rudyard’s utterances. “Fair maid! I have killed the wicked witch. You are free now!” She replied with her sweet and harmonious voice: “Oh! My hero!” Pierre started to recite the poem.
But a third man, ruddy-faced, suddenly dashed out of the forest, waving a powerful sword through the air. It was the local priest Christopher. He had noticed Rudyard’s recent strange behaviour: missing mass repeatedly and disappearing twice at night. Christopher followed Rudyard into the forest to save his soul from eternal damnation. Being old and slow, however, he had missed the murder of the witch and all he could do now was to save the two lads from the sin of debauchery.
The priest’s initial object of attack was Pierre, who was still innocently executing his master’s will. With a winning smile he was moving his mouth according to Rudyard’s verses. Christopher’s intention was to merely threaten Pierre with his sword. But he accidentally stumbled over a stone that was sticking out of the ground, fell forwards and stabbed Pierre’s back so badly that the sword went right through his torso. Pierre moaned and tumbled to the ground, exhaling his last tortured breath. The priest, meanwhile, hit the ground in such a twisted way that he broke his neck.
Rudyard was still positioned behind the blackthorn bush. He had not noticed the two deaths so nearby and, to Lily’s surprise, continued reciting his poem. She rushed downstairs to find out where the poetic words were coming from and came to a standstill before Rudyard, crouched behind his bush. The first thought that crossed his mind was that, thank God, he was wearing his woolen hat. Then came the embarrassment about his deceit. What had happened?
Rudyard looked around for Pierre and saw the disaster. “Why are they dead?” was all he could say. Lily replied coldly, full of mistrust: “It was an accident. But what I would like to know is what you are doing here.” Rudyard realized that, if he told her the whole truth, he would have to admit that he was bald. Instead, he decided to opt for the easy way out and said: “I was just picking berries and making up a poem to pass the time.” In a disdainful tone, Lily hissed: “Yeah, right!” and left. Rudyard buried Pierre and the priest and went home to think things over.
As he approached his house, he saw that something shining was caught in the branches of his rhododendron bush. He took a closer look and saw that it was a small transparent golden wing, to which a miniature fairy was attached, struggling to free herself. Rudyard, who had always tried to help everyone as best as he could, carefully detached the wing from the usurping thorns. The fairy lightly fluttered up into the sky, but returned shortly afterwards and said: “You have saved my life. I will grant you one wish.” Rudyard couldn’t believe his luck and immediately burst out: “I want to have hair on my head!” But the fairy looked at him apologetically. “This is the one wish I cannot fulfill. I cannot undo another’s curse.”
Rudyard sank down on the ground, burying his head between his knees and sobbing violently. The fairy felt pity for him and decided to help him by imbuing him with courage and self-confidence. As soon as she had spoken her magic spell, Rudyard stood up with new strength and optimism. He radiated charisma and inspired awe to everyone who was to meet him henceforth.
Without even a split second of hesitation, Rudyard strode back to the tower and found Lily packing in her room. He explained the whole story to her and won her over effortlessly. She melted away in utter admiration and adoration of him. This much openness on his part prompted her to tell him about her own origins: “I grew up in a castle not far from here, when on my seventeenth birthday a witch kidnapped me and forced me to earn money for her. In reality I am a princess.” Any lesser man than Rudyard would have felt inferior to Lily’s status and beauty. He, however, uttered with honesty: “I am but a bald village smith, but do you want to become my wife?” Lily could hardly stand up straight, so weakened she was by her overwhelming love for Rudyard. She whispered with bliss: “Yes, but I am not a virgin any more.” Rudyard did not feel threatened by her hymen-less state and, to prove it, kissed her without another word. Their union was sealed.
Lily bore seven boys in the years to come, and all of them lost their cranial hair at the age of seven. She also bore seven girls, who had the same magnificent golden hair as their mother. As the decades and centuries moved on, however, the curse gradually lost some of its power and the age of oncoming baldness became ever more delayed. This is why, today, the descendants of the Neacunians are lucky enough to enjoy the presence of their cranial hirsute effusiveness for a longer and individually varying time span. Let us hope that in years to come the curse will wear off completely.