Every summer morning you struggle with the flat mop draped haphazardly over your head, more and more often you find an inexplicable black, wiry hair. Your mother’s hair wavers thinly in the sunlight like corn silk, frayed wispy ends flying away from her face the more she tries to tame it. Your father’s is a rich walnut brown, fine and short. Whether it appears on the floor of your bedroom or in the bathroom sink, you can find no reasonable explanation as to whom it might belong to.
You try unsuccessfully to convince yourself that this morning’s sample didn’t come from your head—you probably touched it at some point and transferred it into your own scalp by accident. You try, again unsuccessfully, to convince yourself that you did not have to throw it away twice—you’re sure it just stuck to your hand.
It is out of curiosity, not obsession, that you first began collecting them. Though they appear at ostensibly random intervals, each hair is the same as the last: black, thick, coarse, straight. Compiling mental lists of visitors to your home becomes second nature—alongside a stranger’s smile, the first thing you notice is their hair.
This is done privately. Paranoia is not a trait you find flattering.
Mostly, your speculations lead to the conclusion that some unseen or unintroduced acquaintances with appropriately matching hair had left a souvenir somewhere in your house where you happened to step, and you managed to carry it all the way to your own room. This was not unreasonable. In any case, it was not as if you could say that they were exactly alike, many people have coarse black hair. You are not exactly a forensic scientist.
As the beginning of the school year approaches, though, you notice the hairs less. There are more important things with which to occupy one’s time, especially when enrollment is concerned. You “meet” one of your roommates—or at least see her Facebook profile and speak to her over the phone. Every time you tried to Skype her something came up that prevented her from answering, but you decide it isn’t a big deal despite your desire to see a more recent image of her, as her most recent profile picture is from six months ago. Her hair is blonde and full.
By move in day you have almost completely forgotten about the phenomenon. What is on your mind is how heavy your boxes are as you shift your weight in the elevator—you now live on the fourth floor of a new residence hall. You fumble with your keys upon finding the correct room number, finally managing to shuffle into the small apartment.
Waiting behind the door is your new roommate. You scoff at yourself as your old habit arises again and you notice the long, straight strands framing a face you had only seen online with a level of alarm you immediately recognize as irrational.
“You dyed your hair?”
She nods with a kind enough smile, tucking a few loose black threads behind one ear, “Yes.”
“It looks nice,” you stretch past your discomfort. “Did your parents already go?”
She nods a little too stiffly for your liking. Something about her movements is strange to you, but you can’t decide what it is, other than simply unsettling.
After deliberating for a moment, you continue, “Mine, too. When are the others—”
“I don’t know,” she cuts you off with the same stiffness, “Just us for now.”
You decide that you only imagined the underwritten zeal in her voice, but with the excuse that you’d like to try settling in as soon as possible, you close and lock your door anyway.
The general layout of the room is satisfactory—you don’t feel the need to move anything around. Afternoon light streams in through the window, streaking across the stripped bed and bare white walls. Venturing out after unloading a few boxes, you hear your roommate shifting something heavy in her closed room, directly beside yours, scraping what could only be her furniture across the linoleum floor—unless she’s stealing the fridge, you think cynically, wondering a little more seriously if you could trust her or your other two roommates not to be kleptomaniacs in the coming months.
The four single bedrooms are connected by a shared kitchen and bath. Maybe the new room seems the size of your closet back home, but the window is a decently large with a decent view and a communal refrigerator and stove which made up for it. Plus, the thermostat is closest to your door.
Once it is properly clad in sheets and comforter, you test the bed—immediately glad that you invested in a mattress topper and simultaneously so overcome by the fatigue of the moving process that you decide a short nap wouldn’t hurt anything, and that maybe your other two roommates will be there to make you feel less awkward.
It is dark when you awake.
Stumbling, you maneuver toward the light switch, shaking your head to clear it of a nightmare half remembered. Blinded by the sudden fluorescent buzz, you blink, eventually turning to survey what was left to unpack.
You find four perfectly aligned black threads of hair lie stark upon the crisp white sill next to your bed.
In an instant you begin scrambling through the remaining unopened boxes, sure that you had packed away the plastic bag you had planned to dispose of far away from your home. The bag ripped slightly as you opened it, spilling a few of the hairs into the box you stood over. Extracting one of them, you placed it next to those on the sill. Your hand drifts upward, covering your mouth as if to silence yourself as you step back from the bed. They were exactly the same.
The scraping in the room next to you has gone silent, so as you hear the corresponding door open you lunge at the light switch, leaving yourself blind again to all but the bar of light from the common area reflecting on the floor. Your hand drifts up again, stifling your panicked breathing as the other supports you by pressing against the wall.
A shadow flows beneath the threshold, stopping with unnatural immediacy. The doorknob shakes violently.
Your roommate is waiting behind the door.