Janet opened her eyes and knew instantly that she was dreaming. She was standing in a large room with a green tiled floor and large skylights revealing a sky full of steel gray clouds. The room could have been an auditorium of some sort. It reminded her of the office space in which she had worked for the last four years, only stripped of furniture. There were no doors or windows in the walls that seemed made of a highly polished metal, shining at all angles. Janet tried to move her legs but had trouble walking in any direction. This was definitely a dream, she told herself. Still, she did not feel threatened by her environs, the exit-less room, the dirty light filtering through the overhead cloud cover, the noiselessness that engulfed all of her senses like a blanket thrown over her.
Janet could see herself reflected in the metallic wall in front of her. She was in her work clothes: a plain white long-sleeved blouse buttoned at the neck, burgundy knee-length skirt, and flat-heeled shoes. The only thing missing, Janet noticed immediately, was her glasses. She did not have her thick-rimmed glasses with her, the ones that made her look even plainer than she felt she was, and perfectly complimented her deliberately anonymous uniform. Janet had always felt plain and even sickly, a mousy girl with paper-pale skin and dull brown hair that she kept in a short bowl cut due to its thinness at the ends when it grew past her shoulders. She turned down most dates and social invitations and usually kept to herself even when at work in the office. If this dream was happening at her work place, she figured, well, then all the better. No co-workers to avoid, no uncomfortable wooden chairs that the management refuse to replace, no filing, no easy listening muzak, no comp uters, nothing.
Janet stood for what felt like several minutes, waiting for something to happen. Surely in dreams, something is supposed to happen. She turned her head upwards, and called out "Hello?" The echo was loud and bassy, reverberating off of every wall in the large room. But there was no response. She called out again. "Hello? Is anyone else here?" More echos ricocheted around her, going unanswered as they died out. She was surrounded by pure grim lifelessness.
She stood motionless, resigned to her solitude. She felt warm, her skin tingling very lightly all over her upper body. The tingling was most pronounced in her scalp. She reached up to scratch her head, and as she touched her hair she noticed that it felt much thicker than she was used to. She moved toward her reflection, clumsily shuffling across the tiles (whatever else her subconscious wanted, it did not want her to move about in this dream, apparently) and tilted her head to look at her scalp. Her hair was very thick, and grown slightly longer than she usually kept it, the ends neatly perched atop her eyebrows and pushed behind tops of her ears. She was accustomed to seeing the scalp clearly amidst her thin follicles, but she could barely detect a part at the top of her head. She dug her fingers into her bowl cut and was surprised to see the fingers practically disappear in her hair. It felt very full and silky, not brittle and dry like it usually did.
She stood back and realised that her hair was also growing at an unusual speed. She suddenly realised that almost instantly the hair was a full half-inch longer now, overtaking her eyebrows completely and hanging halfway over her eyes. She pushed the hair aside, but it kept falling over her eyes, tickling the bridge of her nose. In frustration Janet swept both hands over her brow and held her hair on the top of her head. She could feel the growing hair slowly pushing up between her fingers, as the tingling in her scalp intensified, and her neck and shoulders grew increasingly warm.
Behind her the far wall seemed to lose shape. A hollow sound like an endless muffled thunderclap filled the noiseless void while a purple-gray smoke started to fill the far end of the room, hugging the distorting walls and crawling over the skylight. Janet stood transfixed by her reflection, surrounded by the encroaching mist. Everything around her was losing definition, except her image in the metal. She turned her head to look behind her at the dissolving space, releasing her hair which fell down and covered her eyes completely and swung over her cheeks, brushing her skin lightly. Parting her hair like curtain halves she watched the mist and the warping walls disappear into a blue-tinted nothingness. She turned back to the solid wall, her reflected image remaining hard and crisp. This is only a dream, Janet told herself. There must be something I'm supposed to watch here.
Her hair now hung in a chin-length bob, blunt and neatly rounded at the ends and very full. Her ears were totally hidden under hair, a sight which she had never experienced before. She did not feel sickly at all now. She didn't look sickly, that was for sure. As Janet watched her slow transformation she admired this vision of herself, almost felt pretty for the first time she could remember, in fact. Whatever dread she had felt before had disappeared. Something very important was happening here, but Janet still couldn't put her finger on what it meant, or how it was supposed to turn out.
As the hair crept silently down the back of her neck to her shoulders, the tingling in her scalp ebbed, and her whole upper torso felt warmer still, almost radiating heat. She swung her head back and forth, delighting in the sensation of her thick and soft new hair sweeping over either side of her face. Her hair growth seemed to be picking up speed, settling on her shoulders and then slowly overtaking them. She quickly undid her two top buttons and pushed her collar back, feeling the hair caress her skin. She had never been able to grow it this long on her own in her life. She tossed the hair insouciantly back over the collar and let it envelop her shoulders. She felt under her hair and to her surprise felt through the fabric of her shirt that she was braless. Was this intrinsic to the dream? No glasses, no bra? Who was this woman she was watching in the reflection?
Emboldened, she stuck her chest out, admiring her slim profile. Janet felt radiant, even sexy. She mocked poses in her reflection like the cover girls she saw in Glamour and Cosmopolitan, magazines which she often thumbed over in the cashier racks at the supermarket but never bought. She ran her tongue over the front of her teeth and posed again. She almost felt like she could be one of those cover girls now.
Everything in the room was darkened and formless now, except for Janet and her reflection. Even the tiled floor seemed to disappear beneath her feet. She could actually see her hair growing now, like fine creeper vines inching down the front of her blouse. She felt almost delirious with the heat skimming off every part of her body. She flipped her hair high over her head, letting it slap the middle of her back. She pulled it all over her eye, peek-a-boo style. She swung her head and helicoptered her spreading tresses until her neck was sore. Every movement of her body was laborious and leaden, but she forced her limbs to comply. Janet laughed loudly, the echos booming off of the now non-existent walls. This was heaven, or else she was mad. It didn't matter. She dug her hands into her hair and now not only her fingers but her entire hands, even her shirt cuffs, disappeared in its silken waves. She stroked her spreading mane over the front of her body, massaging it ove r her like a cloak. She felt supernatural, like a volcano erupting, the hair flowing like lava over her.
Her hair overtook the top of her skirt and enveloped her hips. The heat of her body was almost unbearable now. Madly she fumbled with the remaining buttons of her blouse and ripped it off of her torso, flinging it into the void. She shimmied desperately out of her skirt and kicked her shoes into space. Janet was floating now, her nude reflection the last thing to dissolve from sight. She was laughing, moaning in ecstacy, cloaked in a cocoon of her own miraculous hair, enveloping her breasts, wrapping around her waist and curling around her feet...
Instantly she woke up to find doctors and nurses holding her down. She was sweating beneath a heavy hospital blanket. Voices filled the room: "She's conscious!" "It's okay dear, calm down!" "Get Dr. Bradley up here!" "Can you hear me?"
Janet finally fixed a voice to a face. A male doctor, middle-aged, was speaking to her. "Miss Coleman, can you hear me?"
She tried to lift her hand, but she felt too sore and fatigued to do so. With great effort, Janet nodded her head.
"Good, that's good." The melee continued, people taking readings from machines, examining charts, adjusting an I.V. in her left arm. Everyone around her shared an expression of astonishment.
She fell asleep and woke up what might have been several hours later. Only the doctor was with her, sitting in a chair to the right of her bed. He stood up as soon as he saw that she was awake.
"Miss Coleman! Glad to have you back with us!" He smiled, holding up a clipboard and writing something down.
Janet spoke for what felt like the first time in a long time. "What happened?"
"Miss Coleman, I don't want to worry you, you're all right now. But you should know that you were in a coma for over a month. Thirty-eight days, four hours, to be exact."
He paused and let Janet contemplate his words, and then continued. "You collapsed at work. Your co-workers called an ambulance and you've been lying here ever since. But I can assure you, whatever you had has righted itself."
Janet scrunched her brow, puzzled. "But... what...?"
The doctor walked to the other side of the bed, talking as he moved. "Miss Coleman, I don't want to worry you, but I'm afraid we're not sure ourselves what happened. We have doctors from across the state looking into this case. We have some theories, but that's it. We'll have to keep you here for a few weeks more, though it looks like the worst has passed."
Janet brought a tired arm to the back of her head, the dream still fresh in her mind. Her hair was damp with sweat, and at her nape it felt as short as it always had been.
"You certainly gave us a scare there, coming out of your coma like you did. Lord, you were kicking the blanket three feet in the air, thrashing about like that!"
"But I'm okay now?" She turned to face the doctor and was startled when a lock of her bangs fell over her eye, brushing her nose.
The doctor flipped a page over the top of the clipboard. "Well, there were a few minor changes we have noticed, a drop of your regular blood pressure, slightly accelerated hair growth, but nothing really remarkable. All I'll say for now is that your body seemed to enter a deep state of repair..." He adjusted his glasses. "Though according to your medical history there was nothing to repair, really."
Janet smiled. The doctor took this as reassurance from her that she understood. "You had better get some rest, now. I'll be back tomorrow to follow up. Your sister has been notified of your change in condition and will be seeing you first thing tomorrow. If you need anything the nurses are always on duty."
"Thanks." Janet watched him leave the room and flip out the light switch. Janet lay in semi-darkness, pushing her fingers into the newly thick hair on her head, tousling it gently. She was looking forward to the next few months of recuperation.
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