The Bad Hair Day
The hat smelled like her Great Uncle Edgar. It was a difficult odor to describe, a sort of cross between burnt bread and wet dog, and it left a lingering stench in its wake. Riley tried to hide her red cheeks beneath this filthy fedora, but her wounds stung whenever she tugged at the brim. She still couldn’t believe it had really happened.
When she opened her eyes that morning, there was a stone in her gut. It was slowly sinking towards her feet, a sign that something wasn’t quite right. She sat on the edge of her mattress with her hands on her knees. The air felt thin. Too thin. She couldn’t catch her breath.
“Riley, you okay?” Sofie, her partner, asked in a drowsy voice.
“Just having one of my feelings. Go back to sleep.”
Sofie didn’t argue. Riley stayed in bed until she heard Sofie’s unmistakable snores. Afterwards, she carefully slipped through the covers. She padded to their sleek kitchen, suppressing a yawn with the back of her hand. It was far too early to be up, but she couldn’t imagine falling back asleep. The hairs on her arms were at full attention. They always prickled before disaster struck.
“Coffee, start,” she ordered the pot. While the dark roast brewed, she spoke to the toaster. “Four pieces of wheat. Lightly browned.”
A robotic arm left the toaster and reached into the breadbox. It inserted the slices of wheat in rapid succession. The toaster worked fast, though not as fast as the coffee pot. It was done by the time Riley had dug her favorite mug out of the dishwasher. When she poured the coffee, a chill surged through her spine.
“It’s nothing,” Riley told herself. “You’re a sensitive. Not a fortune teller.”
At that very moment, the lights cut out. Startled, Riley dropped her mug. It tumbled to the floor and shattered upon impact. She called out to the modern house, demanding that it turn on lights or at least an appliance or two. It wouldn’t respond. The electricity was gone.
This was perplexing. No, it was more than that. It was supposed to be impossible. There hadn’t been a power outage since the legendary blackout of 2024. The new power grid was infallible, as it was equipped with batteries that could never die. Yet, Riley was standing in the dark. She wasn’t fond of darkness.
Just when she was about to panic, a single light came on. It was in the bathroom. She heard a strange noise coming from within those walls. It was a subtle clicking sound that was followed by a rush of air. Oddly, it sounded like her hairdryer. That simply couldn’t be. It must have been the A/C.
As suddenly as it started, the noise had stopped.
Gradually, the rest of the house stuttered back to life. Riley took a tiny step towards the bathroom, but her foot found the broken pieces of her mug. She began to scrape the shards into her palm. Sofie entered the kitchen in a hazy stagger. She gestured to the lights.
“I know,” Riley said.
“I wonder what happened,” Sofie commented. She watched Riley throw the first handful of debris into the trash. Gently, she pushed Riley aside. “I’ve got it, babe. Your foot is bleeding.”
“It is? Oh. I’ll take care of that. I need to shower anyway.”
“Okay. You sure you’re fine?”
Riley waved it off. “I’m fine. I probably sensed the power outage.”
With a sigh of relief, Riley headed for the shower. Her bad vibrations were not usually resolved so quickly. She didn’t want to ask why she lucked out that day. Instead, she focused on getting clean. Since she had such long and full hair, showers always chewed up a substantial chunk of time. She went through shampoo and conditioner faster than fancy coffeeshops went through pumpkin spice lattes.
After several minutes, her ears twitched. She could make out a slight clicking noise, which was like the one she had heard before. Her hand cleared the steam and water from the glass door of the shower. She then peered through it. Everything was silent and still.
“Sofie, is that you?” Riley asked.
There was no response. Riley began to feel uneasy. Perhaps the power outage wasn’t the problem. Maybe it was only the beginning. She returned to her array of fussy soaps, though she remained on edge—and rightfully so. There was movement in the corner of her eye. Her chin whipped towards it.
At first, she didn’t notice anything out of place. She rubbed her eyes with her fists, and then she took a second glance. There was something different about her hairdryer. It was loose from its charger, almost as if it had unplugged itself. Riley figured it must have fallen out somehow.
But how? That thing was tight as a drum. She always had trouble separating the unit from its cord. Sometimes, she had to enlist Sofie’s help, and they had to pull it apart like a wishbone at Thanksgiving dinner. A grip like that couldn’t loosen so dramatically overnight.
Riley skipped the arduous process of conditioning her hair. The situation was too disturbing to ignore. She wrapped a towel around her bodice, and she cautiously inched towards the counter. Although her instincts told her to back off, she reached for the hairdryer. She lifted the device, the newest model of heavy-duty dryers, and inspected the handle.
As soon as it was close to her face, the hairdryer sprung to life. It spun in her hand like a revolving door and sent a stream of hot air into her eyes. It felt as though lava was pooling in her pupils. She tried to throw the appliance down, but the handle closed around her fingers.
“Help!” Riley called out. “I’m under attack!”
The mouth of the hairdryer extended towards Riley’s hair. Powerfully, the motor kicked into a reverse gear, which acted like a vacuum cleaner. It sucked her hair into the machine. Hunks were yanked from her skull, leaving plenty of damaged skin. That hairdryer was giving her the worst haircut of her life.
“Sofie! The hairdryer is eating me!”
Sofie, who had gone back to bed, staggered towards the bathroom. She hadn’t heard exactly what Riley was screaming about, so she reached for the knob with little enthusiasm. As soon as she opened the door, the hairdryer went dead. Riley was left with bald patches and a lifeless appliance in her hand. Sofie squinted at the situation before her.
“Did you do something different to your hair?” Sofie asked.
“I told you the hairdryer was trying to eat me.”
Sofie glanced at the hairdryer. “It’s not trying to eat you now.”
“Do you think I did this to myself? It was this monster hairdryer. The dang thing sprung to life in my hand and attacked me.”
Bravely, Sofie snatched the hairdryer from Riley. She turned it over in her hands for a thorough inspection. Some of Riley’s hairs were clearly tangled in the motor. Other than that, there was nothing to indicate that the dryer had gone berserk. Sofie positioned her finger on the button. Riley leapt backwards.
“Don’t turn that thing on.”
“It seems safe to me,” Sofie replied. Her voice cleared as she squeezed the power switch.
“Hairdryer, low heat.”
As if nothing had happened, the hairdryer turned on. It ruffled Sofie’s almond hair delicately. Riley’s jaw hung open. “But it…I just…and then it…how?”
“I don’t know. Looks like it’s okay now.”
“Huh. Maybe it has it out for me.”
Sofie couldn’t hide the chuckle that escaped her. “It’s a machine. They don’t have feelings.”
“Laugh if you want. It didn’t wreck your hair. Do we have any hats?”
“We might have a few in the attic. I’ll go check.”
After a brisk kiss, Sofie set the hairdryer on the counter and then headed for the attic. Riley was still weary of the device, concerned it’d flip back on at any second. She decided to toss it into the basket of dirty towels behind the bathroom door. Surely, it couldn’t do any damage over there.
Although she was somewhat uncomfortable with staying in the bathroom, Riley refused to the leave the house without doing her makeup. She always started by applying a cleansing mask. Once it was set, she vigorously brushed her teeth. Her head craned downward to spit into the sink. Once again, there was a clicking noise. Slowly, she lifted her chin and looked in the mirror.
The bathroom door was closing by itself. She spun about to see what could possibly be pushing it, yet nothing was there. An eerie silence clung to the walls. Then, the hamper twitched. It was subtle, but Riley knew it had moved. She used small and calculated steps, urging herself onward with a whisper.
“Easy, Riley. Steady. Steady…”
To her surprise, the hairdryer hadn’t budged. It sat there, looking completely innocent. If household appliances could look innocent, that is.
Riley fought the urge to giggle. How silly she was being! Sofie proved the device had done its share of terrorizing for one day. She was totally, utterly safe.
She hadn’t moved a foot before there was a massive BANG! The hamper had fallen over, and the hairdryer skidded across the floor. Riley didn’t have a chance to run. The hairdryer flipped to full blast. It hopped across the floor on its handle. With the heat focused on her toes, she felt like she was standing on a barbeque grill.
“Don’t panic,” she muttered. “It’s only a killer hairdryer.”
Screaming, Riley left the bathroom with the hairdryer in tow. It chased her around the kitchen and then into the living room. They circled the bedroom and briefly visited the patio. Eventually, they wound up in the bathroom again. Riley realized she needed to get a hold of herself if she wanted to beat the malicious contraption.
Her eyes drifted to the shower. That gave her a brilliant idea. She knew it’d work, but only if she was willing to risk physical contact with her enemy. That was the last thing she wanted to do. She’d lost enough hair already, and the bald patches were starting to form bloody scabs. However, she didn’t have a choice. She was going to have to tackle the beast like a linebacker.
“You’re going down, dryer,” she warned.
With a dramatic war cry, Riley dove onto the hairdryer. It struggled against her as if it had a pulse. The two began an epic battle on the bathroom floor. Ultimately, Riley got the upper hand. She chucked the hairdryer into the shower. Once it was inside, she slammed the doors and blocked the handle with a metallic nail file. The dryer banged against the glass, which was starting to crack. Riley had to hurry.
“Shower on full jets. Average temperature,” she declared.
Water shot through the showerhead. As it hit the hairdryer, sparks erupted from the handle. Riley watched it die before her eyes. She peeled off her cleanser mask and resumed her daily routine. It felt like the world had gone back to normal. Almost.
“The only hat I could find was this stinky fedora,” Sofie said upon her arrival.
Glaring, Riley pulled the fedora from Sofie’s hands. She plopped it on her head with a huff. “Where have you been? Didn’t you hear me scream?”
“Scream? The attic fan was on. I didn’t hear anything. Are you okay?”
“Much better now, thanks. The dragon has been slayed.”
Sofie noticed that the hairdryer was in the shower. “You do realize how expensive that was, right? It was by GovTech.”
“GovTech? I thought they dealt in military weaponry.”
“Yeah, but they started a new branch that focuses on consumer products. The best money can buy.”
Riley scoffed. “Yeah, right. We’re not getting another hairdryer from them or anybody else. We’re air drying our hair from now on.”
“Sweetheart, your hair would take twenty years to air dry.”
“Something tells me it’s going to be a whole lot shorter by this afternoon.”
Once her makeup was finished, Riley threw on her work uniform and hit the streets. Everyone stared as she walked by, picking up on the horrific aroma coming from the old fedora. The embarrassment was almost too much to take. As a distraction, she attempted to piece together why a household appliance wanted to kill her.
The power was cut off. Maybe that did something to the hairdryer’s programming. What about Sofie? It didn’t attack her. Well, it was made by GovTech. GovTech has me flagged as a sensitive…
At the hair salon, she mashed the call button. Her stylist answered via video feed. “Hair by George doesn’t open for another hour.”
“George, it’s Riley. This is an emergency.”
Discreetly, she removed her hat and tilted her scalp towards his video doorbell. He gasped. “Oh no! All right, come in. I’ll see what I can do.”
Riley was granted entry to the building. George was the only stylist in so early, and she was thrilled about that. The fewer the people who saw her head, the better. He looked it over in detail, mumbling about how Riley needed a miracle. She knew he was going to ask.
“How did this happen, Riley?”
“You wouldn’t believe me.”
“Fair enough. I can help, but I have to get the medicated shampoos from the supply room. Take a seat in the chair.”
While he headed towards the back, Riley sat in one of the chairs. She noticed that the chrome arms were exceptionally shiny. “Say, George, are these new chairs?”
“Yes. We revamped everything! New chairs, new sinks, new hairdryers…”
Riley froze. One by one, the hairdryers in the salon clicked and popped. They were the same model as the one she had at home, and they were all pointing at her.
“Great,” Riley grumbled. “This just isn’t my day.”
Inspired by the Reedsy short story prompt: "Write a story that takes place in the near future where technology turns against one person - and only one person."