Copyright © 2012 Jerry Dunne
Like so many storytellers this is a question I’ve been asked a lot. And it’s a question I don’t generally take seriously because ideas come easily and often from so little that I never think they’re worth mentioning, and, anyway, often I can’t remember where the idea originated. So my answer to the question is usually lame; but this is really not very worthy of someone who calls himself a storyteller. Then it occurred to me that I have actually got some of my ideas from events that might be considered a story in themselves. Here I write about one of these. This small incident gave me the idea for one of my children’s short stories.
Here’s what happened.
I was in my local on Elland Road, sipping on a pint and gazing out the window at one of those terrible February days of low-slung, quick-moving, dark clouds with pushy winds and occasional bursts of rain. The traffic was bustling along with the occasional person stumbling past the front of the pub.
At the bus stop the far side of the road, a young woman was waiting for a bus. The wind had grabbed up her hair and forced it to dance about on her head. I couldn’t see her face well, but her dancing hair began to fascinate me. It looked like a troupe of silhouetted miniature dancers, flicking, twisting, twirling and springing wildly about in all directions overhead.
It’s rare to observe a woman who allows her hair to free itself in this fashion. Not only did she appear unconcerned with what her hair was doing, but she stood with an erect body, her head back and her face gazing straight into the wind, seeming to glorify in the fact of her hair dancing.
A sudden lull in the wind arrived and her hair dropped down about her face, appearing well tousled. Some of it had fallen right in front of her eyes, but she never pushed it out of the way, she never even touched it. Her mouth was curved into a smile.
The wind started up again, and this time seemed stronger. My attention was suddenly distracted by this big tree growing to the side of the bus stop. Like the woman’s dancing strands of hair, the tree, set against the low, bleak skyline, appeared in silhouette. Its branches took to bouncing about under the increasing power of the wind. One branch in particular, the lowest branch, was lunging downward in quick, bouncy movements… straight for the woman’s dancing hair… which was pirouetting only some few inches below the very tips of the branch. Those tips resembled claws reaching out to grab at her hair.
My fascination increased as I realised what the tree was trying to do, egged on by the wind.
At every lunging attempt by the tree’s branch, the claws at its tip reached that bit closer to the woman’s dancing hair. I sat bolt upright, almost knocking over my beer with the edge of my arm.
Suddenly, the wind blew harder. The whole tree dipped forward, the lowest branch took advantage of this move and lunged and snatched… and bounced upward again. The tree’s body shook with triumph! The hair, and I mean the whole head of hair, had leapt free of the woman’s skull and flown up into the branch like a big black bird.
For a moment, the young woman just stood there with her hands by her side, looking unaware of the terrible crime that the tree had just committed on her. Her bald head was so pale it glowered in the poor February light. But then her hands jumped to her head and patted it. Now a look of horror crossed her face. She tilted her gaze to the ground, marching up and down, scanning the pavement with a troubled brow. Above her head, hanging from the tip of the branch, her wig was bobbing up and down. A passing car blew its horn, the driver staring and laughing.
I jumped to my feet and ran out the pub. When a break appeared in the traffic, I dashed across, cleanly leaping the barrier in the middle of the road.
I pointed up toward the bouncing branch. Her eyes turned upward and widened in sudden understanding and then the corners of her mouth dipped down in dread.
It was a freak, horrible thing to happen to her.
The wind pushed hard again. The tree dipped and the branch lunged down. I jumped up and grabbed hold of it. She leapt forward and freed her wig from the clutches of the branch. As I let go the branch, I noticed strands of hair had been left behind. The tree had not lost everything, but still held on to a bit of its trophy.
I turned to her. She stood facing the pub, the wig back on her head positioned to look like a real head of hair again. She kept staring forward, arms folded tightly across her chest, her face pale and distorted, her lips pressed tight together. She wouldn’t turn and meet my eye. She just wanted me to disappear.
After I again sat down on my seat, I cautiously turned my gaze back to the bus stop. The bus had arrived and was just pulling away, leaving an empty stop behind.
Whenever I sit in that spot and gaze out through the window at that tree, I am always reminded of this little incident.
This is how I got the idea for one of my children’s stories, The Hair-snatching Witch, one of a collection of short stories in My Stinky Parents And Other Stories.
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