Runner-up No. 5.

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Prompt No. 12

Your main character finds a box of scorched human hair. Whose is it? How did it get there?

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Hair boxes were not discovered until late in the 20th century, when they were developed as a response to the saturation of beauty-based advertising and/or the disappearance of understandable social rituals. The boxes themselves are most often created from scratch, the maker sensing that store-bought containers are inappropriate to his task. This is not to suggest, of course, that the maker realizes what he is going to do with the box nor why he must build one. Despite his uncertainty, the maker still manages to assemble a receptacle roughly the size of a shoebox, most commonly out of wood but sometimes from metal or plastic. It is not until the box is finished that the maker decides to remove his own hair. Once the maker is shaved (sometimes he shaves just the head, other times the whole body must be shaved), he puts the hair into the box. Just as the idea of shaving was caused by the completed box, the box full of hair causes the idea of the fire to enter the maker’s mind. The maker will resist the urge because he believes that the flames will destroy both the hair box and its contents and if so, then what was the point of the making and the shaving? In the end, the urge always proves too strong for the maker to resist.

The fire does not consume the box or the hair, but it does smell terrible. The maker’s friends and neighbors complain loudly. Forgetting their own hair boxes, they pity the maker and wrinkle their noses at his task. Despite their worries and complaints, the maker will not be turned aside. Once a hair box has reached this stage, it is nearly impossible to prevent its completion.

Inside the box, the burnt hair is brittle now. It must be handled with care or else it will turn to dust and ash. The maker does not touch it. It is too risky to do anything but seal the hair box and send it to the receiver.

The maker did not know who the receiver would be when he began the box, but by the time he is finished all has become clear. There is only one receiver for each maker and so it is eventually obvious who he must send the box to. This is how the maker becomes the sender. Any person can be a sender or a receiver, but no one is ever both at the same time. If the first sending should go wrong and a second hair box be desired, it is unlikely that the conditions of the first will be repeatable. Once a maker becomes a sender, it is almost always impossible to return to the simpler state.

The modern postal service is efficient, so it can be safely assumed that the hair box will be delivered to the receiver before the smell has left the maker’s own home. This is how the maker and the receiver are connected: by the scent of burnt hair, the feel of ashen clippings, the craftsmanship of a carpenter compelled not by aesthetics or artistry but by the need to communicate loss, sacrifice, and the ephemeral nature of appearance. The hair box symbolizes the giving of a gift that need not be given, the reception of a present one did not ask for or expect. Compulsion leads to connection leads to catharsis. This is how the sender tells the receiver that he loves her. Eventually she starts building her own box. She touches the strands of her hair, wondering who she will be when they are no longer there. Her hair box is still a secret her hands are keeping, her receiver a figment of her heart’s imagination. One day soon, she will greet this other not with a handshake or an embrace but with a burnt offering of her own, given freely so that he might know how she really feels. This is how the hair box travels from one person to the next, touching us one at a time, until finally all of us are healed.