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Haircut Games. Sammy Part 2 by Julian

A few days later, Sammy received another message. The instructions were clear and uncompromising, and he was reminded that if he declined to participate, he would need to reimburse the money immediately.

The instructions were as follows:

1. Choose among three barbershop options: All were traditional barbershops with old-school barbers. They had few Google reviews and were located in neighborhoods, not fancy shopping centers—just local barbers.

2. Select a date and time frame: Once he had chosen, they would schedule an appointment for him.

3. Requesting the haircut: Upon arrival, when the barber asked what he wanted, the only allowed word was "short." If the barber asked for further explanation, he had to repeat, "short please." No chitchat, no explanations, and he was not allowed to mention the study.

4. Silence during the procedure: He was not allowed to talk during the haircut. He just had to observe and feel. If the barber talked, he would simply nod and not engage in conversation.

5. Requesting shorter: If at any point the barber asked if the current length was okay, he had to respond, "shorter please."

6. Choosing options: If the barber gave him two options, such as "Should I use guard #5 or #4?" he always had to choose the second option.

The message also warned that he would be observed discreetly. While he wouldn’t be able to spot the researcher, he could be sure that he was being monitored. Any deviation from the instructions would result in the contract being enforced and his car being claimed as collateral.

Horror gripped Sammy as he read the message. The thought of having to go through with these instructions was unbearable. The idea of sitting in a barber's chair, feeling the clippers inching closer, and having no control over the outcome filled him with dread. He wasn't willing to do it.

Desperately, he tried to get a loan from friends, avoiding the specifics of his predicament due to his embarrassment. He explained it away with vague mentions of financial trouble, hoping someone could help him out. But luck wasn’t on his side; no one had the money to lend him.

Reality set in: he couldn't afford to lose his car. It was his lifeline, essential for his job and survival. The $500 had already been spent on repairs, and there was no way to return it. He was trapped, cornered by his circumstances and the contract he had signed.

Sammy realized he had no option. He would have to face the Haircut Games.

He chose a barbershop with just one chair. There were no pictures on Google Maps, just the street view, and it looked like a very old place. Sammy chose the date and time as far off as he could. His hair was longer than usual; it had been almost a month since he received the first message. At that time, his hair was ready for a trim. Now, he had almost three inches on top and about an inch on the sides and back. He kind of liked the shaggy look he had. He was not ready for a haircut in that place.

The night before, he couldn’t sleep. He was very nervous, going over the instructions again and again. He didn’t want to screw up and end up with a short haircut and no car.
The appointment was at 11:00 am, but he could not even have breakfast. He had a knot in his stomach.
He finally arrived. The place was empty—just one chair and the barber inside reading a newspaper. A newspaper! Who reads newspapers nowadays? The barber looked to be about 65, wearing a white apron.
When Sammy entered, the barber looked at him and asked if his name was Sam. He just nodded.
The barber asked him to sit down.

The chair was red, very old, and made of metal. There was a big mirror in front and, on the back wall, a set of inclined mirrors that perfectly showed the back of his head. The view was complete; this barber had set up his shop to help his customers have a good look while getting a haircut.

A set of tools were on the table in front of him: clippers, combs, scissors, razors.

The barber put a cape on him. A white one. Very tight around the neck. Too tight, in fact.

He combed Sammy's hair, slowly and methodically, without saying a word. The sensation of the comb running through his hair felt ominous, each stroke building Sammy’s anxiety.

Finally, the barber looked at Sammy's reflection in the mirror, their eyes locking. "What’s it going to be?" he asked.

Sammy’s heart was pounding hard. He knew what he had to say, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. A few seconds that felt like an eternity passed. The barber asked again, "What’s it going to be, son?"

Sammy looked around. They were alone; no one else was there. He thought about asking for a trim. There were no researchers in sight. But... what if they were recording? What if the barber was part of the experiment? He couldn't take the risk.
He finally summoned the courage and said, "Short."

The barber nodded, showing no surprise. He turned to his tools, picking up a pair of clippers. Sammy watched in the mirror, his stomach churning, as the barber attached a #4 guard and switched on the clippers. The buzzing sound filled the small shop, and Sammy's anxiety spiked.

The barber started at the back of Sammy’s head, lifting the hair with a comb and running the clippers through it. Sammy could see the hair falling, shorter and shorter, with each pass. His scalp felt exposed, vulnerable. The clippers moved methodically, reducing his hair to a uniform length, much shorter than he had ever dared.

"Is this short enough?" the barber asked, pausing to examine his work.

Sammy thought it was more than enough. It was fine, it was perfect. But the instructions were clear. He had to answer, "Shorter, please."

The barber said, "All right." He paused, then asked, "Do you want me to shorten it just in the neck and sides, or all the way up to the crown?"

Sammy felt a wave of desperation. He didn’t want it shorter at all, but definitely not all the way up to the crown. Yet the instructions were clear. He had to choose the second option. He gulped and said, "All the way up to the crown."
The barber didn’t hesitate. He switched the guard to a #2, and the sound of the clippers intensified. Sammy’s heart raced as the barber placed the clippers at the nape of his neck and began to move upwards.

He watched in the mirror, horrified, as the clippers climbed higher and higher, taking the hair down to a very short length, he could see his scap, it was shorter than ever. The sensation was both terrifying and surreal, as if he were watching someone else. He could feel the cool air on his scalp where the hair had been removed, a stark contrast to the rest of his head.

With each pass, the clippers climbed further up, past his ears, and towards the crown. Sammy felt a lump in his throat, his breath shallow. He couldn't believe this was happening. He was completely at the mercy of the barber and the instructions he had to follow.

The barber worked diligently, ensuring every section was even. The hair fell around him like autumn leaves, collecting on the floor in small, dark piles. Sammy could see the transformation taking place, his reflection becoming more and more unfamiliar.

Finally, the barber finished the sides and back, leaving Sammy with a severe, high contrast between the short areas and the longer hair on top. The barber stepped back, examining his work with a critical eye, and Sammy braced himself for what might come next.

The barber wet the hair on top, and combed it down so that it fully covered Sammy's forehead. Sammy watched in the mirror, his heart pounding as the barber lifted a lock of hair from the top of his head with a comb, showing the full three inches of beautiful, thick hair. With the scissors in hand, the barber signaled about an inch from the end, indicating he was planning to cut that length.

"Like that?" the barber asked.

Sammy's mind screamed to say yes. It was manageable, just a trim, nothing drastic. But he had to follow the instructions. His voice trembled as he said, "Shorter, please."

The barber's expression remained neutral as he lowered the scissors to the middle of the lock, now indicating he would cut two inches off. "This then?"

Tears welled up in Sammy's eyes. He felt a wave of desperation and helplessness. Almost crying, he managed to say, "Shorter, please."

The barber let out a small sigh. "I see you really want to get rid of most of it... all right," he said, and then, without hesitation, he snipped the lock, leaving just half an inch. Sammy watched in horror as the long, thick lock of hair fell, tumbling down onto the cape and then the floor.

The barber methodically worked his way through Sammy's hair, lifting and cutting each lock with the same precision. Long locks of hair cascaded down with each snip, piling up around the chair. Sammy's scalp tingled with each cut, the weight of his hair disappearing, leaving his head feeling lighter and more exposed.

When the barber reached the front, he paused. "Do you want me to leave the fringe longer, or should I cut it the same length as the rest?"

Sammy's heart sank. He liked having a fringe, something to hide behind. But the instructions were clear. He had to choose the second option. "The same length as the rest," he said, his voice barely above a whisper.

"All right," the barber said. He combed the front down once more, and with a swift motion of the scissors, the fringe fell away, matching the rest of the now incredibly short hair.

The transformation was shocking. Sammy barely recognized himself. His head looked strange, almost alien. The hair was uniform, all close to the scalp, leaving no length to style or comb. It felt wrong, too exposed, as if he had lost a part of himself.

The barber stepped back, examining his work. "There you go, son. Nice and short."

Sammy stared at his reflection. His hair, once a source of identity and comfort, was now gone, replaced by a uniform, close-cropped cut that left him feeling naked and vulnerable. The next part of the challenge loomed ahead, but for now, he had to come to terms with the drastic change that had already taken place.

The barber brushed away the fallen hair from Sammy’s face and neck, unfastened the cape, and then secured it again, tighter than before. Sammy’s anxiety grew with each meticulous movement. The barber picked up a small pair of clippers and began combing Sammy’s sideburns, over and over, as if debating where to make the cut. Sammy’s panic intensified with every stroke. He prayed silently, begging for the barber not to ask anything, knowing that questions always led to his doom.
Finally, the barber placed the clippers halfway up Sammy’s ear and asked, "Is this length okay?"

Sammy’s heart sank. He felt trapped. "Shorter, please," he muttered, dreading the words.

The barber lowered the clippers, then looked directly into Sammy’s eyes, sensing the reluctance. "Do you want me to take them all off or leave some?" he asked.

At least this time, the less worse option was the second one. "Leave some, please," Sammy replied, his voice barely holding steady.

With a nod, the barber cut the sideburns down to just a quarter of an inch. The sight of the short stubble where his sideburns used to be made Sammy want to cry. It felt like another part of his identity was stripped away.
After finishing the sideburns, the barber gently pushed the back of Sammy’s head forward, forcing his chin to rest on his chest. The electric trimmer buzzed ominously. Sammy felt the cold metal against his nape as the barber placed the blade high—at least an inch above the natural hairline.

Sammy couldn't stop himself. "Wasn't that way too high?" he asked, his voice tinged with desperation.

The barber sighed. "I was going to ask you, but I knew you would say to go shorter. So, I saved us both some time and went short directly. Don’t worry, it matches the short sideburns perfectly."

The barber sighed. "I was going to ask you, but I knew you would say to go shorter. So, I saved us both some time and went short directly. Don’t worry, it matches the short sideburns perfectly."
Sammy felt a wave of despair wash over him. As the barber finished with the clippers, he set them aside and picked up a can of shaving cream. He shook it a few times before dispensing a small amount into his hand, then gently applied it to the areas where the sideburns used to be and along the nape of Sammy’s neck.

The cold cream sent shivers down Sammy’s spine. The barber then picked up a straight razor and, with steady hands, began to shave the remaining stubble. The razor moved smoothly, leaving behind a path of perfectly smooth skin. Sammy could feel each deliberate stroke, the sensation both soothing and unnerving.

With precise movements, the barber made sure every trace of hair was gone from the shaved areas, leaving them completely smooth. The cool air on his freshly shaven skin felt strange and new, adding to the overwhelming sensation of exposure.
As the barber finished, he wiped away the remaining cream and cleaned the area with a warm, damp towel. Sammy looked at his reflection. His sideburns were gone, replaced by clean, smooth skin that contrasted sharply with the short hair on his head. The barber had crafted a precise, severe haircut that left Sammy looking starkly different.

His head looked strange, almost alien. The uniform shortness of the hair left no room for style or identity, just a close-cropped, severe cut that clung to his scalp. He felt exposed, vulnerable, and utterly defeated.
As soon as Sammy arrived home, his phone buzzed with a new message. He unlocked it with trembling hands and saw the subject line: "Congratulations on Completing the Haircut Game!"
He opened the message and began to read:

Dear Sammy,

Congratulations on successfully completing the Haircut Game and following the instructions precisely. We understand this experience was extremely challenging for you, and we commend your courage and determination.
We acknowledge that the final style may have ended up shorter than anticipated. Given the nature of the Haircut Game, it is difficult to predict the exact outcome of each cut. We apologize if the result was more drastic than you expected.
We encourage you to endure your new look, even though it may not align with your usual style. We recognize that you may not feel as confident with this shorter haircut, but please remember that the primary goal was to confront and overcome your fear. We are pleased to inform you that your participation has significantly contributed to our study. Your experience will help us develop better strategies to assist others who share the same kind of phobia.
Once again, congratulations, and thank you for your invaluable contribution to our research.


The Haircut Game Team

Sammy stared at the screen, a mix of emotions swirling inside him. He kept touching his head, feeling the lack of hair. His fingers brushed over the short, bristly surface, unable to grab even a single lock. The familiar comfort of running his hands through his hair was gone, replaced by an alien texture that reminded him of his vulnerability.
Sadness washed over him. He didn’t feel brave; he felt exposed and uncertain. The thought of facing his friends with this new look filled him with dread. He imagined their reactions, the jokes, the questions, and he felt a knot of anxiety tighten in his stomach.

He wondered if there was a way to fix this mess, but he quickly concluded that anything shorter would be even worse. The only thing he could do now was let it grow back and hope the awkward phase wouldn't last too long.
Sammy sighed, feeling a sense of resignation. He knew he had to endure this new reality, at least for the time being. As he put his phone down, he took a deep breath and resolved to take it one day at a time, waiting for the day his hair would grow back and he would feel like himself again.

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