>EMBEDFELLOWS

>When the wing shears off, and when I see it flash past the cockpit window like a startled swallow, this is when the panic sets in. With me, as I’ve been told, there’s not a big bang of fear, rather a slow, measured dread. I can sort of see it now.

I carefully check all the instruments and readings as I feel the propeller shaft disengage and I begin my all-in freefall. It’s strangely silent, when all you’ve been led to believe is screaming wind and howling engine noise. Here, there’s just the faint tickle of the altimeter spinning, the slurp of the aneroid barometer slipping quickly away.

I re-engage the failed navigation device, watching hexagons align themselves on the tiny screen. Welcome, says the read-out. Where would you like to go?

For a brief moment, I consider typing in up, but I settle on the button that says Search and Send Location. The little pixelated envelope fills up and whisks away. I black out, somewhere around this stage.

When I come around, it is perhaps days later, as my man in the mirror in front of me has a healthy growth of stubble on his cheeks. I’m stripped to the waist, hands tied behind my back. The air smells like fish. The room I’m in is small, but surprisingly well decorated, like a drawing room in a proper terrace house. The only difference is the windows are smashed, and outside I can see great masses of ferns.

I test the ropes. They’ve been expertly tied, or at least as expertly as has been my experience. A grunt comes from the corner of the room. I twist my head around, and the grunt comes again, but I can’t see from where. Then, turning my head back to the mirror, I notice a figure lurking near some thick window drapes behind me. There’s another slow-spreading horror as I make out the shape of a bull’s head on a man’s body: a Minotaur in the drawing room. I make to swallow, and my throat is thick with something sour.

“What’s going on?” I shout.

The Minotaur shifts slightly, still remaining mostly unseen.

“Where am I?” I shout again.

The creature simply heaves its head and breathes noisily.

I try to lift my eyes to the ceiling but there’s a yanking pain at the back of my head every time I do. I realise too late that there are some sort of spikes in the headrest of my chair, positioned to poke into me every time I move my head.

“What’s going on?” I say, more quietly. The smell of fish comes back, but it’s not fish, it something else familiar. Then I see the jar of blue liquid and it all makes sense. Inside the jar, like some eerie formaldehyde museum creature, floats a black comb. The smell is human hair, gently gelled, freshly cut. I’m tied to a barber’s chair. I’m imprisoned in a hairdresser’s shop. Behind me, pinned to the wall above the heaving Minotaur, is a faded block-mounted poster of a man with wavy, blonde-tipped hair, smiling unconvincingly out at the world. A generic style-cut photo I’ve seen dozens of times in various nondescript hair salons.

I stare straight at the Minotaur. Narrowing my eyes, speaking as reasonably as I can, I say, “Is this part of The Resistance?”

The Minotaur’s shoulders slump.

“Huh,” I say, taking this is a minor victory. We knew they were down here, somewhere beneath the thick foliage of the jungle. But hiding out in hair salons?

The Minotaur takes off his head, emitting a spluttering gasp. A teenager’s features emerge through the late afternoon darkness. He sneezes twice, violently. Wiping his nose on the back of a sleeve, he squints at me skeptically. “Took you long enough,” he snuffles.

“What is The Resistance doing here?” I ask him. “And what’s with the wookie heads?”

“You—aitchoo!—tell me,” says the teen. “Playing hell with my allergies.”

I smile, despite myself. “Apparently that’s how they got Napoleon.”

The teen pulls a pistol out from a holster on his belt. “Just remember where you are,” he says with an affected growl no doubt picked up from TV.

I do remember. I take my gaze away from the boy’s ridiculously pink head. My breathing quickens. I do remember.

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