This time last year, we brought you a festive story in the run-up to Christmas called "The Parable of the Toupee". So we thought we'd keep the tradition going and bring you another fictional tale for this festive season, albeit one that is a little bit more gross than the last one! Enjoy...
The Toupee Nightmare Before Christmas
“Yes...?” answered the voice on the other end of the line, rather tentatively waiting for whatever pitch was coming next.
“Thank God. My name is Doctor Stan Browner. I work at the Army Institute of Advanced Scientific Research in Nevada. Thank you so much for agreeing to take this call.” Browner’s people had begun the search for Bill Shatner several hours earlier by tracking down his agent and explaining to him who they were. For verification purposes, they gave the agent a number to call back, along with a link to a government web address to check that number against. This really was no hoax. They really were who they said they were and that is exactly what the agent had told his illustrious client moments beforehand.
“Yes, my agent told me you’d call. Listen, if it’s some kind of offer - voice-over or that kind of thing, I’d be happy to do that, but it’s probably better to talk to my assist-”
The voice on the other end of the line jumped in. “Thank you, Mr. Shatner...it’s not that. It’s something else entirely. I’ll get straight to the point: we need your help.” Browner’s manner was dead serious, as if the entire world needed Shatner for some reason or another. For his part, the actor couldn’t quite fathom why he would be part of anything so serious-sounding. He laughed back at the scientist.
“Listen, that Star Trek stuff, you know it was only a role, right?”
But Browner didn’t miss a beat. “A jet is being dispatched to Los Angeles as we speak, Mr. Shatner. A car will come to pick you up at your house and take you to the airport at 1300 Pacific Time. Please be ready.”
“Uumm...” murmured Bill Shatner not quite sure what to say.
“And please believe us, this really is a matter of the utmost importance. We do not make this request lightly. I’m afraid I cannot discuss the details over the telephone and I must also ask that you not discuss this matter with anyone else. You will just have to trust us for now. I will see you later today. Thank you once again.”
“Alright. Thank you,” replied Bill Shatner to the sound of the line going dead. He was stunned, yet somehow still couldn’t shake the seeming ridiculous nature of it all. If this was some kind of gag - maybe old pal Nimoy in revenge for that time he stole his bicycle - then it was evidently planned to perfection.
What could he do but go along...
At 1259, Bill Shatner stepped out onto his driveway. Whatever this gag was, surely it would reveal itself any second now - or nothing would happen at all and he could go back to spending this, the last working day before Christmas, working on the routine for his upcoming live tour. Moments later, an armored black limousine pulled up, windows tinted, all very, very serious looking. Two agents wearing sunglasses - like he was the President or something - stepped out, straightened their jackets, opened the rear door and then proceeded to just stand there waiting almost motionless. They didn’t need to signal or beckon their presumptive passenger - that wasn’t their style.
Now truly mystified, Bill Shatner walked down and climbed into the rear seat of the car. He was too frightened to even attempt to say hello to either of the goons. His wife, Liz, to whom he had told everything (despite the warning from the doctor) stepped out from behind a bush up in the driveway where she had been hiding just as the armored car made a hasty exit. She waved at the blackened window where she thought her husband was sitting. Had he seen her wave? Did or could such a fleeting gesture of affection fill her husband with even one extra ounce of strength for the hours ahead? She had no idea.
The car journey was almost entirely silent. Only once did one of the goons sitting upfront turn and ask the entirely perfunctory question: “Comfortable back there?”
“Uhh, fine,” Bill Shatner replied - obviously he wasn’t. A couple of times during the ride, the actor thought of trying to crack a joke to break the ice, but ultimately gave in to the prevailing weighty atmosphere and remained silent.
At LAX airport, the limo was whisked through the VIP section of security and the small unmarked jet took off at exactly 1330. The actor also spent the flight in silence, staring out of the window wondering how on earth could he, a Canadian actor from Montreal, possibly be of any use in some top-secret matter of US national security? As he adjusted in his seat, he reached into his pocket - a purely instinctive act of seeking the security of a text message or a voice-mail or some form of communication from anyone near and dear. But his cellphone was no longer in his pocket or anywhere else that he could see. The actor looked up towards one of the goons who simply shook his head.
An hour into the flight, Bill Shatner was handed a blindfold. “Would you please put this on, sir?”
“Look, can someone please tell me what this is all about?”
The agent remained characteristically stoic. “Everything will be explained to you when we arrive. Please put on the blindfold now, sir.” There was something in the way the guy said the word "now" that projected an unmistakable sense of "don't f--k with me." Tempted as Bill Shatner was to attempt some kind of James T. Kirk-style double-belly-punch and neck chop and try to get the hell out of there, he decided that it was best to comply. The blindfold went on, while another even more intimidating agent moved to sit next to him for the remaining thirty minutes of the flight.
The plane landed and Bill Shatner was permitted a brief bathroom break in a windowless room before being led to a car and another journey, presumably through the Nevada desert of about two more hours. Deprived of sight, the actor tried to attune his ears to gain any possible clues, but few were forthcoming: lots and lots of driving and turning down desert roads, then a helicopter flying overhead followed by the sound of a gate of some kind opening, then onto a smooth tarmac road, security checks, and finally a garage door opening. The car drove in and darkness...
At that point, the agent next to him pulled off Bill Shatner’s blindfold. The car came to a halt. They were inside an underground car park.
“This way, sir,” said one of the agents, pointing the way. Bill Shatner rubbed his eyes trying to acclimatise himself to being able to see again. Off they went. Through a door. Into an elevator. Down a corridor and then into a large, busy laboratory.
“Mr Shatner!” intoned an older man in a white coat, approaching the actor. The goons were suddenly nowhere to be seen. “My name is Stan Browner. We spoke on the phone. Can I get you something? Coffee? Something to eat?"
"No, thank you," said Bill Shatner, shaking the doctor's hand. "Would you mind telling me what this is about? I've been racking my brain for hours trying to figure out what the likes of you people could possibly need from me."
"Everything will be explained," replied the doctor politely but still no less cryptically.
A young woman came up behind Bill Shatner and handed him some greens - medical overalls. Looking around, it was evident that everyone in the lab was either wearing greens or lab coats. There must have been about a hundred people around, though it was difficult to say for sure, as the large lab, as big as a hangar, was subdivided with endless partitions as far as the eye could see. "Would you please change into these," the woman said, pointing to a door in one corner of the lab. The actor once again did as he was told, emerging moments later looking like he was about to go into surgery.
"This way," said the doctor, moving onwards into the heart of the laboratory. Bill Shatner walked on just behind the group - a team of about five people had now coalesced around Dr. Browner, typical-looking scientists types; one was even holding a clipboard, while another was wearing half-rimmed glasses on his nose. A multitude of partially assembled scientific instruments and plugged in monitors were on display left, right and center. Scientists were hovering around, calibrating this, monitoring that. As the team passed an outer door to the lab, Bill Shatner glimpsed what he was sure was an armed soldier guarding an entrance into this top-secret place.
The group turned a corner into one of the partitioned rooms. In front of them was a large isolation chamber, separated from the rest of the room by a thick glass window. The sound of beeping - unmistakably that of a heart pulse monitor - was now clearly audible. The doctor broke from the group and stepped right up to the glass. He then turned and waved the nervous Canadian actor to join him. Bill Shatner came forward and joined Browner in looking on through to to the other side of the glass partition. "Oh, my God!" he exclaimed.
Something in that room was hooked up to all sorts of monitors and feeding tubes and was being kept alive by this incubation chamber. The actor recoiled before the image of what was in there properly registered in his mind. "Have a closer look, Mr. Shatner," said the doctor, leaning right up to the glass. "A real close look."
Bill Shatner turned slowly back round, now feeling queasy and shaken. But his perceptions of all that was going on around him suddenly swung around one-hundred and eighty degrees: this must all be some sort of joke, after all! "It's one of those Tribbles," he sighed before smiling at the group. But everyone around remained dead serious. "You know, from Star Trek! Great joke, guys. Where are the hidden cameras?" Still no reaction. What Bill Shatner had seen certainly looked rather like those furry fictional creatures from Star Trek. A ball of hair of some kind, pulsating, breathing, kept alive in a laboratory. "What the hell is going on guys?" Bill Shatner couldn't square everyone's stone-faced expressions with the apparent silliness of what he was sure was playing out around him. "What is it, some animal or something?"
Doctor Browner stepped forward. "Mr. Shatner...may I call you Will?" No-one called Bill Shatner "Will," but nor did the actor ever like to correct people about such things.
"Sure," he answered.
"You're going to need to sit down, Will," the doctor told the now once again perplexed actor, "...so I can tell you the whole story behind that...that thing."
"Thing?" Bill Shatner asked, sitting down on a nearby chair, his back now turned to the incubator. He felt like he was at some kind of interrogation with the small group of scientists remaining standing above him.
Browner began to slowly relate a story that begun a little over eighteen years ago. Since then, it had remained very a closely-guarded secret: Back in 1993, a heavily-pregnant woman turned up at this place, the top-secret Army Institute of Advanced Scientific Research deep inside the Nevada desert. The security cameras spotted her banging on the thin metal outer fence of the institute and it wasn’t long before a pair of security guards were on the scene.
“Ma’am, can we help you? This is a restricted area,” said one of the typically stone-faced guards through the fence.
“You have to help me. It’s coming!” She pointed down to her unmistakably pregnant belly. The guards looked around beyond the woman: miles of empty desert. Rather curiously, her footsteps could be traced back in a direct line right into the sea of sand and brush behind her.
“How did you get here? Where’s your vehicle?” asked the second security guard, a young woman, and no less stern-seeming than her colleague.
“There’s no car,” the woman moaned, resting against the fence and starting to breathe deeply. “It’s coming!”
The male security guard pulled out his walkie-talkie, turned away and began to relay to someone inside what was going on. Why on earth would a pregnant woman turn up here of all places? There was no way you could get here by accident; the nearest civilization was more than a hundred miles away. It was either a real humanitarian situation or it was highly suspicious. The Institute had no choice but to treat is as both. They couldn’t risk letting a pregnant woman die, but neither could they risk this being some kind of plot - what if there was a bomb hidden under than dress instead of a baby?
A gurney finally was wheeled out and the woman was hastily admitted inside. Two precautions were taken: firstly, the woman was briefly blindfolded until inside the complex’s medical facility, and secondly, she was gently patted down to make sure she really was pregnant. Everything checked out. But no ID. No wallet. Nothing. A doctor soon pronounced the obvious - that the woman was in labor - but something wasn’t right. As he pressed against the woman’s stomach, he look puzzled. A scanner was prepped and a sonogram performed. The doctor turned white. “Oh my God.”
An hour later, the woman gave birth to what at first appeared to be a severely deformed baby. It had no arms, no legs, no eyes, no mouth - it was just a ball of hair. It didn’t even seem human. The multitude of tests that ensued detected clear signs of life, including a pulse and neurological activity, but the entire structure of the infant creature appeared foreign, alien even. Nothing human could be this deformed and yet survive, argued the scientists at the lab. Which brought everything back to the question of this woman again - who was she?
But after giving birth, the woman fell into a coma. Overnight, the Institute battled to save two lives. One, that of a human woman and the other, unknown. The result of that night didn't go as one might have predicted. By morning, the mysterious woman had the lost the fight for her life. But her child was stable. It was responding to a standard drip and increased oxygen levels pumped into the air in a hastily created incubation room.
"This is unbelievable," said Bill Shatner, now truly aghast.
"There's more," said the doctor. He then explained about the footsteps of the woman - how they seemed to disappear into the desert. A mile beyond, the scientists later found some strange circular imprints in the sand. What did it mean? No-one knew. And there were also the DNA tests conducted on the creature. Inconclusive. One thing was clear though: its profile was barely human at best; the breakdown of its DNA showed some human traits, but not enough for a conclusive identification.
"It's been in that chamber now for eighteen years, growing slowly. It consumes. It grows a little. That's it. Its responses to stimulus have been minimal. And efforts at communication have produced no results." The doctor paused, his frustration and sense of disappointment evident for anyone to see or sense. He rubbed his eyes and sighed before recomposing himself.
"What about the woman?" asked Bill Shatner.
"Never identified. So you see, we really have no idea what we're dealing with."
"I'm assuming this has all remained secret." The group nodded. "I suppose you know what my next question has to be."
"Why you?" the doctor asked rhetorically. Bill Shatner nodded back.
Browner began pacing back and forth across the room. "In the last few months, its life-signs have been consistently weakening. Food intake is down, respiration slower, growth non-existent. Responses to stimulus even lower than normal." The doctor stepped right up to the glass again before turning dramatically to the actor before him. "In short: it's dying."
Bill Shatner shook his head. "That's terrible. But I still don't understand. Look, I'd love to help in any way I can, but I just don't see what I can do."
The doctor turned to the group in the room and gestured for them to leave. Only he and the young female scientist now remained with the actor. Browner sat on a table facing Bill Shatner and looked him right in the eye. He began to talk slowly and with a growing sense of awkwardness. "We've been thinking that maybe the key is that it needs somehow to fuse, to meld with a properly developed human. We've tried all kinds of things to that effect, but still nothing." He took a long, deep breath. "And then we had an idea. Your...your scalp. It's been bald for more than fifty years. And over the same time, it's developed an almost symbiotic relationship with your toupees."
Instinctively, Bill Shatner cut the doctor off. "But I don't wear a hairpiece..."
The doctor patted Bill Shatner on the shoulder, seeking to project authority while also calming his nervous subject. "It's alright, Will."
"Bill! My name is Bill! Call me Bill!"
"Alright. Bill. It's alright. We know. We know everything. Our team here thinks that there's a small chance that your scalp may be the ideal environment for this creature. That your decades of toupee-wearing may have somehow altered the cells on your head and that they may, just may be receptive to this hairy creature." The doctor sighed again.
The woman scientist, who had hitherto barely uttered a word since Bill Shatner first entered the lab, stepped forward. "Mr...Bill," she corrected herself. "It may be a one in a million chance, but it's all we have. We've tried everything else. Can you help us?"
"She's right." echoed the doctor, underscoring the point made by his colleague.
Bill Shatner stood up and looked directly at the creature behind the glass. After a few moments, his head slumped. The two scientists, eager to not intrude on the actor's personal space at this moment, looked on from behind. What would he do or say next? The passage of time seemed to slow down to a painful crawl; suddenly, the screeching ticking of an overhead clock felt deafeningly loud in the midst of this thick, tense atmosphere. He was thinking, maybe suffering. Neither of the two scientists could really hope to truly understand the apparent storm raging inside Bill Shatner's mind over the monumental request they had just made.
Then, Bill Shatner turned back round to the pair of scientists and looked at them with a heavy heart. "What must I do?" he whispered, a tear rolling down one cheek.
Browner darted towards the actor and shook his hand firmly, beaming with delight and approval. "You must allow us to put that creature on your bald head."
It took more than an hour to brief and prepare Bill Shatner for the procedure they had in mind. All but the most essential personnel were cleared from this part of the lab and the actor was finally taken inside the incubator chamber, where at last he was face to face with the hairy life-form.
Standing over this living wad of hair, this unknown thing, Bill Shatner was filled with both awe and dread. He reached out and touched it - it felt like human hair, thick and resplendent. There was an irony here, the actor thought to himself: "I'm a real human being, but my hair is not real, while this thing has real hair but no-one knows if the rest of it is really human." He decided not to make that point out loud; that level of comfort about this subject and with these people he did not yet have.
The final instrument adjustments and calibrations were made and everything was ready. The big moment had arrived. Bill Shatner reached up to his head, found a way to bring his fingers under the membrane of his toupee and then began to slowly pull. Centimeter by centimeter, an area of skin was revealed that had probably been seen by fewer people than knew of the secret base they were now inside. Browner and his female colleague, Dr. Saunders, looked on in awe, though they tried as hard as they could to remain as stone-faced as possible, for fear of intruding on the moment with extraneous emotions. But they were scientists after all. Their passion was knowledge and discovery. And they couldn't help but feel fired up to see what so few had ever seen. Twelve men had walked on the moon between 1969 and 1972. How many had seen Bill Shatner without his toupee?
Phase one was done. The toupee was now fully removed and save for three tufts of hair - one at the back and two forming the contours of a pair of sideburns -Bill Shatner now stood inside the chamber completely bald. He placed his toupee down and immediately picked up the creature and gently placed it on his head, making sure not to disconnect the many tubes and wires that remained connected to it.
Browner and Saunders began to feverishly monitor the data coming from the sensors attached to the creature. Pulse: still way down. Blood pressure: falling. Internal temperature: also falling. As the actor stood there like one of those African women who balance huge containers on their head, the two scientists began to frantically communicate with their support teams processing the data in rooms all across this facility.
After a few moments, there was already only one possible conclusion: it wasn't working. The creature was still dying. Bill Shatner stood there for a few minutes longer, grinning slightly at the hope that his outwardly absurd act was reviving a possible alien. But it wasn't long before he read the faces of the two doctors on the other side of the glass. "Is anything happening?"
Dr. Browner shook his head. A moment later he signaled that Bill Shatner could take the creature off. "Maybe it needs more time," he responded. But the doctor didn't believe that it would make any difference. "Alright then...well, we tried. I'm sorry it didn't work." Bill Shatner took the creature down off his head and, feeling deflated, placed it back on the long metal table that had been its home for almost two decades. There was nothing else left to say. A depressed, deflated silence filled the room.
The despair was suddenly broken by the unmistakable sound of a slight shuffle, and then another and then another. This was followed by a scratch and a ruffle and a shake and finally increasing waves of rhythmic vibrating. Faster and faster. More and more intense. A slight, barely audible squeak followed and then a grumble and then a sigh. And then the very slight sound of breathing.
Bill Shatner looked down; the two scientists rushed inside. The eyes of all three widened so much it looked like they might fall out of their sockets. "I don't believe it!" exclaimed Browner.
"Incredible!" added Saunders. Bill Shatner shook his head in disbelief and amazement. A communication came through over the intercom. Life-signs had shot up. The creature was really alive again!
"What do you think happened?" asked Browner. The creature had moved all by itself towards something Bill Shatner had left next to it on the table: his toupee. And it was this that had sparked a resurgence in the life-force of this creature.
Bill Shatner grinned knowingly. "What do you think happened?" The pair of scientists looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders. They had no idea. The actor's grin grew cheeky and he flashed a smile at Dr. Saunders. "Over eighteen years on this earth? That particular time? Adulthood? Certain changes? Think about it." The pair thought and then suddenly it dawned on them. Saunders grinned and blushed. Bill Shatner picked up his somewhat sticky toupee and put it back on his head; it was slightly moist, but soon dried up and attached to his head in a more-secure-than-ever manner. "This is the best toupee glue I've ever known," he exclaimed.
They had done it. A cheer erupted across the lab, with the joy and relief reverberating through this place so perfectly fitting the Holiday season. Someone handed Bill Shatner his cellphone. "It's your wife."
The actor mouthed a "Can I tell her?" to the scientists around him. Dr. Browner stepped forward and nodded in a manner that suggested that Bill Shatner was permitted to tell his wife and no-one else. "Honey, you're not going to believe what I've just been involved in."
So what happened next? And who was that woman from the desert? Was she an alien or was she impregnated by one? Did the creature survive and prosper? Did it perhaps leave to return to its home planet? Did it stay and learn to communicate? So many questions. So much to leave to the imagination...
Happy Holidays to all our readers from the entire staff of The William Shatner School of Toupological Studies and thanks, as always, for your continued visits, comments, tips and interest in Shatner's Toupee. We're taking a brief break and will be back in mid-January. Till then, here's wishing you all a Happy New Year!