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There have been numerous times when someone’s asked about the wooden box sitting in the basement. Why the grandchildren cry when I scream at them to get away from it, when they place their hands on its lock and try to decipher its code. I’ve told this story numerous times, told it to my son, and his son, and his wife, and everyone in the family. All at their plead. The wife, even up until now, once begged me to tell it was a lie, and I just can’t tell them that. Then they will open it.
That’s why I’m writing this down. You know, it’s a funny thing, how a man on his death bed can be afraid of things he once was afraid of as a child. Maybe it’s because death makes you think, all of these theories and such. A mystery that won’t ever be solved.
Every child-I’ve had to wake my grandchildren numerous times from them- has nightmares. Sleeping visions of ghosts and demons and such. That’s why we submit it as something they just make up- but what if it’s real? This may contend to stop your pondering with this. How can I know? An easy question.
Mine was real.
I was a boy. I can’t recall my age, nor my exact grade (though I was still in gradeschool, I can remember that much). Back then, there was a big topic among the Jazz stars and the new cameras coming out with those Saturday morning movies and cartoons and such.
There was also a secretive one, as well. Magic.
Harry Houdini was my inspiration. Every kid at a young age has some sort of fascination with magic, or wandering spells, or tales of heroic men conquering its abilities and saving the world. Mine was a major one, and I was determined to learn it.
I came across a pawn shop one day. The day was beautiful, one of the many days of which I fooled my mother into thinking I had some sort of high fever, and slid out the window care-free into the blocks and neighborhoods. I was walking down Buckley Street, an old, worn down road and saw it sitting in a big, rectangular window on a sill.
A top hat.
I was a born magic-user, and a top hat was of course required as a uniform of a magician. So I entered the shop, looking at its wonders. Tuffs of cotton in various colors lied in strings across racks of costumes. Make-up booths were everywhere. And, as I think of it more, the haunting memory of circus clowns staring at me through portraits. I swear, their eyes followed me as I merrily made my way to the top hat, sitting on its throne of cushioned pillows and sheets.
My father, had he been there, would’ve named it a “circus store”. And it was as such. There were various items for carnivals and circuses. A bulbous red nose, a polka-dot horn, a jousting outfit, many various clown and prop attire hanging from racks. Strange I found myself happy in that place.
Then a cold hand placed itself on my shoulder.
I looked up, and saw the form of a tall, slinky man grinning at me devilishly. His teeth were badly rotted, with canals and pieces of rotted meet stuck in between them. His eyes were black, his form towering. He looked like a psychotic man. And the smell…..
“Well, boy?” he asked, “Do you like the hat?”
“Very much, sir! I wanna be a magician!”
“Is that right? Well, I believe I can give that fine hat to you.”
“Or course! Tell you what, you can take it, free of charge.” Then his voice changed. “I’ll also give you a free spell, too. The hat makes things come out of it, you see. So, I ask: Go to a quiet area, where no one will see you, and chant…” Dear Lord, the chant…
“Mr. Happy, I’m a pout.”
“Mr. Happy, please come out!”
Its words ring in my head like a bell. I later understood what the shopkeeper had spoken afterwards:
“He will feast on cleansed souls today.”
I of course acknowledged it, thought nothing of those words and ran home. I gathered more children to watch me achieve casting a spell, their reluctant faces nodding in approval. The faces I would never see, not again.
We found a tiny place in the woods, and I set the top hat on a stump. I was even dressed for the occasion, in a sequin suit and cape my mother had gotten me for Christmas the previous year.
They gathered around me as I raised my wand, tapping it against the brim of the hat with every syllable.
“Mr. Happy, I’m a pout!”
“Mr. Happy, please come out!”
An aura of violet swirled in the air, and gently floated in the breeze. The other kids ooo’d at this.
And as I watched, two hands, gloved with white elastic, gripped the brim of the hat as they swooped up from inside it. Following it were two polka-dotted arms, and a torso made of purple and orange-polkaed designs.
Its face was….Disturbing, in every sense. A red smile face formed on its ear-to-ear grin and sparkly blue eyes as it rose out of the top hat. I looked closer, and its mouth was stitched so it would stay in a grin. Its sparkly blue eyes became a poisonous yellow.
The red circle it had for a nose dripped, with what I hope though doubt was red paint. The children applauded at me, but I was not happy. I was greatly terrified.
It stepped out, its figure tall and towering, looming over us and blocking the sun. Its head turned to me, its gaze frozen at my face. It stood there, for maybe a full minute, and that’s when it happened.
There was a great cracking sound as its eyes split into slim diamonds, black and endless. Out of it came tendrils, squirming and squiggling with speed. I screamed, backing up. Its arms stretched, and to my shock, grabbed the children, and began to pull them into the hat. I remember one began to run, and it grabbed him by the leg, and as he screamed its mouth stretched from its laces and devoured him.
One child tried to climb out, and a burning figure grabbed her head and pulled her back in. As I watched, after the children were gone and all that was left was I and the clown, the hat began to suck it back in.
It grinned at me. “There is no heaven,” it croaked. “Not for you. Your fate…be much worse than theirs.”
And then it was gone, pulled back into the hat. I was cold, numb, and frozen, in terrible fear. My mother found me, clutching me tight as policemen roamed the forest searching for the others. I wouldn’t speak for three weeks, and doctors had to manually feed me and re-hydrate me to keep me alive.
I never told her what happened, why all those mothers never found their children. I prayed every night to God. I’ve dedicated my life to following in his guidance. I locked that hat up in that same chest it is now, and tried to burn it.
The chest with the hat inside re-appeared on my bed the following morning when I awoke.
I kept it locked and in the cellar. I went to church every day. I prayed every night. But as I hear death call my name, I must wonder, will I reach the arms of God, who I’ve been faithful to all my life? Or will I drown in fire as the clown pulls me back into the depths of Hell, and tormented for eternity?
As I watch my heart scanner show my beats to be slower, and the time increases in between each, I must wonder.