The Hat

Ben Loory

The young man has never been afraid of hats before. In fact, he's recently found himself admiring them. The hats on the heads of the men in this town have actually seemed to him quite marvelous.

So it is strange that he should now be so frightened—so incredibly frightened—of this one.


Granted, this hat's just appeared on the table, while the young man's attention was turned to the dancers on the stage. And granted, it is a strange hat, a kind he hasn't seen before. But even so, there's something else—something he can't place.

The young man sits and sits and stares at the hat.

And then he realizes.

It's staring back.


The young man is now sitting very, very still. He is trying very hard not to move. He has this fear that if he does move, the hat will suddenly leap at him and tear out his throat.

The young man tries to forget about this madness, but for some reason it has a hold on him. It takes everything he has just to find the courage to stand, to slide his chair back and back away toward the door.

The hat does not follow, does not make a move. It simply sits there on the table, staring.

Staring, staring—staring at the young man.

The young man turns away and runs.


The young man now is walking down the street. His breath is starting to come more easily.

It was just a hat, the young man thinks, just a stupid hat. Someone left it on the table, and I didn't see it at first.

He forces a laugh, and then shakes his head.

And it certainly wasn't staring! he says.

But then—up ahead—the young man sees the hat again.

And once again, it's staring right at him.


This time, the hat is on a windowsill. Up ahead, at the end of the block.

Hats can't stare, the young man says. It's a physical impossibility. But, on the other hand, they can't walk either. So how did that hat get there?

He freezes in terror, and then laughs again—

Different hat! he says. It's a different hat.

This seems to calm him enough to carry on.

But he doesn't look at the hat as he walks by.


The young man reaches the boarding house, and goes in and directly upstairs. He sits on the bed and takes off his boots. Then he checks around the room and in the closet.

No hats in here, the young man says happily, and immediately turns in for the night.

It takes him some time to finally fall asleep. The bed seems cold and lonely.

And when he does manage to somehow drift away, the young man has very strange dreams.


In the morning, when he awakes, the hat is sitting on his chest.

Aaa! the young man shrieks, and bats it off.

The hat flies across the room, into the corner, where it hits the wall and falls to the floor.

It lies there crookedly, half behind the spittoon. But still it is staring up at him.


The young man grabs his pants and boots and runs. He runs out the door and down the stairs. He flees the town—this hat-haunted town—and strikes out into the desert, alone.


He runs into the sun, over the dunes, past the cacti. He runs all day long. For days and weeks on end, he runs and runs. He runs and runs, without stopping.

Every now and then, he glances back. But he never, ever sees a thing. Never even so much as a sign of the hat. Not a single sign.

Still, he hurries on.


But finally, after a long time—a very long time—the young man begins to grow tired. He slows to a frightened jog, then to a walk.

He walks and walks.

He walks on.


The sun beats down on the young man from the sky. There is no water, no food, no shade. The young man starts to stagger; his flesh burns and bubbles. He's lost, he doesn't know where he is.

And finally, he collapses.

He's lying in the sand.

He doesn't move.

He can't move.

He doesn't.


And it is then—and only then—that the woman appears. She comes over the dune like an angel. The young man looks up. His lips crack as they smile.

The woman's hair is shining in the sun.


The woman helps the young man to a nearby hidden cave. The cave is full of many rooms and corridors. The darkness is held back by candles and torches.

They enter a room with a table.

There on the table are bowls of food, and a pitcher of water and a glass.

Sit, says the woman. Sit down and eat.

And she turns and walks from the room.


The young man doesn't waste time. He starts to eat. The food is delicious; the water, cool. The young man eats until he is full.

Then a shadow falls across the room.

And the young man looks up.


In the doorway is the woman. She is no longer clothed. Her body is perfectly bare. Her lips are very red, and she is smiling, smiling.

But then she steps into the room.

She's wearing the hat.


The young man's chair scrapes backward as he stands up. It crashes against the wall and it breaks.

The woman keeps coming—closer and closer.

And from its perch upon her head, the hat stares.

The young man steps back, and hits the wall himself. He feels the cold rock against his spine.

He stares at the hat as the hat comes ever closer.

The hat never once looks away.


The woman now stands before the young man. Her eyes look up, searching for his. But his are still fixed on the staring hat.

So the woman reaches up to touch his cheek.

The woman's eyes are warm, and very, very wide, when the young man finally looks into them.

And suddenly—suddenly—without his even noticing—the hat on her head no longer concerns him.

The young man reaches out and takes the woman in his arms, and they come together in a kiss. The woman gives a sigh, and the young man begins to lower her down to the floor of the cave.

But just before the woman's body reaches the ground, a silent transaction occurs. The woman reaches up—with a sure and unseen hand—and transfers the hat onto the head of the man.