Short Story Sunday: The Top Hat

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[It’s not Sunday, but I was sick yesterday so here’s a creepy story for a crappy Monday. Or would that be a crappy story for a creepy Monday? Only one way to find out — keep reading.]

Every person’s home is where they feel most comfortable at. Over time I came to realize this is not solely because of shelter and warmth, but because of privacy and safety. Outside in the world the flow never stops, there are living beings all around us, you’re never truly alone or solely with someone you trust. Even if you are alone, the possibility that someone could be right around the corner, hiding in the bushes, or watching you from a window of the nearby building never fades away. But when you’re at home you’re behind walls, you’ve hidden inside your castle and you feel beyond harm’s reach.

My family’s castle walls were shaken about 10 years ago on a fine Sunday night. The events started during the day, but no one quite noticed. Or more precisely, me and my sister noticed but we weren’t truly paying attention. We were kids, I was 9 and she was 7. As every night we set on to have dinner, and while my parents finished their food, me and my sister were always late because we didn’t feel like eating our vegetables. While we were still eating and our parents were cleaning around the kitchen, my mother called my father to see something. Through our kitchen window they were seeing someone standing outside our house. They were trying to whisper but we could still hear them and among the whispers I heard the man looked to be wearing a top hat.

This is when the realization came to me that earlier while we were playing in the yard there was a tall man in a long black coat walking across the street. He was wearing a top hat and it appeared as if he’s checking out the houses on the street. I immediately told my parents we had seen someone like that today while we were playing, and I got told to eat what’s in front of me and not pry on conversations. But I could see the worry on their faces and I know dad went out with his baseball bat to look for the man. I finished my food quickly and went to the living room where I could look outside through the windows — my dad was circling around the house. He didn’t found anyone though so he returned inside. My parents said that someone was likely just walking by, but I heard them double check the house doors are locked before going to bed.

The next day went about as any regular Monday. We were lazying around yet our parents hurried us so we’re not late for school. It was a silly routine, head to the bathroom to clean up yourself, head to your room to change and get your school bag ready, head to the dining room for breakfast, and finally get in the car to be taken to school. And as with any routine, it didn’t include anything out of the ordinary. This means there was no mention nor talk, and likely no thoughts either, about the man from last night.

That only lasted till my history class. I couldn’t pay attention, I was bored, so I resorted to looking at the other kids and looking outside the windows. This is when I saw him again, the slender elegant man with the top hat looking at me from outside. I was scared and I panicked, yelling out in fear. The teacher was worried so she came rushing toward me, trying to make sure something hadn’t happened to me as I had apparently fallen from my chair. After a short period of class chaos, I was sent to the principal’s office, my parents were called and I was quickly taken home. To this day I’m not fully sure why I reacted that way, but whenever I look back at things I feel this was when I first sensed the danger. Something’s eating away at your privacy and safety and it seems to be stuck to you, there is no other feeling but terror in that realization.

I spent the day at home, mostly watching television and cuddling myself on the sofa. But the bad feelings never went away, now I felt confined to these walls and even there I did not feel safe. Things got worse during dinner when my mother once again looking outside the kitchen window noticed the same man with the top hat standing outside. She didn’t tell us that, but she didn’t have to. The plate from her hands quickly fell on the floor, she yelled out my father’s name, and with a shaky voice told him that he’s standing outside again. This time my father didn’t go outside, instead he called the police. I’m not sure how much my sister understood, if any, but the shattered plate and the shouting seemed to have scared her quite enough on their own.

The police arrived soon, but left just as quickly. They searched around and found nothing so it was decided the neighborhood is safe enough and they’ll just have a patrol car drive around every now and then. I felt better knowing the police will be keeping an eye, but it didn’t seem to help my parents. They stayed up after we went to bed and it was clear they were worried. When we woke up in the morning you could see the worry on their face — a pale white shade with big dark circles below their eyes, and it looked like the coffee pot hadn’t slept at all that night.

With the exception of that, the day seemed to go on fine. I kept looking outside the window during classes but there was nothing out of the ordinary there. The out of the ordinary came midway through my classes when I was told I’m to leave early and my father was there to pick me up. They didn’t want to let me know what had happened, but we got home quite fast and me and my sister were ordered to go in our room. Once there, my sister told me she had seen the man with the top class while she was at school and that’s why my parents were called there and why we’re at home now.

While we were in our room my thoughts were revolving around the man with the top hat. I could never make out his face, his head always seemed to be leaned down and the top hat covered the rest of it. A slim dark feature in a long dark coat and a top hat, if it wasn’t for his posture one could almost thing he wasn’t human. My parents looking out of the windows the rest of the day. They even opted out of making dinner so we had pizza instead. Me and my sister were eating in the living room while watching television, when my mom called my dad. He went to the window to check for himself, then rushed to grab his baseball bat and went outside. My mother went to lock the door behind him.

Me and my sister were watching through the windows as the figure in the top hat made its way north toward the nearby woods, and my father run off after him. It’s been 10 years since that night, but my father never came back. Even the police couldn’t find him and they did a heavy search for him for a number of days. There was no trace of him nor the man in the top hat.

I did saw the man in the top hat a week ago though. We were at a friend’s house for a party, I went out on the balcony for a smoke and that’s when I noticed the dark figure down in the shadows. He was wearing different clothes, but the hat was the same and that gave him away. I froze, all the fear and terror from back then returning to my mind and wrapping my body in invisible chains. But as he walked away he crossed a place where the street lamps reached him with their light and that’s when I saw the face below the top hat. That’s when I saw my father wearing the top hat.