The Creature Wore a Hat
 

by
Christopher Hivner





The steps into the basement creaked with every movement. Sir Allman Willow led his companions into the bowels of the old mansion, the spirit of his ancestor Sir Richard Burton giving him the courage. Behind him, Thomas Creed, American professor of paleontology, wondered how he had gotten roped into this expedition. He heard a crack and turned to see the third member of their troupe desperately trying to maintain his balance as the step beneath him gave way.

"Look out", Thomas shouted just before the man crashed into him, carrying both men into Sir Willow. They rolled en masse down the brittle, wooden staircase, their combined weight breaking several more steps. Finally they crashed into the wall bringing a shower of plaster and dust down on themselves. Sir Willow ended the ride on top of the tangle of bodies. He pushed himself off and stood.

"Everyone all right?"

"I think so," Thomas Creed said through soft moans as he used the wall to regain erectness. They helped up their companion, each retrieving his weapons that had been scattered in the debris of the destroyed staircase. Sir Willow was about to take command again when his friend Thomas shrieked.

"It's true! The legends are true." Sir Willow looked up to see Thomas pointing toward the ceiling, eyes bulging, body shaking. Before them, in the midst of a century old wine cellar, stood a creature. It was not unlike the great Yeti that Sir Willow had searched for many years ago in the Himalayas. Nine feet tall and covered in a coarse black fur, the beast roared, showing off two layers of serried fangs. Long, muscled arms were raised high over his head, waving wildly above his fedora which he wore at a jaunty angle.

"Wait a minute, wait a minute. Excuse me, whoever is writing this story. I don't mean to burst into your amazing descriptive passage, but I'd like to speak to you!" Sir Willow shouted.

"What are you doing?" Thomas asked.

"I want to talk to the guy writing this tripe. I mean this monster isn't scary at all."

"Well, you're right there."

"And who are we exactly and why are we here?"

"What do you mean?"

"There was no setup, we just jumped right into the story didn't we? All we know so far is I'm a Brit and you're American. What about this guy?"

They turned to look at the man behind them.

"I mean, who is he supposed to be? There hasn't been a word written about him yet. He hasn't said or done anything. We don't even know his bloody name."

The man came forward pulling a paper from his pocket.

"Actually, I don't think it matters. I didn't read the fine print of this contract, but as I'm only getting paid scale I think I'm just an ancillary character. I believe I'm just here to get killed in some grisly fashion by today's beast."

"Bloody hell."

Excuse me, can we get back to the story?

"Who's that? Are you writing this?" Willow demanded.

Yes I am. Can we get back to it. The creature seems to have fallen asleep.

"Not so fast, mate. We want some answers. For starters, who is this guy and why are we all here together?"

He's . . . a German.

"German?"

Jawohl.

"Don't get cute with me, mate."

He's a German adventurer. You're on a joint American-British-German investigation of the supernatural legends of this house.

"What are you on about? You made that up."

No, that's the story.

"All right. If that's the story, then why am I wearing a kilt? And why are we carrying swords?"

Ok, I made it up. Look, what is your problem? This is just a short story. Short. I don't have time for set up and deep characterization. Just three men against the monster. Now get on with it.

"No."

No?

"Not without a little respect, sir. I was doing better material than this when I was in short pants. I've done Hugo Award winners, played everything from pantomime marmosets to Russian czars to doctors in the throes of an ethical dilemma, but I have never given myself over to crap, dear sir, and I'm not about to start now. My father did not pay for my first lessons . . ."

Ok, I've made some changes. Sir Willow, you are now an Armenian antiquities expert named Arman Sulich.

" . . ."

And you're mute. Please move to the back of the scene, thank you. Thomas Creed, you are still a professor, but now you are the leader of the expedition, and you're more of an Indiana Jones type, no conflicts about your role or presence here, very authoritative. You all now have small caliber handguns and rifles. The setting has changed to the basement antechamber of the castle of Baron Boris von Schlager, a madman who has taken the creature from his native rain forest home and is using it to carry out his nefarious plans.

"Wow, you really believe this stuff, don't you." Thomas said.

What was that?

"Nothing, nothing."

Everything set, and  . . . action.

"What about me?"

Who said that?

"I did," the German character raised his hand timidly.

Nothing has changed in your script. Prepare to be eaten. Action.

"But we're in Germany now, obviously, so shouldn't I be in charge of the group?"

"That makes sense actually," Thomas chimed in. Arman Sulich stood behind them, laughing silently.

Fritz, no offense, but I've read your work before. It's not good. You were hired as fodder. Please, fod.

"All right."

The German ran right at the beast in a courageous charge, emptying his sidearm into the creature. Blood poured out over the thick fur, but it only enraged the monster further. He reached out and grabbed the human by the shoulders, his powerful arms squeezing the man like a tin can. The German screamed a blood curdling cry of help. He started to yell again when he saw the beast was now wearing a classic Hamburg hat perched gracefully on his head.

"Wait, wait," the agitated German yelled, hands waving for the creature to stop the scene.

Now what?

"He's still wearing a hat. What kind of monster wears hats?"

Consider it a quirk of the character. Action.

"No, that doesn't make sense."

Fine. You want the truth? This is the best creature in the business. I had to have him for this story, but . . . he loves hats. Won't work without one. It was either write the hats into the story or hire that giant worm that's done all those independent novellas.

"Oh, I've read him," Thomas joined in. "He's not bad, but can be a bit over dramatic. You know, like masticating endlessly on a bit of flesh when a simple chew and swallow would have done the trick."

Exactly. I know the scene you're talking about. He's guarding the passageway to hell and those kids find the gateway under the boathouse next to the lake. He kills the first kid that comes through and then proceeds to eat him for like six pages. I mean, my God, by then I didn't even care anymore who Satan turned out to be.

"Still, our German friend's point is well taken. The hat doesn't work."

How about a black beret? It will lay low on his head and blend into the fur.

"Works for me."

Let's get on with this please.

The German's screams weakened. The creature roared, fangs sinking into the man's throat.

"No!" Thomas Creed bellowed, raising his rifle and firing repeatedly. Arman Sulich fired his Luger over and over into the beast's belly. Thomas Creed dropped his empty rifle and fired his .45 six times into the monster's chest.

The howls of pain became softer and pleading as the beast finally fell, the German¹s lifeless body rolling to the side, blood from his torn throat mingling with the mighty beast's own life draining out onto the cement floor. Thomas Creed walked over and knelt down at the creature's head. He lay his hand on one fur laden cheek and stroked it until the last breath had passed.

"It didn't have to be this way," Thomas choked, tears streaming down his face. "We came to rescue you. To take you back to the rain forest where you belong. But I understand now, your descent into madness. All because of Baron von Schlager. When will these despots realize that they can't steal an animal's life just to further their own evil plans? When will they leave the wild creatures of this earth at peace?" Thomas looked up, his face pinched in anguish.

"Damn you! Damn you all to hell!"

"Hold on," the dead German shouted, sitting up. "That line has been used before."

"And in better material," Thomas added.

Damn it!
 
 
 

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