Saturday, December 19, 2009

"The Gray Hat"

I watched Neil Gaimen's "Stardust" for the first time the other day (I want to pick up the book, so impressed I was with the movie) and it inspired me for a modern fantasy style tale. Also, more proof that I can write something other than thrillers. I can't promise I'll have another post for next week since its Christmas, but if I find time to during my time off I'll do my best. :D

Title: “The Gray Hat”

Written Dec. 2009- Aaron Matthew Smith

“Swear on my mother’s grave!” Humphrey spat when he talked, especially when he was bargaining. Rom wiped the spittle from his face and rubbed his chin.

“Humphrey, this is the same old grey hat you tried to peddle off on me last night!”

“Salt and stones it is not! This belonged to the fourth emperor of Thane, and was plucked from his very head by his son who murdered him for the throne!”

Rom rolled his eyes. “Last week it belonged to a treasure hunter who recovered it from the sunken chest of Balrog the pirate.”

Humphrey’s four-toothed grin fell, just a hair. He tossed the object over his shoulder, where it landed amid a waist-high pile of hats, belts, pants, jugs, figurines, canvases, and practically anything else that one could imagine.

Except, it seemed, anything of value.

Rom had been searching the Bell Crest Market all night without success. The market, which was known for the oddities and rarities that commonly and sometimes innocuously found their way there, appeared on the crest of Bell Hill only under the light of the full moon. This was the last night the moon would be full, and it would be more than forty nights before it would arrive again. He would have no other opportunity to find a proper birthday present. He’d spent hours scouring the most obscure bins he could find- after all, where else should one look for a rare and special birthday present but among the oddest oddities?

Hours of searching had turned up nothing. His coat was grimy all the way up to the elbows from digging through chests, trunks, crates and boxes, and all he had to show for his efforts was a small bite on the tip of his finger that he’d received from some creature that was living in a coat with particularly deep pockets. Frustrated, he slapped his hands on the top of Humphrey’s counter.

“Well, don’t you have anything suitable?”

“Just who are you trying to buy for anyway?” Humphrey’s huge, tangled eyebrows rose, and Rom felt his face flush. “Ahh, I know that look!” Humphrey said sagely. “It’s for a lady! And I have just the thing for that special lady in your life!” Humphrey turned to his left and, with a great groan, flipped back the lid on a wooden chest the size of a small bed. Rom rolled his eyes and turned to walk to the next booth with something caught his eye.

He lost it- it was a twinkled of silver, the tiniest flicker of reflected light from the white paper lanterns that lit all the booths on Bell Crest Hill. He shifted this way and that, and finally caught it again, coming from within the old, dusty grey bowler hat that Humphrey had just shown him. The ratty headpiece had landed on its top, and Rom could see something shining behind its band.

“Humphrey,” he said, trying to hide his excitement. ‘I’ve changed my mind about that hat. I think I’ll take it.”

Humphrey was standing from where he’d been bent over the trunk, holding what appeared to be a circus tent made out of lace and satin. His bushy eyebrows crawled up into his thinning hairline. “Oh?” He said, suspicion coloring his words. “Why the sudden change of heart.”

“I think it’ll match her jacket, is all.”

“That’s a man’s hat, boy. Stop joking with me.” His tone grew a bit darker. “But why do you want it so badly now.”

“Does it matter? What does it cost?”

“Forty pecks.”

Rom stuttered. “Forty pecks!?! You can’t be serious. I could get a new hat from the finest hat maker in Greystone for forty! You couldn’t have given that piece of junk away last night.”

“And yet you want it so badly now? Forty pecks.” Humphrey’s tone was hard.

Rom sighed and began to dig through his pockets. After emptying his wallet and removing his emergency money from the sole of his shoe, he still only came up with six pecks. Last night, Humphrey would have been happy to have sold the tattered old thing for half a peck.

As he fished through the inside pocket of his coat, his fingers fell upon the spare button that the tailor had sewn there. Well, if the old man wanted to deal…

With a deft yank, he removed the button and held it out in front of Humphrey’s face, along with the six pecks. “This is what I have.” The old man’s eyes wrinkled as he smiled.

“Come on boy, don’t waste my time.

“Do you know what this is?” Rom held the button up to the old man’s pale blue eyes. He squinted at it.

“It’s a button.”

“I’ll take that as a no,” Rom replied. “This is what I spent all the rest of my money on.”

“Haha, sounds as if you got taken for a ride young man!” Humphrey shrieked a laugh, but stopped when he saw the grim look hitched onto Rom’s face.

“This button goes on a coat.”

“Well, most buttons do, y’know.”

“Not just any coat, you old goof. This button is a piece of a very special coat. Please tell me you’ve heard of Salamar?”

Rom noticed the old man’s eyebrows perk up ever so slightly, though he said nothing. Rom continued, “This button goes on a coat made by the alchemist Salamar. When he made the coat, he made it so it would only work if it was complete.”

“Work? What are you babbling about?”

“This coat lets its wearer walk amongst the dead while they’re still alive.”

“Oh, please. Now I know you’re wasting my time.” But Humphrey’s eyes stayed locked on Rom. Humphrey liked a good story, and Rom was on a roll.

“Don’t believe me? Have a look at this button. See how the two holes in it are off center?” He held the button up to the light- sure enough, the two holes for the thread were too high. “Isn’t that strange? Doesn’t it make the button look a little like a skull?”

Humphrey’s eyes were wide as he studied the button, bur Rom snatched it away before the old man could get too close a look at it.

“I made a hard bargain for this button earlier, and if I had any other pieces of the coat I would never part with it,” Rom said quietly. “But I stumbled upon it and thought it was a great item to have. Good bargaining chip, y’know…,” he sighed. “But I do want that hat.”

“Well,” Humphrey glanced this way and that, as crowds of people wearing various garb from all across the world shoved past, “I think we could work something out.” Rom smiled broadly.

Ten minutes later, Rom walked away from Humphrey’s booth, turning over the dusty grey hat in his hands. The eastern sky was beginning to lighten as he ducked into a shallow alley created by two particularly high stalls. He reached into the hat and felt around beneath the band, which tore free with a small tug.

A circlet of shining silver, hidden away within the band of the hat, tumbled out into his open hand. It was etched with deep filigree and adorned with a tiny green stone set into the front of it. He chuckled, an exasperated sound as the wind rushed out of his lungs in surprise.

“I earned this,” he said to nobody, turning the delicate circle over in his hands. He laughed again, slid the item carefully into his coat pocket, and made for home.

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