A man's memory of a terrible event in his youth still haunts him
THE BLACK CAPE AND TOP HAT
Ben Stevens sat at the kitchen table with his head down, staring absently into a plate of sausage and eggs.
“Ben? Earth to Ben. Come in, please.”
“What?” Ben said as he came out of his trance and looked into his wife’s eyes. “Oh, sorry.”
“What’s wrong?” Mindy asked. “You’ve been acting weird since you got out of bed this morning.”
Ben took a sip of his coffee. “It’s nothing really. Just a dream I had last night.”
“A dream?” Mindy asked.
“Well…yeah. But it was a dream about something that really did happen to me when I was a kid. I knew I’d never forget it, but lately I’ve been thinking about it more and more.”
“So what was it?” she asked.
“You don’t want to know. Trust me.”
“Ben, you know we don’t keep secrets from each other. Tell me.”
And since they didn’t, he did.
~ ~ ~
When Ben was seven years old, he witnessed a terrible sight. He’d gone over to his best friend’s house one bright summer morning to play, just as they had all summer long. When Corey Nelson’s mother answered the door she said he was still asleep, but Ben was more than welcome to go upstairs and “wake that boy up. After all,” Mrs. Nelson said, “he can’t sleep his whole summer away.”
As Ben got to the top landing and started toward Corey’s open bedroom door, he thought he saw something quickly flash across the room. He was sure it had to be Corey, but it looked too big to be Corey. And besides, what would his best friend be doing all dressed in black, let alone moving so fast? Figuring his eyes were playing tricks on him, he called out Corey’s name as he stepped into the room.
But Corey didn’t answer. Couldn’t answer. Would never answer.
The seven-year old’s body had been violently ripped apart, his blood still dripping down the walls and from the sheets of his bed, his limbs scattered across the once blue shag carpet. Several large pieces of flesh had been removed from the torso, as if something had been chewing on the child after his demise.
That would have been enough for anybody, but what he saw next, or at least what he thought he saw next, was the figure of a man with a black cape and wearing a top hat closing the closet door behind him.
And that was all his seven-year old mind remembered, until the policeman started asking him questions one hour later. He told him everything, including about the man with the cape and the top hat. At the time the nice policeman seemed to believe every word. But of course, he didn’t. Oh sure, he believed Ben was telling the truth about what he thought he saw, but he didn’t really see that, now did he? They’d checked the closet and there was no trace of a man with a cape or a top hat. Little boys sometimes just think they see something. It was called ‘imagination’, and even grown ups sometimes think they see something when really they don’t.
And that was the end of their questioning.
In the end, it was the Nelson’s two Doberman pinschers who had committed the gruesome crime, apparently having gone mad in the middle of the night and turning on their owner’s young son. A tragic accident, but an accident, nonetheless. No charges were ever filed against the Nelsons for putting their son in such a dangerous environment because the district attorney figured they’d been punished enough.
~ ~ ~
When Ben finished his story, sans the gory details, Mindy just shook her head.
“My God,” she said, “you’ve been keeping this in your head all this time?”
“It’s not that big of a deal now, Mindy. I’ve probably seen worse. I mean, I’m a cop, remember?”
“But still, seven years old?”
“I’ll be alright. Just don’t know why I’ve been thinking about it so much lately.”
“You sure?” Mindy asked.
“Okay. I have a meeting at work I have to go to at ten, but then I’m done for the day. When I get back, I promise I’ll take your mind off that pesky little dream for you. In the meantime, you can just think about how I’m going to do that.”
“Oh, yeah,” Mindy said, batting her lashes. “I promise.”
~ ~ ~
Ten minutes after Mindy left for her meeting, Ben sat down in his recliner and turned on the TV. He was trying to think what kinky thing Mindy had in mind when she came home, but his mind kept drifting back to that day in Corey’s bedroom forty-two years earlier. He knew no man with a cape wearing a top hat killed his best friend, but why did that part about it stick in his mind? That was another part he’d kept from Mindy, but he wasn’t sure why. Without even knowing it, he was starting to fall back into his trance again when a knock at the door startled him back to reality.
He got up to answer it, and was shocked at what he saw when he opened the door.
“You!” he cried at the visitor.
“Excuse me?” asked the man with the black cape and top hat.
“You are real! You’re the man who killed Corey!”
The man still looked puzzled.
“I’m sorry, Ben, but I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m not real, and I didn’t kill Corey. Those Dobermans did. I’m simply a memory. Or in your case,” he continued, baring a mouthful of long, yellow pointed teeth, “your imagination.”
~ ~ ~
When Mindy came home early from her meeting that bright summer morning, she witnessed a terrible sight. Not only was her husband’s body violently ripped apart with several large pieces of flesh removed from his torso, but there was also a top hat sitting on the kitchen table.
That case still remains open.
Retitled 'Imagination' and published in the March/April Edition (Issue 2 Volume 4) of
69 Flavors Of Paranoia