“Time Hat” (1938)
a C.C. Prexman short story
They were everywhere. On everyone.
“How could I have known?”
Sitting at his favorite cafe on the corner of Boulevard Cheminet, next to the post office and close to the International School Of Performing Arts, outside of which a naked man was attempting to climb up a tall tower in his mind, Andre Relier was remembering the future.
It was 1997, the world was close to global destruction at the hands of the commie Centaurian telepaths and war had become the new norm. Relier had removed the time hat and was ready to explore this most unpleasant of futures when the unthinkable happened.
France had been taken over by the Centaurians long ago (circa 1985) and Relier was now technically in enemy territory. Moments after he removed the time hat, he felt a small prick on his neck. Like a scratch only pointier. Reaching there, he found a small dart-like fish which he promptly pulled out. The fish melted almost instantly. Feeling dizzy, Relier knew he had to run but could only manage standing, just about. He couldn’t move, he was like frozen. In the distance, he could see an increasingly blurry dog walking towards him. It was wearing a cap.
Still standing, Relier fainted dropping the time hat on the ground.
“Apprehension complete, Comrad.”, said the dog.
When he woke up, Relier was hatless and upside down.
Where was he? What had happened to him? The time hat! Where was it?
Suddenly, a bright light flashed in front of him. Squinting as hard as he could, Relier could finally make out a general shape walking towards him.
“Who is this? Where am I?”, he asked, “Whoever you are you’ve got to let me out, you don’t understand…”
The lights dimmed slightly and he saw a man wearing what looked like an army uniform. Relier had often wondered about the army. What if one was asked to kill an armed newborn baby suspected of treason? The morals linked to a career in the armed forces were beyond him.
The man in front of him, whose skin was bright red and whose eyes were as white as a snowflake’s cold, lifeless heart, looked at him for a moment, saying nothing. A door closed behind him and after a long, awkward pause, he finally spoke.
“Identify yourself.”, he said simply.
“It’s no use, I… I don’t belong here.”
No doubt signalling to one of his guards somewhere in the room, the man, with an effortless wave of his hand, made the lights blinding once again. It was like the sun.
“Identify yourself, stranger.”, he repeated.
“My name is Relier, Andre Relier but it’s no use, I don’t exist here. I don’t belong…”
“Indeed you do not belong, Mr Relier. You are trespassing on Centaurian property.”
“Look, if I could just get my hat, I’ll explain everything.”
Another hand wave and the light started to flash on and off, getting brighter and brighter. Even with his eyes closed, the heat and the constant flashing were unbearable.
“No papers, no proof of Centaurian citizenship. You know what the penalty is for that?”
Relier fainted before he could answer.
His eyes opened to a whole new setting. Relier was outside, naked, and facing a large, totem-like structure. Looking up, he noticed the giant tower was so high it seemed endless. Around him stood six Centaurian officials: three “Reds” in suits, three wearing army uniforms. One of them was the man he’d met earlier, another was older, perhaps a general, and the other was younger, holding a “beamer” (typical Centaurian laser weapon).
One of the men in suits, a woman, spoke.
“Mr Relier, for the crimes you have committed you are sentenced to The Pillar Of Hope. If you are able to climb to the very top and drop down The Centaurian Cloth Of Eternity, a cloth you will find pinned to the summit, then your life will be spared. If, however, you fail to reach the top or refuse to attempt the climb: you will, here and now, be executed. If you fail your climb and plummet to your death, then you will be given an honorable Centaurian funeral. If you fail your climb and your fall results in injury, not death: you will be executed. Men, proceed with the sentence.”
“Wait! You don’t understand, my hat…”, pleaded Relier.
“Silence!”, shouted the old man.
To the younger man, a simple soldier no doubt, the “Red” from the torture room ordered to ready his weapon.
“Begin your climb. Or die.”, the man said to Relier, coldly.
This particular group of people was not the bargaining type, Relier thought. Better do what they say. If this was his time to die, he might as well go out with honor. Relier began his climb, with both hands grasping at either side of the pillar tightly. Luckily, Relier was an experienced and skilled climber so as hard as it was and as impossible as it would be to reach the top, he was doing remarkably well. As he climbed, he thought.
What were his options? His strength would give way long before reaching the top of the pillar, this was inevitable. He had to conserve as much strength as possible. But how? And then what?
The solution came fast in his mind.
Looking out into the distance, he could see the street where he had been apprehended. He was high enough to look over the camp but not so high overall, considering how tall the pillar was. Holding tighter than ever with his hands, pulling his legs up so he was essentially standing on the side of the pillar, Relier promptly defecated.
What happened next happened in a flash.
Relier’s waste fell on the young soldier’s face, as predicted, and as soon as it did Relier slid down the pillar all the way to the ground. In one smooth motion, he landed, turned around and grabbed the soldier’s beamer before urinating right in front of him as hard as he could. Blinded by the gold, sour liquid, the officials reached for their weapons awkwardly. This split-second gave Relier plenty of time to shoot all of them. The laser beams were flying faster than the urine itself, the red beams penetrating the Centaurians with perfect accuracy.
In a blink, it was all over.
Without hesitation, Relier started climbing the pillar again, holding the weapon in his mouth this time. A bit higher than where he’d reached before, Relier held the beamer in one hand and let himself hang with the other. Beamers having unlimited ammo, Relier was certainly in luck. Shooting at the pillar right below him, he hung there for what seemed like an eternity beaming the tower relentlessly. He could hear an alarm below and sounds of troupes running out but he didn’t care: this was life or death. Eventually, the lasers finally pierced through the pillar completely. Putting the weapon back in his mouth and holding both sides of the tower once again, there was nothing left but to push.
After a lot of pounding, Relier knew the time had come.
The pillar broke and started falling forwards, Relier was hanging on tighter than ever before. The huge structure crashed right down onto the camp, killing and injuring dozens of Centaurians for sure, and landed far into the city.
It was time.
Relier started his long slide down the pillar. Along the way he could hear beamers shooting right past him and screams of dying Centaurian soldiers, also he could smell bears. The circus must have been in town. As planned, he slid off the pillar exactly in the street where he was taken. Nothing left to do but find the time hat, which, it turns out, was still right where he had left it. What luck! Placing it upon his head, it started spinning and just like that: Relier was gone.
Back at his favorite cafe, where he had started thinking back to all this, Relier was enjoying a truly special coffee: dark, strong, simple. He hadn’t worn the time hat since and it’s likely he never would again.
There was no time like the present.
On the other side of the street he saw a dog sitting, smiling at him.
It had begun…
More on legendary writer C.C. Prexman soon.
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