Welcome to The Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is “someone always wears the same hat because of some secret and/or mysterious reason.”
This week’s story comes from Cathy MacKenzie. Cathy’s novel, WOLVES DON’T KNOCK, a psychological drama, is available from her locally or on Amazon. MISTER WOLFE, the sequel, coming soon! As well as MY BROTHER, THE WOLF, the last of the series.
“The Mystery of Hinklehorne’s Hat” by Cathy MacKenzie
Mr. Hinklehorne was a short, stout man. Looked old, but every adult looked elderly to pre-teens. I discovered that fact when I turned sixty-three, became a grandfather for the first time, and suddenly realized how ancient I was.
We never knew his first name. Back then, kids respected elders. No need for a child to know an adult’s first name, not with Mr. and Mrs. the norm.
Hinklehorne had been the school janitor for as long as I’d attended Hillcrest Elementary. I’d heard he’d been hired while the school was being built, which meant he’d been there for over forty years. I couldn’t imagine someone choosing janitorial work as a career. Or perhaps he’d fallen into it accidentally, never intending to stay. Watching him doing menial work at his age spurred me on to better myself.
He never removed his hat. At least, not that we ever saw. But he must have when he showered or slept. Still, Pierre and Bruce, my two best friends, and I always surmised about the odd-sized floppy, grey atrocity that seemed glued to his head, for even wild gusts of wind didn’t dislodge it. You know—how a person’s hand automatically goes to his head when he senses a breeze. Nope, no matter the strength of the wind, that old hat remained steadfast, and Hinklehorne never reached to his head to keep it on.
Pierre, Bruce, and I made up numerous stories explaining why Hinklehorne continually wore that hat, and we imagined every one of them to be true. We had so many explanations, though, that we couldn’t choose just one.
We shared our stories while we lazed under the largest oak tree in front of the school. For some reason, we never discussed Hinklehorne when we were elsewhere.
Pierre believed that Hinklehorne fell asleep under that very tree we sat under, and when he stood, a low-lying branch plunged into the top of his head. His parents took him to the hospital a few days later, but by that time, its roots had entwined around his brain, so the doctor couldn’t remove it. Pierre reasoned Hinklehorne didn’t remove his hat because he wanted to hide that piece of wood sticking out from his head.
Bruce thought Hinklehorne’s mother had repaired the inside band of his hat with Krazy Glue and he put it on his head before it had dried. Thus, his hat was stuck for all time. Yes, the hat looked that old!
My story had a fairy tale feel to it. I liked the idea that while Hinklehorne sleepwalked one night, he gazed out the window and wished upon a star, asking for a hat to cover his deformed head. Unfortunately, he didn’t realize he’d be stuck with it forever.
The others thought my story was silly, but theirs weren’t much better. Bruce added a second explanation, which made me think he was just trying to one-up me. As if it was a competition.
“He was in a fire,” Bruce said. “His house burnt down and he just barely escaped. Except, when he was running out, stuff fell on him. His entire head fired up. Left him with a zillion scars. Ugly scars. He can’t show his head because his hair doesn’t grow there anymore.”
I had to admit that Bruce’s second explanation was the most plausible—though in a way it was similar to my story with Hinklehorne’s deformed head—but we still didn’t know for sure.
I enjoyed sharing these stories with Jason, my first-born grandchild, and he’d laugh. Kids are so much smarter today than in my time—too smart for their britches at times. Though Jason giggled at the silly stories, he seemed enthralled with my words. Took him away from his electronics, if only for minutes out of the day, and my daughter praised me. She’d long ago quit harping at him.
I was seventeen when Hinklehorne died. We lived in the small community of Ashville, where everyone knew everyone. My parents were adamant we attend the viewing and funeral, especially since he’d worked at the school for as long as he had.
The summer he died was my last summer home before I would start university. Brian’s family had moved away two years before. Jason? He’d been in prison since he was sixteen.
Though I didn’t particularly want to see a dead person, I was excited. A “viewing” meant there’d be an open casket. I could solve the mystery of Hinklehorne’s hat!
The funeral home was packed, making me claustrophobic. But once I had a good look at Hinklehorne’s head, I’d be history.
I slowly approached the coffin, wishing Pierre and Bruce were with me. Solving the mystery would have been more fun with them by my side.
I stopped in my tracks. My heart thumpety thumped against my chest. I couldn’t believe it. The hat was still on his head!
I took another step closer. Hinklehorne was definitely dead. No heaving chest. No twitching lips. His hands were clasped tight, resting on his chest atop the pristine silk sheet.
The hat! I needed to lift it a bit. So I could see underneath. But could I do it? Come on; you’re seventeen. You can do it!
Various scenarios rushed through my head. The stories my friends and I had shared. I couldn’t believe I’d finally be solving the mystery.
I glanced around. No one was watching me. I could easily reach in and out of the coffin in two seconds.
I raised my arm. Stretched out my fingers. I was inches away.
I stepped backward.
I couldn’t do it. Too spooky. It was bad enough looking at a dead person, let alone touching one.
Let Hinklehorne take his hat mystery to his grave. Everyone, even in death, deserves a secret, right?
When I told Jason the funeral home story, he agreed with me.
I did solve one mystery, though. Hinklehorne’s first name. Hector. Hector Hayes Hinklehorne. Kinda had a nice ring to it. Jason thought so, too.
The Spot Writers—Our Members:
Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/
Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/
Phil Yeats: https://alankemisterauthor.wordpress.com
Chiara De Giorgi: https://chiaradegiorgi.blogspot.com/