Death and the Purple Hat

I was sorting the petty cash into currencies that are current, extinct and yet to be invented, when Death appeared before me. He was clothed in the thick black Robe of Death, gifted to Him either just before, or just after, the beginning of time.

“I didn’t expect to see you today,” I said. He had a busy schedule.

He mumbled an embarrassed reply.

“I FOUND A HAT,” He said, removing a woolly, purple hat from his pocket.


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“Where did you find it?”

“IN MY POCKET,” He admitted reluctantly. “I DON’T KNOW HOW IT GOT THERE.”

The reason for Death’s embarrassment is that it was impossible for the hat to be there. He makes no actual contact with the mortal realm, it is the souls He seeks and only with these that He speaks. Although many of the dead try to persuade Death to let them take a treasured belonging with them, He touches neither earth nor air, so it’s impossible for a dead soul to place a physical object about Death’s person.

“Shall I put it with the others?” I asked. Although it’s impossible, non-the-less it happens all the time and an entire wing of Death’s domain is used as lost property office.

“YES, IF YOU’D BE SO KIND.”

“I’ll need you to fill in an Inventory of Impossible Things Form.”

Death filled in the form and I marked the hat with the relevant Inventory number and placed it securely in the lost property wing.

Death returned to work and the next few hours passed uneventfully, until just after my late-morning Kit Kat, when I was interrupted by a phone call.

That sentence may have seemed unremarkable to you, but you have to remember that my office is in Death’s domain and there is no phone line to Death’s domain, it’s simply impossible for anyone to call in. Go on try — see, no chance. Even gods have to visit in person if they want to see Him. I keep the phone for decorative purposes, to make it feel more like a normal office. Sometimes it really doesn’t feel like a normal office.

I picked the phone up cautiously and answered in my most professional voice.

“Hello, Death’s domain, how may I help you?”

“Hello, I was wondering if anyone had handed in a hat?”

“I think you’ve got a wrong number my dear, this is the realm of Death in the sixth dimension, not the St Pancreas lost property office.”

“No, no, this is the number I wanted. It’s my purple hat, I gave it to Death to look after.”

As Death’s PA nothing can take me by surprise, I have seen and heard it all. Or so I thought.

“We may have had a hat handed in. Could you describe it?”

“Yes, it’s a purple woolly hat and I left it in Death’s pocket.”

“I see,” I said, completely bemused, “well if you would like to come and collect it.” I said this as a test, as of course no mortal can enter Death’s world without his explicit instruction.

“I can’t come and collect it, you know that. I was wondering if you could deliver it to me. I know it’s cheeky to ask, but that hat meant so much to me, it was the first present my husband ever bought me. So many memories.”

“I suppose I could bend the rules and pop the hat in the post.”

“Oh no, no mail gets here. You’ll have to bring it.”

“That’s out of the question, I’m afraid. I don’t even know where you live.”

“I don’t.”

“You don’t? You don’t know where you live?”

“No, I don’t live. I’m dead. That’s why I gave Death the hat, so that I could take it to the other side.”

“Where exactly are you on the other side?”

“I’m not allowed to say. Sorry, but the living cannot know what lies beyond.”

Clearly heaven is devoid of decent hat shops, you’ve told me that much. “I can’t possibly get it to you if you can’t say where you are.”

“The Ferryman will take you to the Shores of the Dead. If you leave the hat on the shore I will come when you’re gone.”

I left work early to visit the Ferryman on the bank of the river Styx. I had met the Ferryman before, when I paid him his Retainer on Death’s behalf and he nodded his head in greeting when he saw me materialise.

“Hello again,” I said. “Do you know why I’m here?”

“I always know,” he said, “I am here to take your soul across the river Styx to the Shores of the Dead, a land where no living soul may tread, to deliver a purple hat to one who has crossed this way already and shall not be coming back.”

“That’s not how I’d have put it, but yes, that’s the gist of it.”

For the second time in my life I climbed inside the Ferryman’s boat. One day I would travel in it for the third time, for my final journey. At least I’d always assumed it would be my final journey, now I’d discovered that you can pop out of heaven to pick up hat deliveries any time you want.

The Ferryman silently ferried the boat across the river, determinedly, patiently, silently. We travelled further than we had on my last journey and after what could have been ten minutes, or an eternity, we saw a spec of land on the horizon. The Ferryman pushed on until the spec had become a vast continent.

As he rested his craft against the shore he warned me “You must not get out. If you step on to this shore you may never leave.” I shuddered.

“It seems undignified to just toss a hat onto the sand.”

“No need to leave it on the sand. Just throw it high, high into the air, and it will be caught — as long as you close your eyes.”

I did as instructed, closed my eyes and tossed the hat high into the air. I didn’t see where it landed, because it never landed. Somehow, something, somebody, some soul had reclaimed their hat.

We sailed back in silence and I said farewell to the Ferryman with nothing more than a nod of the head.

When I die, when I finally make a legitimate journey across the Styx, the first thing I shall do is seek out the soul of this woman to find out the full story of her husband’s gift and why, she went to so much trouble to get it back. It should be easy to track her down; she’ll be the only soul in heaven in a purple hat.


About Dave Clark

Dave Clark was born in Essex and lives in Cambridge, though his stories are mostly set in Swansea, New York and London, and occasionally outer space. His stories have also appeared in the charity anthologies 50 Stories for Pakistan and 100 Stories for Queensland.

>> Dave Clark's author page

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