a wide-brimmed dark brown hat

The man loved his hat. It was a wide-brimmed dark brown hat, that featured an elegant green feather. One of a kind. It reminded him of everything he had ever loved.

The hat kept the rain off his head as he walked along the darkened street.

The sign over the door was scratched and worn, the only word that he could make out was “den”. The picture was indecipherable.

The shade from his hat reduced the effect of the sudden light as he walked in.

Leon extended the man a line of credit, although given his disheveled appearance he almost didn’t.

Twenty minutes later when the minstrel, Christine, got off the stage, her light voice still ringing in the air, the man was able to use his credit to be the first to buy her a congratulatory drink.

The mysterious long feather gave him an air of sophistication and that ensured that she returned after her customary rounds she returned to him.

He told her that she reminded him of his daughter. He said that his daughter had played the harp as well, and sang like an angel. His eyes were barely visible, and pained. Christine inhaled slightly and began to move away, when he grabbed her wrist. She looked up, shocked at this sudden movement, ready to scream, but all he said was “Run. Run now. Please. This place is not safe.” and then let go.

She should have laughed at him, this was the best spot in this town. There was money to be made by playing longer. She should have howled, or whispered a word of warning to Leon.

Instead she looked down below the hat, and saw for the first time that his pants were bloody and covered in dust. She saw that he was a stranger in a small town, and that he had arrived at night in the rain, but there was no sign of a horse.

She saw for the first time how pale his arms were; she saw the marks on his wrists and how the tendons bulged. She felt the determination flowing from on him, as if it was the only thing keeping him upright.

She did not run. But she did go for a walk to clear her head.

The man in the hat sighed as he watched her leave. He hoped it would be enough to sooth his conscience later.

He took off his hat, set it on the bar, and waited.

A roundish man walked in from the back and sat down at his table. The stranger in the elegant brown hat came and sat next to him. The roundish man, whose name was Taub, startled and began to protest.

“I have been sent by Josephine” said the stranger. “How do you propose to atone for your sins?”

“Listen” said Taub, visibly shaken by the name Josephine. This was his place of business, he needed this to go away quietly, and quickly. “She’s a liar. But I’ll pay you triple whatever she’s offering for your trouble.”

Image: A three or four panel illustration. The stranger grabs Taub’s belt and pulls him out of his chair, under the table.

The crowd rises to protest. One arm throws the table at part of the crowd, the other swings open, hurling acid at everyone. On the people, the acid burns scars into them. On the wooden floor, the acid starts a fire. The stranger steps on Taub’s neck.

Back to text: “I will return in three days. By then, this man will have confessed, and been made to atone for his sins. Otherwise his punishment will be the town’s punishment.”

The fire started by the acid was spreading, and the room was in chaos as he left.