Mr. Top Hat

Spacekat Tommy

Spacekat
There it was again.

Half a village of people dead.

We didnt know why.

The men in plastic body suits, wearing masks, were just loading carts, burning the bodies. Helicopters from above firing the images at us like lasers.

It's a small town world that we live in, we learned from the past that if really big major cities collapsed, it could destroy the fabric of our lives, so we fragmented ourselves into smaller cities, and reduced our population as best we could.

It was unfortunate to see the images we saw on our tvs in this day and age, it felt like home.

Because every time this epidemic hit, it was like watching a house down the street from you burn, and it hurt when we saw the communities hurt. They were people like you and I. People like my mom, my dad, and my neighbors.

Then at the edge of it all.. A man in a suit. Fully dressed. Top hat.

He shakes a few hands, and he walks off away from the pictures every time when its over, but smiling.

Eventually as time wore on, each time we saw it happening... i noticed the man. I didn't really say anything about it because it wasn't exactly important. I just assumed he was a very important person who overlooked everything. He was the boss giving orders to that crew, but i had a very creepy feeling about him, because he smiled.

There it was, that gut instinct, something just didn't feel right, but at the same time, if he was their boss, and he was trying to help ensure this didn't happen again, his crew was very precise..

He must be smiling, because it was a job well done.

The strange thing i always noticed about the tv images is that, he always stood behind the smoke of the burning bodies, the burning houses, and the crews he was overseeing were staining the ground red with chemicals at certain points that looked like dust piles. I'm assuming they were purifying the land, or marking the location as dangerous, because it was the cause of the problem. When the smoke shifted towards them, they shuffled off towards their vehicles and sped off at high speeds.

It was such a scary moment in time, and i didnt have a job yet because i was young, so i watched every single feed about this the moment as it happened. Honestly, i was kind of freaking out most of the time, but my parents calmed me down saying things like.

"It wont happen to us. It's going to be ok."

One time in particular one of the men in the plastic suits, burning the bodies, took his mask off for a second to scream something across the field at his unit lead because he couldn't scream through the mask loud enough. He pulled his mask off, screamed his request, put his hand up and waved as if he got his order, put his mask back on, got back to work, then fell to the ground 30 seconds later, and died. It only happened once as far as i can remember. They never took off their masks again.

His body was burned on site as well... Poor bastard.

One thing to know about me is... i'm a reader.

My friends are all involved with sports and entertainment. My parents are too involved with work, and most of the neighborhood is raising their own children. Everyone looks at me like, "This kid is going to be somebody one day" Because i was quite intelligent.. But they follow up with the phrase "If only he didnt always have his nose in a book.", and they laughed afterwards like it was a joke.

I thought this was awesome stuff.

There was only 3 books in town when i was born. I saw the first one and looked at it like it was some mysterious relic. I touched the binding on the side, it was old, ancient, falling apart... and that man who owned it taught me how to read it. I wish i remembered his name, i was too young to remember. He died shortly after of unknown causes. I found the other 2 books in his home under a floor board. He had willed me them in secret to my father before he died. As if he knew he was going to.

Strangely enough, he was the only person in town who knew how to read. Besides me of course.

We actually didn't have a library in our town before i was born. Now we do. 12 books as of today. Their bindings and covers are broken and stained, worn as if ancient.. but they are beautiful.

And little by little my town made it happen for me. Every birthday several people in my entire town would have found a book for me as a gift. I was astounded to find out people would actually travel many hours at times just to get one for me, and that they actually requested their families in the neighboring towns to find them, and the locals in those towns were nice enough to travel even further, so that the next year i could get another from them as a gift again.

When i found out, i was baffled. People actually did this. They do this! For me!

The reason i thought they all went as far as they did for me was just because I didn't really want anything else for my birthdays, and that i was just a likeable guy. I didn't want footballs or toys.. Maybe a pair of shoes if i was outgrowing mine. Or maybe.... just maybe.. some skimpy lace underwear, with pink ruffles and a sash to go around the waist.

I'm just kidding! I'm not like that.. Haha..

I had you for a second there, i know i did... aren't you a fool ;)

Anyways...

When you got a father like mine, who basically runs the town like a mayor but at the same time is a blacksmith, you get a lot of one ups over the world. My dad was highly respected.

I was young still, i wasn't yet at the age to start raising a family, i didnt even work yet. So I had all the time in the world to pay attention to what was going on around me.

This whole disaster thing happening was clearly scaring everybody, and no one knew what to do. So i payed attention constantly. i wanted to figure out why this was happening. How could i help?

That's when i started noticing Mr. Top Hat in the background making his apperance at specific grand social events on the screen. The award shows with the real important people. Shaking their hands all the time. He was clearly a very influentual man in our world. Super important. I just didn't know who he was. No one ever said his name. So i always just called him Mr. Top Hat.

My dad just said, "Well even if a man is important, sometimes you just wont know his name. Look at that other men back there, i dont know any of theirs and i've seen them a hundred times" and i looked at their faces, and i didn't know their names either.

A man came into town a crowd had gathered around him, i was told to go back inside the house so i couldn't hear what was said, but I overheard my parents talking about him from the other room just after dinner.

He said specific mushrooms were the reason the disaster was happening. He described their shape color. Short fat spikes, and blue spots. That you died within seconds when you came into contact with them. My mom was dubious that a mushroom could kill people because she never saw any mushrooms around the burning homes and bodies being thrown into the furnace on tv. Nor did my father. He just said to my mother, "That's what the man had said to the crowd before he ran off to the next town."

One day i noticed on the screen as the helicopter flew over a burning home, while they burned the bodies... paper in the wind. When i saw it i gasped, and the screen cut to:

"Try 'Dish hands 100%', the best soap you can count on to both wash your dishes, and keep your hands soft. Available at your local grocer"

I was stunned sitting there like, did i just see what i just thought i saw? Paper in the wind?

Paper?

Which isn't crazy weird or anything, because i'm used to seeing it all the time, because i see it every day myself, because i have books, but you dont see that anywhere else in this world... there were 3 books in this town before i was born.

3.

When it cut back the helicopter's camera, it was actually focused on that paper for a second, and you saw one of the men in the plastic suits snatch it up, and throw it into the furnace.

HE BURNED IT! WHY!?

Books are so hard to find! Written word is a glorious thing! To just burn the page so stupidly like that. Why would he do that? It must have been, i dont know... contaminated in some way. They were worried about it harming someone else if they picked it up then got sick and died.

On the next screen feed that evening i saw it for a second. In the background of a high class event. They had zoomed in on someone important, and there was a screen behind him as he was doing the interview. A flash of... TEXT!

ON A SCREEN!

As soon as i saw it during the interview, it was interrupted by a commercial about some stupid hand sanitizer. I called out to my parents. Told them what i saw. They said it must have been my imagination because they've never seen text on a screen ever, and then they justified it by saying, "What would be the point, no one would be able to read it any way?"

I know what i saw.

"I'm sorry we had techincal difficulties, lets go back to our man in the field, Mister Helson, tell us more about your experience there tonight."

Seriously? Did no one else see that?

This really turned the wheels in my head, there was text there i know it for a fact. If it was there, could it be that i'm not the only person i know who knows how to read? Certainly there has to be more out there.

And wait, why doesn't anybody know how to read?

When i asked why, they just asked me what my books were about. Dragons, mysteries, some book about a cat in a hat.

"See! They are just stories about fantasy. We learn everything we need to right here from the town's people."

"One is about gardening!", i exclamed proudly while picking up the old book its pages limping and practically falling apart.

My parents reacted strongly, and loud.

"You want to learn about gardens? Then go talk to John! You want to learn about building a home? Go talk to Michael! Books just contain stories about fantasy and knowledge everyone already knows, and is outdated that it's not very useful anyway when it does contain knowledge. A book might show you a bridge, Jacob can teach you how, and show you how to build a bridge. Dont you understand?"

He points at the book and tells me how old it is, how its falling apart at the seams, and how its a waste of time to bother with reading at all.

"IT'S OBSELETE SON!"

I felt like they slapped me. I felt like it was just me playing a child's game, like i was just reading a secret code my friends and i had made up.

But it feels like more to me.. It always has. Like it has a sense of power to hold knowledge in a hand. What if you lose your voice... you cant tell someone what you know.

We saw our first mushrooms a few days later. In OUR garden!

Same way the man described it. Short fat spikes and blue spots. At first my parents were terrified, because of what they heard, but they immediately relaxed when they found out one of the neighbor's children were sitting in a group of them, eating them.

He didn't die.

He said, "they tasted yummy!! Let me have more!"

They waited till the next day to be sure, but let him eat till he was full. He was fine.

Since they were growing all around our home(strangely enough, JUST our home), my parents picked em and ate them themselves. Said they tasted like sour grapes, but had a sweetness to them. I never liked the texture of mushrooms so i didn't bother to try them at all.

Yuck, mushrooms. Gross.

--

On the tv tonight we had an incident at a neighboring town away. Another disaster. People in our town were terrified. Too close to home. Very close to home. My parents kind of freaked out at first, but then there was nothing on the tv feeds for weeks about this disaster stuff.

Weeks and weeks, nothing.

They relaxed.

The mushrooms were starting to turn brown. I was surprised at how long they lived for, my parents considered peddling some of them to the community, and they ate them regularly themselves.

I kept thinking about that text on the tv screen, and suddenly it hit me. The paper in the breeze i saw ages ago.

My parents would never have let me go if i asked them, so when it got dark, i got on my bike and rode through the night to that town. It took almost an hour of riding. I didn't care about the time it took, i pushed hard and breathed heavily, i needed answers to questions.

I was able to find the home they burned fairly easy, because of the water tower i saw on tv.

I walked around the scene, looking through the rubble, it was late, the moon was bright, it was dark, but I could see everything just fine.

I was not scared.

I found a stone statue bust of McHenry Jr. a star in our eyes in the world of politicians, he came into power and created laws that made us all slowly get released from the grip the governmental squeeze on us. A good human rights man, and with the following cascade from the villages and towns, the push for his position into power, we didnt hold back. If we had a person that we could make king, we would have made it happen, but 'The 20' said "No!", and stayed in power themselves, because "It's dangerous to let one man rule alone".

There was a metal idol of some thing, some being with several arms with a smile.... squinty looking eyes, holding something in one hand, a circle and fire behind it, a mark on its forehead... I didn't recognize it. Later i found another large stone statue in another place, sitting cross legged, fat, looking peaceful and happy.

Broken plates, melted silver... pipes left from the ground. The smell of ash and plastics. No paper.

I ended up walking down the street and slept against a brick wall of the neighbors home a block away covering myself with fallen leaves for warmth.

I woke to a wetness on my face.. a dog was greeting me at sunrise.

"Charlie! Where did you run off too?", I heard a man scream out.

The man came around the corner of his home, and upon seeing me, he was sort of stunned when he saw me laying there.

"Um. Can i ask what you are doing here?"

"I was coming to see the village, it's close to mine. I was trying to figure things out. Why it happened. What was the cause. How things could go so wrong here. Who lived there in the burned house?"

He stared at me for several seconds, as if studying me, trying to figure out my purpose.

"Gabriel was a good guy. Come inside? You look cold."

I was shivering even with the leaf blanket on me, so i said, "Thank you." and ran indoors.

He threw blanket over me, and a kettle of water on the stove as he said to me,

"He was a carpenter. This town is going to suffer until we find another one."

"What was he like?", i asked.

"Well he loved the smell of bacon."

He rolls eyes and smiles before he continues with, "Doesn't every man? He was solid, stone cold at all times, he was very direct and always told you up front what he feels, about what you need to hear to become a better man. Only reason i know this, is because he helped make me who i am today"

"I gave it to you as hard as i could in order to make you remember, to understand, to manage yourself better." he quoted him.

"I always felt he was a strong guy, but i thought he was an asshole... Till he opened up to me, then we understood each other. Honestly though he really looked out for others in a strong way to make sure it stuck. He was a good guy. He made good people."

I sat and thought for a second as the kettle whistled...

"Can i ask a weird question (he nods) did he know how to read? I saw paper flying on the tv screen when his house was burning."

There silence for nearly a minute while he looked at me, almost in shock, then he poured me tea.

"Are you Thomas?", he asked as he placed the cup in front of me

I was confused how he knew my name, "Yes sir. I am."

For some reason he smiled.

"He sent you his book. He could read too. It was just a silly story, 'The Cat In The Hat'? i think it was called, it was foolish nonsense to us. Something that was rhymical, sounded funny, and told a silly story. Yeah, no one around here ever took it seriously, because we always just talk to each other instead for quick information."

He continued, "Why are you asking questions about Gabe? Why are you here?"

"I've been watching the feeds, and i saw paper, and this guy came to the town saying the reason they keep burning these places is because mushrooms are the reason tha.."

He cut me off... "With blue spots?"

I nodded, and he said, "Gabe had the mushrooms like that growing on his property before he died, and they burned his house right after."

My heart raced. I was on to something. I didn't know what yet but i started thinking.

"The man that stopped by my town said the mushrooms were the problem to the epidemic, but we watched a child eat them, and he was fine. But i've watched all of the tv moments, i saw that they burned the bodies of the dead people, and homes that were infected by this 'epidemic' but i never saw a mushroom. My parents even discussed it themselves saying it cant be the mushrooms, or we would have seen them on the screen." i said.

We sat in silence for a minute or so as we were thinking...

"Wait, every one of the "outbreaks" as they call this diease has been a straight line across villages...right? i remember like 7 of them now that have been like tornados went through towns. Did Gabe's mushrooms turn brown after a while?", i asked.

"Yeah, we didnt touch them, we were actually excited by how big they got. They were sort of a... local fascination.", he replied.

"When did he die", i asked.

"Right before the fire, at least that's what they told me. I went up to work up at the north end of the city that day. I brew the beer, someone has to, but right about that time all the chaos came into town. People died in that streak across town, the teams came in. They burned his home and his land, and of all the fallen... And then they left."

"Protect society", they said."

--

"Why didnt you learn to read?", i asked.

"Didn't need to, farmers teach how to farm, teachers talk to students, families raise each other. Who needs to read and why?", he replied.

The screen flashed on with the emergency beacon sound.

"Possible contagion in the area, Exodus town number 4, more on this soon"

"Number 4! I live there! Jesus no!!"

"Child stay here!", he screamed behind me as i ran off.

I got on my bike and double timed it back to my town, i could see the smoke already. Who got the disease? How? No one new has come into town for ages. We're so contained in our bubble it just didnt make sense.

As i rode into town, i realized, that smoke is really close to where i live....

The wind was on my back, the smoke pushed into the sky in front of me..

I thought about the tv screens, Mr. Top Hat, always behind the scene, i had to be safe. I came across the corner and my house was in flames.

"NOOOOOO!"

I tried to get closer but the crowd around my burning house stopped me, i threw my bike down, and i was comforted by my neighbors as i cried.

"Thank god you werent around earlier child, you're going to be ok, we'll make sure...", they said.

The men were spraying the red stuff. Plastic suits and masks on. Just like on tv.

In the distance in the line of the smoke and wind, i saw someone suddenly drop dead, then the men in the plastic suits and masks dragged his body away and threw it into the fire, everyone cried in horror, no one knew what was going on. How could people drop like that, when seconds before they were healthy as you and i? It didnt make sense.

Thats when i saw him Mr. Top Hat. With him the men in suits and ties, and just like on tv, all of them smiling and shaking hands as if it was, yet another, job well done.

Who smiles watching people die??

I looked around my home's yard, and the mushrooms were now the piles of dust i remembered seeing on tv, the same places the plastic suited men were spraying like they always did...

I realized in that fraction of a second.

This wasn't a surprise plant in a random location, it was a weapon! And an excuse to burn something.

I pushed off my neighbors and ran as fast as i could, i grabbed 2 handfulls of the dust, and held my breath. I ran upwind of Mr. Top Hat and his associates... They looked at me for just a second as i screamed and threw the dust into the wind.

At that precise moment, i knew i was right.

The look in their eyes said it all. They just stood there stunned.

They were about to die and they knew it, and so did I.

The house burning, the tvs showing every last second of it, cutting to commercial last second when they realized things werent going according to plan.

The world saw it all happen. It was too late to change a thing.

The men dropped to their knees and fell on their sides with one last gasp.

I followed immediately after.

See the mushrooms while they were alive were harmless, but when they died and turned to dust, somehow they bonded with chemicals in the air to create a heavy neuro toxin.

The red spray was put on the piles to ensure it was neutralized.

No one in the world ever saw the mushrooms again.

And little by little.. the world of power, written text, was held up high by the elite, and destroyed to those that could possibly use it to gain strength....They burned it, piece by piece, little by little, because they wanted all of the power and knowledge for themselves.

They would do anything to literally destroy and burn the world in order to get it. Readers.

But that that world came back to life.

Now everybody reads this story. For it is our history here.

Thank you for reading.

Never. Stop.
 
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