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On Not Giving Back the Devil’s Hat

by Rudi Dornemann

In Monday's story, Susannah brought us a cutting from Goodwife Python's Bestiary of Wonderful Flowers that contained the line, "Do not give [the devil] back his hat."

I second this exhortation because, from firsthand experience, I know how true it is.

A few years ago, I worked as coat check clerk at a Nephelim bar in the theater district, back when it was still more of a semi-abandoned warehouse district. We had a list of rules, written by the owner in red Sharpie on pizza box cardboard, and not giving the devil his hat was number 5.

It was like a practical joke or a running gag between the boss and the fallen one. We had a whole lead-lined room in the basement full of hats, each on its own Styrofoam head, all under a continual mist of holy water. Each -- cowboy hat, bowler, knit black watch cap, velvet beret -- had two little holes for the horns, but even without that, you would have known. The heaviness in the pit of your stomach would have told you.

The thing about the hats is that they concealed something even more powerfully troubling: the devil's haircut. That’s right, like the Beck song -- where other cultures have proverbs, we distill wisdom for future generations in pop culture. It was different every time, sculpted hair-by-hair with some infernal product, each 'do an unforgettable, mind-burning sigil, like crop circles or mandalas whose meaning you never wanted to know. But I digress.

It all went well enough until the day the devil didn't just roll his eyes at the excuse du jour.

"Yeah. Fine. Never mind about the hat," he said. "I know better than to wear anything decent here. But," he dropped his voice to a conspiratorial pitch Eve might have recognized, "there's a feather in the brim, and I'd like that back."

There wasn't anything on the cardboard about feathers, and the boss said to treat him like anyone else (except the hat thing), so I headed downstairs. The foam heads howled; the sprinklers misted what looked and smelled like blood. The only hat with a feather was the fedora I grabbed.

"Thanks," said the devil. "Last one." He twitched his shoulders. "Souvenir of the wings that were."

A tip smoldered on the counter, generous enough -- once the gold congealed again -- but I quit. When the devil starts noticing you, however positively, it's time to look for more anonymous work. Please, forget you heard any of this. Just remember the hats.


Fabulous! Beautiful interweaving, sharply funny...and I like the link with Monday's story.

Posted by: Kat Beyer | February 18, 2009 1:31 PM

I like the detail in this story such as the sign written on a pizza box.

I also noticed that you are writing articles for Strange Horizons. I'll check it out.

Posted by: Fred Ollinger | February 18, 2009 9:17 PM


There's just one story over at Strange Horizons, but I hope you like it.

Posted by: Rudi | February 19, 2009 2:43 AM

This story makes me so very happy. For some reason it reminds me of 'The Handler' by Damon Knight, which is one of my favorite stories.

Posted by: Brendan | February 22, 2009 2:44 AM

Hi Brendan!

Happy to have made you happy.

I'm going to have to track down that Damon Knight story, since I don't think I've read it.

Posted by: Rudi | February 22, 2009 3:09 AM

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