The Red Hat

The little boy with the red hat stood in wonder, or hesitation (depending on who you asked). A quick look couldn’t hurt no one, so he made sure to get a couple.

It was mindless, of course, or it wouldn’t have come here. But it was also plain and simple, the creature that crouched before him. It wasn’t trying to impress him. 

It might not even be aware of the little boy with the red hat. 

Yet it was remarkable.  

And as some wise man or woman might’ve said: 

“Trust in those that don’t belong, for they must know something.” 

Surely, that was a saying somewhere

But it could’ve just been the illogical circumstance, a fish out of water, of sorts. And it seemed to the little boy with the red hat that this “fish” would be staying for years and years. 

So he kept staring? 

Imagine a fish—a rare fish—the one with the light that dangles over its head and a homely face (again, depending on who you asked). And the little boy with the red hat had no idea that this was an anglerfish, with it living in the deepest depths of the ocean and all.

Imagine this anglerfish, instead of staying in the deepest depths and darkest dark where it belonged, decided it wanted to turn its light off for a moment or two, and explore the whole wide world and all its natural light. It wanted to try something different for a bit, and maybe it would even do some good. 

Maybe.

Perhaps an anglerfish had the kahunas to show itself to those that never saw it before.

And that’s what the little boy with the red hat saw. Not kahunas or barracudas or even an anglerfish, but something figuratively resembling an anglerfish. 

But the creature crouched before him came from the very top, and not the very bottom. 

While he was as hardened and experienced as anyone else his age, especially compared to those whose only worry was making it home to Fortnite, this encounter was completely new and unusual. 

He’d fished along the river many times in the past, and had caught many odd looking fish, and seen many odd looking animals in the thickets beyond, but had never come across anything so foreign. 

He knew looking too long may ruin him, but he had to know, to understand, why the creature chose to come to his land. He never wanted any trouble. 

All he wished for, all he knew, was fishing this bank until he caught enough to take home and make his dad and mom and papa and mama proud. 

He never caught any fish with a light dangling over its head. 

And never would. 

He caught mostly trout, which lacked the fabled light. 

Figuratively speaking, of course.

And he looked and looked until the creature finally noticed his gaze, and stared into the eyes of the little boy with the red hat. The boy knew he’d been caught in the act, but refused to flinch, hoping the creature would act first. 

He wanted the creature to acknowledge him, somehow.  

But, at the very moment the boy couldn’t contain his curiosity any longer, the creature was gone. He watched it leap from the stump and fly away through the wood, leaving leaves and fallen twigs in its wake. 

The most unusual and wonderful creature he’d ever met left him without saying goodbye. He wished it would return, to explain itself, but he knew it was gone forever, easily led astray by its own light. 

So he waved and waved, lost in the wonder of the magnificent stranger. 

But the fat dragon flew away, without looking back, and disappeared beyond the mountains that lay beyond the sea of tree trunks and sand.

*

The little boy with the red hat never saw the fat dragon again. 

But the fat dragon saw the odd little boy again, along with his peculiar red hat. He was flying home from an unsuccessful hunt, and spotted the boy fishing from the shore near the spot they had first met. 

The fat dragon noticed the peculiar red hat from miles and miles away. The fat dragon stared at the colorful hat, instinctively flapping his wings faster, as he flew closer to the boy along the shore. 

He was now captivated by the unknown and the unusual. He was trapped in a state of wonder, or hesitation. 

So he kept staring? 

The fat dragon remembered nothing of their original encounter. It was as forgettable to him as it was unforgettable to the little boy. 

The fat dragon couldn’t afford to remember many things. 

To the fat dragon, it was just another day amongst the humans and their buildings and their wheels and their guns. He had traveled far, and had seen many of them. He had seen many little boys, and old men, and daughters, and mothers, and on and on. He had seen them curse and thank, steal and give, hate and love.

But he recognized the red hat—the peculiar red hat. 

He drifted amongst the clouds, engrossed by a memory almost completely forgotten, drawing closer and closer to the shore below. And as if by instinct, he had to have the hat. 

And all he truly had was instinct, right? It had helped him many times before, along with many other fat dragons on countless occasions. 

If he ignored it now, his basest form of action and reason, he’d have to account for responsibility. And after his flight, there’d be no return, no return, no return… 

He would’ve made his choice.

Instead, he’ll pick the simpler path. 

No matter the cost, he’ll let it control him, in a refusal to face the shame and regret. 

But that shame and regret might be hidden beneath, forever beneath, somewhere deep inside. He might face it one day, but not today.   

*

Today, the fat dragon swooped down from the sky and snatched the red hat from the shore, and with it went the little boy down into a belly of darkness.

While he never wanted to, the fat dragon got a little fatter. 

The Prophet

I cannot seem to wrap my mind around the possibility of being born with six toes. Are there just a couple miniature toes, or is the sixth toe a completely separate appendage? Nonetheless, I don’t believe I’ll ever get my answer.

Unless one of these guards happen to have six toes, or know someone who might.

“Mr. Guard,” I said, “How many toes do you have?”

But Mr. Guard didn’t care about what I had to say, because he didn’t even bother to look at me. 

Maybe he didn’t have any ears. I can’t tell, after all, on account of his helmet. 

I can’t wrap my mind around that possibility either. Would there be useless holes where his ears used to be, or would excess skin cover the holes and the delicate little ear drums hiding inside? 

I’ll likely never learn about extra toes and missing ears.

The only items my captors allow me to have is pen and paper. I can’t read any books because they’re afraid I might learn something. I’ve decided to just write the books myself, and maybe I’ll learn something that way. 

That’ll show them.

So, future reader, you’re subject to me and I’m subject to you. Don’t pity me too much. There’s a lot of people worth pitying, and I shouldn’t be labeled as one. But why should you care about what I got to say, if I’m not worth your pity?

Because my name is Jeremiah, and I used to be a prophet. 

*

I wasn’t a very good prophet. I wasn’t able to keep myself from getting captured, after all. The moment they came and took me, and told me I knew too much, I knew I was done. 

And no matter what anybody tries to tell you, even if it comes from a zealot, the most important responsibility of a prophet is to keep prophetizing.  

It does no good to be locked up in a nine foot by twelve foot cell, especially when all your prophetizing will go unnoticed. Not even Mr. Guard and Mr. Other Guard care about my prophetizing. I tried it on them when I first came here, but they refused to look at me, as always. 

Nothing can be done about men with no ears.   

But do you think people will care about me?

Remember, I wasn’t a very good prophet. They can find a better one to latch onto, and I honestly hope they do. I’m rooting for them, for everyone. I might be a little too biased in my prophetizing, now.

And what is a prophet if he is no longer unbiased?   

So I give up the title of prophet. I’m not going to try to predict anything else. I’m just going to sit back and tell a story, an interesting story, and let you do the prophetizing for yourself. 

I’m out of the game. 

Goodbye to everyone, even the zealots. 

*

Hello, again, even the zealots. 

This tale, straight from the mind of Jeremiah, begins with a bang.

More specifically, a big bang. 

But not the big bang (scientific theory or television show). 

The bang was the sound of a cannon, and I happened to shoot out of that same cannon in front of a crowd of all my wildest zealots. I was shot out of the cannon because I claimed that only the chosen few could perform the feat. 

My wildest zealots believed me because I showed them videos of people dying by canon balls. And an ordinary man, like myself, was obviously not as hard as a cannon ball. I let them all feel an authentic cannon ball to prove it, and then I let them feel me. If I were to be blasted out of a cannon, I would explode upon impact, because an ordinary man, like myself, was soft and breakable, which was quite the opposite of a cannon ball. 

And they believed it. 

It was important that I convinced my zealots that I was one of the chosen few. I wanted money, and lots of it. They were willing to give it to me for letting them in on a few secrets, so who’s really to blame here? 

After I successfully landed, and dusted myself off somewhat theatrically, I went to collect donations from my most devoted zealots. The craziest ones always had the most to give. Perhaps that’s what made them crazy in the first place, or maybe they gave because they were crazy. 

I’ll never know, I guess. 

But I earned a lot for the cannon blast, enough to cover my expenses and give me a healthy cut three times over. After I got done thanking all my zealots, and wishing them luck in the second coming, and all that jazz, I was taken aside by an older gentlewoman wanting to take me out for brunch. Judging by her appearance, I assumed it wouldn’t be anything fast-casual either. Maybe a little more upscale. 

A brunch worthy of a prophet. 

I couldn’t say no, a prophet must indulge his most devout zealots, after all. So I agreed that I’d meet her tomorrow for omelets and mimosas.

She was most delighted, I remember. 

*

The place we met was indeed upscale. It was in the city, far away from where I shot out of a cannon only the day before. I was relieved no one seemed to recognize me, perhaps because I traded my famous brown shawl for a blue bowtie. 

There’s nothing worse than being forced to prophetize when you don’t feel like prophetizing. 

And all I wanted was omelets and mimosas, after all. 

The gentlewoman had already arrived, and had chosen a small table in the far corner of the fine establishment. I walked over to her and smiled, shaking her hand softly. 

“Good day,” I said. 

“Thank you so much for coming, Jeremiah,” said the gentlewoman, with a little added warmness to my name.

“A fine morning to contemplate the divine,” I said, lifting my hands in praise. “It is known that when two lorcas meet, the clouds fear to conceal them. The Sun must shine to show the world that there is still beauty. And I see no clouds today.” 

I folded my arms and nodded my head in reverence, but the gentlewoman waved me off.

“You can cut the act around me, Jeremiah. I’m not one of your zealots. And I’m not one of your lorcas,” she said. 

She motioned for the waitress to take our drink order. 

“I’d like a Bloody Mary,” she said. “And you, Jeremiah?”

The waitress looked at me waiting for my order. I was still in shock of the gentlewoman’s lack of faith, as true as it might be. 

“Mimosa,” I said. 

The waitress walked away and the gentlewoman turned her attention back to me. 

“I’ll get to the point, now, Jeremiah. I’ve asked you to come to brunch in order to get your advice.”

“Advice on what?”

“On how you convince people that you know what you’re talking about.”

“It’s because I do,” I said, lying. “It’s because I speak the word of our lords—the Mind, the Body, the Spirit. The three bring unity, and when united, allow those who believe to survive the second coming.”

“I heard all that yesterday, Jeremiah. But how do you do it? How can you convince your followers that what you say is the word of your lord? They’re not stupid—not all of them, at least. They’re rich and poor, comfortable and desperate. I want to be able to do that, too. For more practical means, of course.” 

Remember, I’m not a very good prophet, and I never thought of myself as a very good prophet. I would’ve been a very good prophet if I was able to know what I was doing right and wrong. 

I, honestly, was just doing, and some people seemed to like it. 

But that wouldn’t satisfy the gentlewoman, so I said, “Everyone is desperate, whether they’re provided for or not. Even you.”

She looked at me curiously, likely trying to figure out if this was more prophetizing, or if I was actually giving her advice on the tricks of my trade. I couldn’t even tell you want I meant by it, because I wanted to move past the subject altogether. 

I just wanted my damn mimosa. 

“Jeremiah,” said the gentlewoman, as the waitress finally brought us our drinks, “I’ll let you in on a little secret. I work for a little group made up of all kinds of people—rich and poor, black and white, smart and dumb. It’s called the United States of America. Don’t act so surprised, I’m not that important. Just a lowly government servant. But I’ve asked you here for brunch because I believe, along with some of my closest associates, that we could use all the advice we could get.

“We could use a prophet. We could use you, Jeremiah.”

*

The waitress came again and I asked for my omelet. I was surprised I was even able to get that one word out, but I did. 

I was very confused, and when a not very good prophet is very confused it can cause problems. 

So I said, “Is this a joke?”

“No.”

“Honestly, I’m not even a very good prophet. Surely there are better prophets out there.”

“None so gifted as you. Truly,” she said, waving me off before I could interrupt her. “You put on the act without believing what you’re saying is true. But there’s no malfeasance behind it. You just want people to listen to you, and make a living.”

“It is a humble living,” I admitted. 

“We’ve been following your congregation and stunts for awhile now. As far as we can tell, you give them what they want, and what you give them doesn’t end up doing any harm. You reassure people without painstaking effort. So how do you do it?”

“Well, why should I tell you?”

“Because fuck the Russians,” said the gentlewoman. 

“What?”

She smirked, “I’m just messing with you, Jeremiah. I don’t know, do you care about patriotism?”

“What use are patriots in the After?”

“Money?”

I perked up then, and not just because I finally got my omelet. I always found ways to make more money, which was perhaps the best part of being a prophet.

That and meeting new faces, each and everyday. 

But I wasn’t one for material pleasures, honestly, which was perhaps the closest I got to following my own prophetizing. 

I just liked to look at all the faces. 

“Perhaps that would do. What do you want to know?” I asked, before I took a bite into my perfectly cooked omelet. 

*

I told her all kinds of things. I told her about what people really wanted to hear. I told her about what kinds of people would listen the best. I told her about what kinds of people would act on what they heard the best. 

I told her many, many things.

Everything a not very good prophet could ever hope of knowing. The tricks of my trade were tricky no more, not to her. 

And she took it all in while sipping on her Bloody Mary. She let me have the olive, which was nice of her. I added it to my omelet for a little extra zest. 

“Thank you again, Jeremiah,” she said. 

We shook hands one final time and left the fine establishment, going on our separate paths. I would go back to following the lords, and preparing for the second coming and the After, and looking for more members of my lorca. 

At least I would act as if I was. 

I would not know what path she went back to for some time. 

But then one night, after I got back home from a rousing sermon on the possibility of entering the After by adhering to a purely ketogenic diet, I noticed a familiar face on my television. 

It was the gentlewoman, and she was arguing with other gentlemen and gentlewomen.

She seemed to know what she was saying, and people seemed to believe what she was arguing. 

Then, a month later, I saw her name on the back of bumpers of some of my wildest zealots. I was mostly upset because I had never gotten the money she promised, but apparently she had the money to make bumper stickers.

Another month later, she was the President of the United States of America.

And then I stopped being a prophet anymore.