Black Hat Man

Have you ev-er seen the Black Hat Man?
If you do, run as fast as you can!
He’ll grab you and take you a-way!
Be-low ground where he likes to play!

Have you ev-er seen the Black Hat Man?
If you do, run as fast as you can!
Big round head and pitch black eyes!
Stay a-way if you are wise!

Have you ev-er seen the Black Hat Man?
If you do, run as fast as you can!
He is gon-na make you cry!
You will beg PLEASE LET ME DIE!

~ Old hopscotch rhyme

I have seen the Black Hat Man. I was 11 years old and hiding in the woods behind my house. Father was pretty drunk and angry as hell that day. I knew enough to leave and let him drink himself to sleep. My secret spot was between a huge boulder and a fallen tree. I had spent countless hours there, sitting unseen with a spy’s view of my backyard, waiting for the right time to go back home.

He looked normal at first glance; an old man in a black topcoat and pork pie hat. Then I saw that his arms were too long, his fingers extending below his knees as he shambled between the trees. And wasn’t his head larger than it should be…and kind of shaped like a ball? I’ll never forget the absolute terror I felt when that schoolgirl chant began to play in my head. “Big round head and pitch black eyes! Stay a-way if you are wise!”

The Black Hat Man made his way to the base of a massive, old oak tree. He raised a knurled hand as he approached the trunk and the ground just…parted. I don’t know how else to describe it. The earth opened and he descended as if walking slowly down a flight of stairs. I watched in disbelief until his bulbous head moved out of sight and the ground closed over him.

I was too afraid to move; what if he could hear my steps from under there? The sun sitting low above the horizon finally snapped me out of it. I quietly slid out of my spot and crept toward my house, giving the oak tree a wide berth. Once in my yard I sprinted to the house, charged up the stairs, burst through the back door, and ran headlong into my drunken father.

He was a big man and I ended up flat on my back on the kitchen floor. He glared down at me with bloodshot eyes as I hurried to my feet. Based on past experience I knew what was coming and braced for it. What happened instead was something I never would have guessed.

“You got a look at him, didn’t you, son?” My father asked softly. I lifted my eyes to meet his and what I saw there frightened me almost as much as what had happened in the woods. All I could do was nod.

“I was about your age the first time I laid eyes on him,” my father sighed as he pulled a chair from the table and sat down heavily. “Just about scared the life right out of me. Except I wasn’t lucky like you are. I went down that hole kicking and screaming”.

He exhaled and ran a large hand through his thinning hair. I could smell the whiskey oozing from his pores. I stood there with my mouth hanging open like a fool.

“Things happen to children down there, son…horrible things. And now, no matter how much whiskey I drink, I can’t make the guilt go away.”

Wait…guilt? What is he talking about? I didn’t dare ask.

“When I reached manhood he stopped taking me, and I did everything I could to forget him. But when you were born I knew he would come for you one day. I couldn’t let my boy go down that hole - I just couldn’t! So I made a deal with that monster. I did it for you, son…”

The realization hit me like a ton of bricks. Why the neighborhood kids didn’t play on our street. Why I had no friends. Why my father drank himself stupid every day.

The sacrifices he made to keep me safe from the Black Hat Man.